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Chapter XLIX. Five Vermin: A Pathological Analysis of Politics1

In the age of remote antiquity, human beings were few while birds and beasts were many. Mankind being unable to overcome birds, beasts, insects, and serpents, there appeared a sage who made nests by putting pieces of wood together to shelter people from harm. Thereat the people were so delighted that they made him ruler of All-under-Heaven and called him the Nest-Dweller. In those days the people lived on the fruits of trees and seeds of grass as well as mussels and clams, which smelt rank and fetid and hurt the digestive organs. As many of them were affected with diseases, there appeared a sage who twisted a drill to make fire which changed the fetid and musty smell. Thereat the people were so delighted that they made him ruler of All-under-Heaven.

In the age of middle antiquity, there was a great deluge in All-under-Heaven, wherefore Kung and Yü opened channels for the water. In the age of recent antiquity, Chieh and Chow were violent and turbulent, wherefore T`ang and Wu overthrew them.

Now, if somebody fastened the trees or turned a drill in the age of the Hsia-hou Clan, he would certainly be ridiculed by Kung and Yü. Again, if somebody opened channels for water in the age of the Yin and Chou Dynasties, he would certainly be ridiculed by T'ang and Wu. That being so, if somebody in the present age praises the ways of Yao, Shun, Kung 2 , Yü 3 , T`ang, and Wu, he would, no doubt, be ridiculed by contemporary sages.

That is the reason why the sage neither seeks to follow the ways of the ancients nor establishes any fixed standard for all times but examines the things of his age and then prepares to deal with them.

There was in Sung a man, who tilled a field in which there stood the trunk of a tree. Once a hare, while running fast, rushed against the trunk, broke its neck, and died. Thereupon the man cast his plough aside and watched that tree, hoping that he would get another hare. Yet he never caught another hare and was himself ridiculed by the people of Sung. Now supposing somebody wanted to govern the people of the present age with the policies of the early kings, he would be doing exactly the same thing as that man who watched the tree.

In olden times, men did not need to till, for the seeds of grass and the fruits of trees were sufficient to feed them; nor did women have to weave, for the skins of birds and beasts were sufficient to clothe them. Thus, without working hard, they had an abundance of supply. As the people were few, their possessions were more than sufficient. Therefore the people never quarrelled. As a result, neither large rewards were bestowed nor were heavy punishments employed, but the people governed themselves. Nowadays, however, people do not regard five children as many. Each child may in his or her turn beget five offspring, so that before the death of the grandfather there may be twenty-five grand-children. As a result, people have become numerous and supplies scanty; toil has become hard and provisions meager. Therefore people quarrel so much that, though rewards are doubled and punishments repeated, disorder is inevitable.

When Yao was ruling All-under-Heaven, his thatched roof was untrimmed and his beam unplaned. He ate unpolished grain and made soup of coarse greens and wore deerskin garments in winter and rough fibre-cloth in summer. Even the clothes and provisions of a gate-keeper were not more scanty than his. When Yü was ruling All-under-Heaven, he led the people with plough and spade in hands, till his thighs had no down and his shins grew no hair. Even the toil of a prisoner of war was not more distressful than his. Speaking from this viewpoint, indeed, he who abdicated the throne of the Son of Heaven in favour of others in olden times, was simply foresaking the living of a gate-keeper and the toil of a prisoner of war. Therefore the inheritance of All-underHeaven in olden days was not very great. Yet the prefect of today, upon the day of his death, hands down luxurious chariots to his descendants from generation to generation. Accordingly people think much of his position.

Thus, in the matter of leaving office, men make light of resigning from the ancient dignity of the Son of Heaven and consider it hard to quit the present post of a prefect. Really it is the difference between meagerness and abundance.

Indeed, those who dwell in the mountains and draw water from the valleys, give water to each other on the occasion of festivals; those who live in swamps hire men to open channels for the water. Likewise, in the spring of famine years men do not even feed their infant brothers, while in the autumn of abundant years even strange visitors are always well fed. Not that men cut off their blood-relations and love passers-by, but that the feelings are different in abundance and in scarcity. For the same reason, men of yore made light of goods, not because they were benevolent, but because goods were abundant; while men of today quarrel and pillage, not because they are brutish, but because goods are scarce. Again, men of yore made light of resigning from the dignity of the Son of Heaven, not because their personalities were noble, but because the power of the Son of Heaven was scanty; while men of today make much of fighting for office in government 4 , not because their personalities are mean, but because the powers of the posts are great. Therefore the sage, considering quantity and deliberating upon scarcity and abundance, governs accordingly. So it is no charity to inflict light punishments nor is it any cruelty to enforce severe penalties: the practice is simply in accordance with the custom of the age. Thus, circumstances change with the age and measures change according to circumstances.

Of old, King Wên, located between Fêng and Kao, in a territory of one hundred square li, practised benevolence and righteousness and won the affection of the Western Barbarians, till he finally became ruler 5 of All-under-Heaven. King Yen of Hsü, located to the east of the Han River in a territory of five hundred square li, practised benevolence and righteousness, till the states that ceded their territories and paid tributary visits to his court numbered thirty-six 6 . King Wên of Ching, fearing lest King Yen should do him harm, raised armies, attacked Hsü, and finally destroyed it. 7 Thus, King Wên practising benevolence and righteousness became ruler of All-under-Heaven, while King Yen practising benevolence and righteousness lost his state. Evidently benevolence and righteousness once serviceable in olden times are not so at present. Hence the saying: "There are as many situations as there are generations." In the time of Shun the Miao 8 tribes disobeyed. When Yü moved to send an expedition against them, Shun said: "By no means. As our Teh 9 is not great, any resort to arms is not in accord with the Tao 10 ." Thenceforth for three years he cultivated the ways of civic training and then he made a parade of shields and battle-axes, whereupon the Miao tribes submitted. In a subsequent age, during the war with the Kung-kung tribes men using short iron weapons hardly reached their enemies while those whose armour was not strong suffered bodily injuries. It means that mere parade with shields and battle-axes once effective in olden times is not so at present. Hence the saying: "Situations differ, so measures change."

Men of remote antiquity strove to be known as moral and virtuous; those of the middle age struggled to be known as wise and resourceful; and now men fight for the reputation of being vigorous and powerful. When Ch`i was about to attack Lu, Lu sent Tzŭ-kung to dissuade Ch`i. To the peace envoy the spokesman of Ch`i said: "Your speech is not ineloquent. But what we want is territory, and that is not what you are talking about." 11 In the end Ch`i raised armies, invaded Lu, and settled the inter-state boundary at ten li from the city-gate of the capital of Lu.

Thus, although King Yen was benevolent and righteous, Hsü went to ruin; although Tzŭ-kung was benevolent and righteous, Lu was dismembered. From such a viewpoint, indeed, benevolence, righteousness, eloquence, and intelligence, are not instruments to maintain the state. If the benevolence of King Yen were put aside and the intelligence of Tzŭ-kung extinguished, and if the forces of Hsü and Lu were exerted, they could resist the powers of ten thousand chariots. Then the ambitions of Ch`i and Ching could never be accomplished in those two states.

Thus, we see that ancients and moderns have different customs, new and old have different measures. To govern with generous and lenient regulations a people in imminent danger is the same as to drive wild horses without reins or slips. This is a calamity of ignorance.

In these days, the Literati 12 and the Mohists 13 all praise the early kings for practising impartial love for which the people revered 14 them as parents. How do they know that was so? They say: "We know that was so because whenever the Minister of Punishment inflicted any penalty, the ruler would stop having music, and at the news of any capital punishment he would shed tears. This is the reason why we praise the early kings."

Indeed, from the proposition that if ruler and minister act like father and son, there is always order, there can be inferred the judgment that there are no disorderly fathers and sons. It is human nature, however, that nobody is more affectionate than parents. If both parents reveal love to their children, and yet order is not always found in a family, then how could there be no disorder in a state even though the ruler deepens his love for the ministers? Since the early kings loved the people not more than parents love their children, and children do not always refrain from causing disturbance, how could the people so easily keep order?

Moreover, when a penalty was inflicted in accordance with the law, the ruler shed tears therefor. By so doing he intended to show his benevolence but not to do any good to political order. To shed bitter tears and to dislike penalties, is benevolence; to see the necessity of inflicting penalties, is law. Since the early kings held to the law and never listened to weeping, it is clear enough that benevolence cannot be applied to the attainment of political order.

Still further, the people are such as would be firmly obedient to authority, but are rarely able to appreciate righteousness. For illustration, Chung-ni, who was a sage of All-under-Heaven, cultivated virtuous conduct, exemplified the right way, and travelled about within the seas; but those within the seas who talked about his benevolence and praised his righteousness and avowed discipleship to him, were only seventy. For to honour benevolence was rare and to practise righteousness was hard. Notwithstanding the vastness of All-under-Heaven, those who could become his avowed disciples, were only seventy, and there was only one person really benevolent and righteous—Chung-ni himself! Contrary to this, Duke Ai of Lu, inferior ruler as he was, when he faced the south and ruled the state, found nobody among the people within the boundary daring disobedience. This was because the people are by nature obedient to authority. As by exercising authority it is easy to lord it over people, Chung-ni remained minister while Duke Ai continued on the throne. Not that Chung-ni appreciated the righteousness of Duke Ai but that he submitted to his authority. Therefore, on the basis of righteousness Chung-ni would not have yielded to Duke Ai, but by virtue of authority Duke Ai did lord it over Chung-ni! Now, the learned men of today, when they counsel the Lord of Men, assert that if His Majesty applied himself to the practice of benevolence and righteousness instead of making use of victory-ensuring authority, he would certainly become ruler of All-under-Heaven. This is simply to require every lord of men to come up to the level of Chung-ni and all the common people of the world to act like his disciples. It is surely an ineffectual measure.

Now suppose there is a boy who has a bad character. His parents are angry at him, but he never makes any change. The villagers in the neighbourhood reprove him, but he is never thereby moved. His masters teach him, but he never reforms. Thus with all the three excellent disciplines, the love of his parents, the conduct of the villagers, and the wisdom of the masters, applied to him, he makes no change, not even a hair on his shins is altered. It is, however, only after the district-magistrate sends out soldiers in accordance with the law to search for wicked men that he becomes afraid and changes his ways and alters his deeds. So the love of parents is not sufficient to educate children. But if it is necessary to have the severe penalties of the district-magistrate come at all, it is because people are naturally spoiled by love and obedient to authority 15 .

Thus, over a city-wall forty feet 16 high, even Lou-chi 17 could not pass, for it is steep; but on a mountain four thousand feet high even crippled she-goats can easily graze, for it is flat-topped. 18 For the same reason the intelligent king makes his laws strict and his punishments severe. Again, where there is a piece of cloth eight 19 or sixteen 20 feet long, common people would not give it up, but where there is molten gold two thousand pounds in weight, even Robber Shih would not pick it up. Thus, if no harm at all should come to them 21 , people would not give up eight or sixteen feet of cloth; but if their hands would always be hurt, they would never dare to pick up even two hundred pounds of molten gold. Therefore, the intelligent ruler makes his punishments definite.

That being so, rewards should not be other than great and certain, thus making the people regard them as profitable; punishments should not be other than severe and definite, thus making the people fear them; and laws should not be other than uniform and steadfast, thus making the people comprehend them. Consequently, if the ruler in bestowing rewards makes no change and in carrying out punishments grants no pardon, but adds honour to rewards and disgrace to punishments, then both the worthy and the unworthy will exert their efforts.

That is not true at present. On the one hand, ranks are conferred for meritorious services; but on the other, official careers are scorned. Rewards are bestowed for diligent tillage, but hereditary occupations 22 are slighted. Whoever declines appointment to office is shunned, but his contempt for worldly affairs is esteemed. Whoever transgresses prohibitions is convicted, but his boldness is admired. Thus there are nowadays opposed to each other the objectives of honour and disgrace as well as of reward and punishment. Small wonder laws and interdicts are ruined and the people are becoming more and more violent.

Now, he who would always fall on the enemy when his brother is attacked, is called upright; he who would always resent an insult to his good friend, is called pure. Yet once these deeds of uprightness and purity are done, the law of the ruler is violated. In case the lord of men esteems such deeds of uprightness and purity and forgets the crime violating his prohibitions, the people will be honoured according to their boldness and the magistrates will be unable to control them. Again, he who gets clothes and food without working hard, is called capable; he who gets honours without rendering any meritorious service in war, is called worthy. Yet once the deeds of capability and worthiness are done, the army will become weak and the land will be waste. If the Lord of Men is delighted at such deeds of worthiness and capability and forgets the calamities of the army in decline and the land in waste, then private advantage will prevail and public welfare will come to naught.

The literati by means of letters disturbed laws, the cavaliers by means of weapons transgressed prohibitions. Yet the lord of men respects them both. That is the reason why disorder prevails. Indeed, every departure from laws ought to be condemned, but all the professors are taken into office on account of their literary learning. Again, every transgression of prohibitions ought to be punished, but all cavaliers are accorded patronage because of their private swords. 23 Thus, what the law prohibits is what the ruler himself recognizes; what the magistrate punishes is what the sovereign himself maintains. Thus legal standard and personal inclination are in conflict. Without any fixed standard, however, even ten Yellow Emperors would not be able to rule. Therefore, those who practise benevolence and righteousness, should not be praised; for, if praised, they would damage meritorious achievements. Again, those who specialize in refinement and learning, should not be employed; for, if employed, they would confuse the law of the state.

Of old, there was in the Ch`u State a man named Chi-kung. Once his father stole a sheep, wherefore he reported to the authorities. Thereupon the prefect said, "Put him to death", as he thought the man was loyal to the ruler but undutiful to his father. So that man was tried and executed. From this it can be seen that the honest subject of the ruler was an outrageous son of his father.

Again, there was a man of Lu, who followed the ruler to war, fought three battles, and ran away thrice. When Chung-ni asked him his reason, he replied: "I have an old father. Should I die, nobody would take care of him." So Chung-ni regarded him as a man of filial piety, praised him, and exalted him. From this it can be seen that the dutiful son of the father was a rebellious subject of the ruler. Naturally, following the punishment of the honest man by the prefect, no other culprit in Ch`u was ever reported to the authorities and after the reward of the runaway by Chung-ni, the people of Lu were apt to surrender and run away. The interests of superior and inferior are thus so different that it is certainly impossible to expect the Lord of Men both to praise the deed of the common man and to promote the welfare of the Altar of the Spirits of Land and Grain.

In olden times, when Ts`ang Chieh invented the system of writing, he assigned the element "self-centered" 24 to the character "private" 25 ; and combined the elements, "opposite to" and "private", to form the character "public" 26 . The contradiction between "public" and "private" was thus from the beginning well understood by Ts`ang Chieh. To regard them both as having identical interest at the present time, is a calamity of thoughtlessness.

That being so, speaking of the common man, there comes first the cultivation of benevolence and righteousness and then the practice of refinement and learning. Having cultivated benevolence and righteousness, he will get office. Having practised refinement and learning, he will become an erudite teacher. Having become an erudite teacher, he will become celebrated for his honours. This is the ideal career of the common man. However, it may be that with no merit one gets office, with no rank one becomes celebrated for one's honours. If there be any government like this, the state will certainly be in chaos and the lord in peril.

Therefore, incompatible things do not coexist. For instance, to reward those who kill their enemies in battle, and at the same time to esteem deeds of mercy and generosity; to reward with ranks and bounties those who capture enemy cities, and at the same time to believe in the theory of impartial 27 love; to improve armour and encourage warriors as provisions against emergencies, and at the same time to admire the ornaments of the robes and girdles of the civil gentry; to depend upon the farmers for enriching the state and upon the warriors for resisting the enemies, and at the same time to honour the men of letters; and to neglect the men who respect the superior and revere the law, and at the same time to maintain gangs of wandering cavaliers and self-seeking swordsmen: out of such incompatible acts, how can a state attain order and strength? When the state is at peace, literati and cavaliers are supported; once an emergency arises, armed officers are taken into service. Thus, the privileged are not used; the used are not privileged. For this reason, men who ought to attend to public affairs neglect their duties, while wandering scholars daily increase in numbers. This is the reason why the age is full of chaos.

Moreover, what the age calls "worthy" consists of merciful and faithful deeds; what it calls "wise" consists of subtle and mysterious words. Such subtle and mysterious words are hard even for the wisest men to understand. Now, of you set up laws for the masses in such terms as are hard for the wisest men to understand, then the people will find no way to comprehend them. Just as men who find not even coarse rice to fill them would not think of wine and meat, and just as those who have not even rags to wear would not think of silk and embroidered garments, in governing the world, if one is not able to settle affairs of the most urgent need, one should pay no attention to things short of great urgency. Now most of the affairs to be administered are ordinary civil cases. Yet not to use standards that ordinary men and women plainly understand, but to long for those theories which even the wisest do not comprehend; that certainly is the negation of government. Therefore subtle and mysterious words are no business of the people.

Indeed, men who regard 28 deeds of mercy and faithfulness as worthy will naturally honour gentlemen who are not deceitful, but those that honour gentlemen who are not deceitful might have no means to escape deception. The commoners, in cultivating friendships, have neither wealth to benefit each other nor influence to terrify each other. Naturally they seek for gentlemen who are not deceitful. Now the Lord of Men avails himself of his position to control men and possesses the wealth of a state. If he makes rewards large and punishments severe and thereby succeeds in holding his handles 29 to improve points illuminated by his brilliant policies, then ministers like T`ien Ch`ang and Tzŭ-han, wicked as they were, would not dare to deceive him, not to mention gentlemen who are not deceitful. Now there are not more than ten truly merciful and faithful men in this country, whereas there are hundreds of official posts. So if only merciful and faithful men are selected for public service, the candidates will not be sufficient for filling all the official posts. In that case, those who maintain order would be few while disturbers would abound. Therefore, the way of the enlightened lord is to unify laws instead of seeking for wise men, to solidify policies instead of yearning after faithful persons. In consequence, as long as laws do not fail to function, the body of officials will practise neither villainy nor deception.

In these days, the lord of men, as regards speeches, is delighted at their eloquence but does not seek for their consequences, 30 and, as regards the utility of deeds, admires their fame but does not strictly check over their accomplishments. For this reason, the people of All-under-Heaven, when making speeches, strive for eloquence but do not care for actual usefulness. As a result, men who quote the early kings and preach benevolence and righteousness, fill up the court, wherefore the government can not be freed from disorder. Men who devote themselves to practical deeds struggle for eminence, but do not bring about any meritorious service. Small wonder wise men retire to dwell in rocky caves, decline all bounties, and refuse to accept any offer; while soldiers are not immune from degeneration and the government is not freed from chaos. What is the reason for this? It is this: in what the people revere and what the sovereign respects, lies the cause of disturbing the state.

Now the people within the boundary all talk about political order, and, though in every family there are men who preserve copies of the Laws of Shang Yang and Kuan Chung, yet the state is becoming poorer and poorer. This is because many talk about tillage but few take up the plough. Again, everybody within the boundary talks about strategy, and, though in every family there are men who preserve copies of the Books of Sun Wu and Wu Ch`i, yet the army is becoming weaker and weaker. This is because many talk about warfare but few put on armour.

Therefore, the enlightened sovereign uses his men's strength but does not listen to their words, rewards them for their meritorious services but always eliminates the useless. The people, accordingly, exert themselves to the point of death in obeying the sovereign.

Indeed, tillage requires physical force, and is toil. But the people who perform it say, "Through it we can become wealthy." Again, warfare, as a matter of fact, involves risks. But the people who wage it say, "Through it we can become noble." Now, if those who cultivate refinement and learning and practise persuasion and eloquence get the fruits of wealth without the toil of tillage, and gain the honour of nobility with no risk in warfare, then who will not do the same? Naturally, one hundred men will attend to "wisdom" while only one man will exert physical energy. If men who attend to "wisdom" are many, the law will go for naught; if men who exert physical energy are few, the state will fall into poverty. That is the reason why the world is in chaos.

Therefore, in the state of the enlightened sovereign there is no literature written on bamboo slips, but the law is the only teaching; there are no quoted sayings of the early kings, but the magistrates are the only instructors; there is no valour through private swords, but slaughter of the enemy is the only courageous deed. As a result, the people, within the boundary, when practising persuasion and eloquence, always conform to the law; when up and doing, they always aim at meritorious services; and when pretending to valour, they always exert themselves in the army. Therefore, in time of peace the state is rich; in time of emergency the army is strong. Such is what they call the resources of the ruler. Having stored up the resources of the ruler, the sovereign waits for the enemy state to reach an unguarded moment. Those who have surpassed the Five Emperors and have rivalled the Three Kings, have always followed this method.

The same is not true in these days, however. Inside, the gentry and the commoners do as they please; outside, eloquent speakers create their own favourable circumstances. If both foreign and home affairs alike are bad, is it not dangerous for the ruler to confront strong enemies? It is so particularly because the ministers who speak on foreign affairs either side with the advocates of the Perpendicular Union or the Horizontal Alliance, or have personal hatred for foreign states and want to utilize the forces of the native state. Now, neither the Perpendicular Union aiming to attack a single strong state by uniting all the weak ones, nor the Horizontal Alliance aiming to attack the weak ones by serving a single strong state, is a policy to maintain the existence and prosperity of a state.

Now, ministers who speak about the Horizontal Alliance, all say: "If we do not serve a big power, we will have enemies and suffer disasters." To serve a big power, however, always 31 requires material concessions. Wherefore they must entrust their whole territory to the strong state and put their own state seal in pawn for military help. 32 If territorial concessions are offered, the land will be cut off; if the state seal is handed over, the prestige will be impaired. When the land is cut off, the state will be dismembered; when the prestige is impaired, the government will fall into chaos. Thus, before actualizing the benefit from serving a big power forming the Horizontal Alliance, the land is already dismembered and the government disordered.

Again, ministers who speak about the Perpendicular Union, all say: "If we do not save small states and attack big powers, we will lose the favour of All-under-Heaven. If we lose the favour of All-under-Heaven, our state will fall into peril. If our state falls into peril, our lord will fall into contempt." To save small states, however, always 33 requires material sacrifices, wherefore you must mobilize armies and oppose big powers. Yet when you start to save a small state, you are not always able to preserve it; when you oppose 34 a big power, you can not always be sure that there is no discord between you and your allies. If there is any such discord at all, you will be dominated by the big power. As soon as you send out reinforcements, the whole army will be defeated. Before you turn back to assume the defensive, the city will have fallen into the hands of the enemies. Thus, before you get the benefit of saving the small state and thereby form the Perpendicular Union, your land is already occupied and your troops defeated.

For this reason, he who insists on serving the strong state really means to hold his office through foreign influence; he who insists on saving the small state, really means to seek advantage abroad by virtue of his prestige at home. Before the state is benefited, the ministers have got estates and high emoluments. Thus, though the sovereign falls into contempt, the ministers are honoured; though the land of the state is cut off, their own families have become wealthy. If their projects succeed, they will become mighty in authority; if their projects fail, they will retire from active life with riches in their pockets.

However, such is the usual way the Lord of Men listens to the proposals of his ministers that before their projects are successful, their ranks and bounties are already exalted. And, if they are not punished when their projects fail, who can be sure that the itinerant gentlemen are not going to display their irresponsible sophistries elsewhere and count on unexpected good fortune? Nevertheless, why is heed paid to such frivolous ideas of the persuasive politicians as would break the state and ruin the lord? That is because the Lord of Men never distinguishes between public and private benefits, never scrutinizes whether the ideas are true or false, and never definitely enforces censure and punishment.

The itinerants all say, "Success in foreign relations at its best can help the prince become ruler of All-under-Heaven or, at least, can make the state secure." Indeed, the ruler of All-under-Heaven must be able to attack others. If secure, he can not be attacked by others. If strong, he is able to attack others. If in order, he can not be attacked by others. Accordingly, order and strength should not be dependent upon external factors: both depend upon internal administration. Now, if the sovereign does not carry out his laws and policies at home but counts on the wise men's services abroad, order and strength will not be attained.

There is a common saying: "Wearers of long sleeves are skilful in dancing; possessors of much money are skilful in trading." It means that people who are resourceful acquire skill very easily. Accordingly, in the state that is orderly and strong it is easy to devise schemes, but in the state that is weak and chaotic it is hard to make any plan at all. For illustration, the schemes adopted by Ch`in, though changed ten times, rarely fail; whereas any plan adopted by Yen, once changed, rarely succeeds. Not that whatever Ch`in adopts is always clever and whatever Yen adopts is always stupid, but that the factors of order and chaos are different.

Thus, Chou quit Ch`in and joined the Perpendicular Union only to be taken within a year; and Wei left Wey for the Horizontal Alliance only to be ruined in half a year. This means that Chou was destroyed by the Perpendicular Union while Wei was ruined by the Horizontal Alliance. Supposing Chou and Wei postponed their plans to join the Perpendicular Union and the Horizontal Alliance and strictly improved the political order within their boundaries, made their laws and interdicts clear, made their rewards and punishments definite, utilized their natural resources to increase provisions, and constrained their peoples even to the point of death in strengthening the defensive preparations of the city-walls; then All-under-Heaven would find little gain in occupying their lands and great harm in attacking their states, so that even a state of ten thousand chariots would not dare to come to camp beneath their well-fortified city-walls and expose its weaknesses to the attack of strong enemies. This is the way to escape destruction. To abandon this way of escaping destruction and to follow the road to inevitable ruin is the fault of the governor of the state. With wisdom exhausted abroad 35 and politics disordered at home, 36 no state can be saved from ruin.

The plan of the people for themselves 37 is to seek only for security and profit and to avoid danger and poverty. Now, if you force them to attack and fight, they face death at the hands of enemies at the front, and death through official punishment at the rear. That is peril, indeed! Again, they have to abandon their own domestic affairs and undergo the toil of military service. 38 In the long run their households are reduced to poverty. Yet the ruler takes no notice of it. That is destitution, indeed! Wherever lie destitution and danger, how can the people do other than shun them? Naturally they would frequent the gates of the private residences of influential men so as to exempt themselves from military service. If exempted from military service, they keep aloof from warfare. If aloof from warfare, they can remain in safety. Again, if they can by virtue of bribes approach the authorities concerned, they get what they want. If they get what they want, they have profit and security. 39 Wherever lie security and profit, how can the people do other than crowd in 40 ? Hence, citizens in public service are few but private protégés are numerous. 41

Indeed, the enlightened king so administers his state as to diminish the number of tradesmen, craftsmen, and idlers, and to lower their names in order to incline their minds to primary callings and to lessen their interest in secondary occupations. 42 In the present age, if the requests of the courtiers prevail at all, then office and rank can be purchased. If office and rank are purchasable, tradesmen and craftsmen, as they have money, will no longer be low in status. If forged money and faked articles 43 can circulate at the market-place, traders will no longer fall short of demands and supplies. If the profits they make thereby are twice as much as by farming and the honours they get thereby surpass those of tillers and warriors, men of firm integrity and strong character will become few while merchants and tradesmen 44 will increase in number.

For such reasons, it is a common trait of the disorderly state that its learned men adore the ways of the early kings by pretending to benevolence and righteousness and adorn their manners and clothes and gild their eloquent speeches so as to cast doubts on the law of the present age and thereby beguile the mind of the lord of men; that its itinerant speakers 45 advocate deceptive theories and utilize foreign influence to accomplish their self-seeking purposes at the expense of their Altar of the Spirits of Land and Grain; that wearers of private swords gather pupils and dependents and set up standards of self-discipline and fidelity with a view to cultivating their fame but thereby violate the interdicts of the Five Ministries 46 ; that the courtiers 47 assemble inside the gates of private residences, use all kinds of bribes, and rely on influential men's access to the sovereign in order to escape the burden of military service; and that the tradesmen and craftsmen disguise worthless, broken articles as proper goods, collect useless luxuries, accumulate riches, wait for good opportunities, and exploit the farmers. These five types of men are the vermin of the state. Should the Lord of Men fail to get rid of such people as the five vermin and should he not patronize men of firm integrity and strong character, it would be no wonder at all if within the seas there should be states breaking up in ruin and dynasties waning and perishing.


1. 五蠹. The English rendering of L. T. Chen is "On Five Sources of Trouble" (Liang, op. cit., p. 129, f. 1), which is neither faithful nor elegant. For the present translation I owe thanks to Dr. Davy Yü.

2. Wang Hsien-shen proposed the supply of 鯀 below 舞.

3. With Wang 湯武禹 should be 禹湯武.

4. With Wang 土槖 should be 士橐 which means 仕託.

5. In fact he never assumed either the power or the title of king.

6. Wang Ch`ung put thirty-two in place of thirty-six in his "Refutation of Han Fei Tzŭ" in his Discourse and Balance.

7. King Wên of Ching and King Yen of Hsü were not contemporaries. As pointed out by Lu Wên-shao, King Yen of Hsü lived at the time of King Mu (1001-946 b.c.) of Chou and so much earlier than King Wên (689-671 b.c.) of Ching.

8. 有苗. 有 has no additional sense.

9. 德 roughly means "virtue".

10. 道 roughly means "the course of nature".

11. Tzŭ-kung being a close follower of Confucius must have advanced moral arguments to dissuade Ch`i from attacking Lu.

12. 儒 refers to the followers of Confucius.

13. 墨 refers to the followers of Mo Tzŭ.

14. With Wang Hsien-shen 視民 should be 民視.

15. The whole paragraph was translated into English by Duyvendak in his The Book of Lord Shang (Pp. 113-114). I have, however, found it necessary to make a different translation on many points.

16. 十仞. One jên is about four feet long.

17. A younger brother of Marquis Wên of Wey, known to be a good athlete.

18. Thus, a good athlete can not pass over a steep wall, but crippled she-goats can easily graze on a flat-topped mountain. Likewise, great robbers dare not violate strict laws, but common people would dare to disregard laws that are lenient.

19. One hsin 尋 is about eight feet long.

20. One ch`ang 常 is about sixteen feet long.

21. I propose 必不害 for 不必害.

22. Such as farming and spinning, which were handed down from generation to generation.

23. The cavaliers were known for their courage in using their swords.

24. 自環 as represented by the symbol Ssŭ 厶 means "selfish" or "private" or both.

25. Ssŭ 私, which means "private" or "selfish" or both, is made of Ho 禾 or "rice" and Ssŭ 厶 or "self-centred".

26. Kung 公 is made of Ssŭ 厶 and Pa 八, the latter being equivalent to Pei 背 meaning "act contrary to". Thus, to be public-spirited, one very often has to act contrary to one's private interest.

27. 廉 is a mistake for 兼.

28. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 良 below 賢 is superfluous.

29. v. Work VII.

30. Han Fei Tzŭ's theory of truth is very similar to the modern pragmatic theory. A name is true only if the fact it connotes actually exists; a word is true only if the deed it purports is equivalent to it; and a task is true only if the result of its function comes up to its expected level and not beyond the level. The "consequence theory" of truth thus stands in sharp contrast with both the "coherence" and the "correspondence" theories.

31. With Yü Yüeh 未 above 必 is superfluous.

32. With Yü 兵 below 請 is superfluous.

33. With Yü 未 above 必 is superfluous.

34. With Wang Wei 交大 should be 敵大.

35. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 内 should be 外.

36. With Ku 外 should be 内.

37. With Wang Hsien-shen 政計 should be 自計.

38. 汗馬之勞 literally means "such toil as would make the horse perspire".

39. With Yü Yüeh 私 is a mistake for 利.

40. I propose 求得則利安, 安利之所在也民安得勿就 for 求得則私安則利之所在安得勿就.

41. This sharp contrast between public spirited citizens and private protégés as made by Han Fei Tzŭ still has permanent value to every modern student of law and politics. From this point alone it is clear enough that the teaching of Han Fei Tzŭ is as needful to the modern age as to antiquity.

42. Kao Hêng proposed 以趨本務而寡未作 for 以寡趨本務而趨末作 .

43. I propose 贋貨 for 貨賈.

44. Kao Hêng proposed 商賈 for 高價.

45. Ku Kuang-ts`ê proposed 言談 for 言古.

46. The Ministries of War, of Instruction, of Revenue, of Public Works, and of Justice.

47. 患御 means 近習 as 患 refers to 串 which is equivalent to 習.

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