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



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Creatures with blood in their veins are not liable to die of starvation, for they all are possessed of the necessary astuteness to find food and drink. Even the unintelligent are able to support themselves. They make their living as officials, and even become high dignitaries. Governors, ministers, and those in authority are like our high officer Kao Tse 3 ; how can they discern them ? In the course of time they distinguish themselves, for it is their fate to be called to office. Knowing neither the past nor the present time, they are still looked upon as very clever owing to their position. How should the superior officers, by their unscientific methods, be able to find out men of intellect and treat them with due consideration, irrespective of rank and precedence ? Ministers and high dignitaries are unqualified for this.

p2.106 If there be men like Ts‘ai Po Ch‘ieh, governor of Yu Fu-fêng 1, the prefect of Yü-lin 2, Chang Mêng Ch‘ang, or the prefect of Tung-lai 3, Li Chi Kung, they are all endowed with an enlightened mind and conversant with the past as well as the present 4. Consequently they hold intelligent persons in the same respect as distinguished guests. What sort of a character must have been Chao of Yen 5, who plyed the broom for Tsou Yen’s sake ! Tung Chung Shou, magistrate of Tung-ch‘êng 6 was held to be the chief of the scholars in knowledge, and everywhere reputed for his intelligence. Receiving somebody, he could discover his exceptional rank 7. Thus he knew quite well that Mr. Ch‘an of Chung-li 8, a simple, registered citizen was to be solemnly invested with the jade bâton and the jade disk. For the knowing, every stone has its splendour, whereas the unknowing do not even remark the brilliancy of gold and gems.

From Wu Ti down to our dynasty, at various times very clever men have been promoted. If they were to be questioned at some examination, the replies of men like Tung Chung Shu, T‘ang Tse Kao, Ku Tse Yün 9, and Ting Po Yü would not only be perfectly correct, but their compositions would also be most brilliant, as the result of their extensive reading and diligent study. In case these four could only use their pen, commenting on the Classics, and that they had not perused old as well as modern books, they would not be able to establish their fame in the palace of the holy emperor.

When Hsiao Ming Ti 10 was reading the biography of Su Wu, he hit upon the name of a military officer called : yi chung chien (master of the horse 11). He asked all his officers about the meaning, but none of them knew it. The words in the institutions of T‘sang Hsieh and in the books of elementary learning are universally known, but when nobody is able to reply to the questions of His Imperial p2.107 Holiness, it becomes evident that the majority of the officials were nothing but bureaucrats owing their position to good luck only. What was signified by the character to combined with mu, they could not tell. It would have been rather hard for them to explain the word ‘chung-ch‘ang’, as Tung Chung Shu did, or to know the word ‘erh-fu’ like Liu Tse Chêng 12.

It might be urged that intelligent men are appointed chancellors of the imperial library, whose business it is to revise books, and fix the texts like the grand historiographer or the grand supplicant, whose office is likewise purely literary. They are not employed to govern the people, or on other business. Therefore such officers of the library, men like Pan Ku, Chia K‘uei 1, Yang Chung 2, and Fu Yi 3, enjoy a great popularity, and their writings are much admired. Though they remain at their posts, and are not entrusted with other offices, they still render great services to the world.

I beg to reply that this is not proceeding on the lines of the Chou period, when sharp-witted men like Tsou Yen and Sun Ch‘ing 4 stood in high favour with their sovereigns, and all the honours and distinctions of the age were bestowed upon them. Although Tung Chung Shu did not hold a premier’s post, he was well known to rank higher than all the ministers. The Chou looked up to the two preceding dynasties, and the Han followed in the wake of the Chou and Ch‘in. From the officers of the library the government sees whether it prospers or not. The heart is like a ball or an egg, but it constitutes the most precious part in the body ; the pupil of the eye resembles a pea, but it illumines the whole body. Thus the chancellors may be petty officials, yet they secretly direct the principles governing the whole State. Learned men make this career, as the academicians are recruited from the scholars.

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


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CHAPTER XII

Apparent Backwardness

40. XIV, I. Chuang-liu



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

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

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

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

A courser runs a thousand Li a day, but it must be unhampered. Should it have to drag a cart, any hackney might compete with it. Used to pull a salt-wagon, it would drop its head, the perspiration would trickle down, and it would be unable p2.109 to advance. However, if Po Lo 2 started it, or Wang Liang 3 took the reins and allowed it to chase along, free of any burden, it would keep up its reputation of a thousand Li runner.

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

Furthermore, it is a fact that all living creatures, filled with the vital fluid, have their backs turned upwards and their bellies downwards, as long as they move about. When they fall sick or die, the back is turned downwards and the belly uppermost 1. The reason is that on the back the flesh is thick and heavy, whereas on the belly it is thin and light 2. When able scholars and ordinary officials meet in life, their relation is similar : Under enlightened governors, and when sciences flourish, ordinary officials have to carry the scholars, who rise upon their shoulders, but, when the highest authorities are short-sighted, and sciences neglected, then the officials rise above the scholars, who are kept in subordinate positions, as with animals struck by a fatal blow the belly is uppermost and the back turned downwards.

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

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

T‘ang Fang So 3 made the remark that, if the eyes were not in the face, but in the feet, they would not be fit to dispel p2.110 darkness, for how could they see then ? Chi Yen 4 said to the emperor Wu Ti,

— Your Majesty employs officers as one heaps up fuel. That which comes last is placed on the top.

The dictum of Tung Fang So and the remark of Chi Yen  did not merely disapprove of ordinary officers obtaining positions and able scholars being dismissed. For, when an officer has lost his post, it is difficult to discover his virtue, whereas, while he keeps it, it is hard to perceive his unworthiness. Fame always attends high offices, and aspersions are cast on low positions in which able scholars usually find themselves.

Observing the rules of propriety and walking the right path, purifying themselves and keeping the moral laws, they do not take heed of what is mean and below them. Thus they happen to stick fast, and their progress is checked. They have enough to do to get clear and save themselves, but this impediment prevents them from pushing themselves to the front. For the purpose of acquiring and storing up as much knowledge as possible they do all that is in their power.

Common officers do not think of self-education. When they have advanced, their covetousness is aroused, and they do mean things, making unlawful gain by oppression and extortion 1.

The maple and the varnish trees grow very rapidly, therefore their bark and their wood cannot be very solid. The hard-wood tree gets its leaves but in the fifth month, much later than those trees blooming in spring, but its timber is very hard, so that it can be used for axle-trees. The paper-mulberry of the Yin dynasty 2 measured a span after seven days, but after its sudden growth it completely dried up, and therefore was regarded as a miracle. Big vessels require a considerable time for their completion, and precious merchandise is difficult to be sold. That which does not need a whole day and forthwith fetches a price, are things like fruit and vegetables 3.

In the current of rapids, gravel turns round, while big stones remain unmoved. Why ? Because big stones are heavy, and gravel is light. The gravel whirling round is deposited on the big stones, p2.111 which are completely hidden and become invisible. Able scholars meeting with ordinary officials in life, are in a similar condition. Blunt-witted superiors push the ordinary officials and make them jump over the heads of the scholars, who must lie low and suffer their rivals to pass over them. So it may happen that they retire altogether, to lead a hermit life in a grotto or a cavern. Those in authority are responsible for it, for they are unfit to discern real merit. These able men are proficient students, but without influence, and they cannot well commend themselves.

Things that can be taken in hand are utensils. He that finds his strength inadequate to lift them, does not dare to move them. The principles of able scholars are not merely as heavy as vessels 4.

Gold and iron placed on the ground are not moved by a north-easter, whereas a hair or straw amongst them are carried away a thousand Li. The principles cherished by the scholars are like the heavy stones in the water, or gold and iron on the ground. Their advance is not as swift as that of ordinary functionaries, and the high officers are too weak to use them. One breath suffices to blow away a hair or a straw from among gold and iron, and no north-easter is required. Ordinary officials are as easily shifted as a hair or chaff are blown away.

When gravel is rolled about by a current, and a mote carried away by a north-easter, it is not a mere swelling, or a soft sea breeze that moves it 1. An unprincipled governor who, acting upon uncontrollable impulses, promotes whomever he just chances to like, without any careful inquiry, (and thus recklessly confers posts and honours), is like a wild current turning gravel about, or a northeaster wafting aloft a hair or a straw. They fly about in a strong gale, gravel rolls to and fro in a wild current, and common officials advance, when falling in with a wayward governor.

When we throw a round thing on the ground, it may roll in one of the four directions, north, south, east, or west. Knocked with a stick, it comes to rest after a short while. Square things thrown on the ground remain motionless immediately after their fall. In order to shift them, men must push or lift them. Able scholars are always square 2, therefore hard to be moved, and to advance them men 3 are required.

p2.112 Birds have more agility than man, who, in hurrying to a distant place, cannot cope with them. In spite of that, amongst the creatures of Heaven and Earth man is the noblest 4. Locusts can fly ten thousand Li, and the unicorn must be sent as a tribute, to reach the court of the emperor. Yet locusts are a plague, and the unicorn, a felicitous presage 5. It has four legs, still it cannot arrive of itself 6, how then should man make his way with his two legs ? Thus swallows are more light-winged than phœnixes, and hares more nimble-footed than unicorns. A frog jumps better than a spiritual tortoise, and a snake leaps with greater agility than a divine dragon 7.

Men like Shang 8 are conspicuous among grey-heads, and the wisdom of Po Li Hsi 9 shines even among persons with yellow hair 10. By their excellent political advice they became the helpmates of their princes. They were weighty personages and not easy to be promoted. Futile and frivolous things are quickly done, calamities and disasters happen quite suddenly. Therefore they say that he who advances with impetuosity is prompt to retire.

The warmth of the Yang, and the cold of the Yin take months till they arrive. A calamitous change is a disaster completed in one day. For the ice of a river to close, one day’s frost is not sufficient, and forming a mountain by heaping up earth is a work not to be completed in a short time.

A Kan-chiang 1 sword must be long on the coal in the furnace. To sharpen the blade and make it pointed, it must be smelted and hammered under intense heat, and it is only taken out of the fire after a long heating. The working is a very slow process, but it thus acquires its sharpness.

Flesh suddenly grown, is called a tumor, and a spring violently rushing forth, a fountain. Wine suddenly heated, easily becomes sour, and minced meat, suddenly made sour, is easily spoiled 2. From these considerations we may infer that the slow advance of able scholars has its analogies and its causes. Which are they ? Great learning and momentous thoughts weigh heavily upon the whole being.

p2.113 Plants and trees, while alive, are full of sap ; and being sappy, they are heavy. Dead, they are dry : While dry, they are light and easy to lift ; being sappy, they are heavy and difficult to move. Now the original fluid resides in living organisms, not in those withered 3.

When carts drive on land, and ships sail through a canal, those heavy and full of cargo proceed slowly, whereas the empty and light ones move swiftly. The weight of the doctrines of former emperors, carried in the bosom, is heavier than the burden of ships or the loading of carts, and for those carrying so heavy a burden, a quick promotion becomes difficult.

Thieves stealing other people’s property obtain it soon enough, but the things, thus obtained, are not their own, nor acquired by their own industry. A man of the world may very soon obtain a high post which spreads a lustre about him, but, at the same time, evil reports will be set on foot to the effect that he is nothing but a dummy, living on his salary and doing nothing. That able scholars do not get on in their career is owing to the lack of insight on the part of the higher authorities and superior officers.

Peasants bring their grain to the capital, and merchants convey their goods to distant places, both expecting to see their hopes realised. But should the gates and the suburbs be closed to traffic, or fords and bridges have been made impracticable, they would, in spite of all their efforts, and all their speed, not be able to arrive in time and make the gains they expected 4.

The higher officers are envious of able men, and will have nothing to do with them. If the latter are not put in irons and treated as mean criminals, they may congratulate themselves. How can they hope to rise in the service, or expect that their doctrines will soon be realised ?
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CHAPTER XIII

The Real Nature of Knowledge

78. XXVI, I. Shih-chih



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p2.114 The Literati, discoursing on Sages, are of opinion that they know thousands of years of the past, and ten thousand future generations. Merely by the keenness of their sight, and the subtlety of their hearing, they are able to give the proper names to new things. They know spontaneously, without learning, and understand of themselves, without inquiring, wherefore the term Sage is equivalent with supernatural. They are like milfoil and the tortoise, which know lucky and unlucky auguries, whence the milfoil plant is regarded as supernatural, and the tortoise as a divine creature.

The talents of Worthies do not reach this standard ; their intelligence is weaker and not so comprehensive, whence they are called Worthies. This difference of name implies a difference of nature, for the substance being the same, the name uses to be equal. As for the name Sage, it is known that Sages are something extraordinary and different from Worthies.

When Confucius was about to die, he left behind a book of prophecies 1 wherein he says,

— I know not what sort of fellow, styling himself the First Emperor of Ch‘in, comes to my hall, squats on my bed, and turns my clothes topsy-turvy. After arriving at Sha-ch‘iu he will die.

In course of time the king of Ch‘in, having swallowed the empire, assumed the title of First Emperor. On a tour of inspection, he came to Lu and visited the home of Confucius. Then he proceeded to Sha-ch‘iu, but on the road he was taken ill and expired.

Another entry is this,

« Tung Chung Shu carries confusion into my book.

Subsequently, the minister of Chiang-tu 2, Tung Chung Shu made special researches into the Ch‘un-ch‘iu and wrote comments and notes on it 3. The book of prophecies further says,

« Ch‘in will be p2.115 ruined by Hu.

Later on, the Second Emperor Hu Hai in fact lost the empire.

These three instances are used to bear out the statement that Sages foreknow ten thousand future generations.

Confucius ignored his descent, his father and mother having concealed it from him. He blew the flute and then of himself knew that he was a scion of Tse, a great officer of Sung of Yin 1. He did not consult books or ask anybody, his playing the flute and his genius alone revealed to him his generation 2. This would appear to be a proof of the faculty of Sages to know thousands of years of the past.

I say that all this is fallacy. Such miraculous stories are recorded in prophecy books and all in the style of Hu destroying the Ch‘in, told in many books, or of the text of the Plan of the River 3. The plain illustrations of Confucius have been magnified with a view to prove wonders and miracles, or the stories were fabricated in later times to furnish evidence.



Kao Tsu having enfeoffed the king of Wu, and seeing him off, patted him on his shoulder saying,

— Within fifty years hereafter, some one will revolt from the Han in the south-east. Will that not be you ?

In the time of Ching Ti, Pi 4 along with seven other States plotted a rebellion against the Han 5. Those who first made this statement had perhaps noticed the dispositions and the signs of the time, whence they surmised that a rebellion would come, but they ignored the name of the leader. Kao Tsu having observed the valour of Pi, then correctly hinted at him.

If from this point of view we consider Confucius’ cognisance of Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti and of Tung Chung Shu, it may be that at the time he merely spoke of somebody visiting his home and deranging his book, and, later on, people, remarking that Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti entered his house, and that Tung Chung Shu studied his p2.116 work, exaggerated the dicta of Confucius and wrote down the names of the principal persons.

If Confucius was endowed with supernatural powers, so that he could see the First Emperor and Tung Chung Shu ere they existed, then he ought to have at once been aware of his being a descendant of the Yin and a scion of Tse likewise, and have no need of blowing the flute to determine it. Confucius was unable to ascertain his family name without playing the flute, but his seeing the First Emperor and beholding Tung Chung Shu is like blowing the flute.

According to the narrative of Shih Huang Ti 1, he did not go to Lu ; how then should he have entered the hall of Confucius, squatted down on his bed, and turned his clothes topsy-turvy ? In the thirty-seventh year of his reign, on the kuei-ch‘ou day of the tenth month 2, Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti started on a journey to Yün-mêng. From afar he sacrificed to Shun in Chiu-yi. Floating down the Yangtse, he visited Chieh-ko, crossed the stream at Mei-chu 3, went over to Tan-yang, arrived at Ch‘ien-t‘ang, and approached the Chê river. The waves being very boisterous, he went 120 Li westward, crossed the stream at a narrow passage, and went up to Kuei-chi, where he made an oblation to Great , and erected a stone with an encomiastic inscription. Then turning to the southern Sea, he went back. Passing Chiang-ch‘êng, he sailed along the seashore northward as far as Lang-yeh, whence still further north he arrived at the Lao and Ch‘êng 4 Mountains. Then he proceeded to Chefoo, and always keeping near the sea-shore, reached the P‘ing-yuan Ford, where he fell sick. He passed away on the P‘ing Terrace in Sha-ch‘iu 5.




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