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Chapter XXIV. Observing Deeds1

Men of antiquity, because their eyes stopped short of self-seeing, used mirrors to look at their faces; because their wisdom stopped short of self-knowing, they took Tao to rectify their characters. The mirror had no guilt of making scars seen; Tao had no demerit of making faults clear. Without the mirror, the eyes had no other means to rectify the whiskers and eyebrows; without Tao, the person had no other way to know infatuation and bewilderment. For the same reason, Hsi-mên Pao, being quick-tempered, purposely wore hide on his feet to make himself slow; Tung An-yü, being slow-minded, wore bowstrings on his feet to make himself quick. Therefore, the ruler who supplies scarcity with abundance and supplements shortness with length is called "an intelligent sovereign".

There are in All-under-Heaven three truths: First, that even wise men find unattainable tasks; second, that even strong men find immovable objects; and third, that even brave men find invincible opponents.

For instance, though you have the wisdom of Yao but have no support of the masses of the people, you cannot accomplish any great achievement; though you have the physical force of Wu Huo but have no help from other people, you cannot raise yourself; and though you have the strength of Mêng Pên and Hsia Yü and uphold neither law nor tact, you cannot triumph for ever. 2 Therefore, certain positions are untenable; certain tasks, unattainable. Thus, Wu Huo found a thousand chün light but his own body heavy. Not that his body was heavier than a thousand chün, but that position would not facilitate his raising his own body. In the same way, Li Chu found it easy to see across one hundred steps but difficult to see his own eyelashes. Not that one hundred steps were near and eyelashes far, but that the way of nature would not permit him to see his own eyelashes. For such reasons, the intelligent sovereign neither reproaches Wu Huo for his inability to raise himself nor embarrasses Li Chu with his inability to see himself. Yet he counts on favourable circumstances and seeks for the easiest way, so that he exerts small effort and accomplishes both an achievement and a reputation.

Times 3 wax and wane; affairs 4 help and harm; and things 5 come into existence and go into extinction. As the lord of men has these three objects to face, if he expresses the colours of joy and anger, "personages of gold and stone" 6 will be estranged while the wise and shrewd will explore the depth of the ruler's mentality. Therefore, the intelligent sovereign observes people's deeds but never lets people observe his own motives.

Now that you understand the inability of Yao to accomplish the rule by himself, the inability of Wu Huo to raise his own body by himself, and the inability of Mêng Pên and Hsia Yü to triumph by themselves, if you uphold law and tact, then the course of observing deeds will be completed.


1. 觀行. Beginning with this, six successive works give the summary ideas of Han Fei Tzŭ's legalism. Concise and simple, they seem to have been the miscellaneous records of his teachings whose details he developed in other works.

2. I propose 長勝 for 長生. Because in the last sentence of this chapter there is found 長勝 instead of 長生 in regard to the function of the ability of Pên and Yü.

3. 時 implies "opportunities".

4. 事.

5. 物.

6. 金石之士 refers to those men whose talents are as precious as gold and whose minds are as stable as stones.

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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia