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Chapter III. On the Difficulty in Speaking: A Memorial1

Thy servant, Fei, is by no means diffident of speaking. As to why he has to hesitate in speaking: if his speeches are compliant and harmonious, magnificent and orderly, he is then regarded as ostentatious and insincere; if his speeches are sincere and courteous, straightforward and careful, he is then regarded as awkward and unsystematic; if his speeches are widely cited and subtly composed, frequently illustrated and continuously analogized, he is then regarded as empty and unpractical; if his speeches summarize minute points and present general ideas, being thus plain and concise, he is then regarded as simple and not discerning; if his speeches are very personally observing and well-versed in the inner nature of mankind, he is then regarded as self-assuming and self-conceited; if his speeches are erudite and profound, he is then regarded as boastful but useless; if his speeches touch the details of house-keeping and estimate each item in terms of numerals, he is then regarded as vulgar; if his speeches are too much concerned with worldly affairs and not offensive in wording, he is then regarded as a coward 2 and a flatterer; if his speeches are far from commonplace and contrary 3 to human experience, he is then regarded as fantastic; if his speeches are witty and eloquent and full of rhetorical excellences, he is then regarded as flippant; if he discards all literary forms of expression and speaks solely of the naked facts, he is then regarded as rustic; and should he quote the Books of Poetry and History from time to time and act on the teachings of the former sages, he is then regarded as a book chantor. 4 These things explain the reason why thy servant, Fei, is diffident in speaking and worried about speaking.

Therefore, weights and measures, however accurate, are not always adopted; doctrines and principles, however perfect, are not always practised. Should His Majesty disbelieve the minister who speaks to the throne, the minister would be found guilty of a blunder or condemned to death.

For example, Tzŭ-hsü 5 schemed well but was killed by the King of Wu; Chung-ni 6 taught well but was detained by the Ruler of K`uang; and Kuan I-wu 7 was really worthy but was taken prisoner by the Ruler of Lu. Not that these three statesmen were not worthy, but that the three rulers were not intelligent.

In remote antiquity, when T`ang 8 was the sanest and I Yin 9 the wisest of the age, though the wisest attempted to persuade the sanest, yet he was not welcomed even after seventy times of persuasion, till he had to handle pans and bowls and become a cook in order thereby to approach him and become familiar with him. In consequence T`ang came to know his worthiness and took him into service. Hence the saying: "Though the wisest man wants to persuade the sanest man, he is not necessarily welcomed upon his first arrival." Such was the case of I Yin's persuading T`ang. Again the saying: "Though the wise man wants to persuade the fool, he is not necessarily listened to." Such was the case of King Wên's 10 persuading Chow. 11

Thus, just as King Wên attempted to persuade Chow and was put in jail, 12 Marquis Ih 13 was broiled; Marquis Chiu's 14 corpse was dried; Pi-kan 15 had his heart cut open; and Earl Mei's corpse was pickled. 16

Furthermore, I-wu was bound with chains. Ts`ao Ch`i 17 absconded to Ch`ên. Pai-li Tzŭ 18 begged on his way to the capital of Ch`in. Fu Yüeh 19 was sold into slavery from place to place. Sun Tzŭ 20 had his feet cut off in Wey. Wu Ch`i 21 wiped off his tears at Dike Gate, lamented over the impending cession of the Western River Districts to Ch`in, and was dismembered in Ch`u. Kung-shu Tso 22 spoke of a man fit to be a pillar of the state but was regarded as unreasonable, so that Kung-sun Yang 23 absconded to Ch`in. Kuan Lung-p`êng 24 was executed. Ch`ang Hung 25 had his intestines chopped into pieces. Yin Tzŭ 26 was thrown into a trap among brambles. The Minister of War, Tzŭ-ch`i, 27 was killed and his corpse was floated on the Yang-TzŭRiver. T`ien Ming 28 was stoned 29 to death. Mi Tzŭ-chien 30 and Hsi-mên Pao 31 quarrelled with nobody but were killed. Tung An-yü 32 was killed and his corpse was exposed in the market-place. Tsai Yü 33 had to suffer the disaster caused by T`ien Ch`ang. 34 Fan Chü 35 had his ribs broken in Wey.

These tens of men 36 were all benevolent, worthy, loyal, and upright persons in the world and followers of the right way and true path of life. Unfortunately they met such unreasonable, violent, stupid, and crooked masters, and lost their lives in the long run.

Then, why could these worthies and sages escape death penalties and evade disgrace? It was because of the difficulty in persuading fools. Hence every gentleman 37 has to remain diffident of speaking. Even the best speech displeases the ear and upsets the heart, and can be appreciated only by worthy and sage rulers. May Your Majesty therefore ponder over this memorial of thy servant!


1. 難言. In thought this is similar to Chap. XII which, however, is far more comprehensive and systematic than this. The historical facts quoted herein as illustrative of the basic ideas set forth in the first two paragraphs somehow or other lack coherence and seem even far-fetched in many respects.

2. 貪生 literally means "clinging to life".

3. With Kao Hêng 躁 reads 譟 which means 詐.

4. In Chaps. XLIX and L Han Fei Tzŭseverely reproached the Confucians and the Mohists for their constant references to the teachings of the early kings and therefore condemned them as grubs and idlers. It was not his intention to attempt a defence of them in this passage, however.

5. The pen-name of Wu Yün. He sought refuge in the Wu State when his father Wu Shê and his elder brother Wu Shang were unjustly executed by the King of Ch`u in 522 b.c. In 511 b.c. he successfully persuaded King Ho-lü of Wu to invade Ch`u and thereby avenged his father and brother. Following the death of King Ho-lü he served King Fu-ch`a. In 494 b.c. he helped the young king wage a victorious war of revenge with King Kou-chien of Yüeh. Subsequently, because of Pai P`i's slanders against him, he was ordered by King Fu-ch`a to commit suicide with the famous Shu-lou sword (484 b.c.).

6. The pen-name of K`ung Ch`iu, namely, Confucius. While travelling in the K`uang State, he was mistaken for Yang Hu from Lu and was therefore detained.

7. Better known as Kuan Chung. Having served Prince Chiu, he helped him struggle for the throne with Prince Hsiao-pai when Duke Hsiang of Ch`i was murdered in 701 b.c. As Hsiao-pai entered the capital first and ascended the throne, Duke Chuang of Lu, who had been supporting Prince Chiu, suddenly changed his mind, killed the prince, and sent Kuan Chung in a prisoner cart to Ch`i. In Ch`i he was released by Hsiao-pai, then Duke Huan, and appointed Prime Minister.

8. The founder of the Yin, or sometimes called Shang, Dynasty. 有 above 湯 has no additional sense, but is often added to the name of a dynasty or a ruler so as to increase its dignity.

9. He was afterwards appointed Prime Minister by King T`ang.

10. His real name was Chi Ch`ang and the royal title was attributed to him after his death by his son, King Wu, founder of the Chou Dynasty.

11. The last ruler of the Yin Dynasty and was like Chieh, the last ruler of the Hsia Dynasty, known for his personal vices and misgovernment.

12. At Yu-li for seven years (1144-1137 b.c.).

13. Also called Marquis Ngo as Ih and Ngo were two places very close to each other.

14. The Historical Records has 九 in place of 鬼.

15. An uncle of Chow.

16. All these worthies were Chow's ministers.

17. He remonstrated with Duke Chuang of Ts`ao thrice but was never listened to, so that he had to abscond to the Ch`ên State.

18. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 伯 should be 百. His full name was Pai-li Hsi. He made his way through all hazards to Ch`in, till he succeeded in introducing himself to Duke Mu.

19. Prime minister to King Wu-ting of the Yin Dynasty.

20. His full name was Sun Pin. When his fellow disciple named P`ang Chüan, who had studied military science with him under Kuei-ku Tzŭor Philosopher of the Devil Valley, became the commander-in-chief of the Wey army, he went to work under him. Meanwhile, P`ang Chüan became jealous of his talent, slandered him, and had his feet cut off through official censure. Thereupon he feigned himself insane and managed to go back to the Ch`i State, where he was charged with military affairs. In 341 b.c. he waged a successful war with Wey, during which P`ang Chüan was killed in ambush.

21. When he was Governor of the Western River Districts, Wang Tso slandered him, so that Marquis Wu of Wey dismissed him. On leaving his post, he stopped his carriage at Dike Gate and cast the last glance over the district and shed tears at the thought of its impending doom. In 387 b.c. he sought refuge in the Ch`u State and was appointed Prime Minister by King Cho. Despite all the meritorious services he had rendered to the country, he was dismembered by his political enemies upon the king's death in 381 b.c.

22. Prime minister to King Hui of Wey and patron of Kung-sun Yang. From his death-bed he told the king to appoint Yang his successor otherwise not to allow him to leave the country. Considering the dying man's opinion absurd, the King neither appointed Yang to office nor put him to death.

23. He entered Ch`in in 361 b.c. As soon as he was entrusted by Duke Hsiao in 359 b.c. with all state affairs, he began to enforce his legalism. He enriched the state and strengthened the army and caused Wey many humiliating defeats till King Hui regretted with a sigh that he had not taken Kung-shu Tso's advice.

24. He remonstrated with King Chieh against the construction of a wine pool and was killed because he would not stop remonstrating.

25. A worthy minister to King Ling of Chou.

26. No record of his life and times is left.

27. Killed in 478 b.c. during the uprising caused by Prince Pai Shêng.

28. No record of his life and times is left.

29. With Yü Yüch 辜射 means 枯磔.

30. A disciple of Confucius.

31. A minister to Marquis Wên of Wey.

32. A minister to Viscount Chien of Chao.

33. Tsai Yü, a disciple of Confucius, and Kan Chih, T`ien Ch`ang's rival, had the same pen-name, that is, Tzŭ-wo. Therefore, Han Fei Tzŭmistook Tsai Yü for Kan Chih.

34. In 481 b.c.

35. When Hsü Ku was sent to Ch`i as special envoy, Fan Chü was an attaché. His eloquence won great praises from the King of Ch`i but incurred Hsü Ku's suspicion. After their return to Wey, Hsü Ku told Premier Wey Ch`i that Fan Chü had betrayed the Wey State. Therefore Fan Chü was arrested and tortured till his ribs and teeth were broken. He then feigned himself dead and finally stole away to Ch`in, where he was appointed to office in 270 b.c.

36. 十數人 should be 數十人 because the number of the worthies enumerated is above twenty.

37. 君子. The superior man or plainly gentleman was here taken as the model man, which was, no doubt, due to the Confucian influences Han Fei Tzŭhad received from Hsün Tzŭunder whom he had spent the formative period of his thought.

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