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Chapter XXV. Safety and Danger1

The means of safety have seven varieties; the ways to danger, six.

Of the means of safety:—

The first is said to be "reward and punishment in accordance with right and wrong".

The second is said to be "fortune and misfortune in accordance with good and evil".

The third is said to be "life and death in accordance with laws and institutions".

The fourth is said to be "discrimination between the worthy and unworthy but not between the loved and the hated".

The fifth is said to be "discrimination between the stupid and the wise but not between the blamed and the praised".

The sixth is to "have feet and inches but let nobody guess the ruler's mind".

The seventh is to "have good faith but no falsehood".

Of the ways to danger:—

The first is to "make cuts within the string".

The second is to "make breaks beyond the string". 2

The third is to "profit by people's danger".

The fourth is to "rejoice in people's disaster".

The fifth is to "endanger people's safety".

The sixth is "not to keep intimate with the loved nor to keep the hated at a distance".

In cases like the above-mentioned, people will lose the reason to rejoice in life and forget the reason to take death seriously. If people do not rejoice in life, the lord of men will not be held in high esteem; if people do not take death seriously, orders will not take effect.

Let All-under-Heaven devote their wisdom and talent to the refinement of manners and looks and exert their strength to the observance of yard and weight, 3 so that when you move, you triumph, and, when you rest, you are safe. When governing the world, make men rejoice in life in doing good and make them love their bodies too much to do evil. Then small men will decrease and superior men will increase. Consequently, the Altar of the Spirits of Land and Grain will stand for ever and the country will be safe for aye. In a rushing carriage there is no need of Chung-ni; beneath a wrecked ship there is no use of Po-i. So are commands and orders the ship and carriage of the state. In time of safety, intelligent and upright men 4 are born; in case of danger, there arise disputants and rustics. Therefore, keeping the state safe is like having food when hungry and clothes when cold, not by will but by nature. The early kings left principles of government on bamboo slips and pieces of cloth. Their course of government being proper, subsequent ages followed them. In the present age, to make people discard clothes and food when they are hungry and cold, even Mêng Pên and Hsia Yü 5 cannot execute such an order. Whoever discards the way of nature, though his course of government is proper, cannot hold well. Wherever even strong and brave men cannot execute orders, there the superiors cannot be safe. When the insatiable superiors blame the exhausted inferiors, the latter will always give "No more" as reply. When they give "No more" as reply, they slight the law. The law is what the state is governed by. If it is slighted, neither merit will be rendered nor name will be made.

They say that, of old, Pien Ch`iao, when treating serious 6 diseases, pierced through bones with knives. So does the sage on rescuing the state out of danger offend the ruler's ear with loyal words. After the bone has been pierced through, the body suffers a little pain but the person secures a permanent benefit. After the ear has been offended, the mind feels somewhat thwarted but the state secures a permanent advantage. Therefore, seriously ill persons gain by enduring pains; stubborn-minded rulers have good luck only through ear-offending words. If patients could endure the pain, Pien Ch`iao could exert his skill. If the ruler's ear could be offended, Tzŭ-hsü would not have ended in failure. Thus, pain-enduring and ear-offending are means to longevity and security. Naturally, when one was ill but could not endure pain, he would miss Pien Ch`iao's skill; when one is in danger but does not want to have his ear offended, he will miss the sage's counsels. Were such the case, no permanent benefit would continue nor would any glorious fame last long.

If the lord of men does not cultivate himself with Yao as example but requests every minister to imitate Tzŭ-hsü, he is then doing the same as expecting the Yins to be as loyal as Pi Kan. If everybody could be as loyal as Pi Kan, the ruler would neither lose the throne nor ruin himself. As the ruler does not weigh the ministers' powers despite the existence of rapacious ministers like T`ien Ch`êng but expects everybody to be as loyal as Pi Kan, the state can never have a moment of safety.

If the example of Yao and Shun is set aside and that of Chieh and Chow is followed instead, then the people can neither rejoice in their own merits nor worry over their own defects. If they lose their merits, the country will accomplish nothing; if they stick to the defects, they will not rejoice in life. If the authorities having accomplished nothing attempt to rule the people not rejoicing in life, they will not succeed in unifying the people. Should such be the case, the superiors would have no way to employ the inferiors while the inferiors would find no reason to serve the superiors.

Safety and danger rest with right and wrong but not with strength and weakness. Existence and extinction depend upon substantiality and superficiality, but not on big and small numbers. For example, Ch`i was a state of ten thousand chariots, but her name and her reality were not mutually equivalent. The ruler had superficial powers inside the state and paved no gap between name and reality. Therefore, ministers could deprive the sovereign of the throne. Again, Chieh 7 was the Son of Heaven but saw no distinction between right and wrong, rewarded men of no merit, took slanderers into service, respected hypocrites as noble, censured innocent men, ordered men born humpbacked to have their backs cut open, approved falsehood, and disapproved inborn reason. In consequence, 8 a small country could vanquish his big one.

The intelligent sovereign consolidates internal forces and therefore encounters no external failure. Who fails within his reach, is bound to fail at a distance. For instance, the Chous on supplanting the Yins learned by the latter's failures in the court. Should the Yins have made no mistake in their court, even for an autumn down 9 the Chous would not dare to hope from them. How much less would they dare to shift their throne?

The Tao of the intelligent sovereign is true to the law, and his law is true to the mind. Therefore, when standing close by it, he acts on the law; when going away from it, he thinks of it in the mind. Thus, Yao made no covenant as binding as glue and varnish with his age, but his Tao prevailed. Shun left no territory sufficient to set a gimlet on with subsequent ages, but his Teh is bearing fruit. Who can trace his Tao to remote antiquity and leave his Teh to the myriad subsequent ages, is called "an enlightened sovereign".


1. 安危.

2. With Wang Hsien-shen 法 should be 繩. That is the inked string of the carpenter, which in this case means the fixed rule.

3. Namely, orders and prohibitions.

4. Such as Chung-ni and Po-i.

5. I propose 育 for 欲.

6. Wang Hsien-shen proposed 甚 for 其.

7. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 殺 should be 桀.

8. I propose the supply of 故 above小得勝大.

9. 秋毫 is the down on hares and plants in autumn or the tip of an autumn spikelet, which in this case means the tiniest thing.

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