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Chapter XIII. The Difficulty of Pien Ho1

Once a man of Ch`u, named Pien Ho, came by an uncut jade in the Ch`u Hills. He brought it home and submitted it as a present to King Wu. 2 Thereupon King Wu had a jeweller give an opinion of it. "It is an ordinary stone," said the jeweller. The King, regarding Ho as a liar, had his left foot cut off. Upon King Wu's death, King Wên ascended the throne, when Ho again submitted it as a present to King Wên. King Wên also had a jeweller give an opinion of it. Again he said, "It is an ordinary stone." The King, also regarding Ho as a liar, had his right foot cut off.

When King Wên died and King Ch`êng ascended the throne, Ho, carrying the uncut jade in his arms, cried at the foot of the Ching Hills. 3 After three days and three nights his tears were all exhausted and blood flowed out. At this news the King sent men out to ask him the reason, saying, "Throughout All-under-Heaven men whose feet were cut off are many. Why should you be crying so bitterly?" "I am lamenting not the loss of my feet," said Ho in reply, "but for the calling a precious gem an ordinary stone and for their dubbing an honest man a liar. This is the reason why I am lamenting." Meanwhile, the King had a jeweller polish up the jade and got the treasure out at last. So it was designated "the Jade of Pien Ho".

Indeed, pearls and gems are what the lord of men wants badly. Though Ho presented the uncut jade to the Throne, before it was made beautiful, he was never a harm to His Majesty. Nevertheless, it was only after both his feet had been cut off that the treasure was acknowledged. That to establish an opinion of a treasure should be so difficult!

To-day, the lord of men feels the need of law and tact not necessarily as badly as he wants the Jade of Pien Ho, whereas he has to suppress the self-seeking wickedness of all officials, gentry, and commoners. 4 That being so, upholders of the right way of government are not punished because they have not as yet presented the uncut jade of emperors and kings to the Throne.

If the sovereign uses tact, then neither the chief vassals can fix the state policies at their will, nor will the courtiers dare to sell off any personal favour. If the magistrate enforces the law, then vagabonds have to turn to tillage while itinerants have to stop talking about warfare. If so, law and tact offer a drawback to the officials, gentry, and commoners. Therefore, unless the lord of men can rise against the chief vassals' protests, above the vagabonds' slanders, and exclusively follow 5 the dicta of the true path, upholders of law and tact, even though driven to the verge of death, will never see the true path acknowledged.

In by-gone days, Wu Ch`i taught King Tao of Ch`u a state policy for Ch`u, saying: "When chief vassals are too powerful and enfeoffed retainers too numerous, the body of officials will intimidate the ruler and oppress the people, which is the way to impoverish the state and weaken the army. Therefore, better confiscate the ranks and bounties of the enfeoffed retainers after the third generation of their successors, reduce 6 the salaries and allowances of the magistrates, and eliminate such superfluous offices as of no urgent need, in order thereby to maintain well-chosen and well-trained warriors." King Tao, after enforcing this policy for a year, passed away, whereupon Wu Ch`i was dismembered in Ch`u.

Lord Shang taught Duke Hsiao of Ch`in to organize groups of ten and five families, and establish the system of denunciation of crime and joint responsibility for offence, to burn the Books of Poetry and History7 and thereby make laws and orders clear, to bar the requests of private families and thereby encourage services to public offices, to prohibit idlers from purchasing official posts, and to celebrate farmers and warriors. The theory was carried into effect by Duke Hsiao with the immediate result that the sovereign thereby became glorious and secure and the state thereby became rich and strong. Eighteen 8 years later the Duke passed away, whereupon Lord Shang was torn to pieces by chariots 9 in Ch`in.

Ch`u, not employing Wu Ch`i, was dismembered and disturbed; Ch`in, practising the Law of Lord Shang, became rich and strong. Though the two philosophers' words turned out true, yet how came it that Ch`u dismembered Wu Ch`i and Ch`in tore Lord Shang to pieces by chariots? It was because the chief vassals had regarded law as annoyance and the masses had resented order. Now that in the present age the chief vassals' covetousness of power and the masses' content with disorder are more vivid than the conditions that once prevailed in Ch`u and Ch`in, 10 if the lord of men does not have the same aptitude for counsels as King Tao and Duke Hsiao had, then how can upholders of law and tact run the risk of the two philosophers to make their principles of law and tact clear? This is the reason 11 why the age is chaotic and has no Hegemonic Ruler.


1. 和氏. Pien Ho being the real name is used throughout my translation.

2. With Wang Hsien-shen the three successive kings were Kings Wu, Wên, and Ch`êng. So throughout my translation 武王 is found in place of 厲王, 文王 in place of 武王, and 成王 in place of 文王.

3. With Wang 楚山 should be 荊山.

4. Wang Hsien-shen gave up all hope of elucidating the hiatus below this passage. I have attempted to make the translation of this and the following passages as faithful to the original and intelligible to the reader as possible.

5. With Kao Hêng 周乎道言 means 合乎道言.

6. For 絕 Ku Kuang-ts`ê proposed 纔 meaning 裁.

7. The Historical Records and other books never mention Lord Shang's teaching to burn the Books of Poetry and History. Lord Shang might have taught it, but Duke Hsiao apparently never carried it into effect.

8. With Wang Hsien-shen it seemed better to supply 十 above 八 inasmuch as Duke Hsiao reigned for eighteen years and during the last ten years Yang held the office of premier.

9. The chariots bound to the head and limbs of the criminal were driven in opposite directions to tear them off his body.

10. Evidently this essay was written before the author entered Ch`in.

11. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 以 should be supplied below 所.

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