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A man of Zan asked the disciple Wû-lû, saying, 'Is an observance of the rules of propriety in regard to eating, or eating merely, the more important?' The answer was, 'The observance of the rules of propriety is the more important.'

'Is the gratifying the appetite of sex, or the doing so only according to the rules of propriety, the more important?' The answer again was, 'The observance of the rules of propriety in the matter is the more important.'

The man pursued, 'If the result of eating only according to the rules of propriety will be death by starvation, while by disregarding those rules we may get food, must they still be observed in such a case? If according to the rule that he shall go in person to meet his wife a man cannot get married, while by disregarding that rule he may get married, must he still observe the rule in such a case?'

Wû-lû was unable to reply to these questions, and the next day he went to Tsâu, and told them to Mencius. Mencius said, 'What difficulty is there in answering these inquiries?'

'If you do not adjust them at their lower extremities, but only put their tops on a level, a piece of wood an inch square may be made to be higher than the pointed peak of a high building.

'Gold is heavier than feathers;--but does that saying have reference, on the one hand, to a single clasp of gold, and, on the other, to a waggon-load of feathers?

'If you take a case where the eating is of the utmost importance and the observing the rules of propriety is of little importance, and compare the things together, why stop with saying merely that the eating is more important? So, taking the case where the gratifying the appetite of sex is of the utmost importance and the observing the rules of propriety is of little importance, why stop with merely saying that the gratifying the appetite is the more important?

'Go and answer him thus, "If, by twisting your elder brother's arm, and snatching from him what he is eating, you can get food for yourself, while, if you do not do so, you will not get anything to eat, will you so twist his arm ? If by getting over your neighbour's wall, and dragging away his virgin daughter, you can get a wife, while if you do not do so, you will not be able to get a wife, will you so drag her away?"'


Chiâo of Tsâo asked Mencius, saying, 'It is said, "All men may be Yâos and Shuns;"--is it so?' Mencius replied, 'It is.'

Chiâo went on, 'I have heard that king Wan was ten cubits high, and T'ang nine. Now I am nine cubits four inches in height. But I can do nothing but eat my millet. What am I to do to realize that saying?'

Mencius answered him, 'What has this--the question of size--to do with the matter? It all lies simply in acting as such. Here is a man, whose strength was not equal to lift a duckling:--he was then a man of no strength. But to-day he says, "I can lift 3,000 catties' weight," and he is a man of strength. And so, he who can lift the weight which Wû Hwo lifted is just another Wû Hwo. Why should a man make a want of ability the subject of his grief? It is only that he will not do the thing.

'To walk slowly, keeping behind his elders, is to perform the part of a younger. To walk quickly and precede his elders, is to violate the duty of a younger brother. Now, is it what a man cannot do--to walk slowly? It is what he does not do. The course of Yâo and Shun was simply that of filial piety and fraternal duty.

'Wear the clothes of Yâo, repeat the words of Yâo, and do the actions of Yâo, and you will just be a Yâo. And, if you wear the clothes of Chieh, repeat the words of Chieh, and do the actions of Chieh, you will just be a Chieh.'

Chiâo said, 'I shall be having an interview with the prince of Tsâu, and can ask him to let me have a house to lodge in. I wish to remain here, and receive instruction at your gate.'

Mencius replied, 'The way of truth is like a great road. It is not difficult to know it. The evil is only that men will not seek it. Do you go home and search for it, and you will have abundance of teachers.'


Kung-sun Ch'âu asked about an opinion of the scholar Kâo, saying, 'Kâo observed, "The Hsiâo P'ân is the ode of a little man."' Mencius asked, 'Why did he say so?' 'Because of the murmuring which it expresses,' was the reply.

Mencius answered, 'How stupid was that old Kâo in dealing with the ode! There is a man here, and a native of Yûeh bends his bow to shoot him. I will advise him not to do so, but speaking calmly and smilingly;--for no other reason but that he is not related to me. But if my own brother be bending his bow to shoot the man, then I will advise him not to do so, weeping and crying the while;--for no other reason than that he is related to me. The dissatisfaction expressed in the Hsiâo P'ân is the working of relative affection, and that affection shows benevolence. Stupid indeed was old Kâo's criticism on the ode.'

Ch'âu then said, 'How is it that there is no dissatisfaction expressed in the K'âi Fang?'

Mencius replied, 'The parent's fault referred to in the K'âi Fang is small; that referred to in the Hsiâo P'ân is great. Where the parent's fault was great, not to have murmured on account of it would have increased the want of natural affection. Where the parent's fault was small, to have murmured on account of it would have been to act like water which frets and foams about a stone that interrupts its course. To increase the want of natural affection would have been unfilial, and to fret and foam in such a manner would also have been unfilial.

'Confucius said, "Shun was indeed perfectly filial! And yet, when he was fifty, he was full of longing desire about his parents."'


1. Sung K'ang being about to go to Ch'û, Mencius met him in Shih-ch'iû.

'Master, where are you going?' asked Mencius.

K'ang replied, 'I have heard that Ch'in and Ch'û are fighting together, and I am going to see the king of Ch'û and persuade him to cease hostilities. If he shall not be pleased with my advice, I shall go to see the king of Ch'in, and persuade him in the same way. Of the two kings I shall surely find that I can succeed with one of them.'

Mencius said, 'I will not venture to ask about the particulars, but I should like to hear the scope of your plan. What course will you take to try to persuade them?' K'ang answered, 'I will tell them how unprofitable their course is to them.' 'Master,' said Mencius, 'your aim is great, but your argument is not good.

'If you, starting from the point of profit, offer your persuasive counsels to the kings of Ch'in and Ch'û, and if those kings are pleased with the consideration of profit so as to stop the movements of their armies, then all belonging to those armies will rejoice in the cessation of war, and find their pleasure in the pursuit of profit. Ministers will serve their sovereign for the profit of which they cherish the thought; sons will serve their fathers, and younger brothers will serve their elder brothers, from the same consideration:--and the issue will be, that, abandoning benevolence and righteousness, sovereign and minister, father and son, younger brother and elder, will carry on all their intercourse with this thought of profit cherished in their breasts. But never has there been such a state of society, without ruin being the result of it.

'If you, starting from the ground of benevolence and righteousness, offer your counsels to the kings of Ch'in and Ch'û, and if those kings are pleased with the consideration of benevolence and righteousness so as to stop the operations of their armies, then all belonging to those armies will rejoice in the stopping from war, and find their pleasure in benevolence and righteousness. Ministers will serve their sovereign, cherishing the principles of benevolence and righteousness; sons will serve their fathers, and younger brothers will serve their elder brothers, in the same way:--and so, sovereign and minister, father and son, elder brother and younger, abandoning the thought of profit, will cherish the principles of benevolence and righteousness, and carry on all their intercourse upon them. But never has there been such a state of society, without the State where it prevailed rising to the royal sway. Why must you use that word "profit."'


When Mencius was residing in Tsâu, the younger brother of the chief of Zan, who was guardian of Zan at the time, paid his respects to him by a present of silks, which Mencius received, not going to acknowledge it. When he was sojourning in P'ing-lû, Ch'û, who was prime minister of the State, sent him a similar present, which he received in the same way.

Subsequently, going from Tsâu to Zan, he visited the guardian; but when he went from Ping-lû to the capital of Ch'î, he did not visit the minister Ch'û. The disciple Wû-lû was glad, and said, 'I have got an opportunity to obtain some instruction.'

He asked accordingly, 'Master, when you went to Zan, you visited the chief's brother; and when you went to Ch'î, you did not visit Ch'û. Was it not because he is only the minister?'

Mencius replied, 'No. It is said in the Book of History, "In presenting an offering to a superior, most depends on the demonstrations of respect. If those demonstrations are not equal to the things offered, we say there is no offering, that is, there is no act of the will presenting the offering."

'This is because the things so offered do not constitute an offering to a superior.'

Wû-lû was pleased, and when some one asked him what Mencius meant, he said, 'The younger of Zan could not go to Tsâu, but the minister Ch'û might have gone to P'ing-lû.'


Shun-yû K'wan said, 'He who makes fame and meritorious services his first objects, acts with a regard to others. He who makes them only secondary objects, acts with a regard to himself. You, master, were ranked among the three chief ministers of the State, but before your fame and services had reached either to the prince or the people, you have left your place. Is this indeed the way of the benevolent?'

Mencius replied, 'There was Po'î;--he abode in an inferior situation, and would not, with his virtue, serve a degenerate prince. There was Î Yin;--he five times went to T'ang, and five times went to Chieh. There was Hûi of Liû-hsiâ;--he did not disdain to serve a vile prince, nor did he decline a small office. The courses pursued by those three worthies were different, but their aim was one. And what was their one aim? We must answer--"To be perfectly virtuous." And so it is simply after this that superior men strive. Why must they all pursue the same course?'

K'wan pursued, 'In the time of the duke Mû of Lû, the government was in the hands of Kung-î, while Tsze-liû and Tsze-sze were ministers. And yet, the dismemberment of Lû then increased exceedingly. Such was the case, a specimen how your men of virtue are of no advantage to a kingdom!'

Mencius said, 'The prince of Yû did not use Pâi-lî Hsi, and thereby lost his State. The duke Mû of Chin used him, and became chief of all the princes. Ruin is the consequence of not employing men of virtue and talents;--how can it rest with dismemberment merely?'

K'wan urged again, 'Formerly, when Wang P'âo dwelt on the Ch'î, the people on the west of the Yellow River all became skilful at singing in his abrupt manner. When Mien Ch'û lived in Kâo-t'ang, the people in the parts of Ch'î on the west became skilful at singing in his prolonged manner. The wives of Hwa Châu and Ch'î Liang bewailed their husbands so skilfully, that they changed the manners of the State. When there is the gift within, it manifests itself without. I have never seen the man who could do the deeds of a worthy, and did not realize the work of one. Therefore there are now no men of talents and virtue. If there were, I should know them.'

Mencius answered, 'When Confucius was chief minister of Justice in Lû, the prince came not to follow his counsels. Soon after there was the solstitial sacrifice, and when a part of the flesh presented in sacrifice was not sent to him, he went away even without taking off his cap of ceremony. Those who did not know him supposed it was on account of the flesh. Those who knew him supposed that it was on account of the neglect of the usual ceremony. The fact was, that Confucius wanted to go away on occasion of some small offence, not wishing to do so without some apparent cause. All men cannot be expected to understand the conduct of a superior man.'


Mencius said, 'The five chiefs of the princes were sinners against the three kings. The princes of the present day are sinners against the five chiefs. The Great officers of the present day are sinners against the princes.

'The sovereign visited the princes, which was called "A tour of Inspection." The princes attended at the court of the sovereign, which was called "Giving a report of office." It was a custom in the spring to examine the ploughing, and supply any deficiency of seed; and in autumn to examine the reaping, and assist where there was a deficiency of the crop. When the sovereign entered the boundaries of a State, if the new ground was being reclaimed, and the old fields well cultivated; if the old were nourished and the worthy honoured; and if men of distinguished talents were placed in office: then the prince was rewarded,--rewarded with an addition to his territory. On the other hand, if, on entering a State, the ground was found left wild or overrun with weeds; if the old were neglected and the worthy unhonoured; and if the offices were filled with hard tax gatherers: then the prince was reprimanded. If a prince once omitted his attendance at court, he was punished by degradation of rank; if he did so a second time, be was deprived of a portion of his territory; if he did so a third time, the royal forces were set in motion, and he was removed from his government. Thus the sovereign commanded the punishment, but did not himself inflict it, while the princes inflicted the punishment, but did not command it. The five chiefs, however, dragged the princes to punish other princes, and hence I say that they were sinners against the three kings.

'Of the five chiefs the most powerful was the duke Hwan. At the assembly of the princes in K'wei-ch'iû, he bound the victim and placed the writing upon it, but did not slay it to smear their mouths with the blood. The first injunction in their agreement was,--"Slay the unfilial; change not the son who has been appointed heir; exalt not a concubine to be the wife." The second was,--"Honour the worthy, and maintain the talented, to give distinction to the virtuous." The third was,--"Respect the old, and be kind to the young. Be not forgetful of strangers and travellers." The fourth was,--"Let not offices be hereditary, nor let officers be pluralists. In the selection of officers let the object be to get the proper men. Let not a ruler take it on himself to put to death a Great officer." The fifth was,--"Follow no crooked policy in making embankments. Impose no restrictions on the sale of grain. Let there be no promotions without first announcing them to the sovereign." It was then said, "All we who have united in this agreement shall hereafter maintain amicable relations." The princes of the present day all violate these five prohibitions, and therefore I say that the princes of the present day are sinners against the five chiefs.

'The crime of him who connives at, and aids, the wickedness of his prince is small, but the crime of him who anticipates and excites that wickedness is great. The officers of the present day all go to meet their sovereigns' wickedness, and therefore I say that the Great officers of the present day are sinners against the princes.'


The prince of Lû wanted to make the minister Shan commander of his army.

Mencius said, 'To employ an uninstructed people in war may be said to be destroying the people. A destroyer of the people would not have been tolerated in the times of Yâo and Shun.

'Though by a single battle you should subdue Ch'î, and get possession of Nan-yang, the thing ought not to be done.'

Shan changed countenance, and said in displeasure, 'This is what I, Kû-lî, do not understand.'

Mencius said, 'I will lay the case plainly before you. The territory appropriated to the sovereign is 1,000 lî square. Without a thousand lî, he would not have sufficient for his entertainment of the princes. The territory appropriated to a Hâu is 100 lî square. Without 100 lî, he would not have sufficient wherewith to observe the statutes kept in his ancestral temple.

'When Châu-kung was invested with the principalily of Lû, it was a hundred lî square. The territory was indeed enough, but it was not more than 100 lî. When T'âi-kung was invested with the principality of Ch'î, it was 100 lî square. The territory was indeed enough, but it was not more than 100 lî.

'Now Lû is five times 100 lî square. If a true royal ruler were to arise, whether do you think that Lû would be diminished or increased by him?

'If it were merely taking the place from the one State to give it to the other, a benevolent man would not do it;--how much less will he do so, when the end is to be sought by the slaughter of men!

'The way in which a superior man serves his prince contemplates simply the leading him in the right path, and directing his mind to benevolence.'


Mencius said, 'Those who now-a-days serve their sovereigns say, "We can for our sovereign enlarge the limits of the cultivated ground, and fill his treasuries and arsenals." Such persons are now-a-days called "Good ministers," but anciently they were called "Robbers of the people." If a sovereign follows not the right way, nor has his mind bent on benevolence, to seek to enrich him is to enrich a Chieh.

'Or they will say, "We can for our sovereign form alliances with other States, so that our battles must be successful." Such persons are now-a-days called "Good ministers," but anciently they were called "Robbers of the people." If a sovereign follows not the right way, nor has his mind directed to benevolence, to seek to enrich him is to enrich a Chieh.

'Although a prince, pursuing the path of the present day, and not changing its practices, were to have the throne given to him, he could not retain it for a single morning.'


Pâi Kwei said, 'I want to take a twentieth of the produce only as the tax. What do you think of it?'

Mencius said, 'Your way would be that of the Mo.

'In a country of ten thousand families, would it do to have only one potter?' Kwei replied, 'No. The vessels would not be enough to use.'

Mencius went on, 'In Mo all the five kinds of grain are not grown; it only produces the millet. There are no fortified cities, no edifices, no ancestral temples, no ceremonies of sacrifice; there are no princes requiring presents and entertainments; there is no system of officers with their various subordinates. On these accounts a tax of one-twentieth of the produce is sufficient there.

'But now it is the Middle Kingdom that we live in. To banish the relationships of men, and have no superior men;--how can such a state of things be thought of?

'With but few potters a kingdom cannot subsist;--how much less can it subsist without men of a higher rank than others?

'If we wish to make the taxation lighter than the system of Yâo and Shun, we shall just have a great Mo and a small Mo. If we wish to make it heavier, we shall just have the great Chieh and the small Chieh.'


Pâi Kwei said, 'My management of the waters is superior to that of Yû.'

Mencius replied, 'You are wrong, Sir. Yû's regulation of the waters was according to the laws of water.

'He therefore made the four seas their receptacle, while you make the neighbouring States their receptacle.

'Water flowing out of its channels is called an inundation. Inundating waters are a vast waste of water, and what a benevolent man detests. You are wrong, my good Sir.'


Mencius said, 'If a scholar have not faith, how shall he take a firm hold of things?'


The prince of Lû wanting to commit the administration of his government to the disciple Yo-chang, Mencius said, 'When I heard of it, I was so glad that I could not sleep.'

Kung-sun Ch'âu asked, 'Is Yo-chang a man of vigour?' and was answered, 'No.' 'Is he wise in council?' 'No.' 'Is he possessed of much information?' 'No.'

'What then made you so glad that you could not sleep?'

'He is a man who loves what is good.'

'Is the love of what is good sufficient?'

'The love of what is good is more than a sufficient qualification for the government of the kingdom;--how much more is it so for the State of Lû!

'If a minister love what is good, all within the four seas will count 1,000 lî but a small distance, and will come and lay their good thoughts before him.

If he do not love what is good, men will say, "How self-conceited he looks? He is sayinq to himself, I know it." The language and looks of that self-conceit will keep men off at a distance of 1,000 lî. When good men stop 1,000 lî off, calumniators, flatterers, and sycophants will make their appearance. When a minister lives among calumniators, flatterers, and sycophants, though he may wish the State to be well governed, is it possible for it to be so?'


The disciple Ch'an said, 'What were the principles on which superior men of old took office?' Mencius replied, 'There were three cases in which they accepted office, and three in which they left it.

'If received with the utmost respect and all polite observances, and they could say to themselves that the prince would carry their words into practice, then they took office with him. Afterwards, although there might be no remission in the polite demeanour of the prince, if their words were not carried into practice, they would leave him.

'The second case was that in which, though the prince could not be expected at once to carry their words into practice, yet being received by him with the utmost respect, they took office with him. But afterwards, if there was a remission in his polite demeanour, they would leave him.

'The last case was that of the superior man who had nothing to eat, either morning or evening, and was so famished that he could not move out of his door. If the prince, on hearing of his state, said, "I must fail in the great point,--that of carrying his doctrines into practice, neither am I able to follow his words, but I am ashamed to allow him to die of want in my country;" the assistance offered in such a case might be received, but not beyond what was sufficient to avert death.'


Mencius said, 'Shun rose from among the channelled fields. Fû Yûeh was called to office from the midst of his building frames; Chiâo-ko from his fish and salt; Kwan Î-wû from the hands of his gaoler; Sun-shû Îo from his hiding by the sea-shore; and Pâi-lî Hsî from the market-place.

'Thus, when Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and supplies his incompetencies.

'Men for the most part err, and are afterwards able to reform. They are distressed in mind and perplexed in their thoughts, and then they arise to vigorous reformation. When things have been evidenced in men's looks, and set forth in their words, then they understand them.

'If a prince have not about his court families attached to the laws and worthy counsellors, and if abroad there are not hostile States or other external calamities, his kingdom will generally come to ruin.

'From these things we see how life springs from sorrow and calamity, and death from ease and pleasure.'


Mencius said, 'There are many arts in teaching. I refuse, as inconsistent with my character, to teach a man, but I am only thereby still teaching him.'

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