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

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— The prince spoke three excellent maxims, and Mars was liable to move. He then waited for this event, and, in fact, it left the solar mansion.

Nothing is said about three. Perchance the planet was bound to move, and Tse Wei took it for a corroboration of his view. It really withdrew from one mansion, of which, by exaggeration, people made three mansions. As they carelessly magnified the number of solar mansions, they likewise invented the 21 additional years.



Fictitious Prodigies

18. V, I. Yi-hsü


p2.161 At the time of the emperor Kao Tsung of the Yin dynasty a mulberry and a paper-mulberry tree 1 grew together in his court 2. After seven days, they were so thick already, that they would take two hands to span them. Kao Tsung summoned his physiognomist and asked him about it. The physiognomist replied that, though he knew, he could not tell it. Then Tsu Chi was questioned, who said,

— The mulberry and the paper-mulberry are wild plants ; their growing in the court denotes the down-fall of the dynasty.

Kao Tsung terrified began to practise virtue with stooping body. He would ponder over the government of former kings, illustrate the principle of feeding the old, regenerate extinguished States, re-establish the succession of extinct princely houses, and raise obscure scholars. Upon this the two trees died. Three years later, the princes of six States appeared at his court with interpreters 3, and subsequently he enjoyed a hundred years of happiness 4.

Kao Tsung was a wise sovereign. Alarmed at the growth of the two trees, he interrogated Tsu Chi. Following his counsel, he reformed his administration and personally changed his proceedings. The prodigy of the two trees then disappeared, the princes offered their allegiance, and he reigned many years. Owing to the earnestness of his reforms, plenty of lucky auguries and blessings came down upon him. This is a fiction.

Tsu Chi declared that the down-fall of the dynasty was impending. The ruin of a dynasty is like the death of an individual. p2.162 A man being about to die, miracles appear. When a dynasty is on the verge of ruin, its time is up, and when a man expires, his fate is fulfilled. After his death he does not live again, nor does he continue to exist after his departure. How could Tsu Chi’s reference to the government have averted the ruin, or how could Kao Tsung’s reforms have helped to avoid the disaster ? A private person, beholding horrid signs, does not obtain luck by doing good ; how then should Kao Tsung, on perceiving the prodigy, be able to avert the misfortune by changing his government ? It being impossible to avert misfortune, how can the six States have been attracted, and how the king’s life been prolonged up to a hundred years ?

Human life and death depend on the length of the span, not on good or bad actions, and so is the subsistence and decay of a State determined by the duration of its time 1, not by the management or mismanagement of affairs. Tsu Chi explained the mulberry and paper-mulberry as an augury of decay. When this sign of ruin had already appeared, the discharge of filial duties was of no avail. What evidence can we adduce ?

Under Duke Chao of Lu a mainah appeared and built its nest 2. Shi Chi traced up a queer ditty of boys of the time of Wên and Ch‘êng referring to the mainah, and seeing that now it really had come and built its nest, he explained it as a bad omen. Subsequently Duke Chao was expelled by the Chi family and retreated to Ch‘i. His dukedom in fact became empty and desolate, and his capital deserted. The appearance of the wild bird, which built its nest, was in Shi Chi’s opinion indicative of misfortune, and so he explained it.

If Duke Chao, upon hearing Shi Chi’s interpretation, had reformed and improved his administration, following Kao Tsung’s example, he would, after all, not have succeeded in breaking the spell, because the portent of the queer saying concerning the mainah had already appeared, and the calamity of the duke’s flight was already completed, for this portent of the mainah had become manifest during the time of Duke Wên and Ch‘êng. If a branch has leaves, why should it not blossom ? And if a spring pours out its water, why should it not grow ? 3

p2.163 But this event is of comparatively recent date and may not suffice to bear out our thesis. When the downfall of the Hsia dynasty was imminent, two dragons fought together in the court. They spat their saliva and vanished. The king of Hsia preserved it in a casket. The Hsia were destroyed and succeeded by the Yin, and the Yin were destroyed and succeeded by the Chou. They all did not open the casket, until under king Yu 4 it was opened and inspected. The saliva oozed out in the court and was transformed into a black lizard, which slipped into the seraglio, where it had commerce with a woman. This, later on, resulted in the birth of Pao Sse 5.

When Pao Sse was introduced into the palace of Chou, King Li 1 became stultified by her, and the State went to rack and ruin. The time from the age of Kings Yu and Li to the Hsia epoch was more than a thousand years 2 ; when the two dragons struggled, Yu, Li, and Pao Sse were not yet born. The presage of the destruction of the Chou dynasty already appeared long before it came to pass.

When a bad augury comes forth, the calamity cannot but be completed, and when a lucky sign appears, felicity is sure to arrive. If the two dragons, at the time of their contest, said that they were two princes of Pao 3, this was a proof of the future birth of Pao Sse. The dragons bearing the name of Pao, Pao Sse could not help being born, and she being born, King Li could not help being depraved, and he being depraved, the State could not avoid being ruined. The signs were there, and even if the Five Sages 4 and the Ten Worthies 5 had interceded to remove them, all their endeavours to blot them out would have been in vain.

Good and evil are similar so far. When good omens come forth, a State is sure to flourish, and when evil ones become visible, a dynasty must needs perish. To say that evil portents can be removed by good actions, is like affirming that good auspices can be wiped away by bad government.

p2.164 The Yellow River springs from the K‘un-lun, and then branches off into nine channels. Should Yao and have attempted to turn the waters back by their excellent administration, they would have been utterly powerless to make them revert, for such is the nature of water, that human force cannot stop it. The springs of the Yellow River could not be stopped, and the two dragons not be removed. Accordingly, it was impossible to prevent the mulberry and the paper-mulberry trees from growing.

A king’s life about to prosper is like the breath of spring becoming summer, and his death like the autumnal air becoming winter. Beholding the leaflets of spring, one knows that in summer there will be stalked leaves, and viewing the dropping fruit in autumn, one foresees the dried branches of winter. A propos of the growth of the mulberry and the paper-mulberry, it is also quite plain that they must be like the vernal leaves and the autumnal fruit. How could they be removed by a thorough overhauling of the government and personal reforms ?

Now, the presage of the down-fall of the Chou dynasty appeared already in the Hsia epoch ; how do we know but that the growth of the two trees was denoting the fall of King Chou 6 ? Perhaps Tsu Chi believed in the explanation of wild plants which he gave, but did not estimate the distance of time correctly. Kao Tsung, having questioned Tsu Chi, took to doing good, his body bent down, and accidentally the princes of the six States arrived at his court. Kao Tsung’s life was naturally long and not yet near its close ; then people said that, after the inquiry concerning the two trees, he changed his government, reformed his own conduct, and enjoyed a hundred years of happiness.

The mulberry and paper-mulberry grew most likely for Chou’s sake, or perhaps they were lucky and not inauspicious, wherefore the Yin dynasty did not decline, and Kao Tsung’s life lasted long. Tsu Chi, however, trusting in his interpretation that they were wild plants, declared them to be signs of an impending catastrophe.

At the time of the Han emperor, Hsiao Wu Ti, a white unicorn was caught. It had two horns, but they touched. The gentleman-usher Chung Chün was called upon to give his opinion.

— It is a wild animal, he said, its horns joined together as the land under heaven unites and forms one whole 1.

p2.165 The unicorn is a wild animal, and the mulberry and paper-mulberry trees are wild plants. Both being wild, what difference is there between the animal and the plants ? Chung Chün pronounced the animal to be auspicious, but Tsu Chi held the wild plants to be inauspicious.

When Kao Tsung was sacrificing in the temple of Ch‘êng T‘ang, a pheasant came flying along, alighted on the tripod, and screamed. Tsu Chi saw in it the announcement of the arrival of men from distant lands 2. The commentators of the Shuking, on the other hand, regard pheasants as inauspicious. Both views are conflicting. According to Tsu Chi’s statement the arrival of pheasants is propitious.

Pheasants hide amidst wild plants, which screen the bodies of wild birds. If people live in a straw hut, can they be said to be auspicious, but their cottage to be inauspicious ? When such people go into the capital, they are not held to be inauspicious 3. Why then cannot wild plants growing in a court be propitious ? Pheasants must, in this respect, be treated like men 4.

If living creatures with blood in their veins are held to be auspicious, then the arrival of a tall Ti 5 would be so as well, why then call it unlucky ? Should all that comes from the I and the Ti 6 not be auspicious, the visit of Ko Lu of Chieh 1 at court must have been unlucky. If, however, plants and trees are believed to be unpropitious, then the appearance of the ‘vermilion grass and of the ‘monthly plant’ were not auspicious.

The vermilion grass and the monthly plant are both herbaceous ; they should grow in the country and, if they grow in court, it is not auspicious. Why then are they looked upon as lucky omens ? According as a wild growing thing comes or goes, it is treated either as lucky or unlucky. If the vermilion grass and the monthly plant are believed to be auspicious, owing to their excellence, then the presage depends on goodness or badness, and their quality is not influenced by the site of their growth, whether it be in the capital or in the country.

p2.166 During the Chou period, universal peace reigned throughout the empire. The Yüeh-ch‘ang 2 presented the Duke of Chou with pheasants. Kao Tsung likewise obtained one, which he regarded as lucky. A pheasant is also a creature living in the grass and in the country, for what reason is it considered to be a good omen ? If it is on account of a portion of the character chih (pheasant) bearing a resemblance to shih (a scholar), then there is also a likeness between a deer, chün, and a superior man, chün.

Kung-Sun Shu 3 got a white stag ; wherefore did he explain it as an unlucky augury ? Ergo we come to the conclusion that it is impossible to know whether a pheasant be propitious or not, nor can we prove whether the meaning of a mulberry and a paper-mulberry be good or bad.

Perhaps they were something good, intimating that scholars from afar would walk into the temple of Kao Tsung, therefore the latter obtained luck and happiness, which he enjoyed ever so long.

Those arguing on calamitous prodigies stand convinced that Heaven makes use of calamitous phenomena for the purpose of rebuking the emperor. When the emperor has faults, prodigies appear in the State. If he does not change, calamities become visible on plants and trees, if he does not change then, they manifest themselves on the Five Grains, and should he not reform even then, they attain his own person 4.

The ‘Spring and Autumn’ of Tso Ch‘iu Ming says that there are few States which have not five harvests, when they are going to perish. Calamities become visible on the Five Grains ; how then can they grow ripe ? Their not ripening is a sign of impending ruin, for ruin is likewise a feature of calamity, to which the not ripening of the Five Grains corresponds. When Heaven does not p2.167 mature them, this may be a calamity or a blessing 5, happiness and misfortune are therefore difficult to distinguish, and what is said about the mulberry and the paper-mulberry cannot be correct.

The theorists all write in their books and their notes that, when Heaven rains grain, this is an ill omen, and in various books and chronicles we read that, [when Tsang Hsieh invented writing, Heaven rained grain, and the ghosts cried during the night.] 1 This must be accounted a lugubrious prodigy ; why did Heaven use something so harmonious to produce it ? The production of grain is a kind gift from Heaven, very harmonious and also looked upon as something excellent. And the grain produced came down following upon rain ? If we thoroughly go into the matter, for what reason must it be an ill omen ? When the Yin and the Yang harmonise, the harvest grows, otherwise it is spoiled by calamities and disasters. The harmony of Yin and Yang resulting in the production of grain, how can it be called inauspicious ?

Raw silk is wrought into pongees, and of hempen threads cloth is made. To present a man with silk and hemp is already conferring a valuable gift upon him, but how much more precious would be silken fabrics and woven cloth ? Silk and hemp correspond to the Yin and the Yang, pongees and cloth are like the ripe grain. A present of pongees cannot be called bad, why then should grain, this heavenly gift, be considered unlucky ? Since the good or bad presage of raining grain cannot be made out, the statement about the mulberry and the paper-mulberry must also remain doubtful.

If ‘fragrant grass’ grew in the Chou epoch, at times of universal peace people would have brought presents of this grass with them. It also grows in the open country exactly like the mulberry and the paper-mulberry. If the I and the Ti had presented it, it would have been lucky, but should it have grown in the court of Chou, would it also have been deemed good ?

Fragrant grass can be used for the distillation of spirits, its perfume being very intensive. By pouring out this perfumed wine at sacrifices, the spirits are called down. Provided that this grass had spontaneously grown in the court of Chou, it would not have p2.168 been different from auspicious grain, vermilion grass, or the monthly plant 2.

Furthermore, mulberry trees feed the silk-worms, which make silk. This silk is worked into pongees, and these pongees, into dresses. Clad in these robes, people enter the ancestral temple, using them as court-dresses. The evolution is similar to that of the fragrant grass, why then are those trees held to be a bad augury ?

When the heir-son of Duke Hsien of Wei 3 arrived at the Spirit Tower, a snake wriggled round the left wheel of his chariot The charioteer said to him,

— Prince descend and pay your respects. I have heard say that, when a snake curls round the left cartwheel of the son of the chief of a State, he will soon be seated on the throne.

But the Prince did not descend and returned to his residence.

The charioteer called upon him, and the prince said,

— I have heard say that a man’s son lives in perfect accord with his master. He does not cherish selfish desires and receives his commands with reverence and awe. He does nothing which might impair the health of the sovereign. If I now come into possession of the State, the sovereign must lose his health. To see only the lustre of the crown and forget the welfare of the ruler is not what a son ought to do. That I prostrate myself, in order to come to the dukedom, would hardly be according to the sovereign’s wishes. He who disobeys the duties of a son, is undutiful, and he who acts contrary to the wishes of his sovereign, is not loyal. And yet you desire me to do it ? The dangers of my wishing to assume the reins of government are evident enough.

Then he tried to commit suicide by jumping down from the palace. His charioteer attempted to stop him, but in vain. He threw himself into his sword and gave up his ghost 2.

If the curling of a snake round the left wheel really implied the speedy accession of the prince, he ought not to have died, and Duke Hsien should have expired at once. Now the duke did not die, but the crown-prince fell into his sword. Therefore the explanation of the charioteer was the idle talk of common people.

Perhaps the snake foreshadowed the imminent death of the prince, and the charioteer, placing confidence in the popular p2.169 interpretation, failed to grasp the real meaning of the portent. The growth of the mulberry and paper-mulberry resembles the snake curling round the left wheel. As a matter of fact, its arrival was unlucky, but the charioteer fancied it to be lucky, and so the two trees were in fact auspicious, but Tsu Chi thought them of ill omen.

[When Yü, on his journey south, crossed the Yangtse, a yellow dragon carried his boat on its back. The men in the boat turned pale as ashes, but was amused and said laughing,

— I have received the decree of Heaven and harrass myself to succour the thousands of people. My life lasts awhile, and death is a return. It being but a return, how can it upset my serenity ? I look upon a dragon as a lizard.

Then the dragon disappeared.] 1

In ancient and modern times the arrival of a dragon is commonly regarded as something very lucky, alone declared a yellow dragon to be a bad presage, and when they saw it lifting the boat, the men in the boat took fright.

The mulberry and the paper-mulberry may be compared with the dragon, for, though their auguries be reversed, there is still a similarity. Wild plants growing in court are held to be unlucky, but, there being an extraordinary case like the yellow dragon carrying the boat, they became lucky, and the Yin dynasty did not perish.

Duke Wên of Chili was going to try issues with King Ch‘êng of Ch‘u at Ch‘êng-p‘u 2, when a ‘broom star’ 3 proceeded from Ch‘u, which held its stick 4. The matter was referred to Chiu Fan 5, who replied,

— In fighting with brooms he who turns them round wins.

Duke Wên dreamt that he was wrestling with King Ch‘êng, who gained the upper hand, and sucked his brains. Chiu Fan being p2.170 questioned, rejoined,

— Your Highness could look up to Heaven, while Ch‘u was bending down under the weight of its guilt. The battle will prove a great victory 6.

The duke followed his advice and completely defeated the army of Ch‘u. Had Duke Wên consulted an ordinary officer previously, he would certainly have denied the possibility of a victory, for a broom star is inauspicious, and the upper hand in wrangling not an adverse prognostic.

The mulberry and the paper-mulberry were pronounced ill omened, as the fact of Chin being opposite to the besom and the duke’s succumbing in the struggle, were deemed bad auguries. These trees were significant of luck all the same, like the curious phenomena of being over against the broom star and looking up to Heaven, whence Kao Tsung’s long reign and the salvation of the Yin dynasty.

If Duke Wen had not asked Chiu Fan, if the latter had not been aware of the lucky augury, and if then a great victory had been won, the people would have urged that, by virtue of his extreme wisdom, Duke Wên had worsted iniquitous Ch‘u, and that, in spite of the prodigy appearing in the sky and of the horrible dream, the adverse presage and the unfavourable portent were wiped out and dispersed, and happiness secured. The Yin could not boast of a man with Chiu Fan’s extraordinary knowledge, having only their Tsu Chi, who shared the common prejudices. Accordingly the narrative of the two trees has been handed down without ceasing, and up to the present day the notion that misfortune can be transmuted into happiness has not yet been rectified.



Fictitious Influences

19. V, II. Kan-hsü


p2.171 In the books of the Literati which have come down to us they say that at the time of Yao ten suns rose simultaneously, so that everything was scorched up. Yao shot at the ten suns on high, whereupon nine out of them were removed, and a single one began to rise regularly 1. This is a myth.

When a man is shooting with arrows, at a distance of no more than a hundred steps, the arrows lose their force. As regards the course of the sun, it moves upon heaven like a star. The interstice between heaven and man measures several ten thousand Li 2, and if Yao had shot at it, how could he have hit the sun ? Provided that, at Yao’s time, the distance from heaven to earth had not been upwards of a hundred steps, then the arrows of Yao might have just reached the sun, but they could not go farther than a hundred steps. Under the supposition of the short distance of heaven and earth at the time of Yao, his shots might have touched the suns, but without damaging them, and why should the suns have disappeared, if they had been damaged ?

The sun is fire. If fire on earth is employed to kindle a torch, and if the by-standers shot at it, would they extinguish it, even if they hit it ? Earthly fire is not to be extinguished by arrow-shots, how could heavenly fire be put out in this manner ?

This is meant to imply that Yao shot at the suns with his spiritual essence 3. Whatever is touched by it, even metal and stones, crumbles to pieces, for it knows no hardness nor distance. Now, water and fire have a similar nature. If fire could be extinguished with arrows, it ought to be possible to remove water by shooting at it likewise.

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