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

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There are hundreds and thousands in the predicament of Wu Tse Hsü, who, crossing a river in a boat, did not reach the other shore. But the body of Wu Tse Hsü alone was boiled in hot water in a cauldron. When his bones and his flesh had been cooked soft and become a stew with broth, could he still do any harm ?

King Hsüan of Chou killed his minister, the Earl of Tu, and Viscount Chien of Chao, his officer Chuang Tse Yi. Subsequently, the p2.250 Earl of Tu shot King Hsüan, and Chuang Tse Yi smote Viscount Chien 1. These events seem to be true, and yet they are fictitious. Now not having his body intact, Wu Tse Hsü could not have acted like the Earl of Tu or Chuang Tse Yi, taking his revenge upon the king of Wu. How can the rolling to and fro of the waves be considered a revenge or a proof of Wu Tse Hsü’s consciousness ?

Popular legends though not true, form the subjects of paintings, and, by these pictures, even wise and intelligent men allow themselves to be mystified 2.

The earth has numerous rivers just as man, his veins and arteries. The blood flowing through them, these arteries throb and pulsate, and have their own times and measures. So it is with the rivers. Their flowing forwards and backwards in the morning and the evening 3, is like human respiration i. e., the inhalation and exhalation of air.

The nature of heaven and earth has remained the same from the oldest time. The Classic says,

[« The Yangtse and the Han pursued their common course to the sea.] 4

So it was previous to Yao and Shun already. When the waters fall into the ocean, they merely accelerate their course, but, upon entering the three rivers 5, they begin to roar and foam in their channel, which is usually shallow and narrow, and thus rise as great waves.

The Ch‘ü river of Kuang-ling 1 has such great waves. A poet wrote the verse :

« How majestic rolls the Yangtse, and lo ! the billows of the Ch‘ü ! 2

They are caused by the narrow passage. If, after having been murdered in Wu, Wu Tse Hsü’s spirit was producing the great waves at Kuang-ling, this would certainly not be a sign of its intelligence 3.

p2.251 In deep channels the water flows quietly, but where there are shallows, sands, or stones, it rushes through, swells, and forms rapids. Billows and rapids are identical. If, as they say, Wu Tse Hsü is responsible for the great waves, who lives in the torrents to cause their rapids ?

When the billows enter the three rivers, they boil and wallop against the banks 4, while in the middle no sound is produced. If Wu Tse Hsü is held to be the originator of these waves, then his body must lie extended in the deep water of the banks.

The rising of the waves follows the growing and waning, the bigness and smallness, the fullness and extinction of the moon 5. If it is Wu Tse Hsü who causes the waves, his anger must be regulated upon the phases of the moon 6.

Sometimes a storm excites the waters of the three rivers, that they drown people. Consequently Wu Tse Hsü’s spirit must likewise cause the wind.

When Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti was about to cross the Hsiang river, he was overtaken by a storm. He inquired, which deities were sacrificed to on Mount Hsiang. His attendants replied, the daughter of Yao and the wife of Shun. Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti, in a fit of rage, ordered three thousand criminals to cut down the trees on Mount Hsiang and trample upon it 7. The assertion that Wu Tse Hsüs spirit caused the waves, is on a level with this statement that the ghosts of the two women produced the wind.


The books say that, when Confucius was buried on the shore of the river Sse, its waters flowed backwards 1. This is meant to intimate that the virtue of Confucius was so excellent, that it made p2.252 the waters revert and not sweep away parts of the tomb. The world puts faith in this, and in consequence the Literati in their discussions hold that the descendants of Confucius should be appointed to office, basing this claim on the alleged flowing backwards of the Sse. But a careful consideration reveals the absurdity of such utterances.

How can Confucius dead be the same as alive ? While alive, he could in his practices follow up the right principles and conform to Heaven. But after death his actions ceased. Heaven rewards the highest virtue, therefore the Five Emperors and the Three Rulers attracted lucky presages, which they kept during their lifetime, but not after their death. Confucius met with rebuffs during his life, and no one wanted his services, wherefore he said, with a sigh,

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

Alive, he did not find favour, and after death, he was rewarded ? The death of Confucius does not differ from that of the Five Emperors and the Three Rulers, on whom Heaven did not bestow its blessings. If Confucius was done the recipient of Heaven’s grace after death, his soul must have been holy, and the genius of the Five Emperors did not possess such excellence 3.

The river Sse was not endowed with intelligence, that it might flow backwards for Confucius’ sake. If the Spirit of Heaven made it do so, why did this Spirit not induce mankind to honour Confucius, while he was alive 4 ? If, by the flowing backwards of the Sse, Heaven wanted to secure appointments for the posterity of Confucius, why did it not appoint Confucius himself, while alive, whose merit and virtue were in accordance with Heaven, and desired these appointments for his descendants ?

That the Sse flowed backwards, is a hazard and a natural phenomenon. It happens that rivers revert in their course, for streams at times change their channels, or take a new course, which is the same as flowing backwards 5. Therefore the flowing backwards of the Sse cannot be looked upon as a prodigy.

p2.253 Some records extolling the virtue of a prince of Wei, relate that his kindness was not only bestowed upon scholars, but that it even embraced birds and beasts. Once he was dining with some guests, when a hawk pounced upon a pigeon. The latter escaped under the prince’s table, but the hawk pursued and killed it before his eyes. The prince was shocked, and called upon his men to spread nets everywhere. Several dozen hawks were caught. The prince charged them with the crime of having hit a pigeon. The one hawk which had done it bowed its head, and did not dare to look up. Upon this, the prince killed it. The world, by way of glorification, says that the prince revenged a pigeon, but that is idle talk.

A hawk is a creature whose feelings are other, and whose speech is different from ours. A sage would not be able to induce birds and animals to a moral conduct. Who is this prince, that he could cause a hawk to bow its head and accuse itself ? Such birds as hawks are counted by thousands, how could one single hawk, which, having previously hit upon a pigeon, had flown away, be caught again ?

If it bowed its head and acknowledged its guilt, it must have been a sage bird. Understanding the words of the prince, it must have known his ways as well, and knowing his ways, it would not have pounced upon a pigeon in his presence.

Even men cannot mend their faults. Birds differ from men ; to pretend that they can repent, is a prejudice of common people and a misapprehension of the real nature of the various classes of creatures.

Perhaps the prince really caught the hawk. Expecting that some one would get hold of its head, it violently turned its neck aside, which caused it such pain, that it inclined its head, and therefore could not look up. Since the prince was a kind and just man, people, by saying that the hawk admitted its guilt, meant to belaud him. In the course of conversation many empty compliments are made, and real deserts usually are embellished by all sorts of fictions.


It has been recorded that Duke Huan of Ch‘i 1 married his seven cousins. That cannot be true, for it would be incest and a violation of the laws of consanguinity 2. It is the nature of birds p2.254 and beasts not to take heed of the relation between ascendants and descendants, therefore they mix, unconscious of the laws of relationship. Duke Huan united all the feudal princes and set the empire right, guiding the masses with virtue, and ruling them with authority. For this reason the lords followed him, and nobody dared to disobey. This would not have been the case, if his private life had been so flagitious, that he imitated the instincts of beasts and birds.

He prevailed upon the princes to do homage to the royal house, for it was distasteful to him that the king should be deprived of his power, and his subjects disrespectful to him. If before the world he resented a want of decorum so much, how could he degrade himself at home by such utter disregard of propriety ? If there had been such a discrepancy between his public and his private life, he would never have distinguished himself or won any influence 1.

As to the depravity of Chieh and Chou, they are not charged with incestuous intercourse with their kin. Sober-minded critics are of opinion that the wickedness of Chieh and Chou was less than that of doomed Ch‘in, and that the crimes of doomed Ch‘in fell short of those of Wang Mang. Incest has never been laid at their charge. Had Duke Huan married his seven cousins, his viciousness would have left behind that of Chieh and Chou and be worse than that of Ch‘in and Wang Mang.

The Ch‘un-ch‘iu commends the smallest merit and condemns the slightest wrong. For what reason then did it not condemn the great crime of Duke Huan ? Wên Chiang of Lu was a sister to Duke Hsiang of Ch‘i, who had intercourse with her, for we read in the Ch‘un-ch‘iu under the second year of Duke Chuang :

[« In winter, the (deceased duke’s) wife, the Lady Chiang, had a meeting with the marquis of Chi in Kao.] 2

Why was the Ch‘un-ch‘iu so hard upon Duke Hsiang, recording his lewdness, and why so lenient to Duke Huan, concealing his crime and having no word of reproof for it ? Should the passage have been lost in the Classic, wherefore do the commentators, Tso Ch‘iu Ming, Kung Yang, and Ku Liang all hush it up ?

The fault of Duke Huan consisted in his too great condescension towards the ladies of his harem. Six concubines enjoyed his special p2.255 favour, and five princes contended to become his heirs 3. Ch‘i was thrown into confusion, and, when the duke died, it was not until three months later that his death was officially announced 4. People hearing of these six favourites, and that no distinction was made between the sons of his wife and his concubines, then said that he misbehaved himself with his seven cousins.


There is a notice in some books to the effect that Duke Huan of Ch‘i carried his wife, when he received the feudal princes in audience. This would show that the duke’s lust reached the last degree of indecency. If Duke Huan carried his wife on his back at great audience, how could he have outdone this feat at the wildest Bacchanal ?

He had refined the manners of the scholars, inspiring them with awe and reverence by his majesty, — how could he, with his wife on his back, have led on the princes to do homage to the royal house ?

At the meeting of K‘uei-ch‘iu 1, Duke Huan was very proud and elated. The Heads of nine States then revolted from him. His angry looks could not prevent the revolt of the nine States. Now fancy the duke carrying his wife and affording them such a spectacle of lascivity ; would that have induced them to stand by him ?

Some say that Kuan Chung informed the princes that his master had ulcers on his back, which would not heal without the wife’s assistance. The princes believed Kuan Chung and therefore did not rebel.

[Now in all places of ten families 2 an honest man like Confucius can be found.] 3 At that time, the princes had assembled over a thousand men. There was, doubtless, one among them experienced in the art of curing ulcers, so that the services of the duke’s wife could be dispensed with.

p2.256 Kuan Chung concealed the duke’s fault. Well aware that Kuan Chung, by doing so, deceived the princes, the latter would, no doubt, have become angry and revolted. How could the duke, under these circumstances, have presided over their meetings for long, or been successful as their leader ?

Some hold that in reality Duke Huan was unprincipled, but using able men and making Kuan Chung his minister, he acquired supremacy.

An unprincipled man is not better than a tyrant. He would believe slanderers, remove the virtuous, and injure the benevolent and the righteous. How could such a one employ a man like Kuan Chung, or keep officers to serve under him ?

Chieh killed Kuan Lung Fêng 4, and Chou murdered the son of the king 5, Pi Kan. An unprincipled sovereign cannot employ wise men. Provided that Kuan Chung was wise, then Duke Huan could not employ him, and if he did employ him, then Duke Huan cannot have committed all those excesses.

When the sovereign is virtuous and intelligent, he has pure and honest ministers. Virtuous ministers presuppose an enlightened ruler. How, then, can Duke Huan be accused of wantonness ?

An opponent might say that Duke Ling of Wei 6 was a sovereign without principles, who, all the same, knew virtuous ministers, and whom Kuan Chung assisted. Then from what does it follow that Duke Huan was not wanton ?

Duke Ling was unprincipled indeed, but the fact that he employed three able men, merely sufficed to preserve his life ; he did not achieve anything grand. Duke Huan honoured the arithmeticians 1 and raised Ning Ch‘i 2 from his cart. To punish Ch‘u for not having sent its tribute of reeds and grasses, he invested it with all his forces 3. He united the feudal barons, and, quite alone, set the empire in order. He is such a hero as appears only once in a p2.257 thousand generations. That he should have carried his wife on his back, is nonsense.

The scholiasts to the Shuking relate that Duke Chou as a regent wore the silken ribbons of the emperor and his hat, and that, his back turned upon a screen and facing the south, he gave audience to the princes.

A partition between the door and the window is called a screen (i) Facing the south indicates the high dignity. If in sitting one turns the back upon the screen and looks southward, the screen is behind. Now, when Duke Huan held an audience of all the princes, he was perhaps sitting with his face turned to the south, and his wife stood behind. This has given rise to the popular tradition that he carried his wife on his back. It is like the story that K‘uei had but one leg, or that Duke Ting of Sung, in digging a well, found a man in it.

At the time of Yao and Shun, K‘uei was a great officer. He was by nature a great musician, and the tunes he played were most plaintive 4 and beautiful. People then used to say that playing like K‘uei was full perfection. Of this popular tradition made the phrase that K‘uei had but one leg 5.

The emperor Shun was seeking everywhere a candidate for the post of president for sacrificial worship. Every one recommended Po Yi, [but he made obeisance and declined in favour of K‘uei and Lung6.

p2.258 The office of a minister of ancestral worship would correspond to that of a tsung-chêng of the Han time. The cutting of one leg would be an abnormity of the legs, and how could a man move about with only one leg ?

The Hsia emperor K‘ung Chia was once hunting on the Tung-ming 1 mountain, when it began to rain and to become very dusky. The emperor entered a private house, where the mistress was just nursing a baby. Some said that a child to which an emperor had come would be noble, but others urged that a child not born for grandeur must needs remain mean. K‘ung Chia said,

— If it becomes my son, who will make it mean ?,

and he took the child with him. Once, when the boy was carving rafters, the axe cut his legs, and he finally became a doorkeeper 2. Since K‘ung Chia wished to ennoble him as his son, he had the greatest expectations, nevertheless, when he had cut his legs, he was of no use and therefore made a doorkeeper.

Now K‘uei could not walk about with one leg. He might have made music even sitting, but for discharging the duties of a minister of ancestral worship one leg would not do 3, as the doorkeeper, after having lost his legs, could not obtain rank and honour. K‘ung Chia did not find a noble son, and Po Yi could not have yielded the post to K‘uei.

Duke Ting of Sung 4 was a man of Sung. Before the well was bored, somebody had always to be despatched to fetch water. It was calculated that every day one man was thus occupied. After digging the well, he was no more sent to carry the water, and it could be reckoned that every day one man’s day’s work was economized. Therefore they said that Duke Ting of Sung, digging p2.259 a well, found a man. Popular tradition went a step farther, pretending that Duke Ting, digging the well, found a man in it 5.

Man is born from man and not from earth. Piercing the earth and boring a well is not done with the object of finding a man.

In point of analogy, the story of Duke Huan carrying his wife comes in the same category. He was sitting, his back turned upon his wife, whence the statement that his wife was on his back. Knowing that having one’s wife on one’s back is indecent, they concocted the story of Kuan Chung curing ulcers through the wife.

If Duke Huan had laid aside his princely robe, when his wife was on his back, perhaps the female fluid could remove the ulcers, and his boils could be cured by his wife. But, on receiving the lords, Duke Huan was clad in heavy garments, and his wife likewise wore thick clothes. The female fluid thus being checked, of what benefit would it have been to carry his wife ?

Duke Huan bestowed much thought on the savants. He illuminated his palace, and was sitting there at night. By his meditations he attracted the scholars, and how should he have received the princes with his wife on his back during the day ?


It is recorded in some books that Nieh Chêng 1 in Yen Wêng Chung’s 2 service assassinated the king of the Han State. That is a falsehood, for at Nieh Chêng’s time Lieh was marquis of Han 3. In the third year of his reign, Nieh Chêng stabbed Hsieh Lei, a minister of Han 4. In his twelfth year, the Marquis Lieh died, seventeen years 5 after the assassination of Hsieh Lei by Nieh Chêng. The p2.260 notice that the latter assassinated the king of Han is an invention of worthless books and unimportant chronicles, and not to be trusted 6.


There is another report that Tan, the heir-prince of Yen procured a bravo, Ching K‘o, to assassinate the king of Ch‘in, but he failed and was executed 7. Subsequently Kao Chien Li 8 again went to pay a visit to the king of Ch‘in and play the harp for him. The king was pleased, but knowing Kao Chien Li to be a partisan of the prince of Yen, he had him blindfolded first, and then called upon him to thrum the harp. Kao Chien Li had put lead into his instrument, to make it heavy. While he was playing, the king of Ch‘in could not restrain his feelings and, on his knees, moved nearer. Kao Chien Li then took his harp and struck him on the forehead 1. The king began to sicken, and three months later died of the wound.

The assertion that Kao Chien Li struck the king of Ch‘in with his harp is true, but the report that the king being struck, ailed three months and died, is false.

The king of Ch‘in is nobody else than Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti. In the 20th year of his reign, Tan, heir-prince of Yen, instigated Ching K‘o to stab Shih Huang Ti, but Shih Huang Ti put Ching K‘o to death ; that is known. In his 21st year, he ordered his general Wang Chien to attack Yen. He brought back the head of the crown-prince. In his 25th year, a new invasion was made into Yen, and its king Chia taken prisoner 2. Later on — the year is not known — Kao Chien Li struck at Shih Huang Ti, but missed him and was beheaded. In his 27th year 3, the emperor made a journey through the empire. He went to Kuei-chi and came to Lang-yeh. North he went as far as the Lao and Ch‘êng Mountains and the sea. When in the west he arrived at P‘ing-yuan Ferry, he was taken ill, and having reached the P‘ing terrace in Sha-ch‘iu, he expired 4.

The Book of Prophecies 5 writes that if the emperor returned to Sha-ch‘iu, he would come by his death. Some writers also state that, having suffered from the braises caused by the harp for three months, he ended his life in Ch‘in. Thus the same person is by some believed to have died in Sha-ch‘iu, by others in Ch‘in, and concerning his death, people say that he had always been ailing from sores. The statements of this class of books is very often irreconcilable with truth, but ordinary people are unable to settle such questions.



Literary Exaggerations

27. VIII, II. Yi-tsêng


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