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

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If Worthies and Sages both possess many abilities, wherefore are Sages held in higher respect than Worthies ? If they are both dependent on their schemes and devices, why do not Worthies come up to the standard of Sages ? As a matter of fact, neither Worthies nor Sages are apt to know the nature of things, and want their ears and eyes, in order to ascertain their real character. Ears and eyes being thus indispensable, things that may be known are determined by reflexion, and things that may not be known are explained after inquiry. If things under Heaven or worldly affairs may be found out by reflexion, even the stupid can open their minds, if, however, they are unintelligible, even Sages with the highest intelligence cannot make anything out of them.

Confucius said

[— I have been the whole day without eating, and the whole night without sleeping — occupied with thinking. It was of no use. The better plan is to learn.] 1

Those things under Heaven which are incomprehensible are like knots that cannot be undone. By instruction one learns how to untie them, and there are no knots but can be undone. In case they cannot be untied, even instruction does not bring about this result. Not that instruction does not qualify to undo knots, but it may be impossible to untie them, and the method of undoing them is of no use 2.

The Sage knowing things, things must be knowable, if, however, things are unknowable, neither the Sage can understand them. Not that a Sage could not know them, but things may prove incomprehensible, and the knowing faculty cannot be used. Therefore things hard to grasp may be attained by learning, whereas unknowable things cannot be comprehended, neither by inquiry, nor by study.



A Definition of Worthies

80. XXVII, I. Ting-hsien


p2.129 Sages are difficult to know, and it is much easier to recognise a Worthy than a Sage. Ordinary people are unable to recognise a Worthy, how then could they find out a Sage ? Although they pretend to know Worthies, this is a random statement. But from what signs may Worthies be known, and by what method ?

Are officials holding high positions and being wealthy and honoured to be looked upon as Worthies ?

Wealth and honour are heavenly fate. Those who by fate are wealthy and honoured, are not Worthies, nor can those who by fate are poor and miserable be held to be depraved. Should wealth and honour be made the criterion of virtue and vice, then officials would have to rely solely on their abilities, and not on fate.


Are those Worthies who in serving their sovereign take care to gloss over everything and never to give offence ?

These are those pliant courtiers, sycophants, and favourites who never say a word, without considering its effect upon their master, and in all their doings are opportunists. They never show any backbone, or dare to make opposition, and consequently never run the risk of being dismissed or cashiered. Or they have a stately and handsome bodily frame and a pleasing appearance, so that the emperor does not look at them with disfavour, which assures their good fortune, for they enjoy the imperial grace to an extraordinary degree. Still they cannot be called Worthies.


Are those Worthies whom the government chooses for employment, and who thus come to honour ?

Of those who make a show of themselves and are known to others, a great many are promoted, whereas those living in obscurity and retirement and unknown to the world, very seldom are recommended. This was the case with Shun. Yao wishing to employ p2.130 him, first inquired about Kun and Kung Kung 1. Thus even the chiefs of the mountains 1 were unqualified. Therefore, the selection and promotion of a man does not inform us about his real character. Sometimes men of superior virtue are recommended by very few persons, whereas a great many intercede for men of inferior talents. An enlightened ruler, wishing to employ good men, in order to find out whether they are really good or bad, inquires into the faults of all those introduced to him.

Moreover, he who consorts with many people and tries to win the heart of the masses, is generally liked and praised. On the other side, whoever is so pure and upright, that he does not feel at home with his own kindred, and whose lofty aspirations preclude any intimacy with low characters, loses the general sympathy, and people dislike and slander him. Thus, a name is often won by the art of ingratiating one’s self, and defamation often a consequence of the loss of sympathy.

King Wei of Ch‘i 2 enfeoffed the great officer of Chi-mo 3, in spite of his having been slandered, and caused the great officer of O 4 to be boiled, notwithstanding his fame. The former had great merits, but no fame, whereas the latter had done nothing, but was very celebrated 5.

[Tse Kung asked how a person was who was liked by all his fellow-villagers. Confucius replied that that was not sufficient. He then asked again about a man hated by all his fellow-villagers. The master replied that that would not do either. The best thing would be, if all the good ones among the villagers esteemed and all the bad ones amongst them hated him.] 6 Accordingly, it does not follow that a person praised and belauded by the majority, whom big and small, all declare to be a man of honour, is a Worthy. If the good speak well of him, and the wicked disparage him, so that one half defames, the other extols him, he may be a Worthy.

p2.131 Then, provided that a man meet with the approval of the virtuous and be vilified by the wicked, may we see a Worthy in him ?

Thus Worthies would be recognised conformably to the principle laid down by Confucius. But we do not know whether he who praises somebody be virtuous, or whether another speaking ill of him, be a bad man. It happens that those who praise are wicked, and that those disparaging are good. People are thus led astray and cannot draw a distinction.


May those be taken for Worthies to whom the masses turn and who assemble hosts of guests and retainers ?

Those to whom the masses turn are oftentimes persons having intercourse with many people. The public likes and esteems them and turns to them in great numbers. Either are they noble and exalted, and may be of use, or they are partial to warriors and condescending to guests, forgetting their dignity and waiting upon Worthies. The princes of Hsin Ling, Mêng Ch‘ang, P‘ing Yuan, and Ch‘un Shên 1 entertained thousands of guests and were called worthy peers and great generals, but Wei Ch‘ing 2 and Ho Ch‘ü Ping 3 had not a single guest in their houses and, nevertheless, were celebrated generals. Thus many guests and followers assemble in the palaces of kind and condescending princes and of Worthies who may be useful or dangerous. If somebody is not fond of soldiers he must not be held in low repute for that, although the masses do not turn to him, and the warriors do not follow him.


Is he a Worthy who is in a position to govern others, and who wins people’s hearts to such an extent, that they sing songs in his praise ?

To gain the affections of the people does not differ from currying favour with the warriors. Propitiating the people by empty favours, one takes their fancy, and they are pleased and happy. We may adduce T‘ien Ch‘êng Tse of Ch‘i 4 and King Kou Chien of Yüeh 5 as examples. T‘ien Ch‘êng Tse wishing to usurp the p2.132 authority in Ch‘i, would use a big bushel, while lending out grain, and a small one, when taking it back, so that people were enchanted. Kou Chien, with a view to wiping out the disgrace of Kuei-chi 6, insinuated himself with his people by condoling, when somebody had died, and inquiring after people’s health, so that all were charmed. Both had their own selfish ends, for which they needed the support of others, and merely humbugged their people. There was no sincerity in them, yet people were contented.

The prince of Mêng-Ch‘ang 7 wished to pass through a gate of Ch‘in during the night, but the cocks had not yet crowed, and the gate was not yet open. One of his inferior retainers, who occupied a low position, beat his arm 8 and imitated the cock-crow, when all the cocks responded, and the gate was thrown open, so that the prince could pass 1. As cocks can be moved by false sounds, so men may be imposed upon by fictitious grace, and as men are subject to such impostures, even Heaven may be induced to respond, by tricks. In order to stir up the heavenly fluid, the spirit should be used, but people will employ burning glasses, to attract the fire from the sky.

By melting five Stones and moulding an instrument in the fifth month, in the height of summer, one may obtain fire. But now people merely take knives and swords or crooked blades of common copper, and, by rubbing them and holding them up against the sun, they likewise get fire. As by burning glasses, knives, swords, and blades one may obtain fire from the sun 2, so even ordinary men, being neither Worthies nor Sages, can influence the fluid of Heaven, as Tung Chung Shu was convinced that by a clay dragon he could attract the clouds and rain, and he had still some reason for this belief 3. If even those who in this manner conform to the working of Heaven, cannot be termed Worthies, how much less have those a claim to this name who barely win people’s hearts ?


May he be considered a Worthy who, holding office, achieves merit and proves successful ?

p2.133 But what is to be accounted merit or success of an office bearer ? That the populace turn to him ? However, the masses can be won by feigned favours.

When the Yin and the Yang are in harmony, there is a time of public peace. At such periods of harmony, even the depraved fall in with general tranquillity, whereas in times of unrest, even Sages are involved in catastrophes. Should the harmony of the Yin and the Yang determine the worthy or unworthy character of a man, then Yao ought to have been degraded owing to the Great Flood, and T‘ang should have been thrown into the background in view of the Great Drought.

If merit and success be regarded as action, then merit appears and manifests itself by the activity of the body. But the success of designs based on principles is invisible and not apparent. The drum does not belong to the Five Sounds, but the Five Sounds 4 do not accord without a drum 5. The teacher has no place in the Five Degrees of Mourning, but they do not become practical without a teacher 6. Water does not belong to the Five Colours, but in default of water the latter do not shine 7. So principles are the root of merit, and merit is the upshot of principles. If people be called Worthies because of their merits, they would be the unworthy ones of the Taoists 1.

When Kao Tsu came to the throne he rewarded the merits of all his ministers, and Hsiao Ho got the highest prize, because the acknowledgement of merit by Kao Tsu was like a hunt, when the hunter lets loose his dog. The dog alone catches the beast, but the hunter has the merit of it. All the ministers of the emperor took a personal part in the war like the dog, but Hsiao Ho did the chief part like the hunter. If those pass for Worthies who have achieved merit, then Hsiao Ho had no merit. Consequently merit and reward cannot be proofs of worth. That is the first objection.

p2.134 Sages and Worthies have their methods of governing the world. He who knows these principles obtains merit, he who ignores them fails like a physician curing a disease. Possessing a prescription, he may cure even a serious illness, without it be cannot even remove small ulcers 2. A prescription is like a method, a disease like a disorder ; the physician corresponds to the official, and his physics to reforms. The prescription is used, and the physic administered, and so a method is employed, and reforms carried out. By these reforms disorder is stopped, and by the use of physics a disease is cured. A drug curing a disease must not of necessity be better than another without these medical properties, and an official qualified to govern a State is not necessarily worthier than another without such ability. A prescription may be obtained by chance, and a man may happen to know a certain method.

The administration of a State requires a method to secure success, but there are also times of a natural disorder, when no methods are of any use to bring about anything ; and there are other times, when, by nature, peace must prevail, and merit may be achieved even without any method. Thus statesmen hitting upon the proper time, may accomplish their ends, when they lose it, they fail. Men possessing some method may achieve merit in accordance with time, but are not apt to bring about peace in opposition to the right time.

Good physicians may save the life of a man who is not yet about to die, but when his life-time is finished and his span terminated, no prescriptions are of any avail whatever. When there is to be a revolution, even Yao and Shun cannot accomplish anything with all their methods, and when a person is doomed to die, even the medicaments of Pien Ch‘io cannot cure his illness.

Archers and charioteers as well as other artisans and handicraftsmen all have there methods, by means of which they acquire merit, and do business, so that their success becomes visible. Statesmen must be looked upon as being on a level with handicraftsmen. The achievement of merit being like the doing of business, then if those having merit be called Worthies, all handicraftsmen must likewise be Worthies.

Shou Wang of Wu-ch‘iu 1, a native of Chao 2, was an expectant hanlin in the time of the emperor Wu Ti 3. The sovereign bade him follow Tung Chung Shu and receive the Ch‘un-ch‘iu from him. His talents were of the highest order, and he thoroughly understood business. Subsequently he became military governor of Tung-chün 4, and, in view of his excellence, the emperor did not appoint a civil governor 5. But at one time military expeditions had to be organized, the people were in excitement, the year was bad, and robbers and thieves were rampant. Then the emperor sent a letter to Shou Wang running thus,

« When you were in my presence, you became the centre of all our deliberations, and I imagined that you had not your equal in the world, and that there were not two men like you within the Four Seas. You were given the control of more than ten cities, and your post was a double one of 4 000 piculs 6. What is the reason that now robbers and thieves on boats attack my arsenals to seize their arms, and that the present time so little tallies with the past ?

Shou Wang, by way of excuse, said that there was nothing to be done. He again was appointed commander of the Imperial Palace and constantly kept about His Majesty 7. All his judgments and proposals were sound and just, so great were his talents, and so profound his knowledge. He understood everything and had the greatest experience. Albeit yet during his administration of Tung-chün, the year was bad, robberies and thefts were rampant, and the excitement of the people could not be stopped. I wonder whether Shou Wang did not know a method for governing Tung-chün, or whether this province had just again to pass through a revolution, and the administration of Shou Wang just coincided with this time ?

Thus even a worthy like Shou Wang in his administration of Tung-chün could not achieve merit. Should Worthies be judged p2.136 by their achievements, then even a Shou Wang would be rejected and not be promoted. I am afraid that in the world there are a great many persons of the type of Shou Wang, yet the critics are unable to see the value of people in default of their merits.

In Yen there was a valley where in consequence of cold air the Five Grains did not grow. Tsou Yen by blowing the flute attracted a fluid by which the cold was changed into heat, so that in Yen they could sow millet, and the millet grew in great abundance. Up till now the valley bears the name of ‘millet valley’ 1. The harmonisation of the Yin and the Yang requires the most exquisite wisdom and virtue, yet by Tsou Yen’s blowing the flute the cold valley became warm, and grain and millet sprouted luxuriantly. Accordingly, all who have achieved merit have a method like Tsou Yen blowing the flute. Consequently, if they are in possession of some system, even the wicked are successful, and many Worthies and Sages would be unfitted for government in case they have not the proper method. Therefore merit is no criterion of virtue. This is the second point.

When people undertake something their will may be most earnest, still they have no success. Their plan is not carried out though their energy would pierce a mountain. Such was the case of Ching K‘o and of the physician Hsia Wu Chü.

Ching K‘o entered Ch‘in with the intention to rob the king of Ch‘in and convey him alive to Yen, but meeting with an unlucky accident, he was himself caught in Ch‘in. When he was pursuing the king of Ch‘in, who ran round a pillar, the surgeon Hsia Wu Chü hit him with his medicine bag, nevertheless Ching K‘o won world-wide fame as a hero. The king of Ch‘in rewarded Hsia Wu Chü with two hundred yi 2 of gold 3. Being himself arrested in Ch‘in, the planned capture and conveyance of the king alive could not be accomplished by Ching K‘o, and the hitting a would-be assassin with a medicine bag, served to save the king’s life. Yet either of them was praised or rewarded, owing to the great sincerity of the one, and the wonderful strength of the other. The scholars of the world did not forbear extolling the honesty of Ching K‘o though he did not accomplish his object, and the king of Ch‘in rewarded Hsia Wu Chü although his action had no consequence.

p2.137 The purpose being good, it matters not whether a result be achieved, and an idea being excellent, one does not think of the outcome. In case an idea is admirable, but the success inadequate, or a purpose grand, but the result small, the wise will reward, and the unwise, punish. If one always has the success in view, no account being taken of the intention, and if only the outward result is insisted upon, without paying attention to the inward motives, then the story of Yü Jang 4 drawing his sword and cutting the cloak of Viscount Hsiang, would not be worth mentioning, Wu Tse Hsü’s flogging the corpse of King P‘ing 5, would not be worthy of note, and Chang Liang’s dealing a blow at Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti and, by mistake, hitting the accompanying cart 1, would have no interest.

All three had to suffer from unfavourable circumstances and could not accomplish their designs. They had the power, but not the success ; they formed plans, but could not carry them out. Therefore Worthies cannot be gauged by their merits. This is the third objection.


Then can people become Worthies by their filial piety towards their father, or their brotherly behaviour towards their elder brothers ? In that case a dutiful son and a good brother must have a father or an elder brother. These two being unkind, then their filial piety or brotherly love become manifest. Shun had Ku Sou, and Tsêng Shên had Tsêng Hsi as father. Thus the filial piety could become apparent, and their fame was established, so that everybody belauded them. If, however, there be no father or elder brother, or if these be kind and good, there is no occasion to show these virtues, and the name of a dutiful son or a good brother cannot be acquired.

Loyalty to one’s sovereign is similar to this : The loyalty of Lung Fêng 2 and Pi Kan 3 shone forth in Hsia and Yin, because Chieh p2.138 and Chou were both wicked, whereas the fealty of Chi 4, Hsieh 5, and Kao Yao 6 remained concealed in T‘ang and  7, since Yao and Shun themselves were virtuous. As the light of a glow-worm is eclipsed by the effulgence of the sun and the moon, so the name of a loyal official is overshadowed by the renown of his virtuous sovereign.

To die for a prince in disgrace, and to sacrifice oneself for him, falls under the same head. When an officer just happens to live at such a time and dies for his lord, his righteousness becomes known, and he earns great fame. A great Worthy, however, passes through this life, flying about and settling down and rising on apprehending some danger 8. The ruin of a perishing prince does not involve him, nor does the calamity of a tottering State affect his family. Then, how should he meet with such a misfortune, or share the disaster of his lord ?

Chan of Ch‘i asked Yen Tse 9 how a loyal minister had to serve his master. The other replied,

— So that he does not die with him nor see him off, when he leaves his country to go into exile.

— If a man, rejoined Chan, who has been given plenty of land and been the recipient of many honours lavishly bestowed upon him by his sovereign, if such a one does not die for his prince, when the latter is ruined, nor see him off, when he leaves his country, how can he be called loyal ?

— How can, said Yen Tse, a minister die, provided that his advice be followed ? Or how can he see the prince off, provided that his remonstrances be effective, so that his sovereign is never in his whole life compelled to quit the country ? If his advice be rejected, and the minister die for his lord, this would be a reckless death, and if his remonstrances be repudiated, and the minister see off his sovereign going into exile, this would be deception. Thus a loyal minister may share the happiness of his prince, but he cannot be engulphed with him in the same catastrophe.

According to this reply of Yen Tse, in seeking the Worthies of this world, those who die, because their sovereign is ruined, and thereupon base their claim to loyalty, do not count. Great Worthies have few accomplishments that may be named, and small Worthies do many things worthy of praise. Such faults p2.139 for which people may be bambooed, are only small ones, and so are all quantities that may be measured : For the greatest crimes the bamboo is not sufficient, and for the greatest quantifies pints and bushels will not do. Inferior actions are easily described, and they usually occur in times of decay, when they are easily recognised. Thus virtuous acts are manifest, and their fame is heard of 1.

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