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



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In the chapter ‘Completion of the War’ 5 it is related that when the Chou defeated Chou, pestles were swimming in blood. This being recorded in the aforesaid chapter, the story about feeding a boy with cinnabar and lifting tallow-candles at dawn is probably true also.

When the Han smote the doomed Hsin Huang Ti 6, Kuang Wu Ti had five thousand men under his command. Wang Mang dispatched two dukes at the head of thirty thousand men. When they were fighting at K‘un-yang 1 it thundered and rained, and all was wrapped in obscurity, so that the front and the rear-ranks could not see each other. The soldiers of Han issued from the city of K‘un-yang and attacked the armies of the two dukes. One man stood for ten, and the troops of the two dukes were routed 2. Heaven helped the Han with thunder and rain to overpower their enemies ; was not that quite something different from carrying tallow-candles and taking in the Yin by human tricks ?

Some say that when Wu Wang had defeated Chou, the latter threw himself into a fire and died. Wu Wang personally with a halberd cut off his head and hung it up on a great white standard 3. King Hsüan of Ch‘i pitied an ox whose blood was to be smeared on a bell, because he saw it trembling 4. King Chuang of Ch‘u condoned the guilt of the viscount of Chêng, on beholding his bare p2.205 flesh and his emaciated body 5. A superior man hates the wicked, but not his body. The sight of the corpse of Chou in the flames must have been a dismal one, much worse than the trembling of the ox or the emaciated person. How could Wu Wang bear to sever the head with a halberd and hang it up ?

When Kao Tsu entered Hsien-yang, Yen Yüeh had executed Erh Shih Huang Ti, and Hsiang had killed Tse Ying 6. Kao Tsu entered Ch‘in with a placid look and did not mutilate the two corpses. At the arrival of Kuang Wu Ti in Ch‘ang-an, Liu Shêng Kung 7 had already killed Wang Mang, but although he had his soldiers in readiness to punish the guilty, he did not lift his sword against the dead body. Which is greater, the barbarity of him who cut off the head of a corpse burned in fire or the clemency of sparing a body already cut to pieces ? Was this Wu Wang’s revenge for Yu-li 8 ?

The imprisonment of a subject by his lord was not as blamable as the dethronement of the Chou by the Ch‘in dynasty or the poisoning of P‘ing Ti 9 by Wang Mang. In regard to the depravity of Chieh and Chou, Tsou Po Ch‘i 10 is of opinion that it was not as bad as that of doomed Ch‘in, and that doomed Ch‘in was not as bad as Wang Mang. Yet in spite of his minor guilt the Chou punished King Chou so cruelly, and in spite of the more serious nature of their crimes the Han dealt so leniently with Ch‘in and Wang Mang. Where was the greater generosity and where the greater narrow mindedness ?

When the mother of Kao Tsu was enceinte, a scaly dragon appeared above her, and in her dreams she met with a spirit. Her son was very fond of wine and would drink it on credit in a wine-shop. Forgetting to pay, he drank till he was intoxicated and fell asleep. Then always some portent would appear above him. Walking at night, he killed a snake, and the mother of the snake cried most lamentably. Together with Hou he often repaired to a field-cottage and used to hide. Then a brilliant fluid would shine forth, so that Hou knew his where-abouts. Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti p2.206 perceived the fluid of a son of heaven in the south-east 1, and the Five Planets rose and assembled at the Eastern Well 2. When the people of Ch‘in looked out for the army of Han the clouds showed all sorts of tints.

At the birth of Kuang Wu Ti a phœnix alighted on the city, and a blade of auspicious grain grew in an apartment. At midnight, when no candles were burning, his deceased mother appeared floating in the air in a stream of light 3. At first Su Po A observed that the air at Ch‘un-ling was condensed and concentrated 4, and when Kuang Wu Ti, on his progress, passed an old cottage, he beheld a wavering fluid going up to the sky.

No such phenomena have been recorded in connexion with the birth and the rise of the Five Emperors and the Three Rulers. The mother of Yao was moved by a red dragon, but no miraculous signs are reported attending his accession. The mother of swallowed pearl-barley, and before she gave birth to her son obtained a black jade bâton. The mother of Hsieh consumed a swallow’s egg, and when T‘ang put in an appearance, a white wolf carried a hook in its mouth. The mother of Hou Chi stepped into the foot-prints of a giant 5. When Wên Wang came to the front he obtained a red bird, Wu Wang got a fish and a crow 6, but in no case could they compete with the prodigies indicative of universal peace under the Han emperors.

In the times of Huang Ti, Yao and Shun, a phœnix was seen once, but very few were those of the numerous portents which became visible twice. Han Wên Ti had a yellow dragon and a jade staff, Wu Ti, a yellow dragon, a unicorn, and joined trees, under Hsüan Ti a phœnix came five times, besides there were a unicorn, spiritual birds, sweet dew, wine springs, a yellow dragon, and a supernatural glamour. P‘ing Ti could boast of a white and black pheasant, Hsiao Ming Ti had a unicorn, spiritual birds, sweet dew, wine springs, a white and a black pheasant, felicitous boletus, joined trees, and auspicious grain, signs as wonderful as those of Hsüan Ti 1. Then there was a supernatural tripod and gold found p2.207 in a miraculous manner 2. So numerous and unceasing were the omens corresponding to the emperor’s accomplishments. In view of the illustrious virtue of the Han dynasty, these auspicious auguries were so numerous.

After the demise of Hsiao Ming Ti our present Lord 3 ascended the throne. In the time between the first and second year 4 of his reign, the blessings of his virtue were felt everywhere. In his third year, five felicitous boletuses grew in Ling-ling 5 ; in his fourth year, sweet dew fell in five districts, and in his fifth year boletuses grew again. In the sixth year, yellow dragons made their appearance, altogether eight, big and small ones 6. When in former ages dragons had shown themselves, they never came in pairs, and two boletuses never grew together. Sweet dew did not fall but in one place. At present, eight dragons came forth simultaneously, and of boletuses there grew as many as eleven, and sweet dew poured down on five districts 7. The excellence of the Han was so abundant and conspicuous, that auguries happened in such numbers. Which of the ancient emperors and rulers ever attained to this ?

The Literati urge that sovereigns, after having developed their virtue, receive the decree of Heaven. In the chapter ‘Heaven’s Original Gift’ 8 of the Lun-hêng we have maintained that rulers are already endowed with the heavenly fate at their birth, but it is difficult to know life.

In case we assume two endowments, then wine and food given twice are more abundant than given once. As the scholars say, the Five Monarchs received the decree of Heaven but once each, only the Han received it twice, consequently the fate granted them must be richer than that of their predecessors. If the statement of the Lun-hêng be correct, and the spontaneous fluid be received at birth, then likewise the quantity received by the house of Han must be greater. Having been cut off 9, they were again restored, and having died, they revived again. In the world, persons that after death come to life again, are usually looked upon as p2.208 genii. The reign of the Han had been cut off and was renewed. The fact that Kuang Wu Ti regained the lost throne is something very remarkable.

Wu Wang defeating Chou availed himself of the savages of Shu 1, who helped him in the battle of Mu-yeh. In the time of Ch‘êng Wang, the Yüeh-ch‘ang 2 presented a pheasant, and the Japanese brought odoriferous plants as tribute. When the power of Yu and Li 3 was shattered, the Jung and the Ti made an attack on the capital of Chou, and King P‘ing proceeded eastward 4, in order to avoid their aggressions, but under the Han dynasty the four kinds of savages 5 all appeared at court with tributes. In the first year of Yuan-shih 6 of the emperor P‘ing Ti, the Yüeh-ch‘ang appeared with interpreters for two languages 7 and offered one white pheasant and two black ones. Owing to the excellence of Ch‘êng Wang and Chou Kung’s assistance, they had presented one pheasant, but P‘ing Ti received three.

Subsequently, in his fourth year, the Ch‘iang tribes 8, Liang Ch‘iao, Ch‘iao Chung, and Liang Yuan 9 and others outside the fortifications of Chin-ch‘êng 10 offered their fish-ponds and their salt-land, and desired to become subjects of the Han. Afterwards, the Han even got possession of the stone house of Hsi Wang Mu, and established there the circuit of the ‘Western Sea’ 11. In the Chou era p2.209 the Jung and the Ti attacked the king, in the Han period they became subjects of the empire, and offered their valuable land. The State of Hsi Wang Mu lies outside the farthest limits of the world, yet the Han annexed it. Whose virtue is greater and whose territory larger, that of the Han or the Chou ?

At present the Ai-lao and the Shan-shan are willing to tender their allegiance and to revert to virtue. Owing to the constant disturbances of the Hsiung-nu, generals were sent to chastise them, who captured thousands and ten thousands of their cattle.

Yü, the Hsia emperor, went naked into the country of the people of Wu, and T‘ai Po, gathering medicinal herbs, cut off his hair and tattooed his body 1. With reference to the territory of Yao and Shun, Wu ranked as an uncultivated dependency. The Yüeh were counted among the Nine Savages 2. They wore woollen cloth and wrapped a sash round their heads 3. Now they are all Chinese subjects wearing long dresses and using shoes. The people of Pa, Shu 4, Yüeh-sui 5, Yü-lin 6, Annam, Liaotung, and Yo-lang, in the Chou time, wore their hair long and in tufts with hair-pins, now they wear fur-caps. In the Chou era they required two interpreters, now they chant the Shiking and the Shuking.

The Ch‘un-ch‘iu puts forward the principle that [the relations of sovereigns ought not to harbour wicked designs, and that if they do they deserve death.] 7 The king of Kuang-ling, Ching was led astray by a mischievous magician, and Ying, king of Ch‘u, was beguiled by a mean fellow. Several times their plans became manifest, but Hsiao Ming Ti pardoned them three times. The two kings then swallowed poison 8. Chou Kung executing Kuan and T‘sai went much farther than this.



p2.210 The relations of King Ch‘u from his mother’s side, the Hsü family, conspired with him. Hsiao Ming Ti said,

— The Hsü family is related to the king, that they should wish him honour and glory is but human.

Thus his holy heart forgave them and did not treat them according to law.

The marquis Fu of Yin Chiang posted a letter in the market and in the villages, slandering the holy government. Our Lord regretting his treachery, deprived him of his title and his territory. Hating a man one dislikes his adherents left behind. Yet the emperor raised the sons of the two kings and thus pacified Ch‘u and Kuang-ling, and allowed the younger brother of Chiang, Yuan to continue the sacrifices to the Yin family 9. The two kings were of imperial blood, and as feudatory princes, and kings, the equals of Kuan and Ts‘ai. Yet the descendants of the latter were extinguished, whereas for the two kings their posterity was reinstated into all their honours, an act of clemency deserving the highest praise. Yin Chiang had another family name than the emperor, but out of respect for his ancestors the sacrifices were preserved.

The righteousness shown by raising Wu Kêng 1 and the kindness displayed in allowing Lu Fu to continue the sacrificial rites is not so very great, for the Yin 2 were emperors as well as the Chou, who levied troops to fight them, coveting the grandeur of the empire, and thus cut off the reign of Ch‘êng T‘ang. This was not an act of justice worthy of a holy sovereign, nor in accordance with Heaven’s command. Yin Chiang, on the other side, was but a subject, and the reign of the Han was firmly established. The extinction of the Yin family would not have been contrary to justice, and its preservation, nevertheless, was due to the boundless kindness of Hsiao Ming Ti. His favours showered down on his own kindred within and on other families without. How could the liberality of Yao or the generosity of Shun exceed this ?

The dealings of Huan Tou were such, that he was at home with glib-tongued people and employed the perverse. Kung Kung p2.211 intrigued with him and was, therefore, recommended to Yao. San Miao was an artful and cunning man, or as some say it was a guilty country. Kun could not regulate the waters, being at his wits’ end. All were personally guilty and could not shift their guilt upon the emperor. Therefore Yao and Shun banished them, and they died in regions devoid of vegetation 3. All those who maliciously plotted against the emperor, who resenting the strong hand of government revolted, who having to investigate something did not speak the truth, who injured the State or killed its officers, and whose offences were much graver than those of the above-named four criminals, all those were by Hsiao Ming Ti most graciously merely sentenced to banishment into the border-lands. Our present Lord in his utmost kindness caused them to return to their native places. Since the dawn of civilisation no similar mercy was ever shown.



Yen Tse said that, the Hook Star being between the House and the Heart, the earth would be moved 4. An earthquake is naturally determined by time and not the result of government, but the emperor was terror-stricken 5 and attributed the event to his administration all the same, minutely investigating its merits and good qualities, and inquiring into its defects and shortcomings. Kao Tsung stooped down 6, and Ch‘êng of Chou opened the trunk 7. Thus far did their zeal lead them. When grain grows and the year is normal, even a common ruler, by merely following his fate, is able to establish a virtuous government, but when calamities and dangers abound, only the sagest and wisest are successful in their efforts to reform. Thus every ordinary doctor knows how to deal with a small disease, but none but a Pien Ch‘io can cope with a virulent attack 1.

In the first year of the Chien-ch‘u period 2, a pernicious current arrived, causing all the diseases of the year, which was much worse than a drought and a want of rain, when the cattle die and the people are driven from their homes. The emperor exhibited his p2.212 virtue : the best and worthiest men were in office, and the five presidents of the board of work supported the State in its troubles, sending about grain and giving relief. Although those left starving were not a few, yet the empire admired the emperor’s virtue, and in spite of all those difficulties it did not revolt. The people were destitute of grain, but replete with principles and virtue, their bodies were roving about on the roads, but their hearts, returning to their native villages. Therefore no traces of robbery were to be found on the highways, and in hidden and out-of-the-way places no acts of violence were committed. Danger was changed into security, and distress into comfort. Which of the Five Emperors and Three Rulers would have been fit to bring about such a state of things ?



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CHAPTER XX

Ominous Signs Investigated

59. XIX, III. Yen-fu



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p2.213 It was in the eleventh year of Yung-p‘ing 1. The inhabitants of the Huan marquisate 2 in Lü-chiang 3 were then in possession of a lake. There were two small boys in Huan, named Ch‘ên Chüo and Ch‘ên T‘ing, both over ten years old, who together went angling on the banks of the lake. Ch‘ên T‘ing was the first to go. Ch‘ên Chüo arrived later, and asked his comrade whether he had caught anything. Upon Ch‘ên T‘ing replying in the affirmative, he went home to fetch his rod and fishing-line. At a distance of 40 stops from Ch‘ên T‘ing he beheld a wine amphora of a bright yellow colour that had fallen into the water near the edge of the lake. Ch‘ên Chüo mistook it for copper. He waded through the water to get hold of it, but it was so slippery and heavy, that he was unable to lift it. — T‘ing seeing this from afar shouted,

— What have you got ?



Chüo rejoined,

— It is copper, but I cannot lift it.



T‘ing came to his assistance and entered the water, but before he had seized the amphora it quite suddenly was transformed into a covenant vessel, sank into the deep through the movement, and again became invisible. But T‘ing and Chüo who kept their eyes on it perceived something of bright yellow colour like so many coins, hundreds and thousands of pieces. They pushed and raised it, and with their hands full they went home and told their families.

The father of Ch‘ên Chüo was a retired official of the State whose style was Chün Hsien. He inquired, full of amazement, where he had found this, and Chüo gave a description. ‘It is gold’, quoth Chün Hsien and forthwith, along with Chüo, he hastened to the place of discovery, where there was still much left in the water. He himself entered the water and seized it. When the neighbours of Chüo and T‘ing had heard the news, there was a general rush, and they together obtained upwards of ten pounds. Chün Hsien personally acquainted a minister who advised the prefect, and the prefect p2.214 sent his officers to receive the gold and instructed his private official Ch‘êng Kung to take it over and present it to the throne, stating how he had got the gold. An imperial edict was issued to the effect that, if it was, as stated in the memorial, all was right, but if it was not, then capital punishment would be meted out. With this edict Ch‘êng Kung returned to the prefect, who with his subordinates took cognisance of it. They had the impression that the emperor doubted the veracity and believed that something had been concealed and that the report had been unduly embellished. For this reason the prefect sent in a new report, stating that the gold had been discovered exactly as reported previously. Therewith the matter closed.

In the 12th year, Chün Hsien and his associates addressed the emperor stating how they had found the gold in the water of the lake, that the chief of the circuit had presented it to the throne, and that as yet no compensation had been received. In the imperial rescript to the authorities of Lü-chiang it seemed as if His Majesty was not willing to grant Chün Hsien and his associates the price of the gold, for the prefect had reported that the gold found by Chün Hsien and others came from a public lake, and not from the private waters of these persons. Consequently no compensation was given. In the 12th year, however, an edict appeared commanding the payment of the value of the gold to Chün Hsien and the others according to the actual market price of gold 1.

The auspicious portents of the Han were manifold. The discovery of gold being very strange, it was put on record. The precious things, gold and jewels are divine, therefore their appearance is something extraordinary 2. Something of a golden colour first appeared in the shape of a wine amphora and afterwards became a covenant vessel and, being moved, sank into the deep. Was not this a miracle ? 3



p2.215 When the Hsia dynasty was flourishing distant countries made pictures of their produce, and the nine tribes offered gold as tribute. regarded it as propitious and cast it into tripods. The Nine Tripods of the Chou 4 were the gold of these distant countries. No matter whether it was brought by people as tribute or whether it issued spontaneously from the water, it was the same after all and in both cases the upshot of conspicuous virtue and an omen for a sage emperor.

A golden and pearless age is accompanied with gold and gems. In the time of Wên Ti there appeared a gem flail. Gold and gems are the choicest omens. The sound of gold and the colour of gems are most appreciated by mankind.

In the Yung-ch‘ang circuit 1 there was gold as well. The smallest lumps were as big as a grain of millet. In the sand of the banks of rivers people found five shu 2 of gold every day. Its colour was a uniform yellow. Earth produces gold, and the colour of earth is yellow. The ruling element of the Han dynasty is earth, which accounts for the production of gold 3. Of metal there are three kinds 4.




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