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

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With strength sufficient to draw a bow one may not pull a powerful ballista. Provided that the force of the ballista is of five stones 10, but is pulled with three, then the sinews are rent, and the bones broken without any result. The strength not sufficing for bending a strong bow, a catastrophe ensues such as breaking the spine. Those who are not intelligent enough to employ wise men, themselves injure their virtue and lose their good name. Yet most critics do not admit that talents may be too great and principles too high for a sovereign to use them, and hold that the unworthy only do not come to the front. He that knows how to push his way, does not make opposition, when his connection with the sovereign ceases, and he that recommends himself, does not resent the low price offered him.

All things used by man require somebody to use them, when their inherent value comes to light. That which drives a chisel into the wood are the blows of the hammer, and a spade can dig up the earth, if pressed down by the plant of the foot. All sharp-edged tools can cut and carve, provided there is a hand to grasp, and a force to push and pull them.

When Han Hsin 1 left Ch‘u and went to Han, the peace of Hsiang 2 was gone. Kao Tsu knew how to keep him and profit by his excellence, putting him in the right place. He could appreciate his energy and discern his merits.

Fan Li 3 earned fame by his assaults on cities and open battles, but when Kao Tsu made appointments, he gave the first to Hsiao Ho 4. He likened Hsiao Ho unto a hunter, and Fan Li unto a greyhound, for Hsiao Ho was quietly seated, while Fan Li was running to and fro. The first appointment was not bestowed on that bustling person, but on him that was quietly sitting down. Hsiao Ho’s forte was his acuteness, whereas Fan Li won his laurels by his energy. Therefore Hsiao Ho could send him on a mission to Ch‘in to collect official documents. All the other high p2.095 officers were amassing gold, and Hsiao Ho alone collected books. Sitting in his chair, he learned to know the conditions of Ch‘in, and thus was enabled to lay his plans for its ruin. All the other dignitaries were hurrying about, and Hsiao Ho urged them on.

In this way Shu Sun T‘ung 5 fixed the ceremonies, and Kao Tsu was honoured thereby. Hsiao Ho drafted the penal code, and the house of Han became pacified 6. By rites and laws greater fame is to be won than on the battle-field, and cutting the heads of the enemies off, is not as meritorious as honouring the sovereign.

In ploughing the weeds, and sowing grain lies the force of peasants, in bold attacks and battles, that of soldiers, in scaffolding and hewing, that of artisans, in making books and stitching registers, that of official clerks, in propounding the doctrine and discoursing on government, that of learned scholars. Every living person possesses some faculty, but some of these abilities are highly estimable, some mean. Confucius could lift the bar of the north-gate, but did not boast of this strength 7, being well aware that the force of muscles and bones in general esteem falls short of that of benevolence and rectitude.



On Intelligence

38. XIII, II. Pieh-t‘ung


p2.096 In the houses of the wealthy, a space of ten feet serves as the inner apartment, and in this room are boxes and trunks all filled with lustres and other silk fabrics 1. The poor likewise use a space of ten feet as inner apartment, but it is completely empty, merely consisting of four bare walls, whence they are called poor. The intelligent are like the wealthy, the unintelligent like the poor. Both are provided with a body seven feet high, but whereas the intelligent harbour the words of all the philosophers in their bosoms, the hearts of the unintelligent are empty, for they have never read a single tablet, like the interior of poor people, four bare walls.

In the general appreciation, the poor and the rich are not equal, and thus the sharp and the blunt-witted cannot be placed on a level. However the world holds the rich in affectionate esteem, and does not honour the clear-headed, it feels ashamed of the poor, and does not despise the unwise ; a treatment not warranted by the principles of analogy. As for the deference shown to rich people, they live in luxury because of their wealth, and therefore are held in respect. But rich men are not like scholars, and scholars fall short of strong-minded individuals.

The latter have more then ten chests crammed full of letters : the words of the sages, the utterances of worthies, as far back as Huang Ti, and down to the Ch‘in and Han, methods of government, and for increasing the national wealth, criticisms on the age, and strictures on low class people, all is there. A man with a bright intellect, and large views has a better claim on our consideration, I should say, than lustres and silk stuffs.

Hsiao Ho 2 went to Ch‘in to collect official papers, and it was by the force of these documents that the Han could sway the p2.097 Nine Provinces 3. With documents they extended their rule over the entire empire, and how much greater is the wealth of empires than that of private persons ?

A man whose eyes cannot see green and yellow, is called blind. If his ears cannot hear the first and second notes, he is deaf, and if his nose has no perception of perfumes and stenches, he is without the sense of smell 1. Any one without the sense of smell deaf, or blind is not a perfect man. Now a person without a vast knowledge, ignorant of past and present, not conversant with categories, insensible of right and wrong, is like a blind or deaf man, or one without the olfactory senses. Even scholars who do not study must be considered beclouded, and fancy common people never reading a book and not knowing truth and untruth. Theirs is the height of narrow-mindedness. They are like dummies made of clay or wood, which have ears and eyes quite complete, and yet are insensible.

Wading through shallow water, people find crabs, in greater depth they discover fish and turtles, and in the deepest recesses they fall in with water snakes and dragons. As the steps taken are different, so the animals met with vary. The same rule applies to those who make more or less progress in science. Those remaining on the surface read stories and pleasant books, those entering deeper come to the school of the Sage, where they learn to know works of profound wisdom. The farther they penetrate into the doctrine, the more insight they acquire.

On a journey, people always want to visit the capital, because it has so many sights worth seeing, and in the capital they desire to see the market, where so many rare things are exposed for sale. The dicta of all the thinkers of the divers schools and the history of ancient and modern times are likewise very wonderful, even more so than the capital with its big market place. By a visit to the capital, the traveller’s intention is accomplished, and the sight of the big market satisfies his desires. How much more must this be true of a journey into the realms of thought and science ?

Big rivers do not dry up in times of drought owing to their many tributaries. Pools, on the other hand, show the mud already, p2.098 when it has not rained for several days, because they have no affluents. The big rivers are connected, and the small ones linked together, so they flow eastward into the ocean 2. Hence the greatness of the ocean. Unless the ocean were in connexion with all the rivers, it could not be termed immense. A man harbouring the sayings of all the philosophers is like the ocean receiving the water of all the rivers. If he is not deemed great, then the ocean must be declared to be smaller than the rivers likewise. That the ocean exceeds all the rivers in size is generally known by men, but they cannot comprehend that the intelligent are brighter than the unintelligent.

Moisture trickling down becomes salt, a taste produced by water. The water of the eastern ocean is briny and extends to a great distance. In Hsi-chou 3 there are salt-wells, which are very deep. Can a person have the benefit of a salt-well that either wishes to consume salt without possessing a well, or bores a well, but does not find a spring ? He who has no commerce with sages and wise men can hardly expect to win a name above all others.

The jurists are in the habit of neglecting practical life, and, when called upon, are unable to give judgment in a case. The students of clauses and paragraphs do not study old and modern literature, and are unfit thoroughly to argue a point.

Some people contend that to comment upon one Classic is the right thing 1, 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 4, 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 1. Later on a catastrophe was brought about by Ling of Ch‘u 2. 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 3. 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 4.

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 leads to 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 1. Unprincipled means devoid of maxims and principles 2.

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.] 3

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 4. 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’ 4. 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 1, T‘sai Mê 2 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 3 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’ 4. 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 5 and Yi Shao Chün 6, 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 1.

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 2, 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.

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