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

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The Literati, moreover, narrate that, of yore, a ‘monthly plant’ grew among the steps leading up to the side-buildings of the palace. On the first day of the month one capsule came out, and up to the fifteenth fifteen capsules had grown. From the sixteenth onward one capsule fell down every day 2, until on the thirteenth all the seeds had dropped. On the first day of the following month, one capsule grew again. The emperor, facing the south, could learn the number of days from observing the growing and dropping p2.318 capsules, and needed not take the trouble of consulting the almanac 3 for that.

Now, if Heaven could produce these capsules to represent the number of days, wherefore did it not make them show the name of the day 4, so that the emperor, on seeing the character on the capsule, might know it ? Knowing merely the number of the day, but not its name, he would still have to consult the almanac for information. Thus his beholding the number of days would not spare him any trouble, on the contrary. How then could the growth of the monthly plant be deemed a great luck ?

The grains of the monthly plant are like the pods of peas. They do not yet grow in spring and summer, and do not ripen before the end of autumn. When November is bitter cold, and frost and snow come drizzling down, all plants wither. Would the scholars dare to contend that the monthly plant, on reaching winter, alone does not die ? Provided that it lives and dies like all other plants, its capsules must grow about the end of autumn. Then they might be examined in autumn, but during the other three seasons, spring, summer, and winter it would be impossible.

Moreover, if, on fifteen days of a month, fifteen capsules are produced, and, on the sixteenth, one capsule falls down, on the twenty-first day, six must have dropped. These dropped capsules would be lost and could no more be counted. Therefore it would become necessary to count the remaining ones, in order to find out the number of days. That would be most irksome and annoying and by no means a blessing 5.

Supposing that the capsules grew upon the reception hall, and that the monarch, seated between the door and the window, by a look on their growth could know the number of days, this could not be considered a great advantage. Now, they say that the plant grows on the steps of the side-buildings i. e., below the outer hall. As regards the imperial hall, Mê Tse says of that of Yao and Shun that it was raised three feet above the ground, p2.319 whereas the houses of the Literati are quite low. Should this be the case, and the monthly plant grow below the steps of a hall three feet high, the emperor desirous of seeing the capsules, could not do so from his seat between the door and the window, but in order to know their number, he would be compelled to enter the outer hall, and look at them from there. Rather than to rise for the purpose of viewing the capsules below the hall, the emperor might have hung up the calendar day on the screen near his seat, whence one glance would have been sufficient 1.

Heaven, by engendering omens, wishes to please the emperor, yet, if the latter be obliged to rise and examine the seeds to learn the number of days, it would have produced a most awkward thing, which proved a source of mortification to the emperor.

Besides, the monthly plant is a herb : the imperial hall being inhabited day and night, even the ancients, in spite of their simplicity, would have weeded out any plants growing in the rooms of the palace. How could capsules grow there, and people count them month after month ?

Whenever days are counted one by one, it is with a view to recording events. Of old, there were the astrologers who regulated the calendar and fixed the days. Wherefore, then, should the emperor himself have counted the seeds ? In Yao’s time Hsi and Ho were charged with examining the Four Stars 2 during the four seasons, in order to foretell the weather 3. These stars were very important, yet the emperor did not observe them personally, and he examined the capsules himself to number the days ?

The learned further relate that in times of perfect peace the ‘indicator’ grows in a corner of the palace, shaped like a plant, which points out cunning persons 4. When such a one enters the palace, the indicator in its corner points at him, so that the monarch p2.320 knows where the cunning person is. Accordingly, Heaven created this plant on purpose, with the object of indicating cunning people, and it did not make the nature of the holy emperors such that they could know it themselves. Perhaps no cunning people came forth originally. If Heaven created the plant, nevertheless, to point them out, did it not fear the trouble ?

No sage emperor ever had a better government than Yao and Shun, which was most peaceful, so that the ‘indicator’ grew in a corner of their palace of its own accord. When cunning persons arrived it made them known, and Shun had no difficulty in finding them out. Albeit yet he employed Kao Yao to exhibit his knowledge of men.

The Classic 5 says,

« To know a man one must be wise, but it is difficult for an emperor 2.

Though men are imbued with the Five Virtues and communicate together through their voices, yet they do not know each other. How could the ‘indicator’, being a plant, know the cunning ? According to the view of the Literati, plants and trees of the time of universal peace would outshine worthies and sages.

In law-suits there is right and wrong, and human character may be straight or crooked. Why not, at the same time, cause the ‘indicator’ to point out unjustice and crookedness too ? Why must one take the trouble to hear the cases, three men being required to give judgment ?

Perhaps this ‘indicator’ plant never existed, and is nothing but an invention, or it really existed, but its indicating power is fictitious. Provided that it really could point, then perhaps the plant’s nature was affected by the aspect of men. The ancients, observing the movements of the plant, in their simplicity then imagined that it could point, and from this pointing the ability of indicating cunning people was evolved in their minds 3. When a ladle which turns southwards is thrown on the ground, its handle p2.321 points to the south. Worms from fish and meat, placed on the ground, creep northward 4. This is the nature of these worms. The indicating power of the plants would, also, be its original nature.

Because this plant could point, the Sage 5 propagated the statement that the ‘indicator’ grew in a corner of the palace and could point out cunning people. All officers and functionaries cherishing wicked designs, thereupon, changed their minds, and reformed their conduct, adopting loyal and honest proceedings.

At present, in the court-yards of public buildings, Kao Yao and the monoceros 6 are painted, and scholars declare that the monoceros is a goat with one horn which, by instinct, knows the guilty. When Kao Yao, administering justice, was doubtful about the guilt of a culprit, he ordered this goat to butt it. It would butt the guilty, but spare the innocent. Accordingly, it was a sage animal born with one horn, a most efficient assistant in judicial proceedings. Therefore did Kao Yao hold it in high respect, using it on all occasions. Consequently, it belonged to the class of supernatural ominous creatures.

I say, the remarks concerning the ‘indicator’ apply to the monoceros as well : A goat must have two horns, the monoceros had one. When compared with its kindred, it had a bodily defect, and did not come up with its species ; why, then, must it be looked upon as a miracle ? A turtle with three legs is called a nêng, and a tortoise with three legs, a fên. Since neither a nêng nor a fên p2.322 are considered more wonderful than turtles and tortoises with four legs, wherefore should a goat with one horn be wiser than others with two horns ?

The rhinopithecus knows the past, the magpie, the future, and parrots can talk 1. Their original nature enables them to do one thing, but not two. Perhaps the monoceros was so organised that it merely could gore a man, but there is no necessity why it should have known whether he was guilty. Kao Yao, from a desire to give more weight to his administration by the supernatural, lest those suffering punishment should be recalcitrant, availed himself of the monoceros, and when it gored somebody he punished him, in order that people might be afraid of doing wrong, and that culprits, up to their old age, should never complain of injustice.

All animals are endowed with some special knowledge ; if the monoceros, in view of its faculty of butting be held to be supernatural, the rhinopithecus and the like would all be supernatural,

Wizards know good and ill luck, and predetermine happiness and adversity. There is no doubt about that ; however, if the monoceros be said to possess similar faculties, wizards can no more be regarded as exceptional or remarkable men.

There is a general tendency to make use of the supernatural as an incentive. When Shih Shang Fu 2 was minister of war to the Chou sovereign and leading an army to defeat Chou, they arrived at Mêng Ford. There leaning on his halberd and grasping a standard, he shouted to his men the word ‘T‘sang-kuang’ 3. A t‘sang-kuang is a water animal which is in the habit of subverting boats. Therefore he used this monster to impress his men, inducing them promptly to cross the water, since otherwise the t‘sang-kuang would injure them. Consequently it bears some resemblance to the monoceros.

p2.323 This strange creature lives in the river, and at times comes swimming to the surface. It has one body with nine heads. People dread and loathe it, but it does not follow that it must subvert ships. Since there was such a strange animal in the river, Fu used it to overawe his warriors. The monoceros goring culprits is like the t‘sang-kuang subverting boats. All these are empty stories without any foundation. Man is afraid of the marvellous, therefore he magnifies and embellishes it.

It has, also, been said that in times of universal peace the ‘brilliant star’ appears. We learn from the ‘Middle Period of the Shuking’ 1 that in the time of Yao the brilliant star became visible in Corvus 2. Now the brilliant star may have been one of the Five Planets of which the biggest are Jupiter and Venus. At that time, Jupiter or Venus may have come into the latitude of Corvus. The ancients in their simplicity could not follow up the courses of the Five Planets, and did not know the exact shape of Jupiter and Venus. On perceiving a big star, they styled it ‘brilliant star’ 3.

The Shiking, moreover, states 4 that in the east there was Lucifer and in the west Hesperus. These, again, were perhaps no p2.324 other stars than Jupiter and Venus 5. It may be that they appeared at dusk in the west, and at dawn in the east. The poets of the Shiking did not know them, and thus gave them the names of Lucifer and Hesperus. Hesperus as well as the brilliant star belongs to the Five Planets.

In times of universal peace, the lustre of the sun and the moon are peculiarly brilliant. The Five Planets are akin to the sun and the moon. If in such blessed times there appears a ‘brilliant star’ extra, would there be a new sun and another moon likewise ? The authors of the Shiking are common people, and the middle period is an age of simplicity, when nobody was well versed in astronomy.

Under the régime of Wang Mang, Venus traversed the sky as effulgent as a crescent. If persons ignorant of stars had seen it, they would again have called it a ‘brilliant star’.

The Erh-ya 6 in its chapter on the four seasons says that in spring plants begin growing, in summer they develop and ripen, in autumn they are harvested, and in winter there is complete stillness 1. The four fluids combined produce the ‘brilliant star’ 2. According to this explanation of the Erh-ya, ‘brilliant star’ would be but another name of the blending of the fluids of the four seasons, and I am afraid that it cannot be a big star attached to the sky. The Erh,-ya is a book commenting upon the antiquities of the Five Classics ; all students have recourse to it, but they do not follow it, insomuch as they hold the ‘brilliant star’ to be a big star in the skies. Why is the assertion of the Erh-ya about the ‘brilliant star’ so divergent from the view of the scholars ?

The Erh-ya further says that when ‘sweet dew’ descends the whole vegetation is blessed 3, and that it is called ‘wine spring’ 4. p2.325 Consequently wine springs mean sweet dew. But the savants of today urge that these springs flow from within the earth, and that their taste is as sweet as wine, whence the name ‘wine spring’ is derived. There is a considerable discrepancy between these two statements, and it is difficult to know the truth.

In the chapter of the Erh-ya treating of water and springs 5 we read that a spring which at times is visible, at others not, is called intermittent. A fountain comes straight out ; to come straight out means welling up. A cascade falls down ; to fall down means flowing downward 6. Consequently, springs are given different names according to their different modes of flowing forth. Provided that in times of general peace there be still wine springs issuing from the earth, they ought to be mentioned in this chapter, wherefore are they inserted into the chapter on the four seasons, where it is laid that ‘sweet dew’ is equivalent to ‘wine spring’ ? Therefore the affirmation of the Literati to the effect that wine springs rise from earth, and their contention that the taste of sweet dew is very sweet cannot be accepted as correct.

Scholars maintain that when the highest principles prevail the radiance of the sun and the moon is most brilliant, the stars do not deviate from their courses, a whirl-wind arises, sweet dew falls down, the rain is well apportioned, and the Yin uniform. Respecting this sweet dew they do not contend that the taste of the rain water is sweet. Accordingly they mean to say that this sweet dew descending moistens and nourishes the whole vegetation, but it must not taste sweet.

However, there is also a sort of dew as luscious as lollypops and honey, and always a presage of universal peace, but it is not the sweet dew nourishing all plants. How so ? This dew as sweet as lollypops and honey cleaves to trees, and not to the Five Grains. When the other dew without a sweet taste falls down, it saturates p2.326 the soil and irrigates the vegetation, infiltrating and soaking everything.

Thus the Erh-ya comes near the truth, for its statement may be verified by experience. When the sweet tasting dew falls down and adheres to a tree, the tree to which it sticks does not become more luxuriant than others to which it does not stick. Yet the sweet dew of our time is different from that described by the Erh-ya, I should say. The sweet dew of the Erh-ya has the peculiarity that all plants touched by it will flourish and come to maturity, no natural calamity intervening. This is a characteristic of a fall of sweet dew. Sweet dew, therefore, is nothing else than wine springs.



On the Rain Sacrifice

45. XV, III. Ming-yü


p2.327 Phenomenalists hold that long rain causes floods, and that long heat produces droughts. Droughts correspond to intense Yang, and floods to heavy downpours.

It may be argued that, in the course of a year, about every ten days it rains once, and every five days there is wind 1. Long lasting rain forebodes a flood, and a long period of heat gradually conduces to a drought. However, during the time of a flood, the ruler of men must not, necessarily, be dripping, or during a drought, be burning hot. In his administration he remains the same before and after, and that at one time there is an inundation, at another dryness, is owing to the fluid of the season.

Fan Li 2 in his work ‘Calculations’ said,

« The planet Jupiter being in the constellation tse 3, water means destruction, metal a good harvest, wood a famine, and fire a drought.

Accordingly water, a drought, a famine, and a good harvest would follow the revolutions of Jupiter. Jupiter agrees with their terms, and the fluid of the season accords with their periods, yet the phenomenalists give their own explanations, and the sovereign, trusting their words, endeavours to find out his guilt and reform 4. After a long time of heat, it rains of itself, and after much rain, sunshine reappears of itself. Then the phenomenalists point to the success achieved by the prince, who agrees with them and henceforth believes in their theories.

Had, for example, the sovereign kept quiet and not taken any trouble, nor searched for his own imaginary faults, Heaven would likewise have rained spontaneously, and rain would have been succeeded by sunshine as a matter of course. Even though, when p2.328 the heat or the rain cease, the prince may have been inactive, phenomenalists still propound their devices, so that the fluids of the Yang and Yin would be regulated by man, and not depend upon Heaven. However, man cannot affect Heaven by his dealings, and Heaven does not pay heed to human actions and respond to them.

During the ‘Spring and Autumn’ period, the great Rain Sacrifice in Lu was an offering together with a prayer for rain in a time of dryness. When, after a long drought, it had not rained, they prayed and sacrificed to obtain happiness, as, in a case of serious illness, the spirits are sacrificed to, that they may dispel the calamity. All this aims at a return to the normal state.

The Shiking says that,

« The moon approaches the Hyades, which will bring heavy showers of rain,

and in the Shuking we find the remark that

« When the moon follows the stars, there is wind and rain 1.

Accordingly, wind and rain would be dependent on this movement of the moon.

There are three ways parting from the ‘House’ constellation in different directions 2. The sun and the moon in their courses pass on these ways, departing northward, they cause a flood, departing southward, a drought. Yet there are some who contend that their departure northward is followed by a drought, and the departure southward, by a flood. The moon is a sign for the whole world, whereas the ‘House’ constellation is a mark for the Nine Provinces 3. The northerly and the southerly directions of the moon, therefore, do not concern Lu alone.

Confucius, on the point of going out, bade Tse Lu prepare his rain apparel, and, after a few minutes, in fact a great shower came down. Tse Lu asked for an explanation, and Confucius replied,

— Yesterday evening the moon approached the Hyades.

Later on, the moon had again approached the Hyades. Confucius going out, Tse Lu wished to prepare his rain apparel, but Confucius would not have it, and really it did not rain, after he had left. Tse Lu asked the reason.

— Formerly, said Confucius, the moon drew near p2.329 the northern part, hence it rained. Yesterday evening the moon came near the southern part, therefore it did not rain 4.

Consequently in Lu the rain depended on the approximation of the moon, and by no means on government. If it was really influenced by administrative measures, and if the moon approaching the Hyades was but a presage of rain, it was common to the whole world, and, when it rained in Lu, it should have done so everywhere on earth.

During the period of the Six States government was not everywhere the same, and rewards and punishments were meted out at different times by the various princes. Provided that rain is to respond to these administrative acts, then at least six or seven Hyades are necessary for the moon to approach.

Under the régime of Duke Mu of Lu 1 there was a year of drought. The duke addressed Hsien Tse saying,

— Heaven has sent dryness, and it does not rain. I would like to burn a sorcerer 2. What do you think ?

Hsien Tse did not approve of this measure. The duke then proposed to shift the market to some other place.

— At the death of the son of Heaven, said Hsien Tse, it is the habit to hold the market in side-alleys for seven days, and, when a ruler of a State expires, this is done for five days. Wherefore should the market not be shifted ? 3

According to these words of Hsien Tse, by shifting the market-place rain is obtained, whereas it appears from the text of the Shiking and the Shuking that the vicinity of the moon to a constellation has this result. The courses of the sun and the moon have their regular periods, would they approach the south of the Hyades on account of a market-place having been moved ? The moon and the Hyades are prognostics for the whole world, how could the shifting of a market-place in Lu cause the moon to alter its course ? The moon completes one circumvolution round the sky in thirty days, and within one month’s time it once passes the Hyades. When it comes near its southern part, there is heat. Provided that the shifting of the market could have such an influence on the moon, that it approached the southern part of the p2.330 Hyades, would rain be obtained, if at that time the market-place were moved ? The dictum of Hsien Tse cannot be accepted.

Tung Chung Shu, with a view to attracting rain, used the scheme of the Ch‘un-ch‘iu 4, raising a hill and setting up a sacrifice. A father does not accept oblations from collateral branches of his descendants 5, nor Heaven on low earth 1. As to the rites of the rain-sacrifice of the princes, we ignore to which spirit it was offered. If it was to the Spirit of Heaven, Heaven would not receive an oblation but from the emperor, and would refuse those from the feudal lords or our present high officers. But unless a spirit accepted the sacrifice, how could its succour be obtained ? If the clouds and the rain were the recipients of the sacrifice, they are air. In what manner should the air of clouds and rain smell and enjoy offerings ?

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