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

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It may happen that even people with ugly faces and bad looks are represented to a ruler as very attractive, as were Mu Mu 5 and Wu Yen 6. Mu Mu was sent to the emperor Huang Ti, and Wu Yen chosen by the king of Ch‘i. Therefore virtue and vice may be predetermined, but it is difficult to foresee success, because the likes and dislikes of a prince are uncertain, and the promotion of an official cannot be known beforehand.

p2.035 Happening to fall in with an employer, is the proper thing, and to harmonise with him, means advancement. Those who are promoted need not always be clever, or those who are not, un-intelligent. He who, when meeting with a prince, finds favour, advances, he who does not, loses his opportunity.

There is a wide-spread opinion that wise men can be successful and that, if they are not, it is their own fault, because they do not adapt themselves to their surroundings. They should watch the sovereign to learn his views, regulate their mind and cultivate their talents, pay attention to their words, and be careful about their expressions, await an opportunity to offer their services, and see how they can be useful to the ruler. Would they not be lucky then ? But now it is different. They cultivate useless talents and give impracticable advice. In summer they offer a stove, and in winter a fan. They do things which are not wanted, and say words which no one likes to hear. Then, of course, their bad luck and their misfortune is certain, for how could they thus become happy ?

Talents must be useful and advice profitable, every body knows that, but very often the useless obtain happiness, or those who have benefited their master, suffer punishment. And in summer time a stove may be used to dry moisture, or a fan in winter to fan the fire. Other people can be imitated, but it is impossible to meet a ruler’s wishes. Words may be changed, but talents cannot be transmuted. When the reigning sovereign is fond of learning, and somebody is a literary man, he suits him. When, on the other hand, the prince is addicted to militarism, that same person would not suit him.

Wên Wang did not like war, and Wu Wang was not a friend of peace. A philosophical prince does not care for action, and an active one does not like arguments. Literature and words can quickly be learned by study, but actions and talents cannot be accomplished all at once. He who has not thoroughly mastered a science, cannot give the proper names, and if his expressions are mostly not correct, he does not find favour with the sovereign. If a study be made in a hasty manner, and names be given in a hurried way, one says that the faculties of the person in question are insufficient and not worth notice. How then should such a man be able to understand the prince and offer his remarks, or step forward and show his abilities ?

Of old during the Chou time, there was a great number of unsuccessful scholars. They were old, had white hair, and stood crying on the road-side. Others inquired what was the cause of their tsars. They rejoined : p2.036

— We scholars have had no chance. We are so sad, because we are old and have lost the right time. Hence our tears.

— How is it possible, said their interlocutors, that you scholars never had any chance ?

— When we were young, replied the scholars, we studied literature, and after we had completed our studies, we wished to take office, but the sovereign liked to use old men. This prince died, and his successor only wanted warriors. Then we turned to military science, but, when we had mastered all its branches, the military prince likewise died, and the young prince ascended the throne. He wished to employ young men only. Meanwhile we had become old. Thus we never had the slightest chance 1.

For officials there exists a propitious time which cannot be sought, for it is impossible to imitate other people, or to know a prince’s character, and still less can this be done by a man with the highest principles and loftiest aims who is not influenced by profit, or by persons with a strong nature and firm character who do not care for a prince. Moreover, luck cannot be predetermined, and advice cannot be given in advance. By accident, one may meet with success and fall in with a sovereign’s view, therefore they speak of luck. To observe a prince’s ways, and to choose one’s words with a view to acquiring honour, may be called calculation, but not luck.

In spring the seed sown grows, in autumn it is cut and harvested. Seeking things one obtains them, and doing things one completes them, but we cannot call that luck. That which comes of itself without any seeking, or is completed of itself without any doing, is called luck. It is like picking up things lost on the road, or taking something thrown away in the country, like the fertility of heaven and the productiveness of earth, or the assistance of ghosts and the succour of the spirits. That the spirit of a Ch‘in Hsi secretly benefits, and the mind of a Pao Shu silently promotes a man, are cases of luck 2. But ordinary people cannot argue on good and bad luck. They extol the lucky and decry the unlucky. They look to success and ask what has been accomplished, but cannot appreciate conduct or value powers and talents.



Annoyances and Vexations

2. I, II. Lei-ho


p2.037 Officials in their career may be hampered and checked, their characters may be slandered and pulled to pieces, their offences be mercilessly magnified, and their names be sullied and bespattered. That does not prove that their talents are inferior, or their conduct is iniquitous, or that their minds are unenlightened, and their ideas muddled. They have met with misfortune from abroad, and are hardly dealt with.

This is not only true of men, but of all other things as well. All living and moving things have to suffer annoyances and vexations. These annoyances come from without, not from within. Since their source is not to be sought there, those people who inconsiderately lay them to the charge of the sufferers, show a narrow mind and a regrettable want of judgment.

That plants grow in spring, we can warrant, but, whether they will bear fruit in autumn, nobody can predict. Their roots may suddenly be trampled upon by oxen and horses, and their stalks cut down with knives and sickles. Then their growth is impeded, and they do not ripen in autumn. Plants not ripening have suffered some injury and thus do not develop.

When rice has been touched by rats, it is spoiled and not fit for eating. The taste of this spoiled rice is the same as that of unsullied rice, but owing to the trespass of the rats, it is thrown away and not used. The annoyances and vexations of a noble character are similar in nature to those of the plants which did not develop, or the rice which is not used. Since they all come from without, they are to be looked upon as annoyances and vexations.

By purifying oneself and regulating one’s conduct it is impossible to attract happiness, and by trembling fear and precautions one cannot eschew misfortune. The arrival of happiness and misfortune is good or bad chance. Therefore they say, ‘That which is obtained not by one’s own force is called happiness, and that which happens not through my own doing is called misfortune 1. p2.038 But, when it is not my doing, whence does it come ? From my native place and from the administration.

In one’s native place there are three annoyances and in the administration three vexations 1. The annoyances originate in one’s native place, and the vexations in the administration. In ancient and modern times remarkable men and excellent characters have experienced this.

Which are the so-called three annoyances and which the three vexations ?

People are not always careful enough in selecting their friends. As long as they agree, there is the greatest kindness, but when they disagree, an estrangement takes place, and this estrangement engenders envy and hatred. Then they slander the conduct of their former friend. That is the first annoyance 2.

The accomplishments of men are of a higher or a lower order and cannot be quite equal. When several persons begin their career at the same time, the well gifted become illustrious 3. The less able out of shame and anger then slander their betters. That is the second annoyance 4.

Men in their intercourse cannot always be pleased. Cheerfulness leads to friendliness, anger to alienation, and alienation to animosity. In this frame of mind people slander others. That is the third annoyance 5.

Now for the first vexation. Offices are few, and candidates many. The scholars compete for admission, and when admitted, fight for the posts. Calling upon the governor, they defame one another, sending in coloured reports. The governors are not perspicacious enough to detect the deceit and listen to their insinuations 6.

The second vexation is this : Governors and clerks have different propensities, and their doings are pure or foul. The generous clerks are enthusiasts for all that is noble and beautiful, and never p2.039 use other but pure words. The corrupt clerks resent this, and by degrees try to find fault with their rivals, slandering them for the smallest wrong, for which punishment is inflicted upon the latter 7.

Or the governors are biassed in favour of some of their subordinates and believe in what they say. These subordinates will, against all propriety, recommend their friends for extraordinary promotion. Those who oppose them, lose their sympathy and are slandered by them more than can be imagined. Honest officials daring to offer resistance and to propound different views, attract their hatred and are decried to the governors. That is the third vexation 1.

Those who have not yet taken office have to suffer the three annoyances, and those who are in office, the three vexations. Even a Confucius and a Mê Ti could not avoid them, and men like Yen Hui and Tsêng T‘san would not be free of them. How many hundred or thousand meritorious deeds soever they might accomplish, multitudes of envious persons would rise around them. Thorns and prickles would prick them and stick to their bodies and faces, and wasps and scorpions would sting the highly-principled 2.

These six troubles are not the only ones, but the most conspicuous 3, the world however does not perceive them. It does not see that owing to their doings the scholars have to suffer the three annoyances, and the officials, the three vexations. Those who remain uninjured they call undefiled, and those who have been calumniated, degraded. Those functionaries who advance in their career they regard as good, and those who are dismissed from office, as bad.

A man who continues unharmed and advances, is fortunate and praised, and another who is slandered and dismissed, is unlucky and blamed. But going thoroughly into the matter, we must admit that there are the three annoyances and the three vexations. Since those speaking about these matters ignore that people may be affected by these grievances, although their deeds be pure and virtuous, they mix mud with clay, and bespatter silk with black. But who knows that ? Purity is polluted, and whiteness covered with dirt. Flies like to sully white silk. He who is standing on a height is in danger, and those living in prosperity suffer losses. Those fallen down usually were in precipitous places.

p2.040 Ch‘ü P‘ing’s purity was unblemished, but all the dogs of the city barked at him. Dogs bark at what appears strange to them. To condemn the noble-minded and suspect the genius is a sign of a poor head 4.

A remarkable man endowed with all the virtues of a genius causes all the dogs to bark. Such being the case, is it necessary still to persuade the low class people and to harmonise with the worthless ? Those base and worthless people cannot be convinced.

Should then average people be taken as a model to preserve one’s reputation and avoid slander ? Those who agree with ordinary people and preserve their reputation, are those goody persons, who in all their doings are irreproachable, so that they are not open to reprimands, and that to criticise them is useless 5. Thus even Confucius was found guilty, and Mencius culpable.

Those who in ancient times excelled by virtue could not safeguard themselves. Therefore those who following their nature quietly awaited the annoyances and vexations to come, were the really virtuous and honest. Through the most injurious slanders and calumnies the real character of those men shone forth.

How should the traces of pure and noble deeds not be covered with the dust of envious slander ? The guitar players would fain have broken the fingers of Po Ya 1, and the charioteers have crushed the hand of Wang Liang 2. Why ? Because they were all craving for the fame of exceptional skill, and hated those who surpassed them.

Thus the girl of Wei was a great beauty, but Chêng Hsiu 3 cut her nose off 4, and Chao Wu 5 was loyal and honest, but p2.041 Wu Chi 6 expelled him. Hunchbacks are full of envy, and big-bellied persons often deceitful.

For this very reason one does not sprinkle the dust in wet halls, and one does not shelter low cottages against the wind 7. Plants too much shaken by the wind do not grow, and banks against which the water dashes do not remain high. Yu-li, Ch‘ên and T‘sai 8 may serve as an example, and the drowning in the Yangtse or the jumping into the Yellow River 9. If those who vie in virtue to win fame in the eyes of the common people, or strive to preserve their reputation before the governors, do not meet with the disgrace of Têng Hsi 10, or incur the penalty of Tse Hsü 11, it is chance.

People do not assault the dead body of Mêng Pên, for its life is gone, nor do they throw water on a hundred bushels of burnt out embers, for the fire is extinct. If some one outshines all others by his intelligence, and sheds his lustre over a whole age, or if he surpasses all by his energy, and stands towering over all the. crowd, he is always slandered and envied by ordinary people. In case a man attempts to neutralise the common attacks with his honest heart, the profit which he seeks turns into loss. It was for this reason that Confucius felt sad, and Mencius was full of sorrow.

Those possessed of great virtue attract calumnies and are carped at by other scholars. To avert these censures with appeasing words and to try to get rid of these dangerous grievances, is a hard task indeed.

The defamation of Tsang T‘sang has not yet died out, and the opposition of Kung-Po Liao 1 is not yet broken. Ant-hills are p2.042 made into mountains, and rivulets into rivers and streams. The smallest good is distasteful to wicked people 2.

If we speak of polluting, purity may be sullied, and whiteness covered with dirt, and if we speak of slander, the best and noblest man is envied, and the greatest talent sneered at. As regards punishment, the most loyal words cause misfortune, and the noblest deeds bring about shame and disgrace, and as for imperfections, even a gem may have a flaw, and a pearl, some small defect.

The elder brother of the lord of Ch‘ên-liu 3 was renowned over all Yen-chou 4. He had left the most brilliant traces, and not the slightest fault could be detected. When the time of entering the administration had come, the governor blackened his sterling character, so that he was disgraced and not employed.

Those who are not yet in office have to suffer the three annoyances, and those who have already been employed, are visited with the three vexations. Even Confucius and Ti could not escape them, and Yen Hui and Tsêng T‘san could not remain unscathed. For all love those only who enjoy the general applause, but slight the truly wise.

From dukes and marquises down, gems and pebbles are intermixed 5, and as regards the actions of the wise and the scholars, good and bad ones are mingled. As the lapidary breaks the stones to take out the gem, so those who select the scholars reject the bad and keep the good. Therefore those who merely annoy and vex others sin against society. Which way should be taken to counteract them ?



On the Cunning and Artful

33. XI, III. Ta-ning


p2.043 The following question may be raised : The virtuous obtain honourable appointments and high wages, in case they behave properly, why then must people acquire wealth and honour by cunning ?

The reason is this. If the cunning, though well aware that proper conduct leads to wealth and honour, nevertheless seek a position and money by deceit, it is because they cannot withstand their inclinations. People know that vigorously tilling the ground, they can expect a harvest, and that a brisk trade will provide them with valuable goods. If they must steal them all the same, they are unable to overcome their natural propensities. Those who always do their duty, are held in esteem by every one, albeit yet the unrighteous are many, and the friends of justice in the minority ; the hearts of the former are concupiscent, and their will and intellect confused and weak. The cunning have the same qualities as the virtuous 1, but succumb to their passions. The robbers are no less intelligent than farmers and merchants, but become guilty by their cupidity.


Question : The cunning and the virtuous having the same qualities, qualities and conduct ought to agree. Why must the cunning alone succumb to their passions ?

Reply : Wealth and honour is what every one desires. Even he who by his conduct proves himself to be a perfect gentleman, in subject to the feelings of hunger and thirst. But a superior man combats his feelings by propriety, and dispels his desires by righteousness. Thus walking the right path, he eschews calamities. A vile man, on the other hand, yields to his greed and avarice, transgressing the rules of propriety and failing against the laws of righteousness. That leads to waywardness and cunning, by p2.044 which he becomes liable to punishment. The virtuous are superior men, the cunning are vile. In their doings and dealings the superior men and the vile widely differ, and their likes and dislikes are dissimilar.


Question : Have the cunning and the slanderers the same principles, or is there any difference ?

Reply : The cunning and the slanderers are both vile, their principles are the same, but their qualities, different. Envy is the mainspring of their characters, which, however, manifest and reveal themselves in a different way. Slanderers hurt others by their tongues, whereas the cunning endanger them by their actions. The former take the direct road, the latter prefer the crooked one, and disguise their plans. The slanderers do not intrigue, the cunning have all kinds of devices. Therefore the sovereign can avoid the company of slanderers and seek that of the kind-hearted, but he is unable to distinguish the cunning from the virtuous.

Exception : Since a sovereign can always keep aloof from slanderers and consort with the kind-hearted, but is incapable of drawing a distinction between the virtuous and the cunning, is it impossible to know the mind of the latter ?

Reply : The cunning can be known, but a sovereign is not qualified to acquire this knowledge. An ordinary sovereign does not know the virtuous, and for that very reason cannot know the cunning either. Only wise and sage men examine their actions by the Nine Virtues and verify their words by the outcome of their deeds. If those actions do not harmonise with the Nine Virtues 1, and if their words are not proved true by their doings, the persons in question are not virtuous, but cunning. By knowing the cunning one knows the virtuous, and by knowing the virtuous one knows the cunning. The knowledge of the cunning at the same time displays the nature of the virtuous and wise, and a conception of the virtuous is a key to understanding the character of the cunning and artful. The virtuous and the cunning proceed p2.045 in a different way, but the same investigation shows us what they are ; their aspirations are not the same, but one look reveals their real nature.


Question : The system of the Nine Virtues has long been established, and there is no student but on seeing measures, knows their capacity, or on beholding scales, knows their weight. How is it that a ruler and lord of the land is ever surrounded by false and cunning ministers and always humbugged and hoodwinked ?

(Reply) : One must not complain that the measures are wrong, but that there is no grain to be measured, nor that there are no scales, but that there is nothing to be weighed. Those on the throne do not ignore that by means of the Nine Virtues they can investigate actions, and that from the results of his actions the sentiments of the agent may be inferred. If nevertheless they are blindfolded and see nothing, it is evident that they did not take the trouble to look. It is not always possible to act, but any action may be scrutinised, and men cannot always go into a question, but their sentiments may always be learned.


Question : When the actions do not agree with the Nine Virtues, an investigation into the achievements does not disclose any deserts. Then such persons though promoted, do not turn out virtuous, and not being virtuous, they are cunning. Now, can men of trivial talents and superficial knowledge who cannot come up to the virtuous, since they have not their merits, nor act like them, be called cunning ?

Reply : The talents not being equally matched, there can be no rivalry of actions, nor a competition of merits. If people cannot cope together in knowledge, their talents may be in a proportion of ten to a hundred, but their likes and dislikes ought to be the same. However the virtuous and the cunning do not act in the same way. Both declare good to be good, and bad, bad, and both enjoy real fame, but in their works the former build up, the latter destroy. According to their distinction of right and wrong, their p2.046 doings must likewise be true or false. Now they agree in their words, but their proceedings are different, both have an excellent name, but the doings of the cunning are depraved.


Question : — If those whose dealings are in accordance with the Nine Virtues are virtuous, then those whose actions are not, are cunning. Must then all the ordinary people be held to be cunning owing to their actions ?

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