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

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Reply : All who are not right are wicked. Among the wicked those who kick against the pricks, are called unprincipled, and those who are artful, are considered cunning. In the penal laws of the holy emperors the cunning are ranked among the wicked, and in their rewards and exhortations the virtuous are among the good. The virtuous of perfect purity and the best among the good, are the sages among the virtuous. On the other hand, the great impostors among the wicked 1, are the worst of the bad. Whence they say that one must look for the virtuous among the good, and search for the cunning among the wicked. When goodness and badness are well determined, the virtuous and the cunning become manifest.


Question : The intelligent may be beclouded, and in arguing one may be mistaken. Now, if those who are right, are looked upon as virtuous, and those who are wrong, as cunning, this would be a misconception of the real nature of virtue, I should say.

Reply : That the intellect may be beclouded and arguments erroneous, is much to be regretted. Therefore we have the saying : [In punishing premeditated crimes none must be considered too small 2, and in condoning carelessness none should be deemed too great. 1] A wise sovereign scrutinises the heart, and examines the mind, and then he punishes malice, and pardons mistakes. In case p2.047 of premeditated attacks the penalty is increased, for mistakes and errors it is diminished 2. Every judge can make this distinction, and he will harbour no doubt, when he falls in with a virtuous man.


Question : May those be called cunning whose words and deeds are not attended with any success ?

(Reply) : When Su Ch‘in 3 brought about a confederation of Six States 4, mighty Ch‘in did not venture to review its troops outside the gates, and when Chang Yi 5 sowed distrust, the Six States did not risk a joint attack within the gates. The Six States being allied, Ch‘in was afraid, and the Six States were powerful ; the Three Ch‘in 6 having spread discord, Ch‘in became powerful and the empire weak. The merits of these men were conspicuous, and their success was obvious. They have been recorded on bamboo and silks. Even worthies could not have outvied them. The Grand Annalist speaking of all the worthies, devotes special chapters to Su Ch‘in 7 and Chang Yi 8, nor is there any allusion to their having been envious or depraved. Their deserts were the same, and their fame not inferior to that of worthies. Merits which fall short of those of the worthies are like fame which is not real.

Chang Yi and Su Ch‘in were men who could arrange difficulties. Living in a time of great disorder and confusion 9, they formed far reaching plans. At that time Chi 10 and Hsieh 11 could not have vied with them in scheming, and and Kao Yao would not have been p2.048 as successful. When the Yin and the Yang are in harmony, wind and rain set in at the proper time, the Five Grains grow in abundance, and robbers and thieves desist from their iniquitous doings ; this is the merit of some persons exhibiting disinterestedness and self-denial, and of families displaying morality and virtue. Appointments, salary, honour, and glory are the results of plans and schemes 1, and not the upshot of morality and virtue. The Grand Annalist recording merits, the Kao-lai-sse-chi-lu was written. Illustrious deeds have been carefully gone through, and all the most excellent, put on record. Chang Yi and Su Ch‘in’s exploits being so famous have also been included in this narrative. From this it follows that the cunning may also distinguish themselves by their gift of speech 2, and that those who have no success cannot be cunning.

Exception : Those among the wicked who win merit are called cunning. In order to acquire merit they must be possessed of high talents and a keen intellect. Their thoughts must be far-reaching and pay regard to justice and benevolence, that they may be confounded with the great worthies. Whence it is said in the chapter on recognising the cunning 3 : — When the ruler of men has a taste for disputations, the words of the cunning are sharp, and when he delights in literature, their speech is refined. Sympathising with his feelings and falling in with his views, they ingratiate themselves with the ruler, who does not perceive the falsity of their words. How could he learn their duplicity and detect their deceitfulness ?

Reply : This remark only refers to an ordinary sovereign, of poor gifts and a limited intelligence, who is easily overreached, and then does not see anything, and takes a knave for a virtuous man. When a prince is a good observer, discrimination is as easy for him as beholding dried meat on a dish, pointing out the lines on the palm, counting the figures on a chessboard, and unharnassing a horse in p2.049 the shafts. Fish and turtles abscond in the depths, but fishermen know their resorts ; birds and beasts hide in the mountains, but hunters perceive their tracks. The conduct of the cunning is different from that of most other people, and only ordinary sovereigns and men of mediocre abilities cannot see the difference.

Exception : The sovereign being fond of discussions, the cunning will use sharp words, and, when he is partial to literature, the style of the cunning is refined. Their words and deeds thus being modelled upon those of the prince, how can they be discovered ?

Reply : Wên Wang says of the method how officials are to be treated : A consideration of their former actions makes us understand their present words, and hearing their present words we may form a judgment of their former actions. Beholding the outward appearance we learn to know what is hidden, and from the inside we infer the outside. Thus the hypocrites posing as law-abiding people may be known, and heartless deceivers be distinguished. Conversely, sterling characters and truly good people are found out, and the faithful who observe the laws, appear. When, by nature, the cunning do not like discussions, but the sovereign has a fancy for them, they will imitate their lord with a view to agree with him, and when originally their mind has no literary turn, upon learning that their sovereign is addicted to literature, they will endeavour to equal him. His Majesty being extravagant, the cunning wear costly dresses, and in case His Majesty is thrifty, they avoid all pomp. Their present actions disagree with the former, and their behaviour at court is other than at home. Comparing their conduct in their native village with their manners in the palace, and contrasting the way in which they treat their own people with the style in which they serve their prince, we become aware that there is a discrepancy between the outside and the inside, and that the name and the thing do not tally. At certain moments this becomes visible, when their falsehood leaks out.


Question : Human actions are not constant and unchangeable. Special circumstances often determine the issue. The faithful become traitors, and the straight turn crooked, changes brought about by special circumstances. The actions differ at different times, each event is attended with its special effect, sometimes people say one thing, sometimes another. The books of the Literati give many instances, and such changes under special circumstances are not p2.050 unusual. Now, must we not fall into error, if we take normal conditions as a basis ?

Reply : The virtuous may be favoured by circumstances, and so may the cunning. When the virtuous are thus favoured, they act accordingly, whereas, when the cunning are, they lose all restraint and do evil. The virtuous avail themselves of such an opportunity for a noble aim and for their country, while the cunning use it for their personal profit and that of their family. Such an opportunity helps us to discriminate between the virtuous and the cunning. Observing how they react on such an incentive, we learn whom we may call depraved and whom virtuous.


Question : Does it happen that the cunning like to defame others ?

Reply : The cunning do not defame others, those who do, are slanderers. For the cunning have no occasion to slander, because they merely seek profit. If some one is useful to them, why should they slander him, and if he is not, slandering would be of no avail. By their scheming they seek advantage, and by their plots to make profit, and this profit they acquire in a convenient manner.

In case they grudge others a share of it, they intrigue against them. When they intrigue against somebody, they do not defame him, and injuring some one, they do not treat him badly. On the contrary, they praise a man, while laying their traps for him, so that he does not become aware of them, and cajole him whom they are going to strike, so that he has no suspicions. In this manner the cunning plot, without incurring any hatred, and they injure, nay ruin a man, without fearing his vengeance. Hiding their feelings and concealing their intentions, they even give themselves the air of exerting themselves for others. If they slandered others, these would again slander them. Nobody would have any sympathy for them, and the scholars would not consort with them. How could they fill their place in the world then, and win the good graces of their lord ?


Question : If the cunning do not slander others in society, do they slander them to the governors ?

Reply : The cunning deceive the governors with men, but they do not slander others in their presence. p2.051

Question : Then, how do the cunning proceed ?

Reply : When the cunning calumniate others, they praise them, and, when they plot against them, they lull them into security. Wherein consists their slandering and plotting ?

E. g. let a man have great accomplishments and a wonderful knowledge, that his fame spreads far and wide. A governor afraid, lest the sovereign summon the man to hear his advice, and put more reliance in him than in himself, seeks a pretence to pass him over in silence. But those who constantly extol and belaud the man and introduce him to his notice, are many. The governor mentions that he desires to employ him and asks somebody’s opinion about him. This one does not reply that X is a worthy and deserving to be called to office, for X would not like to be retained in a district, he formerly heard him say so. He declared that he hoped to go to a prefecture, and being in a circuit, he hoped to be transferred to a department. If his aims be lofty, he does not act like other people, and if his hopes be far-reaching, he does not care for what is near 1. Being given a small office, his ambition is not satisfied, or he lies down sick, and a poor appointment would injure his virtue or hurt his dignity. Therefore the sovereign will prefer to choose ordinary officials, that he may not lose his name or derogate to his reputation, for, provided that he can bear the thought of deferring to the worthy, he may use him, but if he considers to be unable to do so, it is not advisable to employ him. In case he makes use of him, and both sides are not equally benefitted, or that he dismisses him, and both do not suffer, he fears his resentment. Consequently he trusts in the suggestions of his cunning adviser and dispenses with the services of the worthy.


Question : Can the cunning, in order to acquire great talents and extensive knowledge, study the ancients alone, or must they learn from a teacher ?

Reply : Every one possesses himself the knowledge to deceive others, but approaching a ruler he must have special qualities to impress him, just as a person in an exalted position overawes his subjects by his boldness. When it comes to fighting he must be conversant with the military art. Those special abilities are uniting and disuniting, and Kuei Ku Tse may be the teacher.

p2.052 There is a tradition that Su Ch‘in and Chang Yi both studied uniting and disuniting 1. The teacher Kuei Ku Tse 2 dug a cavern into the earth and said,

— He that shall speak down to me, so that I come out crying, will be able to divide the territories of rulers.

Su Ch‘in spoke down to him, and Kuei Ku Tse was so moved, that his tears fell and moistened his coat. Chang Yi did not equal Su Ch‘in, who was chief minister of Chao and of the Six States at the same time. Chang Yi, poor and wretched, fell back upon Su Ch‘in, who made him sit down at the lower end of the hall, and gave him the food of the servants and handmaids. Several times calling out for him, he roused his anger with the object of inducing him to become a minister of Ch‘in. In high dudgeon Chang Yi betook himself westward to Ch‘in. Su Ch‘in sent some of his men to escort him with rich presents. Subsequently it dawned upon Chang Yi, and he exclaimed,

— This was planned by him, but I did not understand it. In these things I cannot compete with him 3.

Such schemes proceeded from Su Ch‘in’s profound knowledge. Watching his opportunity, he did his hit at the right moment, hence the high honour in which he was held and his great renown, for he was considered the first hero of his time. In deep laid plans and brilliant devices the profound and the superficial cannot be equally successful, and the clear-headed cannot possess the same knowledge as the blunt-witted.


Question : Is it possible that the cunning care for their good names and accomplish great things ?

Reply : The cunning live on profit and exclusively set store on power. They do not care for their good names nor accomplish great things. By affecting power and sticking to what is vulgar they win a great notoriety of themselves. They are admired by the base, but not esteemed by superior men, for profit and justice are antagonistic, and straightforwardness and crookedness are opposites. It is justice that moves the superior man, and profit the base one. The cunning strive for great profits and notoriety. The superior man not staying in low spheres exposes himself to dangers 1, and the cunning of the whole world meet with so many calamities, p2.053 that they cannot take care of their persons and still less of their good names.

Many records of former ages give examples of men who abandoned their families to take care of their own persons. Renouncing all gain, they only thought of their names. On bamboo and silks it has been written how Po Ch‘êng Tse Kao 2 left his country and tilled the ground, and how Wu Ling Tse 3 gave up his position to water a garden. In recent times, Wang Chung Tse 4 of Lan-ling 5 and Hsi-Lu Chün Yang 6 in Tung-tu7 have resigned their dignities, and after a prolonged sickness did not respond to the call of their sovereign. They may be said to have been mindful of their repute.

Those who do not proceed on the path of righteousness, cannot advance on this road, and those who are never checked in their progress by the rules of justice, cannot win a reputation by their justice. The cunning, hankering after profit, make light of misfortunes, but think much of their own persons. They suddenly perish and are disgraced ; how should they care for their name. p2.054 Devoid of justice and destitute of virtue, subsequently, their proceedings must entail dishonour, and there can be no question of great accomplishments.


Question : Is it easier to recognise great impostors or small impostors ?

Reply : It is easier to recognise great impostors, and more difficult to recognise the minor ones, for the great impostors have conspicuous abilities, and their whereabouts are easily traced. The small impostors are less shrewd, and their doings harder to detect, which will become clearer from the following consideration :

After a robbery it is difficult to detect small robbers, whereas the big ones are easily found. When they have attacked a city, besieged a town, robbed and pillaged, the thing transpires as soon as it has been done, and all the wayfarers know the robbers. But when they pierce a wall and, stealthily sneaking into a compound, steal, nobody knows them.

Question : Great impostors create disorder by their extreme wickedness. Now, if great robbers are easily known by people in general, wherefore does the ruler find it such an arduous task ?

Reply : The Shuking avers that it requires intelligence to know men, and that only for an emperor it is hard work 1. Shun was a great sage, and Huan Tou 2 a great impostor. For the great sage it was difficult to know the great deceiver, for how could it be easy, since the great deceiver did not give the great sage any annoyance. Therefore a distinction is made between the knowledge of the people and of their lord. The sovereign finds it difficult to know great impostors, but easy to know small ones, whereas the people easily know great impostors, but have difficulties to find out small ones. Provided that the impostors be very clever and fine speakers, then they make such a use of their talents, that the prince with all his power cannot well call them to account for mere thoughts, and with all his intelligence he does not perceive anything. The talents of small impostors are of a lower order. When, amongst their countrymen, at times they are thrown of their guard, their real character leaks out. Then the sovereign is startled, when he gets wind of it. Thus great deceivers cause much more trouble than small ones.

p2.055 When the roof of a house leaks, those who perceive it, are below. In case it leaks much, those below notice it quite clearly ; if the leak is small, those below see it but indistinctly.

[Some one said,

Yung is benevolent, but not cunning.

Confucius said,

— Why should he use cunning. They who encounter men with smartness of speech for the most part procure themselves hatred. 3]

By their ill-advised schemes they interfere with agriculture and commerce, they annoy the citizens to benefit the sovereign and irritate the people to please their lord. The advice of loyal officers is detrimental to the ruler, but advantageous to his subjects, the suggestions of the cunning are detrimental to the subjects and advantageous to the ruler 1.

[The head of the Chi family was richer than the duke of Chou, and yet Ch‘iu collected his imposts for him and increased his wealth. The disciples might have beaten the drum and assailed him.] 2 Collecting for Chi, he did not know how wicked it was, and that all the people condemned him 3.



Weighing of Talents

34. XII, I. Ch‘êng-t‘sai


p2.056 Among those who have discussed the question many are of opinion that scholars cannot be placed on a level with officials. Seeing that the officials are of practical use, and the scholars unemployed, they stigmatise the latter as shallow and incompetent, and praise the former as very ingenious and proficient. That shows that they are as ignorant of scholars as of officials, for both have their talents and abilities, and it is not true that the parts of officers are superior to the accomplishments of literary men. Officers do business, and students have no practice. We may well say that officers are business men, and that students have no practice, but the assumption that officials are ingenious and proficient, and scholars shallow and incompetent, exhibits a want of judgment.

The public usually looks down upon scholars, and these themselves have no very high opinion of their worth, for they would likewise be only too glad to serve their country and imitate the officials, whom they regard as their models. Whatever may be their shortcomings, the public will sneer at them, but the faults of officers they dare not criticise. They lay all the blame on the students, and give all the credit to the functionaries. 1

The talents of the Literati do not fall short of those of the officials, but they lack routine and have not done official work. However, the public slights them, because they notice that the authorities do not like to employ them, a dislike caused by the mass of affairs which they cannot all settle alone, and are obliged to leave to the care of officers. Respecting their qualities and talents they hope that their many abilities may be of use to them. The bureaucrats relieve them of their troubles, working hard in their offices. By their decisions they distinguish themselves, and their chiefs highly appreciate their skill.

p2.057 The scholars are timid and unqualified to overcome difficulties. When the governors are troubled with doubts, they cannot help them, and are unable to exert themselves. Their services being of no benefit under existing conditions, no post is conferred upon them. The governors judge talents by official efficiency and expect them to become manifest in the discharge of official duties. It is for this reason that the public is wont to esteem the officials and despise the scholars. This contempt of the latter, and admiration of the former, is based on the inability of the students to meet the bureaucratic requirements, for public opinion merely inquires into their usefulness.

At present, those in authority are very able and extremely learned men who thoroughly know the people. They take things up in the proper way and ever bring them to a good end. When they appoint officials, they take a sufficient number to assist them in carrying out their designs. Should these designs aim at the cultivation of virtue or at the introduction of reforms, then officers are only like tiles and stones, but scholars like pearls and jewels. Officers are merely able to break resistance and smooth over difficulties, but they know nothing about preserving their own selves pure and undefiled, and therefore cannot be of any great help to their governor 1. Scholars have no experience of business, but excel in guiding and possibly rescuing their superiors. When governors and ministers are going wrong, they are not afraid to remonstrate with them, and warn them.

They who on earth were able to establish stringent rules, who up to three times offered their remonstrances, and enjoined upon the governors to examine and purify themselves, despising all crookedness, have for the most part been scholars. They who assent to everything and try to remain in favour at all cost, and, when their governor indulges his desires, merely bow their heads and remain silent, are mostly officials. They are strong in business, but weak in lealty, whereas scholars are excellent on principles, but bad business men. Both have their special merits and demerits, between which those in power may choose. Those who prefer students, are such as uphold virtue and carry out reforms, p2.058 those who rather take officials, attach the greatest importance to business and the suppression of disorder.

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