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

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It is being reported that, after T‘ang had been afflicted with a drought for seven years, he prayed personally in a mulberry grove, impeaching himself with the Six Crimes, when Heaven sent down rain. Some speak of five years. The prayer was couched in these terms :

— If I alone am guilty, may my guilt not affect the ten thousand people, and if the guilt be theirs, may it fall on me alone.

Since, because of one man’s folly, Heaven employed God and the spirits 3 to injure people’s lives, T‘ang cut his hair and bound his hands, offering himself as a victim. In such a way he begged happiness of God, who was so pleased, that rain fell at once 4. — That T‘ang personally prayed in the mulberry grove, and his self-indictment was as mentioned, that he cut his hair and bound his hands, thus offering himself as a victim, and that he implored God, all this is true, but the statement that the rainfall was owing to T‘ang’s self-impeachment and personal supplication seems to be a fallacy.

[Confucius being very sick, Tse Lu asked leave to pray for him. He said,

— May such a thing be done ?

Tse Lu replied,

— It may. In the Eulogies it is said, ‘Prayer has been made for thee to the spirits of the upper and lower worlds’.

The Master said,

— It is a long time, since I prayed.] 1

p2.183 The Sage rectified himself and regulated his conduct, and the days when he used to pray were long gone. Heaven and Earth and the spirits knew him to be faultless, hence he could say that it was a long time since he prayed.

We read in the Yiking,

[« The great man equals Heaven and Earth in virtue, the sun and the moon in brightness, the four seasons in regularity, and the ghosts and spirits in happiness and misfortune.] 2

That means to say that a sage displays his virtue in the same manner as Heaven and Earth or ghosts and spirits. Should prayer be required to secure happiness, this would not be the same. T‘ang as well as Confucius were sages, and the time when they were wont to pray had long passed. Confucius would not have Tse Lu pray to cure his disease, — how then could T‘ang obtain rain through prayer ? In spite of Confucius’ regular prayers, he was taken seriously ill. T‘ang would likewise pray, and yet years of great drought ensued.

Inundations and droughts of Heaven and Earth are like human maladies. A serious ailment cannot be expelled by self-indictment, and so it is plain that floods and droughts are not to be removed by prayers and penitence. Had T‘ang caused the drought by his faults, he would not have equalled Heaven and Earth in virtue 3, and unless he had caused the drought by his guilt, his self-accusation and craving for mercy was likewise of no use.

Man’s bodily frame measures but seven feet, and within this frame there reside the Five Virtues and eventually consumption. Yet though fixing all the guilt upon one’s self, one cannot cure it. Now fancy immense Heaven 1 ! If at the time of a natural calamity, like a flood or a drought, T‘ang with his body of seven feet and his earnest purpose residing in it had impeached himself and prayed for mercy, how could he have obtained rain ?

When a man stands on the top of a high building of many stories, and another below prostrates himself and asks for something on the building, the one on the top hearing his words may, out of compassion, grant his request. In case, however, he does not understand what the other says, the latter never obtains his end p2.184 in spite of the greatest sincerity of his feelings. Now the distance from Heaven to man is not only like the height of a storied building. How could Heaven, although T‘ang took the responsibility upon himself, become aware of it and send him the rain ?

A drought is a phenomenon of heat, as an inundation is an exceptional state of the water. The Great Flood which Yao encountered may well be termed an inundation. Still Yao did not impeach himself or personally offer prayers. The flood was to be regulated by Shun and Yü, and he knew that such a state of water required regulation. An inundation is not removed by prayers, and a drought must be treated in the same way. Consequently the prayers of T‘ang could not bring down the rain.

Perhaps the drought had been lasting for a long time, when rain fell of itself, and T‘ang likewise just happened to lay the long duration of the drought to his charge. The people of that period, observing the fall of rain just consequent upon T‘ang’s self-indictment, then considered that T‘ang had obtained the rain by his invocations.


Some books relate that, [when T‘sang Hsieh invented the art of writing, Heaven rained grain, and the ghosts cried during the night] 2. This signifies that, when writing was invented, by degrees disorder broke out, whence the supernatural apparitions : Heaven raining grain, and the ghosts crying. What they say about Heaven raining grain and the ghosts crying during the night is true, but the affirmation that this was in response to T‘sang Hsiehs invention of writing, is wrong.

The Plan put forth by the Yellow River and the Scroll emerging from the Lo 3 were lucky auguries for sage emperors and enlightened kings. There is no difference between the signs of the Plan and the Scroll and those characters, which were invented by T‘sang Hsieh. Heaven and Earth produced the Plan and the Scroll, while T‘sang Hsieh invented the written characters. His proceeding was like that of Heaven and Earth, and his idea agreeing with that of ghosts and spirits. What wrong was there and what evil to cause such prodigies as the raining of grain and the weeping of ghosts ? If Heaven and Earth and the spirits resented that man had written books, then their production of the Plan and the Scroll was p2.185 unjustifiable, if, on the other hand, Heaven did not grudge mankind the possession of writing, what wrong was there in its invention to lead to such monstrosities ?

Perhaps Ts‘ang Hsieh just happened to make his invention, when Heaven rained grain, and the ghosts chanced to weep during the night. The raining of grain as well as the laments of the spirits had their cause, but people seeing them take place as if in response to the invention, imagined that the writing had produced these revolutionary signs, and that they were occasioned by the event. A propos of the raining of grain the critics claim that it fell down from Heaven as the product of an extraordinary phenomenon, but, if our discussion starts from clouds and rain, this phenomenon cannot be deemed supernatural for the following reason :

The rain from clouds originates on hills and mountains. Descending and spreading, these clouds become rain. Beholding it falling down from above, people are under the impression that it is Heaven which rains water. On a summer day, rain is water, whereas in winter, when Heaven is cold, it freezes and turns into snow. Under all circumstances, it comes from cloudy vapours on hills and mountains, and it is evident that it cannot descend and gather on earth from heaven above 1.

When it rains grain, the clouds likewise scatter it, and it also rises from the earth. Having been carried away by a strong wind and blown up to heaven, it falls down again to the earth. Noticing its descent from heaven, people then speak of Heaven raining grain.

In the 31st year of Chien-wu 2, it rained grain at Ch‘ên-liu 3, and the grain descending covered the ground. Upon examining the shape of the grain, they found it to be like tribulus, but black, and it bore resemblance to the grains of panic grass. Perhaps this grain had grown in the country of the I and Ti. These tribes not eating corn, this grain had grown in the country and, when ripe, had perhaps fallen upon the ground. Meeting with a strong gale, it had been hurriedly carried off, blown away and flying along with the wind, until, the wind subsiding, it had alighted and descended in China. The Chinese becoming aware of it, then spoke of the raining of grain. My reasons are the following :

p2.186 When a wild-fire burns the hills and marshes, the leaves of plants and trees in them are all reduced to ashes, which, carried away by a gale, are blown aloft as high as heaven, but, when the wind relaxes, these leaves come down upon the roads. Now the grain from heaven is like the burned leaves of plants and trees, which fly about and fall down, but people regard it as rain, and the authors look upon it as a wonderful prodigy.

Heaven confines itself to emitting its fluid, whereas Earth governs the growing of things. All plants with leaves and eatable fruit are a produce of Earth, and not made by Heaven. Now, grain is not produced by the fluid and requires earth for its development. Although they call it a miracle, miracles are bound to certain species. Provided that things growing from the earth could conversely descend from heaven, could celestial things likewise issue from the earth ? The productions of Earth are like the stars of Heaven. The stars do not change their nature and grow from Earth, why then should grain alone grow from Heaven ?


Some books contain a notice that, [when Po Yi 1 made a well, a dragon mounted a black cloud, and the spirits alighted on the K‘un-lun2. This means to say that the dragon was injured by the well, which was the reason of the phenomenon of the dragon and the spirits.

The allegation that the dragon mounted a black cloud is trustworthy, but the remark concerning the spirits alighting on Mount K‘un-lun, and ascribing the rise of the dragon and the flight of the spirits to the building of a well, is unreliable.

Wells are made for the purpose of drinking, and fields are planted for the sake of food, which amounts to the same. If Po Yi, by making a well, caused such extraordinary events, why do such phenomena not appear, when the soil is first tilled ?

Shên Nung 3 shaped a crooked stick into a plough, and taught people how to till. Then they first began eating grain, and grain was first sown. The tilled ground becomes a field, and a dug out hole, a well. From the well comes water to slake the thirst, and on the field grows grain to appease the hunger. Heaven and Earth, p2.187 ghosts and spirits are all agreed on this. Wherefore then does the dragon rise on a black cloud, and the spirits alight on the K‘un-lun ? The mounting of a dragon on a black cloud has happened in olden as well as modern times, and it did not only commence to do so when Po Yi dug his well.

At present, in midsummer, when thunder and rain appear simultaneously, dragons frequently rise on clouds. There being a certain relation between clouds and dragons, the dragon rides on clouds and rain 1. Things of the same class attract one another, but there is no purpose in this.

In Yao’s time a man of fifty was beating clods of earth on the road. An observer remarked,

— Grand indeed is the virtue of Yao !

The man who was playing with earth, replied,

— At sunrise I begin my work, and at sunset I take my rest. I dig a well to drink, and labour my field to eat. What sort of energy does Yao display ? 2

Accordingly, in Yao’s time, wells must have been known.

Under the reign of Yao and Shun, dragons were reared and domesticated and always kept at court. When towards the end of the Hsia dynasty, the government degenerated, the dragons concealed themselves 3, and it was not only when Po Yi had dug his well, that they rose on clouds.

And who are those spirits that are mentioned ? It must be the hundred spirits 4. For what reason should these hundred spirits resent so much that men made wells ? If the spirits are similar to men, they must also have a desire to drink, and, with such a craving, to detest wells and run away would be self-contradictory. Even if Po Yi had not dug the well, the dragon would not have mounted a cloud on account of the digging of some well, nor would the spirits have alighted on the K‘un-lun for that reason. This is a misconception of some writers and of their invention.


There is a report that Mount Liang 5 collapsed and blocked a river, which for three days did not flow. The prince of Chin was very much distressed, Po Tsung 6, following the counsel of a p2.188 carriage-driver, bade Duke Ching dress in plain white silk and bewail the extraordinary case. Upon this the water of the river came back 7.

This is preposterous. A mountain tumbling down and blocking a river is like a tumor caused by an abscess, which prevents the circulation of the blood. Could such a tumor be cured by putting on white clothes and crying ?

In Yao’s time the Great Flood was surging up to the sky, encircling mountains and overtopping hills 1. The emperor Yao sighed and was anxious to find some clever helpmate. The waters were worse than the blocking of a river, and Yao’s sorrow deeper than that of Duke Ching, but we have not heard that, by dressing in white silk and giving vent to his grief, he could overcome the water. Had Yao no device of some able man like the carriage-driver ?

It is impossible to remove a cataclysm like the Great Flood by such means as sounds and dresses. White silk and tears are tantamount to repentance and self-indictment. Yao and regulating the waters did it by means of personal labour, and not by self-reproaches.

Mount Liang was a mountain in Yao’s time 2, and the river that was blocked was a river of the same period. Both catastrophes, the falling mountain blocking the river as well as the rain from heaven and the rise of the water, were not different, but Yao and regulated the water by personal work, whereas the carriage-driver had recourse to self-accusation, to put the blocked river in order. The catastrophes were similar, but the measures taken, different ; the people were alike, but their methods inconsistent.

The true system of the wise and the phenomenalists is otherwise, I should say. According to their principles, such categories must be called into play as can affect one another, e. g. if there be cold, the former state may be restored by warmth, and warmth may again be dispelled by cold. Thus with dragons they attract rain, and by punishments expel heat 3. In all these instances the p2.189 fluids of the Five Elements are set in motion, which either affect or overcome each other 4. What have white silk and crying over a blocked river to do with these principles ?

Perhaps, when the river was dammed and the mountain collapsed, first the earth was heaped up, and the water was not strong enough to break through. Three days later, the water had increased, so that the earth was dispersed, and the obstruction destroyed. After the removal of the obstruction, the current set in again and began flowing eastwards. At the suggestion of Po Tsung who listened to the carriage-driver, the duke dressed in white silk and cried, whereupon the water commenced running again. Upon this they contended that the extraordinary deviation of the river was adjusted by these measures. As a matter of fact this is wrong, but how can we know ?

If the collapse of the mountain was something natural, white silk and tears were of no advantage, and if it was a divine calamity in response to some acts, then the government and the administration ought to have been changed. Were silk and tears in any way connected with a change of government, that they might remove a divine calamity ?


In some books we find the following narrative : The filial piety of Tsêng Tse was such, that a peculiar sympathy existed between him and his mother. Once, when Tsêng Tse had gone out to gather fuel in the country, a guest arrived and wanted to leave again. Tsêng Tse’s mother told him to remain, since her son would soon be back, and with her right hand she squeezed her left arm 1. Tsêng Tse at once felt a pain in his left arm, and forthwith he came back to his mother, and asked of her the reason why his arm had pained him. His mother replied,

— To-day a guest arrived and wanted to go away. I squeezed my arm, in order to call you 2.

For extreme piety leads to a spiritual communication with father and mother, and a sickness of the body directly affects the spirit.

This is a mistake, I dare say. Since great filial piety and brotherly love evidently make an impression upon the spirits, one p2.190 says that the effects of virtue extend to Heaven and Earth. From this common people infer that extreme piety and love move the soul. If the pain in the arm of Tsêng Tse’s mother was likewise felt in his arm, was Tsêng Tse also sick, when his mother was taken ill, or did he die at once, when his mother expired ? We learn from history that, when Tsêng Tse’s mother died first, he did not follow her. This shows that the spirit may be moved in a minor degree, but that it cannot be affected to any great extent.

People say that, during the night, Shên Hsi 3 heard his mother sing. His heart being touched, he opened the door to inquire who was the singer, and it appeared that it was his mother. Hearing his mother’s voice, the sound affected him. His heart was agitated, and his mind roused, so that he opened the door to inquire. That may be true. Now the mother of Tsêng Tse was in the house, while her son was in the country and could not hear her calls. How could a little pinching of the arm on the part of his mother affect the son ? Methinks people have embellished the facts. Hearing that as a dutiful son Tsêng Tse had not his peer on earth, they invented the story of his mother squeezing her arm.


People say that Cho 1 of Nan-yang 2 following Hou’s counsel, the locusts did not enter his territory. Owing to his extraordinary wisdom, the calamitous insects did not infest his country 3. This also is a fallacy. Great wisdom may make itself felt upon creatures of a similar kind, which are able to understand the character of one of their kindred, and afterwards feel a certain respect for him. Locusts belong to the class of mosquitoes and p2.191 gadflies 4. What do they hear, and what do they know to become aware of Cho’s proceedings ? Provided that a wise man lived in the country, far away in the interior, would mosquitoes and gadflies not enter his cottage ? They would not shun the hut of a sage, wherefore then should the locusts keep aloof from Cho’s territory ?

If they say that the calamity of locusts has nothing in common with mosquitoes and gadflies, they will admit at least that heat and cold can also prove calamities. Now, in case cold prevails throughout a circuit, and that in one of its districts there lives a wise man, could the area of this one district alone remain warm ? Heat and cold do not recoil from the district of a wise man, why then should the locusts not enter the territory of Cho ?

Consequently it was merely by chance that the locusts did not ravage his country. The fame of Cho’s wisdom being in every mouth, people conceived the idea that he could avert locusts.

When locusts appear in the country, they cannot go everywhere nor completely cover the ground. At their gatherings they are more numerous in some places, and in others less. If their swarms are concentrated upon one place, it is not necessary that robber Chê should dwell there, nor is the country which they spare inhabited by Po Yi 5. They alight or pass in greater or smaller numbers, and do not completely cover everything. As in falling down upon a place, they are many or few, so in passing a district, they either remain or leave again. From their number no conclusion can be drawn as to goodness or badness ; how then should their appearance or non-appearance be a criterion of a man’s wisdom ? Hence it is plain that, when locusts pass of their own accord, we have no right to say that they do not come into the territory of a wise man.



Praise of the Han Dynasty

57. XIX, I. Hsüan Han


p2.192 The Literati contend that the Five Emperors and the Three Rulers brought the empire the blessings of universal peace, and that since the accession of the Han dynasty there has not yet been general peace. By saying that the Five Emperors and Three Rulers brought about a time of uninterrupted tranquillity, and that the Han have not yet enjoyed such a state, they imply that the Five Emperors and Three Rulers were sages, for only the virtue of sages can have such an effect, and the allegation that the Han have not had such a peaceful time means to say that there were no sage emperors, because the influence of worthies is not sufficient 1.

Furthermore, they remember the words of Confucius saying :

— The phœnix does not come ; the River sends forth no Plan : it is all over with me ! 2

At present, we have no phœnix and no Plan of the River, and numerous are the omens that persist in not coming. Wherefore they say that we are not living in a period of general peace. This view is preposterous.

Universal peace manifests itself by the establishment of government, when the people respond, by being cheerful and at case. Confucius teaches that one renders the people happy by cultivating one’s own self 3. The fact that Yao and Shun were toiling for the welfare of their people proves that at that time there was universal peace. For governing others the individual must be the starting point. The people being at ease, the Yin and the Yang are in harmony, and when they harmonize all things grow and develop ; such being the case, strange omens come forth. How about our empire ? Is it at ease or in jeopardy ?

Being at ease, it is at peace, and then even the absence of omens would not be hurtful to the peaceful state. The style of government becomes manifest from its institutions and appears from the real state of affairs. When these manifestations are not visible the true conditions cannot be ascertained. Sometimes all may be p2.193 in perfect order, but there are no witnesses to prove it. Therefore, as regards the principles of government, provided that its institutions be true and real, it is not requisite that they should all be manifest. A wise ruler in his administration aims at universal peace, and it is not indispensable that there should be corresponding omens.

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