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



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The officials struggle for rank and money. Once instated, they desire substantial profit, which they can expend at discretion. To extort money they would even risk their lives, and could not explain the right principles to their covetous superiors. They might see wrongs as high as the T‘ai-shan, how would they dare to utter the slightest reproof ? Under these circumstances they cannot clear themselves from the charge of dining gratis like the personators of corpses.

The scholars study the great principles, and serve their chiefs with virtue. When it is useless, they desist. Their aims being those of great ministers, they do their best to establish a just and proper course according to the canon. They do dare to speak. But by their rank they are far below the high authorities, and when such inferior officers approach them to make remonstrances, the Liki calls it flattery 1. Therefore the residences of prefects and district magistrates are always empty and short of men 2.

Somebody may suggest that officials have the faculty of drawing up documents, of keeping books and registers, and of investigating and settling all kinds of affairs. Though ignorant of moral science, they yet exert their strength and their skill, and exhaust it in the p2.070 service of the State, which must also be deemed a manifestation of their indebtedness to those above them 3.

I reply that, in this respect, they again resemble poor men who have been burdened with a heavy official duty. Owing to their poverty, they have no other means of compensation than personally discharging their official duty, more they cannot do. This discharge of their duty is like house or wall building. For houses they use hatchets and axes, and for walls, beetles and spades. What difference is there between carrying hatchets and axes, and grasping beetles and spades, and the holding of knives, or the taking of styles ? If the composition of official papers is held to be a manifestation of the indebtedness to one’s superiors, the masons building houses or walls are likewise showing their gratefulness to those above them, and all are performing official duties, knives, styles, hatchets, axes, beetles, and spades all being the same 4.

One takes cloth to barter silk ; exchanging that which it possesses against that which it has not, each party obtains what they desire. Students take their science to barter wages, the officials however possess nothing to trade with 5. Peasants and merchants have different professions, and their products cannot be the same. He who, in regard to quality and quantity, produces in abundance, is called a rich man. To become rich is the desire of every villager. Now the doctrine of the ancient kings is not merely like the produce of peasants and merchants. Those who become high officers, gain honour and bring about great reforms, have more glory than rich people in their luxury. Moreover the work of the scholars is more than abundant produce. They perfect themselves, their intellect shines brightly and, what is still more remarkable, they correctly distinguish right and wrong.

The similarity of twigs of hemp with the trunks of the trees on the mountains is that they serve as torches 1. First they give much smoke, but, after the fire has come through, their radiance is most lustrous, and lighted in a hall, they shed their splendour p2.071 round about to a great distance, and have much more brilliancy then the fire on the hearth 2.

Before a piece of silk is embroidered, or brocade woven, they do not distinguish themselves from common silk or ordinary fabrics. By the skilful use of variegated silk, the needle distributing the thread in an artistic way, a brilliant composition is created, in black and white, or black and blue : pheasants, mountains and dragons, the sun and the moon 3. The savants have likewise compositions, which they study, resembling the multicoloured chefs-d’oeuvres of silk embroidery. By their original endowments they do not exceed others, but, when they have amassed learning, they leave them far behind.

Nuts which have no kernels, are called specious, and if they cannot be opened with knives or axes, they are termed solid. Officials who have not acquired the learning of the age have no kernel. How could the faculties of the specious and the solid be compared together ?

Bone is carved, ivory is sculptured, jade polished, and jewels are ground. By carving, sculpturing, polishing, and grinding 4 precious objects are produced. As regards human learning, knowledge and skill are developed in the same manner as bone, ivory, jade, and jewels are cut, carved, polished, or ground. Even in case such a polished scholar should prefer not to be employed, a wise ruler would not give him up.



Sun Wu 5 and Ho Lü 6 were the best experts of their age in enlisting soldiers. He who knows, or has learned the rules of war, must needs win a battle. But should he ignore the art of marshalling his troops by tens and by hundreds, or not understand fencing and swordsmanship, his army led on by force would be routed, and the leader defeated for not knowing the art of war 1.

p2.072 When rice is ripe, they call it paddy. Pounded in a mortar and separated from chaff by sifting, steamed in a pot, and cooked with fire, it becomes well done food. Then it is sweet and eatable, which means that it has got the proper taste of food, and the necessary softness. Before paddy has been transformed into hulled rice 2, and hulled rice into food, its raw flavour has not yet been removed, and its consumption would be injurious. Now, a man without learning is like rice not yet turned into paddy, or hulled rice not yet cooked. His mind is as unprepared as raw rice, whose consumption is prejudicial to our health. A student is improved by his studies and educated by his teacher, and the result is as remarkable as the transformation of rice into food, and the food becoming soft.

Before copper and tin are found, they are among other minerals. Picked or dug out by miners, melted in a furnace, heated with bellows, and polished, they are wrought into tools. Previous to the smelting process they are called ore 3. Ore is the same as tiles found by the roadside, or small stones on mountains. Thus rice unhusked and not steamed is termed paddy, copper not yet molten and unpolished, ore, and men without instruction, blockheads resembling bamboo and wood.

While bamboo is growing on mountains and wood in forests, their future use is still uncertain. Bamboo is broken into tubes, which are split into tablets. The traces made on these with styles 4 and ink form characters. Big tablets become Classics, the smaller ones, records. Wood is cut into blocks, which are split p2.073 into boards, which by dint of carving and planing become writing tablets for official memorials 5. Bamboo and wood are coarse things, but by cutting and polishing, carving and paring are wrought into useful objects. What about man, the noblest creature of all, whose nature encompasses heaven and earth ? Unless he goes to school to study the Classics and other works, and unless his honest, but uncultured mind is imbued with propriety and righteousness, he stands in the imperial court stiff like a lath or a tablet, and is of no use.

When the grass in the wilds of the mountains is luxuriant, they cut it down with sickles to make a road. Before scholars have taken the road to knowledge, their vicious inclinations have not yet been eradicated like the weeds, and the wood of the mountain wilds, before they have been mowed down to make a road. Dyed cloth and silk are called coloured stuffs. They are appreciated as dresses of lucky augury. Previous to the dying, one speaks of coarse silk, which is unpropitious, for mourners dress in it 1. When illiterate people are in the government service, they cannot bring about any happy results just as mourners dressed in coarse cloth do not attract happiness.

Those knowing how to hew and shape beams and pillars, go by the name of carpenters, those who dig holes and ditches, are called diggers, and those who understand how to carve and polish official documents 2, are called scribes. Now the science of the officials consists in preparing official papers 3 ; they must be ranked with carpenters and diggers, how then could they be placed on a level with scholars ?

Censors drawing up their documents give the exact weight of money, not losing an atom 4, and those charged with placing the baskets and vessels at sacrifices, do not make any mistake in arranging them in the proper rows. All this practice they have acquired by previous learning, but people think nothing of it, for p2.074 it is trivial skill and not any valuable knowledge. Without a ‘classical erudition’ as the basis, they are familiar with style and ink. In great principles insufficient, they possess too many small abilities, and, although they may speak of their great learning, it is but the knowledge of secretaries, and the wisdom of stewards.

Eating millet, one becomes satiated, and dining on bran, one appeases one’s hunger. Though in both cases we speak of eating, yet the taste is not the same. Scholars as well as officials are said to have learning, but their usefulness in the State is not equal.

Tse P‘i 5 of Chêng wished to employ Yin Ho in the administration. Tse Ch‘an 6 compared him with a man who had not yet held a knife in his hand and was called upon to cut 7. Tse Lu got Tse Kao appointed governor of Pi. Confucius said,

— You are injuring a man’s son 8.

Both had not yet studied and were ignorant of the great principles.

Should a physician who has no method, say that he could cure diseases, he would be asked, how he performed his cures. If he then replied that he followed his own judgment, sick persons would distrust him. Now officials without a classical training pretend to be able to govern the people. Asked by what they were going to govern, they would reply, by their talents. That would be like the physician curing sickness without any method, according to his own fancy. How could the people put faith in such a man, or how should the ruler of men appoint and use him ?

Let somebody without money in his hands offer to purchase something, and the seller ask him, where his money was, then he would have to own that he had no money, and the proprietor would doubtlessly not give him the ware. An empty head is like empty hands. How could such a person expect the sovereign to employ, and the people to have confidence in him ?

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CHAPTER IX

Admitting Shortcomings

36. XII, III. Hsieh-tuan



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p2.075 In the chapters on the Weighing of Talents 1 and the Valuation of Knowledge 2, we have pointed out that concerning their talents, scholars and officials have no reason to impeach one another, the former cultivating the great principles, and the latter studying their books and registers. Theory ranks higher than practice, whence it must be admitted that the literati outshine the functionaries by far. But this is an estimate and a valuation of their professions viewed externally, internally, they both have their shortcomings, which have not yet been openly avowed.

Scholars able to explain one Canon 3, presume to understand the great doctrine 4, and therefore look down upon the officials, and these well acquainted with their books and registers, think their learning above all criticism, and themselves entitled to laugh at the scholars. They all rely on their wealth and keep it for themselves ; satisfied with themselves, they find fault with their adversaries, ignoring their own shortcomings and unaware of their proper deficiencies. The Lun-hêng informs them with a view to making them open their eyes and see, where they are going.

The faults of the students are not limited to their inexperience in keeping registers, nor does the weakness of the officials merely consist in their ignorance of the great doctrine. They are, moreover, narrow-minded, and do not care for ancient and modern times : they do not understand their own business, and are not up to the mark. Either class has its defects, but is not conscious of them. How is it that even the writers of our time are unable to instruct them ?

p2.076 The scholar’s sphere of activity is found in the Five Classics, which as professors in their schoolrooms they explain and teach day and night. They are familiar with every sentence, and they understand the meaning perfectly. In the Five Classics they are all right, it is true, but they fail in regard to all events which took place after the time of the Classics, under the Ch‘in and Han dynasties, a knowledge of which is indispensable. Those who know antiquity, but ignore the present are called dryasdusts. It is the scholars that well deserve this designation.

Anterior to the Five Classics, up to the time, when heaven and earth were settled, emperors and rulers have come to the throne, but which were the names of these sovereigns, the scholars do not know either. Those who are conversant with the present time, but do not know antiquity, are called benighted. Compared with remote antiquity the Five Canons are quite modern. Since they only can explain the Classics, but are in the dark as to remote antiquity, the scholars are to be called benighted.

The students might object that primitive times are so remote, and their events so obliterated, that the Canons do not mention, and teachers not consider them. Even though the history of the Three Rulers 1, who are comparatively modern, were omitted in the Classics, unity would require it, the Classics ought to know them, and the scholars be able thoroughly to discourse upon them.

The Hsia begin their reign with Yü. Having established their years, called tsai, they lasted down to the Yin 2 dynasty. The Yin commence with T‘ang. Their years = sse go on to the Chou dynasty, which begins with Wên Wang. Their years = nien 3 reach down as far as the Ch‘in dynasty. Chieh ruined the Hsia, and Chou destroyed the Yin, but who was it that caused the Chou dynasty to fall 4 ?



p2.077 The Chou may be of too distant a period, but the Ch‘in were defeated by the Han. The first ruler of the Hsia was , and the first sovereign of the Yin was T‘ang. The ancestor of the Chou was Hou Chi, but who was the progenitor of the house of Ch‘in 5 ?

That Ch‘in burned the Five Canons and threw the scholars into pits is well known to devotees of the Five Classics, but for what reason did Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti consign the Classics to the flames, and which feeling prompted him to kill the scholars 6 ?

The Ch‘in are the former dynasty, the Han are the dynasty of the literati themselves. How many generations are there from Kao Tsu to the present day, and how many years have elapsed till now 7 ? How were the Han first invested by Heaven, which were the omens they found 1, and did they win the imperial sway easily or with difficulties 2 ? How is their position compared to the Yin and the Chou dynasties in this respect ?

Let us suppose that the sons of a house have pursued their studies up to a certain age, and then are asked by somebody, how many years they have been living in their house, and who were their ancestors. If they do not know it, they are silly youngsters. Now the scholars who are ignorant of the affairs of the Han time, are the silly people of their age.

Those well versed in antique lore, and familiar with our time, are fit to be teachers, but why call a teacher a man who knows neither ancient nor modern times ? Should anybody inquire about the books of two feet four inches viz. the utterances of the sages 3, they study these day and night, and take an interest in everything included in their sphere of thought. The things of the Han time however are not mentioned in the Classics, therefore p2.078 all works in which they are treated, are, in their eyes, small works, and trivial books, which they compare with minor arts. A knowledge of these works is not appreciated by the literati, and the ignorance of these matters not deemed a deficiency.

I should like again singly, and severally to question the literati, each on his own favourite Classic, which he interprets day and night. First I would ask the expositors of the Yiking, how it originated, and who was its author. They will most likely reply that Fu Hsi composed the Eight Diagrams, which Wên Wang developed into sixty-four, and that Confucius wrote the definitions, illustrations, and annexes. By the joint efforts of these three Sages the Yiking was completed.

I would ask again : There are three editions of the Yiking, the first is called Lien-shan, the second, Kuei-tsang and the third, the Chou Yiking. Was that Yiking composed by Fu Hsi, and written by Wên Wang the Lien-shan, or the Kuei-tsang, or the Chou Yiking 4 ? When the Ch‘in burned the Five Canons, how did the Yiking escape 5 ? Some years after the accession of the Han it was restored. In the time of Hsüan Ti a woman in Ho-nei demolishing an old house, discovered one chapter of the Yiking. What name did it receive ? Was the Yiking complete at that time or not ?

To the students of the Shuking I beg to address the following questions : The Shuking which they are now explaining day and night, embraces 29 chapters. But in addition to this, there is an edition of 102 chapters, and one of 100 chapters. From which of the two did the 29 chapters proceed ? Who is the author of the 102 chapters ? Where were all the chapters of the Shuking, when Ch‘in burned all the books ? Which emperor, after the rise of the Han dynasty, had the Shuking first transcribed 1, and who was the man that was first initiated into it 2 ?

The following question is intended for the students of the Liki : Already before the time of Confucius the Chou had established their Rites, and there were those of the Yin and the Hsia. The Three Emperors would increase or decrease the Rites according p2.079 to circumstances, the chapters were added to or diminished, and the text amplified or curtailed. Now I do not know, whether the present Liki is that of the Chou, or of the Yin, or the Hsia 3. Because the Han succeeded the Chou, they will no doubt urge that it is the Liki of the Chou 4. But in their Rites there were the ‘Six Institutions’ 5, and six multiplied, six times six, gave the numbers thirty-six and three hundred and sixty, whence the three hundred and sixty officers of the Chou. In our Liki the Six Institutions are left out, there are no three hundred and sixty officers, and no mention is made of the son of Heaven. When were the rites of the son of Heaven abolished, perhaps at the downfall of the Ch‘in dynasty ?

Under the reign of Hsüan Ti, a woman in Ho-nei demolishing an old house, found one chapter of the lost Liki. Which chapter was it among the sixty ?



Kao Tsu charged Shu Sun T‘ung 6 with the edition of the different parts of the Yi Li. Where were the sixteen chapters previous to their new edition 7 ? The Yi Li appears in sixteen chapters, which escaped the fire of Ch‘in. How many chapters were there after the Ch‘in period 8 ?

Let me ask the students of the Shiking under which ruler it was composed. They are sure to reply that the Shiking was composed at the decline of the Chou dynasty, to wit in the time of King K‘ang 9. The virtue of the king being wanting in the houses of his subjects, and the great officers being remiss in their remonstrances, the Shiking was produced. But the grandeur of Wên Wang and Wu Wang was still venerated under Ch‘êng 1 and K‘ang, and the latter’s age was not yet degenerate 2 ; why did the Shiking appear then 3 ?



p2.080 The Chou dynasty had more than one king, how do we know that it must just have been K‘ang Wang ? The two dynasties have both degenerated towards their close, why then was not the Shiking composed, when the ruin of the Hsia and Yin dynasties was drawing near ?

The Shuking says, [The Shiking is the expression of earnest thoughts, and songs are the chanting of these expressions] 4, consequently at that time there must already have been a Shiking. They maintain, however, that it came down from the Chou, and that its origin goes back to that time 5.

Of old they collected the Odes, which were committed to writing. To-day we have no book of Odes, but how do we know whether at the burning of the Five Canons by Ch‘in no special regard was shown for the Shiking alone 6 ?

There is a question for the students of the Ch‘un-ch‘iu : In the time of which king of the Chou dynasty did Confucius write the ‘Spring and Autumn’ ? After his return from Wei to Lu, he edited the music and wrote the Ch‘un-ch‘iu. His return from Wei to Lu falls in the reign of Duke Ai 7. But, when he left Wei, who was its ruler 8 and in what manner did he treat Confucius, that he returned to Lu and composed the Ch‘un-ch‘iu ?



Confucius copied the chronicle 9 and made of it the Ch‘un-ch‘iu. Was Ch‘un-ch‘iu the original name of the chronicle 10, or did it p2.081 become a Classic by the revision, and then form part of the Ch‘un-ch‘iu ?

The jurists 1 might likewise ask the literati, who made the Nine Statutes 2. They having heard of the legislation of Kao Yao, will certainly reply Kao Yao, but the others will object that Kao Yao lived under Yü, and that ’s punishments were five 3, which, however, are not contained in our law. They might perhaps say Hsiao Ho, only to be met with the rejoinder that Hsiao Ho was a contemporary of Kao Tsu 4. Under the régime of Hsiao Wên Ti 5 a superintendent of the public granary in Ch‘i, Shun Yü Tê had committed a fault and was summoned to appear in Ch‘ang-an. His daughter, T‘i Jung 6, sent a petition to the emperor in behalf of her father, pointing out that, after suffering corporal punishment 7 there was no redress. Wên Ti was touched by her words and abolished corporal punishments 8.




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