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Chapter XXIII. Pursuing the Way1

(a) Secretaries! called the Lord Grand Secretary, but before they could answer he turned to the Cancellarius2 and said: These Literati have been learning how to argue since they first tied their hair. 3 They are so surcingled with words you cannot tear them away from their periods which seem to run in circles and their roulades unstopping like the potter's wheel. Their tirades are as showy as the flowers of spring, but are as futile as an attempt to embrace the wind. They bedeck their emptiness so as to injure substance and discourse on antiquity to the detriment of things modern. If we follow them now, then the government will be deprived of its revenue, for their vacuous proposals cannot really be put into effect. If we do not adopt their plans, these literati will continue to criticize us. For too long a time the din raised by this mob has been unbearable in the great metropolitan offices of the ministers. Now would you suggest a feasible plan that we could adopt so as to be in accordance with antiquity and at the same time clarify the present situation?

(b) Then advanced the Cancellarius and said: Duke Wên of Chin was cunning but lacked uprightness, while Duke Huan of Ch'i was upright but never cunning. Their motives were not alike, yet both of them reached the goal of the Hegemony. 4 If one be obliged to follow old ways unswervingly and carry on old precedents unchangingly, then culture would never supplant crudeness and carts with rimless wheels would still be with us. Hence some create anew, while others transmit; then only can laws and regulations be consonant to the people's needs and instruments and implements expedient for use.5 Confucius 6 in his interviews with the three rulers expressed different ideas and Yen Tzŭ adopted varying principles in serving as Chancellor to three princes; not that these two men insisted upon contradicting themselves, but that the exigencies of the times were different. Our lords high ministers have now already set out upon the road of the great undertaking and planted firmly the root of inexhaustible profit. I wish you would not hark back to minute analysis of antiquity and would cease dragging in your Confucianist and Mihist arguments 7

(c) The Literati: K'uang, the Music-master, when harmonizing the pentachord never missed the sol-fa; 8 the sage Emperors never departed from charity and justice, when they regulated the world. Thus, while there have been nominal changes in administration, there has never been with them any real change of principle. In the days of high antiquity, from the Yellow Emperor down to the Three Kings, 9 there was none who did not make illustrious his virtuous instructions, promote academies and schools,10 exalt the charitable and the just, and establish firmly enlightenment and culture. That was the immutable law and principle for a hundred generations. By following them closely, the Yin and the Chou prospered, while the sovereign of Ch'in tampered with the laws and perished. When they spoke in the Odes, Though there be no old nor experienced men there are still code and statute,11 they meant law and education. Thus, when these dèteriorate, they should be restored and systematized, and put into effect after systematization. What need is there to make them over again?

(d) The Cancellarius: It does not profit one's appearance to talk of Hsi Shih's beauty, nor does discoursing on Yao's and Shun's virtues bring benefit to government. Now, O Literati, you tell us nothing of the means to achieve good administration, and talk only of the lack of achievement on the part of administrators; it is like saying nothing of the methods of cultivating land while keeping on admiring the stores and bins of the rich. For as he who desires grain should take cognizance of the seasons, so he who wishes good administration should follow the needs of the age. Thus, the Lord of Shang standing in splendid isolation, alone saw clearly the alternative between preservation and ruin, but found it impossible to cooperate with those who remained entangled with the ways of the vulgar because of their obstructing his achievements and their manifest shortsightedness. The mediocre man finds contentment in habit and usage, the foolish one sticks to his bit of learning. Thus as it took three years after the invention of boats and carts before people were taught to find satisfaction in them, so only after the Lord of Shang's laws were firmly established, the people learned to trust them. There are some with whom one can associate in judgment.12 Indeed, O Literati, you can be entrusted with holding the builder's line and following already carved-out patterns, but surely not to take part in discussing aught beyond your own `principles and methods.'

(e) The Literati: Wide in his knowledge, the superior man still maintains reserve as to lacunae in it; a transmitter and not an originator,13 though sage and perspicacious, he plans little, though wise and sagacious, he acts sparingly. Thus it is that his achievement is complete and falls not, his fame firmly established and dulls not. But the mean man, shallow in wit but large in plans, shoulders burdens too heavy for his debility and languidness, and thus finds himself forced to give up in the middle of the road.14 Such ones were Su Ch'in and Shang Yang: they would have none of the laws of the former kings, they disregarded the ways of the Sages, and relied solely upon themselves—and so went to their doom. A mean man sitting in resplendent station says the Book of. Changes, will fall, high as he may be.15 Of such there never has been one who ended his life peacefully when he strove not for fullness in principle and constancy in virtue. Thus though he might at first ascend to Heaven, he will fall to Earth. When Yü regulated the flood, the people' realized the benefit to be derived from his activities, and there was none who did not appreciate his accomplishment; when Shang Yang established his laws, the people knew the harm to be expected therefrom and there was none who did not fear punishment. Therefore, the prince of Hsia affirmed his achievement and achieved sovereignty, while Shang Yang perished as soon as his laws were put into effect. Like Shang Yang you may stand alone in the wisdom of your plans, but the world is not ready to bear witness to your `lonely' discernment; while we, the Literati, though we may be unworthy to associate with you in judgment of the present world, will also escape the calamity of being crushed under your loads. 16


1. 道 "occurs everywhere with a moral application, meaning the way or course to be pursued, the path of reason, of principle, of truth, etc." Legge, Chi. Classics, Vol. II, Index III, p. 579.>

2. 丞 相 史, evidently a member of the Lord Chancellor's secretariat.

3. 結 髮 Cf. Discourses, ch. XVII, p. 106, note 2.

4. 霸 Also popularized in English as "Protectorate." Cf. Discourses, Glossary, for the two names. See H. Maspero, La Chine Antique, Livre III, p. 281, Bib. and footnote; also p. 295, footnote.

5. Cf. Discourses, ch. VII, p. 43, note 2.

6. The emission of 子. Confucius' title, is rather unaccountable here, as the sentence balance requires the additional character. There is, however, an element of disdain perceptible in the Cancellarius' words here, where he employs Confucius' well known expressions 作 and 述 "a transmitter not an originator," Lun Yü, VII, i. Yen Tzŭ is given the title as a successful administrator.

7. The confusion in thought at this time is indicated by the coupling of Ju and Mo together when actually Mencius 亞 聖 inveighed against the teachings of Mo-ti. It is thus difficult to believe with Shryock that Confucius was fully accepted in Han Wu-ti's time (loc. cit., Chap. III.)

8. "Kung Shang," the first two notes of the Chinese pentatonic scale.

9. Cf. Discourses, Ch. IV, p. 26, note 2.

10. Cf. Mencius I, i, III, 4; the preceding phrase is reminiscent of the Ta Hsüeh.

11. Shih Ching, III, iii, I, 7.

12. Lun Yü, IX, 29, considerably abbreviated.

13. Lun Yü, II, 18: "hears much, reserves whatever causes him doubt" (Soothill); and ibid., VII, i.

14. Lun Yü, VI, 10.

15. This quotation has not been located.

16. The policies of Shang Yang are discussed in Discourses, chap. VII, footnotes passim.

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