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

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At the time of the Great Flood, China was inundated by the waters causing great damage to the people. Why did Yao not put forth his spiritual essence then, removing the waters by shooting ? p2.172 He was able to shoot at the suns, preventing their fire from doing injury, but he could not shoot at the Yellow River, to hinder the ravages of its floods. Since the water could not be removed by shooting, we know that the story about shooting at the suns is an invention and unreliable.

Some hold that the sun is a fluid and that, although an arrow may not reach it, the spiritual essence can extinguish it. Now Heaven is also far off ; in case it is a fluid, it must be similar to the sun and the moon, and should it be corporeal 1, it would be on a level with metals and stones. If the essence of Yao extinguished the suns and destroyed metals and stones, could he also perforate Heaven, while sending his arrows ?

As an example of the perversity of Chieh and Chou people relate that they shot at Heaven and lashed Earth, and in praise of Kao Tsung they narrate that, by his virtuous government, he did away with the mulberry and the paper-mulberry 2. Now if Yao, incapable of extinguishing the ten suns by his virtue, shot at them nevertheless, his virtue did not equal that of Kao Tsung, and his depravity could match that of Chieh and Chou. How could he have obtained a response from Heaven by his essence ?


It is on record that [when Wu Wang, on his expedition against Chou, crossed the Mêng ford 3, the waves of Yang-hou 4 rushed against him. A storm was raging, and there was such a darkness, that men and horses became invisible. Upon this, King Wu, grasping the yellow halberd with his left and holding the white standard in his right, with flashing eyes waved it and exclaimed,

— While I am in the empire, who dares thwart my plans ?,

whereupon the storm abated, and the waves subsided.] This narrative is preposterous 5.

When Wu Wang was crossing the Mêng ford, the hosts of his army were cheerful and merry, singing in front and gamboling in the rear. There being a certain sympathy between Heaven and p2.173 man, it would not have been the proper thing for Heaven to grumble, when man was pleased, but it is not sure whether there was really singing in front and dancing in the rear, and the stopping of the storm by waving a flag likewise looks like an invention.

Wind is air, and some speculative minds see in it the commanding voice of Heaven and Earth. Now, provided that the punishment of Chou by Wu Wang was right, then Heaven should have kept quiet and rewarded him ; if, however, his destruction was not right, then the storm was expressive of Heaven’s anger.

Had Wu Wang not received the command of Heaven and not inquired into his own guilt, then, by saying, with flashing eyes. ‘While I am in the empire, who ventures to thwart me ? he could not but double Heaven’s anger and increase his own depravity ; how would the wind have stopped therefore ? When parents are angry with their son for not mending his faults, would they be willing to pardon him, if, with flashing eyes, he talked big ?

In case wind is the fluid of misfortune produced by Heaven, it must be spontaneous as well as unconscious, and angry looks or waving flags would not cause it to stop. Wind is like rain. If Wu Wang with flashing eyes had waved his standard to the rain, would it have ceased ? Since Wu Wang could not stop the rain, he could not stop the wind either. Perhaps just at the moment, when he waved his flag, accidentally the wind stopped of itself, and the people, extolling his excellence, then contended that Wu Wang could stop the wind.


There is a report that, [when Duke Hsiang of Lu was at war with Han, and the battle was hottest, the sun went down. The duke, swinging his spear, beckoned to it, when the sun came back for him, passing through three solar mansions] 1. This is an invention.

Whoever can affect Heaven through his spiritual essence, must be single-minded and engrossed with one idea. Discharging all other affairs from his thoughts and concentrating his mind, he may communicate with Heaven by means of his spiritual essence, and Heaven may then exhibit some extraordinary phenomenon, though I do not admit even this. Duke Hsiang’s interest was entirely absorbed by the battle, when the sun sank, and he beckoned to it. How could he induce it to revert ? If a sage would beckon to the p2.174 sun, it would not return by any means ; who was Duke Hsiang, that he could cause it to come back ?

The Hung-fan 2 has it that [some stars are fond of wind and others of rain. The course of the sun and moon brings about winter and summer, and when the moon follows the stars, there is wind and rain] 3. Now the stars are of the same stuff as the sun and the moon. When the latter follow the stars, these change again 4, and it is evident that, as long as the two luminaries keep their regular course, they do not yield to the likes and dislikes of the stars. How then should it be possible that the desire of Duke Hsiang was fulfilled ?

The stars on Heaven are the mansions of the sun and the moon, as on earth the postal stations serve as residences of the higher officials. These 28 solar mansions 5 are divided into degrees, one mansion measuring 10 degrees, more or less. The allegation that the sun returned through three mansions would therefore denote 30 degrees. The sun proceeds one degree every day, at the moment of beckoning it would therefore have gone back the same distance which it had made during 30 days. If we regard a shê (station) as one degree 1, then three degrees would be a three days course, and at the moment, when the spear was waved, the sun would have been made to revert three days.

When Duke Ching of Sung exhibited his sincerity and uttered three excellent maxims, the planet Mars passed through three solar mansions, a story which sober-minded critics still call an invention 2. Duke Hsiang, during the fighting, was displeased with the sun’s setting, accordingly he waved his spear, but he had no earnest purpose 3, nor did he say any excellent words 4. That the sun should revert for his cake, was most likely not his idea.

Moreover, the sun is fire. A sage giving a signal to fire would in no wise be able to make it return, and Duke Hsiang should have caused the sun to revert by his signal ?

p2.175 While the battle was going on, the sun was in the middle of mao 5, and, bewildered by the fighting, the duke fancied that the sun was setting 6. Waving his flag, he turned round to the left, describing a curve, and was under the impression that the sun was reverting. People naturally fond of the marvellous then spoke of the sun’s reverting, which cannot be upheld in earnest.


It is related in historical works that, when, at the instance of the heir-prince of Yen, Ching K‘o attempted to murder the king of Ch‘in, a white halo encircled the sun, and that, [while the master from Wei was devising the plan of the Ch‘ang-p‘ing affair for Ch‘in, Venus eclipsed the Pleiades7. This means to say that the spiritual essence affected Heaven, so that it produced those phenomena. To say that a white halo surrounded the sun, and that Venus eclipsed the Pleiades is allowable, but the assertion that the design of Ching K‘o and the plan of the master from Wei exercised such an influence upon august Heaven, that a white halo encircled the sun and Venus eclipsed the Pleiades, is erroneous.

Striking a bell with chopsticks and beating a drum with counting-slips, one cannot bring them to sound, because the sticks used to beat them are too small. Now, the human body does not measure more than seven feet, and with the spirit within these seven feet one hopes to bring about something. The energy may be concentrated ever so much, it is still like striking a bell with chopsticks or beating a drum with counting-slips ; how can it move Heaven ? The mind may be quite in earnest, but the implements employed to cause a motion are insufficient.

The intention to injure being directed against men, these are not affected by it, and Heaven should be ? Man’s evil designs should be able to operate on Heaven ? No, that is impossible.

When Yü Jang was about to kill the viscount Hsiang of Chao, Hsiang’s heart palpitated, and when Kuan Kao was planning his rebellion against Han Kao Tsu, the heart of the latter felt an emotion likewise 1. The two men thus harbouring their designs, the two lords became agitated.

I reply that, when a calamitous change is at hand, strange signs spontaneously appear about the persons threatened, and are p2.176 not their own work. My reason is this : Sometimes we meet lunatics on the road who with a weapon hurt themselves, without having the intention to injure their own bodies, but, before this, their bodies have already been conspicuous by miraculous signs. From this I infer that miracles are symptoms of calamitous changes and spontaneous disasters, and not the result of suicidal designs.

Furthermore an unlucky man divining by shells, will receive a bad omen, and appealing to straws, he will fall in with an unpropitious diagram. Going out, he sees inauspicious things. His forecasts point to dangers, and he beholds a calamitous fluid, which shows itself in the face, as the white halo and Venus appear in heaven. Phenomenal changes appear in heaven, whereas prognostics become visible in man. Above and below are in accord and spontaneously respond to one another.


It has been chronicled that, when Tan, the heir-prince of Yen, paid a call at the court of Ch‘in, he was not allowed to go home again. He asked of the king of Ch‘in permission to return, but the king detained him and said with an oath,

— In case the sun reverts to the meridian, Heaven rains grain, crows get white heads and horses horns, and the wooden elephants on the kitchen door get legs of flesh, then you may return.

At that time Heaven and Earth conferred upon him their special favour : the sun returned to the meridian, Heaven rained grain, the crows got white crowns and the horses horns, and the legs of the wooden elephants on the kitchen door grew fleshy. The king of Ch‘in took him for a Sage and let him off 2. — This narrative is fictitious.

Who was this prince of Yen, Tan, that he could thus influence Heaven ? Sages imprisoned have not been able to move Heaven. Prince Tan was but a worthy, how could he have carried this out ? If Heaven favoured him and produced all those wonders with a view to his deliverance, it might as well have appeased the feelings of the king of Ch‘in, in order to remove all the prince’s hardships. His captivity was one matter only and easy to deal with, whereas the miracles were five rather difficult things. Why did Heaven omit the easy matter and do the five difficult things ? Did it not fear the trouble ?

T‘ang was confined in Hsia-t‘ai and Wên Wang in Yu-li 1, and Confucius was in great straits between Ch‘ên and T‘sai. During the p2.177 captivity of the three Sages, Heaven could not help them, causing their tormentors to see the blessings sent down upon them, understand their sagehood, and dismiss them with high honours.

Some one may object that those three Sages bear no relation to the three oaths. Their hearts were desireless, consequently there was no reason for the manifestation of omens of celestial protection. Heaven helps man, as one lends a utensil to somebody : unless he asks for it, one does not give it.

I reply that, when the heir-prince was desiring that Heaven might send an omen, no words were spoken, it being merely the wish of his heart. When T‘ang was imprisoned in Hsia-t’ai, and Wên Wang detained in Yu-li, their hearts were likewise yearning for a release, and Confucius, distressed between Ch‘ên and T‘sai, was craving after food. Wherefore did Heaven not let the locks of the gates in Hsia-t‘ai and Yu-li be spoiled, that T‘ang and Wên Wang could make their escape, or rain grain in Ch‘ên and T‘sai for Confucius, to appease his appetite ?

The Grand Annalist remarks,

« People say of prince Tan that he induced Heaven to rain grain and make the horses grow horns. All this is most likely idle talk 2.

The Grand Annalist is a man who writes the truth about the Han time. His expression ‘idle talk’ is all but synonymous with untrue.


We learn from historical books that the wife of Ch‘i Liang cried, turned towards the city wall, which collapsed in consequence. This intimates that on Ch‘i Liang not returning from a military expedition, his wife, in her despair, cried in the direction of the city-wall, and so heart-felt were her sorrow and her laments, that her feeling affected the wall, which tumbled down in consequence 1. That the woman cried, turned towards the wall, may be true, but the subsequent collapse of the city-wall is an invention.

There has never been a man whose tears and cries were more pathetic than those of Yung Mên Tse. When he cried in the presence p2.178 of Mêng Ch‘ang Chün 2, the latter choked with emotion 3. By the sincerity of grief those present are moved to sympathy. Now, Yung Mên Tse could touch the heart of Mêng Ch‘ang Chün, but not affect his dress, for garments are insensible of pity and proof against human feelings. The city-wall is of earth, and earth, like cloth. Being devoid of a heart and intestines, how could it be moved by sobs and tears and fall down ? Should the sounds of genuine grief be apt to affect the earth of a wall, then complaints uttered among the trees of a forest, would tear the plants and break the trunks.

If somebody should weep, when turned towards a water or a fire, would the water boil up, or the fire go out ? Plants, trees, water, and fire do not differ from earth, it is plain therefore that the wife of Ch‘i Liang could not be answerable for the délabrement of the wall.

Perhaps the wall was just going to tumble down of itself, when the wife of Ch‘i Liang happened to cry below. The world is partial to fictions and does not investigate the true cause of things, consequently this story of the down-fall of the city-wall has, up till now, not faded from memory.


The histories record that Tsou Yen was confined in Yen, though he was innocent. In the fifth month of summer he looked up to Heaven, heaving a sigh, whereupon Heaven sent down a shower of hoar-frost 4. This is on a level with the wife of Ch‘i Liang’s subverting a city-wall by her wails. The statement that he was kept in jail without any guilt, and that in summer he sighed, looking up to Heaven, is true, but the assertion as to Heaven raining frost, a mere invention.

Ten thousand persons raising their voices and emitting their moans and sighs simultaneously still fail to touch Heaven, how then could Tsou Yen, one single individual, by his passionate sighs over his ill-treatment call the hoar-frost down ? His wrongs were not worse than those of Tsêng Tse and Po Ch‘i. Tsêng Tse being suspected, hummed 5, and Po Ch‘i, on being banished, sang. Suspicion p2.179 and imprisonment are alike 6, and humming and singing are similar to sighing. Tsêng Tse and Po Ch‘i were unable to attract cold ; who was Tsou Yen, that he alone could make the frost fall ?

Banishment is perhaps not yet sufficiently painful to be taken into consideration, but Shên Shêng 1 fell upon his sword, and Wu Tse Hsü had to cut his own throat 2. The one being exceedingly dutiful to his father, was doomed to die, and the other, the most loyal subject, had to suffer capital punishment. When they were near their end, they doubtless made complaints, and these complaints are nothing else than the sighs of Tsou Yen towards Heaven. If Heaven felt no sympathy for these two men, being moved only by Tsou Yen, his captivity must have given it great pain, whereas it did not commiserate the blood-shed. The innocent suffering of Po Ch‘i was of the same sort, but it had not the same effect on Heaven.

Provided you light a candle and try to heat a cauldron full of water with it, then, after a whole day, it will not yet be hot. Or take a lump of ice, a foot thick, and place it into the kitchen : after a whole night the room will not yet have become cooled. The reason is that small and tiny things cannot affect big and huge ones. Now the sighs of Tsou Yen were but like a candle or a lump of ice, and the grandeur of majestic Heaven is not merely on a par with that of a water kettle or a kitchen.

How easy is it to move Heaven, and how easily does hoar-frost descend, if a sigh towards Heaven suffices to cause a fall of frost ! Pain is to be compared with pleasure, and joy is the counterpart of anger. Provided that, by the expression of his sorrow, Tsou Yen prompted Heaven to send frost down, would he be able to make Heaven warm in winter time, if, on receiving an unexpected kindness, he laughed to it ?

The phenomenalists contend that, when a ruler rewards in autumn, the weather becomes warm, and, when he punishes in summer, it turns cold. But unless coldness is joined with the proper season, frost does not descend, and unless warmth comes together with the proper days, ice does not melt. How easy would be the change of temperature and how facile a revolution of the p2.180 seasons, if, upon one man in his distress giving one sigh, Heaven did at once send frost. Heat and cold have their natural periods, which does not agree with the view of the phenomenalists.

If we argue on their lines, perhaps the king of Yen enjoyed inflicting punishments, consequently cold weather had to set in. Then Tsou Yen sighed in jail, and at that very moment hoar-frost chanced to come down of itself. But the people remarking that frost just happened to fall, when he sighed, took it for the effect of Tsou Yen’s sighing.


Historical works report that, when the music-master K‘uang played the air ‘White snow’, wonderful creatures descended, and a storm with rain broke loose. Duke P‘ing began to pine away henceforward, and the Chin State became parched up and barren. Another version is that, when K‘uang first played a tune in A major, clouds rose in the north-west. When he played again, a tempest came, accompanied by torrents of rain. The tents were rent to pieces, the plates and dishes smashed, and the tiles of the verandah hurled down. The guests fled in all directions, and Duke P‘ing was so frightened, that he fell down under the porches. The Chin State was then visited with a great drought. For three years the soil was scorched up. The duke’s body began to pine away thereafter 1.

‘White snow’ and A major are perhaps only different names for the same melody, for the misfortune and havoc wrought was in both cases identical. The chroniclers have recorded it as genuine, and ordinary people reading it, have reposed confidence in this narrative. But he who tests its authenticity, must become aware that it is illusive.

What manner of a tune is A major to bring about such a result ? A major is the sound of ‘wood’, accordingly it causes wind, and if wood makes wind, rain comes along with it 2. How does a piece of wood three feet long 3 and the sound of some chords possess the wonderful faculty of affecting Heaven and Earth ? p2.181 That would be like the délabrement of the city wall by tears, or the fall of frost through a sigh.

The ability of the music-master K‘uang to thrum A major must have been acquired and cannot have been an innate faculty. When he first studied it, he practised night and day and not only once or twice. Provided that what the chronicles relate be true, then, when the music-master was studying A major, wind and rain ought to have set in.

Some books narrate that, while Hu Pa 4 was playing the lute, the fish in the ponds came out to listen 5, and when the music-master K‘uang was touching the guitar, the six kinds of horses looked up from their fodder 6. According to another version about K‘uang’s performing in A major, when he played the first part, two times eight black cranes came from the south, and alighted on the top of the exterior gate. When he played again, they formed themselves into rows, and when he played the third part, they began crowing, stretching their necks and dancing, flapping their wings. The notes F and G were struck with the greatest precision, and their sound rose to heaven. Duke P‘ing was enraptured, and all the guests were enchanted 1.

The Shuking says,

« [I smite the music-stone, I strike the stone, and the various animals begin dancing together.] 2

This we can believe in spite of its strangeness, for birds and beasts are partial to sentimental music, and their ears are like the human. Seeing man desirous of eating something, they likewise wish to have it, and why should they not be jubilant, on hearing him rejoicing ? That the fish listened, the horses looked up, the black cranes stretched their necks, and the various animals began dancing, are facts therefore, but that wind and rain set in, and that the Chin State was visited with a great drought, that its soil was scorched up for three years, and Duke P‘ing pined away, is most likely fictitious.

p2.182 Perchance, when A major was struck, it happened to blow and to rain, and, after this shower, the Chin State met with a drought. Duke P‘ing being too fond of music and immoderately indulging in fun and frolic, accidentally was afflicted with marasmus. Consequently the writers put faith in the story, and the people witnessing all these circumstances, believed in it. Yet, as a matter of fact, the musical sounds cannot be productive of such a result, which we prove as follows : When wind and rain set in with great vehemence, there is a confusion of the Yin and the Yang. If music can confound them, it must also be able to set them in order. For what reason, then, do the rulers rectify their persons, improve their conduct, and far and wide exhibit their righteous administration ? Provided it suffices to play a song adjusting the Yin and the Yang, then harmony comes of itself, and universal peace of its own accord.

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