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Chapter L. Learned Celebrities: A Critical Estimate of Confucians and Mohists1

In the present age, the celebrities for learning are the Literati and the Mohists. The highest figure of the Literati was K`ung Ch`iu; the highest figure of the Mohists was Mo Ti. Since the death of Confucius, there have appeared the School of Tzŭ-chang, the School of Tzŭ-ssŭ, the School of the Yen Clan, the School of the Mêng Clan, the School of the Ch`i-tiao Clan, the School of the Chung Liang Clan, the School of the Sun Clan, and the School of the Yo-chêng Clan. Since the death of Mo Tzŭ, there have appeared the Mohists of the Hsiang-li Clan, the Mohists of the Hsiang-fu Clan, and the Mohists of Têng Ling's School. Thus, after Confucius and Mo Tzŭ, the Literati have divided into eight schools and the Mohists into three. In what they accept and what they reject they are contrary to and different from one another but each claims to be orthodox Confucian or Mohist. Now that Confucius and Mo Tzŭ cannot come to life again, who can determine the orthodoxy of learned men?

Confucius and Mo Tzŭ both followed Yao and Shun; they differed in matters of acceptance and rejection, yet each claimed to be the true Yao and Shun. Now that Yao and Shun cannot come to life again, who is going to determine genuineness as between the Literati and the Mohists? For our people, who have passed through the time of Yü and Hsia upwards of seven hundred years, and through the Yin and Chou 2 Dynasties upwards of two thousand years, it is impossible to determine whether the Literati or the Mohists are right. Now, if anybody wants to scrutinize the ways of Yao and Shun that appeared three thousand years ago, it seems far from possible merely to imagine that! To be sure of anything that has no corroborating evidence, is stupid; to abide by anything that one can not be sure of, is self-deceptive. Therefore, those who openly quote the early kings and dogmatically uphold Yao and Shun, must be deceitful, if not stupid. Such stupid and deceptive learning and heretical and contradictory conduct, the intelligent sovereign never approves.

The Mohists, for funeral rites wear winter clothes in winter days and summer clothes in summer days, make coffins three inches thick of Paulownia wood, and observe only three months' mourning. Regarding this as restraint, sovereigns of this age respect them. The Literati, on the contrary, for funeral rites break up the household property and give sons in pawn to compensate for the losses, 3 observe three years' mourning till they break down in health and have to walk with the aid of canes. Regarding this as an act of filial piety, sovereigns of this age respect them. But, in fact, to approve the restraint of Mo Tzŭ one has to reprove Confucius for his extravagance; to approve the filial piety of Confucius one has to reprove Mo Tzŭ for his impiety. Now, piety and impiety, restraint and extravagance, all are found among the Literati and the Mohists, and the superiors respect them equally.

According to the theory of Ch`i-tiao, 4 a man should not change his facial colour in front of others 5 nor should he blink even in the face of danger 6 ; if he acts wrongly, he should give way to bondmen and bondwomen; and if he acts aright, he should assert himself even before the feudal lords. Regarding this as an act of integrity, sovereigns of this age respect him. Again, according to the teaching of Sung Yung Tzŭ, a man should delight 7 in a non-combatant attitude towards opponents and approve of non-retaliatory actions against enemies; if cast into prison, he should not be ashamed; and, if insulted, he should not feel humiliated. Regarding this as an attitude of generosity, sovereigns of this age respect him. But, in fact, to approve the integrity of Ch`i-tiao one has to reprove Sung Yung for his forgiveness; to approve the generosity of Sung Yung one has to reprove Ch`i-tiao for his fierceness. Now, generosity and integrity, forgiveness and fierceness, all are found in these two philosophers, and the lords of men respect them equally.

Inasmuch as stupid and deceptive studies and heretical and contradictory theories are in conflict while the lords of men tolerate them equally, the gentry within the seas have neither definite forms of speech nor constant standards of conduct. Indeed, ice and charcoal do not share the same vessel and last long; winter and summer do not come at the same time. Likewise, heretical and contradictory studies do not stand together and have peace. Now that heretical studies are equally listened to and contradictory theories are absurdly acted upon, how can there be other than chaos? If the ruler listens so carelessly and acts so absurdly, the same must be true when he rules over men.

The learned gentlemen of the present age, when they speak on political order, mostly say: "Give the poor and the destitute land and thereby provide men of no property with enough." However, if there are men who were originally the same as others but have independently become able to be perfectly self-supporting, even without prosperous years or other income, it must be due to their diligence or to their frugality. Again, if there are men who were originally the same as others but have independently become poor and destitute without suffering from any misfortune of famine and drought or illness and malignancy or calamity and lawsuit, it must be due to their extravagance or to their laziness. Extravagant and lazy persons are poor; diligent and frugal persons are rich. Now, if the superior levies money from the rich in order to distribute alms among the poor, it means that he robs the diligent and frugal and rewards the extravagant and lazy. Naturally it is impossible to force people to speed up their work and also restrain their expenditure.

Now suppose there is a man, who, holding fast to his self-righteous principle, would not enter any city that was in danger, would not stay in military camps, and would not exchange a hair from his shin for any great profit in All-underHeaven. Then be sure the sovereign of this age will respect him therefor, honouring his wisdom, exalting his conduct, and regarding him as a gentleman despising material trifles and esteeming meaningful life. Indeed, the reason that the superior lines up good fields and large houses and establishes ranks and bounties, is to make people exert their strength to the point of death. Yet as long as the superior honours the gentlemen who despise material trifles and esteem meaningful life, it is impossible to expect the people to sacrifice their lives for his royal cause.

Suppose you keep a number of books, practise the art of speaking, gather a band of pupils, indulge in culture and learning, and discuss theories, then be sure sovereigns of this age will respect you therefor, saying, "To respect worthies is the way of the early kings." Indeed, those who are taxed by the magistrates are farmers while those who are fed by the superior are learned gentlemen. Being farmers, the former are more heavily taxed; being learned gentlemen, the latter are more liberally rewarded. Hence it is impossible to force the people to work hard and talk little.

Again, suppose you build a standard of estimation, blend all clever principles, 8 maintain strict self-control, and do not act aggressively, and are sure to pursue anybody with your sword whenever his reproachful words pass into your ears, then sovereigns of this age will honour you as a self-respecting gentleman. Indeed, as long as the merit of beheading in war is not rewarded but the bravery of family quarrels is celebrated with honours, it is impossible to force the people to fight hard and resist enemies and have no private quarrels. In time of peace, the state feeds the literati and the cavaliers, but in case of emergency, it uses the armed officers. Thus, those who have been fed, are not taken into service; those who are taken into service, have not been fed. That is the reason why the age is chaotic.

Further, the lord of men, in listening to a learned man, if he approves his words, should officially put them into practice and appoint the person to office, and, if he reproves him for his words, should get rid of the person and put an end to his heretical doctrine. Today, however, what is regarded as right is not officially put into practice, and what is regarded as wrong is not extinguished as heretical doctrine. Thus, the right is not used, the wrong not stopped; this is the way to chaos and ruin.

T`an-t`ai Tzŭ-yü had the manners of a gentleman. Considering him a man of promise, Chung-ni took him into service, and, after having dealt with him for a long time, found his deeds not equal to his looks. Again, Tsai Yü's speech was elegant and refined. Considering him a man of promise, Chung-ni took him into service, and, after having dealt with him for a long time, found his wisdom falling short of his eloquence. Hence Confucius said: "In taking a man on the basis of his manners I made a mistake in choosing Tzŭ-yü; in taking a man on the basis of his words I made a mistake in choosing Tsai Yü." Thus, notwithstanding his wisdom, Chung-ni expressed regretful sighs for his misjudgment of realities. Now that the new debaters of today are even more reckless than Tsai Yü and sovereigns of this age in listening to them are even more susceptible to delusion than Chung-ni, if the superior appoints any debater to office on account of delight in his words, how can a mistake be avoided? For instance, Wey trusted to the eloquence of Mêng Mao 9 and met disaster at the foot of Mt. Hua. Again, Chao trusted to the eloquence of Ma-fu 10 and experienced the calamity of Ch`ang-p`ing. These two instances well illustrate the error in trusting to eloquence.

Indeed, if only the heated and hammered tin 11 is inspected and only the blue and yellow glearns are observed, even Ou 12 Yeh can not ascertain the quality of a sword. But if you hit herons and wild geese in water with the sword and kill ponies and horses on land with it, then even bondmen and bondwomen, ignorant as they are, are not in doubt whether the sword is blunt or sharp. If the teeth in the mouth are examined and the formal features are surveyed, then even Pai Lo could not be sure of the quality of a horse. But if you harness it to a cart and observe it till the end of the drive, then even bondmen and bondwomen are not in doubt whether it is a hack or a good horse. Similarly, if only manners and clothes are looked at and only words and phrases are listened to, then even Chung-ni can not ascertain the personality of a gentleman. But if you test him with an official commission and hold him responsible for any work done, then even the mediocre man is not in doubt whether he is stupid or intelligent.

Therefore, as to the subordinates of the intelligent sovereign, prime ministers must have arisen from among the district-magistrates and gallant generals must have emerged from among the squads of soldiers. If persons who have rendered meritorious services are always rewarded, then the greater ranks and bounties become the better encouraged they will be. Again, if offices are elevated and ranks are raised, then the greater the official responsibilities become the more they will promote political order. Indeed, according as ranks and bounties are raised official responsibilities promote political order, this is the royal road to supremacy.

The possessor of a thousand li of rocky land, can not be called rich; the possessor of a million puppets can not be called strong. Not because the rocks are not big and the puppets 13 are not numerous. The possessors can not be called rich and strong, simply because great rocks do not produce grain and puppets can not be used to resist enemies. Now, men who get office through purchase and practise artful craft, eat without cultivating the land. They are thus as unproductive as uncultivated land, in the same category as great rocks. Likewise, the literati and the cavaliers who have rendered no meritorious service in the army but are celebrated and prosperous, 14 are useless people, in the same class as puppets. Those who know the calamity of great rocks and puppets but never know that the office-purchasers, the literati, and the cavaliers, are as harmful as uncultivated land and useless people, do not know the similarity of one thing to another.

For such reasons, in the cases of the princes and kings of enemy states, though they are delighted at our righteousness, we can not lay them under tribute as vassals 15 ; but in the case of the feudal lords inside the passes 16 , though they disapprove our doings, we can always make them bring birds 17 to visit our court. Thus, whoever has great strength sees others visit his court; whoever has little strength visits the courts of others. Therefore the enlightened ruler strives after might.

Indeed, the strictly kept household sees no fierce servants, but a compassionate mother has spoilt children. From this I know that authority and position are able to suppress violence, but that virtue and favour are not sufficient to stop disorder.

Indeed, the sage, in ruling the state, does not count on people's doing him good, but utilizes their inability to do him wrong. If he counts on people's doing him good, within the boundary there will never be enough such persons to count by tens. But if he utilizes people's inability to do him wrong, an entire state can be uniformed. 18 Therefore, the administrator of the state affairs ought to consider the many but disregard the few. Hence his devotion not to virtue but to law.

Similarly, if one should always count on arrows which are straight of themselves, there would be no arrow in a hundred generations; if one should only count on pieces of wood which are round of themselves, there would be no wheel in a thousand generations. Though in a hundred generations there is neither an arrow that is straight of itself nor a wheel that is round of itself, yet how is it then that people of every generation ride in carts and shoot birds? It is because the tools for straightening and bending are used. To rely not on the tools for straightening and bending 19 but on 20 arrows straight of themselves and wheels round of themselves, is not thought much of by the skilful carpenter. Why? Because riding is not a matter of one man alone, nor is archery a question of a single shot. Reliance not on rewards and punishments but on people who are righteous of themselves, is not highly considered by the enlightened sovereign. Why? Because the law of the state must not be dispensed with and whom it regulates is not one man only. Therefore, the tactful ruler does not follow the good that happens by accident but practises the Tao that prevails by necessity.

Now supposing some one addressed a person, saying, "I will make you to be wise and to live long," the world would certainly think he was practising deception. 21 Indeed, wisdom is a matter of nature, longevity is a matter of fate. As nature, and fate are not what one can learn from others, to assert to a person what men can not really do, that is what the world calls deception. To call anybody what he can not really be, is flattery. 22 Flattery 23 is a matter of nature, indeed. To instruct men in benevolence and righteousness is the same as to make assertions in the matters of intelligence and longevity, which the sovereign with a legal standard does not heed. For illustration, admiring the beauty of Mao-ch`iang 24 and Hsi-shih gains one's facial looks nothing; but applying rouge, pomade, powder, and eyebrow-paint, makes one's appearance twice as good as before. Similarly, speaking about the benevolence and righteousness of the early kings gains nothing for political order; but understanding clearly our laws and measures and determining our rewards and punishments is the rouge, pomade, powder, and eyebrow-paint of the state. So the enlightened sovereign urgently seeks real aids, and regards as secondary all empty compliments. Hence no talk about benevolence and righteousness.

Now, witches and priests, in praying for somebody, all say, "May your age last as long as one thousand autumns and ten thousand years." Then the sounds, "one thousand autumns and ten thousand years", echo through the ears. As a matter of fact, however, nobody ever testifies to the addition of a single day to his age. That is the reason why people despise witches and priests. Likewise, the literati of the present age, when they counsel the lord of men, instead of speaking about methods to attain political order at present, talk about the achievement of political order in the past. They neither study affairs pertaining to regulations for the officials nor observe the conditions of the wicked and the villainous, but all speak on the reputed glories of remote antiquity and on the achievements of the early kings. Ornamenting their speeches, the literati say, "If you listen to our words, you will thereby become Hegemonic Ruler." Such people are but witches and priests among the itinerants, whom the sovereign with a legal standard does not heed. Therefore, the enlightened sovereign exalts real facts, discards useless things, and does not speak about benevolence and righteousness. He accordingly does not listen to the words of the learned men.

Men of today who do not know the right way to political order, all say, "Win the hearts of the people." If they should think of winning the hearts of the people and thereby attaining political order, then even Yi Yin and Kuan Chung would find no use for their statesmanship and the superior would listen to the people only. The intelligence of the people, however, can not be depended upon just like the mind of the baby. If the baby does not have his head shaved, the ache will recur 25 ; if his boil is not cut open, his trouble will turn from bad to worse. However, to shave his head or to open his boil someone has to hold the baby while the compassionate mother is performing this work. Yet he keeps crying and yelling incessantly as he does not know that suffering the small pain will gain him a great benefit.

Now, the superior urges the tillage of rice fields and the cultivation of grassy lands in order to increase the production of the people, but they think the superior is cruel. To perfect penalties and increase punishments is to suppress wickedness, but they think the superior is severe. Again, he levies taxes in cash and in grain to fill up the storehouses and treasures in order thereby to relieve famine and drought and provide for corps and battalions, but they think the superior is greedy. Finally, he traces out every culprit within the boundary, discriminates 26 among men without personal favouritism. . . . 27 , and unites the forces for fierce struggle, in order thereby to take his enemies captive, but they think the superior is violent. These four measures are methods to attain order and maintain peace, but the people do not know that they ought to rejoice in them.

Indeed, the superior seeks for saintly and well-informed men, because the intelligence of the people is not adequate for use as directive. For instance, of old, Yü opened the Kiang 28 and deepened the Ho 29 for draining the Great Deluge away, but the people gathered tiles and stones to hit him. Likewise, Tzŭ-ch`an cleared fields and planted mulberry-trees, but the people of Chêng slandered and reviled him. Yü benefited All-under-Heaven and Tzŭ-ch`an preserved Chêng, but both incurred slander. Clearly enough, indeed, the intelligence of the people is not adequately dependable. Therefore, in appointing officials, to seek for the worthy and the wise; in administering the government, to expect to suit the people: both alike are causes of confusion, and can not be employed for the attainment of political order.


1. 顯學. Its English rendering by L. T. Chen is "Upholding Learning" (Liang. op. cit., p. 129, f. 2), which is incorrect.

2. With Kao Hêng 殷周 and 虞夏 as misplaced in the text should replace each other.

3. 賃子而償 is found in the Royal Readings.

4. This Ch`i-tiao must be different from the one already mentioned.

5. This means to maintain his dignity.

6. This means to maintain his steadfastness.

7. I propose 說 for 設.

8. The Palace Library edition has 明 in place of 民.

9. Commander of Wey's Army defeated by General Pai Ch`i of Ch`in in 273 b.c.

10. The style of Chao Kua, who was defeated by Pai Ch`i in 260 b.c.

11. They need so alloy tin with iron to make swords.

12. With Wang Hsien-shen 區 and 歐 were synonyms.

13. With Wang Hsien-shen 數 should be 象人.

14. With Wang 顯而榮 should be 而顯榮.

15. The German rendering of this passage by Alfred Forke reads: "Wenn such Fürsten und Könige der feindlichen Staaten rich an unserer Rechtschaf-fenheit freuen, so sind wir doch (in ihren Augen) keine Menschen, haben Tribut zu zahlen and zu dienen." This is evidently because he misread 吾弗入貢而臣 for 吾弗人,貢而臣 (v. Geschiches der alten chinesischen Philosophis, p. 476).

16. Namely, within the sphere of our influence.

17. Forke's translation of this passage reads: "Wenn auch die Fürsten innerhalb der Pässe unser Tun verurteilen, so können wir sie doch ergreifen lassen und an unsern Hof zitieren." Again, he mistook for 執禽 for 執擒 (v. Ibid.). 禽 literally means "birds" but in this case it connotes both birds and animals. "The Board of Ceremonies" in the Rites of Chou says: "For the classification of different vassals different birds and animals were used to make six kinds of presents to the superior. The feudal lords bring fur robes, the nobles kid skin, the high officers wild-geese, the gentry pheasants, the commoners ducks, and the craftsmen and salesmen fowls." Again, there is a passage in the Book of the Warring States as follows: "Men became vassals, women concubines, all bringing birds and following the coachmen on the way."

18. Forke's translation of this passage reads: ". . . . . . während durch Verhinderung des Bösen die Bewohner des ganzen Reichs sich regieren lassen." For this he read the text as 用人不得為非,一國可使齊為治也 (Op. cit., p. 478). According to Ku Kuang-ts`ê the last three characters 為治也 should be 為治者 which is the subject of the following sentence 為治者,用眾而舍寡.

19. With Wang Hsien-shen 雖有 above 不恃隱栝 is superfluous.

20. With Wang 有 should be 恃.

21. 狂 means 誑.

22. With Kao Hêng 論 in both cases stands for 謏.

23. With Kao Hêng 論 in both cases stands for 謏.

24. With Wang Hsien-shen 毛嗇 should be 毛嬙.

25. With Wang 腹 is a mistake for 復.

26. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 介 should be 分.

27. Ku thought there were hiatuses both above and below 解, which alone, if literally translated, makes no unity of thought in the whole passage, and is therefore not translated.

28. Namely, the Yangtse River.

29. Namely, the Yellow River.

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