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

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And again he said,

[— A Sage is the teacher of a hundred generations : this is true of Po Yi and Hui of Liu-Hsia. Therefore when men now hear the character of Po Yi, the corrupt become pure, and the weak acquire determination. When they hear the character of Hui of Liu-Hsia, the mean become generous, and the niggardly become liberal. Those two made themselves distinguished a hundred generations ago, and after a hundred generations, those who hear of them, are all aroused in this manner. Could such efforts be produced by them, if they had not been Sages ? And how much more did they affect those who were in contiguity with them, and felt their inspiring influence !] 1

Yi Yin, Po Yi, and Hui of Liu-Hsia did not equal Confucius, yet Mencius called them all Sages. Worthies and Sages fall under the same category, and for that reason may be denoted by the same name. Tsai Yü 2 said,

— In my opinion the Master is a greater Worthy then Yao and Shun by far.

Confucius being a Sage, he ought to have said ‘a greater Sage than Yao and Shun’ in lieu of saying a greater Worthy. Worthies and Sages are about the same, wherefore their names are promiscuously used.



On Preeminence

39. XIII, III. Ch‘ao-chi


p2.295 They who have worked through more than a thousand chapters and less than ten thousand books, who know how to explain this plethora of fine sayings, and how to fix the meaning and the reading, and who as teachers impart to others the results of their studies, are very learned. If they can analyse their ideas, abridge or enlarge the texts, report to the throne and memorialize 1, argue a point and discuss a question, adding paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter, they are men of letters and eminent scholars. Hard working students of profound learning and imposing erudition there are ever so many, but not one among ten thousand is qualified to write books or compose essays on subjects of the past or the present time. Only men of great learning understand to avail themselves of these subjects for literary purposes.

The big and small trees which we see on a mountain are a familiar sight to us, and in the higher or lower plants which we discover in the country we find nothing new. Still we cannot cut down the trees, and work them into cottages, or gather the plants, and prepare medicines from them. We know trees and plants, but cannot use them. A learned man may have an extensive knowledge, but he is unable to gather it into an essay. Such a man remains an obscure scholar and is merely book-learned.

In so far as Confucius is believed to have read three hundred Odes and transmitted them for the benefit of those ignoring the principles of government, he is on a level with those who cannot fell trees or collect herbs. But, on the other hand, Confucius took the chronicle 2 and transformed it into the Ch‘un-ch‘iu. When he came to setting forth his own views and developing his ideas, praising and condemning, rewarding and punishing, without regard to the chronicle, his wonderful thoughts poured out from his heart. 3

p2.296 That which is so much esteemed in learned men is their creative power. Those who do nothing but reading, reciting verses and humming over learned treatises, may peruse over a thousand chapters, they are after all but talking parrots. The imaginative faculty necessary for books and stories and a rich and smooth diction are special gifts of men of genius. Well informed people there are plenty in every age, but writers are rare even in successive generations.

In recent times Liu Tse Chêng, father and son, Yang Tse Yün, and Huan Chün Shan 1 have flourished simultaneously like Wên Wang, Wu Wang, and Chou Kung. Otherwise such men appear sporadically, resembling pearls and jewels, which owing to their preciousness are never found in masses.

Whoever is able to explain one Classic is a scholar. Those well versed in ancient and modern literature are learned, those who collect books and records and present memorials to the throne, are men of letters, and those never in need of ingenious thoughts to compose themselves, joining paragraphs and chapters, are eminent scholars. Thus scholars surpass common people, the learned outvie the scholars, men of letters outrival the learned, and eminent scholars are superior even to men of letters. Eminent scholars are, so to speak, twice superior. To contrast them with ordinary scholars, in spite of their double superiority, is like comparing an elegant carriage with a common cart, or a silk embroidery with a quilted garment, for they leave them far behind. Setting them against common people is like collating the foot and the summit of Mount T‘ai with the plant and the neck of a tall Ti 2 ; a comparison is impossible.

Hills and mountains are formed of earth and stones, copper and iron are very seldom found in them. Copper and iron are rare, but eventually mountains harbour even gold and gems. Eminent scholars are the gold and the gems of their age. They are rare in the second degree, but though so extraordinary, they still eclipse one another by their talents.

p2.297 There are various degrees of learning. Scholars apt to explain the meaning of words in a school are far ahead of uncultured persons. Some are unable to interpret one Canon 3 and teach their pupils, others gather crowds of disciples around them ; their words flow like a stream, and they are regarded as experts of the Classics. Some cannot complete one tablet or write one essay, others discourse on right and wrong and offer their advice to the government. Their words resemble those of the Classics and records, and their style is as luminous as the moon and the stars. Those of the highest order come up to Ku Tse Yün and T‘ang Tse Kao 4. Commentators move in the same sphere as memorialists 5, they are not productive themselves.

Some savants collect and enumerate historical facts of ancient and modern times and narrate things that have happened. Such are Sse-Ma Ch‘ien and Liu Tse Chêng 6. They have thus compiled a great number of chapters, and their sentences are counted by tens of thousands. They surpass Ku Tse Yün and T‘ang Tse Kao by far. But they rely on accomplished facts and merely record former events, without producing anything from their own minds like Lu Chia and Tung Chung Shu 1, who, arguing on the affairs of the world, propound their own ideas and do not borrow from without. All shallowness thus becomes easily manifest. Nevertheless the readers will call their productions records.

Yang-Ch‘êng Tse-Chang wrote the Classic of Music and Yang Tse Yün the T‘ai-hsüan-ching 2 for the furtherance of thought, works so profound and abstruse, that but a man of almost perfect talents could have produced them. Confucius wrote the Ch‘un-ch‘iu, and the two scholars each produced a Classic. They most remarkably followed the traces left by Confucius, as it were, and by their grandeur and elegance proved themselves to possess the genius of second sages.

Wang Kung Tse asked Huan Chün Shan about Yang Tse Yün. Huan Chün Shan replied that from the rise of the Han dynasty p2.298 there had not been such a man. In discriminating talents he may be said to have correctly distinguished between high and low. The minds of the lapidaries are more admirable than their precious stones, and the skill of those who perforate tortoise-shells is more wonderful than that of the tortoises. Similarly he who knows how to discriminate between the talents of all the scholars and assign his rank to each, must be superior to those thus ranked 3.

Besides Huan Chün Shan wrote the ‘New Reflections’, in which he treats of the affairs of the world, clearly distinguishing between truth and falsehood. Unfounded assertions, lies, and fictions are all reduced to their proper entities. Among critics like Yang-Ch‘êng Tse-Chang and Yang Tse Yün, Huan Chün Shan is the foremost 4. From him downwards there have been many great and brilliant talents, and we have had excellent works. The style writing words, the heart must have produced the ideas. Words issue from the bosom, and the heart manifests itself through words. If these words appear unusually fine and remarkable, we may say that we have an able writer.

Consequently, prolific authors are a pride of mankind. They have their roots below, their leaves and blossoms above, their solid kernels within, and their husks without. The painted characters and the expressions are the leaves, the flowers and the husks of the writers. Their genuine ideas are in their bosoms, and the written words appear on bamboo and silk. Thus there is an interaction and a harmony between inside and outside. When the mind sets to work, the pencil follows suit. Then characters appear, and the kernels come out.

A man of letters resembles a bird with feathers. These feathers are variegated and all grow on the body. Should there be no idea illustrated by the letters, it would be like a variegated plumage of a bird growing ruffled and disorderly.

At a competition of archery the mind must be tranquil, the body straight, the bow and the arrow firmly grasped, then the mark may be hit. Arguing is like shooting arrows : the arguments must be in accordance with reason, as the arrows must hit the target. An archer proves his skill by hitting the mark with his arrow, and a debater shows his superiority by his writings. Both abilities proceed from the mind, their essence is the same.

p2.299 In writing deep thoughts and vast schemes may find expression. Somebody may not be able personally to put into action the administrative devices of sovereigns and their ministers, or to fix them by word of mouth, but he can give expression to his feelings and prove himself qualified to carry out those designs. Confucius wrote the Ch‘un-ch‘iu in which he reveals the ideas of the princes. Thus the Ch‘un-ch‘iu of Confucius is a chronicle of the usual way of living of rulers. The records of other scholars describe the usual proceedings of ministers. From the Ch‘un-ch‘iu we learn to know the minds of princes, and the other scholars acquaint us with the thoughts of ministers 1.

They say that the cutting of meat by Ch‘ên P‘ing 2 was a forecast of his future premiership, and that Sun-Shu Ao’s 3 finding a new channel for the Ch‘i-sse river foreshadowed his becoming a prime minister. The study of historical works and adjusting government matters is more than those presages of the meat and the water-channel.

Without strong feet one cannot walk long, and without a sharp edge one cannot make a deep cut. Thus the composition of paragraphs and chapters requires great talent and a savant of exceptional genius.

Some contend that authors, provided they possess a vast experience, and a thorough erudition, learning and practice, may proceed by analogies and thus write their books, that literary productions are something external and do not necessitate a combination of genuine talent and learning. Moreover, poor thoughts, they say, are hidden in flowers of speech, there is no depth, no roots, and no kernels. The writers lose sight of the great principles and the main points. Therefore it is very seldom that they achieve success. In times of danger men of learning are not there p2.300 to help, thus showing that they cannot accomplish remarkable deeds, and merely know how to ply their pen.

I reply that this is not true. In the Chou time all the writers were practical politicians, and under the régime of the Han all the outspoken scholars have been officials of great learning. Why then say that literary productions are not like leaves and flowers evolved from roots and kernels ? Thoughts engender devices, and several tablets joined together form an essay. Feelings appear in expressions, and ideas manifest themselves in words.

Shang Yang 1 as minister of Ch‘in brought about its supremacy and wrote a book on agriculture and war. Yü Ch‘ing 2 formed plans for Chao and determined its moving forward and backward. He resolved to write a Ch‘un-ch‘iu 3 and offered his advice for the city 4. The work on agriculture and warfare was a scheme kept in the archives of Ch‘in. Lu Chia 5 superseded the devices of Lü Pu Wei 6, whose work 7 had the same purport as his ‘New Words’, and Huan Chün Shan 8 abrogated the scheme of Ch‘ao Ts‘o 9, which was agreeing with his own ‘New Reflections’. In the case of Ku Yung’s ‘Reports’ and T‘ang Lin’s 10 ‘Words that must be said’ or of Liu Hsiang’s ‘Earnest Propositions’, we see how the notes originally taken were sent up to the Throne. How can they be held to be elegant writings and beautiful sayings or flowers of speech without a raison d’être ?

When deep feeling issues from the heart, it touches people to the core. Thus in consequence of the flying letter of Lu Lien 11 a general p2.301 of Yen laid violent hands upon himself, and on receiving the memorial from Tsou Yang King Hsiao of Liang opened his prison 12. The letter and the memorial had taken the heart out of them. To compose such writings it does not suffice to possess great learning or much practice in writing.

Eminent scholars are scarce, but men of letters a great many. Are governors, ministers, and high functionaries not to appreciate them, and should they merely use their intellectual faculties for scribbling on boards and tablets ? Provinces or prefectures having troubles, these scholars can take all necessary measures, report to the emperor, and arrange all complications. Provided that a province or a prefecture be in difficulties and possess officers like T‘ang Tse Kao and Ku Tse Yün 1, who would set to work, strain their minds, and exert their literary abilities, would all disturbances not easily be removed ?

Since it is difficult to find records of men of letters in ancient days, which are too distant, or in out-of-the-way places at the outskirts of the empire, we shall confine ourselves to Kuei-chi in recent times. There lived a student of the very first order, Chou Ch‘ang Shêng 2. In a province he was engaged in writing memorials for the governor Jên An, and in a prefecture he made the reports for the prefect, Mêng Kuan. Matters were settled and all troubles removed. The province and the prefecture were delivered of all difficulties, and the two governors well off. Chou Ch‘ang Shêng was not honoured, not because his knowledge was inferior, or his deserts too insignificant, but his two chiefs liked the common type of men and could not appreciate him. Had he lived in a former age under Prince Chao of Yen, he would have met with the same favour as Tsou Yen 3. After the death of Chou Ch‘ang Shêng, the province and the prefecture were thrown into disorder, for want of officials to draw up reports, so that the complications could not be adjusted. Officers were commissioned and paid their respects to those in authority, but the literate were neglected and their productions ceased. Officialdom gave much annoyance to the emperor indeed.

p2.302 But the jottings of Chou Ch‘ang Shêng were not all, and his ability did not solely assert itself in his official documents, he also wrote the Tung-li in ten chapters, recording all the smallest details and minutiæ from Huang Ti down to the Han dynasty, as the Grand Annalist did in his Tables. Chou Ch‘ang Shêng went up to remote antiquity and down to recent times, whence the title of his work : Tung-li (i. e. Connexions). He was not only a man of letters, but an eminent scholar.

In former times there was Yen Fu Tse 4, later on Wu Chün Shang 5, and finally Chou Ch‘ang Shêng. White pheasants were brought as a tribute from Annam, and odoriferous plants were offered from Ferghana 1. In Yung-chou jewels are found, and Ching and Yang-chou 2 are productive of gold. As precious things grow in unknown, far distant countries of the four quarters, so it cannot be said that there are no extraordinary men.

[— Wên Wang is no more, said Confucius, but have we not here his writings ?] 3

The works of Wên Wang were in the hands of Confucius, and the works of Confucius in the hands of Tung Chung Shu. Would after the death of Tung Chung Shu his works not be in the hands of men like Chou Ch‘ang Shêng ?

What does extraordinary mean ? It denotes the excellence and superiority of writings. T‘ang Lo 4 and Sung  5 were also men of letters of Ch‘u, but their names have not been transmitted on p2.303 bamboo or silk. Ch‘ü Yuan has outshone them. Should Chou Chang Shêng have been the only literary talent of Kuei-chi ? He takes precedence among those who are not mentioned.

In the Nine Provinces 6 there are many mountains, but Mount Hua and T‘ai 7 are the highest. There are many rivers in all directions, but the Yangtse and the Yellow River are the main streams. Mount Hua and T‘ai are the most elevated, and the Yangtse and the Yellow River the largest of their kind, and so was Chou Ch‘ang Shêng the greatest man of his prefecture and his province.

If a chief of the clan be a clever man, it is not right that his clan’s-people slight him, to confer their praise upon a chief of another family. Chou Ch‘ang Shêng was such a chief of the spoken word, whom all men of learning revered. That his name alone is mentioned is for the same reason that in the Ch‘un-ch‘iu the first years are designated after the chronology of Lu. 8

Common people are prone to exalt antiquity and belaud what they have heard about it. If the question be about the deeds of the ancients, even cabbage tastes sweet to them, and as to the recent achievements of their successors, even sweet honey and cream have a sour taste. Chou Ch‘ang Shêng’s home was in Kuei-chi and he lived in the present era. In spite of the excellence of his writings, he is looked upon as an epigone by many critics.

Heaven is filled with the primogenial fluid, and man endowed with the original essence. How could there be such an enormous difference between old and new ? The good rank highest, and the enlightened come first. Those who understand the true nature of things and see the difference between right and wrong, take them whom they find unworthy from their first place and push them into the background, and conversely they promote the worthy from the present time and rank them with the ancients. The brightness of their mind and their clear intellect act as a safeguard against common prejudices.

p2.304 Pan Shu P‘i 1 continued the work of the Grand Annalist in more than a hundred chapters, recording everything with the greatest care. His style was easy, but his principles all right. The readers were of opinion that he was even superior to the Grand Annalist.

When his son Pan Mêng Chien 2 was secretary of a board, his style bore a great resemblance to that of Pan Shu P‘i and not only a remote one. They were as similar as the Dukes of Chou and Shao, or Lu and Wei 3, so to say. Provided that antiquity must be upheld, then Pan Shu P‘i, father and son, are not worth mentioning.

The Chou had a brilliant literature, although they came after a hundred generations. The Han likewise are preceded by a hundred generations : why should their literary productions not be conspicuous ? Great things may be illustrated by small ones, and from the family affairs of a citizen we may obtain a glimpse upon the imperial court :

When a cottage has been built, there are usually mulberry trees and hemp first. After many years’ residence, the children having been succeeded by grand-children, there are peach trees, pear, plum, and apricot trees covering the hills and overshadowing the plain. Roots and stems being so many, leaves and flowers grow in abundance.

It is long since the house of Han has been established. Vast is their territory and numerous their people. Rectitude flourishes, and everything prospers. Why then should there be no exuberance of exquisite literary compositions ? Blossoms usually grow together with fruit, and plants which bear fruit, but have no blossoms, are very rare. How should a barren mountain become densely wooded, or a dry field grow fertile ? The Han era is peculiarly fertile in literary talents, an eloquent testimony to its brilliant growth. When the sky is clear, the stars twinkle ; when it is covered and rainy, the sun and the moon are obscured. That in our age so many able writers have appeared simultaneously, sheds a lustre on the Han dynasty 1.

Kao Tsu reading a book of Lu Chia exclaimed with a sigh, ‘Ten thousand years for such a man !’ Hsü Yüeh and Chu Fu Yen 2 p2.305 were appointed secretaries in consequence of their memorials. I have not heard that at present it never happens that a dish proves bitter or sour, but, if the mouth dislikes the taste, the hand does not lift the food to feed the mouth. Very often an imperial rescript is issued concerning a man belonging to one of the Four Branches, conspicuous in composition, thought, classical or historical literature. Such an edict is couched in most graceful terms, highly appreciative of literary merit. Had the afore-mentioned memorials had no purport and the book no sense, what would have been the cause of the exclamation ‘Ten thousand years’ or the appointment by imperial grace ?

They who adorn their faces all desire to become beautiful, but very few persons deign to look at them. Good musicians would like to touch their hearers, but those whose ear they win are not many. Before Lu Chia edited his book, and the schemes of Hsü Yüeh and Chu Fu Yen obtained a hearing, the great majority used to speak like blind people, using coarse expressions. Their style was unpolished and unrefined, and what they said had no sense. They could congratulate themselves that for their licentious and dissolute talk they were not banished to sandy shores in distant parts ; as the saying is, how could they have deserved any appointment by imperial favour ?

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