Wang ch‘ung lun-hêng miscellaneous essays Traduits et annotés par Alfred forke



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Since he did not go to Lu, wherefrom does the Book of Prophecies derive its knowledge that Shih Huang Ti came to Lu as p2.117 it says ? This journey to Lu not being a fact that might be known, the words ascribed to Confucius ‘I know not what sort of a fellow’, &c. are not trustworthy either, and this utterance being unreliable, the remark about Tung Chung Shu deranging his book becomes doubtful also.

In case records of famous deeds seem rather queer, they are the work of common people. All books, unless they be directly written by Heaven and Earth, go back on former events, there being reliable evidence. Those without experience, of course, cannot utilise these sources. All Sages foreseeing happiness and misfortune, meditate and reason by analogies. Reverting to the beginning, they know the end ; from their villages they argue on the palace, and shed their light into the darkest corners. Prophecy books and other mystic writings see from afar what has not yet come to pass ; they are aware of what is going to happen in future, which, for the time being, is still a void and wrapt in darkness. Their knowledge is instantaneous, supernatural, and passing all understanding.

Although ineloquent persons may not be qualified for it, still it is possible to predict calamities by observing analogies, or to predetermine future events by going back to their sources and examining the past. Worthies have this faculty as well, and Sages are not alone fit to do it.

When Chou Kung was governing Lu, T‘ai Kung knew that his descendants would be reduced to impotence, and when T‘ai Kung was ruling in Ch‘i, Chou Kung saw that his scions would fall victims to robbery and murder. By their methods they foreknew the ultimate end, and perceived the signs of adversity and rebellion.



Chou having ivory chop-sticks made, Chi Tse administered reproof 1, and Confucius sighed because dummies were buried in Lu. From the ivory chop-sticks the one inferred the misery attending the search for dragon-liver, whereas the other saw in the dummies the danger that living persons might be interred along with the dead 2.

T‘ai Kung and Chou Kung were both cognisant of what had not yet come to pass, as Chi Tse and Confucius were aware of what p2.118 had not yet taken place. As regards the source from which they drew the knowledge of the future, there is no diversity between Sages and Worthies.

The marquis of Lu being old, and the crown-prince weak, his daughter by a second wife leaned against a pillar, heaving a sigh. Old age and weakness were to her presages of future disorders and revolutions. Even a woman was clever enough to reason by analogies and thus discover the future. How much more should this be the case with Sages and superior men of exceptional parts and great intelligence ?

In the 10th year of Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti 3 the mother of King Yen Hsiang 4, the queen-dowager Hsia, saw in a dream the consort of King Hsiao Wên 5 who said,

— The queen Hua Yang together with her husband Wên Wang 6 is buried in Shou-ling, and the queen-dowager Hsia and King Yen Hsiang are buried in Fan-ling. For this reason the tomb of the queen-dowager Hsia is transferred to Tu-ling 7, so that I can say, ‘I see my son 8 in the east and my husband in the west. After a hundred years a city of ten thousand families will rise by my tomb.

In course of time everything turned out as predicted. If those foreknowing the future from analogies be regarded as Sages, then the daughter of the second wife and the queen-dowager Hsia were Sages.

In the 10th year of King Chao of Ch‘in 1, Ch‘u Li Tse 2 died and was interred in Wei-nan 3, east of the Chang terrace. He said,

— A hundred years hence, an emperor’s palaces will hem in my tomb.

After the rise of the Han dynasty, the Ch‘ang-lo palace was built at his east and the Wei-yang palace at his west side. The arsenal was just on his tomb, exactly as he had said. This is a proof of his prescience and of his foreseeing future events. If such an evidence constitutes a claim to sagehood, then Ch‘u Li Tse was a Sage. If he was not a Sage, then the knowledge of the future does not suffice to make a man a Sage.



p2.119 Ch‘u Li Tse seeing the emperor’s palaces close by his grave, was like Hsin Yu, who knew that Yi-ch‘uan 4 would become the territory of the Jung 5. In ancient days Hsin Yu passing through Yi-ch‘uan and noticing the inhabitants, wearing their hair long down on their back, performing sacrifices, said,

— Within a hundred years this land will most likely belong to the Jung.

A hundred years hence Chin 6 transferred the Jung of Lu-hun 7 to Yi-ch‘uan, and what Hsiu Yu knew before became a reality 8. From the omen of the long hair he inferred the expansion of the Jung, just as Ch‘u Li Tse, on beholding the vast plain near his tomb, foresaw that the Son of Heaven would move quite close to his tomb.

Han Hsin 9, burying his mother, likewise had a vast and elevated place built, that by its side there might be room for ten thousand families. Subsequently, in fact ten thousand families settled near his tomb. Ch‘u Li Tse’s comprehending the presages indicative of the imperial buildings in the vast plain was like Han Hsin’s perceiving the edifices of ten thousand families on the plateau. The foreknowing of things to come is not a knowledge requiring the faculty to look through obstacles or an exceptionally fine hearing ; in all these cases omens are taken into account, traces followed up, and inferences drawn from analogous circumstances.

When in the Ch‘un-ch‘iu epoch ministers and high officers held a meeting, they had an eye for all abnormal proceedings and an ear for strange utterances 1. If these were good they took them for indications of felicitous events, if they were bad they saw in them unlucky auguries. Thus they knew how to ascertain happiness and misfortune, and, long before, were aware of what had not yet come to pass. It was no divine or supernatural knowledge, but all derived from signs and analogies.



p.2120 At present all things knowable may be grasped by reflection, but all things unknowable 2 remain incomprehensible without research or inquiry. Neither ancient nor modern history affords any instances of men knowing spontaneously without study or being enlightened without inquiry. For things knowable merely require earnest thought, then even big subjects are not difficult of apprehension, whereas things unknowable, how small soever, do not become easy through mental efforts or research. Consequently great savants are not apt to bring about anything without study or to know anything in default of inquiry.

An objection may be urged on the score that Hsiang T‘o 3, at seven years of age, taught Confucius. At the age of seven, he could not yet have entered an elementary school, and yet he acted as teacher to Confucius. Therefore he must have been self-knowing by nature.



Confucius says that [those who are born with the possession of knowledge are the highest class of men. Those who learn, and so get possession of knowledge, are the next.] 4 Speaking of those born with knowledge, without referring to their studies, Confucius has in view men like Hsiang T‘o.

In the time of Wang Mang 5, Yin Fang of Po-hai 6 was twenty-one years old. He had neither had a teacher nor a friend, but his inner light was fully developed, so that he was well versed in the Six Arts 7. When the governor of Wei-tu 8, Shun Yü Tsang, had written a memorial, Yin Fang, who had not studied, on seeing the document, could read it and argue on its purport. The quotations from the Five Classics he could elucidate and discourse on the subject to the gratification of all persons present. The emperor summoned him and gave him a theme ‘The flying insects’, on which he wrote an excellent essay. Verily, he was endowed with great erudition, and all under Heaven called him a Sage. A man p2.121 conversant with the Six Arts, without having had a teacher or a friend, and able to read a document placed before him, although he has not studied books formerly, is a Sage. Without study he possesses knowledge spontaneously, and without instruction he is enlightened of himself. If this is not divine, what is it ?

My answer to this objection is this : Although Yin Fang had no teacher or friend, yet he must himself have learned many things, and though he did not study books, he must himself have plied pen and ink. When an infant is born, and its eyes first open, it has no knowledge, even though it possess the nature of a Sage. Hsiang T‘o was seven years old. At the age of three and four already he must have listened to other men’s speeches. Yin Fang counted twenty-one years. At fourteen and fifteen years of age he has probably learnt a great deal.

When a man of great natural intelligence and remarkable parts is confined to his own thoughts and has no experience, neither beholding signs and omens nor observing the working of various sorts of beings, he may imagine that after many generations a horse will give birth to an ox, and an ox to a donkey, or that from a peach-tree plums may grow, or cherries from a plum-tree. Could a Sage know this ? 1

If a subject assassinated his sovereign, or a son killed his father and if, on the other side, somebody were as kind-hearted as Yen Yuan, as dutiful a son as Tsêng Tse, as brave as Mêng Pên and Hsia Yü and as critical as Tse Kung and Tse Wo 2, would a Sage be apt to find this out ?

Confucius says that [some other dynasty may follow the Chou, but though it should be at the distance of a hundred ages, its affairs may be known] 3, and elsewhere he remarks,

[— A youth is to be regarded with respect. How do we know that his future will not be equal to our present ?] 4

In regard of abrogations and innovations he believes that they may be known, but he asks how the future of a youth could be known. The future of a youth is hard to be pre-ordained, whereas abrogations and innovations are easy to detect.

p2.122 However, all this is very far away, and nothing that may be heard or investigated.

Let us suppose that somebody standing at the east side of a wall raises his voice, and that a Sage hears him from the west side, would he know whether he was of a dark or a pale complexion, whether he was tall or short, and which was his native place, his surname, his designation, and his origin ? When a ditch is dug out and filled with water, affectionate care is bestowed on human skeletons excavated. Provided that the face and the hair of such a skeleton be deformed and partially destroyed, and the flesh decomposed and gone, would a Sage, upon inquiry, be apt to tell whether the deceased was a peasant or a merchant, young or old, or eventually the crime he had committed and for which he had to suffer death ? Not that a Sage is devoid of knowledge, but this cannot be known through his knowledge. Something unknowable by knowledge may only be learned by inquiry. Being thus unable to know, Sages and Worthies equally fail.

An opponent might retort with the following story : When Chan Ho 1 was sitting in his room with a pupil in attendance upon him, a cow was heard lowing outside the gate. The pupil said,

— This is a black cow, but it has white hoofs.



Chan Ho concurred saying,

— Yes, it is a black cow, but with white hoofs,

and he sent somebody to look at it. In fact, it was a black cow with its hoofs wrapped in some stuff. Chan Ho being merely a Worthy, was still in a position to distinguish the sound of the cow and to know its colour ; should a Sage with his superior insight not be qualified to know this ?

I beg leave to put a counter-question : If Chan Ho knew the cow to be black and to have white hoofs, did he also know to whom it belonged, and for what purpose its hoofs had been made white ? With this manner of devices one barely finds out one point, but cannot exhaust the whole truth. People thus may learn one thing, but being questioned and cross-examined, they show that they do not possess the entire knowledge, for only what has been seen with the eyes and asked with the mouth, may be perfectly known.

In the 29th year of Duke Hsi of Lu, Ko Lu of Chieh 2 came to court and stopped above Chang-yen. Hearing a cow lowing, he p2.123 said,

— This cow has already had three calves, but they have all been taken away from her.

Somebody asking how he knew this, he replied that her voice disclosed it. The man applied to the owner of the cow, and it was really as Ko Lu had said 3. This again is an instance of the use of some scheme and not knowable by knowledge alone.

Yang Wêng Chung of Kuang-han 4 understood the voices of birds and brutes. Once, when he was driving a lame horse in the open country, another blind horse was grazing at some distance. Both horses took notice of each other by neighing. Yang Wêng Chung said to his charioteer,

— That loose horse knows this one, although it be blind.

The charioteer inquiring how it could know that, Yang Wêng Chung replied,

— It abuses this horse in the shafts for being lame, and our horse, in turn, reviles the other because it is blind.

The charioteer did not believe it ; he went to look at it, and the eyes of the other horse were really blind 1. Yang Wêng Chung understood the voices of horses as Chan Ho and Ko Lu of Chieh could distinguish the lowing of cows.

They used a method and relied on a certain device. If both are combined it is not necessary to look or hear through, or to see at a distance and make distinctions, the eyes wandering about. For hearing sounds there is a method, and for discerning colours there is a device. Using these methods is like foreseeing. The public does not understand this, and under these circumstances speaks of a Sage with supernatural gifts.



Confucius seeing an animal named it rhinopithecus, and the Grand Annalist had the idea that Chang Liang looked like a woman. Confucius had never before seen a rhinopithecus, but when it arrived he could give it its name. The Grand Annalist belonged to another age than Chang Liang, but his eyes beheld his shape. If the people at large had heard of this, they would have looked upon both as divine beings who were prescient. However Confucius could name the rhinopithecus, because he had heard the songs of the people of Chao, and the Grand Annalist knew Chang Liang from a picture p2.124 which he had seen in the emperor’s memorial hall 2. They kept secret what they had seen, concealed their knowledge, and did not disclose their hidden thoughts. The great majority of people are thoughtless and know little. Noticing Worthies or Sages giving some creatures their proper names, they take them for supernatural beings.

From this point of view Chan Ho as well, who knew a cow to be black with white hoofs, comes under this category. Unless he was in possession of a peculiar method or device of his own, he must have got his information about the animal from without beforehand.

The present diviners look to their methods and calculations and, those being of no avail, contemplate the circumstances of the case. By combining these circumstances with their theory, they appear to be in possession of supernatural powers. Chan Ho and the like are the diviners of the present day. If Chan Ho and others had an intuitive knowledge and needed no theory, then they were like those animals living in nests which foresee a storm, or those cave-dwellers which foresee rain 1. Their intellect was prematurely developed as was the case of Hsiang T‘o and Yin Fang.

Against this it may be urged that Huang Ti, at his birth, was endowed with supernatural faculties, and that he could already speak as a babe. The emperor K‘u could tell his name after he was born. They had not yet gained any experience from without and immediately after their births were able to talk and tell their names. Was not this a proof of their superhuman faculties and an instance of their innate knowledge ?

I answer that, if Huang Ti could talk after his birth, his mother had carried him twenty months before she gave birth to p2.125 him, and that, according to this computation of the months, he must have been about two years in his mother’s womb 2.

The Emperor K‘u could speak his own name, but he could not tell those of other people. Although he possessed this one gift it did not reach very far. Did his so-called divine and innate knowledge merely amount to his faculty to utter his name when he was born ? The allegation that he knew it and did not learn it from any one, cannot be verified. Even if Huang Ti and Ti K‘u should really have been in possession of supernatural powers, these would only have been some prematurely developed talents.

A man’s talents may be precocious, or they may be completed rather late. Even in case he has been without a teacher, he has at home acquired the learning of his family. People upon remarking his precociousness and premature erudition, in their admiration exceed all bounds. If they say that Hsiang T‘o was seven years of age, he must have been ten, and their assertion that he instructed Confucius shows only that Confucius put a question to him. If they say of Huang Ti and Ti K‘u that, after their birth, they were able to talk, the time has, no doubt, been several months, and the twenty-one years which they ascribe to Yin Fang must have been about thirty. If they contend that he had no teacher nor a friend, and that he did not study, as a matter of fact, he travelled about to gather information and worked at home. But the masses are extravagant in their commendations, and in condemning they magnify the faults.

There is a popular tradition about Yen Yuan to the effect that, at the age of eighteen, he ascended Mount T‘ai, whence, in the far distance, he viewed a white horse fastened outside the Chang gate in Wu 3. An investigation reveals the fact that Yen Yuan, at that time, was thirty years old, and did not ascend Mount T‘ai, nor descry the Chang gate in Wu. The credit given to Hsiang T‘o and the praise bestowed on Yin Fang are like the admiration of which Yen Yuan was the object.



Tse Kung asked,

[— Why should the Master not study ? But, on the other side, how could he always find a teacher ?] 1

And Confucius remarks that at the age of fifteen he had his mind bent p2.126 on learning 2. The Five Emperors and Three Rulers all had their teachers. I believe that this has been set up as an example for mankind.

Somebody may object that mere cogitation might be recommended as well, and that there is no need for learning. Things may be difficult to be grasped without any alien assistance, still the talents of Worthies and Sages are equal to it.

The so-called spirits have knowledge without learning, and the so-called Sages require learning, to become Sages. Since they are compelled to study we know that they are not Sages 3.

Among the creatures between Heaven and Earth that are not provided with innate knowledge, the rhinopithecus knows the past and the magpie, the future 4. The heavenly nature which pervades them thus acts spontaneously. Should Sages resemble the rhinopithecus, then they ought to belong to the same class viz. of beasts and birds.

The queer ditties of boys are known without study, and may be described as supernatural and prescient. If Sages be put on a level with these songs, they would be uncanny like these songs.

Or are the divine Sages on earth held to be sorcerers ? Ghosts and spirits speak to men through the mouths of sorcerers. If Sages be regarded as sorcerers, in this capacity they would likewise be preternatural. That which is of the same stuff as prodigies are, has nothing in common with Sages. Sorcerers differ from Sages, therefore the latter cannot be spiritual. Not being spiritual, they are akin to Worthies, and being akin to Worthies, their knowledge cannot be diverse.

As to their difference, Sages are quick in embracing the right principles, and Worthies, slow. Worthies have many talents, and Sages, great knowledge. Their objects of thought are the same, only the amount differs. They walk the same road, but in their progress one overruns the other.

Things are hard to be understood, or easy of apprehension, and call the attention of both Worthies and Sages. For example, the alternation of culture and simplicity, the repetition of the three systems of government 5, the succession of the first days of the first moon, the concatenation of the abolitions from, and improvements upon the institutions of the various dynasties, all these things p2.127 Worthies and Sages equally know. Water and fire of ancient times are the water and fire of the present day, and sounds and colours of the present are the sounds and colours of later ages. As regards beasts and birds, plants and trees, the goodness and wickedness of men, we learn to understand antiquity from the present, and from what is now infer what is to come. Between a thousand years back and ten thousand generations hereafter there is no diversity. In investigating remotest antiquity and in inquiring into future ages, in such matters as civilization and primitive simplicity, or water and fire, Worthies and Sages are equal. In observing omens and noticing signs as well as in drawing schemes showing people’s destiny, Worthies and Sages are equal. Meeting with anomalies, they know their names and have no doubts about them, Worthies no less than Sages.

Things that may be known Worthies and Sages equally know, and things that may not be known, Sages do not comprehend either. I prove it thus :

Suppose that a Sage by mental abstraction foresees a rainfall, then his nature excels in one thing, but if his understanding does not reach to the remotest principles with all their details, it is not worth speaking of. What we speak of is the gift of prescience, and an intelligent mind, completely understanding the natures of all creatures, and fully apprehending thousands of important methods. If somebody is familiar with one thing, but not with the second, or if he knows the left and ignores the right, he is one-sided and imperfect, crippled in mind and not accomplished, and not what we call a Sage. Should he pass for a Sage it would be evident that a Sage has no superiority, and men like Chan Ho would be Sages, as Confucius and his equals are considered Sages. Then Sages would not distinguish themselves from Worthies, or Worthies come short of Sages.




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