Alfred forke introduction and Appendixes

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Alfred FORKE

Introduction and Appendixes




Dans le cadre de la collection : “Les classiques des sciences sociales”

fondée et dirigée par Jean-Marie Tremblay,
Une collection développée en collaboration avec la Bibliothèque

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Philosophical and miscellaneous essays of



Traduits et annotés par Alfred FORKE (1867-1944)

Volume I, pages 1-64, 576-577 ; volume II, pages 419-498, de la réimpression par Paragon Book Gallery, New York, 1962. Premières éditions : vol. I : Leipzig 1906, Londres 1907 ; vol. II : Berlin, Londres 1911.

Police de caractères utilisée : Verdana, 10 et 9 points.

Mise en page sur papier format Lettre (US letter), 8.5’’x11’’.

Édition complétée le 1er janvier 2008 à Chicoutimi, Québec.



  1. The Life of Wang Ch‘ung.

  2. The Works of Wang Ch‘ung.

  3. Wang Ch‘ung’s Philosophy : MetaphysicsPhysicsEthicsCritique : Philosophers, HistoriansReligion and Folklore.

  4. Table of Contents of the Lun-hêng.


  1. The Theory of the Five Elements and the Classifications based thereon, A Sketch of Chinese Natural Philosophy.

  2. The Cycle of the Twelve Animals.

  3. On some implements mentioned by Wang Ch‘ung : Fans — Chopsticks — Burning glasses and moon mirrors.

Comparative table of contents

Vol. I, Table of contentsAdditional note

Vol. II, Table of contentsPostcript





p1.001 On the two principal philosophical Chinese systems, Confucianism and Taoism we are tolerably well informed by translations of the leading works and by systematical treatises. These two branches may be regarded as the most important, but it would be impossible to write a history of Chinese philosophy without paying special attention to the various heterodox philosophers, whose views do not agree with the current ideas of either Confucianists or Taoists. For that very reason they are often more interesting than the latter, living original thinkers, who disdain to resign themselves to merely iterating old stereotyped formulæ. Many of their tenets remind us of similar arguments propounded by various philosophical schools of the West. I have called attention to the Epicurean Yang Chu and to the Chinese Sophists (vid. Journ. of Peking Orient. Soc., vol. III, p. 203 and Journ. of China Branch of Royal Asiat. Soc., vol. XXXIV, p. 1) and now beg to place before the public a translation of the philosophical essays of Wang Ch‘ung, whom we may well call a Materialist. As a first instalment I published, some years ago, a paper treating of Wang Ch‘ung’s ideas on Death and Immortality (Journ. of China Branch of Royal Asiat. Soc., vol. XXXI, p. 40). My lecture on the Metaphysics of Wang Ch‘ung, held in 1899 before the East Asiatic of the Congress of Orientalists at Rome, has not been printed, the manuscript having been lost by the secretaries of the Section.

Although he has much in common with the Confucianists and still more with the Taoists, Wang Ch‘ung’s philosophy does not lack originality. He is an Eclectic, and takes his materials from wherever it suits him, but he has worked it into an elaborate system such as did not exist before Chu Hsi. Like a true philosopher he has reduced the multiplicity of things to some few fundamental principles, by which he explains every phenomenon. One or two leading ideas pervade his philosophy as ‘Leitmotives’.

p1.002 The Lun-hêng is not a systematic digest of Wang Ch‘ung’s philosophy. Chinese philosophers like the Greeks before Aristotle have not yet learned the art of connecting their thoughts so as to form a complete system, in which each chapter is the logical sequence of the preceding one. But Wang Ch‘ung has already made one step in this direction. Whereas the Analects and the works of Mencius, Lieh Tse and Chuang Tse are hardly anything else than collections of detached aphorisms, each chapter embracing the most heterogeneous subjects, each chapter of the Lun-hêng is a real essay, the theme of which is given first and adhered to throughout. But there is not much connection between the separate essays.

These essays are not all of equal value. Some may perhaps interest a Chinese, but are not calculated to enlist our interest. For this reason I have not translated the whole work, but made a selection. It comprises the philosophical essays, and of the others the most characteristic, enabling the reader to form an adequate idea of the author and his peculiarities. My chief aim has been to set forth Wang Ch‘ung’s philosophy. The introduction contains a sketch of his system, which I have attempted to abstract from his writings.

Of the 84 essays of the Lun-hêng I have translated 44. I have taken the liberty of arranging them more systematically than is done in the original, classing them under several heads as metaphysical, physical, critical, religious, and folklore. The division is not a strict one, because with many chapters it is doubtful, to which class they belong. Especially between metaphysics and physics it is difficult to draw a distinction, since purely physical questions are often treated metaphysically. From a table of contents of the Lun-hêng in its entirety the reader will learn the subject of those essays, which have not been translated, and by its help he can easily find the place, which each chapter takes in the original.

With the exception of the Autobiography and the two chapters on Confucius and Mencius translated by Hutchinson (China Review, vol. VII and VIII) the essays of Wang Ch‘ung have not been put into any European language before. A Chinese commentary to the Lun-hêng does not exist. I hope that my translation may prove trustworthy. For any misunderstandings, which in Chinese and philosophical works particularly are unavoidable, I count upon the indulgence of my critics.

As far as lay in my power, I have endeavoured to trace the sources from which Wang Ch‘ung has quoted, which has not been p1.003 an easy task, and I have added such explanatory notes as to enable even persons not knowing Chinese to understand the text. For the many proper names the index at the end of the volume will be of advantage.

To my thinking, Wang Ch‘ung is one of the most ingenious Chinese writers, a satirist like Lucien and an esprit fort like Voltaire, whose Lun-hêng well deserves the widest publicity.



1. The Life of Wang Ch‘ung


p1.004 The principal data of Wang Ch‘ung’s life are furnished by his autobiography and by the biographical notice in chapter 79 p. 1 of the Hou Han-shu, the History of the Later Han Dynasty, which was written by Fan Yeh in the 5th cent. A. D. and commented on by Prince Chang Huai Hsien of the T‘ang dynasty. There we read :

« Wang Ch‘ung, whose style was Chung Jên, was a native of Shang-yü in Kuei-chi. His forefathers had immigrated from Yuan-Ch‘êng in the Wei circuit. As a boy he lost his father and was commended in his village for his filial piety. Subsequently he repaired to the capital, where he studied at the academy.

The book of Yuan Shan Sung says that Wang Ch‘ung was a very precocious youth. After having entered the academy, he composed an essay on six scholars on the occasion of the emperor visiting the Imperial College.

His teacher was Pan Piao from Fu-fêng. He was very fond of extensive reading, but did not trouble much about paragraphs or sentences. His family being poor, he possessed no books. Therefore he used to stroll about the market-place and the shops in Loyang and read the books exposed there for sale. That which he had once read, he was able to remember and to repeat. Thus he had acquired a vast knowledge of the tenets of the various schools and systems. Having returned to his native place, he led a very solitary life as a teacher. Then he took office in the prefecture and was appointed secretary, but in consequence of frequent remonstrances with his superiors, disputes, and dissensions with his colleagues, he had to quit the service.

Wang Ch‘ung had a strong penchant for discussions. At the outset, his arguments would often appear rather queer, but his p1.005 final conclusions were true and reasonable. Being convinced that the ordinary savants stuck too much to the letter, and thus would mostly lose the true meaning, he shut himself up for meditation, and no longer observed the ceremonies of congratulation or condolence. Everywhere near the door, the windows, and on the walls he had his knives and pens placed, with which he wrote the Lun-hêng in 85 chapters containing over 200,000 words.

Yuan Shan Sung says in his book that at first the Lun-hêng written by Wang Ch‘ung was not current in the central provinces. When T‘sai Yung came to Wu, he discovered it there, and used to read it secretly as a help to conversation. Afterwards Wang Lang became prefect of Kuei-chi, and likewise got into possession of the book. On his return to Hsü-hsia his contemporaries were struck with the great improvement of his abilities. Some one remarked that, unless he had met with some extraordinary person, he must have found some extraordinary book. They made investigations, and found out that in fact it was from the Lun-hêng that he had derived this advantage. Thereupon the Lun-hêng came into vogue. Pao P’u Tse relates that his contemporaries grudged T‘sai Yung the possession of a rare book. Somebody searched for it in the hiding place behind his curtains, and there in fact found the Lun-hêng. He folded some chapters together in order to take them away, when T‘sai Yung proposed to him that they should both keep the book, but not divulge its contents.

He explained the similarities and the diversities of the different classes of things, and settled the common doubts and errors of the time.

The governor Tung Ch‘in made him assistant-magistrate. Later on he rose to the rank of a sub-prefect. Then he retired and returned home. A friend and fellow-countryman of his Hsieh I Wu addressed a memorial to the throne, in which he recommended Wang Ch‘ung for his talents and learning.

In the book of Hsieh Ch‘êng it is stated that in recommending Wang Ch‘ung, Hsieh I Wu said that his genius was a natural gift and not acquired by learning. Even Mencius and Sun Ching in former times, or Yang Hsiung, Liu Hsiang, or Sse ma Chien more recently in the Han epoch could not surpass him.

Su Tung commanded a chamberlain to summon Wang Ch‘ung into his presence, but owing to sickness, he could not go. When he was nearly seventy years of age, his powers began to decline. Then he wrote a book on ‘Macrobiotics’ in 16 chapters, and refraining from all desires and propensities, and avoiding all emotions, he kept himself alive, until in the middle of the Yung-yuan period, when he died of an illness at his home.


p1.006 By his own testimony Wang Ch‘ung was born in the third of the Chien-wu cycle, i. e. in A. D. 27, in Shang-yü-hsien, the present Shao-hsing-fu of the province of Chekiang. His family had originally been residing in Yuan-ch‘êng=Ta-ming-fu in Chihli. His father’s name was Wang Sung. Owing to their violent temper his ancestors had several times been implicated in local feuds, which are still now of frequent occurrence in Fukien and Chekiang, and were compelled to change their domicile. Wang Ch‘ung’s critics are scandalized at his coolly telling us that his great-grandfather behaved like a ruffian during a famine, killing and wounding his fellow-people.

If Wang Ch‘ung’s own description be true, he must have been a paragon in his youth. He never needed any correction neither at the hands of his parents nor of his teachers. For his age he was exceptionally sedate and serious. When he was six years old, he received his first instruction, and at the age of 8 he was sent to a public school. There the teacher explained to him the Analects and the Shuking, and he read 1,000 characters every day. When he had mastered the Classics, one was astonished at the progress he made, so he naïvely informs us. Of his other attainments he speaks in the same strain and with the same conceit. The Hou Han-shu confirms that he was a good son.

Having lost his father very early, he entered the Imperial College at Loyang, then the capital of China. His principal teacher was the historian Pan Piao, the father of Pan Ku, author of the History of the Former Han dynasty. In Loyang he laid the foundation of the vast amount of knowledge by which he distinguished himself later on, and became acquainted with the theories of the various schools of thought, many of which he vigorously attacks in his writings. His aim was to grasp the general gist of what he read, and he did not care so much for minor details. The majority of the scholars of his time conversely would cling to the words and sentences and over these minutiæ quite forget the whole. Being too poor to buy all the books required to satiate his hunger for knowledge, he would saunter about in the market-place and book-shops, and peruse the books exposed there for sale, having probably made some sort of agreement with the book-sellers, who may have taken an interest in the ardent student. His excellent memory was of great service to him, for he could remember, even repeat what he had once read. At the same time his critical genius developed. He liked to argue a point, and though his views often seemed paradoxical, his opponents could not but admit the justness of his arguments.

p1.007 Having completed his studies, Wang Ch‘ung returned to his native place, where he became a teacher and lived a very quiet life. Subsequently he took office and secured a small position as a secretary of a district, a post which he also filled under a military governor and a prefect. At last he was promoted to be assistant-magistrate of a department. He would have us believe that he was a very good official, and that his relations to his colleagues were excellent. The Hou Han-shu, on the other hand, tells us that he remonstrated so much with his superiors and was so quarrelsome, that he had to leave the service. This version seems the more probable of the two. Wang Ch‘ung was much too independent, much too outspoken, and too clever to do the routine business well, which requires clerks and secretaries of moderate abilities, or to serve under superiors, whom he surpassed by his talents. So he devoted himself exclusively to his studies. He lived in rather straitened circumstances, but supported his embarassments with philosophical equanimity and cheerfulness.

« Although he was poor and had not an acre to dwell upon, his mind was freer than that of kings and dukes, and though he had no emoluments counted by pecks and bushels, he felt, as if he had ten thousand chung to live upon. He enjoyed a tranquil happiness, but his desires did not run riot, and though he was living in a state of poverty, his energy was not broken. The study of ancient literature was his debauchery, and strange stories his relish.

He had a great admiration for superior men, and liked to associate with people rising above mediocrity. As long as he was in office and well off, he had many friends, but most of them abandoned him, when he had retired into private life.

In A. D. 86 Wang Ch‘ung emigrated into the province of Anhui, where he was appointed sub-prefect, the highest post which he held, but two years only, for in 88 he gave up his official career, which had not been a brilliant one. The reason of his resignation this time seems to have been ill health.

So far Wang Ch‘ung had not succeeded in attracting the attention of the emperor. An essay which he had composed, when the emperor had visited the college of Loyang, had passed unnoticed. In the year 76, when parts of Honan were suffering from great dearth, Wang Ch‘ung presented a memorial to the Emperor Chang Ti in which he proposed measures to prohibit dissipation and extravagancies, and to provide for the time of need, but his suggestions were not accepted. He did not fare better with another anti-alcoholic memorial, in which he advocated the prohibition of p1.008 the use of spirits. When finally the Emperor became aware of Wang Ch‘ung, it was too late. A friend and a countryman of his, Hsieh I Wu recommended him to the throne for his talents and great learning, saying that neither Mencius or Hsün Tse nor in the Han time Yang Hsiung, Liu Hsiang or Sse Ma Ch‘ien could outshine him. The Emperor Chang Ti (76-88 A. D.) summoned him to his presence, but owing to his ill-health Wang Ch‘ung had to decline the honour. His state had impaired so much, that already in 89 he thought that his end had come. But the next two years passed, and he did not die. He found even the time to write a book on ‘Macrobiotics’, which he put into practice himself, observing a strict diet and avoiding all agitations in order to keep his vital fluid intact, until he expired in the middle of the Yung-yuan period (89-104) about the year 97. The exact year is not known.

2. The Works of Wang Ch‘ung.


Wang Ch‘ung’s last work, the Yang-hsing-shu or Macrobiotics in 16 chapters, which he wrote some years before his death, has been mentioned. His first productions were the Chi-su-chieh-yi ‘Censures on Common Morals’ in 12 chapters and the Chêng-wu, a book on Government, both preceding his principal work, the Lun-hêng, in which they are several times referred to in the two biographical chapters.

Wang Ch‘ung wrote his ‘Censures’ as a protest against the manners of his time with a view to rouse the public conscience. He was prompted to write this work by the heartlessness of his former friends, who abandoned him, when he was poor, and of the world in general. To be read and understood by the people, not the literati only, he adopted an easy and popular style. This appears to have been contrary to custom, for he thought it necessary to justify himself (p. 1.071).

The work on government owes its origin to the vain efforts of the Imperial Government of his time to administer the Empire. They did not see their way, being ignorant of the fundamental principles (p. 1.070). From the Chêng-wu the territorial officials were to learn what they needed most in their administration, and the people should be induced

« to reform and gratefully acknowledge the kindness of the government (p. 1.090).

p1.009 These three works : the Macrobiotics, the Censures on Morals, and the work on Government have all been lost, and solely the Lun-hêng has come down to us. Whereas the Chi-su-chieh-yi censures the common morals, the Lun-hêng=Disquisitions tests and criticises the common errors and superstitions, the former being more ethical, the latter speculative. Many of these errors are derived from the current literature, classical as well as popular. Wang Ch‘ung takes up these books and points out where they are wrong. He avoids all wild speculations, which he condemns in others, so he says (p. 1.091). The Lun-hêng is not professedly a philosophical work, intended to set forth a philosophical system, but in confuting and contesting the views of others, Wang Ch‘ung incidentally develops his own philosophy. In this respect there is a certain resemblance with the Theodicee of Leibniz, which, strictly speaking, is a polemic against Bayle. Wang Ch‘ung’s aim in writing the Lun-hêng was purely practical, as becomes plain from some of his utterances.

« The nine chapters of the Lun-hêng on Inventions, and the three chapters of the Lun-hêng on Exaggerations, says he, are intended to impress people, that they must strive for truthfulness.

Even such high metaphysical problems as that of immortality he regards from a practical point of view. Otherwise he would not write, as he does :

« I have written the essays on Death and on the False Reports about Death to show that the deceased have no consciousness, and cannot become ghosts, hoping that, as soon as my readers have grasped this, they will restrain the extravagance of the burials and become economical (p. 1.090).

From a passage (Chap. XXXVIII) to the effect that the reigning sovereign was continuing the prosperity of Kuang Wu Ti (25-57 A. D.) and Ming Ti (58-75) it appears that the Lun-hêng was written under the reign of the Emperor Chang Ti viz. between 76 and 89 A. D. From another remark that in the Chiang-jui chapter (XXX) the auspicious portents, of the Yuan-ho and Chang-ho epochs (84-86 and 87-88) could not be mentioned, because of its being already completed, we may infer that the whole work was finished before 84. Thus it must date from the years 76-84 A. D.

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