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Chapter XLII. Asking T'ien1: Two Dialogues2

Hsü Chü once asked T`ien Chiu, saying: "Thy servant has heard that wise men do not have to start from a low post before they win the ruler's confidence, nor do sages have to manifest their merits before they approach the superior. Now Yang-ch`êng Ih-chü was a famous general, but he rose from a mere camp 3 master; Kung-sun T`an-hui was a great minister, but he started as a district-magistrate. Why?"

In reply T`ien Chiu said: "It is for no other reason than this: The sovereign has rules and the superior has tacts. Moreover, have you never heard that Sung Ku, a general of Ch`u, disordered the government, and Fêng Li, Premier of Wey, ruined that state? It was because both their rulers, as misled by their high-sounding phrases and bewildered by their eloquent speeches, never tested their abilities as camp master and district-magistrate that the miseries of misgovernment and state-ruin ensued. From this viewpoint it is clear that without making the trial at the camp and the test in the district the intelligent sovereign cannot provide against eventualities."

T`ang-ch`i Kung once said to Han Tzŭ 4 : "Thy servant has heard that observing rules of propriety and performing deeds of humility is the art of safeguarding one's own life and that improving one's conduct and concealing one's wisdom is the way to accomplish one's own career. Now, you, my venerable master, propounded principles of law and tact and established standards of regulations and statistics, thy servant in private presumes that this will jeopardize your life and endanger your body. How can thy servant prove 5 this? As I have heard, Master in his discussion on tact says: `Ch`u, not employing Wu Ch`i, was dismembered and disturbed; Ch`in, practising the Law of Lord Shang, became rich and strong.' The words of the two philosophers were equally true, yet Wu Ch`i was dismembered and Lord Shang was torn to pieces by chariots because they had the misfortune to miss both the right age and the right master. Nobody can be certain of meeting the right age and the right master, nor can anybody repulse misery and disaster. Indeed, to discard the way of security and accomplishment and indulge in a precarious living thy servant personally does not consider it worth Master's while."

In response to the remark Han Tzŭ said: "Thy servant understands your honourable counsels very well. Indeed, the exercise of the ruling authority of All-under-Heaven and the unification of the regulation of the masses is not an easy task. Nevertheless, the reason why thy servant has given up your honourable 6 teachings and is practising his own creeds is that thy servant personally regards the formulation of the principles of law and tact and the establishment of the standards of regulations and measures as the right way to benefit the masses of people. Therefore, not to fear the threat and outrage of the violent sovereign and stupid superior but to scheme definitely for the advantages of unifying the people, is an act of benevolence and wisdom; whereas to fear the threat and outrage of the violent sovereign and stupid superior and thereby evade the calamity of death, is a clear understanding of personal advantages, 7 and to ignore the public benefit of the masses, is an act of greed and meanness. Since thy servant cannot bear entertaining the act of greed and meanness and dare not destroy the act of benevolence and wisdom, though Master 8 has the kind intention to make thy servant happy, yet in fact it will be detrimental to thy servant."


1. 問田.

2. The two dialogues are not directly related either in structure or in subject-matter. Known as famous sayings, however, they were apparently written posthumously by followers of the author to explain the untimely death of the master. The basic ideas set forth in both dialogues by no means betray his confidence in them.

3. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 毛 should be 屯.

4. Han Fei had been called Han Tzŭ up to the time of Han Yü (a.d. 768-824).

5. With Kao Hêng 効 below 何以 means 驗.

6. Wang Wei proposed 先生 for 先王.

7. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 身 below 夫 should be 利.

8. With Yü Yüeh 先王 should be 先生.

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