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CHAPTER III: GENERAL HUMAN RELATIONS - Confucius, The Ethics of Confucius 
The Ethics of Confucius. The Sayings of the Master and his Disciples upon the Conduct of “The Superior Man”, arranged according to the plan of Confucius with running commentary by Miles Menander Dawson, with a foreword by Wu Ting Fang (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915).
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GENERAL HUMAN RELATIONS
After instruction in self-development, men need to know their relation to their fellows. First in importance of our social duties, and intimately connected with individual character, Confucius placed propriety.
The Rules of Propriety. “Let the superior man never fail reverentially to order his own conduct; and let him be respectful to others and observant of propriety. Then all within the four seas will be his brothers.” (Analects, bk. xii., c. v., v. 4.)
Thus Confucius in the “Analects” emphasizes the importance of the due observance of propriety. The rules of propriety were, in the mind of the sage, of much the same order as the positive commands which make up the ordinary man’s only system of morality. They were the things enjoined, which the superior man must observe, not in order to become or even to be a superior man, however, but because he is such. Therefore it is said: “If a man be without the virtues proper to humanity, what has he to do with the rites of propriety?” (Analects, bk. iii., c. iii.)
Yet propriety has its office, also, and that not a small one, albeit the real character, the open mind, sincerity, purity of purpose, will, courage, poise, and all the rest, must first have been attained; else mere outward conformity with propriety is nothing. Its office is thus described: “It is by the rules of propriety that the character is established.” (Analects, bk. viii., c. viii., v. 2.) “Without an acquaintance with the rules of propriety, it is impossible for the character to be established.” (Analects, bk. xx., c. iii., v. 3.)
This is indeed sufficiently obvious upon consideration since character can be evinced only in speech, conduct, deportment, and demeanour, each of which must have its own canons of propriety. The utility of these rules in this respect is adverted to in the “Li Ki,” thus: “The rules of propriety serve as instruments to form men’s characters. . . . They remove from a man all perversity and increase what is beautiful in his nature. They make him correct, when employed in the ordering of himself; they ensure for him free course, when employed toward others.” (Bk. viii., sect. i., 1.)
In another place in the “Li Ki,” the following is said concerning the depraved state of men who have no conception of propriety: “But if beasts and without the rules of propriety, father and son might have the same mate.” (Bk. i., sect. i., pt. i., c. v., v. 21.)
And in yet another place in that book the following tribute to the superlative utility of propriety and especially to its usefulness in forming character appears: “Therefore the rules of propriety are for man what the yeast is for liquor. By the use of them the superior man becomes better and greater. The inferior man by neglect of them becomes smaller and poorer. (Bk. vii., sect. iv., v. 7.)
Mencius thus laid bare the very foundation for the sense of propriety: “The sense of shame is of great importance to man.” (Bk. vii., pt. i., c. vii., v. 1.)
The Chinese tradition was that the rules of propriety had been established by the ancient kings and embodied their conception of right. The following account, also in the “Li Ki,” which is devoted to a discussion of these rules, is given, both of their origin and of their construction: “The rules as instituted by the ancient kings had their radical element and their outward, elegant form. A true heart and good faith are their radical element. The characteristics of each according to the idea of what is right in it are its outward, elegant form. Without the radical element, they could not have been established; without the elegant form, they could not have been put in practice.” (Bk. viii., sect. i., v. 2.)
That an observance is to be judged, not only by its general acceptance as “good form,” but also and, if need be, exclusively by what is right, is urged in this passage from the same book: “Rules of ceremony are the embodied expression of what is right. If an observance stand the test of being judged by the standard of what is right, although it may not have been among the usages of the ancient kings, it may be adopted on the ground of its being right.” (Bk. vii., sect. iv., v. 9.)
Mencius thus rebuked the notion, yet prevalent in more than one quarter, that mere “good form” is propriety although it be the cover for wanton cruelty and wrong: “Acts of propriety which are not proper and deeds of righteousness that are not righteous, the great man does not do.” (Bk. iv., pt. ii., c. vi.)
The untoward consequences, if the rights of propriety are neglected, are strikingly set forth by Confucius in these words: “Respectfulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes timidity; boldness, without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness.” (Analects, bk. viii., c. ii., v. 1.)
Several of the nine things which he names as worthy “of thoughtful consideration” are of this nature. The pronouncement, already once quoted, will bear repetition: “The superior man has nine things which are subjects with him of thoughtful consideration: In regard to the use of his eyes he is anxious to see clearly. In regard to the use of his ears he is anxious to hear distinctly. In regard to his countenance he is anxious that it should be benign. In regard to his demeanour he is anxious that it should be respectful. In regard to his speech he is anxious that it should be sincere. In regard to his doing of business he is anxious that it should be reverently careful. In regard to what he doubts about he is anxious to question others. When he is angry he thinks of the difficulties his anger may involve him in. When he sees gain to be got he thinks of righteousness.” (Analects, bk. xvi., c. x.)
In another place he says: “If you are grave, you will not be treated with disrespect; if you are generous, you will win all; if you are sincere, people will repose trust in you; if you are in earnest, you will accomplish much; if you are kind, this will enable you to employ the services of others.” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. vi.)
Each of these has reference to a rule of propriety.
Again, when asked what constitutes perfect virtue, he said: “It is in retirement to be sedately grave, in the management of business to be reverently attentive, in intercourse with others to be strictly sincere.” (Analects, bk. xiii., c. xix.)
Among the repulsive characters which he holds it the duty of the superior man to hate, is this: “He hates those who have valour merely and are unobservant of propriety.” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xxiv., v. 1.)
Perhaps in nothing are the real qualities of a man more frankly exhibited than in his conduct toward those who are subject to his orders and must obey him. The petty tyrannies which the small mind invents under such conditions are familiar to every observer, but few have had the penetration to discern what Confucius illustrates in the following passage: “The superior man is easy to serve and difficult to please. If you try to please him in any way which is not accordant with right, he will not be pleased. But in his employment of men he uses them according to their capacity. The inferior man is difficult to serve, and easy to please. If you try to please him, though it be in a way which is not accordant with right, he may be pleased. But in his employment of men he wishes them to be equal to everything.” (Analects, bk. xiii., c. xxv.)
This is but a shrewd practical application of this observation from the “Li Ki”: “Propriety is seen in humbling one’s self and giving honours to others.” (Bk. i., sect. i., pt. i., c. vi., v. 25.)
But this humility must be such as comports with true dignity; for, as the Duke of Shao says in the “Shu King” (pt. v., bk. vi., 2): “Complete virtue allows no contemptuous familiarity.”
This combination of humility and dignity, which has ever characterized the Chinese conception of propriety, is cleverly adverted to in these significant and weighty sentences: “Gan P’ing Chung knew well how to maintain friendly intercourse. The acquaintance might be long, but he showed the same respect as at first.” (Analects, bk. v., c. xvi.)
This combination of humility and dignity is yet more pointedly and convincingly outlined in this pithy sentence: “Condemning none, courting none, what can he do that is not good?” (Analects, bk. ix., c. xxvi., v. 2.)
Though Confucius was so insistent that his disciples should learn and practise the refinements of polite behaviour, he held the balance even, and at all times urged the greater importance of the real things of character. Complete sanity is in these discerning sentences: “Where the solid qualities are in excess of the accomplishments, we have rusticity; where the accomplishments are in excess of the solid qualities, we have the manners of a clerk; when the accomplishments and solid qualities are equally blended, we then have the man of complete virtue.” (Analects, bk. vi., c. xvi.)
In the “Li Ki” the urgent need that one give reverent attention to propriety is thus phrased: “The superior man watches over the manner in which he maintains his intercourse with other men.” (Bk. viii., sect. ii., v. 14.)
It is, however, not desirable that over-emphasis be laid upon unimportant details; for as Tsze-hea says in the “Analects”: “When a person does not transgress the boundary-line of the great virtues, he may pass and repass it in the small virtues.” (Analects, bk. xix., c. xi.)
There is, notwithstanding, something near to vehemence in this urgent adjuration that propriety is on no account to be neglected either in passive or in active moments: “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety!” (Analects, bk. xii., c. i., v. 2.)
This glowing picture of what the superior man, conversant with propriety and following its rules with discernment, sympathy, and enthusiasm, may become, already quoted from the “Doctrine of the Mean,” is so illuminating in this connection that it is here repeated: “The superior man does what is proper to the station in which he is; he does not desire to go beyond this. In a position of wealth and honour he does what is proper to a position of wealth and honour; in a poor and low position, he does what is proper to a poor and low position; situated among barbarous tribes he does what is proper to a situation among barbarous tribes; in a position of sorrow and difficulty, he does what is proper to a position of sorrow and difficulty.
“The superior man can find himself in no position in which he is not himself. In a high situation he does not treat with contempt his inferiors, in a low situation he does not court the favour of his superiors; he rectifies himself, and seeks for nothing from others, so that he has no dissatisfaction.” (Doctrine of the Mean, c. xiv.)
The influence and the value of such a man to his community he thus rates, when told that the tribes of the East, with whom he purposes to live, are rude: “If a superior man lived among them, what rudeness would there be?” (Analects, bk. ix., c. xiii., v. 2.)
Propriety of Demeanour. “Always and in everything let there be reverence, with the demeanour grave as when one is thinking deeply and with speech composed and definite.” (Li Ki, bk. i., sect. i., pt. i., c. i.) “If the heart be for a moment without the feeling of harmony and joy, meanness and deceitfulness enter it. If the outward demeanour be for a moment without gravity and reverence, indifference and rudeness show themselves.” (Li Ki, bk. xxi., sect. ii., 8.)
These two passages from the “Li Ki” illustrate the high estimate which the Chinese justly placed upon the value of grave demeanour. The idea is that between two superior men there is a communion of souls and a commerce one with another which results inevitably from virtuous purposes, high resolves, and the reflection of these in the attitude of one toward the other. This association the superior man values not merely for the opportunities for benevolence and influence which it affords, but also for that which it means for himself as well.
It was not for nothing that the Greek poets located the gods aloof from one another on the peaks of mountains, silent for the most part though in communion each with the others, and breaking the silence only when concerns of great import called for expression.
It is something like this which Confucius sets before the superior man, as the ideal. It is for this reason that he strongly affirms that the superior man should be grave and serious. Of this he says: “If the scholar be not grave, he will not call forth veneration, and his learning will not be solid.” (Analects, bk. i., c. viii.)
By manners, it is almost needless to say, he did not mean anything at all similar to the mere gloss of one who is conversant with the rules of social behaviour, and who adroitly manipulates them to please this person or vent his spite on that; for one of his aptest texts runs: “Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue.” (Analects, bk. i., c. iii.)
Mencius thus illustrates the reward for frank demeanour and the sure detection of the contrary: “Of all the parts of a man’s body there is none more excellent than the pupil of the eye. The pupil cannot hide a man’s wickedness. If within the breast all be correct, the pupil is bright. If within the breast all be not correct, the pupil is dull. Listen to a man’s words and look at the pupil of his eye. How can a man conceal his character?” (Bk. iv., pt. i., c. xv.)
This concerning the demeanour of Confucius is related in the “Analects”: “The Master was mild but dignified; commanding but not fierce; respectful but easy.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxxvii.)
Tsze-hea in the “Analects” thus depicts the demeanour of the superior man: “Looked at from a distance, he appears stern; when approached, he is mild; when he is heard to speak, his language is firm and decided.” (Analects, bk. xix., c. ix.)
In another place Confucius contrasts the poise of the superior man with the pose of the man with low ideals, the one dignified without being conscious of it, the other constantly striving to show that control over himself and confidence in himself which he really does not possess. But the idea is better apprehended from the sage’s own words: “The superior man has dignified ease without pride; the ordinary man has pride without dignified ease.” (Analects, bk. xiii., c. xxvi.)
Propriety of Deportment. “It is virtuous manners which constitute the excellence of a neighbourhood. If a man in selecting a residence do not fix upon one where such prevail, how can he be wise?” (Analects, bk. iv., c. i.)
These words of the sage, taken from the “Analects,” are characteristic. Confucius is more frequently accused of paying too much attention to propriety in manners than too little. Undoubtedly, he did place great stress both upon ceremonies and upon manners, but more upon the spirit that should inform them. How significant the ceremonies may have been in view of the traditions and customs of the people, it is impossible for men of this age living in Western countries to divine. But the canons of good manners which Confucius set up, although subjected to most critical examination, are found to be universal in scope and quite as valid today and in Western countries as in his day and in the East.
How universal and permanent they are, may be seen from this, taken from the “Li Ki”: “Do not listen with head inclined on one side nor answer with a loud, sharp voice, nor look with a dissolute leer nor keep the body in a slouching position. Do not saunter about with a haughty gait nor stand with one foot raised. Do not sit with your knees wide apart nor lie face down.” (Bk. i., sect. i., pt. iii., c. iv.)
This from the same book is so advanced that even in these modern days men in civilized Occidental countries have barely commenced to apprehend it: “When he intends to go to an inn, let it not be with the feeling that he must have whatever he asks for!” (Bk. i., sect. i., pt. ii., c. v., v. 2, 3.)
Undoubtedly he attached great importance to manners, in part because his whole system was one of breeding. It was his notion that a man should care about himself and therefore that his behaviour should comport with his real dignity and his sense of dignity.
One who so earnestly urged the necessity for absolute sincerity could scarcely be expected to praise that social polish which is both an affectation and a lie. He draws, indeed, a sharp distinction between the superior man, who is approachable and far from distant in manner but avoids flattery, and the man who behaves with hauteur, intended to wound and embarrass, toward all but those into whose favour he would ingratiate himself. He places them thus in contrast: “The superior man is affable but not adulatory; the inferior man is adulatory but not affable.” (Analects, bk. xiii., c. xxiii.)
That by propriety in deportment is not meant subserviency, Confucius shows by his reply, when asked by his disciple, Tsze-loo, how a sovereign should be served: “Do not impose upon him, and moreover withstand him to his face.” (Analects, bk. xiv., c. xxiii.) This counsel, it is worth remarking, was given by one who was the instructor of princes.
How minute, accurate, and well-taken were the rules of behaviour which he laid down is well illustrated by the following passages from the “Li Ki”: “In all cases, looks directed up into the face denote pride, below the girdle grief, askance villainy.” (Bk. i., sect. ii., pt. iii., c. vii.) “When a thing is carried with both hands, it should be held on a level with the heart; when with one hand, on a level with the girdle.” (Bk. i., sect. ii., pt. i., c. i., v. 1.) “When sitting by a person of rank, if he begin to yawn and stretch himself, to turn round his tablet, to play with the head of his sword, to move his shoes about, or to ask about the time of day, one may ask leave to retire.” (Bk. xv., 18.)
From a volume upon human conduct which betrays so fine and discriminating penetration, it is not surprising that we may cull so choice an expression of good taste as this: “For great entertainments there should be . . . no great display of wealth.” (Bk. i., sect. ii., pt. iii., c. ix.)
This acute perception of the most delicate distinctions was evidenced no more strongly, perhaps, in any of the marvellous sentences which have come down to this generation than in the following: “Of all people, girls and servants are the most difficult to behave to. If you are familiar with them, they lose their humility; if you maintain a reserve toward them, they are discontented.” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xxv.)
That youth, or rather childhood, is the period when development of character and therefore of deportment should commence, is ever in his thought. That the son should admire and imitate his father, and the father should make of himself a human being whom the son, without surrendering his power to see things as they are, might admire and imitate, was fundamental in the Confucian conception of the art of living.
Whatever indicated the contrary of admiration and respect of a son for his father was to him as to all right-minded men offensive and disgusting. He characterizes such a boy: “In youth not humble as befits a junior” (Analects, bk. xiv., c. xlvi.), and later excoriates him in the following burning sentences: “I observe that he is fond of occupying the seat of a full-grown man. I observe that he walks shoulder to shoulder with his elders. He is not one who is seeking to make progress in learning. He wishes quickly to become a man.” (Analects, bk. xiv., c. xlvii., v. 2.)
That this might be avoided and that the manner as well as the purposes of the son might be directed into other and better channels, one of his disciples placed this requirement upon the father, whose parenthood vests him with responsibility for the manners of his offspring: “I have also heard that the superior man maintains a distant reserve toward his son.” (Analects, bk. xvi., c. xiii., v. 5.)
Not one of the foregoing is inapplicable to the regrettable incivility of children in this buoyant but inconsiderate age; and surely no others are so sorely needed in these days of flippant disrespect for elders as these trenchant exposures of the inherent badness of the manners of Oriental youths of olden times.
It remained for Mencius to lay down the following obviously correct rule for the association of friends: “Friendship should be maintained without condescension on the ground of age, station, or family. Friendship with a man is friendship with his virtue and does not admit of assumptions of superiority.” (Bk. v., pt. ii., c. iii., v. 1.)
The views of the sage as to what constitutes the true spirit of polite deportment seem always to square with the maturest judgment of the most recent authorities. What trained gentleman of any school will fail to recognize, with a thrill of satisfaction, this expression of the fundamentally correct notion of sportsmanship, observable according to his disciples in the conduct of Confucius himself: “The Master angled, but did not use a net; he shot, but not at birds perching.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxvi.)
Propriety of Speech. “They who meet men with smartness of speech, for the most part procure themselves hatred.” (Analects, bk. v., c. iv., v. 2.)
That one should be most circumspect about his speech, Tsze-kung enforces, also in the “Analects,” by saying: “For one word a man is often deemed to be wise and for one word he is often deemed to be foolish.” (Bk. xix., c. xxv., v. 2.)
And especially that he should be cautious about making rash promises, Confucius thus enjoins: “He who speaks without modesty, will find it hard to make his words good.” (Analects, bk. xiv., c. xxi.)
The same idea is more fully and explicitly developed in this passage of the “Li Ki”: “The Master said: ‘Dislike and reprisals will attend him whose promises from the lips do not ripen into fulfilment. Therefore the superior man incurs rather the resentment due to refusal than the charge of breaking his promise.’ ” (Bk. xxix., 49.)
The need for caution in giving commands is urged in these apt words from the “Shu King” (pt. v., bk. xx., 4): “Be careful in the commands you issue; for, once issued, they must be carried into effect and cannot be retracted.” And yet more generally, emphatically, and powerfully the reason for caution in speech in this striking passage of the “Shi King,” already quoted in another connection: “A flaw in a mace of white jade may be ground away, but a word spoken amiss cannot be mended.” (Major Odes, decade iii., ode 2.)
The limits of proper admonition of a friend and the reasons therefor, Confucius also indicates thus: “Faithfully admonish your friend and try to lead him kindly. If you find him impracticable, stop; do not disgrace yourself!” (Analects, bk. xii., c. xxiii.)
This proverb furnishes yet another reason for great moderation in that respect: “Those whose courses are different cannot lay plans for one another.” (Analects, bk. xv., c. xxxix.)
This also, which the “Analects” puts into the mouth of a madman, fixes the limits both of reproof and of the utility of reference to the past: “As to the past, reproof is useless, but the future may be provided against.” (Bk. xviii., c. v., v. 1.)
Confucius dwells upon the same idea in another place: “Things that are done, it is needless to speak about; things that have had their course, it is needless to remonstrate about; things that are past, it is needless to blame.” (Analects, bk. iii., c. xxi., v. 2.)
That one must watch carefully, lest he be misled by fair words, the sage shows, referring to his own experience: “At first, my way with men was to hear their words and give them credit for their conduct. Now my way is to hear their words and look at their conduct.” (Analects, bk. v., c. ix., v. 2.)
Simplicity and directness of discourse are commended in all that Confucius says of sincerity of thought, candour of speech, and earnestness of conduct; but he rarely, if ever, put it better than in the following (Analects, bk. xvi., c. xl.): “In language it is sufficient that it convey the meaning”—i. e., the precise meaning, not something other than what seems to be said or variant from it. To this, also, the sage refers, though to the part of the listener, rather than that of the speaker, when he says: “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men.” (Analects, bk. xx., c. iii., v. 3.) That is, one must accurately understand what a man says, though it is, of course, necessary to look beneath the mere words in many cases in order to discover the true character of the man. To this, also, the sage gives expression thus: “The virtuous will be sure to speak aright; but not all whose speech is good are virtuous.” (Analects, bk. xiv., c. v.)
In the “Li Ki,” this is said of the superior men of old: “They did not peer into privacies nor form intimacies in matters aside from their proper business. They did not speak of old affairs nor wear an appearance of being in sport.” (Bk. xv., 20.)
And the urgent reasons for care in speaking of important matters are thus presented in the “Yi King” (appendix iii., sect. i., c. viii., 47): “If important matters in the germ be not kept secret, that will be injurious to their accomplishment. Therefore the superior man is careful to maintain secrecy and does not allow himself to speak.”
Regarding candour it was well said, not alone of worldly success, but yet more of self-development: “I know not how a man without truthfulness is to get on.” (Analects, bk. ii., c. xxii.)
The craven character of deceit he often indicated and strongly condemned, as in these pregnant sentences: “Fine words, an insinuating appearance, and excessive respect; Tso-k‘ew Ming was ashamed of them. I also am ashamed of them. To conceal resentment against a person and appear friendly with him; Tso-k‘ew Ming was ashamed of such conduct. I also am ashamed of it.” (Analects, bk. v., c. xxiv.)
The contempt with which such conduct is to be regarded, is thus described in the “Li Ki”: “The Master said, ‘The superior man does not merely look benign as if, while cold at heart, he could feign affection. That is of the inferior man and stamps him as no better than the sneak thief.”’ (Bk. xxix., 50.)
However covert such dissimulation may be, Confucius finds it equally reprehensible and degrading. Thus, again in the “Li Ki” it is written: “The Master said, ‘When on light grounds a man breaks off his friendship with the poor, and only on weighty grounds with the rich and influential, his love of merit must be small and his contempt for meanness is not seen.’ ” (Bk. xxx., 21.)
And in the same book the more elusive hypocrisy of decrying what a man himself indulges in, is discovered and condemned, thus: “To disapprove of the conduct of another and yet to do the same himself, is contrary to the rule of instruction.” (Bk. xxii., 12.)
Here is yet another unflattering picture, taken from the “Analects,” of the unhappy and most undesirable state of the dissembler who is keeping up appearances: “Having not and yet affecting to have, empty and yet affecting to be full, straitened and yet affecting to be at ease, it is difficult with such characteristics to have constancy.” (Bk. vii., c. xxv., v. 3.)
And here a picture of yet another type of man, going about deceiving himself, rather than others, because what he is shows through: “Ardent and yet not upright; stupid and yet not attentive; simple and yet not sincere: such persons I do not understand.” (Analects, bk. viii., c. xvi.)
That such dissimulation must ever be unsuccessful in the end, Confucius asserted in many places, in no other perhaps more persuasively than in this: “See what a man does! Mark his motives! Examine in what things he rests! How can a man conceal his character?” (Analects, bk. ii., c. x.)
Or in this from “The Great Learning” (c. vi., v. 2): “There is no evil to which the inferior man, dwelling retired, will not proceed; but when he sees a superior man, he instantly tries to disguise himself, concealing his evil and displaying what is good. The other beholds him, as if he saw his heart and reins; of what use is his disguise? This is an instance of that saying, ‘What truly is within will be manifested without.’ ”
That without being continually on his guard and therefore constantly the slave of suspicion, the superior man, with his own mind open and sincere, should readily detect the attempt to delude him, however cleverly designed and executed, Confucius advanced as follows: “He who does not anticipate attempts to deceive him, nor think beforehand of his not being believed, and yet apprehends these things readily when they occur, is he not a man of superior worth?” (Analects, bk. xiv., c. xxxiii.)
That the chief peril is to him who would deceive others, that is, that he will himself deceive, Confucius says in this: “Specious words confound virtue.” (Analects, bk. xv., c. xxvi.)
Precisely as in all else, none the less, it is in earnestness and candour possible to go to excess; in this as in everything, to go too far is as bad as to fall short. Thus there are hidden things of life, intimate relations, tender ties, too private and sacred to be talked of. Of such, it is said: “I hate those who make secrets known and think that they are straightforward.” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xxiv.)
Candour may thus degenerate into indiscreet chattering. Obviously, when directed at the faults of others, it may also become incivility, unless tempered by considerate good-will and training in deportment. They, for instance, who would push their requirements as to frankness to a prohibition of the polite evasion, “Mr. So-and-so is not at home,” will find little encouragement in the following revelations as to the ancient custom upon similar occasions, with which Confucius complied, as with all other ceremonies, such constituting a language of their own: “Joo Pei wished to see Confucius, but Confucius declined to see him on the ground of being ill. When the bearer of this message went out at the door, he took the harpsichord and sang to it, in order that Pei might hear him.” (Analects, bk. xvii. c. xx.)
Mencius thus characterizes both the impropriety and the injudiciousness of over-candour: “What future misery do they have and ought they to have, who talk of what is not good in others!” (Bk. iv., pt. ii., c. ix.)
Confucius puts this in two ways, each illustrative of something which is wanting when such takes place: “There is the love of straightforwardness without the love of learning; the beclouding here leads to rudeness.” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. viii., v. 3.) “Straightforwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness.” (Analects, bk. viii., c. ii., v. 1.)
Propriety of Conduct. “What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men.” (Analects, bk. v., c. xi.)
This text from the “Analects” of Confucius is more widely known among English-speaking people than is any other; and is very generally understood to be a merely colourless, negative phase of the Golden Rule.
But even in the days of Confucius it had developed into a standard for human conduct, broad and of general application. Thus, when Tszekung asked, “Is there any one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” the Master replied: “Is not ‘Reciprocity’ such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others!” (Analects, bk. xv., c. xxiii.)
This is far indeed from being all that Confucius says upon the subject; for in “The Great Learning” (c. x., v. 10) is found this extended and thorough exposition of his views: “What a man dislikes in those who are over him, let him not display toward those who are under him; what he dislikes in those who are under him, let him not display toward those who are over him! What he hates in those who are ahead of him, let him not therewith precede those who are behind him; and what he hates in those who are behind him, let him not therewith pursue those who are ahead of him! What he hates to receive upon the right, let him not bestow upon the left; and what he hates to receive upon the left, let him not bestow upon the right! This is called the standard, by which, as by a measuring square, to regulate one’s conduct.”
Confucius, indeed, put the performance of the duties due to one’s fellowman above all other duties, except that of self-development, with which he found it to be in no way inconsistent. Thus he placed it far above the duty of ancestor communion—miscalled “worship” by Occidentals—then as now the prevailing religious ceremony in China, in a memorable colloquy with one of his disciples: “Ke Loo asked about serving the spirits of the dead. The Master said: ‘While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve spirits?’ ” (Analects, bk. xi., c. xi.)
The same, in a slightly different form, he repeated at another time, saying: “To give one’s self earnestly to the duties due to men, and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.” (Analects, bk. vi., c. xx.)
The philosophy of human service and of duty to others, as a necessary means of self-development, was surely never better expressed than in these words: “Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be confirmed himself, confirms others; wishing to be enlarged himself, enlarges others.” (Analects, bk. vi., c. xxviii., v. 2.)
The contrast between this obviously correct rule of human conduct and the unedifying spectacle of the brutal struggle for success which marks and mars the picture of modern business and social life, renders this moral enlightenment of the highest importance to men of the here and now. Confucius phrases it, however, even more beautifully and with added meaning, thus: “The superior man seeks to develop the admirable qualities of men and does not seek to develop their evil qualities. The inferior man does the opposite of this.” (Analects, bk. xii., c. xvi.)
In the “Li Ki,” Tsang-tsze is represented as saying with his failing breath, when death had come upon him: “The superior man loves on grounds of virtue; the inferior man’s love appears in his indulgence.” (Bk. ii., sect. i., pt. i., 18.)
Mencius indicates, however, the limitations of this, namely, that one should not be urging that excellence of conduct upon others which he indulgently neglects himself: “The evil of men is that they like to be teachers of others.” (Bk. iv., pt. i., c. xxiii.)
The discriminating and judicial character of the superior man’s respect and regard for others is well put in the “Li Ki,” thus: “Men of talents and virtue can be familiar with others and yet respect them; can stand in awe of others and yet love them. They can love others and yet recognize the evil that is in them.” (Bk. i., sect. i., pt. i., c. iii.)
And Confucius has said in the “Analects”: “Pih-e and Shuh-ts‘e did not keep the former wickedness of men in mind, and hence the resentments directed towards them were few.” (Analects, bk. v., c. xxii.)
The same sentiment of broad charity the sage displays in this declaration of his own personal policy: “If a man purify himself to wait upon me, I receive him, so purified, without endorsing his past conduct.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxviii., v. 2.)
Confucius did not, however, concur in the view that charity should be so all-embracing as utterly to lose sight of distinctions between men. On the contrary he sturdily reprobated that notion. He often urged the recognition of the special ties of kinship and of friendship, as thus in the “Li Ki”: “I have heard that relatives should not forget their relationship nor friends their friendship.” (Bk. ii., sect. ii., pt. iii., 24.)
And in the “Yi King” (Appendix iii., sect. i., c. viii., v. 43) appears this beautiful tribute to friendship by Confucius:
In the time of Confucius, the religious teacher, Lao Tsze, was laying the foundations of Taoism, the most widely resorted to of all the forms of worship of Chinese origin other than reverence for and communion with departed ancestors. Lao Tsze urged the validity of the rule of conduct: “Love thine enemies!” Inquiry was made of Confucius regarding this, resulting in the following dialogue: “Some one said, ‘What do you say concerning the principle that injury should be recompensed with kindness?’ The Master said: ‘With what then will you recompense kindness? Recompense injury with justice and recompense kindness with kindness!’ ” (Analects, bk. xiv., c. xxxvi.)
Confucius also went much further than this; for he taught that there is a duty to hate men who evince certain evil traits of character, wherever found, and that this duty is as binding as the other. He says (Analects, bk. iv., c. iii.): “It is only the truly virtuous man who can love, or who can hate, others,” by which it is understood that he who is not of virtuous purpose loves only in order that he may selfishly enjoy, and hates on personal grounds; while the virtuous man loves because he finds that which should be loved, and in order to bless, and also hates that which is worthy of hate and not because of any personal offence.
In the following colloquy are a few specimens of the courses of conduct which one is privileged to hate, as Confucius sees it:
“Tsze-kung said, ‘Has the superior man his hatreds also?’ The Master said: ‘He has his hatreds. He hates those who proclaim evil in others. He hates the man who, being of a low station, slanders his superiors. He hates those who have valour merely and are unobservant of the rules of propriety. He hates those who are forward and determined and, at the same time, of contracted understanding.’
“The Master then inquired, ‘Tsze, have you also your hatreds?’ Tsze-kung replied: ‘I hate those who pry out matters and ascribe the knowledge to their wisdom. I hate those who are only not modest and think that they are brave. I hate those who reveal secrets and think that they are straightforward.’ ” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xxiv.)
In another place, he has said: “I hate those who with their sharp tongues overthrow kingdoms and families.” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xviii.)
Yet Confucius said that a youth “should overflow with love for all.” (Analects, bk. i., c. vi.)
The policy, even the necessity, for this course is thus indicated in the “Shu King”: “To evoke love, one must love; to evoke respect, one must respect.” (Pt. iv., bk. iv., 2.)
And Confucius was so far from intending that what he said of hatred for the wrong-doer should be interpreted as merely rancorous dislike of an unfortunate human being, the victim of evil influences, that, when asked by Fan-Ch‘e about benevolence, he replied: “It is to love all men.” (Analects, bk. xii., c. xxii., v. 1.)
Propriety of Example. “There are three friendships which are advantageous and three which are injurious. Friendship with the upright, friendship with the sincere, and friendship with the man of much observation—these are advantageous. Friendship with the man of specious airs, friendship with the insinuatingly soft, and friendship with the glib-tongued—these are injurious.” (Analects, bk. xvi., c. iv.)
Confucius, in addition to the foregoing, numbered among “the three things men find enjoyment in, which are advantageous,” this: “to find enjoyment in having many worthy friends”; and said that a youth “should . . . cultivate the friendship of the good.” (Analects, bk. i., c. vi.) One of the traits, also, of him “who aims to be a man of complete virtue” is, he declares, that “he frequents the company of men of principle that he may be rectified.” (Analects, bk. i., c. xiv.)
In the “Li Ki,” the converse is remarked: “Friendship with the dissolute leads to the neglect of one’s learning.” (Bk. xvi., 12.)
And in the “Shu King” (pt. v., bk. xxvi.) Mu is recorded as voicing this warning: “Cultivate no intimacy with flatterers!”
The same ancient worthy is represented in the “Shu King” (bk. xxvi.) to have uttered this admonition: “Do not employ men of artful speech and insinuating looks!”
Confucius obviously intended to give the same counsel, when he said: “Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with real virtue.” (Analects, bk. i., c. iii.)
The contrast between the meritorious and the meretricious in human character and of the usefulness of one and the harmfulness of the other is most cleverly revealed in this saying of Confucius, taken from the “Li Ki” (bk. xxix., 47): “The superior man seems uninteresting but he aids to achievement, the inferior man winning but he leads to ruin.”
Prudence as regards conversation and association with others is also variously recommended by Confucius, as thus: “When a man may be spoken with, not to speak with him is to waste opportunity. When a man may not be spoken with, to speak with him is to waste words.” (Analects, bk. xv., c. vii.)
The last of these admonitions he elsewhere puts figuratively, thus: “Rotten wood cannot be carved; a wall of dirty earth will not receive the trowel.” (Analects, bk. v., c. ix., v. 2.)
The same idea recurs in this counsel: “Faithfully admonish your friend and kindly try to lead him. If you find him impracticable, desist; do not disgrace yourself.” (Analects, bk. xii., c. xxiii.)
Also in this warning against unnecessary admonitions: “In serving a prince, frequent remonstrances lead to disgrace. Between friends, frequent reproofs make the friendship distant.” (Analects, bk. iv., c. xxvi.)
The three wishes, however, to which Confucius gave expression when interrogated by Tsze-loo, were: “In regard to the aged, to give them rest; in regard to friends, to show them sincerity; in regard to the young, to treat them tenderly.” (Analects, bk. v., c. xxv.)
It therefore appears that he would not withhold his counsel or even reproof, if needed, although it might result in breaking the bonds of friendship; but would instead prefer to lose his friend, if need be, rather than fail of his full duty toward him. The attitude which the friend should take and the course, likewise, are indicated in these words: “Can men refuse assent to the words of just admonition? But it is reforming the conduct because of them, which is the thing.” (Analects, bk. ix., c. xxiii.)
The great value of good example Confucius strikingly set forth in this question: “If there were not virtuous men in Loo, how could this man have acquired this character?” (Analects, bk. v., c. ii.)
So also when remonstrated with, upon expressing his intention to go and live among the nine wild tribes of the east, Confucius, answering, inquired: “If a superior man dwelt among them, what rudeness would there be?” (Analects, bk. ix., c. xiii., v. 2.)
In another place he says (Analects, bk. i., c. viii., v. 3): “Have no friends not equal to yourself!” meaning thereby of course not that they should be equal in abilities, necessarily, but equal in character and deportment. The same, very nearly, is the significance of this text: “When the persons on whom a man leans are proper persons for him to be intimate with, he can make them his guides and masters.” (Analects, bk. i., c. xiii.)
This his disciples, with boundless admiration, asserted that they had themselves obeyed, when they had hung upon the lips of Confucius; for they leave this panegyric of their teacher: “Our Master cannot be attained to, precisely as the heavens cannot be scaled by the steps of a ladder.” (Analects, bk. xix., c. xxv., v. 2.)
That the wisdom of this counsel is not confined to the case of a single associate, but instead extends to all associations both individual and communal, is shown by this additional text, already quoted in another connexion: “It is virtuous manners which constitute the excellence of a neighbourhood. If a man in selecting a residence do not fix on one where such prevail, how can he be wise?” (Analects, bk. iv., c. i.)
Yet the evil in man is useful for instruction, as well as the good; and he says of this: “When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, their bad qualities and avoid them.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxi.)
And in another place he warns his disciples, saying: “When we see men of worth, we should think of equalling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.” (Analects, bk. iv., c. xvii.)
This does not, however, necessarily imply that he advises association with the latter nor indeed does he, though he says of himself: “It is impossible for me to associate with birds and beasts, as if they were the same with us. If I associate not with these people—with mankind—with whom am I to associate?” (Analects, bk. xviii., c. vi., v. 4.)
In reply to doubts expressed by his disciples, however, Confucius on one occasion defended himself in a manner very like the response of Jesus, saying: “I admit people’s approach to me without committing myself as to what they may do when they have retired. Why must one be so severe? If a man purify himself to wait upon me, I receive him, so purified, without endorsing his past conduct.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxviii., v. 2.)
It is interesting and refreshing to find in Confucius something akin to the sage words of the Elder Edda: “Unwise is he who permits the grass to grow between his house and his friend’s.” It runs: “ ‘How the flowers of the aspen-plum flutter and turn! Do I not think of you? But your house is distant.’ The Master said: ‘It is the want of thought over it. How is it distant?’ ” (Analects, bk. ix., c. xxx.)
That the truly virtuous man will not want for companionship, the sage thus declares: “Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practises it, will have neighbours.” (Analects, bk. iv., c. xxv.)
This is but another way of saying what is elsewhere so well said in these words: “Let the superior man never fail reverentially to order his own conduct, and let him be respectful to others and observant of propriety; then all within the four seas will be his brothers.” (Analects, bk. xii., c. v., v. 4.)
Sexual Propriety. “The scholar keeps himself free from all stain.” (Li Ki, bk. xxxviii., 15.) “The Master said, ‘Refusing to surrender their wills or to submit to any taint to their persons; such, I think, were Pih-e and Shuh-ts‘e.’ ” (Analects, bk. xviii., c. viii., v. 2.) These two passages illustrate the sage’s insistence upon sexual continence, among other virtues.
While of course personal purity is a conception which, both in ancient China and in the modern Occident, embraces much more than this, and while abuses of the appetites for food or drink, or even of the more unconsciously exercised appetite for breathing, as in smoking, may contaminate in essentially the same fashion as the misuse of the function which reproduces the race of men, yet both in the days of Confucius and in these later days the superior seductiveness of the appeal of feminine beauty causes the mind to recur at once to chastity when personal purity is spoken of.
Confucius distinguished and understood all of these evil habits which were exigent in his day and condemned them, as thus: “To find enjoyment in extravagant pleasures, to find enjoyment in idleness and sauntering, to find enjoyment in the pleasures of feasting—these are injurious.” (Analects, bk. xvi., c. v.)
And again: “Hard is the case of him who will stuff himself with food the whole day, without applying the mind to anything.” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xxii.)
As regards all the physical functions, Mencius puts at once the problem and the difficulties, thus: “The physical organs with their functions belong to our Heaven-conferred nature. But a man must be a sage before he can satisfy the design of his physical organism.” (Bk. vii., pt. i., c. xxxviii.)
But especially as respects the greatest of all human relations, that of a man with a woman, and those which grow out of it, the sage urged such regard for the purity of both sexes as would assure the suppression of mere playing with the means of the greatest of all human ends, the bringing of new lives into being and the development of higher and yet higher orders of human beings upon the earth. In the “Li Ki” it is thus insisted that the distinction between men and women must be observed and preserved for the good of all: “If no distinction were observed between males and females, disorder would arise and grow.” (Bk. xvii., sect. i., 32.)
King Wan, one of the most celebrated rulers of China, in the time of Confucius already a character of almost legendary antiquity, is said in the first Appendix to the “Yi King” (sect. ii., c. xxxviii., v. 3) to have given this reason for the necessary distinction and separation of men from women: “Heaven and earth are separate and apart, but the work which they do is the same. Male and female are separate and apart, but with a common will they seek the same objects.”
This rule of separation did not withdraw woman into the absolute seclusion of a harem; it permitted innocent intercourse of mind with mind. But, according to the “Li Ki,” it avoided all physical contact and, so far as possible, all opportunities for it.
These are some of the rules there laid down: “The Master said, ‘According to the rules, male and female do not give the cup, one to the other, except at sacrifice. This was intended to guard the people.’ ” (Bk. xxvii., 35.) “Males and females should not sit on the same mat, nor have the same stand or rack for their clothes, nor use the same towel or comb, nor let their hands touch in giving and receiving.” (Bk. i., sect. i., pt. iii., c. vi., v. 31.) “They should not share the same mat in lying down, they should not ask or receive anything from one another, and they should not wear upper or lower garments alike.” (Bk. x., sect. i., 12.)
The following explanation of the reasons for such separation is attributed in the “Li Ki” to Confucius himself: “The Master said: ‘The ceremonial usages serve as dykes for the people against evil excesses. They exemplify the separation between the sexes which should be maintained, that there may be no ground for suspicion and human relations may be clearly defined. . . . So it was intended to guard the people; yet there are women among them who offer themselves.’ ” (Bk. xxvii., 33.)
In a more extended passage, also attributed to Confucius, the reason for the strictness of the rules is more fully stated, together with illustrations of their application, as follows: “The Master said: ‘The love of virtue should balance the love of beauty. Men of position should not be like anglers for beauty in those below them. The superior man withstands the allurements of beauty, to give an example to the people. Thus men and women, in giving and receiving, allow not their hands to touch; in driving even with his wife in his carriage, a husband holds forth his left hand; when a young aunt, a sister, or a daughter is wed and returns to her father’s house, no male relative should sit with her upon the mat; a widow should not lament at night; in asking after a wife who is ill, the nature of her illness should not be referred to. Thus it was sought to guard the people. Yet there are those who become licentious and introduce disorder and confusion into their families.’ ” (Li Ki, bk. xxvii., 37.)
There was no relaxation of this separation before marriage. Thus Mencius says: “When a son is born, what is desired for him is that he may have a wife; when a daughter is born, that she may have a husband. All men as parents have this feeling. If, without awaiting the instructions of their parents and the arrangements of the intermediary, they bore holes to steal a sight of each other, or climb over a wall to be with each other, their parents and all others will despise them.” (Bk. iii., pt. ii., c. iii., v. 6.)
In the “Yi King” (appendix iii., sect. i., c. viii., 48) the adornment of women so as to attract men is thus referred to: “Careless laying up of things excites to robbery, as a woman’s adorning herself excites to lust.”
Under the rules laid down in the “Li Ki” this delicacy about sex was carried so far that “a man was not permitted to die in the hands of women, nor a woman in the hands of men!” (Bk. xix., sect. i., 1.)
Confucius and for centuries before his time the dominant persons in Chinese society were firm believers in the home as the sphere of woman. Within the home she was supreme; the privacies of her realm should not be revealed without, nor the hardships and worries of the outside world brought within to annoy and terrify her. In the “Li Ki” it is said: “The men should not speak of what belongs to the inside of the house, nor the women of what belongs to the outside.” (Bk. x., sect. i., 12.)
And again: “Outside affairs should not be talked of inside the home, nor inside affairs outside of it.” (Bk. i., sect. i., pt. iii., c. vi., v. 33.)
The severity of the rules enjoined by Confucius and his Chinese predecessors in the matter of avoiding temptation is well illustrated by the following, the enforcement of which must have rendered the childhood and youth of the sage, himself the only son of a widow, unusually and even painfully solitary at times:
“The Master said: ‘One does not pay visits to the son of a widow. This may seem an obstacle to friendship, but the superior man, in order to avoid suspicion, will make no visits in such a case. Hence, also, in calling upon a friend, if the master of the house be not at home, unless there be some great cause for it, the guest does not cross the threshold.’ ” (Bk. xxvii., 36.)