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

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The number of those who know the rites is very small, and similarly those knowing the truth are but few. How then can the words of a superior man fill halls or rooms ? Therefore, unless it were said of men that they fill the world, one could not see whether the words spoken are true 3.

The traces of ink and pencil left on boards and tablets, are unmistakable signs. Therefore Confucius, not becoming an emperor, composed the Ch‘un-ch‘iu, in order to make known his ideas. Although the Ch‘un-ch‘iu was but a mere literary work, yet it showed that Confucius possessed the virtues qualifying him for an emperor. Confucius was a Sage, and if the productions of anybody be like those of Confucius, this is a sufficient proof of his being a Worthy, though he have not the genius of Confucius.

Worthies and Sages walk the same way, but bear different names. When Worthies can be known, it is also possible to discourse on Sages. However, if Confucius, upon investigation, had not discovered that the ways of the Chou were corrupt, he would p2.151 not have written the Ch‘un-ch‘iu. The production of this work originated from the corruption of the Chou. Had the principles of the Chou dynasty not been so degenerate, Confucius would not have written the Ch‘un-ch‘iu, yet for that he would not have been without talents, only he would not have had an occasion to write his book.

Consequently, the fact of Confucius having written the Ch‘un-ch‘iu, would not be a sufficient proof of his sagehood, and we cannot be sure whether those whose productions are like those of Confucius are real Worthies.

I reply to this objection that, owing to the depravity of the principles of Chou, Confucius took occasion to write his work, with a view to commending and denouncing right and wrong. He used a right method and did not commit the fault of wrongly condemning or favouring, whence the virtue of Confucius becomes evident. In default of utterances, we examine into the writings, and if there be none, we consider the utterances. Had Confucius written nothing, there would still be the words which he left behind. Such words have been elicited by something just as literary works have their raison d’être. It suffices to examine the quality of the writings, without troubling about their origin.

There are many works current in which no distinction is made between right and wrong, and where truth and falsehood are not determined. Huan Chün Shan 1, in his reflections, may be said to have hit the truth. His discussions are an investigation into the truth. In so far he is a Worthy of the Han time.

Before Ch‘ên P‘ing 2 became an officer he cut meat in a village, and he divided the pieces so equally, that his qualification for the post of a prime minister became apparent. Between the cutting of meat and the cutting of words there is no great difference. If Huan Chün Shan might have governed the Han, Ch‘ên P‘ing, if he had devoted himself to discussions, would have had about the same result as the other. Confucius did not become an emperor, but the work of a typical emperor was embodied in the Ch‘un-ch‘iu. And so the traces of Huan Chün Shan’s fitness to become a typical chief minister, are to be found in his ‘New Reflections’.



Fictitious Phenomena

17. IV, II. Pien-hsü


p2.152 There is a tradition that [during the time of Duke Ching of Sung, the Planet Mars stood in the constellation of the Heart 1. The duke, alarmed, summoned Tse Wei 2 and asked him what it meant that Mars was in the Heart.

Tse Wei replied,

Mars means a punishment of Heaven. Sung is that part of the earth which corresponds to the Heart. A misfortune is menacing Your Highness. Nevertheless, it can be shifted on the prime minister.

— The prime minister, said the duke, is required for the administration of the State. To bring death upon him would be most unfortunate.

Tse Wei suggested that it might be shifted upon the people, but the duke retorted by saying,

— When the people are dead, whom have I to care for ? It is better that I die alone.

Tse Wei said that it might be shifted on the year.

— If the people starve, replied the duke, they will perish. Should a ruler of men contrive the death of his people, with a view to preserving his own life, who would still consider me a sovereign ? It is inevitable that my life must come to a close, therefore speak no more of it.

Tse Wei took his leave, but turned to the north, he bowed again and said,

— Your servant begs to congratulate Your Highness. Heaven is on high, but it hears what is below. Your Highness has uttered three maxims worthy of a superior man. Heaven surely will confer upon you three favours. This night the planet will pass through three solar mansions, and the life of Your Highness will increase by 21 years.

Upon the duke inquiring how he knew this, he replied,

— Your Highness has three accomplishments 1, hence the three favours, p2.153 and the three motions which the planet must make. By each it will pass seven stars 2. One star is equivalent to one year. Three times seven makes 21. Therefore 21 years will be added to the life of Your Highness. Your servant desires to fall down on the steps of the palace and to await the event. Should the planet not pass, your servant is willing to die.

The same night the planet Mars really passed through three solar mansions,] 3 just as Tse Wei had predicted 4. Thus, in fact, the prolongation of the duke’s life by 21 years came into effect. Since the planet really passed, this prolongation took place, and, this prolongation being apparent, Heaven rewarded the duke for his goodness. Consequently, if some one be able to act like the duke, he would be sure to obtain the same blessing.

All this is absurd. Provided that almighty Heaven was wreaking its anger, and caused Mars to stay in the constellation of the Heart, owing to Duke Ching’s personal wickedness, then even if he had listened to Tse Wei’s advice, it would not have been of any benefit to him. In case Duke Ching was not the object of Heaven’s wrath, although he took no heed of Tse Wei’s words, it could not injure him.

[In the time of Duke Ching of Ch‘i there appeared a comet 5, and the duke enjoined upon the people to avert it by prayer. Yen Tse 6 declared,

— It boots not, and it is but a superstition. Heaven’s way is not hidden, and its will must not be suspected. Why then deprecate it ? Moreover Heaven uses the Sweeping Star to sweep away filth. Your Highness’ virtue is not filthy, wherefore should you pray ? Should however your virtue be tarnished, of what use would these deprecations be ?

The Shiking says : [This king Wên, Watchfully and reverently, With entire intelligence served God, And so secured the great blessing. His virtue was without deflection ; And in consequence he received the allegiance of the p2.154 States from all quarters.] 7

If Your Highness’ virtue does not degenerate, all the States round about will submit to you, what evil can befall you through a comet ?

The Shiking likewise has it that : « I have no beacon to look at, But the Sovereigns of Hsia and Shang. It was because of their disorders That the people fell away from them 1. »

If the virtue declines and degenerates, the people will be scattered and lost, and all the incantator’s and historiographer’s prayers would be of no avail.

The duke was pleased and had his orders countermanded.] 2

The prince of Ch‘i wanted to avert the calamitous presage of the comet, as Tse Wei was endeavouring to remove the misfortune which Mars was portending. The duke of Sung would not listen to the advice which was given him, just as Yen Tse declined to comply with his master’s order. Thus the prince of Ch‘i was like Tse Wei, and Yen Tse took the place of the duke of Sung. The same calamity was sent down on both sovereigns, but Heaven only recognised the virtue of the duke of Sung, by making Mars pass through three solar mansions and adding 21 years to his span, and did not, for Yen Tse’s sake, cause the comet to disperse nor prolong his life. Why was Heaven so biassed and unjust in requiting goodness ?

When an honest man does good, his goodness springs from his heart, and his good maxims issue from his mind. They flow from a common source and are essentially the same. When Duke Ching of Sung worded the three excellent sentiments, his conduct must have been good before he gave utterance to them. That being the case, his administration was likewise good, and under a good government propitious omens abound, and bliss and happiness supervene. Then does the planet Mars not intrude upon the Heart. If, on the other hand, something was amiss in the dealings of Duke Ching, so that his administration became vitiated, under a perverted government dreadful prodigies must have appeared.

Mars staying in the Heart was like the paper-mulberry tree growing in court 3. Kao Tsung removed this portent by his p2.155 administration, not by words. In the same manner Duke Ching should have averted the extraordinary phenomenon of the planet Mars by his actions. Provided that Duke Ching’s proceedings were blameworthy, and that, for this reason, Mars was staying in the Heart, how could he hope to touch Heaven, or how would Heaven have responded, if, instead of changing his government and reforming, he had merely propounded three excellent sentiments, but done nothing ? How can we substantiate our view ?

Let us suppose that Duke Ching had enounced three wicked maxims, could he have induced Mars to take its place in the constellation of the Heart thereby ? Since three bad maxims would not have had this effect, how should the three excellent sentiments have caused the planet to revert three solar mansions ? If by three good maxims 21 years were obtained, would, by the utterance of a hundred fine things, the span of human life be extended to a thousand years ? The idea of a heavenly reward of virtue is preposterous, in reality there is nothing but fortune.

According to what Tse Wei said, Heaven is high, but hears what is low. The prince having spoken three maxims of a superior man, Heaven would confer three graces upon him.

Heaven has a body, and in this respect does not differ from earth. In all creatures possessed of a body, the ears are joined to the head, and it does not happen that the ears and the body are separated. As to Heaven’s height, it is many ten thousand Li distant from us. Now, in case the ears be attached to Heaven, hearing words at the distance of several ten thousand Li, it would be unable to understand them. If a man, sitting on a high tower, were to look out for the ants on the ground, he could not distinguish their forms ; and how should he hear their sounds ? The simple reason is that the bodies of ants are so minute and not so big as the human, and that their sounds cannot transcend the vast expanse of air. Now the altitude of Heaven is quite a different thing to that of a tower, and the proportion of the human body, compared to Heaven, not merely like that of ants and man. They say that there is no such relation between man and Heaven as between ants and man, and urge that Heaven hears what man says and, according to its quality, sends good or bad luck. That is a misconception.

When the Savages from the four quarters come to China, they must use interpreters, to make themselves understood. Although they are similar to the Chinese in body and mind, their speech is unintelligible. Even the Five Emperors and the Three Rulers could p2.156 not do without interpreters, and understand the savages alone 1. Now fancy Heaven with a body quite other than the human ; must not its speech be different as well ?

Man is not cognisant of Heaven’s proceeding ; how should Heaven know what man is about ? If Heaven has a body, its ears are too high and far away, to hear what men say, and if it be air (air like clouds and fog), how could such hear human speech ?

The phenomenalists assert that man lives between heaven and earth as fish in the water. By his actions he can affect heaven and earth, just as fish beat and agitate the water. The fish moving, the water is shaken and the air stirred up.

This is not true. Should it really be so, human influence would not reach up to Heaven. A fish, a foot long, moving in the water, would only stir up the water by its side in a circumference of several feet. If it were only as big as a man, the waves caused by it would not proceed farther than a hundred steps. Beyond a Li, the waters would remain tranquil and unruffled, owing to the distance.

If human activity affect the air far and near, it must be similar to that of the fish, and the air thus affected and responsive to the impetus, would be like the water. A tiny corporeal frame of seven feet 1 and in this frame a subtle breath 2 would hardly be more powerful than the fire rising from a sacrificial vessel, and should it, ascending from the earth, have any influence upon august Heaven with its tremendous height ?

Furthermore, Duke Ching was but a worthy. Worthies in their dealings do not come up with sages above, nor do they pass the line of wickedness below 3. Of all the ages none were truer sages than Yao and Shun, and none greater criminals than Chieh and Chou. The proceedings of Yao and Shun were full of excellence, yet they had not the effect of moving the planet Mars. The government of Chieh and Chou was very wicked, but they overthrow the argument that Duke Ching escaped misfortune. Provided that, because of Duke Ching’s three excellent sentiments, his life time was increased by 21 years, then Yao and Shun ought to have obtained a thousand years, and Chieh and Chou ought to have died early. That was not so ; they all completed their full span. Yao p2.157 and Shun as well as Chieh and Chou became nearly a hundred years old. Consequently Tse Wei’s remarks are altogether without foundation, and what he says about the lengthening of life, is erroneous.

Tse Wei also stated that Mars was Heaven’s agent, that Sung was the territory on earth corresponding to the Heart, and that misfortune was awaiting its sovereign. Under these circumstances Heaven would have employed Mars to inflict calamity upon Duke Ching, but how could it be diverted upon the premier, the year, or the people ?

Heaven uses Mars as the king does the chief of the princes. When a feudal lord has been guilty of a capital crime, the king sends the chief of the princes, to besiege his State and take possession of it. The prince, then, is tried before the king’s deputy, who knows that the guilt lies upon the prince 4. He may, however, try to turn it off upon one of his own ministers or his subjects. Should a prince, following the counsel of a minister, instruct him to turn the guilt upon the State, would the chief of the princes, upon hearing of this, be inclined to entertain such a proposal ? Would he absolve the sovereign of all guilt and shift it upon his subjects ? The chief would not consent, because the guilt is the sovereign’s and not the people’s. Since he would not consent, the prince’s guilt being too evident, how should Mars agree to divert the calamity upon the people ? Therefore Tse Wei’s view is wrong.

Let us presume that Duke Ching had listened to the counsel of Tse Wei, how could he have affected Heaven by so doing ? Would, in case a prince disregarded the advice of his minister and took all the guilt upon himself, the chief of the princes, hearing of his resolution, acquit the culprit and dismiss him ? He would not condone his crime ; why then should Mars consent to pass through three solar mansions ?

Listening and not listening have nothing to do with luck and merit 1. The alleged movement of the planet can therefore not be taken as a fact.

Heaven and man have the same law, in which good and evil do not differ. If something is impossible by human law, we know that it would not come into effect under heavenly law either.

p2.158 Sung, Wei, Ch‘ên, and Chêng were simultaneously afflicted with a conflagration 2. A change in the air could be observed in the sky. Tse Shên 3, foreseeing the disaster, asked Tse Ch‘an whether it might be averted, but Tse Ch‘an took no notice. The law of Heaven had to be fulfilled, and human endeavour was powerless against it. Would the four States have got rid of the calamity in case Tse Ch‘an had listened to Tse Shên ?

At the time when Yao met with the great flood, his ministers, no doubt, were no less clever than Tse Shên or Tse Wei, still they could not avert it. Yao had the same feeling as Tse Ch‘an.

According to Tse Wei’s statement Mars was Heaven’s agent, the Heart had its corresponding place in Sung, and misfortune was threatening its sovereign. If these were facts, the disaster could not be avoided, and the planet not be averted.

Whenever heat and cold are anomalous, or wind and rain unseasonable, the philosophers on government hold that some fault has been the cause, and that good government and virtuous acts are apt to bring about the normal state again.

If, when Mars takes its position within the Heart, death and ruin are sure to follow, how can they be avoided, and how can administrative and moral reforms avert them ? Good government and virtuous acts cannot ward them off, and to say that the utterance of three inane sentences averted the planet, turned off the disaster, increased the years of life, and procured the enjoyment of a long time of bliss, is a mistake. According to Tse Wei’s reply Duke Ching spoke of the calamity, which was threatening from Mars. That has no reference to heat and cold, wind or rain, but was an omen implying death and the end of life.

When a State is about to perish, or an individual to expire, a strange air is perceived in the sky, and a peculiar look in the face, and this look of the face no righteous deeds can wipe off, for it is the sign of death, which thus becomes visible. Since that expression on the face cannot be got rid of by words, how should the strange phenomenon on the sky be removed by government ?

When a sick man is at the point of death, that peculiar expression is seen on his face, of which people sometimes say that it is the mark of certain death. Nevertheless it might be transferred on the neighbours or the slaves. But would that look of p2.159 the dying man, who just cannot speak any more, be wiped off by some appropriate words, or his life, which comes to a close, be lengthened ? That expression cannot be done away with, and his life does not admit of any prolongation. Therefore, how could the planet Mars be averted, and how the years of Duke Ching be added to ?

Ergo, when Mars stood in the Heart, we do not know what happened that Duke Ching did not die.

Then it is said that the planet passed through three solar mansions. What does that mean ? Did the star three times transcend one mansion, or did it at once pass through three mansions ?

Tse Wei said that the prince had spoken three maxims worthy of a superior man, wherefore Heaven would certainly bestow three favours upon him. That very night the planet would transcend three mansions, and, in fact, the star went through three solar mansions. Now Duke Ching put forward three precious arguments at one sitting, whereupon the planet moved through three mansions. Provided that he had uttered ten excellent thoughts, would the star tien have gone through ten mansions ?

Mars occupying the Heart, reverted owing to the excellent sentiments ; if, conversely, Duke Ching had enunciated three bad ones, would Mars then have eclipsed the Heart ? Good words made it revert, and bad ones, proceed ; in case the speech of the duke had been neither good nor bad, would it then have remained quiet and motionless ?

Sometimes when Mars stands in the Heart, a drought, but not the death of the duke is imminent, and Tse Wei, ignorant of this, took it for an ill omen of death, trusting like common people in the efficiency of perfect sincerity 1.

It just so happened, no doubt, that Mars had to leave its position of itself, and that Duke Ching was not to die. The world then imagined that Tse Wei’s words were true and that Duke Ching touched Heaven by his sincerity.

Or perhaps Tse Wei was aware that the planet in its course was just about to move, and he gave himself the air of knowing personally that this movement was the result of the prince’s selflessness in regard to his subjects. Seeing that the number of stars was seven, he then called seven stars a mansion and obtained 21 years, computing the number of years from stars and mansions.

p2.160 His case is analogous to that of the Great Diviner of Ch‘i. [Duke Ching of Ch‘i, asked the Great Diviner, what he could do with his wisdom. The other returned that he could shake the earth. When Yen Tse called upon the duke, he said to him,

— I have asked the Great Diviner what his art availed him, and he replied that he could shake the earth. The earth is steady, can it be shaken ?

Yen Tse remained silent and made no reply. He went out, met the Great Diviner and said,

— Formerly I have observed that, when the Hook star is between the House and the Heart, an earthquake is imminent.

The Great Diviner assented. When Yen Tse had left, the Great Diviner went to see the duke.

— Your servant, said he, cannot shake the earth. It is steady and will move of its own accord.] 1

Tse Wei’s allegation as to the progress of the planet is like the Great Diviner’s remark on the earthquake. The earth, being steady, moves of its own accord, yet the Great Diviner contended that he could move it. The planet is likewise steady and shifts its position of itself, but Tse Wei maintained that the prince could move it. If Yen Tse had not said that the Hook star was between the House and the Heart, the artful reply of the Great Diviner would not have been detected. In Sung there was no officer with Yen Tse’s knowledge, therefore this one utterance of Tse Wei was afterwards held to be true.

In the chapter Hsü Ch‘in of Tse Wei’s Shu-lu,3 we also have the notice that Tse Wei said,

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