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

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It has been said that, when the granaries and store-houses are full, people know the rules of propriety, and when clothes and food suffice, people are sensible of honour and disgrace. Altruism grows from opulence, and strife springs from indigence. There being abundance of grain and plenty of food, moral feelings emanate, and by paying due consideration to propriety and justice, the foundations of peace and happiness are laid. Thus, in the spring of a year of dearth, not even relatives are fed, whereas in the autumn of a year of plenty, even neighbours are invited to take their share. Not to feed one’s own relations is wicked, and to invite even one’s neighbours, a great kindness. Good and bad actions are not the upshot of human character, but of the state of the year, its dearth and affluence.

From this point of view, moral conduct is conditioned by the grain supply, and the grain produce depends on the year. When a year is conspicuous by floods or droughts, the Five Grains do not grow. Not the government is responsible for this, but time and circumstances. If inundations and dryness be held to be the result of government, there were never worse rulers than Chieh and Chou. In their time there ought to have been constant floods and droughts, but their reigns were not visited with famines or dearth. Calamities such as these have their periods which sometimes, contrariwise, just fall in the reigns of wise sovereigns.

On mature consideration it will be admitted that the Great Flood of Yao and the Great Drought of T‘ang were both accidents p2.013 and not occasioned by bad government. If, however, the disasters of all the other kings be taken for echoes of their wickedness, it would be an exaltation of the excellence of Yao and T‘ang and a depreciation of the other princes. One case gives us a key to a hundred, and the knowledge of wickedness enlightens us upon virtue. Yao and T‘ang may serve us as guides vis-à-vis of other rulers. The extraordinary calamities of the latter cannot be caused by their administration. Looking upon them as natural calamities, we get a clearer conception of happiness and misfortune, and it becomes evident that, if the Five Rulers bring about universal peace, they do not do it through their administration.

People about to die from plague show a lugubrious expression, boding ill, in their features beforehand. Their disease arises from contagion by miasms, and unless it be cured they die, their span thus coming to an end. The convulsions, and the final catastrophe of a State show similar symptoms. Extraordinary changes appear in Heaven and on Earth just as in the case of persons dying from plague the mark of death is visible on their faces. Floods, droughts, and other disasters are like the miasms engendering sickness, and unless these calamities be removed, they conduce to the ruin of the State as the disease not cured leads to the death of the individual.

Would those who maintain that phenomenal changes are a test of government, admit that, if worthies catch the plague and have that lugubrious look, it is all caused by their dealings ? If floods and droughts be looked upon as sequences of lawlessness, can worthies, attacked by a disease, be said to have contracted it through their disorderly conduct ? Death is regarded as the greatest evil, but when worthies die of sickness, must this be considered the heaviest possible punishment inflicted upon them ?

Worthies are taken ill and die early, and wicked people may be strong and robust and become very old. Human diseases and death are not a retribution for evil doing, and so the disorder and the ruin of a State have nothing to do with the goodness or the badness of its government. Bad characters are strong and become old, and iniquitous governments enjoy peace and remain unharmed. Consequently, it is plain that misfortunes and disasters are not sufficient indications of depravity, and happiness and lucky auguries are inadequate proofs of virtue.

p2.014 Amongst the celestial phenomena there are partial eclipses of the sun and the moon. Every forty-two months there is an eclipse of the sun, and every fifty-six months, one of the moon 1. These eclipses occur at fixed intervals and have no connexion with the government. The hundred phenomena and the thousand disasters manifest themselves in a similar way, and are not brought about by the ruler of men or any administrative measures.

When Jupiter injured the tail of the ‘Bird’, Chou and Ch‘u suffered misfortune, and a disaster was sent down on Sung, Wei, Ch‘ên and Chêng, when a featherlike air put in an appearance 2. It does not follow that, at this juncture, the policy of these six States was mistaken. The city of Li-yang sank during one night, and was turned into a lake 3. At that time, the high officers of Li-yang must not have been deceitful and perverse.

Success and discomfiture emanate from Heaven, and good and bad luck are governed by time. Ere man sets to work the heavenly fluid is already apparent ; if this is not time, what else is it ?

The Five Grains grow on earth, sometimes in abundance, and sometimes in insufficient quantities. The grain is sold in the market, sometimes dear and sometimes cheap. Rich harvests are not of necessity attended by low prices, nor does a scarcity of production lead to a rising of the prices. Abundance and scarcity have their years, dearness and cheapness, their time. When there is to be dearness and abundance simultaneously, the grain price rises, and when there is to be cheapness and scarcity, it falls. The price of grain does not depend on the state of the harvest, no more than the conditions of a State turn on moral qualities 4.

If a wise ruler happens to rise in an era pre-ordained for order, virtue of itself shines above, and the people behave well below. The age is tranquil, the people at ease, and bliss and felicity never cease. The world then imagines all this to be the work of the wise ruler. If an unprincipled sovereign happens to be born during a period fraught with disturbances, the age is stirred up, the citizens revolt, and there is no end of calamities. In consequence whereof the State is ruined, the sovereign destroyed, and his descendants p2.015 extinguished. The world invariably sees in this the effect of wickedness. They understand the outward appearances of goodness and badness, but are ignorant of the intrinsic nature of happiness and misfortune.

Happiness and misfortune do not hinge on goodness or badness, and goodness or badness cannot be called to witness in case of happiness and misfortune. Sometimes high functionaries, having taken over a new office, have not yet been active, or the administration, following old precedents, has not been changed. Yet robbery is either rampant or not, and calamities may happen, or may not happen. What is the reason of this ?

Great officers, destined to high honours, use a time of general peace as a stepping stone for their advancement, whereas those doomed to baseness and loss of office, begin their career in times of troubles, and thus are degraded and cashiered. From our actual high officers we may draw an inference on the ancient monarchs, and thus discourse on safety and danger, prosperity and decay.



Sympathetic Emotions

55. XVIII, II. Kan-lei


p2.016 When the Yin and the Yang are at variance, calamitous changes supervene. Either they arise from the unexpiated guilt of former generations 1, or it is the spontaneous action of the fluids. Worthies and sages feel an emotion by sympathy 2, and, in their agitation, think out for themselves the reason for the calamity, implying some wickedness, having happened. They incriminate themselves, and from fear that they themselves are culpable take every precaution. It does not follow that this apprehension is based on facts 3, as the following reflection will prove :

T‘ang being visited by a drought, impeached himself of five faults. Now, a sage is perfect, and his dealings without blemish ; why then must he accuse himself of five faults ? But, as the Shuking has it, T‘ang inculpated himself, and Heaven responded with rain. Originally T‘ang was innocent, but he brought the five charges against himself 4. Why then did Heaven send the rain ? p2.017 If the drought was caused by innocence, it is obvious that rain cannot be obtained by self-accusation. From this point of view, the drought did not happen for T‘ang’s sake, and the rain was not a response to his self-indictment, but the previous drought and the subsequent rain were the effect of the spontaneous fluid. So much about this passage of the Shuking.

But other difficulties arise : At the great rain sacrifice of the Spring and Autumn period, Tung Chung Shu put up a clay dragon. All are agreed that this refers but to a limited space of time 1. No rain having fallen for awhile, out of fear they made the offering, imploring the Yin and praying for happiness, full of sympathy for the distress of the people.

T‘ang having met with a drought lasting seven years, accused himself of the five faults. Which time was this ? Did he impeach himself at once, on falling in with the drought, or did he but do so after the drought had lasted. seven years ? If we say that he did so at once, and it rained but seven years later, why did Heaven responding to his sincerity, put him off so long at first ? And if we hold that he impeached himself after seven years, why was his compassion with his people so much delayed ? The story neither tallies with the ceremony of the rain sacrifice, nor does it show any affection for the people, therefore we cannot believe the words of the Shuking.

Thunder and rain overtaking King Ch‘êng of the Chou dynasty fall under the same head. We learn from the chapter ‘The Metal-Bound Coffer’ 2 that, [in autumn, before the big crop was harvested Heaven hurled down tremendous thunders and lightnings, and that, owing to the storm, all the grain lay down, and huge trees were up-rooted, so that all inhabitants were exceedingly frightened.] 3 At this time the duke of Chou died 4. The Literati contend that King p2.018 Ch‘êng was in doubt about the duke of Chou, whether he should bury him with imperial honours, the duke being but a minister, or whether he should follow the rites prescribed for a minister, the deserts of the duke being equal to those of an emperor. While he was thus wavering with regard to the funeral of the duke, Heaven sent a big thunder-storm with rain, manifesting its anger by this phenomenon, in order to illustrate the achievements of the sage.

The archæologists maintain that at the decease of Wu Wang, when the Duke of Chou had become regent, evil reports were spread about him in Kuan and Ts‘ai 5. The king mistrusted him, and the duke fled to Ch‘u 6. Thereupon, Heaven sent a tempest with rain to undeceive King Ch‘êng. Thus, the phenomenon of thunder and rain was either due to the king’s misgivings about the burial or to his belief in those slanderous reports. The two schools could not make it out.

If we accept the statement about the funeral we find that in autumn and summer the Yang fluid is at its cynosure, and there is any amount of rain and thunder-storms, and, as regards the up-rooting of trees and the lying down of the corn, they are, likewise, of frequent occurrence.

During the tempest King Ch‘êng took alarm. He opened the book in the metal-bound coffer, and learned the merits of Chou Kung. Holding the book in his hands, he bewailed his error and reproached himself most severely 1. This self-impeachment took place when, accidentally, Heaven sent a contrary wind. The scholiasts of the Shuking then fancied that Heaven was indignant on account of the Duke of Chou.

During a thousand autumns, and ten thousand summers there is never a cessation of tempests and rain. If both be regarded as manifestations of Heaven’s anger, is august Heaven irate year after year ? In the first month, the Yang fluid pours out, and the sound of thunder is first heard. In summer and autumn, the Yang reaches its climax, and there is crashing of thunder. Provided that the thunder of summer and autumn be deemed an expression of Heaven’s great wrath, is the thunder in the first month a manifestation of its minor irritation ?

p2.019 Thunder being expressive of Heaven’s anger, rain must be accounted a blessing. Now flying into a passion on account of the Duke of Chou, Heaven ought to have thundered, but not to have rained. Since rain fell simultaneously, was Heaven pleased and angry at the same time ?

Confucius did not cry and ring on the same day 2, and according to the Rites of the Chou 3 on the tse mao days 4, when millet and vegetable soup were eaten, sorrow and joy were not uttered simultaneously. Sorrow and joy were not uttered simultaneously, and cheerfulness and anger should be combined ?

When Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti sacrificed in the east on Mount T’ai, a tempest with rain broke loose 5, and when dame Liu reposed on the banks of a big pond, a tempest and rain darkened the sky 6. Ch‘in Shih Huang Ti, in spite of his villainy, would rank with the former sages, and looked upon his own outrageous reign as a time of universal peace. It may be that this roused the indignation of Heaven. When dame Liu reposed near the big pond, she dreamed that she met with a spirit. At that time she begot Kao Tsu. Why was Heaven so furious at the birth of a sage, that it sent thunder and rain ?

In Yao’s time a storm caused great havoc, and Yao had this big storm fettered in the wilds of Ch‘ing-ch‘iu 1. When Shun entered a big mountain forest, there was a fearful wind, thunder, and rain 2. Yao and Shun were the exalted rulers of their age ; how have they sinned against Heaven, that it caused wind and rain ?

At a time of great dryness, in the Ch‘un-ch‘iu epoch, the rain-sacrifice was performed. Tung Chung Shu, moreover, put up a clay-dragon to attract the fluid by sympathy 3. If Heaven responded to the rain dragon, it must have produced a tempest with rain, because the rain of summer and autumn always comes accompanied by thunderstorms. In case this method of the Ch‘un-ch‘iu epoch p2.020 of Tung Chung Shu be followed, does the dragon at the great rain-sacrifice attract Heaven’s anger ?

When the music-master K‘uang played the song ‘White Snow’, a flash of lightning was seen, and when he thrummed a tune in A major, a violent storm with rain broke loose 4. Provided that a tempest and rain be indicative of Heaven’s wrath, why did it dislike ‘White Snow’ and A major so much as to resent the music-master’s playing them ? This is a difficulty about thunder and rain.

Another question may be asked : Because King Ch‘êng would not grant Chou Kung imperial funeral honours, Heaven sent thunder and storm, curbed down the corn, and up-rooted trees. The king took the hint, and holding the book, deplored his fault, when Heaven sent a contrary wind, and the lying grain rose up again. Wherefore did it not stop the storm at once and thereby uplift the big trees again, and why were the inhabitants expected to raise them up and replace them ? 5

Reply : Heaven could not do it.

Question : Then, are there things which Heaven is unable to do ?

Reply : Yes.

Objection : When Mêng Pên 6 pushed a man he fell down, and when he took hold of him, he rose again. He took a man, and made him stand upright. If Heaven could merely pull out trees, but not uplift them again, its strength would be inferior to that of Mêng Pên.

During the Ch‘in time three mountains disappeared 7. They, also, say that they were transferred by Heaven. Now, how can the weight of trees be compared with that of three mountains ? That Heaven could transfer the three mountains, and was incapable of raising big trees, is not what we should expect from its strength. If the three mountains are believed not to have vanished by Heaven’s instrumentality, does it produce but thunder and rain ?

Reply : Heaven wished to induce King Ch‘êng to bury the Duke of Chou in accordance with imperial rites, for the duke was possessed of the virtue of a sage, and he had the deserts of an emperor. The Classic says, [Then the king found the words spoken by Chou Kung, at his death, about his meritorious deed of taking p2.021 the place of King Wu... and that now Heaven had moved its terrors to display the virtue of the Duke of Chou1.

Objection : Yi Yin as prime minister to T‘ang defeated the Hsia dynasty. He promoted the welfare of the people and kept off distress, so that universal peace reigned all over the world. After T‘ang’s death, he again became minister to T‘ai Chia. Because the latter was lazy and dissolute, he banished him into the T‘ung 2 palace, and conducted the government for three years 3. Then he retired, after having restored the king to his dignity. Chou Kung said, ‘Yi Yin followed the example of august Heaven’ 4. Heaven should have made it public. Why did Heaven not cause thunder and rain at Yi Yin’s death ?

Reply : According to the ‘Hundred Chapters on Rain’, when Yi Yin died there was a great mist for three days.

(Objection) : A great mist for three days is an abnormal fluid and not a phenomenon expressive of Heaven’s anger. Chang Pa of Tung-hai 5 is the author of this ‘Rain Book’. Although his statement be not trustworthy, yet we shall use it as the basis of our inquiry :

Heaven produced thunder and rain for the purpose of rousing King Ch‘êng. Did the thunder cease before the king had opened the metal-bound trunk, or after he had opened it ?

Reply : Thunder ceased before he had opened the trunk. It was in the trunk that he found the book wherefrom he learned the merits of the duke. Having become aware of his mistake, he deplored it and resolved to bury the duke with imperial honours. When he went out into the suburbs and saw the phenomenal changes, Heaven had already stopped the rain and blown a contrary wind, and all the grain had risen up again 1. Consequently, p2.022 thunder and rain had already stopped before King Ch‘êng was sensible of his fault.

Objection : If for Yi Yin’s sake there were three foggy days, why did not Heaven send thunder and rain for three days, and had not the king to become enlightened first before they ceased ?

Under the régime of T‘ai Mou a mulberry and a paper-mulberry grew together in the court, which after seven days showed a circumference of a span. T‘ai Mou meditated on government, when the two trees faded away 2. In the time of Duke Ching of Sung, Mars occupied the place of the ‘Heart’ constellation. The duke uttered three excellent maxims, whereupon Mars passed through several mansions 3. Had T‘ai Mou not reflected on government, and Duke Ching not made the three utterances, the mulberry and the paper-mulberry would not have vanished, nor would Mars have shifted its place, for it was by means of these calamitous changes that Heaven made its admonitions. That these calamities should not he removed before its admonitions had been taken notice of, was wisely ordained by Heaven 4. Now Heaven in its anger caused thunder and rain to reprove King Ch‘êng, but thunder and rain stopped before the king had caught the intimation. What is the reason of this haste ?

Another objection : It is customary to style the sons of princes : ‘Son of a Lord’ and their grandsons : ‘Grandson of a Lord’. All of them live on fiefs, and distinguish themselves from common folk. The sons as well as the grandsons of lords are nearly related to the chief of the house and noble. They are called lords with full right, and live on their domains. Their title agrees with the real state of affairs, and there is conformity of essence and outward appearance. Heaven exhibited the virtue of Chou Kung, and ordered King Ch‘êng to bury him in imperial style. Why then did it not command the king to call Chou Kung King Chou, to be in accordance with imperial honours ?

Reply : King is the title of the highest nobility to which a minister has no right.

p2.023 Objection : But do not ministers, also, obtain the title of king ? When King Wu had defeated Chou, and returned from his expedition he carried back the title of king 5 to T‘ai Wang, Wang Chi, and Wên Wang, all three of them feudal lords and ministers to boot, but the title of king was conferred upon them. Why could this only be done in the case of these three personages, but not for the Duke of Chou ? If Heaven intended to make the Duke illustrious, how could it manifest it ? Did these three men bear the marks of royalty ? However, royal merits were also achieved by Chou Kung.

The Yangtse rises from the Min 1 mountains, and in its course forms currents and rapids. But can these currents and rapids be placed on a par with the source from which it flows ? For whom did the aromatic liquor arrive, and who was presented with the white pheasants, the three kings 2 or the Duke of Chou 3

The merits and the virtue of the duke of Chou eclipsed those of the three kings, yet the title of king was not bestowed upon him. Was Heaven displeased with the inconsiderate use men made of this title ? At the decline of the Chou dynasty, the rulers of six States styled themselves kings, those of Ch‘i and Ch‘in became even emperors. At that time Heaven did not prevent it nor cause any change displaying its anger, however, when Chou Kung was not interred with imperial rites, it sent thunder and rain to reprimand King Ch‘êng. Why was these such a lack of uniformity concerning the pleasure and displeasure of Heaven ?

Another objection : Chi Sun of Lu had presented Tsêng Tse with a fine mat. When Tsêng Tse fell sick he slept upon it. His attendant observed, ‘How beautifully figured and lustrous is this mat ! It is the mat of a great officer. Tsêng Tse felt ashamed and bade Yuan change the mat, for, according to custom, a scholar should not sleep on a mat of a great officer 4. Now, Chou Kung, a minister, being buried like an emperor, would his soul, provided it still possessed consciousness, feel at ease ?

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