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Annoyances and Vexations

2. I, II. Lei-ho

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p2.037 Officials in their career may be hampered and checked, their characters may be slandered and pulled to pieces, their offences be mercilessly magnified, and their names be sullied and bespattered. That does not prove that their talents are inferior, or their conduct is iniquitous, or that their minds are unenlightened, and their ideas muddled. They have met with misfortune from abroad, and are hardly dealt with.

This is not only true of men, but of all other things as well. All living and moving things have to suffer annoyances and vexations. These annoyances come from without, not from within. Since their source is not to be sought there, those people who inconsiderately lay them to the charge of the sufferers, show a narrow mind and a regrettable want of judgment.

That plants grow in spring, we can warrant, but, whether they will bear fruit in autumn, nobody can predict. Their roots may suddenly be trampled upon by oxen and horses, and their stalks cut down with knives and sickles. Then their growth is impeded, and they do not ripen in autumn. Plants not ripening have suffered some injury and thus do not develop.

When rice has been touched by rats, it is spoiled and not fit for eating. The taste of this spoiled rice is the same as that of unsullied rice, but owing to the trespass of the rats, it is thrown away and not used. The annoyances and vexations of a noble character are similar in nature to those of the plants which did not develop, or the rice which is not used. Since they all come from without, they are to be looked upon as annoyances and vexations.

By purifying oneself and regulating one’s conduct it is impossible to attract happiness, and by trembling fear and precautions one cannot eschew misfortune. The arrival of happiness and misfortune is good or bad chance. Therefore they say, ‘That which is obtained not by one’s own force is called happiness, and that which happens not through my own doing is called misfortune 1. p2.038 But, when it is not my doing, whence does it come ? From my native place and from the administration.

In one’s native place there are three annoyances and in the administration three vexations 1. The annoyances originate in one’s native place, and the vexations in the administration. In ancient and modern times remarkable men and excellent characters have experienced this.

Which are the so-called three annoyances and which the three vexations ?

People are not always careful enough in selecting their friends. As long as they agree, there is the greatest kindness, but when they disagree, an estrangement takes place, and this estrangement engenders envy and hatred. Then they slander the conduct of their former friend. That is the first annoyance 2.

The accomplishments of men are of a higher or a lower order and cannot be quite equal. When several persons begin their career at the same time, the well gifted become illustrious 3. The less able out of shame and anger then slander their betters. That is the second annoyance 4.

Men in their intercourse cannot always be pleased. Cheerfulness leads to friendliness, anger to alienation, and alienation to animosity. In this frame of mind people slander others. That is the third annoyance 5.

Now for the first vexation. Offices are few, and candidates many. The scholars compete for admission, and when admitted, fight for the posts. Calling upon the governor, they defame one another, sending in coloured reports. The governors are not perspicacious enough to detect the deceit and listen to their insinuations 6.

The second vexation is this : Governors and clerks have different propensities, and their doings are pure or foul. The generous clerks are enthusiasts for all that is noble and beautiful, and never p2.039 use other but pure words. The corrupt clerks resent this, and by degrees try to find fault with their rivals, slandering them for the smallest wrong, for which punishment is inflicted upon the latter 7.

Or the governors are biassed in favour of some of their subordinates and believe in what they say. These subordinates will, against all propriety, recommend their friends for extraordinary promotion. Those who oppose them, lose their sympathy and are slandered by them more than can be imagined. Honest officials daring to offer resistance and to propound different views, attract their hatred and are decried to the governors. That is the third vexation 1.

Those who have not yet taken office have to suffer the three annoyances, and those who are in office, the three vexations. Even a Confucius and a Mê Ti could not avoid them, and men like Yen Hui and Tsêng T‘san would not be free of them. How many hundred or thousand meritorious deeds soever they might accomplish, multitudes of envious persons would rise around them. Thorns and prickles would prick them and stick to their bodies and faces, and wasps and scorpions would sting the highly-principled 2.

These six troubles are not the only ones, but the most conspicuous 3, the world however does not perceive them. It does not see that owing to their doings the scholars have to suffer the three annoyances, and the officials, the three vexations. Those who remain uninjured they call undefiled, and those who have been calumniated, degraded. Those functionaries who advance in their career they regard as good, and those who are dismissed from office, as bad.

A man who continues unharmed and advances, is fortunate and praised, and another who is slandered and dismissed, is unlucky and blamed. But going thoroughly into the matter, we must admit that there are the three annoyances and the three vexations. Since those speaking about these matters ignore that people may be affected by these grievances, although their deeds be pure and virtuous, they mix mud with clay, and bespatter silk with black. But who knows that ? Purity is polluted, and whiteness covered with dirt. Flies like to sully white silk. He who is standing on a height is in danger, and those living in prosperity suffer losses. Those fallen down usually were in precipitous places.

p2.040 Ch‘ü P‘ing’s purity was unblemished, but all the dogs of the city barked at him. Dogs bark at what appears strange to them. To condemn the noble-minded and suspect the genius is a sign of a poor head 4.A remarkable man endowed with all the virtues of a genius causes all the dogs to bark. Such being the case, is it necessary still to persuade the low class people and to harmonise with the worthless ? Those base and worthless people cannot be convinced.

Should then average people be taken as a model to preserve one’s reputation and avoid slander ? Those who agree with ordinary people and preserve their reputation, are those goody persons, who in all their doings are irreproachable, so that they are not open to reprimands, and that to criticise them is useless 1. Thus even Confucius was found guilty, and Mencius culpable.

Those who in ancient times excelled by virtue could not safeguard themselves. Therefore those who following their nature quietly awaited the annoyances and vexations to come, were the really virtuous and honest. Through the most injurious slanders and calumnies the real character of those men shone forth.

How should the traces of pure and noble deeds not be covered with the dust of envious slander ? The guitar players would fain have broken the fingers of Po Ya 2, and the charioteers have crushed the hand of Wang Liang 3. Why ? Because they were all craving for the fame of exceptional skill, and hated those who surpassed them.

Thus the girl of Wei was a great beauty, but Chêng Hsiu 4 cut her nose off 5, and Chao Wu 6 was loyal and honest, but p2.041 Wu Chi 7 expelled him. Hunchbacksare full of envy, and big-bellied persons often deceitful.

For this very reason one does not sprinkle the dust in wet halls, and one does not shelter low cottages against the wind  . Plants too much shaken by the wind do not grow, and banks against which the water dashes do not remain high. Yu-li, Ch‘ên and T‘sai 8may serve as an example, and the drowning in the Yangtse or the jumping into the Yellow River  . If those who vie in virtue to win fame in the eyes of the common people, or strive to preserve their reputation before the governors, do not meet with the disgrace of Têng Hsi 9, or incur the penalty of Tse Hsü 10, it is chance.

People do not assault the dead body of Mêng Pên, for its life is gone, nor do they throw water on a hundred bushels of burnt out embers, for the fire is extinct. If some one outshines all others by his intelligence, and sheds his lustre over a whole age, or if he surpasses all by his energy, and stands towering over all the crowd, he is always slandered and envied by ordinary people. In case a man attempts to neutralise the common attacks with his honest heart, the profit which he seeks turns into loss. It was for this reason that Confucius felt sad, and Mencius was full of sorrow.

Those possessed of great virtue attract calumnies and are carped at by other scholars. To avert these censures with appeasing words and to try to get rid of these dangerous grievances, is a hard task indeed.

The defamation of Tsang T‘sang has not yet died out, and the opposition of Kung-Po Liao .is not yet broken. Ant-hills are p2.042 made into mountains, and rivulets into rivers and streams. The smallest good is distasteful to wicked people  .

If we speak of polluting, purity may be sullied, and whiteness covered with dirt, and if we speak of slander, the best and noblest man is envied, and the greatest talent sneered at. As regards punishment, the most loyal words cause misfortune, and the noblest deeds bring about shame and disgrace, and as for imperfections, even a gem may have a flaw, and a pearl, some small defect.

The elder brother of the lord of Ch‘ên-liu 1was renowned over all Yen-chou  . He had left the most brilliant traces, and not the slightest fault could be detected. When the time of entering the administration had come, the governor blackened his sterling character, so that he was disgraced and not employed.

Those who are not yet in office have to suffer the three annoyances, and those who have already been employed, are visited with the three vexations. Even Confucius and Ti could not escape them, and Yen Hui and Tsêng T‘san could not remain unscathed. For all love those only who enjoy the general applause, but slight the truly wise.

From dukes and marquises down, gems and pebbles are intermixed 2, and as regards the actions of the wise and the scholars, good and bad ones are mingled. As the lapidary breaks the stones to take out the gem, so those who select the scholars reject the bad and keep the good. Therefore those who merely annoy and vex others sin against society. Which way should be taken to counteract them ?



On the Cunning and Artful

33. XI, III. Ta-ning

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p2.043 The following question may be raised : The virtuous obtain honourable appointments and high wages, in case they behave properly, why then must people acquire wealth and honour by cunning ?

The reason is this. If the cunning, though well aware that proper conduct leads to wealth and honour, nevertheless seek a position and money by deceit, it is because they cannot withstand their inclinations. People know that vigorously tilling the ground, they can expect a harvest, and that a brisk trade will provide them with valuable goods. If they must steal them all the same, they are unable to overcome their natural propensities. Those who always do their duty, are held in esteem by every one, albeit yet the unrighteous are many, and the friends of justice in the minority ; the hearts of the former are concupiscent, and their will and intellect confused and weak. The cunning have the same qualities as the virtuous 1, but succumb to their passions. The robbers are no less intelligent than farmers and merchants, but become guilty by their cupidity.


Question : The cunning and the virtuous having the same qualities, qualities and conduct ought to agree. Why must the cunning alone succumb to their passions ?

Reply : Wealth and honour is what every one desires. Even he who by his conduct proves himself to be a perfect gentleman, in subject to the feelings of hunger and thirst. But a superior man combats his feelings by propriety, and dispels his desires by righteousness. Thus walking the right path, he eschews calamities. A vile man, on the other hand, yields to his greed and avarice, transgressing the rules of propriety and failing against the laws of righteousness. That leads to waywardness and cunning, by p2.044 which he becomes liable to punishment. The virtuous are superior men, the cunning are vile. In their doings and dealings the superior men and the vile widely differ, and their likes and dislikes are dissimilar.


Question : Have the cunning and the slanderers the same principles, or is there any difference ?

Reply : The cunning and the slanderers are both vile, their principles are the same, but their qualities, different. Envy is the mainspring of their characters, which, however, manifest and reveal themselves in a different way. Slanderers hurt others by their tongues, whereas the cunning endanger them by their actions. The former take the direct road, the latter prefer the crooked one, and disguise their plans. The slanderers do not intrigue, the cunning have all kinds of devices. Therefore the sovereign can avoid the company of slanderers and seek that of the kind-hearted, but he is unable to distinguish the cunning from the virtuous.

Exception : Since a sovereign can always keep aloof from slanderers and consort with the kind-hearted, but is incapable of drawing a distinction between the virtuous and the cunning, is it impossible to know the mind of the latter ?

Reply : The cunning can be known, but a sovereign is not qualified to acquire this knowledge. An ordinary sovereign does not know the virtuous, and for that very reason cannot know the cunning either. Only wise and sage men examine their actions by the Nine Virtues and verify their words by the outcome of their deeds. If those actions do not harmonise with the Nine Virtues 1, and if their words are not proved true by their doings, the persons in question are not virtuous, but cunning. By knowing the cunning one knows the virtuous, and by knowing the virtuous one knows the cunning. The knowledge of the cunning at the same time displays the nature of the virtuous and wise, and a conception of the virtuous is a key to understanding the character of the cunning and artful. The virtuous and the cunning proceed p2.045 in a different way, but the same investigation shows us what they are ; their aspirations are not the same, but one look reveals their real nature.


Question : The system of the Nine Virtues has long been established, and there is no student but on seeing measures, knows their capacity, or on beholding scales, knows their weight. How is it that a ruler and lord of the land is ever surrounded by false and cunning ministers and always humbugged and hoodwinked ?

(Reply) : One must not complain that the measures are wrong, but that there is no grain to be measured, nor that there are no scales, but that there is nothing to be weighed. Those on the throne do not ignore that by means of the Nine Virtues they can investigate actions, and that from the results of his actions the sentiments of the agent may be inferred. If nevertheless they are blindfolded and see nothing, it is evident that they did not take the trouble to look. It is not always possible to act, but any action may be scrutinised, and men cannot always go into a question, but their sentiments may always be learned.


Question : When the actions do not agree with the Nine Virtues, an investigation into the achievements does not disclose any deserts. Then such persons though promoted, do not turn out virtuous, and not being virtuous, they are cunning. Now, can men of trivial talents and superficial knowledge who cannot come up to the virtuous, since they have not their merits, nor act like them, be called cunning ?

Reply : The talents not being equally matched, there can be no rivalry of actions, nor a competition of merits. If people cannot cope together in knowledge, their talents may be in a proportion of ten to a hundred, but their likes and dislikes ought to be the same. However the virtuous and the cunning do not act in the same way. Both declare good to be good, and bad, bad, and both enjoy real fame, but in their works the former build up, the latter destroy. According to their distinction of right and wrong, their p2.046 doings must likewise be true or false. Now they agree in their words, but their proceedings are different, both have an excellent name, but the doings of the cunning are depraved.


Question : — If those whose dealings are in accordance with the Nine Virtues are virtuous, then those whose actions are not, are cunning. Must then all the ordinary people be held to be cunning owing to their actions ?

Reply : All who are not right are wicked. Among the wicked those who kick against the pricks, are called unprincipled, and those who are artful, are considered cunning. In the penal laws of the holy emperors the cunning are ranked among the wicked, and in their rewards and exhortations the virtuous are among the good. The virtuous of perfect purity and the best among the good, are the sages among the virtuous. On the other hand, the great impostors among the wicked 1, are the worst of the bad. Whence they say that one must look for the virtuous among the good, and search for the cunning among the wicked. When goodness and badness are well determined, the virtuous and the cunning become manifest.


Question : The intelligent may be beclouded, and in arguing one may be mistaken. Now, if those who are right, are looked upon as virtuous, and those who are wrong, as cunning, this would be a misconception of the real nature of virtue, I should say.

Reply : That the intellect may be beclouded and arguments erroneous, is much to be regretted. Therefore we have the saying : [In punishing premeditated crimes none must be considered too small 1, and in condoning carelessness none should be deemed too great. 2] A wise sovereign scrutinises the heart, and examines the mind, and then he punishes malice, and pardons mistakes. In case p2.047 of premeditated attacks the penalty is increased, for mistakes and errors it is diminished 3. Every judge can make this distinction, and he will harbour no doubt, when he falls in with a virtuous man.


Question : May those be called cunning whose words and deeds are not attended with any success ?

(Reply) : When Su Ch‘in 4brought about a confederation of Six States  , mighty Ch‘in did not venture to review its troops outside the gates, and when Chang Yi 5 sowed distrust, the Six States did not risk a joint attack within the gates. The Six States being allied, Ch‘in was afraid, and the Six States were powerful ; the Three Ch‘in 6 having spread discord, Ch‘in became powerful and the empire weak. The merits of these men were conspicuous, and their success was obvious. They have been recorded on bamboo and silks. Even worthies could not have outvied them. The Grand Annalist speaking of all the worthies, devotes special chapters to Su Ch‘in 7 and Chang Yi 8, nor is there any allusion to their having been envious or depraved. Their deserts were the same, and their fame not inferior to that of worthies. Merits which fall short of those of the worthies are like fame which is not real.

Chang Yi and Su Ch‘in were men who could arrange difficulties. Living in a time of great disorder and confusion 1, they formed far reaching plans. At that time Chi 2 and Hsieh 3 could not have vied with them in scheming, and and Kao Yao would not have been p2.048 as successful. When the Yin and the Yang are in harmony, wind and rain set in at the proper time, the Five Grains grow in abundance, and robbers and thieves desist from their iniquitous doings ; this is the merit of some persons exhibiting disinterestedness and self-denial, and of families displaying morality and virtue. Appointments, salary, honour, and glory are the results of plans and schemes 4, and not the upshot of morality and virtue. The Grand Annalist recording merits, the Kao-lai-sse-chi-lu was written. Illustrious deeds have been carefully gone through, and all the most excellent, put on record. Chang Yi and Su Ch‘in’s exploits being so famous have also been included in this narrative. From this it follows that the cunning may also distinguish themselves by their gift of speech 5, and that those who have no success cannot be cunning.

Exception : Those among the wicked who win merit are called cunning. In order to acquire merit they must be possessed of high talents and a keen intellect. Their thoughts must be far-reaching and pay regard to justice and benevolence, that they may be confounded with the great worthies. Whence it is said in the chapter on recognising the cunning 6 : — When the ruler of men has a taste for disputations, the words of the cunning are sharp, and when he delights in literature, their speech is refined. Sympathising with his feelings and falling in with his views, they ingratiate themselves with the ruler, who does not perceive the falsity of their words. How could he learn their duplicity and detect their deceitfulness ?

Reply : This remark only refers to an ordinary sovereign, of poor gifts and a limited intelligence, who is easily overreached, and then does not see anything, and takes a knave for a virtuous man. When a prince is a good observer, discrimination is as easy for him as beholding dried meat on a dish, pointing out the lines on the palm, counting the figures on a chessboard, and unharnassing a horse in p2.049 the shafts. Fish and turtles abscond in the depths, but fishermen know their resorts ; birds and beasts hide in the mountains, but hunters perceive their tracks. The conduct of the cunning is different from that of most other people, and only ordinary sovereigns and men of mediocre abilities cannot see the difference.

Exception : The sovereign being fond of discussions, the cunning will use sharp words, and, when he is partial to literature, the style of the cunning is refined. Their words and deeds thus being modelled upon those of the prince, how can they be discovered ?

Reply : Wên Wang says of the method how officials are to be treated : A consideration of their former actions makes us understand their present words, and hearing their present words we may form a judgment of their former actions. Beholding the outward appearance we learn to know what is hidden, and from the inside we infer the outside. Thus the hypocrites posing as law-abiding people may be known, and heartless deceivers be distinguished. Conversely, sterling characters and truly good people are found out, and the faithful who observe the laws, appear. When, by nature, the cunning do not like discussions, but the sovereign has a fancy for them, they will imitate their lord with a view to agree with him, and when originally their mind has no literary turn, upon learning that their sovereign is addicted to literature, they will endeavour to equal him. His Majesty being extravagant, the cunning wear costly dresses, and in case His Majesty is thrifty, they avoid all pomp. Their present actions disagree with the former, and their behaviour at court is other than at home. Comparing their conduct in their native village with their manners in the palace, and contrasting the way in which they treat their own people with the style in which they serve their prince, we become aware that there is a discrepancy between the outside and the inside, and that the name and the thing do not tally. At certain moments this becomes visible, when their falsehood leaks out.


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