Miscellaneous essays Traduits et annotés

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By insects we usually understand those which feed on grain, grubs are like moths. When millet and rice turn mouldy, the fermentation produces grubs. Now these grubs eating millet and rice are not considered disastrous, whereas, when insects eat the leaves of corn, it is laid to the charge of the government.

If in the course of discussion they urge that millet is of much less consequence than corn in general, we reply that there is the greatest variety of insects, and not only one species. When fish and meat rot, worms are produced, and so they are, when minced-meat and gravy are not covered, or when cooked rice gets warm and damp, or when the scrolls of books are never unrolled, or when garments are folded together and not hung up. Diseased snails 1, flies, mole-crickets 2,and crabs all have parasites : some are white, some black, some long, some short. They are greatly diverse in size, and they are by no means all similar. All are the upshot of the fluid of wind, which they keep up to their end. They cannot choose their days of life, and when their life-time is very short, they perish almost as soon as they appear. Struck with the rarity of their appearance and with the fact that when they come out, they eat something, the phenomenalists call them a calamity, but a calamity presupposes some guilt. Therefore they put forward such officials as bear some resemblance to them.

Man has three worms in his intestines. The worms living in low marshes are called leeches. They eat man’s feet  , as the three worms eat his bowels. To whom will these critics, so fond of similarities, compare the three worms ?

p2.367 All creatures that are born between Heaven and Earth from the Yin and the Yang, such as ant-dragons and entozoa, reptiles and vermin 3, are imbued with the fluid, while alive ; they open their mouths to eat, and what they eat, they either like or do not like. Their instincts are the same, and their propensities similar : the strong and big ones devour the weak and small ones, the shrewd and clever hurt the blunt-minded. If other creatures, big or small, lacerate one another, it is not regarded as a calamity. Therefore only to consider this an echo of the actions of government if insects eat grain, is to misunderstand the true principles and to ignore the real nature of the animal fluid.

The birth of insects depends upon warm and damp weather. As a rule, the air is warm and damp in spring and summer, and it is cold and dry in autumn and winter, when insects are not yet produced. If the village officers are made responsible for the growth of insects, then these officers must be covetous in spring and summer, and disinterested in autumn and winter. Even though they be functionaries like robber Chê, they would in their offices imitate the conduct of Po Yi in autumn and winter.

Spring and summer are not always the same ; when insects grow, it must be exceedingly warm and damp. Exceedingly means that the Yin and the Yang are not in harmony. For a disharmony of the Yin and the Yang the government has to account, to which alone it can be ascribed. Consequently it is preposterous to point to the depravity of the officials of the various departments.

Whence do we know that insects grow from warmth and dampness ? From noxious insects. Grain being dry, insects do not grow, but when it becomes warm and damp, it moulds and putrefies, and the growth of insects can no further be precluded. If the grains of stored up old wheat are dried in the hot sun, and then put in a dry vessel, insects do not generate, but should the seeds not be dry, voracious grubs would grow like clouds and mist. The analogy of voracious grubs makes it evident that all insects owe their birth to warmth and dampness.

The Shiking says :

[« They buzz about, the blue flies, lighting on the fences. O happy and courteous sovereign, do not believe slanderous speeches.] 1

Slanderous reports injure honest men, just as the blue flies pollute white things. The damage is the same, and the Shiking therefore used this image.

p2.368 The king of Ch‘ang-yi dreamt that below the western flight of stairs the dirt of flies was piled up. The next morning, he summoned the officer of the Guards Kung Sui, and asked his opinion. Kung Sui replied,

— The flies are emblems of slanderers. The fact that their dirt is piled up below the stairs, denotes that Your Highness is going to listen to the insinuations of slanderous officers 2.According to this view, flies as insects would tally with the princes lending his ear to defamations ; why not regard them as a calamity then ? If flies may be looked upon as a calamity, they live throughout the year ; but does a ruler always listen to slanderers ?

Of insects hurtful to mankind, none are worse than mosquitoes and gad-flies, which are generated the whole year. In case mosquitoes and gad-flies represent some calamity, are there always officers on earth preying upon their fellow-people ?

Provided that the eating of animals be a calamity, then man being the noblest of all creatures, mosquitoes and gad-flies feeding upon him must be the worst of calamities. If to be accounted a calamity, animals must have unexpectedly been produced and have hurt others, which annoyance is greater, that of creatures produced the whole year and feeding on man, or that of others appearing but occasionally and doing mischief ?

Itching is an occasional and not a constant complaint ; wherefore are the insects producing it not held to be calamitous ?

Moreover, when Heaven is about to rain, ants come out, and gnats fly about, thus conforming to the weather. Perhaps the birth of all insects of itself, accords with the temperature, but why then incriminate the officials of the various departments ? The principle of Heaven is spontaneity, good and bad luck happen by chance. Rare insects happen to be produced, when covetous officials happen to be in office. Noticing their transactions and observing the simultaneous growth of noxious insects, people presume that it has been caused by the officials.



Simplicity of Funerals

67. XXIII, II. Po-tsang

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p2.369 Sages and Worthies all are agreed in advocating simplicity of funerals and economy of expenses, but the world sets high store on expensive funerals, and there are many that do amiss by their extravagance and lavishness. The reason is that the discussions of Confucianists on this subject are not clear, and that the arguments put forward by the Mêhists are wrong. As to the latter, the Mêhists contend that men, after their death become ghosts and spirits, possess knowledge, can assume a shape, and injure people. As instances they adduce Earl Tu and others 1. The Confucianists do not agree with them, maintaining that the dead are unconscious, and cannot be changed into ghosts 2. If they contribute to the sacrifices and prepare the other funeral requisites nevertheless, they desire to intimate that they are not ungrateful to the deceased, and therefore treat them as though they were alive.

Lu Chia speaks like the Confucianists and, whatever he says, avoids giving a distinct answer. Liu Tse Chêng wrote a memorial on the simplicity of funerals, pleading for economy, but he did not exhaust the subject.

Thus ordinary people, on the one side, have these very doubtful arguments, and, on the other, they hear of Earl Tu 3 and the like, and note that the dead in their tombs arise and have intercourse with sick people whose end is near. They, then, believe in this, and imagine that the dead are like the living. They commiserate them that in their graves they are so lonely, that their souls are so solitary and without companions, that their tombs and mounds are closed and devoid of grain and other things.

Therefore they make dummies to serve the corpses in their coffins, and fill the latter with eatables, to gratify the spirits. This custom has become so inveterate, and has gone to such lengths, that very often people will ruin their families and use up all their property for the coffins of the dead 1. They even kill people to p2.370 follow the deceased into their graves, and all this out of regard for the prejudices of the living. They ignore that in reality it is of no use, but their extravagance is eagerly imitated by others. In their belief, the dead are conscious and do not distinguish themselves from the living.

Confucius condemned these practices, but could not establish the truth, and Lu Chia, in his essay, does not adopt either alternative. The memorial of Liu Tse Chêng does not do much to elucidate the assertion of the Confucianists that the dead are unconscious, or the arguments of the Mêhists to the effect that they are conscious. The subject not being borne out by proofs, and the question not being settled by evidence, there is nothing but empty words and futile talk, and even the views of the most honest people do not find credence. Therefore, the public remains wavering and ignorant, and those who believe in a lucky and unlucky destiny, dread the dead, but do not fear justice ; make much of the departed, and do not care for the living. They clear their house of everything for the sake of a funeral procession.

Provided that the disputants and men of letters have proofs such as Earl Tu adduced by the Mêhists, then the truth that the dead are unconscious can be borne out, and the advice to be economical and not to squander too much money on burials, be substantiated. Now the Mêhists say that the Confucianists are wrong, and the Confucianists think the same of the Mêhists. Since they both have their different tenets, there is such a discrepancy of opinions, and a consensus so difficult to be attained.

In this dispute of the two schools, the problem of life and death has not yet been solved, nobody having ever been resuscitated by sacrifices. As a matter of fact, the dead are hidden from our view, being dissolved and belonging to another sphere than the living, and it is almost impossible to have a clear conception of them. Unless, however, their state of consciousness or unconsciousness be ascertained, the true nature of ghosts cannot be determined. Even men of great learning and able scholars may be unfit to discover the truth, though they avail themselves of all the old and modern literature, plunging into the works of the various schools of thought, and perusing them page after page and paragraph after paragraph. To attain this aim there must first be a holy heart and a sage mind, and then experience and analogies are to be resorted to. If anybody in his reasoning does not use the greatest care p2.371 and discernment, taking his evidence indiscriminately from without, and thus establishing right and wrong, he believes in what he has heard or seen from others, and does not test it in his mind. That would be reasoning with ears and eyes, and not with the heart and intellect. This reasoning with ears and eyes conduces to empty semblances, and if empty semblances be used as proofs, then real things pass for fictions. Ergo, right and wrong are independent of eyes and ears, and require the use of the intellect.

The Mêhists, in their investigations, do not inquire into things with their mind, but thoughtlessly believe the reports of others. Consequently, they fail to find the truth in spite of the plainness of their proofs. An opinion incompatible with truth, however, is not apt to be imparted to others, for though they may have the sympathies of illiterate people, they do not find favour with the learned. It is owing to this that the maxim of the Mêhists that all expenses for the various things employed at funerals are unprofitable does not gain ground.

A man of Lu was going to put cat’s-eyes into a coffin. Confucius, upon hearing of it, went across the court-yard, passed over the steps (of the hall), and remonstrated ; this was a breach of etiquette. The intention of Confucius was to avert a calamity 1. Calamities very often originate from covetousness. Cat’s-eyes are precious stones ; when the man of Lu put them into the coffin, wicked people spied it out, and their greed was roused. The desires of wicked people having been excited, they do not fear laws or penalties, and break tombs open. Confucius, from some insignificant indications, foresaw this result, therefore he crossed the court, ascended the steps (of the hall), and, in order to avert this calamity, straightforth made his remonstrance. But since he did not show that the dead are deprived of consciousness, barely limiting himself to a remonstrance, on the ground that the grave might be violated, people would not have listened to him, even though he had possessed the same influence on mankind as Pi Kan. Why ? Because the wealth p2.372 of the feudatory lords was so great, that they were not apprehensive of poverty 2, and their power so strong, that they did not fear a desecration of their graves.

Thus, the doubts concerning the dead were not solved, and for a dutiful son the best plan was to follow the advice imposing upon him the heaviest obligations. Had it been plainly shown that the dead have no knowledge, and that sumptuous burials are of no advantage, the discussion would have been closed, and the question settled, and after it had been made public, the custom of using cat’s-eyes would have been abandoned, and there would have been no occasion for crossing the court-yard and remonstrating. Now, the problem was not solved, and barely a strong protest made. That is the reason why Confucius could not carry through his doctrine.

Confucius perfectly well understood the true condition of life and death, and his motive in not making a clear distinction is the same which appears from Lu Chia’s words. If he had said that the dead are unconscious, sons and subjects might perhaps have violated their duties to their father and sovereign. Therefore they say that the ceremony of funeral sacrifices being abolished, the love of sons and subjects would decrease ; if they had decreased, these persons would slight the dead and forget the deceased, and, under these circumstances, the cases of undutiful sons would multiply. Being afraid that he might open such a source of impiety, the Sage was reluctant to speak the truth about the unconsciousness of the dead.

However, different spheres must not be confounded. The care taken in abundantly providing for the wants of the living leads to moral perfection, but how does carelessness about the dead interfere with it ? If the dead possess knowledge, then a disregard might have evil consequences, but if they are unconscious, a neglect cannot cause any injury. The conviction of their unconsciousness does not necessarily lead to an ill-treatment of the dead, whereas the ignorance of this fact involves the living in ruinous expense.

A dutiful son nursing a sick parent before his death, calls in the diviners and requests the services of physicians with the hope that the malady may be expelled, and the medicines prove efficacious. But, after the death of his parent, nobody — be he as wise as Wu Hsien 1, or as clever as Pien Ch‘io — can bring him back to life p2.373 again, well knowing that, when, by death, the vital fluid is destroyed, there is absolutely no help, and no treatment whatever would be of any benefit to the dead. Is there any great difference in an expensive funeral ? By supineness with regard to the deceased, people fear to violate the moral laws, but would it not likewise be an impiety to dismiss the diviners and keep the physicians from the dead ?

As long as a parent is alive, he takes an elevated seat in the hall, but, after death, when buried, stays under the yellow springs 2. No human being lives under the yellow springs, yet those burying the dead have not the slightest scruples about it, because the dead inhabit quite a different region, and cannot live together with the living. If they were to be taken care of like living people, and supposed to take offence, they ought to be buried in their house and be close to the living. Those ignorant of the unconsciousness of the dead, are afraid that people might offend against their parents. They only know that, having been buried, they live under the yellow springs, but do not think of the separation from their ancestors 1.

When a parent is in jail, and his case still pending, a dutiful son hurries about, to rescue him from this danger, but after the case has been tried, and a penalty has been fixed, there is no escape left, and even a Tsêng Tse or a Min Tse Ch‘ien 2 could do nothing but sit down and weep. All schemes would be in vain and lead to useless trouble. Now, the souls of deceased parents decidedly have no consciousness, and are in a similar position to imprisoned parents who cannot be rescued from their punishment. Those who ignore the unconsciousness, apprehend lest people should show a disregard for their ancestors, but do not take exception that, when punishment is settled, parents are abandoned.

When a sage has established a law furthering progress, even if it be of no great consequence, it should not be neglected ; but if something is not beneficial to the administration, it should not be made use of in spite of its grandeur. Now, how does all the care bestowed on the dead benefit mutual good feeling, and how could any disregard or neglect violate any law ?

Confucius further said that ‘spirit vessels’ are not substantial, but merely symbolical and imaginary. Therefore puppets are made to resemble men, and effigies like living persons. In Lu they used p2.374 dummies for burials. Confucius sighed, seeing in this custom an indication that living men would be interred together with the dead 3. This sigh was an expression of grief, and if (at funerals) things had to be used as if for the living, he warned against an overstraining of this principle. Dummies being buried, it was to be feared that later on, living men might be forced to accompany the dead 4, but why did Confucius not consider the possibility that for ‘spirit vessels’, real vessels might be placed in the graves in future ? 5He obviated human sacrifices, but did nothing to prohibit the use of funeral gifts. He valued human life so much, that he was afraid of wasting it, and he felt pity for the individual but no sympathy for the State  . In this his reasoning was wrong.

In order to prevent the water from leaking out, one must stop all the holes, then the leakage ceases. Unless all the holes be stopped, the water finds an outlet, and having an outlet, it causes damage. Unless the discussion on death be exhaustive, these extravagant customs are not stopped, and while they are going on, all sorts of things are required for burials. These expenses impoverish the people, who by their lavishness bring themselves into the greatest straits.

When Su Ch‘in was envoy of Yen, the people of Ch‘i were in the habit of erecting enormous sepulchres, filled with heaps of valuables. Su Ch‘in personally did nothing to incite them. When all their wealth was gone, and the people greedy for money, the exchequer empty, and the army good for nothing, the troops of Yen suddenly arrived. Ch‘i was unable to stand its ground : the State was ruined, the cities fell, the sovereign left his country, and his subjects dispersed 1. Now, as long as people are in the dark, regarding the unconsciousness of the dead, they will spend all their money for the sumptuous burial of a parent, and be ruined in the same manner as Ch‘i was by the cunning of Su Ch‘in.

The device of the Mêhists is self-contradictory : on the one side, they advocate a simple burial, and on the other, they honour p2.375 ghosts. To justify this veneration, they refer to Earl Tu, who was a dead man. If Earl Tu be deemed a ghost, then all the dead really possess knowledge, and if they do, they would be incensed at the shabbiness of their burials.

There is a general craving for luxuriance and a strong aversion to paucity. What advantage, therefore, would the veneration of ghosts bring to those guilty of mean burials ? Provided that ghosts be not dead men, then the belief in Earl Tu is preposterous, if, however, ghosts be dead men, then a mean burial would not be proper. Thus theory and practice of the Mêhists are inconsistent, head and tail do not agree, and it cannot but be wrong. But right and wrong not being understood, cannot be practised. Therefore the public should carefully consider what has been written, and having done so, they may bury their dead in a simple style 2.



Four Things to be Avoided

68. XXIII, III. Sse-hui

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p2.376 There are four things which, according to public opinion, must be avoided by all means. The first is to build an annex to a building on the west side, for such an annex is held to be inauspicious, and being so, is followed by a case of death. Owing to this apprehension, nobody in the world would dare to build facing the west. This prohibition dates from days of yore.

We have a record that [Duke Ai of Lu 1wished to build an annex to the west. The astrologer opposed this scheme as unpropitious. Duke Ai flushed up and got angry ; his attendants remonstrated several times, but he would not hear and asked the prime minister Chih Sui saying,

— I wish to build an annex on the west side, and the astrologer declares it to be unpropitious. What do you mean ?

— There are three unpropitious things in the world, replied Chih Sui, but building an annex on the west side is not among them.

The duke cheered up, and shortly afterwards again asked which were the three unpropitious things. The other said,

— Not to act fairly and justly is the first unpropitious thing. To give way to one’s unrestrained desires is the second, and not to listen to a proper remonstrance is the third.

The duke became meditative and, having pondered for awhile, he frankly acknowledged his fault and changed his mind. The annex was not built] 2, for the astrologer and the prime minister both received the order to stop building.

The annex in the west caused useless trouble, it is true, but we know not whether it was auspicious or inauspicious. Should the astrologer and Chih Sui have been of opinion that an annex in the west was inauspicious indeed, then both would be on a par with the common people of the present day 3. On all the four sides of a house there is earth ; how is it that three sides are not looked upon as of ill omen, and only an annex in the west is said to be unpropitious ? How could such an annex be injurious to the p2.377 body of earth. or hurtful to the spirit of the house ? In case an annex in the west be unpropitious, would a demolition there be a good augury ? Or, if an annex in the west be inauspicious, would it be a lucky omen in the east ? For if there be something inauspicious, there must also be something auspicious, as bad luck has good luck as its correlate.

A house has a form, and a spirit disposes of good and bad luck ; a cultivation of virtue leads to happiness, and an infringement of the laws brings about misfortune. Now, if an annex in the west is believed to be unpropitious, where must it be built to be propitious ? Moreover, who is it that takes exception at people extending their house to the west ? Should earth resent it, what damage does it do to earth, if the west side of an eastern house be enlarged and, at the same time, the east side of a western building be diminished ?

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