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



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Confucius knew the Five Canons, and his disciples learned them from him. He should have asked again about them, to set an example to mankind ; why did he directly impart them to his pupils by word of mouth ? Regarding the Five Canons with which he was familiar, he did not ask again, but concerning the grand temple with which he was well acquainted likewise, he inquired p2.285 again, to set an example to others. Wherefore did he not show the same diligence in both cases ? The visit of Confucius to the grand temple affords the tenth proof that Sages have no foresight.

When a host invites a guest, food and drink are at the disposal of the latter whenever he likes them, and he is lodged as if he were in his own house. If, however, the guest has heard that in the family of the host there are reprobate sons and grand-sons who prompt their parent to withdraw the dainty dishes and keep back the choice food, so that there is nothing to eat or drink, and to close his halls and shut his house to visitors, the guest, if he is in his mind, on no account accepts an invitation, for he knows that he would have no pleasure from it, he would go in vain, and have nothing but annoyance, and expose himself to insult. In case he goes he has no enjoyment, and returns annoyed and insulted. He who does not know a family is not acquainted with its real character. The real nature of men is difficult to know, and it is not easy to foretell good or bad luck.

If Confucius had been prescient he would have been aware that the feudatory lords were humbugged by malicious ministers, and would never have employed him, and that all his efforts would have been in vain, and only have brought disgrace upon him. When the invitations and summonses arrived, he should have stayed at home, and not have gone. A superior man does not do useless things, nor venture upon undertakings calculated to bring him dishonour. He would not travel about in response to invitations, only to suffer the ignominy of having his foot-prints wiped out, nor have wasted his admonitions on unworthy rulers, only to come into danger of being cut off from his supplies 1. Accordingly Confucius did not even know things quite near him.

It will perhaps be objected that Confucius himself knew quite well that he would not find employment, but his holy heart could not bear the idea that his doctrine should not be carried out, and that the people would continue living in a state of abject misery. Probably he wished to assist the princes, in order to carry out his principles and save the people, wherefore he accepted the invitations and travelled about, undaunted by shame and disgrace. He thought of his doctrine and not of himself, therefore he did not hesitate to brave all dangers ; solicitous for the people and not for his name, he did not care about the aspersions cast upon his character.



p2.286 I say this is not true. [Confucius said,

— I returned from Wei to Lu, and then the Music was reformed, and the Songs and Dithyrambs all found their proper places.] 2

That means to say that Confucius himself knew the proper time. How did he know it ? Lu and Wei were the most virtuous states on earth. Since Lu and Wei could not employ him, nobody in the world could employ him, wherefore he retired and produced the Ch‘un-ch‘iu, and revised the Shiking and the Shuking. From this return from Wei to Lu we infer that Confucius himself was in the dark as to the proper time for going and accepting an invitation.

As long as there were no signs or indications, the Sage did not find out the truth, but when Wei and Lu declined his services, he knew that the end had come, and when the people of Lu caught a unicorn 1, he was convinced that all was over. His doctrine had come to an end, and his career was stopped. These signs being manifest, all the hopes cherished by his heart were frustrated, and he retired to quiet meditation.

Restlessly wandering about, he was like a sick man who, before he dies, prays and divines, with a view to curing his disease. Before the signs of death appear, he still hopes to retain his life. Thus Confucius, before seeing indications that all was over, obeyed the calls, expecting to find employment. When the marks of death appear, the diviners are dismissed, and the physicians 2 sent home. Confucius, then, resolutely grasped the pencil and revised the books. His acceptance of the invitations and his wanderings are the eleventh proof that Sages have no foresight.

Confucius said,

[— The swimming animals can be caught with a line and those running 3, be shot with an arrow. As regards the dragon, I do not know, whether it can ride on the wind and the clouds, and thus rise on high. To-day I saw Lao Tse. Should he perhaps be like a dragon ?]

A Sage knows all creatures and their actions. Lao Tse and the dragon are a human and another creature, and their doings in the sky and on the earth are actions. Why did he not know p2.287 them ? If Lao Tse was a spirit, a dragon is also a spirit, and a sage likewise. All spirits obey the same law, and their spiritual fluids are entwined. Why did he not know them ? Confucius’ ignorance about the dragon and Lao Tse is the twelfth proof that Sages have no foresight.

[Confucius said,

— Filial indeed is Min Tse Ch‘ien. Men have no words of disparagement 4 for his conduct in reference to his parents and brothers.] 5

Shun of was a great sage, who hushed up the crimes of his own flesh and blood, and so far still surpassed Min Tse Ch‘ien. Ku Sou and Hsiang 6 bade Shun build a granary and excavate a well, with the intention to bring about his death 7. Shun should have seen the attempt made upon his life and, in time, have remonstrated and averted it, or if he had no means to do so, he should have made his escape, and not have carried out the orders. If he disliked such a course, then why did he allow his father and brother to become guilty of murder, so that still after thousands of generations people hearing of such a father and brother detested them ? That Shun did not foreknow this is the thirteenth proof that Sages have no foresight.

When Wu Wang was ill Chou Kung asked for Heaven’s decree. When the altars had been erected, the straws where consulted, and the prayer was spoken, he was still in doubt whether Heaven had granted his request or not, therefore he divined from three tortoises, and all three gave a favourable reply 1. If Sages were prescient, then Chou Kung ought to have known whether Heaven granted his prayer, and it was not necessary still to divine by means of three tortoises. But the Sage would not make a law of his own view, wherefore he still prayed for a decree, which being hidden cannot be seen, for the will of Heaven is hard to be known. Consequently, he divined and compared the various omens. The omens having brought a decision, his mind was settled, and he acted accordingly. This is the fourteenth proof that Sages do not possess foresight.



Yen Tse 2 had arrived in Lu with a message of friendly inquiries. One does not hurriedly walk up the hall, but Yen Tse did p2.288 it, and presenting a jewel, one does not kneel, but Yen Tse knelt. The disciples wondering, asked Confucius about it, but Confucius did not know it either and inquired of Yen Tse. When the latter had explained the reason he understood it 3. This is the fifteenth proof that Sages have no foresight.

[Ch‘ên Chia asked Mencius saying,

— What kind of man was the duke of Chou ?

— A sage, was the reply.

— Is it the fact that he appointed Kuan Shu to oversee Yin, and that Kuan Shu rebelled ?

— It is.


— Did the duke of Chou know that he would rebel, and purposely appoint him to that office, or did he not know ?

Mencius said,

— He did not know.

— Then, though a sage, he still fell into error ?

— The duke of Chou, answered Mencius, was the younger brother, Kuan Shu was his elder brother. Was not the error of Chou Kung in accordance with what is right ?] 4



Mencius is a man qualified to examine into a thing to the very bottom. He says that the Duke of Chou administering the affairs under his sway, according to his sagehood, did not know that Kuan Shu was going to rebel. That is the sixteenth proof that Sages have no foresight.

Confucius said,

[— T‘se did not receive Heaven’s decree, but his goods are increased by him, and his calculations are generally correct. ] 1



Confucius finds fault with Tse Kung for being too much given to opulence. Observing the rising and falling of prices, he succeeded, by his calculations, in hitting upon the right moment for his speculations, and his wealth increased to such a degree, that he was as rich as T’ao Chu 2. The prescience of a Sage bears some resemblance to the computations and correct calculations of Tse Kung. A Sage takes signs and omens to investigate the nature of things, which he thus comprehends. Upon seeing extraordinary phenomena, he gives them their proper names, and, by his extensive learning, he knows them. He is an able thinker, never short of ideas, with vast views and an excellent memory. From small indications he draws his inferences, and considering the present, he foresees, in his mind, a thousand years still to come. His knowledge is like a vast ocean, so to say.

The glance of Confucius fell into every corner, noticing the smallest minutiæ, his mind was penetrating, his talents and intellect p2.289 both most remarkable, his energy never flagging, and his eyes and ears outvying those of other people in keenness. But he could not look through obstacles, or know things unknowable to mankind. If the Sage had been able to look through things, or perceive them from the greatest distance, to hear through solid bodies, or catch imperceptible sounds, or if he could talk to Heaven and Earth and converse with ghosts and spirits, then he would know everything in the heavens and on earth, and might well be regarded as a spirit, endowed with foresight, and far superior to man. But now his eyes and ears see and hear like those of other people, and coming across something, or perceiving some object, he does not behave himself otherwise. He barely surpasses worthies by one degree ; why then should he be held to be a spirit and totally different ? Sages are like Worthies, and the most excellent among men are called Sages ; consequently Sages and Worthies are merely designations for a higher and a lower degree, but not names indicating a total difference, as may be gathered from the following story :

Duke Huan of Ch‘i 3, together with Kuan Chung, planned an attack upon Chü 4. Before this plan was carried out, it was already rumoured in that State. Duke Huan amazed, asked Kuan Chung saying,

— What is the reason that the scheme I just laid with you of attacking Chü has already transpired in that State, before it is carried out ?

— There must be a Sage in that State, said Kuan Chung.

After a short while, Tung-Kuo Ya arrived, and Kuan Chung said,

— This, no doubt, is he,

and he caused him to be treated as a guest and to be given the place of honour, all the others taking their places according to their rank.



Kuan Chung said,

— Is it you that spoke of an invasion of Chü ?

— Yes, was the reply.

— I do not invade Chü, said Kuan Chung, wherefore do you speak of an invasion of Chü ?

— Your servant, replied Tung-Kuo Ya, has heard that a superior man is great in forming plans, whereas small people are skilful in finding them out. I have ventured to do so.

— I did not say, rejoined Kuan Chung, that I was going to attack Chü; why do you suppose it ?

— I have heard, answered the other, that a superior man has three different airs : buoyant joy and merriment, the air of bells and drums, sorrow and stillness, the air of mourning, and anger running through arms and legs, the warlike air. When you make p2.290 a wry face and do not open your mouth, you think of Chü, and when you lift your arm and point with your finger, you have Chü in view. Your servant begs leave to contend that the small State disliked by all the princes can only be Chü, therefore I said so.

Kuan Chung was a man with a splendid intellect, well fit for nice distinctions and investigations. His statement that there must be a Sage in the State, was perfectly correct, for there was one. When Tung-Kuo Ya arrived he said that this, no doubt, was he i. e., that Tung-Kuo Ya was a Sage. If Sages and Worthies were two totally different classes, Kuan Chung knew that at that period there were no men like the Twelve Sages, and he should have said that there must be a Worthy in the State, instead of saying a Sage. The plan being spoken about in the State before it was made public, Kuan Chung supposed that there must be a Sage, that means to say that a Sage is prescient. Upon seeing Tung-Kuo Ya, he declared that this man must be he i. e., that a Worthy was a Sage. Tung-Kuo Ya knew the plan, and in no wise differed from a Sage.

A gentleman introduced Ch‘un-Yü K‘un 1 to King Hui of Liang 2. He saw him twice, but never uttered a syllable. The king was surprised at it, and, by way of reproach, said to the gentleman,

— In praising Ch‘un-Yü K‘un, you said that he outstripped Kuan Chung and Yen Ying, but when he saw me, I had nothing of him. Am I not worthy to be spoken to ?

The gentleman informed Ch‘un-Yü K‘un who replied,

— It is true. When I first saw the king, his mind was far away, and when I saw him a second time, it was engrossed with sounds, wherefore I remained silent.

The gentleman having apprized the king, the latter greatly astonished, exclaimed,

— Dear me ! Ch‘un-Yü K‘un is a Sage indeed. When he came the first time somebody had presented me with a dragon horse 3, and I had not yet had time to look at it ; at that moment Ch‘un-Yü K‘un arrived. Afterwards, somebody had offered me a song which I had not yet tried, when Ch‘un-Yü K‘un arrived. Although I had dismissed my attendants, my heart was still occupied with those things.

p2.291 Thus Ch‘un-Yü K‘un saw that King Hui’s mind was absent or intent on sounds. Even the sagacity of T‘ang and could not have gone farther. The mind is in the bosom, but hidden and invisible, still Ch‘un-Yü K‘un did know it. If men like Ch‘un-Yü K‘un be deemed Sages, then he must have been one ; if his equals be not regarded as Sages, then how does the knowledge of Sages exceed that of Ch‘un-Yü K‘un respecting King Hui ?

Those who from a person’s looks draw inferences as to his character, want some data on which to base their reasoning : When King Ling of Ch‘u had a meeting with the other feudal lords 4, Tse Ch‘an of Chêng declared that Lu, Chu, Sung, and Wei 5 would not come. When the meeting took place the four States really did not attend.

When Chao Yao was registrar in the seal department, Fang Kung, a native of Chao spoke to the registrar-general Chou Ch‘ang saying,

— Your registrar, Chao Yao, will by and by succeed to your office.

In course of time Chao Yao really became registrar-general.

Tse Ch‘an discovered the reason why the four States would not attend the meeting, and Fang Kung saw from outward appearances that Chao Yao would be made registrar-general. By searching the reason and observing appearances one may make manifest the future, and thus comprehend it.

Kung-Sun Ch‘ên 1 of Lu, under the régime of Hsiao Wên Ti, sent in a memorial to the effect that, the ruling element of the Han being earth, its correlate, a yellow dragon, ought to become visible. Subsequently a yellow dragon put in an appearance and became the style of a reign 2. Consequently, Kung-Sun Ch‘ên had foreseen the appearance of the yellow dragon, and ascertained it by his calculations.

The knowledge of Worthies and Sages requires research. Both are possessed of the faculty of foresight, but to practice this foresight, they have recourse to their devices, and use their computations, or they are excellent thinkers and shrewd wits. Sages are not endowed with spontaneous knowledge, and miracles and p2.292 prodigies belong to quite another sphere than that of Sages and Worthies. Their knowledge does not exceed all bounds, and they use their mental faculties in a similar manner ; nor does any miracle take place when they are in a perplexity. Wherefore their names may be interchanged, for Worthies and Sages are designations implying excellency, virtue, wisdom, and genius. Spirits are obscure, diffuse, and formless entities. The substances being different, the natures cannot accord, and the substances being equal, their manifestations cannot be inconsistent. The names of Sages and spirits are not the same, therefore Sages are not looked upon as spirits, nor are spirits held to be sage.



Tung-Kuo Ya, by his acuteness, knew the affairs of the State, and Tse Kung, by his shrewdness, acquired a fortune and made great profits. The foresight of a Sage is that of Tung-Kuo Ya and Tse Kung. It being equal to that of these two men, Tung-Kuo Ya, Tse Kung, and the like must be Sages as well. Accordingly, the nature of Worthies and Sages is the same, only their designations differ, but that does not disclose any divergence between their talents or any discrepancy between their knowledge. [A high officer asked Tse Kung, saying,

— May we not say that your Master is a Sage ? How various is his ability !



Tse Kung said,

— Of course Heaven has endowed him unlimitedly. He is about a Sage. And, moreover, his ability is various.] 3

‘About’ is as much as ‘will be’, and signifies that he was not yet a Sage, but would be one, i. e., that sagehood was not yet reached by Confucius. A Sage is like a Worthy : they regulate their lives and polish their conduct. Before his conduct is well ordered, it is said of a person that he will be a Worthy. In this case it is stated that Confucius is going to become a Sage, sagehood being in his reach.

[Confucius said,

At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm, at forty, I was not tempted astray, at fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven, and at sixty, my ear was an obedient organ.] 1

In the interval between the time when he knew the decrees of Heaven and the time when his ear was an obedient organ, his learning was completed, and his wisdom expanded, certain signs p2.293 of complete sagehood. To the period before the age of fifty and sixty was reached, when he was still ignorant of the decrees of Heaven, until the ear became an obedient organ, the term ‘will be’ is applicable. The time when Tse Kung replied to the high officer, was most likely the period of thirty and forty years.

King Chao of Wei 2 questioned T‘ien Ch‘ü saying,

— When I was in the eastern palace, I heard you express the opinion that to be a Sage is easy. Is that so ?

— It is, rejoined T‘ien Ch‘ü, what I have learned.

— Then, quoth the king, are you a Sage ?



T‘ien Ch‘ü replied,

— To know a Sage, before his having won distinction, is like Yao’s knowing Shun ; to know him only after he has made his mark, is like the market people knowing Shun. Now, I have not yet won laurels, and Your Majesty asks me whether I am a Sage. May I venture the counter-question whether Your Majesty perhaps is a Yao ?

Sagehood may be learned, therefore T‘ien Ch‘ü declared it to be easy. If it were entirely beyond human power, and a spontaneous faculty, received with the original nature, how could it be learned then or acquired ? T‘ien Ch‘ü averred that it was easy ; if sagehood could not be acquired, then T‘ien Ch‘ü could not have made the statement that is was easy. His reply to the king that it was what he had learned, would seem to be consistent with truth 3. Worthies can learn sagehood, and only their efforts made to that end may differ. Consequently the benevolent as well as the wise are entitled to the name of Worthy or Sage.

[Tse Kung asked Confucius saying,

— Master, are you a Sage ?

Confucius answered him,

— A Sage is what I cannot rise to. I learn without satiety, and teach without being tired.



Tse Kung said,

— You learn without satiety : that shows your wisdom. You teach without being tired : that shows your benevolence. Benevolent and wise : Master, you are a Sage.] 1

It may be seen from this that the benevolent and the wise may be called Sages. [Mencius said,

Tse Hsia, Tse Yu, and Tse Chang had each one member of the Sage. Jan Niu, Min Tse Ch‘ien 2, and Yen Yuan had all the members, but in small proportions.] 3

All p2.294 these six disciples, at their time, possessed the talents of the Sage, but either these talents were very refined, but not complete, or they were complete, but not very brilliant. Nevertheless, they were all called Sages, sagehood, therefore, is attainable by exertion.

Mencius also said,

[— Not to serve a prince whom he did not esteem, nor command a people whom he did not approve ; in a time of good government to take office, and on the occurrence of confusion to retire : this was the way of Po Yi. To say : ’Is he whom I serve not my master, and are those whom I command not my people ?’, in a time of good government to take office, and when disorder prevailed, also to take office : that was the way of Yi Yin. When it was proper to go into office, to go into it ; when it was proper to keep retired from office, then to keep retired from it ; when it was proper to continue in it long, then to continue in it long ; when it was proper to withdraw from it quickly, then to withdraw quickly : that was the way of Confucius. These were all Sages of antiquity.] 4




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