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

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Doomed Ch‘in was perverse, and brought confusion into the Classics, but, in spite of this perversity, it did not burn the works of the various schools of thought. The books of the various philosophers, one foot in length, and their lucubrations are all in existence. By studying them, we may correct the statements made by others, and select passages for the instruction of the descendants of those writers. The descendants will write again as their forefathers have done. They are equally learned, and may commit their knowledge to writing. The thoughts, thus expressed, may be as far reaching as those of the Classics ; why then pretend that this sort of writings misses the truth inherent in the Classics ? Ergo the Classics are defective and incomplete. These writings are not short of one book, whereas in the Classics many chapters are wanting. Contrasting these two kinds of writings, which have more the character of filings ?

p2.239 The Changes take up the signs of things, the Odes are collected among the people, and then divided into chapters, the Music requires melancholy feelings 3, and the Rites suppose a people living at peace. This subject matter must be there, before the chapters and sections of the Four Classics can be formed. The Shuking and the ‘Spring and Autumn’ are culled from the State annals. These annals being extant, no extraordinary writings are required, for they embody the affairs of the people. These are the sources necessary for writing the Six Classics. Consequently, ordinary books may also be the beginning 1, and the Classics the end, and the end may have lost the truth, whereas at the beginning the genuine principles are still preserved. If we compare these two kinds of writings, which are the splinters of jewels ?

Standing under the eaves, one knows that a house is leaking, in the wilderness one knows that the administration is deficient, and from the works of the various philosophers one learns that the Classics are full of mistakes. The text of the works of the philosophers is clear and to the point 2. Those discoursing on the paragraphs and clauses of the Classics, do not attempt to explain and carefully to investigate them. One teacher hands them down to another. Those who first fixed the paragraphs and clauses cannot have had a very extensive sphere of ideas.



Falsehoods in Books

16. IV, I. Shu-hsü


p2.240 The world trusts in delusive books, taking everything indited on bamboo and silk for the records of wise and sage men and for absolutely true. In this belief they uphold, hum, and read them. When they see that really true records disagree with these fallacious books, they regard those records as light literature unworthy of faith. Recondite truth can still be found out, and profound or abstruse meanings, be determined. By explaining the words and elucidating the text, right and wrong are easily discovered. When all is recorded indiscriminately, the authors do not investigate things ; they are not critical enough, and do not think of what they say.

Those who transmit the sayings of scholars, mostly wish to produce something wonderful and unprecedented. They will write a book which causes ordinary readers to stand aghast and stare in blank amazement, and compose a work unheard of, to win the name of an uncommonly clever writer.

There is the following narrative :

When Chi Tse 1 of Yen-ling 2 was once travelling, he saw a piece of gold left on the roadside. It was the fifth month of summer, and there was a man who had put on a fur-coat and was gathering fuel 3. Chi Tse shouted for the fuel-gatherer to fetch him the gold on the ground 4.

The gatherer dropped his sickle, stared at him, and clapping his hands exclaimed,

— How haughty you are, and how you look down upon others ! Your outward appearance is that of a p2.241 gentleman, but you talk like a ruffian. Now, in the fifth month of summer I have donned my fur to gather fuel. Why should I take up gold ? 5

Chi Tse apologised and inquired after his name and style, but the fuel-gatherer replied,

— You are a student who of human features knows nothing more than the skin. How could I tell you my name and surname ?,

and he took no further notice of him.

The world believes in the truth of this story, but it is idle talk, I dare say. Chi Tse was apprehensive of a revolution in Wu, because its people would have him become their lord. He would not consent, on any account, and proceeded to Yen-ling, never to return. His unselfishness remained the same from first to last.

Hsü Yu 1 yielded the empire, and he did not long for a marquisate. Po Yi turned his back upon his country, and died of hunger. He did not covet a crooked blade 2. In the matter of disinterestedness we may draw an inference from great acts upon small ones, but should not surmise great ones from small ones.

Chi Tse was able to resign the throne of Wu, — how should he be covetous of gold lying on the ground ? When Chi Tse went on a mission to a powerful State, on his way he passed through Hsü. The prince of Hsü was fond of his sword, but at that time he did not yet give it him. On his return, the prince of Hsü was no more. Then he unbuckled his sword, suspended it on a tree over the grave, and went away. In his unselfishness he would not become unfaithful to his former intention 3. How then should Chi Tse, who remained faithful to a deceased person and parted with his sword, out of greed call out to a living man to fetch the gold on the ground ?

Before Chi Tse had left Wu, he was a prince, and after he had left it, he was the sovereign of Yen-ling. When a prince or a sovereign goes out, he has his retinue in front and in the rear, and carriages are following. It is plain that he cannot walk quite alone on the highway. If he was not ashamed of taking the gold, p2.242 why did he not order his attendants to fetch it rather than to call upon the man in the furcoat ?

In regard to Liu Hsia Hui’s behaviour, people say that even left in the dark and unseen, he would still continue his purification. The virtuous have the same conduct, and for a thousand years maintain the same ideals. Confined to a dark place, Chi Tse would still refrain from taking gold — how much less would he appropriate it on the road in bright daylight, and in the presence of all his men. That would not be like Chi Tse.

Perhaps it was thus that Chi Tse, seeing the gold lying about, out of pity for the fuel-gatherer in the fur, desired to help him with it, or at the time when he bade him take up the gold on the ground, he wished to give it him, and did not want it for himself, and then all the common traditions stated that Chi Tse wanted the gold.


The books contain another report namely that Yen Yuan and Confucius both ascended Mount T‘ai in Lu. Confucius, looking out to the south-east, saw that outside the palace gate of Wu a white horse was attached. He pointed it out to Yen Yuan, asking him whether he perceived the palace-gate of Wu 1. Yen Yuan having replied in the affirmative, Confucius said,

— And what is outside the gate ?

The other rejoined,

— Something looking like suspended silk.

Confucius rubbed his eyes and corrected his error. Then both descended together. Afterwards the hair of Yen Yuan turned white, his teeth fell out, and, subsequently, he died of sickness 2. His spirit was not on a par with that of Confucius. Having overstrained his strength, all his brightness and vitality was consumed, therefore he died early. All common people who have heard of this, believe it, if, however, we go into the matter, we discover its futility.

In the text of the Analects there is no mention of this, neither have the Six Classics recorded it. If Yen Yuan was able to see farther than one thousand Li, he would have been equal to the Sage — wherefore then were Confucius and all the other scholars silent upon this ?

p2.243 The human eye can only see as far as ten Li, beyond this limit it does not perceive anything. The cause of this inability to distinguish is the distance. It is on record that Mount T‘ai is of imposing height, but that at a distance of a hundred Li it does not appear as big as a snail, owing to the distance.

Between Lu and Wu the distance is over a thousand Li. If Li Chu 3 looked out for Wu, he would not perceive anything, and Yen Yuan should be able to distinguish it ? Provided that his talents were nearly perfect, and his sight different from that of other people, then the world ought to praise him as a second sage, instead of speaking of Li Chu.

The sight of the human eye is such, that big things are easily distinguished, whereas small ones are perceived with difficulty. Were Yen Yuan placed outside the palace-gate of Wu and turning his looks upon the shape of the T‘ai-shan, it would be quite impossible for him to descry it, and it is still much more evident that viewed from the top of the T‘ai-shan, the colour of the white horse would remain invisible to him. Not only could Yen Yuan not see it, even Confucius would be incapable of seeing it. How can we establish this proposition ?

The faculties of the ear and the eye are similar. As it is not possible to command a view of a hundred Li, so the ear cannot hear so far either. Lu Chia says that, notwithstanding his keen sight, Li Lou 1 could not discern what was behind a curtain, and that the music-master K‘uang, in spite of his keenness of hearing, could not hear beyond a hundred Li. The space between the palace-gate and Mount T‘ai is more difficult to overlook than what lies behind a screen, or beyond a hundred Li.

King Wu of Ch‘in conjointly with Mêng Yüeh lifted a tripod, which proved too heavy for him, for he burst a blood-vessel and died 2. Lifting a tripod requires force, which issues from muscles and arteries. If these cannot stand the effort, they break, and death ensues. That is the natural course. Now Yen Yuan used his eyes to look to a great distance. Provided that the pupils of his eyes were unable to bear the strain, then he should have become blind, but the discolouring of his hair, and the loss of his teeth could not have been the consequence.

p2.244 The hair may turn white, and the teeth fall out in consequence of excessive study. If all the forces are strained without ceasing, the vital energy is exhausted, and this may lead to death.

Po Ch‘i was deported, and his hair soon became white. We read in the Shiking that [by constant grief one becomes old] 3. Po Ch‘i thus tortured his mind, but Yen Yuan used his eyes and suddenly cast a glance at something for a moment. How could this have such a result ?


The books of the Literati state that Shun was buried in Ts‘ang-wu 4, and in Kwei-chi 5. On their tours of inspection they had become old, and died, on their journey, in the border land. As sages they regarded the whole world as their home, and did not draw a distinction between far and near, or make a difference between inside and outside. Accordingly they where interred at the place where they just halted.

To speak of Shun and is right, but what they say about their progress, imaginary : Shun and Yao were both emperors reigning over a territory of 5 000 Li, which was situated between the Four Seas. The mode of government of the two emperors was continued uninterruptedly, and no change took place. According to the Yao-tien 1, Shun, on his progress, went eastward as far as the T‘ai-Tsung 2, southward to Mount Ho, westward to the T‘ai-hua, and northward to the Hêng-shan 3. These were considered to be the Four Sacred Mountains. In the sphere within these four frontiers the feudal lords came and assembled at the foot of the sacred mountains. From far and near, and from the remotest out-of-the-way places they made their appearance 4. Whatever the Sage undertook, he sought their welfare.

p2.245 was a ruler like Shun, and things did not change. The places which he visited, on his inspections, were those where Shun had been. That Shun went to Ts‘ang-wu, and arrived at Kuei-chi, cannot be true 5.

It is a fact that at the time of Shun and Yü, the Great Flood had not yet been regulated. Yao transmitted his power to Shun, who received it, and thus become emperor. He entrusted part of his work to Yü, viz. the regulation of the waters. After the decease of Yao, Shun was already old, and he banded over the empire to Yü. Shun regulated the waters in the south, and died in Ts‘ang-wu, worked in the east, and expired in Kuei-chi. Worthies and sages regard the world as their home, and they are buried accordingly.

Wu Chün Kao 6 asserts that Kuei-chi is originally the name of a mountain. When, in the Hsia period, made a tour of inspection, a review was held on this mountain. Hence a circuit was named. That would be the origin of Kuei-chi.

To say that a circuit received its name from a mountain is possible, but the assertion that , on a tour of inspection, held a review on this mountain, is a fiction. On his tour he did not come as far as Kuei-chi, how could he hold a review on this mountain then ? If the view of Wu Chün Kao were to be accepted, and the meaning of Kuei-chi were really a review, how did hold his review, when he arrived in the south ? In case died already on his first progress to the east in Kuei-chi, Shun also, on his progress, arrived in Ts‘ang-wu ; how about his review there ?

Provided that the many rulers, after having established their government, set out on a tour of inspection, and then, at once, held a review, then such reviews must have taken place on all the mountains in the four directions. In times of universal peace these rulers used to ascend Mount T‘ai and sacrifice there. Of such sacrifices on Mount T‘ai there are records of seventy-two, and those monuments which are obliterated and washed away, are innumerable. If really the emperors, on their progress, at once had a review, the places of such meetings round about must have been much more numerous than the sacrifices on Mount T‘ai.

p2.246 The circuit cities have their names as things have theirs, which do not admit of explanation 1. Should Kuei-chi alone make an exception ? In the Chou epoch its ancient name was Wu and Yüeh 2. When these names originated, where did they come from ? When names were given during the time of the Six States, how had they to be formed ? The cities of the circuits of China are over a hundred 3, the district cities exceed ten thousand, besides villages, boroughs, and hamlets, all have their proper names. Even sages would not be able to explain their meanings. Wu Chün Kao could account for Kuei-chi, but would be unable to interpret all the other geographical names, therefore his definition of Kuei-chi cannot be accepted either.

The object of those inspections was to examine and correct the methods of government. At ’s time, Wu was a country inhabited by naked savages, who cut their hair and tattooed their bodies. There was no need for examining, and how could a review have taken place ?


It is on record that, when Shun was interred at Ts‘ang-wu, elephants tilled the ground for him, and that, when was buried at Kuei-chi, crows laboured in his field 4. This is believed to have been the upshot of the virtues of the sages, Heaven causing birds and animals to reward them by such blessings. There is nobody on earth who does not share this view, but a critical test will show the futility of the statement.

The virtues of Shun and did not surpass that of Yao, who was buried in Chi-chou 5, or, as some say, in Chung-shan 6. At Chi-chou, birds and animals did not till for him. If they solely worked for Shun and , why did Heaven grant its favours with such partiality ?

Some hold that Shun and , while controlling the floods, had no resting-place, and that, therefore, Shun died in Ts‘ang-wu, and in Kuei-chi. By their toils they displayed merit, therefore p2.247 Heaven recompensed them ; and they were far away from China, therefore it pitied them.

Now, if Heaven rewarded Shun and , making the crows labour and the elephants till, what profit did Shun and derive from it ? In order to requite Shun and Yü, Heaven should have caused Ts‘ang-wu and Kuei-chi to offer sacrifices to them in perpetuity, however it made birds and beasts work, and did not cause the people to sacrifice. Oblations would have been made on the tombs of Shun and Yü, whereas the cultivation of fields benefitted other people only. How could Heaven, shedding its blessings on the Sages, be so inconsistent, that it did not do them any good ?

These reasons must convince us that it is not correct to regard the labouring of the crows and the tilling of the elephants as special blessings conferred upon Shun and Yü. The facts are that Ts‘ang-wu was a country where elephants abound 1, and that in Kuei-chi hosts of birds used to alight. We learn from the Yü-kung that [the P‘êng-li 2 being confined to its proper limits, the wild geese had places to settle on.] 3 The nature of Heaven and Earth finds expression in the doings of birds and beasts. Elephants stamp the ground of their own accord, and so do birds pick out plants. When the earth has thus been pounded, and the weeds are destroyed, it looks like a tilled field, and, when the soil has been loosened and the clods have been turned, man can forthwith proceed to plant.

There is a common saying that for Shun and a grave was cultivated at Hai-ling 4. A field tilled by a deer 5 is like one tilled by elephants, but how could the emperors have been buried in Hai-ling ?


It has been recorded that the king of Wu, Fu Ch‘ai, put Wu Tse Hsü to death, had him cooked in a cauldron, sewed into a p2.248 leathern pouch, and thrown into the River 6. Wu Tse Hsü incensed, lashed up the waters, that they rose in great waves, and drowned people. At present, temples for him have been erected on the Yangtse of Tan-t‘u 7 in Kuei-chi as well as on the Chekiang river of Ch‘ien-t‘ang 8, for the purpose of appeasing his anger and stopping the wild waves. The allegation that the king of Wu put Wu Tse Hsü to death and threw him into the River, is reliable, but it is absurd to say that, out of spite, Wu Tse Hsü lashed the waters, that they rose in waves.

Ch‘ü Yuan full of disgust threw himself into the Hsiang 1, but the waves of the Hsiang did not swell. Shên T‘u Ti 2 jumped into the Yellow River and died, but the billows of the river did not rise. People will certainly object that as to violence and wrath Ch‘ü Yuan and Shên T‘u Ti  did not equal Wu Tse Hsü. Now, in Wei, Tse Lu was pickled, and P‘êng Yüeh was cooked in Han 3. The valour of Wu Tse Hsü did not exceed that of Tse Lu and P‘êng Yüeh. Yet these two men could not vent their anger, when they were in the tripod and the cauldron, they did not bespatter the bystanders with broth from the cooked flesh, or with sauce from the minced meat.

Moreover, Wu Tse Hsü first was put into the cauldron, and subsequently thrown into the river. Where was his spirit, when he was in the cauldron ? Wherefore was it so timorous in the broth of the cauldron, and so bold in the water of the river ? Why was his indignation not the same at these different times ?

Furthermore, when he was thrown into the river, which river was it ? There is the Yangtse of Tan-t‘u, the Chekiang river of Chien-sang, and the Ling river of Wu-t‘ung. Some maintain that he was thrown into the river near Tan-t‘u, but the Yangtse has no great waves. Should any one say that he was thrown into the p2.249 Chekiang river of Ch‘ien-t‘ang, it must be borne in mind, that not only the Chekiang river, but also the Shan-yin and the Shang-yü 4 rivers have waves.

Since all the three rivers have huge waves, was perhaps the body in the pouch divided, and its parts cast into the three rivers ?

For human hatred there is still some justification, as long as the deadly enemy is alive, or some of his descendants are still left. Now the Wu State is destroyed since long, and Fu Ch‘ai has no scions. Wu is the present Kuei-chi, which has been transformed into a prefecture. Why does the spirit of Wu Tse Hsü still resent the wrong once done him, and never cease to excite the waves ? What does he demand ?

At the time of Wu and Yüeh, they had divided the Kuei-chi circuit, so that Yüeh was governing Shan-yin 5, whereas Wu had built its capital in the present Wu. South of Yü-chi 6, all the land belonged to Yüeh, north of Ch‘ien-t‘ang, to Wu. The river of Ch‘ien-t‘ang formed the frontier between the two kingdoms. Shan-yin and Shang-yü 7 were both situated in the territory of Yüeh. When Wu Tse Hsü in the river of Wu caused the waves, they ought to have come into the Wu territory ; why did they enter the land of Yüeh ? That Wu Tse Hsü, harbouring a grudge against the king of Wu, wreaked his malice on the Yüeh river, is contrary to reason, and not the act of a spirit.

Besides, it is difficult to excite the waves, but easy to move men. The living rely on the strength of their nerves, the dead must use their soul. Alive, Wu Tse Hsü could not move the living, or take care of his body, and himself caused its death. When the strength of his nerves was lost and his soul evaporated and dispersed, how could he still make waves ?

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