Miscellaneous essays Traduits et annotés

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There is a report that Mount Liang 4 collapsed and blocked a river, which for three days did not flow. The prince of Chin was very much distressed, Po Tsung 5, following the counsel of a p2.188 carriage-driver, bade Duke Ching dress in plain white silk and bewail the extraordinary case. Upon this the water of the river came back 6.

This is preposterous. A mountain tumbling down and blocking a river is like a tumor caused by an abscess, which prevents the circulation of the blood. Could such a tumor be cured by putting on white clothes and crying ?

In Yao’s time the Great Flood was surging up to the sky, encircling mountains and overtopping hills 7. The emperor Yao sighed and was anxious to find some clever helpmate. The waters were worse than the blocking of a river, and Yao’s sorrow deeper than that of Duke Ching, but we have not heard that, by dressing in white silk and giving vent to his grief, he could overcome the water. Had Yao no device of some able man like the carriage-driver ?It is impossible to remove a cataclysm like the Great Flood by such means as sounds and dresses. White silk and tears are tantamount to repentance and self-indictment. Yao and regulating the waters did it by means of personal labour, and not by self-reproaches.

Mount Liang was a mountain in Yao’s time 1,and the river that was blocked was a river of the same period. Both catastrophes, the falling mountain blocking the river as well as the rain from heaven and the rise of the water, were not different, but Yao and regulated the water by personal work, whereas the carriage-driver had recourse to self-accusation, to put the blocked river in order. The catastrophes were similar, but the measures taken, different ; the people were alike, but their methods inconsistent.

The true system of the wise and the phenomenalists is otherwise, I should say. According to their principles, such categories must be called into play as can affect one another, e. g. if there be cold, the former state may be restored by warmth, and warmth may again be dispelled by cold. Thus with dragons they attract rain, and by punishments expel heat  . In all these instances the p2.189 fluids of the Five Elements are set in motion, which either affect or overcome each other 2. What have white silk and crying over a blocked river to do with these principles ?

Perhaps, when the river was dammed and the mountain collapsed, first the earth was heaped up, and the water was not strong enough to break through. Three days later, the water had increased, so that the earth was dispersed, and the obstruction destroyed. After the removal of the obstruction, the current set in again and began flowing eastwards. At the suggestion of Po Tsung who listened to the carriage-driver, the duke dressed in white silk and cried, whereupon the water commenced running again. Upon this they contended that the extraordinary deviation of the river was adjusted by these measures. As a matter of fact this is wrong, but how can we know ?

If the collapse of the mountain was something natural, white silk and tears were of no advantage, and if it was a divine calamity in response to some acts, then the government and the administration ought to have been changed. Were silk and tears in any way connected with a change of government, that they might remove a divine calamity ?


In some books we find the following narrative : The filial piety of Tsêng Tse was such, that a peculiar sympathy existed between him and his mother. Once, when Tsêng Tse had gone out to gather fuel in the country, a guest arrived and wanted to leave again. Tsêng Tse’s mother told him to remain, since her son would soon be back, and with her right hand she squeezed her left arm 1.Tsêng Tse at once felt a pain in his left arm, and forthwith he came back to his mother, and asked of her the reason why his arm had pained him. His mother replied,

— To-day a guest arrived and wanted to go away. I squeezed my arm, in order to call you  .

For extreme piety leads to a spiritual communication with father and mother, and a sickness of the body directly affects the spirit.

This is a mistake, I dare say. Since great filial piety and brotherly love evidently make an impression upon the spirits, one p2.190 says that the effects of virtue extend to Heaven and Earth. From this common people infer that extreme piety and love move the soul. If the pain in the arm of Tsêng Tse’s mother was likewise felt in his arm, was Tsêng Tse also sick, when his mother was taken ill, or did he die at once, when his mother expired ? We learn from history that, when Tsêng Tse’s mother died first, he did not follow her. This shows that the spirit may be moved in a minor degree, but that it cannot be affected to any great extent.

People say that, during the night, Shên Hsi 2 heard his mother sing. His heart being touched, he opened the door to inquire who was the singer, and it appeared that it was his mother. Hearing his mother’s voice, the sound affected him. His heart was agitated, and his mind roused, so that he opened the door to inquire. That may be true. Now the mother of Tsêng Tse was in the house, while her son was in the country and could not hear her calls. How could a little pinching of the arm on the part of his mother affect the son ? Methinks people have embellished the facts. Hearing that as a dutiful son Tsêng Tse had not his peer on earth, they invented the story of his mother squeezing her arm.


People say that Cho 3 of Nan-yang 4 following Hou’s counsel, the locusts did not enter his territory. Owing to his extraordinary wisdom, the calamitous insects did not infest his country 5. This also is a fallacy. Great wisdom may make itself felt upon creatures of a similar kind, which are able to understand the character of one of their kindred, and afterwards feel a certain respect for him. Locusts belong to the class of mosquitoes and p2.191 gadflies 1. What do they hear, and what do they know to become aware of Cho’s proceedings ? Provided that a wise man lived in the country, far away in the interior, would mosquitoes and gadflies not enter his cottage ? They would not shun the hut of a sage, wherefore then should the locusts keep aloof from Cho’s territory ?

If they say that the calamity of locusts has nothing in common with mosquitoes and gadflies, they will admit at least that heat and cold can also prove calamities. Now, in case cold prevails throughout a circuit, and that in one of its districts there lives a wise man, could the area of this one district alone remain warm ? Heat and cold do not recoil from the district of a wise man, why then should the locusts not enter the territory of Cho ?

Consequently it was merely by chance that the locusts did not ravage his country. The fame of Cho’s wisdom being in every mouth, people conceived the idea that he could avert locusts.

When locusts appear in the country, they cannot go everywhere nor completely cover the ground. At their gatherings they are more numerous in some places, and in others less. If their swarms are concentrated upon one place, it is not necessary that robber Chê should dwell there, nor is the country which they spare inhabited by Po Yi 2. They alight or pass in greater or smaller numbers, and do not completely cover everything. As in falling down upon a place, they are many or few, so in passing a district, they either remain or leave again. From their number no conclusion can be drawn as to goodness or badness ; how then should their appearance or non-appearance be a criterion of a man’s wisdom ? Hence it is plain that, when locusts pass of their own accord, we have no right to say that they do not come into the territory of a wise man.



Praise of the Han Dynasty

57. XIX, I. Hsüan Han

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p2.192 The Literati contend that the Five Emperors and the Three Rulers brought the empire the blessings of universal peace, and that since the accession of the Han dynasty there has not yet been general peace. By saying that the Five Emperors and Three Rulers brought about a time of uninterrupted tranquillity, and that the Han have not yet enjoyed such a state, they imply that the Five Emperors and Three Rulers were sages, for only the virtue of sages can have such an effect, and the allegation that the Han have not had such a peaceful time means to say that there were no sage emperors, because the influence of worthies is not sufficient 1.

Furthermore, they remember the words of Confucius saying :

— The phœnix does not come ; the River sends forth no Plan : it is all over with me ! 2

At present, we have no phœnix and no Plan of the River, and numerous are the omens that persist in not coming. Wherefore they say that we are not living in a period of general peace. This view is preposterous.

Universal peace manifests itself by the establishment of government, when the people respond, by being cheerful and at case. Confucius teaches that one renders the people happy by cultivating one’s own self 3. The fact that Yao and Shun were toiling for the welfare of their people proves that at that time there was universal peace. For governing others the individual must be the starting point. The people being at ease, the Yin and the Yang are in harmony, and when they harmonize all things grow and develop ; such being the case, strange omens come forth. How about our empire ? Is it at ease or in jeopardy ?

Being at ease, it is at peace, and then even the absence of omens would not be hurtful to the peaceful state. The style of government becomes manifest from its institutions and appears from the real state of affairs. When these manifestations are not visible the true conditions cannot be ascertained. Sometimes all may be p2.193 in perfect order, but there are no witnesses to prove it. Therefore, as regards the principles of government, provided that its institutions be true and real, it is not requisite that they should all be manifest. A wise ruler in his administration aims at universal peace, and it is not indispensable that there should be corresponding omens.

The omens of universal peace are like the features of sage sovereigns. Since the physiognomies of sage rulers must not of necessity be similar, wherefore should those portents always be of the same type ? The scholars know that in the time of Yao and Shun a phœnix as well as a ‘brilliant star’ 1 became visible, and there were issued the Plan of the River and the Scroll of the Lo. Do they imagine that future monarchs, ruling the empire, must again have this kind of thing, in order to bring about universal peace ? If they go so far, they likewise ought to require of Yao again to possess joined teeth 2and of Shun again to have eight eyebrows  .

The holy features of emperors and rulers have not been the same at various times, consequently there is no reason why the portents obtained of yore and at present should be identical, and it is erroneous to assert that we have no period of general peace, because the present sovereigns have no phœnix and no Plan of the River. Confucius speaking of the phœnix and the Plan merely used former prodigies for exemplification, but does not intend to say that every age must again have its phœnix and its Plan.

The omens of the emperors and rulers were manifold and not only a single one, either a phœnix and a unicorn, or the Plan of the Yellow River and the Scroll of the Lo, or sweet dew and wine springs, or the harmonious blending of the Yin and the Yang, or the excellent order and the tranquillity of the people. The present omens must not agree with the old ones, nor must the latter be conformable to the former. It is not necessary that there should be an unbroken chain of the portents met with, and this will become evident from the following :

When emperors and rulers arose, their fate and luck were by no means the same. The Chou encountered a crow and a p2.194 fish 3, the Han destroyed a big snake 4, and we may be sure that the sovereigns of T‘ang and were in a similar position as those of Chou and Han. The events and circumstances of their rise and accession to the throne were not homogeneous ; why then should the presages of universal peace be identical ? To infer future auguries from those omens which happened would be like watching the trunk of a tree in wait for a hare and hiding oneself, after having destroyed the nets 1.

When peace reigns throughout the empire, the omens and presages may be very different ; as when a man is wealthy his goods are not the same. Some hoard up rice and grain, others collect silks and others, fabrics, others breed cattle and horses, or they acquire landed property and houses. Those partial to rice and grain do not care for silks and fabrics, and the cattle and horse-breeders do not appreciate land and buildings. Therefore they will say that rice and grain are better than fabrics, or that cattle and horses have a greater value than lots of land and houses. Now, provided that the people live at peace and there are omens, those who object that the old omens viz. the Plan of the River and the phœnix did not appear, and that therefore there cannot be peace, those who say so are like rice-eaters that, upon arriving in a country where everybody eats millet, and no rice is to be seen, declare millet not to be any grain.

As a matter of fact, the empire enjoys universal peace. But unless there be sages, how could this be effected ? And how can the truth of this assertion be borne out in the absence of a phœnix ? If we ask the scholars of our agethey do not know a sage ; then how do they know whether there are no sages at present ? How could our contemporaries, on perceiving a phœnix, recognise it as such ? Since they do not know it, how can they be sure that there are no phœnixes now ? They really ignore whether there are sages or not, nor are they able to distinguish a genuine phœnix p2.195 from a false one. Consequently they are unqualified to ascertain whether the present time may boast of universal peace or not.

Confucius said,

[— If there is a true emperor it would still require a generation, and then virtue would prevail]   ;

after thirty years, the world is at peace. From the beginning of the Han dynasty up to Wên Ti there were upwards of twenty years 2. Then Chia Yi was the first to suggest that, in view of the harmony pervading the empire, the first day of the first moon, the colour of dresses, and several customs should be changed. The official titles should be fixed, and rites and music receive a new impetus. When Wên Ti ascended the throne he was ever yielding and accommodating 3. According to Chia Yi’s proposals, in the time of Wên Ti, there was already general peace.

These more then twenty years after the rise of the Han would agree with the dictum of Confucius that a generation would be required before virtue prevailed. The number of years making up one generation being already completed, universal peace must have been established. Chia Yi was aware of it, and fancy now nearly three hundred years later 1 to say that there is not yet general peace ! A big mistake, indeed.

The generation alluded to by Confucius is thirty years. The house of Han has reigned three hundred years, ten emperors 2have become illustrious by their virtues, and should not the time of universal peace have already come ?

The era of Wên Ti was, no doubt, perfectly peaceful already. The following ages kept up the peace, until under P‘ing Ti the former Han dynasty was extinguished  . Kuang Wu Ti restored it 3, and again it arrived at universal peace.

The following question might be put : Wên Ti had omens, and his reign deserves to be termed a time of universal peace. But Kuang Wu Ti had no such omens, how then could he be credited with universal peace ?

p2.196 My answer is that omens and auguries of emperors and rulers are dissimilar at different periods. Even though there should be no ominous things at all, yet the peaceful gathering of the people and the harmonious blending of wind and air would likewise be ominous. How can we show this to be the case ?

When emperors and rulers had pacified the empire they were in the habit of ascending Mount T‘ai, to offer the hill-sacrifice and announce the peace. Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti also did so, but encountered a violent thunderstorm with rain, because his government was anything but peaceful, and the air by no means harmoniously mixed. When Kuang Wu Ti, however, went up the mountain to sacrifice, the sky was bright and cloudless 4, a phenomenon attending universal peace. His government was peaceful and the air corresponding. Under Kuang Wu Ti’s reign the air was harmonious, the people at peace, and ominous creatures appeared of various kinds. But, notwithstanding these proofs afforded by the people and the air, those critics still cherish their doubts.

In the second year of Yuan-k‘ang 1of Hsiao Hsüan Ti’s time, a phœnix alighted on Mount T‘ai and subsequently, also, in Hsin-p‘ing  . In the fourth year 2, spiritual birds perched on the Ch‘ang-lo palace and some in the Shang-lin park, and the Chiu-chên 3brought a unicorn as a present. In the second year of Shên-chi , a phœnix and sweet dew descended on the capital, in the fourth year 4a phœnix alighted in Tu-ling  and in the Shang-lin park. In the third year of Wu fêng  , when the emperor was offering sacrifice in the southern suburb, a divine splendour appeared simultaneously, or it rose in a valley and illuminated the feasting hall for at least ten days 5. In the following year, when the emperor was sacrificing to the manes of Hou Tu, the glamour appeared again in the same manner as when he went to the southern suburb. Sweet p2.197 dew and a spiritual bird descended on the Yen-shou and the Wan-sui palaces. In the third month of the same year, a luan and a phœnix alighted on a tree within the eastern gate of the Chang-lo palace. In the first year of Kan-lu 6, a yellow dragon arrived and was seen in Hsin fêng 7, and wine springs flowed abundantly 8.

Those phœnixes arrived five or six times, and either it was the same bird appearing several times, or each time it was a different bird coming independently. The unicorn, the spiritual birds, the yellow dragon, the luan bird, the sweet dew, the wine springs, the divine splendour and supernatural light occurring at the sacrifices to Hou Tu and to Heaven and Earth, all these omens must be admitted to be very numerous, nay superabundant. Though the reign of Hsiao Ming Ti 9 could not boast of a phœnix, yet it was distinguished by a unicorn, sweet dew, vine springs, spiritual birds, white pheasants, purple boletus, and auspicious grain. Gold was found, and tripods turned up. Separated trees again grew together.

The presages of the Five Emperors and Three Rulers mentioned in the Classics and the Records are not more numerous than those of Hsiao Ming Ti. If universal peace be measured by presages, the years of Hsiao Ming Ti must have been twice as peaceful as those of the Five Emperors and Three Rulers. Accordingly, the eras of Hsiao Hsüan Ti and Hsiao Ming Ti deserve to be called ages of universal peace.

Those apt to bring about general peace are sages. Why do the scholars of the present time contend that our age has no sages ? Was the fluid derived from Heaven so copious during former generations and is it so scanty in later times ?

The Chou had three sages : Wên Wang, Wu Wang, and Chou Kung all flourishing simultaneously. Why must the Han, being a dynasty as well, rank below the Chou in this respect, and why must the wise emperors of the Chou be more numerous than those of the Han ? The Han emperors Kao Tsu and Kuang Wu Ti would correspond to Wên Wang and Wu Wang of the Chou dynasty, and Wên Ti, Wu Ti, Hsüan Ti, Hsiao Ming Ti and the reigning emperor 1surpass the Chou kings Ch‘êng, K‘ang, and Hsüan. Not that, because I am personally living in the Han epoch, I am prone unduly to p2.198 extol and eulogize them, trying to coax and flatter, my only aim being to explain how matters stand, and how far the views held by scholars are justified.

Usually people incline to praise what is distant and belaud antiquity. In regard to omens they admire those of remote ages, and as to government they regard the old kings as worthies. Noticing something wonderful at the present time, they do not believe in it. Should Yao and Shun be re-born now, I am afraid that they would not be styled sages.

When hunters are chasing wild animals, lookers-on take a keen interest in the hunt, but do not care for fishing, which they have not seen. Thus those people look to Ch‘i, but are indifferent to Lu, or they ramble through Ch‘u and have no regard for Sung  . Of Yao and Shun, the Hsia, and the Yin dynasty there are records on tablets of two feet four inches 2. It is those that the Literati pore on, studying from morning till night, whereas they do not look at the books of the Han time, saying that the productions of the Han are worthless and not up to those of the ancients. Just so the spectators of the hunt do not care for fishing, and those roaming over Ch‘i and Ch‘u pay no heed to Sung and Lu. If a great literary genius should arise and put on record the history of the Han time, his work would become a Shuking or a Ch‘un-ch‘iu. The scholars would take it up and study it most carefully, and, by adding it to the six old Classics, they would have seven 3.

From our most illustrious sovereign up to Kao Tsu all were sage emperors. According to the panegyrics on the Han, presented by Tu Fu and Pan Ku 1, their achievements, virtues, and omens flowed forth as a mighty stream whose waters rushing on are immeasurable. When we pass Yao and Shun and enter the sphere of the first emperors, the three dynasties are like remote narrow gorges with very deep waters. The Yin era is not so very far from the time of the Hsia dynasty. But leaving alone Yao and p2.199 Shun, the Hsia and the Yin and solely comparing the merits and accomplishments of the Han with those of the house of Chou, being the nearest to us, by weighing the pros and cons, we find that the Chou come short of the Han for the following reason :

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