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



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If a person’s gifts are insufficient, he wants help, and wanting help, he expects strength. An officer takes an assistant, because his own force is inadequate, and a functionary engages an able man, because his own talents do not come up to the mark. When the sun illuminates the dark, there is no need for lamps and candles, and when Mêng Pên and Hsia oppose the enemy, no further helpmates are requisite. Provided that the knowledge and the power of governors and ministers be like the sun shining upon darkness or the irresistible Mêng Pên and Hsia Yü, then the talents of officials are of no use.

In case of sickness we call in a physician, and when misfortune happens, we employ a sorcerer 2. If we could ourselves make out the prescriptions and mix the medicines, or enter into the house and expel the evil influences, we should not have to pay for the doctor, nor to invite the sorcerer.

Bridges are built, because the feet cannot cross ditches, and carts and horses used, because one cannot walk long distances. If the feet were able to jump over ditches, or if one could walk a long way, there would be no bridges built, and no carts and horses used.

People estimate those things of the world most, to which they must look to supply their deficiencies, owing to their weakness and limited knowledge. The high authorities of our age do not accuse their own inability, but disdain the students for their want of practice, nor do they study the qualities of the officials, but finding them useful, think very much of their talents, and declare them to be excellent functionaries. Without officials they cannot get rid of their troubles, and in default of these there is nobody to save them from their vexations. Wherefore they fill all posts with ordinary men. Since their appointment is never attended with any inconvenience, whereas the scholars have nothing to distinguish themselves, and with their abilities are incapable of filling difficult posts, they are left out, when new appointments are made, nor are their services desired at court.

Those among them who have a quick intellect, at once change and set about studying official work, following in the wane of the officials. The others who have not yet made themselves conspicuous by their admirable qualities, cling to antiquity and pursue their ideas, observing the rules of propriety and cultivating virtue, p2.059 but governors and ministers do not entrust them with any duty, and the bureaucrats mock them. Not being called to office, they give up further efforts and resolve to resign. The scorn fills them with disgust. Since in the discharge of their duties they do not meet with encouragement, their treatment of affairs lacks thoroughness. Then they are supposed to be inefficient and pushed aside.

Men possessed of common gifts and not burdened with lofty ideals, commence to learn official work, and are soon merged in officialdom. Taking the knowledge of the high authorities as their load-star, and conforming to the exigencies of the times, they completely change their former ideas and their occupation. Studying day and night, they are not ashamed of anything, provided that they make their mark and master the official correspondence 1.

Conversely, enthusiasts and remarkable characters disdain to sacrifice their convictions, or to demolish the objects of their veneration for the purpose of pushing on by sycophancy. They strongly disapprove of talented students entering into the ranks of office-holders. Strongly maintaining their high aims, they decline to take up those poor studies 2.

Sometimes it may also happen that scholars do not quite understand their business. Their thoughts being wandering and not concentrated enough, they are not fit for the office of which they may be in charge. When asked, they give wrong answers, they do not know the art of genuflexion, and in coming forward and retiring, disregard the fixed rules. In their reports on various matters, young students will disclose faults, adducing the opinions of the ancients. They denounce the selfish desires of their superiors with a terrible outspokenness, saying awkward things which they had better leave unsaid. Obstinate, and bound by their prejudices, they follow their own rules in all their writings, and do not manage things in the proper way. Their style is unusual ; being somewhat excentric, they depart from the ordinary standard, and do not do things as they should be done. Therefore people make light of them, the official class despises them, and the high dignitaries hold them in disrespect 1.

p2.060 It is for this reason that common students dislike to go through the Classics, or make a thorough study in order to become well acquainted with ancient and modern times. Eager to collect one master’s dicta and to get a smattering of theory, they all rush to study historical works and read law 2. Reciting ordinances and institutions, they write reports on various subjects. They learn how to fawn upon their superiors, and how to kneel down and kotow, all with a view to laying the foundation of their house, and establishing their family. Once called to office, they are well off, hence their bias in favour of the present, and their disregard of the past. In the keen competition with their rivals, they give up their former ideas, and struggling to get to the front, pay no heed to propriety. The Classics are neglected, and study is an exploded idea. Ancient literature is no more cultivated, and what they have learned formerly, soon forgotten.

Literati lead a poor life in their lonely houses, while the officials are bustling about in the halls of the palace. Clever and able officials rise, later on, and come to the front, whereas persons fulfilling all moral obligations, are beset with so many difficulties, that they hide and steal away. The success is owing to cunning and the failure to awkwardness 3. The talents of scholars are not inferior, nor is their knowledge insufficient, but they lack experience and practice.

When the foot has never walked a road, even Yao and must inquire at its turns, and when the eye has not yet spied an object, even Confucius and Mê Ti would ask about its shape. In the region of Ch‘i 4, the inhabitants make embroidery from generation to generation, and even common women possess this skill. In the city of Hsiang 5, the people weave brocades, and even stupid girls know the art. That which we daily see and daily do, our hands become accustomed to. If talented scholars have not yet seen a thing, or if clever women have not yet done something, the work seems strange to them, and the handicraft extraordinary. p2.061 When they are suddenly called upon to perform it, and for the first time behold it, even something apparently very easy gives them the greatest trouble.

Respecting scholars, at present their critics do not speak of a want of practice, but doubt their intellectual faculties ; they do not say that they have not yet done anything, but that their knowledge does not reach so far, which is a misrepresentation. The mental power of the literati is not too weak, and there is no profession which they might not comprehend, though they have not taken an active part in it 1. Now the public noticing that they have no experience, regard them as incapable, and seeing them inactive, ascribe this to their dullness.

Ranked according to their usefulness and classed according to their efficiency, the officials are in front, and the students in the rear. That is the point of view of the government. But in a classification on scientific principles, the scholars are above, and the officials below. From an agricultural point of view, agriculturists come first, and from a commercial standpoint, merchants are the first class. As regards government, officers are its men. In their youth already they learn official work, and government in their field of action, knives 2 and pencils being their ploughs, and despatches, their labour. They resemble the sons of a house who, having grown up in it, know all its nooks and corners much better than any foreigner does. When a guest arrives only for a short. while, he may be a second Confucius or Ti, yet he will not be able to distinguish things as well as they do. Scholars are like these guests, and officials represent the sons. As sons the officials know much more than the scholars, for the latter are much less au courant than the former. The governors and ministers of our time know how sons are, yet believe officials to be exceptionally clever, unaware that the officials have acquired their efficiency by practice. They likewise know guests, and yet see in helplessness after a short stay a sign of foolishness, quite forgetting that the incompetence of the scholars is owing to their want of exercise. The vision of these dignitaries is blurred, and they are unable to reason by analogies.

A man fit to be assistant in a district, might also fill the post of a secretary in a prefecture, and he who could reform an entire p2.062 prefecture, would be qualified for service in a province. However the prefecture does not summon the assistant, and the province will not have the reformer. It would be no harm, if they used their talents to acquire the necessary practice, their little knowledge of official correspondence would be compensated by their great virtue.

The Five Secretaries 1 of course have their rules and regulations, and for books and registers there exist certain precedents. How can a man who diligently studies and easily learns all these things, so that he becomes a clever official, for that reason be thought more of than others ? Wise governors select officials according to their talents, regardless of their being experienced in discussing official matters. They set the highest store on character, and do not look to book-keeping.

Good officials are called loyal. Loyalty is not exhibited in books and registers. Business may be learned by study, and with the rules of etiquette one becomes familiar by practice ; loyalty and justice however are not to be acquired in this manner. Officials and scholars have both their special aims. Loyalty and faith is the goal of the scholars, whereas the officials are chiefly interested in the management of affairs. As long as loyalty and honesty is maintained, a little bungling in business is not injurious to a man’s reputation. Albeit yet owing to their inexperience in office work students are placed in the second rank by most critics.

Judges give their verdicts according to edicts and laws. In their administration the officials are obliged to consult jurists, and nothing is of greater importance in a district magistrate’s office than edicts. If his competence be taken as a criterion of the worthiness of an official, then the jurisconsults 2 ought to take the first place. Perhaps people will admit this, saying that edicts are the Canons of the Han dynasty, on which the officials base the decisions which p2.063 they propose, and that a case having been settled by law, everything is clear indeed.

I should say that the Five Canons are also standard works her the Han dynasty, and that the literati conversant with the theory of government, have all derived their wisdom therefrom. Tung Chung Shu explained the meaning of the Ch‘un-ch‘iu, and in comparing it with the laws did not find any divergence. Therefore the Ch‘un-ch‘iu is a Canon of the Han, composed by Confucius, it is true, but handed down to the Han. Those critics who merely appreciate jurisprudence and slight the Ch‘un-ch‘iu, are narrow-minded. The purport of this work and the other four Canons is intertwined, and unless the Ch‘un-ch‘iu were a great production, the Five Canons would not be universally read.

The Five Canons deal with principles, and business counts less than principles. There being principles, business is regulated, and in default of principles nothing can be done. Now that which scholars study, are principles, and that which officers learn, is business. In case they are of equal talents, they should study principles if they wish to rank with officials 1.

For washing dirty things one uses water, and for roasting raw and tainted meat, fire. Water and fire are the principles, and their use is business. Business is posterior to principles. If we compare students with officials, the former adjust what is antecedent, the latter care for what is subsequent. From the contrast between principles, which are first, and business, which is last, we may determine the superiority and greater dignity of either.



Yao by his brilliant virtue succeeded in conciliating the black-haired people. Confucius said that filial piety and brotherly love in the highest degree could even touch spirits. Chang Shih Chih 2 remarked that the Ch‘in dynasty relied on petty officers with pencils and knives, and that, the dissolution having gone on up to Erh Shih Huang Ti, the empire broke down. Chang T‘ang and Chao were both honest officials of the Han period, and yet the Grand Annalist places them among the oppressors 3. How can those p2.064 responsible for the breakdown of the empire, be compared with them whose piety affects the spirits ? This should fill people’s minds.

The high dignitaries are cognisant of the great principles of the classical studies, but do not honour the students, because it strikes them that those students of classical literature are in the administration less efficient than functionaries.

With a butcher’s knife one may carve a fowl, but it is difficult to slaughter an ox with a poultry knife. A master in embroidery can sew a curtain or a garment, but a workman twisting thread would be unqualified to weave brocade. Thus the scholars can do the business of the officials, but officials do not find their way through the science of scholars. The knowledge of officials is really bad and not up to the mark, the scholars however, in spite of their want of practice, possess excellent qualities, only they have no experience.

regulating streams and rivers did not handle the hoe or the spade, and the Duke of Chou in building Lo yi 4 did not hold battering-rams or poles in his hands. Pencils and ink, registers and books are like hoes and spades, rams and poles. To expect a man of vast ideas and high principles to carry them out personally, would be like bidding a general fight himself, or an engineer cut wood. In case a scholar able to interpret one Canon is called upon to do the work of one office, he can master it in ten months. For an office-holder, on the other side, to study the contents of one Canon a whole year would not suffice. Why ? Because official work is easy to learn, whereas classical studies offer great difficulties.

Students thumb the Classics to fathom the meaning of the Sages, and officials move their pencils to take note of public affairs. What is more difficult, to comprehend the thoughts of the great Sages, or to understand the affairs of the small people ? These men who by their genius overcome all difficulties, cherish more than a hundred thousand sentences and paragraphs in their minds, and never flag in what they take in hand. Their profound studies embrace antiquity as well as the present time, and from the rich p2.065 spring in their bosom pour out ingenious thoughts by thousands 1. The wisdom of the bureaucrats consists merely in their books and registers, of which they understand all the intricacies.

What means the possession of ten or a hundred coins compared with the wealth of a thousand pieces of gold, and how could the granaries of the capital towering like mountains be placed on a level with heaps of grain not higher than mounds of earth ? A man famous for his talents is like a famous vessel. The bigger the vessel, the greater its capacity. The treasures hidden in the bosoms of the scholars can be pronounced greater than those of the officials.

Creepers growing among hemp, become straight without support, and white silk gauze placed amidst coloured one, takes a dark colour without having been dyed. This means that the good and the evil we practice transforms our character. The nature of scholars cannot always be good, but revering the holy doctrines, they chant and hum them over day and night 2, and thus take the habits of the Sages.

In their childhood already do the future officers become familiar with pencil and ink, which they learn to use by constant practice. They never read a page of a book, or ever hear the words benevolence and justice 3. When they have grown up and are called to office, they abuse their power of writing and their experience in business. All their proceedings are dictated by selfish motives, and influence and profit are their only aims. When they have to make an investigation, they allow themselves to be bribed, and fleece all the people with whom they are brought in contact 4. Having an honourable position, they crave for power, and, should they find favour with the sovereign, they contrive the disgrace of the governors. Once in power, they will wear elegant hats and sharp swords 5, and after one year’s service their estate and their mansion are well provided. They have not all a wicked character, but their p2.066 practices are in opposition to the holy doctrines. Those who follow the method of the literati, reform and learn to love justice, so that their ideas as well as their dealings change and improve.

An enlightened governor who clearly saw this, and therefore employed scholars, was the minister of Tung-hai 1, Tsung Shu Hsi 2. He used to invite obscure scholars on a large scale. In spring and autumn he would assemble them to a feast and divide them into three classes. In a regular order he nominated them to vacant posts. Among the officials of a prefecture nine out of ten were scholars. The prefect of Ch‘ên-Liu 3, Ch‘ên Tse Yü likewise opened the ways to the literati. They were given all the posts of secretaries and clerks, and the bureaucrats were only employed in the ratio of one or two among ten.

These two governors knew the respective value of principles and business, and could judge of the capacities of the candidates. Therefore the age has praised their names, and many of their doings have been recorded in books and memoirs.

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CHAPTER VIII

The Valuation of Knowledge

35. XII, II. Liang-chih



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p2.067 In our essay on the weighing of talents 1 we have spoken on talents and conduct, but the great superiority of learning has not yet been set forth. Scholars surpass the officials by their learning, on which they spend a long time, purifying their characters and refining their talents. The learned thus suppress their evil desires and rectify their natures, until their talents are fully developed, and their virtue is complete. At that juncture a comparison shows that the capacities of those thus refined are much greater than those of the officials.

When poor and rich men both send a present of a hundred cash for funeral expenses 2, the mourners, provided they are intelligent, know that the poor have no means and that, if they likewise have contributed a hundred, the rich, who have plenty, possess much more. The unintelligent infer that, since in both cases the sum is a hundred, the fortunes of the rich and the poor are the same. Scholars and officers are in a similar position. Both being employed as clerks or acting as secretaries, the wise among their chiefs are aware that officials and scholars are alike, as far as their writing is concerned, but that the students have many hidden treasures in their bosoms besides. The simple-minded, however, consider that they are both functionaries, and that, as to the thoroughness and extent of their knowledge, their acquirements are the same, a great mistake.

It is the nature of the earth to produce plants, and the nature of mountains to grow trees. If mallows and leeks be sown in the earth, and jujubes and chestnuts planted upon the mountains, we speak of a garden and a park, which can no more be placed on p2.068 a par with common land or ordinary mountains. The case of officials and students is analogous. Both have their faculties, and both use pencil and ink, but, in addition to this, the students are the guardians of the doctrine of former emperors, which doctrine means more than mallows and leeks, jujubes and chestnuts.

An ordinary woman spins and weaves with her hands. Should she be endowed with extraordinary skill, she will weave brocade and make embroidery, and be accounted exceptional so as not to come in the same class with the common run. Now, when the faculties of the scholars are contrasted with those of the officials, the former have still a surplus in their knowledge of classical and other writings, as the spinning girls still possess the special gift of weaving brocade and embroidering.

Poor fellows are prone to excesses, while rich people observe the rules, because the poor are hard up, whereas the rich live in opulence. Thus scholars do not do evil, but officials indulge in malpractices, for they are devoid of morality and virtue, and scholars have abundance of benevolence and righteousness 1.

When poor and rich men together are guests, and receive a present from the host, the rich are not abashed, but the poor always feel ashamed : the former are in a position to make acknowledgments, the latter have nothing to give in return. Students and officials both look upon the high officers as their hosts. The students receiving their salary from them, repay them with virtue and wisdom ; the hearts of the officials are empty, they have not acquired humanity and equity, and merely live on their income, incapable of showing their gratitude, they are, as it were, dining gratis like the personators of the dead 2.

Gratis means for nothing : without virtue they live on a salary paid by others for nothing, whence the expression : dining gratis. They do not know any method or art, nor can they regulate the administration. They are sitting silent in the court, unable to discourse on any subject, exactly like corpses. Therefore they are called personators of the dead, and it is thus that the p2.069 officials are, so to speak, dining gratis like the personators of the dead.

Occupying places of honour and living in luxury, how would they venture to take notice of any wicked inclinations of their superiors or administer admonitions ? In the first place, they themselves cannot distinguish between right and wrong, and then they are apprehensive of punishment and dare not speak their minds.

The Liki says,

« Human nature is fond of beauty.

Those who can speak with vigour are not appreciated owing to their bad style. They have backbone, it is true, but no flesh, and are not portly enough 3. They who oppose the views of governors and ministers, are sure to incur their displeasure, and even if they should fight for their country, would not earn any fame. Therefore he who covets rank and emoluments must not remonstrate with his superiors.




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