Miscellaneous essays Traduits et annotés

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Some people contend that to comment upon one Classic is the right thing  , for what is the use of extensive knowledge ? The school of Confucius takes up all the Five Canons, and no one but has mastered them all is accounted almost perfect. Yen Yuan said that the master extensively filled his mind with learning 2. Only men of exceptional knowledge are worthy the name of well-read scholars, for could the term ‘extensively’ used by Yen Yuan refer to one single Classic only ?

p2.099 I cannot embrace all the Five Canons in my studies, nor can I trouble myself with all sorts of things. Reposing confidence in one doctrine, I do not like to enlarge my views. I am not clever enough to be well acquainted with antique lore or familiar with modern times, but am so stupid, that I cherish my stupidity and do not wish to learn. Thus any one who is satisfied with one Classic only should speak.

We open the door to let the sunlight in, and since this does not suffice to illuminate all the dark places, we pierce the walls to make windows and sky-holes, and thus add to the light penetrating through the door. The explanation of one Classic is like the light of the sun, the records used to assist it, are the windows and sky-holes. The words of the philosophers enlighten us even in a higher degree than windows and sky-holes afford a passage to the sunshine. As sunshine lights the interior of a room, so scientific researches enlighten the heart.

To open the door and let the light in, and to sit in a raised hall, or even to ascend a balcony to have a look at the surrounding buildings, is what people like to do. To shut the door and sit in obscurity, turned towards a pitch dark room, or to dig a mine and, lying on the back, work in the vicinity of the yellow springs 3, is distasteful to everybody. They who shut their hearts and close their minds, never viewing things from a higher standpoint, are like dead men.

In the time of the emperor Hsiao Wu Ti 1, the king of Yen, Tan, staying in the Ming-kuang palace wished to go to his sleeping apartments, but all the three hundred doors were tightly closed. He ordered twenty of his attendants to open them, but they did not succeed. Subsequently Tan became involved in an insurrection and committed suicide. The closing of the doors was a presage of the death of King Tan of Yen. Dying is a calamitous event, hence the closing was referred to it.

Ch‘ing Fêng of Ch‘i was a dullard. When the high officers of six States at a meeting recited the Odes, he did not understand them 2. Later on a catastrophe was brought about by Ling of Ch‘u 3. p2.100 He who does not let in the light of science is a corpse still walking about.

When a State has ceased to exist, its altar of the land is roofed above and fenced in below, to indicate that its connexion with Heaven and Earth has been interrupted 4. The Chou took care lest in spring and autumn such altars should be treated with disrespect. People should read classical and profane books in the same manner as the altars of the land must be in communication with the fluids of Heaven and Earth. Those who do not study are like persons disregarding the altars of the land. The communication with the air being checked, even the strongest man dies, and luxuriant plants wither.

Eatable things in the eastern sea are manifold on account of its vastness. The procreative power of the water being exuberant, a great variety of very strange things is produced. Thus a great man has many treasures, enshrined in his bosom : great talents and great knowledge, and there are no principles or methods but he embraces them. Students with similar views and men of great learning all come to him, because he understands the profound meaning of the Classics and knows so many words of teachers. Things of the past and the present time and utterances of various philosophers he remembers a great many, and is not merely a man of learning of a certain school. No one can know the taste of sweet wine, if he has not purchased it, and merely used sugar 5.

Peasants producing excellent grain in abundance are looked upon as superior husbandmen, and those whose crops are small, as inferior. The talents of men of letters correspond to the faculties of husbandmen. Those able to produce plenty of grain are called superior husbandmen, and the others apt to collect a vast amount of knowledge, are superior scholars. To praise the ox for carrying a heavy burden, and not to belaud the swiftness of the horse, to extol the hand, and revile the foot, who would think that reasonable ?

p2.101 Unless a district road communicates with the country, or a country road leadsto town, a traveller on horseback or in a boat would not take it. Unless veins and arteries are in connexion, a man contracts a dangerous disease, for the cessation of this connexion is a very bad thing, a misfortune with the worst consequences. As robbers have their haunts in rank grass, wicked thoughts grow in unprincipled hearts  . Unprincipled means devoid of maxims and principles 1.

A physician qualified to cure one disease is considered clever, and, if he can treat a hundred maladies, he is called excellent. Such an excellent physician gives prescriptions for a hundred diseases, and heals the ailments of a hundred patients. A genius imbued with the teachings of the divers schools of thought can settle the quarrels of a hundred clans. How could the numerous prescriptions of a Pien Ch‘io be put on a par with the single ability of a clever physician ?

Tse Kung said,

[— If one do not find the door and enter by it, he cannot see the ancestral temple with its beauties, nor all the officers in their rich array.] 2

The ancestral temple and all the officers here serve to illustrate the teachings of Confucius. They are so excellent, that they may be compared with the ancestral temple, and so numerous, that they bear resemblance to the hosts of all the officers. Therefore a man of comprehensive information and deep erudition is a follower of Confucius.

The land of the Yin and Chou dynasties extended as far as 5 000 Li, and even the wild and fortified dependencies were governed with the utmost care. Over 10 000 Li fell under the dominion of the vast territory of the house of Han, and in the fortified and wild tracts, people were wearing wide state-robes and broad girdles 3. Without exceptional virtue nobody can be affectionately solicitous for distant countries, and in default of great talents one cannot p2.102 enlarge one’s views. Therefore men of great experience and deep erudition are not taxed with obtuseness, and those well versed in all the sciences are not charged with narrowness of mind.

People like to see paintings. The subjects reproduced in these pictures are usually men of ancient times. But would it not be better to be informed of the doings and sayings of these men than to contemplate their faces ? Painted upon the bare wall 1, their shapes and figures are there, the reason why they do not act as incentives, is that people do not perceive their words or deeds. The sentiments left by the old sages shine forth from the bamboos and silks, where they are written, which means more than mere paintings on walls.

If an empty vessel in the kitchen be gilt or silvered and, having nothing in it, be placed before a hungry person, he would not even cast a look at it. But suppose that dainty food and savory viands be served in an earthen pot, people would forthwith turn to it. The delicious and sweet words of old sages are more than food in vessels. The benefit derived from study is not merely that of eating. Thus the hungry do not care for empty vessels without contents, and the government does not employ men with empty heads without thoughts.

When swordsmen fight together, he who possesses the knowledge of the girl of Yüeh 2 in Ch‘ü-ch‘êng 3 gains the victory. Two adversaries meeting, one is cleverer than the other, and the one possessing greater ability becomes victor. The systems of Confucius and Mê Ti, and the books of worthies and sages are of greater value than the accomplishments of the girl of Yüeh in Ch‘ü-ch‘êng, and to improve human transactions and increase human knowledge, is more than a mere device to win in a contest. By the art of swordplay one acquires the repute of being ever victorious, and by virtue of the books of worthies and sages, one becomes exalted.

When the officers of the district cities are summoned before their superiors to be questioned on administrative reforms, the intelligent and well informed will communicate their experiences, and provided that the high officers are impressed thereby, the p2.103 administration can be reformed and learning, cultivated. When the doings and sayings of worthies and sages, handed down on bamboo and silk, transform the heart and enlighten the mind, the result is more momentous than the replies of the district officers on the questions addressed to them.

and Yi together regulated the Great Flood ; took care of the water, whereas Yi recorded all strange things. The border mountains beyond the seas were not held to be too far to go there, and from what they had heard and seen they composed the ‘Mountain and Sea Classic’ 1. If and Yi had not travelled so far, the Shan-hai-king would not have been written. Its production testifies to the great multitude of things seen by them. Tung Chung Shu beheld the Chung-ch‘ang bird, and Liu Tse Chêng knew the body of Erh Fu. Both had read the Shan-hai-king, and therefore could utter themselves on these two things. Had and Yi not reached those distant lands, they could not have edited the Shan-hai-king, and without reading this book Tung Chung Shu and Liu Tse Chêng would not have been in a condition to verify the two doubtful questions.

A fruit fell down and sank into the steps leading up to a terrace (?). Tse Ch‘an, with his great knowledge of things, could discourse on it. When a dragon made its appearance in the suburbs of Chiang 2, T‘sai Mê 3 knew how to account for it, so that the necessary precautions could be taken.

When a father or an elder brother on the point of death, more than a thousand Li distant from home, leave a testament with admonitions, dutiful sons and brothers are eager to read it, and never will dismiss it from their affectionate thoughts. Such is their solicitude in honouring a parent, and paying respect to an elder. Undutiful sons slight and disregard a testament, and do not care to examine its contents. The scripts of old sages and former worthies, left to posterity, are of much greater importance still than documents loft by a father or a brother. Some read these writings and make abstracts of them, others throw them away and do not copy them. Even a man from the street could tell us, which of the two courses p2.104 is preferable, and those whose business it is to distinguish between right and wrong, should not be fit to draw the line ?

When Confucius was taken ill, Shang Ch‘ü 4 divined that at noon his time would come. Confucius said,

— Bring me a book, for what will be the matter, when it is noon ?

So fervent was the Sage’s love of study, that it did not even cease at the point of death. His thoughts were in the Classics, and he did not renounce his principles, because he was near his end. Therefore it is not without reason that he is regarded as the Sage for a hundred generations, who himself took pattern by the institutions of the ancients.

From Confucius down to the Han there have been many persons famous for their talents and not solely such as ‘stuff themselves with food the whole day, without applying their minds to anything good’ 1.Either did they explain the Five Canons, or read the Classics and other works, which are very voluminous, so that it is difficult to matter them all.

Divination by diagrams, and fortune-telling are arts of the time of Wên and Wu Wang. Of yore, there was Shang Ch‘ü who could interpret the diagrams, and more recently Tung Fang So 2 and Yi Shao Chün 3, who were able to guess hidden objects. Though of no great importance, these arts are also derived from the sages, which has often been overlooked 4.

Human nature is endowed with the Five Virtues, open to reason and prone to learning, which distinguishes it from that of all other creatures. But now it is different. People stuff themselves with food, and are given to drink, and to escape their remorses they wish to sleep. Their bellies are larders, and their bowels, wine-skins, and they are nothing better than inanimate things.

p2.105 Among the three hundred naked creatures 5, man takes the first place, for of all the productions issued from the nature of Heaven and Earth he is the noblest, a superiority which he owes to his knowledge. Now those addle-headed, obese fellows do not care for knowledge. How do their desires differ from those of the other two-hundred and ninety-nine naked creatures, that they should lay claim to superiority and precedence ?


The people of China are superior to the savages, for understanding the words benevolence and righteousness, and acquiring the sciences of ancient and modern times. If they merely use their brains for procuring themselves food and raiment, living on months and years, until they are white-headed and toothless, without ever cultivating their minds, they rank lower than savages. Look at the spiders, how they knit their webs with a view to entrapping flying insects. How are the transactions of those men superior to theirs ? Using their brains, they work out their selfish and deceitful schemes with the object of acquiring the amenities of wealth and long life, paying no heed to the study of the past or the present. They behave just like spiders.

Creatures with blood in their veins are not liable to die of starvation, for they all are possessed of the necessary astuteness to find food and drink. Even the unintelligent are able to support themselves. They make their living as officials, and even become high dignitaries. Governors, ministers, and those in authority are like our high officer Kao Tse 1 ; how can they discern them ? In the course of time they distinguish themselves, for it is their fate to be called to office. Knowing neither the past nor the present time, they are still looked upon as very clever owing to their position. How should the superior officers, by their unscientific methods, be able to find out men of intellect and treat them with due consideration, irrespective of rank and precedence ? Ministers and high dignitaries are unqualified for this.

p2.106 If there be men like Ts‘ai Po Ch‘ieh, governor of Yu Fu-fêng 2, the prefect of Yü-lin 3, Chang Mêng Ch‘ang, or the prefect of Tung-lai 4, Li Chi Kung, they are all endowed with an enlightened mind and conversant with the past as well as the present 5. Consequently they hold intelligent persons in the same respect as distinguished guests. What sort of a character must have been Chao of Yen 6, who plyed the broom for Tsou Yen’s sake ! Tung Chung Shou, magistrate of Tung-ch‘êng 7 was held to be the chief of the scholars in knowledge, and everywhere reputed for his intelligence. Receiving somebody, he could discover his exceptional rank 8. Thus he knew quite well that Mr. Ch‘an of Chung-li 9, a simple, registered citizen was to be solemnly invested with the jade bâton and the jade disk. For the knowing, every stone has its splendour, whereas the unknowing do not even remark the brilliancy of gold and gems.

From Wu Ti down to our dynasty, at various times very clever men have been promoted. If they were to be questioned at some examination, the replies of men like Tung Chung Shu, T‘ang Tse Kao, Ku Tse Yün 10, and Ting Po Yü would not only be perfectly correct, but their compositions would also be most brilliant, as the result of their extensive reading and diligent study. In case these four could only use their pen, commenting on the Classics, and that they had not perused old as well as modern books, they would not be able to establish their fame in the palace of the holy emperor.

When Hsiao Ming Ti 11 was reading the biography of Su Wu, he hit upon the name of a military officer called : yi chung chien (master of the horse 12). He asked all his officers about the meaning, but none of them knew it. The words in the institutions of T‘sang Hsieh and in the books of elementary learning are universally known, but when nobody is able to reply to the questions of His Imperial p2.107 Holiness, it becomes evident that the majority of the officials were nothing but bureaucrats owing their position to good luck only. What was signified by the character to combined with mu, they could not tell. It would have been rather hard for them to explain the word ‘chung-ch‘ang’, as Tung Chung Shu did, or to know the word ‘erh-fu’ like Liu Tse Chêng 1.

It might be urged that intelligent men are appointed chancellors of the imperial library, whose business it is to revise books, and fix the texts like the grand historiographer or the grand supplicant, whose office is likewise purely literary. They are not employed to govern the people, or on other business. Therefore such officers of the library, men like Pan Ku, Chia K‘uei 2, Yang Chung 3, and Fu Yi 4, enjoy a great popularity, and their writings are much admired. Though they remain at their posts, and are not entrusted with other offices, they still render great services to the world.

I beg to reply that this is not proceeding on the lines of the Chou period, when sharp-witted men like Tsou Yen and Sun Ch‘ing 5 stood in high favour with their sovereigns, and all the honours and distinctions of the age were bestowed upon them. Although Tung Chung Shu did not hold a premier’s post, he was well known to rank higher than all the ministers. The Chou looked up to the two preceding dynasties, and the Han followed in the wake of the Chou and Ch‘in. From the officers of the library the government sees whether it prospers or not. The heart is like a ball or an egg, but it constitutes the most precious part in the body ; the pupil of the eye resembles a pea, but it illumines the whole body. Thus the chancellors may be petty officials, yet they secretly direct the principles governing the whole State. Learned men make this career, as the academicians are recruited from the scholars.

‘They remain at their posts, and are not entrusted with other offices’, does that mean that His Imperial Holiness has no confidence in them ? Perhaps they had not yet completed their works or discharged their duties.



Apparent Backwardness

40. XIV, I. Chuang-liu

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p2.108 Since able scholars, as we have asserted, rank above all others, people are amazed that as officials they do not advance, and that the posts and functions they have to fill are so inferior. As a matter of fact, we need not be surprised that talented men should be outpaced by ordinary functionaries, for just this circumstance will show us the difference between clever persons and unworthy ones, and display what more or less dignity really means.

When a tortoise is three hundred years old, it is as big as a cash and walks on lotus leaves. At the age of three thousand, it has a green edge and it measures one foot and two inches. When milfoil is seventy years old, it grows one stalk, and at the age of seven hundred it has ten stalks. Both are supernatural things 1, which accounts for the slowness of their growth. These many years give them their wisdom and their knowledge of the truth.

Able scholars on earth are like the spiritual milfoil and the divine tortoise. They spend at least half the days of the year on their studies. Intensely bent upon their researches, they do not covet official honours, and, if called to office, their conduct is irreproachable, square and upright, and not like that of ambitious officials. Hence their advance in life is delayed, and their promotion fraught with difficulties.

If a needle or an awl pierce something, they go through, but in case the points of these implements were square, they would not even penetrate one tenth of an inch deep. Able scholars like square dealings, they do not possess the sharpness of a needle or an awl, and therefore have not the means of making their way and push themselves to the front.

A courser runs a thousand Li a day, but it must be unhampered. Should it have to drag a cart, any hackney might compete with it. Used to pull a salt-wagon, it would drop its head, the perspiration would trickle down, and it would be unable p2.109 to advance. However, if Po Lo 2 started it, or Wang Liang 1 took the reins and allowed it to chase along, free of any burden, it would keep up its reputation of a thousand Li runner.

Our students encompass the wisdom of the past and the present in their bosoms, and carry the burden of propriety and righteousness on their shoulders. Within they are troubled with all their learning, and without harassed with their care for a decent and honest behaviour. They dare not recklessly advance or seek promotion at all cost. Consequently they are left behind. How could they start on a bright morning and win the prize of a thousand Li race, unless they find a friendly Po Lo or a protector like Wang Liang ?

Furthermore, it is a fact that all living creatures, filled with the vital fluid, have their backs turned upwards and their bellies downwards, as long as they move about. When they fall sick or die, the back is turned downwards and the belly uppermost . The reason is that on the back the flesh is thick and heavy, whereas on the belly it is thin and light 2. When able scholars and ordinary officials meet in life, their relation is similar : Under enlightened governors, and when sciences flourish, ordinary officials have to carry the scholars, who rise upon their shoulders, but, when the highest authorities are short-sighted, and sciences neglected, then the officials rise above the scholars, who are kept in subordinate positions, as with animals struck by a fatal blow the belly is uppermost and the back turned downwards.

Moreover, the back has a certain tendency towards heaven, and the belly, towards earth. As long as a creature is alive and moving, the proper order is observed, the belly and the back being in their respective places. By sickness or death this order is reversed, for then the belly usurps the place of the back above.

This is not only true in regard to the belly, for when creatures happen to fall, the feet of others are above them also, and when scholars in life meet with misfortune and come to fall, officers who do not rank higher than their feet or ankles, walk over them.

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