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

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Floating on the ocean, one may be thrown to the east or the west owing to the vastness of the water ; navigating on a creek, one knows the traces left by the oars of the boats on account of its smallness 2. Small things are easy to see and, in times of disorder, easily brought to light. As long as an age is not in jeopardy, remarkable deeds are not taken any notice of, and unless the ruler be wayward and perverse, loyalty cannot be exhibited. The highest and noblest feelings are displayed under a régime at the verge of ruin, and the purest and finest acts done in an epoch of universal decay 3.


Are those Worthies who safeguard themselves from all injuries, so that they do not suffer any punishments like Nan Jung who was afraid about the white sceptre-stone 1 ?

To avoid all injuries is chance and a propitious fate. They are not to be prevented by abilities and knowledge, or to be averted by repressive measures. A divine snake may be cut in two and again grow together, but it cannot hinder men from cutting it, and so may Sages and Worthies be pressed hard and again liberated, but they cannot prevail upon others not to injure them. Nan Jung could free himself from capital punishment, but Kung Yeh, though quite innocent, was loaded with fetters 2. Chü Po Yü 3 could preserve his principles in a degenerate State, whereas n Wang was kept a prisoner in Yu-li and Confucius endangered in Ch‘ên and Tsai 4. These are not disasters brought about by one’s own p2.140 doings and coming down upon a man, but unavoidable calamities in which he becomes implicated. This impossibility of avoiding calamities is like the inability to prolong one’s life. The allotted span being terminated, no Worthy can extend it of his own accord, and when the time is perilous, no Sage is apt to save himself.


Are those to be deemed Worthies who quit their country, giving up their dignity, and who reject wealth and honour, preferring penury and misery ?

To quit one’s own country, one must be under compulsion, as Po Yi 5 was, who yielded the State to his brother, lest he should be suspected of struggling with him for his share. When the Old King Tan Fu 6 had fought several battles, his people all quitted the country. One gives up one’s dignity, when one’s principles prove impracticable, and one does not obtain one’s ends. As long as his principles are successful, and his aims attained, nobody thinks of renouncing his dignity. Thus, for quitting one’s country and giving up one’s dignity one always has one’s reasons. If such persons be called Worthies, are those not affected by similar reasons, to be termed unworthy ?

Moreover, only in case there is a State or a dignity, they may be abandoned and parted with, but there being no State or any high dignity, how can they be rejected ?

The spending of wealth and giving their share to those below, is similar to this. But if there really be no wealth, what can be given away ? When the mouth is hungry, what can be yielded to others ?

While the granaries are full, people know rites and ceremonies, and when food and clothing are sufficient, one is sensible of honour and disgrace. Unselfishness grows from abundance, and strife is engendered by scarcity 1. People may sometimes share their wealth with others. The general Yuan 2 again divided his p2.141 family property with his nephew, and many saw in this a great kindness and generosity.

At the foot of Mount K‘un 3, jade is as common as pebbles, and on the banks of Lake P‘êng-li, they feed dogs and pigs with fish. Provided that a liberal man whose wealth is like the jade of Mount K‘un and the fish of Lake P‘êng-li 4 again divide his family property, this would not be sufficient.

If Han Hsin sent food to the village elder in Nan-ch‘ang 5, did he part with his wealth ? And does the fact that Yen Yuan contented himself with a bamboo dish of rice and a gourd dish of drink 6 constitute a renunciation of his property ?

Kuan Chung, in dividing money, took the greater part for himself. Being very poor and destitute, he did not possess disinterestedness, and his moral sense was weakened 7.


Is it possible to become a Worthy by avoiding the world and keeping aloof from all that is common, purifying one’s self and one’s actions ? That would be much the same as abandoning one’s country and giving up one’s dignity. Wealth and honour are generally coveted, and big posts and high rank are a source of pleasure. To abandon them and retire can only be the consequence of a life full of disappointments and of the failure of one’s plans.

Ch‘ang Chü and Chieh Ni 8 both left the world to live in retirement. Po Yi and the recluse of Wu Ling 9 rejected honour and put up with meanness. But this was not their real desire.


May those be looked upon as Worthies who are unpassionate and desireless, who do not care to fill an office, merely wishing to preserve their bodies and cultivate their natures ?

These are men like Lao Tse. The Taoists belong to another class than the Worthies. The sorrow for the world and the wish to help people in their difficulties, were a cause of great agitation for p2.142 Confucius, and gave much trouble to Mê Tse 1. Those who do not co-operate with Confucius and Mê Tse and, on the other side, in their dealings follow Huang Ti and Lao Tse, are not Worthies 2.


Are those to be considered Worthies who carry on righteousness a thousand Li and who as teachers, making friends, never disregard propriety ?

Then people belonging to rich families and living in opulence, who, besides, have strong and powerful muscles, would best meet these requirements. The weak are unable to carry on propriety, and the feeble, unfit to travel very far, and therefore would not come up to it. Families with heaps of gold do not lack friends even outside their country, and States of a thousand chariots 3 never stand in need of allies, for they have always enough to spend. If food were as common as water and fire, then even the covetous and avaricious would distribute it beyond the frontier of their country. When there are few resources, not a single one of the fundamental rules is fulfilled, whereas, when there is plenty, gifts are made thoughtlessly to thousands of families. It is a very hard task to induce poor people who do not call a peck or a bumper their own to make friends and to spend much.

Men who carry heavy burdens a thousand Li, are strong men whose feats are admired even in distant countries. Their hands and feet are hardened, their faces dark, they do not feel painful diseases, and their skin and sinews must be different from those of other people. If we compare with them such officers as have proved important witnesses to their princes, in so far as no bodily pain could force a confession from their mouths, their flesh and bones must likewise have been very strong. The strong can conceal something and uphold righteousness, the weak speak ill of their time and defame morality.

Yü Jang 4 so disfigured himself, that his own wife did not recognise him, Kuan Kao 5 was so doubled up, that not a single p2.143 piece of flesh on his body was left uninjured. Both must have had bodies different from those of other people, whence their proceedings were not like those of the majority either 1.


Are those Worthies who know the Classics, have many pupils, and attract the masses ?

Those well versed in the Classics are the Literati, and one becomes literate by study. The Literati have studied, and students are the same as the Literati. They transmit the doctrines of former teachers, and learn the oral precepts of their professors, to impart them to others. But they have no original ideas in their heads, and are unfit to argue the pros and cons of a question. In this respect they resemble postmen conveying letters, and door-keepers transmitting an order. As long as the covers are intact, so that no part of the letter is lost, and that orders are taken care of and not tampered with, they have done their duty. The scholars transmit the teachings of the ancients, without altering a single word, so that the old sayings of former teachers have been preserved down to the present day. Yet, although they have followers a hundred and more, and themselves have obtained the rank of professors and academicians, they are on a level with postmen and door-keepers 2.


May those be called Worthies who possess a vast knowledge of things ancient and modern, and remember all sorts of secret records and chronicles ?

They rank but after the scholars above mentioned. Whoever possesses great talents and many interests, will devote himself to study, and never flag, like heirs specially provided with everything who, in possession of all the writings left by their forefathers, are thus enabled to complete these works, perusing and reciting them, as archivists do their papers. They are like the Grand Annalist and Liu Tse Chêng who, being in charge of all the records, have become famous for their great learning and vast erudition.


May those be deemed Worthies who, by their wonderful influence and cunning, are apt to command troops and lead the masses ?

p2.144 They would be men like Han Hsin 3, who in contending States win laurels and become celebrated generals ; but in peaceful times they cannot exert themselves and plunge into disastrous adventures. When the high-flying bird is dead, they store the good bow away, and after the cunning hare has been caught, the good greyhound is cooked 1. A potent and wily officer is like the bow used for the high-flying bird and the greyhound chasing the cunning hare. In times of peace, there is no use for him, wherefore the bow is stored away, and the dog, cooked. In peaceful times, the ruler does not disdain such an officer, or slight a hero, but he cannot give that assistance to the sovereign which the time requires.

Had the talent of Han Hsin been so versatile, that he could have acted like Shu Sun T‘ung 2, he would never have planned an insurrection nor miserably perished by execution 3. He was endowed with strength and heroism, but had not the wisdom of preserving peace ; he knew all the devices to marshal troops, but did not see the benefits of a settled state. Living in a time of peace, he plotted a rebellion, whereby he was deprived of his glory, lost his country, and did not obtain the name of a Worthy.


Are those Worthies who are able debaters with sweet words and clever speech ?

Then they would resemble Tse Kung. As a debater Tse Kung surpassed Yen Yuan, nevertheless Confucius placed him below the latter, because his real talents did not rank so very high.

People very much appreciate an able speaker. Since Wên Ti gave his favour mostly to the guardian of the tiger cage, and thought little of the intendants of the imperial parks, Chang Shih Chih 4 p2.145 commended Chou P‘o and Chang Hsiang-Ju 5, and the emperor became aware of his error. Able debaters are like the guardian of the tiger cage and can hardly pass for Worthies.


Then are Worthies those proficient in penmanship whose style and calligraphy are equally good ?

Penmanship is not much different from speech. What the mouth utters becomes a word, and what the pencil writes, a character. The talents of controversialists are not of a very high order, and so the knowledge of clever writers is not very varied.

Furthermore in what must these penmen be well versed ? They must be familiar with office work. Among the office work nothing is more laborious than law-suits. A case being doubtful, a judgment is asked for. There was no better judge in the world than Chang T‘ang whose writings were very profound, yet at the court of the Han he was not accounted a Worthy. The Grand Annalist in his introduction classes him with the cruel, and the proceedings of the cruel are not those of Worthies 1.

In the forests of Lu a woman cried because a tiger had eaten her husband, and it again devoured her son, without her leaving the place, for the government was good and not oppressive, and the officers were not tyrannical 2. The cruel are of the same type as the oppressive and tyrannical, and it is impossible to take them for Worthies.


Do those deserve this name who are skilled in panegyrics and irregular verse, writing a pompous and highly polished style ?

Sse-Ma Hsiang-Ju 3 and Yang Tse Yün 4 would be the right persons. Their style was refined, and their subjects grand, their p2.146 expressions exquisit, and their meaning deep, but they could not find out right and wrong, or discriminate between truth and falsehood. Although their diction was as brilliant as brocade and embroidery, and as deep as the Yellow River and the Han, the people did not learn thereby the difference between right and wrong, nor did they help to bring about reforms aiming at the furtherance of truth.


May those be called Worthies who live in perfect purity, never submitting to any defilement of their person?

Such are people who flee from the world and avoid all that is vulgar, like Ch‘ang Chü and Chieh Ni 5. Although they did not shun the company of common people altogether, they lived as if they had left the world, purifying their persons and not serving their sovereign, adhering to their principles and not troubling their fellow-citizens.

A great Worthy lives in this world in such a way, that when the time requires action he acts, and when it demands inaction he remains passive. Considering what is proper and what not, he upon that determines pure and impure actions. Tse Kung was yielding, but his goodness was limited; Tse Lu liked to receive, and passed for a virtuous man. Yielding is unselfishness and receiving, covetousness. Covetousness is profitable and unselfishness, injurious. Analogically human dealings cannot always be pure and without blemish 1.

Po Yi cannot be considered an ideal. Confucius disapproves of him 2, and he cannot be held to be a Worthy, his doings being opposed to those of a sage.

[Some one inquired of Confucius saying,

— What kind of a man is Yen Yuan ?

— A benevolent man, replied Confucius, and I am not his equal.

— And how is Tse Kung ?

— He is an excellent debater, and I do not come up to his standard.

— And Tse Lu ?

— He is a hero, said Confucius, and I cannot compete with him.

— These three gentlemen are all superior to you, Master, the stranger went on to say, why then do they serve you as their master ?

— I am benevolent, said Confucius, and at the same time submit to p2.147 ill-treatment, I am a clever disputant and a bad speaker, I am bold and timid. It is impossible to interchange the accomplishments of the three gentlemen with my ways.

Confucius knew how to use his faculties.] 3 Those who possess high talents and lead a pure life, but ignore how to employ their gifts, are really like imbeciles who do not act at all.


Consequently, all have their faults, then can the faultless be considered Worthies ?

They would be like those good people of the villages of whom Mencius says,

[— If you would blame them, you would find nothing to allege. If you would criticise them, you would have nothing to criticise. They agree with the current customs. They consent with an impure age. Their principles have a semblance of right-heartedness and truth. Their conduct has a semblance of disinterestedness and purity. All men are pleased with them, and they think themselves right, so that it is impossible to proceed with them to the principles of Yao and Shun. On this account Confucius said that those good people of the villages are the thieves of virtue. Because they seem what they really are not, Confucius hated them.] 1


Then, how are the real Worthies to be recognised, and which method is to be used to acquire this knowledge ? People at large noticing great talents and brilliant gifts, and that a person has achieved success, Gall him a Worthy. Accordingly it is very easy to find out, wherefore then should it be difficult to know a Worthy ?

The Shuking says,

« To know a man one must be wise, but the emperor finds it difficult 2.

If a man be called a Worthy in view of his great abilities and extraordinary accomplishments, whence does the difficulty arise which is referred to ? There is a reason for this difficulty. For the emperor Shun it was not p2.148 easy to know men, the statement of ordinary people that they are able to know a Worthy is, therefore, erroneous.

Then are Worthies altogether unrecognisable ? No, they are easy to be recognised. Those who find it an arduous task, do not know how they may be recognised, and therefore put forward this difficulty. A Sage is not easy to know. Knowing his criteria, even persons of moderate abilities may recognise him.

It is like artisans making a vessel. For those who understand their business, it is not difficult, for those who do not understand it, it is not easy. Worthies are more easily recognised than vessels produced. But in the world no difference is made, and true Worthies are mixed up with common scholars. Common scholars, by their eloquence and complaisance, the distinction of the official positions they occupy, and by the marks of conspicuous favour which they may expect, obtain the names of Worthies. The latter live in small alleys, poor and wretched they terminate their lives, having suffered from defamation, although they could not be convicted of any crime.

But, under these circumstances, when may they be recognised ? Wishing to recognise them, one must look at their good hearts. The abilities of Worthies must not of necessity be of a very high order, but their hearts are bright, and though their intellectual power be not very great, they do what is right.

How then can their hearts be known ? From their speech : those who have a good heart speak good words. They serve to investigate their dealings. Good words are accompanied by good actions. Words and proceedings being right, in governing the family, all relations are assigned their proper places, and in governing the State, high and low have their proper ranks. Those with bad hearts cannot distinguish between white and black, and make no difference between good and bad. Their administration causes disorder and confusion, and their institutions lack the right measure.

Consequently with a good heart a man is always good, and with a bad heart he can never be good. Having a good heart, he is apt to distinguish between right and wrong. The principles of right and wrong being established, and the excellence of the heart in evidence, a person may be poor and wretched, troubled and miserable, his undertakings may fail, and no success be achieved, still he is a Worthy. In government not the result is to be considered, the important thing being whether the means employed are proper, and of actions the effect is not decisive, but it must p2.149 be hoped that what has been done is correct. This correctness and propriety being manifest, it is not necessary that there be a flow of words or a great many actions. Therefore it has been said :

« Words must not be many, but their meaning must be ascertained ; deeds must not be far-reaching, but their source should be examined.

This signifies that those possessing a well-principled heart, although they be bad speakers and debaters, discuss these questions in their bosoms. Men like the discussion of the heart, and not that of the mouth. When the heart is discussing, the words may be awkward, but no injustice is done. When the mouth is discussing, there are beautiful phrases perhaps, but there is no result. Confucius referring to the wickedness of Shao Chêng Mao 1 said that his words were bad, but overflowing, and that he conformed to what was wicked, but was very smooth. If people are wicked inwardly, but outwardly are able to dissimulate it, the masses do not see it and take them for Worthies.

As those who are vicious inwardly, but specious, are looked upon as Worthies by the world, so those possessing intrinsic merit who cannot make a show of it, in the eyes of the public are unworthy. When right and wrong are confounded and there is no real government, only a Sage knows it, and when the words and deeds of a man are mostly like those of Shao Chêng Mao, only a Worthy perceives it. Much is said in this world in which right and wrong are interchanged, and many things are done in which truth and error are confounded. To discriminate between such erroneous statements and to adjust such a confusion, but Sages and Worthies are qualified.

The heart of a Sage is bright and never beclouded, that of a Worthy well-principled and never perplexed. If this enlightenment be used to inquire into wickedness, it all comes out, and if those principles be employed to weigh the doubts, all doubts become settled, quite another result than that arrived at by the world.

What is the reason that the masses, although the words spoken be true and correct, do not understand this ? It is because they have been too long befooled by common prejudices, that they have not the force to retrace their steps and to follow truth. For this reason true and correct statements are rejected by the people, and all customs departing from the ordinary are criticised by the public.

p2.150 Kuan Tse 1 said that a superior man speaking in a hall, fills the hall, and speaking in a room, fills the room. I wonder how his words can fill an apartment. True and correct words being uttered, and the people of the hall all possessing a true and correct knowledge, they afterwards will fill the hall. But how can they fill it, if their knowledge be not true and correct, so that they feel surprised, and find fault with what they hear ?

When songs are very beautiful, there are very few who can sing them in a chorus, and when a speech is to the point, those who approve of it are not many. Falling in with a song and hearing a speech is about the same thing. A song being beautiful, people are not all able to chime in, and a statement being true, not all believe it.

Duke Wên of Lu sacrificing contrary to the custom, three men went away, and Duke Ting having made an offering according to the rules, five men rebelled 2. Those used to old customs are forward to believe that the rites are not proper.

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