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



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The omens of universal peace are like the features of sage sovereigns. Since the physiognomies of sage rulers must not of necessity be similar, wherefore should those portents always be of the same type ? The scholars know that in the time of Yao and Shun a phœnix as well as a ‘brilliant star’ 1 became visible, and there were issued the Plan of the River and the Scroll of the Lo. Do they imagine that future monarchs, ruling the empire, must again have this kind of thing, in order to bring about universal peace ? If they go so far, they likewise ought to require of Yao again to possess joined teeth 2 and of Shun again to have eight eyebrows 3.

The holy features of emperors and rulers have not been the same at various times, consequently there is no reason why the portents obtained of yore and at present should be identical, and it is erroneous to assert that we have no period of general peace, because the present sovereigns have no phœnix and no Plan of the River. Confucius speaking of the phœnix and the Plan merely used former prodigies for exemplification, but does not intend to say that every age must again have its phœnix and its Plan.

The omens of the emperors and rulers were manifold and not only a single one, either a phœnix and a unicorn, or the Plan of the Yellow River and the Scroll of the Lo, or sweet dew and wine springs, or the harmonious blending of the Yin and the Yang, or the excellent order and the tranquillity of the people. The present omens must not agree with the old ones, nor must the latter be conformable to the former. It is not necessary that there should be an unbroken chain of the portents met with, and this will become evident from the following :

When emperors and rulers arose, their fate and luck were by no means the same. The Chou encountered a crow and a p2.194 fish 4, the Han destroyed a big snake 5, and we may be sure that the sovereigns of T‘ang and were in a similar position as those of Chou and Han. The events and circumstances of their rise and accession to the throne were not homogeneous ; why then should the presages of universal peace be identical ? To infer future auguries from those omens which happened would be like watching the trunk of a tree in wait for a hare and hiding oneself, after having destroyed the nets 6.

When peace reigns throughout the empire, the omens and presages may be very different ; as when a man is wealthy his goods are not the same. Some hoard up rice and grain, others collect silks and others, fabrics, others breed cattle and horses, or they acquire landed property and houses. Those partial to rice and grain do not care for silks and fabrics, and the cattle and horse-breeders do not appreciate land and buildings. Therefore they will say that rice and grain are better than fabrics, or that cattle and horses have a greater value than lots of land and houses. Now, provided that the people live at peace and there are omens, those who object that the old omens viz. the Plan of the River and the phœnix did not appear, and that therefore there cannot be peace, those who say so are like rice-eaters that, upon arriving in a country where everybody eats millet, and no rice is to be seen, declare millet not to be any grain.

As a matter of fact, the empire enjoys universal peace. But unless there be sages, how could this be effected ? And how can the truth of this assertion be borne out in the absence of a phœnix ? If we ask the scholars of our age they do not know a sage ; then how do they know whether there are no sages at present ? How could our contemporaries, on perceiving a phœnix, recognise it as such ? Since they do not know it, how can they be sure that there are no phœnixes now ? They really ignore whether there are sages or not, nor are they able to distinguish a genuine phœnix p2.195 from a false one. Consequently they are unqualified to ascertain whether the present time may boast of universal peace or not.



Confucius said,

[— If there is a true emperor it would still require a generation, and then virtue would prevail] 1 ;

after thirty years, the world is at peace. From the beginning of the Han dynasty up to Wên Ti there were upwards of twenty years 2. Then Chia Yi was the first to suggest that, in view of the harmony pervading the empire, the first day of the first moon, the colour of dresses, and several customs should be changed. The official titles should be fixed, and rites and music receive a new impetus. When Wên Ti ascended the throne he was ever yielding and accommodating 3. According to Chia Yi’s proposals, in the time of Wên Ti, there was already general peace.

These more then twenty years after the rise of the Han would agree with the dictum of Confucius that a generation would be required before virtue prevailed. The number of years making up one generation being already completed, universal peace must have been established. Chia Yi was aware of it, and fancy now nearly three hundred years later 4 to say that there is not yet general peace ! A big mistake, indeed.

The generation alluded to by Confucius is thirty years. The house of Han has reigned three hundred years, ten emperors 1 have become illustrious by their virtues, and should not the time of universal peace have already come ?

The era of Wên Ti was, no doubt, perfectly peaceful already. The following ages kept up the peace, until under P‘ing Ti the former Han dynasty was extinguished 2. Kuang Wu Ti restored it 3, and again it arrived at universal peace.

The following question might be put : Wên Ti had omens, and his reign deserves to be termed a time of universal peace. But Kuang Wu Ti had no such omens, how then could he be credited with universal peace ?

p2.196 My answer is that omens and auguries of emperors and rulers are dissimilar at different periods. Even though there should be no ominous things at all, yet the peaceful gathering of the people and the harmonious blending of wind and air would likewise be ominous. How can we show this to be the case ?

When emperors and rulers had pacified the empire they were in the habit of ascending Mount T‘ai, to offer the hill-sacrifice and announce the peace. Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti also did so, but encountered a violent thunderstorm with rain, because his government was anything but peaceful, and the air by no means harmoniously mixed. When Kuang Wu Ti, however, went up the mountain to sacrifice, the sky was bright and cloudless 4, a phenomenon attending universal peace. His government was peaceful and the air corresponding. Under Kuang Wu Ti’s reign the air was harmonious, the people at peace, and ominous creatures appeared of various kinds. But, notwithstanding these proofs afforded by the people and the air, those critics still cherish their doubts.

In the second year of Yuan-k‘ang 5 of Hsiao Hsüan Ti’s time, a phœnix alighted on Mount T‘ai and subsequently, also, in Hsin-p‘ing 6. In the fourth year 7, spiritual birds perched on the Ch‘ang-lo palace and some in the Shang-lin park, and the Chiu-chên 8 brought a unicorn as a present. In the second year of Shên-chi1, a phœnix and sweet dew descended on the capital, in the fourth year 2 a phœnix alighted in Tu-ling 3 and in the Shang-lin park. In the third year of Wu fêng 4, when the emperor was offering sacrifice in the southern suburb, a divine splendour appeared simultaneously, or it rose in a valley and illuminated the feasting hall for at least ten days 5. In the following year, when the emperor was sacrificing to the manes of Hou Tu, the glamour appeared again in the same manner as when he went to the southern suburb. Sweet p2.197 dew and a spiritual bird descended on the Yen-shou and the Wan-sui palaces. In the third month of the same year, a luan and a phœnix alighted on a tree within the eastern gate of the Chang-lo palace. In the first year of Kan-lu 6, a yellow dragon arrived and was seen in Hsin fêng 7, and wine springs flowed abundantly 8.

Those phœnixes arrived five or six times, and either it was the same bird appearing several times, or each time it was a different bird coming independently. The unicorn, the spiritual birds, the yellow dragon, the luan bird, the sweet dew, the wine springs, the divine splendour and supernatural light occurring at the sacrifices to Hou Tu and to Heaven and Earth, all these omens must be admitted to be very numerous, nay superabundant. Though the reign of Hsiao Ming Ti 9 could not boast of a phœnix, yet it was distinguished by a unicorn, sweet dew, vine springs, spiritual birds, white pheasants, purple boletus, and auspicious grain. Gold was found, and tripods turned up. Separated trees again grew together.

The presages of the Five Emperors and Three Rulers mentioned in the Classics and the Records are not more numerous than those of Hsiao Ming Ti. If universal peace be measured by presages, the years of Hsiao Ming Ti must have been twice as peaceful as those of the Five Emperors and Three Rulers. Accordingly, the eras of Hsiao Hsüan Ti and Hsiao Ming Ti deserve to be called ages of universal peace.

Those apt to bring about general peace are sages. Why do the scholars of the present time contend that our age has no sages ? Was the fluid derived from Heaven so copious during former generations and is it so scanty in later times ?

The Chou had three sages : Wên Wang, Wu Wang, and Chou Kung all flourishing simultaneously. Why must the Han, being a dynasty as well, rank below the Chou in this respect, and why must the wise emperors of the Chou be more numerous than those of the Han ? The Han emperors Kao Tsu and Kuang Wu Ti would correspond to Wên Wang and Wu Wang of the Chou dynasty, and Wên Ti, Wu Ti, Hsüan Ti, Hsiao Ming Ti and the reigning emperor 1 surpass the Chou kings Ch‘êng, K‘ang, and Hsüan. Not that, because I am personally living in the Han epoch, I am prone unduly to p2.198 extol and eulogize them, trying to coax and flatter, my only aim being to explain how matters stand, and how far the views held by scholars are justified.

Usually people incline to praise what is distant and belaud antiquity. In regard to omens they admire those of remote ages, and as to government they regard the old kings as worthies. Noticing something wonderful at the present time, they do not believe in it. Should Yao and Shun be re-born now, I am afraid that they would not be styled sages.

When hunters are chasing wild animals, lookers-on take a keen interest in the hunt, but do not care for fishing, which they have not seen. Thus those people look to Ch‘i, but are indifferent to Lu, or they ramble through Ch‘u and have no regard for Sung 2. Of Yao and Shun, the Hsia, and the Yin dynasty there are records on tablets of two feet four inches 3. It is those that the Literati pore on, studying from morning till night, whereas they do not look at the books of the Han time, saying that the productions of the Han are worthless and not up to those of the ancients. Just so the spectators of the hunt do not care for fishing, and those roaming over Ch‘i and Ch‘u pay no heed to Sung and Lu. If a great literary genius should arise and put on record the history of the Han time, his work would become a Shuking or a Ch‘un-ch‘iu. The scholars would take it up and study it most carefully, and, by adding it to the six old Classics, they would have seven 4.

From our most illustrious sovereign up to Kao Tsu all were sage emperors. According to the panegyrics on the Han, presented by Tu Fu and Pan Ku 5, their achievements, virtues, and omens flowed forth as a mighty stream whose waters rushing on are immeasurable. When we pass Yao and Shun and enter the sphere of the first emperors, the three dynasties are like remote narrow gorges with very deep waters. The Yin era is not so very far from the time of the Hsia dynasty. But leaving alone Yao and p2.199 Shun, the Hsia and the Yin and solely comparing the merits and accomplishments of the Han with those of the house of Chou, being the nearest to us, by weighing the pros and cons, we find that the Chou come short of the Han for the following reason :

The rulers of the Chou dynasty who received Heaven’s command are Wên Wang and Wu Wang, in the Han time there are Kao Tsu and Kuang Wu Ti, but the miracles happening at the investiture of Wên Wang and Wu Wang are inferior to the auguries attendant on the accession of Kao Tsu and Kuang Wu Ti, and the omens of Hsiao Hsüan Ti and Hsiao Ming Ti are more conspicuous than those of the Chou sovereigns Ch‘êng, K‘ang, and Hsüan Wang. The portents of Hsiao Hsüan Ti and Hsiao Ming Ti may be said to have been the finest since the days of Yao and Shun.

When our present emperor came to power he took over the State in perfect order with everything in abundance : The Four Seas 1 were united, the empire well settled, the omens were of the highest order, and mankind submitted to the glorious institutions. The black-haired people of the time of T‘ang lived in harmony, and at present, likewise, benevolence is practised throughout the empire. When the year is not prosperous and the trop fails, yet we do not see the principles of morality trodden down in distant regions, or out-of-the-way places infested by bands of desperadoes. Under the Chou dynasty the Yüeh-ch‘ang presented a white pheasant 2, in our time the Hsiung-nu, the Shan-shan 3, and the Ai-lao 4 bring cattle and horses as tribute. The domain of the Chou was confined to less than five thousand Li, the Han territory is so vast, that it extends beyond the uncultivated dependencies.

Cattle and horses are more valuable than white pheasants, and things near at hand not like the productions of distant countries. The territory of the ancient Jung and the Ti now forms part of China, the former Naked People now use court dress, the bare-headed people put on the caps, and the bare-footed people wear the shoes of the Shang dynasty. Barren and stony ground has been transformed into fertile soil, and truculent bandits have become law-abiding citizens. The roughness of the savages has been p2.200 smoothed down, and rebels have become peaceful people. If this is not universal peace, what else is it ?

As far as the transformations effected by virtue are concerned, the Chou do not outvie the Han, in the matter of omens and presages, however, the Han surpass the Chou dynasty. If their respective territories be measured, that of the Chou is much more limited than that of the Han ; why then should the Han not be equal to the Chou ? They pretend that the Chou had more sages, and that their administration brought about universal peace. The Literati in speaking of sages go much too far, placing them so high, that they leave no traces behind. They, likewise, make too much of government, so that they cut off universal peace, a continuation of which thus becomes an impossibility.



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CHAPTER XIX

Further Remarks on the State

58. XIX, II. Hui kuo



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p2.201 [Yen Yuan, in admiration of the Master’s doctrine, sighed and said,

The more I looked up to it, the higher it appeared to me, and the deeper I penetrated into it, the harder it became. ] 1

This means that Yen Yuan having studied with Confucius month after month and year after year, found the doctrine becoming deeper and deeper. In the chapter entitled ‘Praise of the Han Dynasty’ 2 we have given the Han precedence over the Chou and endeavoured to show that the Han outrivalled the Chou, but our investigations were not yet exhaustive. If we expand them to the utmost limit, we shall acquire a still clearer conception of the greatness of the Han dynasty.

When a Classic is most thoroughly explained, all its remarkable beauties become visible. So an exhaustive treatise on a State brings out all its admirable features. From these additional remarks on the Han era it will become plain that it ranks above all other ages. My reasons are the following :



Huang Ti had to fight at Cho-lu 3, and Yao led his troops to Tan-shui. In Shun’s time the Yu Miao 4 did not submit ; at the commencement of the Hsia dynasty the Hu rebelled. Kao Tsung invested the ‘Devil country’ 5 and destroyed its people after three years. Under the régime of King Ch‘êng of Chou there was an insurrection in Kuan and T‘sai 6, and Chou Kung had to undertake an expedition to the east. All this happened under the former dynasties.

p2.202 We do not hear of similar occurrences during the Han time. During the reign of Kao Tsu, Ch‘ên Hsi 1 revolted and P‘êng Yüeh 2 rebelled, but then peace was secured. When in the time of Hsiao Ching Ti, Wu and Ch‘u levied troops against him, the emperor vented his resentment against Ch‘ao Ts‘o 3. The Hsiung-nu were constantly making trouble and the calendar did not reach them 4, but the emperor did not infest their naturally barren country with his soldiers. At present they all tender their allegiance and offer oxen and horses as tribute, because the power of the Han is so imposing, that they do not venture any opposition.

When Chou committed the greatest atrocities, the whole empire took up arms against him. King Wu enlisted troops all anxious to fight forthwith, and eight hundred feudatory princes appeared uninvited 5.



Hsiang displeased with the inferiority of his title, collected troops and rose simultaneously with Kao Tsu. Their power had not yet been balanced. As to the strength of Hsiang Yü, the breaking iron is much more difficult than breaking wood. Kao Tsu destroyed Hsiang and broke his iron. Wu Wang in defeating Chou merely broke wood. Consequently, the strength of the Han surpassed that of the Chou by far.

The annihilation of one foe is comparatively easy, that of two, an arduous task, however. T‘ang and Wu defeated Chieh and Chou, one enemy each. Kao Tsu, on the other hand, destroyed Ch‘in and killed Hsiang Yü, vanquishing the two houses at the same time. His strength therefore must have been double that of T‘ang and Wu 6.



Wu Wang was chief of the west to Yin. He served Chou as a subject, and as a subject attacked his sovereign. Such was the p2.203 disgust of Po Yi and Shu Ch‘i at this conduct, that, leading their homes behind them, they made remonstrances. But Wu Wang declined to hear them. Lest they should eat the millet of Chou, they died of starvation at Shou-yang 7. Kao Tsu was not a minister of Ch‘in, nor was Kuang Wu Ti an officer of Wang Mang. The punishment of a depraved sovereign and the annihilation of a vicious ruler do not call for the criticisms of Po Yi, and, in this respect, the moral standard of the two emperors may be declared higher than that of their Chou predecessors 8.

It is easy to rise high from hills and mountains and easy to dive deep in abysses and gullies, but it is an arduous task to rise from low and humble spheres without any stepping-stone. Contrariwise, it is very convenient to inherit a title and succeed to an estate, noble ancestors having laid the foundation of one’s fortune.



Yao came to the throne as a marquis of T‘ang, and Shun succeeded to Yao as minister of finance when the latter abdicated. followed Shun, on account of his merits, as minister of works. T‘ang was in possession of an estate of seventy Li, Wên Wang had a hundred Li, and Wu Wang was margrave of the west and heir to Wên Wang’s dignity in the metropolitan district 1. The rise of these Five Monarchs and territorial lords had its good reasons and was easy because they had the necessary power.

Kao Tsu began his career as a headborough. Brandishing his sword three feet long, he conquered the empire. Kuang Wu Ti started from Po-shui 2 and exerted his prowess within the four seas. He did not call one foot of land his own, or hold any position, but immediately received Heaven’s decree and merely followed the trend of events. This was like rising from an abyss or a gully, or like diving from a hill or a mountain. Whose reigns were more remarkable, those of the Five Monarchs or those of these two sovereigns ?

We learn from several historical works that when Wu Wang was going to supersede Chou, T‘ai Kung had devised a secret plan. He gave a small boy cinnabar to eat, so that his body turned red, and when he had grown up he taught him to say : The Yin are ruined’. The people of Yin beholding the red body of the small p2.204 boy, took him for a heavenly spirit 3, and, when he said that the Yin were ruined, they all believed that the Shang would perish.

When the soldiers arrived at the plain of Mu, at dawn they carried tallow-candles 4. These artful devices deceived the people, and Wu Wang availed himself of Chou’s unpreparedness. The Chou conceal this, but the world calls it imposture. When the Han conquered the empire, they did not use such false pretences.




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