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



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When yellow is continually seen it becomes a lucky augury. The old man of the Ch‘i bridge transmitted to Chang Liang 5 a book which turned into a yellow stone. This essence of the yellow stone became a charm. Stones belong to the same category as gold, their substance is different, but their colour the same, both are presages of earth.

In the third year of Chien-ch‘u 6, suddenly five stalks of boletus grew in the soil of the house of a woman from Ch‘üan-ling in Ling-ling 7 of the name of Fu Ning. The longest measured a foot and p2.216 4 to 5 inches, the shortest 7 to 8 inches. Stalks and leaves were of a purple colour ; it was, in fact, the purple boletus. The prefect Shên Fêng deputed his private officer Yen Shêng to present these plants to the emperor, who was exceedingly pleased and gave him money, dresses, and food in return. He then summoned all the presidents, ministers, governors, shang-chi 8, officers, and people and made known the boletus to the empire. When the empire heard the news, officialdom and citizens rejoiced, well knowing that, the excellence of the Han being so perfect and universally acknowledged, felicitous omens were sure to happen.

In the fourth year, sweet dew fell in the five districts of Ch‘üan-ling, Ling-ling, T‘ao-yang 9, Shih-an 10, and Lêng-tao 11 soaking all the leaves of the elm, cypress, cherry, and plum trees, which bending under its weight, caused it to trickle down. The people drank it and found that it tasted like sweets and honey.

In the fifth year, boletus — viz. six — grew again on the house of a man of Ch‘üan-ling, Chou Fu. In colour and shape they resembled those of the third year. Together with the former ones there were eleven in all 1.

Where the river Hsiang 2 is 7 Li distant from the city of Ch‘üan-ling there are masses of rocks above the river bearing the name of Yen-shih mountain. The mountain approaches the river from both sides, narrowing its passage. Under a protruding cliff the water disappears and forms an unfathomable abyss. There two yellow dragons put in an appearance. They had a length of over 16 feet 3 and were bigger than horses. To those who looked sharply at them they appeared like those dragons painted in pictures. The people of Yen-shih-ch‘iu all saw them at a distance of some ten steps. They further perceived some animals shaped like colts, bigger and smaller ones, six altogether. They issued from the water and roamed about and played on the shore, being, no doubt, p2.217 the children of the two dragons. Along with these they were eight in all. After they had stayed out of the water for some time, they again returned to it 4.

Under the reign of Hsüan Ti, a phœnix alighted on the city of P‘êng 5, which gave notice of it. Hsüan Ti summoned the shih-chung 6 Sung Wêng Yi who said,

— A phœnix comes down on the capital and alights in the precincts of the son of Heaven. This phœnix having alighted far away in P‘êng–ch‘êng cannot be admitted 7, for one must not have dealings with second-class birds.

The emperor replied,

— At present the empire forms one family, and there is no difference whether the phœnix alights in P‘êng-ch‘êng or in the capital 8. Why do you say that one must have nothing to do with second-class birds ?

And he called upon his attendants who were versed in the Classics to argue the point with Sung Wêng Yi. The latter, pressed very hard, took off his cap, made obeisance and excused himself.

The time of Hsüan Ti does not differ from the present, and the alighting of the phœnix, and the appearance of the yellow dragons is similar. The distance of P‘êng-ch’êng and Ling-ling is the same 1, for, as regards the extension of the emperor’s mansions, the four frontiers of the empire form the boundary lines within which Ling-ling is situated, so that it even may be considered near 2.



Kung-Sun Ch‘ên of Lu declared, in the time of Hsiao Wên Ti, that, the ruling element of the Han being earth, a yellow dragon should appear as corresponding omen. Subsequently, it was seen 3 in Ch‘êng-chi 4 whose distance from the capital equalled that of Ling-ling. Under the régime of Hsiao Wu Ti as well as of Hsiao Hsüan Ti dragons made their appearance, and four times yellow dragons become visible in this place, which proves that earth p2.218 was indeed the element of the Han dynasty 5. Chia Yi was the first who in the court of Wên Ti proposed that as the colour of the Han yellow should be adopted, and that they should choose five as their number. From this circumstance that Chia Yi, an official of extensive erudition, declared himself in favour of the yellow colour and of number five 6, it is evident that earth is the element of the Han 7.

Boletus grows in earth. The fluid of earth being congenial, the boletus grows in it. Earth produces cereals ; cereals are sweet, therefore sweet dew descended 8.

In former ages, dragons were not seen in pairs, only when the Hsia dynasty was at its height two dragons appeared in the court 9. Since the two dragons which came forth in the present time agree with those of the Hsia dynasty in number, the present government must also be conformable to that of the Hsia.

When, formerly, dragons came out, very seldom their children were seen. Now six young dragons came out simultaneously, roaming about and playing like the six children of Heaven and Earth 10, a sign of a numerous progeny.

In the era of Yao and Shun all the animals danced, at present the eight dragons likewise played and gambolled for a long while. Boletus is eaten by immortals, in order to prolong their lives. In former ages only one or two grew, now there are altogether eleven pieces indicating a longer duration of life ; and grain as high as a fir-tree was produced. When formerly sweet dew came down, it did so but in one place, now it poured down in five districts conformably to the number of earth, the power of which prevails everywhere.

The frequent occurence of imperial omens is not in vain ; they always are illustrative of something, and correspond to some p2.219 virtue. Confucius said,

[— The knowing are cheerful, and the benevolent live long.] 1

Our emperor is a holy man, consequently the boletus pointed to long life. If yellow things be produced they have the colour of earth, and its place is the centre 2. Therefore did Hsien Yuan 3, whose virtue was excellent, use yellow as his epithet. Our emperor is so kind and merciful, that his virtue approaches that of the ‘Yellow Emperor’, whence the colour of the dragons was yellow to show the identity of their virtue.

The east is called benevolent, and the dragon is the animal of the eastern region 4. The emperor being a sage, benevolent omens appeared. Benevolence implies a taste for feeding and nursing. The emperor in his benevolence and kind-heartedness loved the black-haired people, therefore the sweet dew poured down 5 and dragons, that like to conceal themselves, publicly appeared, attracted from their rocks and caverns by the emperor’s sagehood.

When portents appear they usually follow an excellent man, and lucky auguries always adhere to some fortunate person. The principle of Heaven being spontaneity, there must be some coincidence. The omens obtained by a holy sovereign surpass those of common worthies. The ruler being enlightened, and his minister judicious, everything prospers. When Wên Ti and Wu Ti received their decree, their strength was like that of the Dukes of Chou and Shao.



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CHAPTER XXI

The Necessity of Eulogies

60. XX, I. Hsü-sung



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p2.220 The rulers and sovereigns of antiquity having accomplished memorable deeds, wanted some able pen to eulogise and chronicle their achievements. Thus their deeds were made public, and all ages heard of them. If we ask the commentators of the Shuking who said the words following the passage [‘He was reverential, intelligent, accomplished, and thoughtful’] 1, they will reply : the editor, and who is the editor ? Confucius. Consequently the able writer is Confucius 2. [It was after his return from Wei to Lu 3 that he arranged the Odes, when the festive songs and panegyrics got their places.] 4 His great literary activity falls in this time.

Some maintain concerning the Shang-shu (Shuking) that shang means superior 5 : — what the superiors have done is written down by the inferiors. And who are these inferiors ? The officers. Ergo the officers commit to writing the actions of the superiors.

If we inquire of the scholars why rites are said to be instituted and songs to be composed, their reply will probably be that the rites are instituted by the superiors and therefore called institutions, whereas songs being composed by the inferiors are, on that account, termed compositions. When the empire enjoys perfect peace, panegyrics and tunes are composed. At present there is universal peace throughout the empire ; might panegyrics, odes, songs, and tunes be composed ? The scholiasts would not know it and deserve to be called pedants.

In view of the inscription on the tripod of K‘ung K‘ui 6 of Wei the officers of Chou admonished one another, and because the emperor Hsiao Hsüan Ti praised the prefect of Ying-ch‘uan 1, Huang Pa 2 for his excellent service and bestowed a hundred pounds of gold on him, the Han officers exerted themselves in the administration. Thus a ruler of men praises his officers, and the officers should extol their sovereign. That is in accordance with propriety.

When under Shun the empire was at peace, K‘üei 3 sang the virtue of Shun. The kindness of King Hsüan 4 was so perfect, that the Shiking extols his doings. Lord Shao 5 performed his duties in such a way, that in Chou they sang the song on the sweet-pear tree 6. Thus there are 31 eulogies of Chou, 5 of Yin, and 4 of Lu, 40 in all in which the poets sing the praises of exalted persons 7. Whence it is plain that subjects should eulogise their sovereigns.

The scholars contend that the Han have no sage emperors, and that their administration has not brought about universal peace. In our chapter entitled ‘Praise of the Han Dynasty’ 8 we have shown that the Han have holy emperors, and that their government has led to perfect peace, and in the chapter ‘Further Remarks on the State’ 9 we have investigated into the excellence of the Han and found out that it is extraordinary and far surpassing that of all the other dynasties.

To illustrate virtue, and praise merits, and to extol and panegyrise rulers, is nothing more than the eulogistic allusions of the Shiking and a duty of noble officers. It cannot be accounted virtue, should somebody forget his own family and look to other people’s houses, or despise his own father, and speak in high terms p2.222 of the old gentlemen of strangers. The Han are the family now embracing the whole world, and compared to the present sovereign, people and officers, the former emperors are like the old gentlemen. To know the virtue of a monarch and praise his excellence, to see the greatness of a State and glorify its deserts is much better than to doubt and suspect them of incapacity.

[Confucius said,

— Great indeed was Yao as a sovereign ; it is only Heaven that is grand, and only Yao corresponded to it. The people could find no name for it. ] 10

Some one of fifty was beating clods of earth on the road. An observer remarked,

— Grand indeed is the virtue of Yao !

The man who was playing with earth replied,

— At sunrise I begin my work, and at sunset I take my rest. I dig a well to drink, and labour my field to eat. What sort of energy does Yao display ? 2

Confucius by saying ‘Great indeed was the virtue of Yao’ showed that he knew him. To be coeval with a sage and not to know the holy ruler, is like being blind and incapable of distinguishing between green and yellow, and to know such a holy ruler, but not to praise him, is like being dumb and unfit to discourse on right and wrong.

The present blind and dumb literati are no more gifted than the people of T‘ang beating the earth. Confucius and the man of T‘ang who spoke of Yao’s greatness were both aware of his virtue. It was paramount, and by inquiring how Yao’s capacity was, the peasant beating the earth proved his ignorance of his virtue 3 ?

When at night a candle is lifted the space illuminated by its light may be measured, but when the sun shines over the world the places near and far, big and small reached by its rays are hard to be limited. Navigating on the Huai and the Chi 4, all people know their windings and turnings, but on the eastern Sea they cannot make out north and south. The square-mensuration of very great planes offers many difficulties, and great depths are hard to be fathomed by wading through with tucked-up clothes. The excellence of the Han is as extensive as the sunlight reaching p2.223 beyond the ocean. The knowing know it, whereas the unintelligent have no idea of their grandeur.

The Han writers mostly go back as far as the Yin and Chou dynasties, and the various scholars working together all treat of other matters and have not a word of praise for the Han dynasty, which the Lun-hêng has. The State eulogies in the Shiking are called eulogies of Chou ; they bear a resemblance to the Han eulogies offered by Tu Fu and Pan Ku 5.

Under the reign of Hsüan Ti portraits were painted of the entire body of Han officers. If some were left out, their descendants, later on, felt abashed that their ancestors had not been found worthy to be painted. A eulogy is much more than a simple picture. If after many generations people conversant with classical literature will find there nothing in praise of the Han dynasty, later ages must wonder at this omission. Formerly, officers well versed in the Classics were in the habit of recording the glorious feats of their rulers on bamboo and silk and of engraving encomiastic inscriptions regarding their illustrious virtue on tripods. Contemporaries of literary abilities would exert themselves on this behalf. If the fame of the Han falls short of that of the Six Reigns, it is owing to the incompetence of those writers.

The earth has elevations and depressions, whence there are high and low places. But by means of picks and spades one may level the ground. All generations reading the Classics dealing merely with the Five Emperors and the Three Rulers, no notice being taken of the events of the Han era, must imagine that these sovereigns are far superior to those of the Han dynasty. But one may use arguments as picks and spades and, by diminishing the grandeur of the Five Emperors and Three Rulers, fill up the baseness of the house of Han, which is more than levelling, for the Han thus will become exalted and those rulers abased.

Ponds and lakes there are of various kinds and of different sites, and their depths may be measured by immerging poles. The Han have swayed the empire no less than all the other dynasties, and by a thorough investigation their respective merits and demerits may be ascertained. In default of long poles the depths cannot be measured, and without the arguments of the Lun-hêng we do not learn to know the real state of these dynasties. If the Han, being the last of all these dynasties, be contrasted p2.224 with their predecessors in point of virtue, they can be compare ponds and lakes, but unless there be a clever writer, it is inevitable that a mediocre scribbler takes his place who admires antiquity and disparages the present, and we may expect that the Han will not barely not come up to the other dynasties, but be ranked below them.

A posthumous title is a trace left by a man’s actions. Good titles are Ch‘êng and Hsüan, bad ones, Ling and Li 1. Ch‘êng T‘ang met with a drought and King Hsüan of Chou likewise, yet Ch‘êng T‘ang got the epithet Ch‘êng and King Hsüan was called Hsüan 2. These pernicious calamities could not affect their government, and the officials in appending the posthumous designations did not depart from truth. From this point of view Yao is also a good title 3. In his time there was also the Great Flood, and the people were not at ease, still his case having been thoroughly examined, he was given the name of Yao. Even the one word of a posthumous title should be illustrative of its bearer, how much more ought this to be required of discourses containing many hundred words, or of eulogies numbering many thousands. Ships and carts carry people, but how can they equal the number of pedestrians, and how can simple carts and unadorned ships compete with those covered with polish and beautifully painted ? Excellent writers are the polish and adornments of the State-ship and the State-cart 1.

Without strong husbandmen the crops do not grow, and unless a State possess vigorous writers its virtual remain hidden and are not made public. The ever-flowing virtue of the Han is lost among the many generations, because the vigorous writers among the literati do not record it. It is true that from Kao Tsu downward the books written discuss this subject :

Sse-Ma Hsiang-Ju of the Han time published a work on the hill sacrifice, but this book is very short and incomplete. Sse-Ma Ch‘ien wrote on the time from Huang Ti till Hsiao Wu Ti 2, Yang Tse Yün described the period from Hsüan Ti to Ai Ti and P‘ing Ti 3, p2.225 Ch‘ên P‘ing Chung wrote on Kuang Wu Ti, and Pan Ku composed a eulogy on Hsiao Ming Ti. The merits and achievements of the house of Han may well be learned therefrom. Our reigning Lord, after his accession, has not yet found a panegyrist, therefore the author of the Lun-hêng has done his best for this purpose, whence originated the chapters : Equality of the Ages, Praise of the Han Dynasty, Further Remarks on the State, and Ominous Signs Investigated 4.

Without clouds and rain, a dragon cannot soar to heaven. Great writers are the clouds and the rain of a State ; they carry in their records the virtue of the State, and transmit its fame, that it is still illustrious after numberless generations. Does this greatness not rise even higher than the sky ?

The earth of the city-wall is nothing but common soil which men have used their strength to ram down and raise near the moat. The great achievements of a State are loftier than a city-wall, and the strength of the gentlemen of the pen is greater than that of the rammers.

The brilliant virtue and the success of a holy ruler should, at all events, be praised and put on record ; how can the current of these records suddenly be drained and exhausted ?

When somebody has won laurels, either those who extol him hit the truth, or they would fain praise him, but cannot express themselves, or what they say is bad, and they are reluctant to speak their mind freely. Which of these three classes of people deserves the prize ? The epoch of the Five Emperors and the Three Rulers was particularly prosperous in this respect. During the time of Hsiao Ming Ti, plenty of lucky presages appeared together, and there was no lack of officers and functionaries, but of all encomiasts of the State only men like Pan Ku may be said to have praised it properly. Should we not rather use high-flown panegyrics, to make the virtue of the Han illustrious among all generations, that its emperors shine like sun and moon, than be ineloquent or speak badly and improperly ? 1

When Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti travelled to the south-east and ascended Mount Kuei-chi, Li Sse composed a laudatory stone-inscription recording the excellent deeds of the emperor, and when the latter reached Lang-yeh he did the same 2. Ch‘in was a depraved State, but p2.226 in these stone-inscriptions the era was so embellished, that the readers must have taken it for the age of Yao and Shun, whence the necessity of eulogies becomes obvious. At present, we are not short of talents like Li Sse who might take part in the ascent of Mount Kuei-chi and pass over the terraces of Lang-yeh.

When musicians play beautiful airs on the guitar, and the audience does not applaud, the musicians become apathetic and lose their enthusiasm, because exquisite music is very difficult to play, and yet the spectators do not appreciate it. When a wise State keeps an excellent administration, and officialdom withholds its praise, but hopes to benefit by it, it will not be carried on. Now we possess many recipe books written on bamboo and silk which do not give the name of the inventor by whom the recipes were issued. The public does not use and overlooks them. If, however, it is stated in the headings that a recipe is that of Mr. So-and-so, and that it has already been tested, then those willing to try it will compete in copying the recipes and carving them in wood, and will regard them as a hidden treasure.

In the capital memorials are written, and in the provinces reports are drafted in order to recommend officials, praising them for their skill and their abilities. The publication of these memorials and reports induces the officials to virtue and honesty, because in the memorials their conduct is divulged, and through the reports their talents are exhibited. If the virtue of the State, in spite of its gloriousness, does not meet with applause, so that the holy State of the Great Han enjoys but scanty fame, the fault lies with the common scholars who do not make correct statements.




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