p2.166 During the Chou period, universal peace reigned throughout the empire. The Yüeh-ch‘ang’presented the Duke of Chou with pheasants. Kao Tsung likewise obtained one, which he regarded as lucky. A pheasant is also a creature living in the grass and in the country, for what reason is it considered to be a good omen ? If it is on account of a portion of the character chih (pheasant) bearing a resemblance to shih (a scholar), then there is also a likeness between a deer, chün, and a superior man, chün.
Kung-Sun Shu5 got a white stag ; wherefore did he explain it as an unlucky augury ? Ergo we come to the conclusion that it is impossible to know whether a pheasant be propitious or not, nor can we prove whether the meaning of a mulberry and a paper-mulberry be good or bad.
Perhaps they were something good, intimating that scholars from afar would walk into the temple of Kao Tsung, therefore the latter obtained luck and happiness, which he enjoyed ever so long.
Those arguing on calamitous prodigies stand convinced that Heaven makes use of calamitous phenomena for the purpose of rebuking the emperor. When the emperor has faults, prodigies appear in the State. If he does not change, calamities become visible on plants and trees, if he does not change then, they manifest themselves on the Five Grains, and should he not reform even then, they attain his own person 1.
The ‘Spring and Autumn’ of Tso Ch‘iu Ming says that there are few States which have not five harvests, when they are going to perish. Calamities become visible on the Five Grains ; how then can they grow ripe ? Their not ripening is a sign of impending ruin, for ruin is likewise a feature of calamity, to which the not ripening of the Five Grains corresponds. When Heaven does not p2.167 mature them, this may be a calamity or a blessing 2, happiness and misfortune are therefore difficult to distinguish, and what is said about the mulberry and the paper-mulberry cannot be correct.
The theorists all write in their booksand their notes that, when Heaven rains grain, this is an ill omen, and in various books and chronicles we read that, [when TsangHsieh invented writing, Heaven rained grain, and the ghosts cried during the night.] This must be accounted a lugubrious prodigy ; why did Heaven use something so harmonious to produce it ? The production of grain is a kind gift from Heaven, very harmonious and also looked upon as something excellent. And the grain produced came down following upon rain ? If we thoroughly go into the matter, for what reason must it be an ill omen ? When the Yin and the Yang harmonise, the harvest grows, otherwise it is spoiled by calamities and disasters. The harmony of Yin and Yang resulting in the production of grain, how can it be called inauspicious ?
Raw silk is wrought into pongees, and of hempen threads cloth is made. To present a man with silk and hemp is already conferring a valuable gift upon him, but how much more precious would be silken fabrics and woven cloth ? Silk and hemp correspond to the Yin and the Yang, pongees and cloth are like the ripe grain. A present of pongees cannot be called bad, why then should grain, this heavenly gift, be considered unlucky ? Since the good or bad presage of raining grain cannot be made out, the statement about the mulberry and the paper-mulberry must also remain doubtful.
If ‘fragrant grass’ grew in the Chou epoch, at times of universal peace people would have brought presents of this grass with them. It also grows in the open country exactly like the mulberry and the paper-mulberry. If the I and the Ti had presented it, it would have been lucky, but should it have grown in the court of Chou, would it also have been deemed good ?
Fragrant grass can be used for the distillation of spirits, its perfume being very intensive. By pouring out this perfumed wine at sacrifices, the spirits are called down. Provided that this grass had spontaneously grown in the court of Chou, it would not have p2.168 been different from auspicious grain, vermilion grass, or the monthly plant .
Furthermore, mulberry trees feed the silk-worms, which make silk. This silk is worked into pongees, and these pongees, into dresses. Clad in these robes, people enter the ancestral temple, using them as court-dresses. The evolution is similar to that of the fragrant grass, why then are those trees held to be a bad augury ?
When the heir-son of Duke Hsien of Wei1arrived at the SpiritTower, a snake wriggled round the left wheel of his chariot The charioteer said to him,
— Prince descend and pay your respects. I have heard say that, when a snake curls round the left cartwheel of the son of the chief of a State, he will soon be seated on the throne.
But the Prince did not descend and returned to his residence.
The charioteer called upon him, and the prince said,
— I have heard say that a man’s son lives in perfect accord with his master. He does not cherish selfish desires and receives his commands with reverence and awe. He does nothing which might impair the health of the sovereign. If I now come into possession of the State, the sovereign must lose his health. To see only the lustre of the crown and forget the welfare of the ruler is not what a son ought to do. That I prostrate myself, in order to come to the dukedom, would hardly be according to the sovereign’s wishes. He who disobeys the duties of a son, is undutiful, and he who acts contrary to the wishes of his sovereign, is not loyal. And yet you desire me to do it ? The dangers of my wishing to assume the reins of government are evident enough.
Then he tried to commit suicide by jumping down from the palace. His charioteer attempted to stop him, but in vain. He threw himself into his sword and gave up his ghost .
If the curling of a snake round the left wheel really implied the speedy accession of the prince, he ought not to have died, and Duke Hsien should have expired at once. Now the duke did not die, but the crown-prince fell into his sword. Therefore the explanation of the charioteer was the idle talk of common people.
Perhaps the snake foreshadowed the imminent death of the prince, and the charioteer, placing confidence in the popular p2.169 interpretation, failed to grasp the real meaning of the portent. The growth of the mulberry and paper-mulberry resembles the snake curling round the left wheel. As a matter of fact, its arrival was unlucky, but the charioteer fancied it to be lucky, and so the two trees were in fact auspicious, but Tsu Chi thought them of ill omen.
[When Yü, on his journey south, crossed the Yangtse, a yellow dragon carried his boat on its back. The men in the boat turned pale as ashes, but Yü was amused and said laughing,
— I have received the decree of Heaven and harrass myself to succour the thousands of people. My life lasts awhile, and death is a return. It being but a return, how can it upset my serenity ? I look upon a dragon as a lizard.
Then the dragon disappeared.] 1
In ancient and modern times the arrival of a dragon is commonly regarded as something very lucky, Yü alone declared a yellow dragon to be a bad presage, and when they saw it lifting the boat, the men in the boat took fright.
The mulberry and the paper-mulberry may be compared with the dragon, for, though their auguries be reversed, there is still a similarity. Wild plants growing in court are held to be unlucky, but, there being an extraordinary case like the yellow dragon carrying the boat, they became lucky, and the Yin dynasty did not perish.
Duke Wên of Chili was going to try issues with King Ch‘êng of Ch‘u at Ch‘êng-p‘u2, when a ‘broom star’ 3 proceeded from Ch‘u, which held its stick 4. The matter was referred to ChiuFan5, who replied,
— In fighting with brooms he who turns them round wins.
Duke Wên dreamt that he was wrestling with King Ch‘êng, who gained the upper hand, and sucked his brains. ChiuFan being p2.170 questioned, rejoined,
— Your Highness could look up to Heaven, while Ch‘u was bending down under the weight of its guilt. The battle will prove a great victory 6.
The duke followed his advice and completely defeated the army of Ch‘u. Had Duke Wên consulted an ordinary officer previously, he would certainly have denied the possibility of a victory, for a broom star is inauspicious, and the upper hand in wrangling not an adverse prognostic.
The mulberry and the paper-mulberry were pronounced ill omened, as the fact of Chin being opposite to the besom and the duke’s succumbing in the struggle, were deemed bad auguries. These trees were significant of luck all the same, like the curious phenomena of being over against the broom star and looking up to Heaven, whence Kao Tsung’s long reign and the salvation of the Yin dynasty.
If Duke Wen had not asked ChiuFan, if the latter had not been aware of the lucky augury, and if then a great victory had been won, the people would have urged that, by virtue of his extreme wisdom, Duke Wên had worsted iniquitous Ch‘u, and that, in spite of the prodigy appearing in the sky and of the horrible dream, the adverse presage and the unfavourable portent were wiped out and dispersed, and happiness secured. The Yin could not boast of a man with ChiuFan’s extraordinary knowledge, having only their Tsu Chi, who shared the common prejudices. Accordingly the narrative of the two trees has been handed down without ceasing, and up to the present day the notion that misfortune can be transmuted into happiness has not yet been rectified.
p2.171 In the books of the Literati which have come down to us they say that at the time of Yao ten suns rose simultaneously, so that everything was scorched up. Yao shot at the ten suns on high, whereupon nine out of them were removed, and a single one began to rise regularly 1. This is a myth.
When a man is shooting with arrows, at a distance of no more than a hundred steps, the arrows lose their force. As regards the course of the sun, it moves upon heaven like a star. The interstice between heaven and man measures several ten thousand Li 2, and if Yao had shot at it, how could he have hit the sun ? Provided that, at Yao’s time, the distance from heaven to earth had not been upwards of a hundred steps, then the arrows of Yao might have just reached the sun, but they could not go farther than a hundred steps. Under the supposition of the short distance of heaven and earth at the time of Yao, his shots might have touched the suns, but without damaging them, and why should the suns have disappeared, if they had been damaged ?
The sun is fire. If fire on earth is employed to kindle a torch, and if the by-standers shot at it, would they extinguish it, even if they hit it ? Earthly fire is not to be extinguished by arrow-shots, how could heavenly fire be put out in this manner ?
This is meant to imply that Yao shot at the suns with his spiritual essence 3. Whatever is touched by it, even metal and stones, crumbles to pieces, for it knows no hardness nor distance. Now, water and fire have a similar nature. If fire could be extinguished with arrows, it ought to be possible to remove water by shooting at it likewise.
At the time of the Great Flood, China was inundated by the waters causing great damage to the people. Why did Yao not put forth his spiritual essence then, removing the waters by shooting ? p2.172 He was able to shoot at the suns, preventing their fire from doing injury, but he could not shoot at the Yellow River, to hinder the ravages of its floods. Since the water could not be removed by shooting, we know that the story about shooting at the suns is an invention and unreliable.
Some hold that the sun is a fluid and that, although an arrow may not reach it, the spiritual essence can extinguish it. Now Heaven is also far off ; in case it is a fluid, it must be similar to the sun and the moon, and should it be corporeal 1, it would be on a level with metals and stones. If the essence of Yao extinguished the suns and destroyed metals and stones, could he also perforate Heaven, while sending his arrows ?
As an example of the perversity of Chieh and Chou people relate that they shot at Heaven and lashed Earth, and in praise of Kao Tsung they narrate that, by his virtuous government, he did away with the mulberry and the paper-mulberry 2. Now if Yao, incapable of extinguishing the ten suns by his virtue, shot at them nevertheless, his virtue did not equal that of Kao Tsung, and his depravity could match that of Chieh and Chou. How could he have obtained a response from Heaven by his essence ?
It is on record that [when WuWang, on his expedition against Chou, crossed the Mêng ford 3, the waves of Yang-hou4rushed against him. A storm was raging, and there was such a darkness, that men and horses became invisible. Upon this, King Wu, grasping the yellow halberd with his left and holding the white standard in his right, with flashing eyes waved it and exclaimed,
— While I am in the empire, who dares thwart my plans ?,
whereupon the storm abated, and the waves subsided.] This narrative is preposterous .
When WuWang was crossing the Mêng ford, the hosts of his army were cheerful and merry, singing in front and gamboling in the rear. There being a certain sympathy between Heaven and p2.173 man, it would not have been the proper thing for Heaven to grumble, when man was pleased, but it is not sure whether there was really singing in front and dancing in the rear, and the stopping of the storm by waving a flag likewise looks like an invention.
Wind is air, and some speculative minds see in it the commanding voice of Heaven and Earth. Now, provided that the punishment of Chou by WuWang was right, then Heaven should have kept quiet and rewarded him ; if, however, his destruction was not right, then the storm was expressive of Heaven’s anger.
Had WuWang not received the command of Heaven and not inquired into his own guilt, then, by saying, with flashing eyes. ‘While I am in the empire, who ventures to thwart me ? he could not but double Heaven’s anger and increase his own depravity ; how would the wind have stopped therefore ? When parents are angry with their son for not mending his faults, would they be willing to pardon him, if, with flashing eyes, he talked big ?
In case wind is the fluid of misfortune produced by Heaven, it must be spontaneous as well as unconscious, and angry looks or waving flags would not cause it to stop. Wind is like rain. If WuWang with flashing eyes had waved his standard to the rain, would it have ceased ? Since WuWang could not stop the rain, he could not stop the wind either. Perhaps just at the moment, when he waved his flag, accidentally the wind stopped of itself, and the people, extolling his excellence, then contended that WuWang could stop the wind.
There is a report that, [when Duke Hsiang of Lu was at war with Han, and the battle was hottest, the sun went down. The duke, swinging his spear, beckoned to it, when the sun came back for him, passing through three solar mansions] 1. This is an invention.
Whoever can affect Heaven through his spiritual essence, must be single-minded and engrossed with one idea. Discharging all other affairs from his thoughts and concentrating his mind, he may communicate with Heaven by means of his spiritual essence, and Heaven may then exhibit some extraordinary phenomenon, though I do not admit even this. Duke Hsiang’s interest was entirely absorbed by the battle, when the sun sank, and he beckoned to it. How could he induce it to revert ? If a sage would beckon to the p2.174 sun, it would not return by any means ; who was Duke Hsiang, that he could cause it to come back ?
The Hung-fan2 has it that [some stars are fond of wind and others of rain. The course of the sun and moon brings about winter and summer, and when the moon follows the stars, there is wind and rain] 3. Now the stars are of the same stuff as the sun and the moon. When the latter follow the stars, these change again 4, and it is evident that, as long as the two luminaries keep their regular course, they do not yield to the likes and dislikes of the stars. How then should it be possible that the desire of Duke Hsiang was fulfilled ?
The stars on Heaven are the mansions of the sun and the moon, as on earth the postal stations serve as residences of the higher officials. These 28 solar mansions 1are divided into degrees, one mansion measuring 10 degrees, more or less. The allegation that the sun returned through three mansions would therefore denote 30 degrees. The sun proceeds one degree every day, at the moment of beckoning it would therefore have gone back the same distance which it had made during 30 days. If we regard a shê (station) as one degree 2, then three degrees would be a three days course, and at the moment, when the spear was waved, the sun would have been made to revert three days.
When Duke Ching of Sung exhibited his sincerity and uttered three excellent maxims, the planet Mars passed through three solar mansions, a story which sober-minded critics still call an invention 3. Duke Hsiang, during the fighting, was displeased with the sun’s setting, accordingly he waved his spear, but he had no earnest purpose 4, nor did he say any excellent words 5. That the sun should revert for his cake, was most likely not his idea.
Moreover, the sun is fire. A sage giving a signal to fire would in no wise be able to make it return, and Duke Hsiang should have caused the sun to revert by his signal ?
p2.175 While the battle was going on, the sun was in the middle of mao6, and, bewildered by the fighting, the duke fancied that the sun was setting 7. Waving his flag, he turned round to the left, describing a curve, and was under the impression that the sun was reverting. People naturally fond of the marvellous then spoke of the sun’s reverting, which cannot be upheld in earnest.
It is related in historical works that, when, at the instance of the heir-prince of Yen, Ching K‘o attempted to murder the king of Ch‘in, a white halo encircled the sun, and that, [while the master from Wei was devising the plan of the Ch‘ang-p‘ing affair for Ch‘in, Venus eclipsed the Pleiades] 8. This means to say that the spiritual essence affected Heaven, so that it produced those phenomena. To say that a white halo surrounded the sun, and that Venus eclipsed the Pleiades is allowable, but the assertion that the design of Ching K‘o and the plan of the master from Wei exercised such an influence upon august Heaven, that a white halo encircled the sun and Venus eclipsed the Pleiades, is erroneous.
Striking a bell with chopsticks and beating a drum with counting-slips, one cannot bring them to sound, because the sticks used to beat them are too small. Now, the human body does not measure more than seven feet, and with the spirit within these seven feet one hopes to bring about something. The energy may be concentrated ever so much, it is still like striking a bell with chopsticks or beating a drum with counting-slips ; how can it move Heaven ? The mind may be quite in earnest, but the implements employed to cause a motion are insufficient.
The intention to injure being directed against men, these are not affected by it, and Heaven should be ? Man’s evil designs should be able to operate on Heaven ? No, that is impossible.
When Yü Jang was about to kill the viscount Hsiang of Chao, Hsiang’s heart palpitated, and when KuanKao was planning his rebellion against Han Kao Tsu, the heart of the latter felt an emotion likewise 1. The two men thus harbouring their designs, the two lords became agitated.
I reply that, when a calamitous change is at hand, strange signs spontaneously appear about the persons threatened, and are p2.176 not their own work. My reason is this : Sometimes we meet lunatics on the road who with a weapon hurt themselves, without having the intention to injure their own bodies, but, before this, their bodies have already been conspicuous by miraculous signs. From this I infer that miracles are symptoms of calamitous changes and spontaneous disasters, and not the result of suicidal designs.
Furthermore an unlucky man divining by shells, will receive a bad omen, and appealing to straws, he will fall in with an unpropitious diagram. Going out, he sees inauspicious things. His forecasts point to dangers, and he beholds a calamitous fluid, which shows itself in the face, as the white halo and Venus appear in heaven. Phenomenal changes appear in heaven, whereas prognostics become visible in man. Above and below are in accord and spontaneously respond to one another.
It has been chronicled that, when Tan, the heir-prince of Yen, paid a call at the court of Ch‘in, he was not allowed to go home again. He asked of the king of Ch‘in permission to return, but the king detained him and said with an oath,
— In case the sun reverts to the meridian, Heaven rains grain, crows get white heads and horses horns, and the wooden elephants on the kitchen door get legs of flesh, then you may return.
At that time Heaven and Earth conferred upon him their special favour : the sun returned to the meridian, Heaven rained grain, the crows got white crowns and the horses horns, and the legs of the wooden elephants on the kitchen door grew fleshy. The king of Ch‘in took him for a Sage and let him off 1. — This narrative is fictitious.
Who was this prince of Yen, Tan, that he could thus influence Heaven ? Sages imprisoned have not been able to move Heaven. Prince Tan was but a worthy, how could he have carried this out ? If Heaven favoured him and produced all those wonders with a view to his deliverance, it might as well have appeased the feelings of the king of Ch‘in, in order to remove all the prince’s hardships. His captivity was one matter only and easy to deal with, whereas the miracles were five rather difficult things. Why did Heaven omit the easy matter and do the five difficult things ? Did it not fear the trouble ?
T‘ang was confined in Hsia-t‘ai and Wên Wang in Yu-li2, and Confucius was in great straits between Ch‘ên and T‘sai. During the p2.177 captivity of the three Sages, Heaven could not help them, causing their tormentors to see the blessings sent down upon them, understand their sagehood, and dismiss them with high honours.