Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTRODUCTION. - The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism. Part I The Shu King, the Religious Portions of the Shih King, the Hsiao King
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INTRODUCTION. - Misc (Confucian School), The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism. Part I The Shu King, the Religious Portions of the Shih King, the Hsiao King 
The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism. Part I The Shu King, the Religious Portions of the Shih King, the Hsiao King, trans. James Legge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879).
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The Nature and History of the Shû.
1. The Shû is the most ancient of the Chinese classical books, and contains historical documents of various kinds, relating to the period from about bc 2357-627.Meaning of the name Shû King. The character Shû shows us by its composition that it denotes ‘the pencil speaking,’ and hence it is often used as a designation of the written characters of the language. This, indeed, was the earliest meaning of it, but from this the transition was easy to its employment in the sense of writings or books, applicable to any consecutive compositions; and we find it further specially employed by Confucius and others to designate the historical remains of antiquity, in distinction from the poems, the accounts of rites, and other monuments of former times. Not that those other monuments might not also be called by the general name of Shû. The peculiar significancy of the term, however, was well established, and is retained to the present day.
The book has come down to us in a mutilated condition; but even as it is said to have existed in the time of Confucius, it did not profess to contain a history of China, and much less, to give the annals of that history. It was simply a collection of historical memorials, extending over a space of about 1700 years, but on no connected method, and with frequent and great gaps between them.
The name King (now in Pekinese King) was not added to Shû till the time of the Han dynasty (began bc 202). If Confucius applied it to any of the classical works, it was to the classic of Filial Piety, as will be seen in the Introduction to the translation of that work. The Han scholars, however, when engaged in collecting and digesting the ancient literary monuments of their country, found it convenient to distinguish the most valuable of them, that had been acknowledged by Confucius, as King, meaning what was canonical and of unchallengeable authority.
2. In the Confucian Analects, the sage and one of his disciples quote from the Shû by the simple formula—‘The Shû says.’The Shû was an existing collection of documents before Confucius. In the Great Learning, four different books or chapters of the classic, all in it as we have it now, are mentioned, each by its proper name. Mencius sometimes uses the same formula as Confucius, and at other times designates particular books. It is most natural for us to suppose that Confucius, when he spoke of the Shû, had in his mind’s eye a collection of documents bearing that title.
One passage in Mencius seems to put it beyond a doubt that the Shû existed as such a collection in his time. Having said that ‘it would be better to be without the Shû than to give entire credit to it,’ he makes immediate reference to one of the books of our classic by name, and adds, ‘In the Completion of the War I select two or three passages only, and believe them1 .’ In Mo-ȝze, Hsün-ȝze, and other writers of the last two centuries of the Kâu dynasty, the Shû is quoted in the same way, and also frequently with the specification of its parts or larger divisions,—‘The Books of Yü,’ ‘of Hsiâ,’ ‘of Shang,’ ‘of Kâu.’ And, in fine, in many of the narratives of Ȝo Khiû-ming’s commentary on the Spring and Autumn, the Shû is quoted in the same way, even when the narratives are about men and events long anterior to the sage2 . All these considerations establish the thesis of this paragraph, that the Shû was an existing collection of historical documents before Confucius.
Confucius did not compile the Shû. The number of documents in it in his time. The Preface ascribed to him.3. From the above paragraph it follows that Confucius did not compile the collection of documents that form the Shû. The earliest assertion that he did so we have from Khung An-kwo, his descendant in the eleventh generation, in the second century, bc Recounting the labours of his ancestor, An-kwo says, in the Preface to his edition of the Shû, that ‘he examined and arranged the old literary monuments and records, deciding to commence with Yâo and Shun, and to come down to the times of Kâu. Of those deserving to be handed down to other ages and to supply permanent lessons, he made in all one hundred books, consisting of canons, counsels, instructions, announcements, speeches, and charges.’ The same thing is stated by Sze-mâ Khien in his Historical Records, completed about bc 100, but Khien’s information was derived from An-kwo. Such a compilation would have been in harmony with the character which Confucius gave of himself, as ‘a transmitter and not a maker, believing and loving the ancients1 ,’ and with what his grandson says of him in the Doctrine of the Mean, that ‘he handed down (the lessons of) Yâo and Shun, as if they had been his ancestors, and elegantly displayed those of Wăn and Wû, whom he took for his model2 .’
We have seen, however, that the collection existed in his time and before it. Did it then, as An-kwo says, consist of a hundred books? His authority for saying so was a Preface, which was found along with the old tablets of the Shû that were discovered in his time and deciphered by him, as will be related farther on. He does not say, however, that it was the work of Confucius, though Khien does. It still exists,—a list of eighty-one documents in a hundred books. The prevailing opinion of scholars in China is now, that it was not written by the sage. I entirely agree myself with the judgment of Ȝhâi Khăn, the disciple of Kû Hsî, whose Collected Comments, first published ad 1210, are now the standard of orthodoxy in the interpretation of the Shû. He says of the document: ‘It sheds light on nothing, and there are things in it at variance with the text of the classic. On the books that are lost it is specially servile and brief, affording us not the slightest help. That it is not the work of Confucius is exceedingly plain.’
The eighty-one documents mentioned in it, and more, may have been in the Shû of the time of Confucius. I think, however, that several of them must have been lost subsequently, before the rise of the tyrant of Khin, who doomed the whole collection to the flames. Mencius complains that in his days the feudal princes destroyed many of the records of antiquity that they might the better perpetrate their own usurpations and innovations1 . Other considerations, on the exhibition of which I need not enter, confirm me in this conclusion.
The sources of the Shû.4. It will be well here to devote a paragraph to the sources of the Shû. Have we sufficient proofs of the composition in ancient times of such documents as it contains, and of their preservation, so that they could be collected in a sort of historical canon?
We have. Under the dynasty of Kâu (bc 1122-256), at the royal court, and at the courts of the feudal princes on a smaller scale, there were officers styled Sze, which has been translated ‘Recorders,’ ‘Annalists,’ ‘Historiographers,’ and simply ‘Clerks.’ There were the Grand Recorder, the Assistant Recorder, the Recorder of the Interior, the Recorder of the Exterior, and the Recorder in Attendance on the Sovereign. Among the duties of the Recorder of the Interior were the following:—‘In case of any charge given by the king to the prince of a state, or to any other dignitary, he writes it on tablets;’ ‘In case of any memorials on business coming in from the different quarters of the kingdom, he reads them (to the king);’ ‘It is his business to write all charges of the king, and to do so in duplicate.’ Of the duties of the Recorder of the Exterior it is said:—‘He has charge of the histories of the states in all parts of the kingdom;’ ‘He has charge of the most ancient books;’ ‘It is his business to publish in all parts of the kingdom the books and the characters in them1 .’
These entries show that under the Kâu dynasty there was provision made for the recording and preservation of royal charges and ordinances, of the operations of the general government, and of the histories of the different states; and, moreover, for the preservation and interpretation of documents come down from more ancient times. Confucius himself tells us that in his early days a recorder would leave a blank in his text, rather than enter anything of which he had not sufficient evidence2 . Mencius also mentions three works, the Shăng of Kin, the Thâo-wû of Khû, and the Khun Khiû of Lû, which must have come from the recorders of those states.
Of the existence of a similar class of officers under the previous dynasties of Shang or Yin (bc 1766-1123) and Hsiâ (bc 2205-1765), we have not such abundant evidence. Chapter 2 in the 10th Book of the 5th Part of our classic, however, seems to speak of them in the time of the former. Wû-ting (bc 1324-1264), the twentieth sovereign of it, is described as communicating, in writing, a dream which he had had, to his ministers3 ; and fully four hundred years earlier, Î Yin, the chief minister, remonstrates, in writing, with his young and careless sovereign Thâi Kiâ4 . Going back to the dynasty of Hsiâ, we find the prince of Yin, during the reign of Kung Khang (bc 2159-2145), in addressing his troops, quotes the Statutes of Government in a manner which makes us conceive of him as referring to a well-known written compilation5 . The grandsons of the great Yü, its founder (bc 2205-2196), likewise, make mention, in the Songs of the Five Sons, of his Lessons, in a style that suggests to us the formula that Mencius was wont to employ when referring to the documents acknowledged to be of authority in his day1 .
Mâ Twan-lin, the encyclopedist, in his General Examination of Records and Scholars, first published ad 1321, says that ‘the pencil of the recorders was busy from the time of Hwang Tî (bc 2697).’ The compilers of the records of the Sui dynasty (ad 589-617) say that ‘historical documents began immediately with the invention of written characters.’ That invention I must place myself at an earlier date than the time assigned to Hwang Tî. When once the characters were invented, they would come in time to be employed in the writing of history. The early dates alleged for many of the documents in the Shû are no valid reason for rejecting them without further examination. We may rather be surprised that, when the compilation was made, it did not contain many more than a hundred documents.
Destruction of the classical literature by the emperor of Khin.5. The dynasty of Kâu came to an end in bc 256, and after an anarchic interval of thirty-five years, the king of Khin succeeded in uniting all the feudal states under his own sway, and proclaimed himself emperor. Up to this time the Shû had sustained no other damage than all human works are liable to in the course of time; but now it narrowly escaped an entire destruction. An edict went forth from the tyrant in bc 213, commanding that all the old classical books should be consigned to the flames, excepting those belonging to the great scholars in the service of the court, and the Yî. His rage was hottest against the Shû and the Shih (the Book of Poetry). Death was the doom of scholars who should be known to meet together and speak of these works, and all who should be discovered having copies of them in their possession, when thirty days had elapsed after the publication of the edict, were to be branded, and sent to labour for four years on the Great Wall, which was then building.
This is not the place to explain the reasons that led to this insane attempt to extinguish, with the exception of one work, the ancient literary monuments of China. The edict was ruthlessly enforced, and hundreds of scholars who refused obedience to the imperial command were buried alive. The Shû had nearly perished from off the earth.
Recovery of the Shû.6. The tyrant, however, died in bc 210, within four years from the issuing of his edict. The dynasty which he had sought to establish passed away in bc 206. That of Han dates from the year bc 202, and in 191 the edict against the ancient books was formally repealed. They had been under the ban for less than a quarter of a century. There would probably have been no difficulty in recovering copies of them, but for the sack of the capital in bc 206 by the most formidable opponent of the founder of the House of Han. Then the fires blazed, we are told, for three months among the palaces and public buildings, and proved as destructive to the copies that might have been preserved about the court as the edict of Khin had been to those among the people.
Among the scholars of Khin, however, there had been one, of the surname Fû, who, when the edict was issued, hid his tablets of the Shû in a wall. Returning for them, after the rule of Han was established, he found that many were perished or gone. He recovered only twenty-nine of the documents, containing, according to the division of them that has long been followed, thirty-five books in all. About one of them there is some difficulty, on the discussion of which I need not enter. Fû commenced teaching them, and from all parts scholars resorted to him, and sat at his feet. The emperor Wăn (bc 179-155) heard of him, and sent one of the recorders of the court to visit him, and bring the recovered tablets themselves, or a copy of them, to the capital. They were in the form of the character that was prevalent at that time, different from that which had been used in previous centuries, and are known as ‘the Shû of the modern text.’ The Catalogue of the Imperial Library, prepared by Liû Hin for the emperor Âi (bc 6-1), contains an entry of ‘the text of the Shû in twenty-nine portions,’—the same, no doubt, which was received from Fû. Fû himself commented on his Shû. The text was engraved on the stone tablets of the emperor Ling (ad 168-189). Very many scholars of the Han times laboured on this text, taught it to their disciples, and published their views on it. Not one of their writings, however, survived, in a complete form, the troubles which desolated the empire during the reign of the emperor Hwâi (ad 307-312) of the western dynasty of Kin.
In the reign of the Han emperor Wû (bc 140-85) a discovery was made in the wall of the house of the Khung or Confucian family of the tablets of the Shû, the Spring and Autumn, the classic of Filial Piety, and the Lun-yü or Confucian Analects. How long they had lain there we do not know. It is commonly said that they had been hidden by some one of the Khung family to save them from the fires of Khin. But they were in a form of the character that had long gone into disuse, and which hardly any one could decipher, and must have been deposited towards the beginning of the fifth century bc They were committed to the care of Khung An-kwo, who was then one of the ‘great scholars’ of the empire, and the chief of the Khung family. By means of the current text of Fû and other resources he made out all the tablets of the Shû that were in good preservation, and in addition to Fû’s twenty-nine documents several others. He found also that Fû had in three cases incorporated two different documents under one name, and taken no note of the division of one other into three books or sections. Altogether there were now forty-six documents or different portions of the old Shû brought anew to light. They appear in Liû Hin’s Catalogue as ‘the text of the Shû in old characters in forty-six portions.’
When An-kwo had made out the tablets, he presented them to the emperor in bc 97, with a transcript of them in the current characters of the time, keeping a second transcript of them for himself; and he received an order to make a commentary on the whole. He did so, but when he was about to lay the result of his labours before the court, troubles had arisen which prevented for several years the paying attention to literary matters. It was owing to these that his commentary was neglected for a time, and the enlarged text which he had deciphered was not officially put in charge of the Board of ‘Great Scholars,’ to which the care of the five King, so far as they had been recovered, had been committed in bc 136.
An-kwo’s commentary, however, was not lost; but before speaking of it, I must refer to a third recovery of a large portion of the Shû early in our first century. A scholar and officer, named Tû Lin, had been a fugitive, having many wonderful escapes, during the usurpation of Mang (ad 9-22). During his wanderings he discovered a portion of the Shû on ‘lacquered’ tablets, or perhaps on lacquered cloth, which he thenceforth guarded as his richest treasure, and kept near his person. When the empire was again settled by the first emperor of the eastern Han, he communicated his text to other scholars. Wei Hung published a commentary on it, and subsequently Kiâ Khwei, Mâ Yung, and Kăng Khang-khăng (all, great names in Chinese literature) did the same. Tû Lin’s ‘lacquered’ books were the same in number as An-kwo’s, but they contained five documents in thirteen books, which were not in the text of the other, and wanted nine documents, also in thirteen books, which An-kwo’s text had. The commentary of Kăng Khang-khăng continued till the Sui dynasty, after which we lose sight of it.
I return to the commentary of An-kwo, which, of course, contained his text. Its transmission from hand to hand down to the close of the western Han dynasty is clearly traced. Less distinctly, but surely, we can discover evidence of its preservation, till we come to the commencement of the eastern dynasty of Kin, when Mei Ȝeh, a recorder of the Interior, having come into possession of a copy, presented it to the emperor Yuan (ad 317-322). The Canon of Shun was wanting in it, and was supplied from the commentary of Mâ Yung, based on the text of Tû Lin. From this time the text and commentary of An-kwo had their place assigned them in the Imperial College. They are mentioned in the Catalogue of the Imperial Library of Sui. The second emperor of the Thang dynasty gave orders for a grand edition of the Shû, under the superintendence of Khung Ying-tâ, assisted by others. They adopted the commentary of An-kwo, and enriched it with profuse annotations. In ad 654 their work was ordered to be printed, and happily remains to the present day. The text of the Shû, that is, of all of it that had been recovered by An-kwo, was still further secured, being engraved with that of all the other classics on the Thang tablets of stone which were completed in the year 837, and are still preserved at Khang-an, in Shen-hsî.
It is not necessary to trace the history of the Shû further on. The titles of more than 500 works, on the whole of it or on portions, from the dynasty of Thang to the present day, could easily be adduced. Under the Sung dynasty, indeed, there began the sceptical criticism, which, setting comparatively little store on external evidence, decides on the genuineness of documents principally from their style. The results of such criticism always vary according to the knowledge and the subjective character of the mind of its author. Many maintain that the commentary said to be that of An-kwo was not really from him, but was made by Mei Ȝeh, and palmed on the world under the name of the great Han scholar. Even if it were so, the work would remain, produced nearly 1600 years ago. And to the annotations of the Thang scholars upon it we are indebted for most of what we know of the earlier views of Mâ Yung, Kăng Khang-khăng, and other writers of the Han period. Whether its author were the true Khung or a false Khung, its value cannot be over-estimated. But I do not believe that it was a forgery. That An-kwo did write a commentary on his ‘Shû in the ancient characters’ is admitted by all. When did it perish? There is no evidence that it ever did so. On the contrary, its existence rises as a fact, here and there, at no great intervals of time, on the surface of the literary history of the empire, till we arrive at Mei Ȝeh, who received it, as Khung Ying-tâ proves, from a scholar named Ȝang Ȝhâo.
Then as to the text of the Shû, there is no controversy about the documents which were recovered in the first place by Fû; but the additional ones found by Khung An-kwo are so much more easily understood, that I do not wonder that the charge of not being genuine has been raised against them. But even they are not easy. They only appear to be so, when we come to one of them, after toiling through some of the more contorted portions common to both texts. And, moreover, the style of the different books differs according to their subjects. The ‘Announcements’ are the hardest to understand of all. The ‘Charges,’ ‘Speeches,’ and ‘Instructions’ are much simpler in their construction; and the portions which we owe to An-kwo consist principally of these. In making out his obsolete characters he had, in the first place, to make use of the Books of Fû. That he did not servilely follow his text we conclude from the readings of Fû’s followers, different from his in many passages which the industry of critics has gathered up. When he came, however, to new books, which were not in Fû’s copy, he had to make out his tablets as he best could. His most valuable aid had ceased. We can conceive that, when he had managed to read the greater portion of a paragraph, and yet there were some stubborn characters that defied him, he completed it according to his understanding of the sense with characters of his own. That he was faithful and successful in the main we find by the many passages of his peculiar books that are found quoted in writings of the Kâu dynasty. This is a fact worthy of the most attentive consideration. I do not think there is an important statement in his chapters that is not thus vouched for. The characteristics of his books which have exposed them to suspicion are not sufficient to overthrow their claims to be regarded as genuine transcripts of the tablets discovered in the wall of the house of the Khung family.
The conclusion to which I come, at the close of this chapter, is, that there is nothing seriously to shake our confidence in the portions of the Shû that we now possess, as being substantially the same as those which were in the collection of the Kâu dynasty both before and after Confucius.
The Credibility of the Records in the Shû.
Whether the records in the Shû are reliable or not.1. Accepting the conclusion which I have stated immediately above, I now go on to enquire whether the documents in the Shû can be relied on as genuine narratives of the transactions which they profess to relate. And it may be said at once, in reference to the greater number of them, that there is no reasonable ground to call their credibility in question. Allowance must be made, indeed, for the colouring with which the founders of one dynasty set forth the misdeeds of the closing reigns of that which they were superseding, and for the way in which the failures of a favourite hero may be glossed over. But the documents of the Shû are quite as much entitled to credit as the memorials and edicts which are published at the present day in the Peking Gazette.
The more recent the documents are, the more, of course, are they to be relied on. And provision was made, we have seen, by the statutes of Kâu, for the preservation of the records of previous dynasties. But it was not to be expected that many of those should not perish in the lapse of time, and others suffer mutilations and corruptions. And this, we find, was the case. Of the eighty-one documents that the Shû at one time contained, only one belonged to the period of Yâo; seven to the period of Shun; four to the dynasty of Hsiâ, much the larger one of which narrates what was done in the time of Yâo; thirty-one to the dynasty of Shang; and thirty-eight to the first 500 years of that of Kâu. All this seems to bear on the surface of it the stamp of verisimilitude.
The Books of Kâu.2. The Books of Kâu were contemporaneous with the events which they describe, and became public property not long after their composition. They are to be received without hesitation.
The Books of Shang.Nor are those of the previous dynasty of Shang open to suspicion. We ascend by means of them to Thang the Successful, its founder, with a confident step. The beginning of his rule is placed chronologically in bc 1766.
Of the still earlier dynasty of Hsiâ, there are only four documents, and we have no evidence that there were any more when the collection of the Shû was made in the times of Kâu.The Books of Hsiâ. The first and longest of the four, though occupied with the great achievement of Yü, the founder of Hsiâ, whose chronological place is bc 2205-2196, really belongs to the reign of Yâo, and is out of place among the records of Hsiâ. The other three documents bring us down only to the reign of Kung Khang (bc 2159-2145), and I see no grounds for doubting their genuineness. In the last of them a celestial phenomenon is mentioned, which has always been understood to have been an eclipse of the sun in Fang, a space of about 5½° from π to σ of Scorpio, on the first day of the last month of autumn. P. Gaubil thought he had determined by calculation that such an eclipse really took place in the fifth year of Kung Khang, bc 2155. Doubts, however, have been cast, as will be seen in the next chapter, on the accuracy of his calculation, and therefore I do not avail myself of it here as a confirmation of the truth of the document.
The Books of Thang and Yü.3. We come to the earlier records,—those of the reigns of Yâo and Shun, with which must be classed the Tribute of Yü, the first of the documents of Hsiâ; and it must be admitted that there is not the same evidence that they existed originally in their present form.
i. The Canon of Yâo and three of the four still existing books of the time of Yü, all commence with the words, ‘Examining into antiquity, we find.’They are professedly later compilations. They are therefore, on their own showing, the compilations of a later age. The writer separates himself from the date of the events which he narrates, and while professing to draw from the records of ‘antiquity,’ yet writes himself from a modern standpoint. The Yî and Kî, the last of the documents of the Shun period, formed one book with the preceding in the Shû of Fû, and came under the opening words of that, as being a result of ‘the examination of antiquity.’ I will draw separate attention farther on to the Tribute of Yü.
ii. Much of what is related in the Canons of Yâo and Shun, as well as in the other documents, has more the air of legend than of history.They are legendary. When Yâo has been on the throne for seventy years, he proposes to resign in favour of his principal minister, who is styled the Four Mountains. That worthy declares himself unequal to the office. Yâo then asks him whom he can recommend for it; be the worthiest individual a noble or a poor man, he will appoint him to the dignity. This brings Shun upon the stage. All the officers about the court can recommend him,—Shun of Yü1 , an unmarried man among the lower people. His father, a blind man, was obstinately unprincipled; his mother, or stepmother, was insincere; his brother was arrogant; and yet Shun had been able by his filial piety to live harmoniously with them, and to bring them to a considerable measure of self-government and good conduct. Yâo is delighted. He had himself heard something of Shun. He resolved to give him a preliminary trial. And a strange trial it was. He gave him his own two daughters in marriage, and declared that he would test his fitness for the throne by seeing his behaviour with his two wives.
Shun must have stood the test. Yâo continued to employ him as General Regulator for three years, and then called him to ascend the throne. Shun refused to do so, but discharged the royal duties till the death of Yâo in 2257, becoming himself sole ruler in bc 2255. These and other marvellous notices of Yâo and Shun are largely added to by Mencius and Sze-mâ Khien, but their accounts are of the same extraordinary character. I must believe that the oldest portions of the Shû do not give us the history of Yâo and Shun, but legendary tales about them.
At the same time it must be allowed that the compiler of these books in their present form had in his possession some documents as old as the time of Yâo.Their compiler had ancient documents on which to base his representations. To my mind three things render this admission necessary. First, the titles of the high officers of Yâo and Shun are different from those of the corresponding dignitaries at a later age. The principal personage was called the Four Mountains; next to him was the General Regulator; and the Minister of Religion was the Arranger of the Ancestral Temple. It is more probable that the compiler received these and other peculiar designations from old documents than that he invented them himself. Second, the style of these early books is distinguished in several particulars from the style of those of Hsiâ, Shang, and Kâu. I need only specify the exclamations, ‘Alas!’ ‘Ah!’ and ‘Oh!’ which are expressed by characters that we do not elsewhere find used in the same way. Third, the directions of Yâo to his astronomers, telling them how to determine the equinoxes and solstices, by means of the stars culminating at dusk in those seasons, could not be the inventions of a later age. The reader will find this subject discussed in the next chapter, where it is shown how those culminating stars may be employed to ascertain the era of Yâo. No compiler, ignorant of the precession of the equinoxes, which was not known in China till about the middle of our fourth century, could have framed Yâo’s directions with such an adjustment to the time assigned to him in chronology.
When the Books of Thang and Yu received their present form, we cannot tell. Probably it was in the early period of the Kâu dynasty, though I am not without a suspicion that some verbal changes were made in them under the short-lived dynasty of Khin, which intervened between the dynasties of Kâu and Han, and possibly some also when they were recovered under the latter.
The Tribute of Yü.4. It remains for us to consider the case of the Tribute of Yü, the first, as the books are now arranged, of those of Hsiâ, but belonging, as has been already said, to the period of Yâo, or at least to the period when Yâo and Shun were together on the throne. It thus appears out of its chronological order, and must share in the general uncertainty which attaches to the documents of the first two parts of our classic.
Yâo, in what year of his reign we are not told, appears suddenly startled by the ravages of a terrible inundation. The waters were overtopping the hills, and threatening the heavens in their surging fury. The people everywhere were groaning and murmuring. Was there a capable man to whom he could assign the correction of the calamity? All the nobles recommend one Khwăn, to whom Yâo, against his own better judgment, delegates the difficult task, on which Khwăn labours without success for nine years. His son Yü then entered on the work. From beyond the western bounds of the present China proper he is represented as tracking the great rivers, here burning the woods, hewing the rocks, and cutting through the mountains that obstructed their progress, and there deepening their channels until their waters flow peacefully into the eastern sea. He forms lakes, and raises mighty embankments, till at length ‘the grounds along the rivers were everywhere made habitable; the hills cleared of their superfluous wood; and access to the capital was secured for all within the four seas. A great order was effected in the six magazines (of material wealth); the different parts of the country were subjected to an exact comparison, so that contribution of revenue could be carefully adjusted according to their resources. The fields were all classified according to the three characters of the soil, and the revenues of the Middle Kingdom were established.’ Of the devotion with which Yü pursued his work, he says himself in the Yî and Kî:—‘I mounted my four conveyances,’—carriages on the land, boats on the water, sledges in icy places, and shoes with spikes in them in ascending the hills,—‘and all along the hills hewed down the woods, at the same time, along with Yî, showing the people how to get flesh to eat,’—that is, by capturing fish and birds and beasts. ‘I opened passages for the streams throughout the nine provinces, and conducted them to the sea. I deepened the channels and canals, and conducted them to the streams, at the same time, along with Kî, sowing grain, and showing the people how to procure the food of toil in addition to flesh meat. I urged them to exchange what they had for what they had not, and to dispose of their accumulated stores. In this way all the people got grain to eat, and the myriad regions began to come under good rule.’ And again:—‘When I married in Tû-shan, I remained with my wife only four days.’ Mencius says that while engaged on his task, he thrice passed the door of his house, but did not enter it. His own words are:—‘When Khî (my son) was wailing and weeping, I did not regard him, but kept planning with all my might my labour on the land.’
Along with his operations to assuage the wide-spread inundation, Yü thus carried on other most important labours proper to an incipient civilization. We gather from the Shû that it did not take him many years to accomplish his mighty undertaking. It was successfully finished before the death of Yâo. All this is incredible. The younger Biot, in an article on the Tribute of Yü, published in the Journal Asiatique, in 1842, says:—‘If we are to believe the commentators, Yü will become a supernatural being, who could lead the immense rivers of China as if he had been engaged in regulating the course of feeble streamlets.’ There is no occasion to say, ‘If we are to believe the commentators;’—if we are to believe the Shû, this is the judgment that we must form about Yü.
The general conclusion to which Biot came about the document under our notice was that we are to find in it only the progress of a great colony. Yü was the first explorer of the Chinese world. He established posts of colonists or planters in different parts of the territory. He caused the wood around those posts to be cut down, and commenced the cultivation of the soil. After Yü, the labours of draining the country and clearing the forests continued during some ages, and the result of all was attributed by Chinese tradition to the first chief. I have no doubt there is an inkling of the truth in this view of the French sinologue, but the idea of Yü’s being the leader of a Chinese colony had better be abandoned. We recognise the primitive seat of the Chinese people, in the southern parts of the present Shan-hsî, with the Ho on the west and south of it. His son fought a battle with the Chief of Hû at a place in the present department of Hsî-an, in Shen-hsî, across the Ho, and his grandson was kept a sort of prisoner at large in the present province of Ho-nan, south of the river. The people or tribe extended itself westward, eastward, and southward, and still later northward, as it increased in numbers, and was able to subdue the earth.
The flood of Yâo was probably an inundation of the Ho, similar to many in subsequent times which have procured for that river the name of ‘China’s Sorrow,’ and Yü distinguished himself in the assuaging of it, and the regulation of its course to the sea. The extent of the country came to be ascertained under the dynasties of Hsiâ and Shang, and its different parts were gradually occupied by the increasing numbers of the people, and contributed their various proportions of revenue to the central government. There were memorials of the toils which Yü had undergone, and of allotments of territory which he had made to the most distinguished among his followers. It occurred to some historiographer to form a theory as to the way in which the whole country might have been brought to order by the founder of the Hsiâ dynasty, and he proceeded to glorify Yü by ascribing so grand an achievement to him. About the same time, probably, the popular stories of Yü’s self-denial had found their expression in the Yî and Kî, prompting at once the conception of the Tribute of Yü, and obtaining for it a favourable reception. Yü entered well into association with Yâo and Shun, and formed a triad with them at the beginning of the Chinese monarchy. Their wisdom and benevolence appeared in him, combined with a practical devotion to the duties of his position, in which all sovereigns would have a model, to win them from indolence and self-indulgence, and stimulate them to a painstaking discharge of their responsibilities.
In the nineteenth of the Books of Part V, the duke of Kâu counsels his young sovereign, king Khăng (bc 1115-1077), to have his armies in a good state of preparation, so that he might go forth ‘beyond the footsteps of Yü,’ and travel over all beneath the sky, everywhere meeting with submission. The duke’s reference to ‘the footsteps of Yü’ does not prove that Yü really travelled and toiled as the Tribute of Yü reports, but only that such was the current belief at the commencement of the Kâu dynasty, while it affords at the same time a presumption that our document was then among the archives of the kingdom. It may have been compiled before the end of the Hsiâ dynasty, or under that of Shang. From Shang it passed to Kâu, and came under the care of the recorders of the Exterior. Then subsequently it was very properly incorporated in the collection of the Shû.
Yâo, Shun, and Yu are all historical personages.5. While we are thus unable to receive the six earliest documents in our classic as contemporaneous in their present form with the events which they relate, it is not meant to throw doubt on the existence of Yâo, Shun, and Yü as historical personages. More especially does Yü stand forth as the first sovereign of the dynasty of Hsiâ, the man who laid the foundation of the hereditary monarchy in China, its feudal sovereign who ‘conferred surnames and lands.’ The documents which follow the Tribute of Yü, commencing with the Speech at Kan, delivered in bc 2197 by Yü’s son and successor, may all be received as veritable monuments of antiquity.
On the Chronology of China, and the Principal Eras in the Shû.
1. I do not enter here on the subject of the chronology of China further than is necessary to show that there is no chronological difficulty in the way of our accepting the documents of the Shû, which I have just specified, as being possessed of the antiquity ascribed to them.
The Shû itself does not supply the means of laying down any scheme of chronology for the long period of time which it covers.No detailed chronological system can be made out from the Shû. We learn from it that the dynasty of Kâu succeeded to that of Shang (another name for which was Yin), and the dynasty of Shang to that of Hsiâ, and that prior to Yü, the founder of the Hsiâ, there were the reigns of Shun and Yâo. As P. Gaubil has observed, ‘If we had only the Shû King, we should have but confused ideas of the time comprised in the different parts of the book.’ There is nothing in this to awaken our surprise. The chronology of a nation comes to be cultivated as a science only when a necessity is felt to arrange the events of its history in regular series on the course of time.
2. It was under the Han dynasty that it was first attempted to construct a chronological scheme of the history of the nation.Attempts at systematic chronology began in the Han period. For this purpose its scholars employed the well-known cycle of sixty years, in the fifteenth year of the seventy-sixth revolution of which I am now writing. It was assumed that this cycle was first devised by Tâ-nâo, an officer of Hwang Tî, in bc 2637, which is the first year of the first cycle. But all scholars in China, whether they call in question this origin of the cycle or not, now agree in saying that the use of the cyclic characters to chronicle years was not the ancient method, and did not begin earlier than the time of the usurper Mang (ad 9-22).
In the Shû itself the current cycle is used to chronicle days, and days only. Years are specified according to their order in the reign of the sovereign to whom they are referred. Such specification of years in it, however, is rare.
Before the Han dynasty a list of sovereigns, and of the length of their several reigns, was the only method which the Chinese had of determining the duration of their national history.Ancient method of determining the length of Chinese history. And it would still be a satisfactory method, if we had a list of sovereigns, and of the years that each reigned, that was complete and reliable. But we do not have this. Even in the early part of the Han dynasty, Sze-mâ Khien’s father and himself, in their Historical Records, completed about bc 100, were obliged to content themselves with giving simply the names and order of most of the rulers of Shang and Hsiâ. It is right to state also that in ad 279, when the grave of king Hsiang of Wei (died in bc 295) was opened, there were found a number of bamboo tablets in it, written in the ancient seal characters, among which the most valuable portion was a book of annals, beginning with the reign of Hwang Tî, and coming down to the sixteenth year of the last king of Kâu, bc 299. This work is still current under the name of the Annals of the Bamboo Books. The chronology derived from it is shorter than the received system by rather more than 200 years.
If in any of the classical books of the Kâu dynasty we had a statement of the length of the national history from any given era to the time of the writer, the notice would be exceedingly valuable; or, if the length of the reigns of the sovereigns of Shang and Hsiâ, cursorily mentioned in it, were correctly given, we should be in a position to make an approximate computation for ourselves. But there are only two passages in all those books which are helpful to us in this point. The former of them is in a narrative in Ȝo Khiû-ming’s supplement to the Spring and Autumn, under the third year of duke Hsüan, where it is said that the dynasty of Shang possessed the throne for 600 years. The other passage is the last chapter of the works of Mencius, where that philosopher says that ‘from Yâo and Shun to Thang’—a period including all the dynasty of Hsiâ—‘there were 500 years and more; from Thang to king Wăn’—the period of the Shang dynasty—‘500 years and more; and from king Wăn to Confucius, 500 years and more.’ We know that Confucius was born in bc 551. Adding 551 to the 1500 years ‘and more,’ given by Mencius, we have the era of Yâo and Shun at 2100 years ‘and more’ before our Christian era. And the received chronology places Yü’s accession to the throne, as the successor of Shun, in bc 2205. Vague as the language of Mencius is, I do not think that with the most painstaking research, apart from conclusions based on astronomical considerations, we can determine anything more precise and definite concerning the length of Chinese history than it conveys.
The period of the Kâu dynasty.3. The Charge to the Marquis Wăn, which now forms the 28th Book of the 5th Part of the Shû, is understood to have been delivered by king Phing, the thirteenth of his line. His place in historical time is well ascertained. Confucius’ chronicle of the Spring and Autumn commences in bc 722. The first of the thirty-six solar eclipses mentioned in it took place three years after, on the 14th February (n.s.) 719, and it is recorded that in the month after king Phing died. Here therefore is a point of time about which there can be no dispute. An earlier date in the Kâu dynasty is known with the same certainty. The Book of Poetry mentions an eclipse of the sun which took place on the 29th August, bc 776, in the sixth year of king Yû, who preceded Phing. Yû reigned eleven years, and his predecessor, Hsuan, forty-six, whose reign consequently commenced bc 827. Up to this date Chinese chronologers agree. To the ten reigns before king Hsüan, the received chronology assigns 295 years, making the dynasty begin in bc 1122, which cannot be far from the truth.
The period of the Shang dynasty.4. In the period of the Shang dynasty we cannot fix a single reign by means of astronomical facts. The received chronology assigns to it twenty-eight reigns, extending over 644 years, so that its commencement was in bc 1766. The scheme derived from the bamboo books makes the sovereigns to be thirty, but the aggregate of their reigns is only 508. Mencius says that between Thang, the founder of the dynasty, and Wû-ting, the twentieth sovereign (in the common scheme), ‘there had been six or seven worthy and sage rulers1 ,’—leading to the conclusion that the number of twenty-eight sovereigns in all is not beyond the truth. In the fifteenth of the Books of Kâu the names of three of the Shang rulers are given, and the duration of their reigns,—to show how Heaven is likely to crown a good king with length of sway. They are Thâi Mâu, who reigned seventy-five years; Wû-ting, who reigned fifty-nine; and Ȝû-kiâ, who reigned thirty-three. The two schemes agree in the length of those reigns and of five others. From the statement in the Ȝo-kwan, to which I have referred above, that the Shang dynasty possessed the throne for 600 years, and Mencius’ language that it lasted ‘for 500 years and more,’ we may believe that the 644 years of the common scheme are more likely to be correct than the 508 of the shorter.
The period of Hsiâ.5. The dynasty of Hsiâ lasted, according to the received chronology, 439 years, and according to the bamboo books, 431; so that the difference here between the two schemes is small. The former estimate carries us up to bc 2205, as the first year of Yu’s reign.
I referred on page 13 to an eclipse of the sun, mentioned in the fourth of the Books of Hsiâ, as having occurred in the reign of Kung Khang, a grandson of Yu, and stated that P. Gaubil had found by calculation that on the day and month stated in the document, and in the quarter of the heavens given, an eclipse did occur in the fifth year of Kung Khang, that is, in bc 2156, and was visible at his capital at 6h 49′, a.m. In 1840, J. B. Biot submitted a copy of Gaubil’s calculations to the younger Largeteau, a member, like himself, of the Institute of France, who went over them with the lunar tables of Damoiseau and the solar tables of Delambre, and brought out the result that there was indeed an eclipse on the day stated, but before the rising of the sun at the then capital of China1 . My friend, the Rev. Dr. Chalmers of Canton, not knowing anything of the examination made by Largeteau, undertook to verify the eclipse in 1861, and found that while the year, the month, and the day, as given by Gaubil, were correct, the eclipse had taken place during the night, and could not have been seen by the Chinese astronomers. The eclipse mentioned in the document of the Shû cannot therefore be used at present to confirm the received chronology of China; but I am unwilling to give it up entirely. M. Biot says that, ‘Notwithstanding the failure of the attempt of Largeteau to verify the eclipse, the hope of yet finding it in some one of the years of the twenty-second century before our era is not entirely lost. We ought to wait till the further perfecting of the lunar tables brings us new lights, by means of which we can form a surer judgment.’
The period of Yâo and Shun.6. We come to the earliest period of Chinese history of which the Shû makes more than a cursory mention,—that of Yâo and Shun. It says that Shun was thirty years on the throne with Yâo, and that, fifty years after, he died and went on high. We learn from it also that it was in the seventieth year of his reign that Yâo sought for another to relieve him of the toils of government. The period covered by the two therefore is 150 years, which both the schemes of chronology accept. Adding two years of mourning between Shun’s death and Yü’s accession to the throne, we have bc 2357 as the first year of Yâo.
In the Canon of Yâo, when that personage is giving directions to his astronomers how to determine the equinoxes and solstices, he tells them that at the vernal equinox they would find the star in Niâo, and at the autumnal in Hsü; at the summer solstice, the star in Hwo, and at the winter in Mâo. It has always been assumed by Chinese scholars that when Yâo said, ‘The star of mid-spring is in Niâo,’ he meant the star culminating at dusk at that season, at the point of observation. And so of the other stars and seasons. A Chinese astronomer at the present day would similarly express himself.
Further, the most common, and what was the earliest division of the ecliptic in China, is that of the twenty-eight lunar mansions, forming what we may call the Chinese zodiac. These mansions are grouped together in four classes of seven each, assigned to the four quarters of the heavens1 . Of the celestial spaces which Yâo specified, Niâo is the general name for the seven mansions or constellations belonging to the southern quarter; Hwo is an old name of what is now called Fang, the central constellation of the eastern quarter; Hsü and Mâo are the central constellations of the northern and southern quarters respectively. What Yâo meant therefore was, that his astronomers could determine the solstices and the autumnal equinox by the culmination of the stars in the mansions which he specified for those seasons. And we may assume that he directed them, for the star of the vernal equinox, to Hsing, the central mansion in the southern space Niâo. Now, Hsing corresponds to α (Alphard) Hydræ, and small stars near it, in our stellar nomenclature; Hwo, to β, δ in Scorpio; Hsü, to β Aquarii; and Mâo, to Pleiades. When we wish to make the directions of Yâo available for the purpose of chronological enquiry, the question that arises is this:—When did the above-named stars culminate at dusk in China at the equinoctial and solstitial seasons?
Bunsen tells us that Ideler, computing the places of the constellations backwards, fixed the accession of Yâo at bc 2163, and that Freret was of opinion that the observations left an uncertainty of 3°, leaving a margin of 210 years1 . On the other hand, J. B. Biot found in the directions a sufficient confirmation of the received date for Yâo’s accession,—bc 23572 . Appended to this Introduction is a chart of the stars as they were visible in China in bc 2300, which the Rev. C. Pritchard, Savilian Professor of Astronomy in the University of Oxford, kindly prepared for me. An inspection of it, in the manner directed by him, will show that the phenomena indicated by Yâo to his astronomers were all apparent at that date. This fact must be accepted as a strong proof of the approximate correctness of the chronology, which places Yâo in the twenty-fourth century bc The precession of the equinoxes, it has already been observed, was not known in China till more than 2500 years after the time assigned to Yâo, so that the culminating stars at the equinoxes and solstices of his remote period could not have been computed back scientifically in the time of the Kâu dynasty, during which the collection of the Shû existed. The form in which the directions are given, and other things in the Canon, savour, indeed, of legend, and I have not claimed for it that in its present form it be received as a document contemporaneous with the reign of Yâo. I have argued, however, that the compiler of it had before him ancient documents, and one of them must have contained the facts about the culminating of the stars, which I have now endeavoured to set in a clear light.
The mention of these culminating stars does seem to fix Yâo’s place in chronology in the twenty-fourth century bc, and to show that at that remote era it was the custom to make and to record astronomical observations of the heavenly bodies. Having respect to these things, my claim to have the documents of the Shû from the Speech at Kan, nearly two centuries later than Yâo, downwards, regarded as contemporaneous with the events which they describe, cannot be considered extravagant.
7. In the 27th Book of the 5th Part, the Marquis of Lü on Punishments, there is a historical reference which would carry us back four centuries beyond the time of Yâo. It is said that, ‘According to the teachings of antiquity, Khih Yû was the first to create disorder.’ There is no intimation, however, of the time when this rebel disturbed the happy order and innocence which had previously prevailed; and the very same sentence brings the review of antiquity down to the time of Shun. But the chronologers place him in the reign of Hwang Tî, towards the end of the twenty-seventh century bc Other writers describe the struggle between him and Hwang Tî, in which dragons, mists, and the invention of the compass play conspicuous parts. It is to the credit of the Shû, and an evidence of its being a genuine collection of historical memorials, that this cursory reference to Khih Yû is the only mention in it of any name older than that of Yâo.
The Use of the Chart.
This chart is intended to represent approximately the aspect of the principal zodiacal stars as seen above the horizon of any place in central China, at any hour of any day, about the year bc 2300.
In order to apply the chart to a practical purpose, the reader is advised to cut out a sheet of paper (cardboard is preferable) with its upper edge exactly fitting the curved line A B O C D, and to draw, near to the bottom of the paper, a line coinciding with ‘the hour-line’ on the chart.
This being done, if it be asked what will be the aspect of the heavens when the Sun sets at the Vernal Equinox, the reader is to move the line at the bottom of the cardboard along the horizontal ‘hour-line’ of the chart until the place of the Sun in the Ecliptic at the Vernal Equinox O just touches the curved top of the paper; then all the stars not covered over are above the horizon at the time of that sunset, viz. in this case Aldebaran, Sirius, Spica, &c.; the Pleiades are just setting, Regulus and α Hydræ are very near the meridian, β Centauri is on the point of rising, and α Serpentis is well up above the horizon. This exactly corresponds with that state of the heavens which Yâo, (alleged in the Chinese records to have flourished about bc 2300,) indicated to his astronomers (Hsî and Ho) would be the case, viz. that he would find the star (or the stellar division) Shun Hwo (corresponding, it is said, to α Hydræ) culminating at the time of sunset at the Vernal Equinox1 .
Again, if it be required to find what constellation is culminating at the time of sunset at the Summer Solstice, the cardboard must be moved, as before, towards the right hand until the position of the Sun at the Summer Solstice, viz. G, just touches the horizon curve, when it will be seen that α Serpentis and Antares are then culminating, Regulus and β Centauri are just setting, while the constellations of Aquila and Aquarius are rising; Vega is a conspicuous object above the eastern horizon. This again corresponds to the indications given by Yâo to his astronomers, viz. that they would find the constellation Scorpio culminating at the time.
Thirdly, to find what constellation is culminating at sunset at the Winter Solstice, the cardboard horizon is to be moved, as before, until the Sun at F falls upon it, when the constellations Aries and Taurus with the Pleiades will be seen near to their culmination. This is a third correspondence with the indications of the astronomical sovereign.
Lastly, at sunset of the Autumnal Equinox the movable horizon is to be shifted to the left until the point A falls upon it, where it will be seen in this position that the stars in Aquarius are culminating at the time. It is scarcely possible that all these indications of the positions of the stars at these several times of the year could be simultaneously correct at any other epoch than somewhere about bc 2300 or a very small number of centuries before or after.
The reader may easily make for himself many other interesting applications of the chart. A general notion of the effects of precession on the positions of the stars may be seen at once by observing the three positions of the Pleiades, at the three epochs bc 2300, ad 1, and ad 1878, marked in the chart by the letters K, L, M; and as the approximate effect of precession is to cause all stars to move parallel to the Ecliptic and through the same arc, if the reader will imagine every star to be shifted parallel to the Ecliptic through spaces equal respectively to K L, L M, he will get the aspect of the heavens at the epochs ad 1 and ad 1878.
The following table has been calculated for the apparent positions of the principal stars in the years bc 2300, bc 1500, ad 1, and ad 1000; except in one instance it will be found to confirm a similar calculation made by Biot for the earliest of these dates.
[1 ] Mencius, VII, ii, ch. 3.
[2 ] The first quotation of the Shû in Ȝo is under the sixth year of duke Yin, bc 717.
[1 ] Analects, VII, i.
[2 ] The Doctrine of the Mean, XXX, 1.
[1 ] Mencius, V, ii, ch. 2.
[1 ] See for all these statements the Ritual or Official Book of Kâu, XXXI, 35-42.
[2 ] Analects, XV, xxv.
[3 ] Part IV, viii, section 1.
[4 ] Part IV, v, section 1.
[5 ] Part III, iv.
[1 ] Part III, iii.
[1 ]—Yü is the dynastic designation of Shun. It is to be distinguished from Yü (), the name of Shun’s successor, the founder of the dynasty of Hsiâ. Bunsen confounded the two appellations (Egypt’s Place in Universal History, III, p. 399).
[1 ] Mencius, II, i, ch. 1.
[1 ] Etudes sur l’Astronomie Indienne et sur l’Astronomie Chinoise, pp. 376-382.
[1 ] In the Official Book of Kâu, a work of the twelfth century before our era, Book XXVI, par. 25, in the enumeration of the duties of the astronomer royal of that day, there is mentioned the determination of ‘the places of the twenty-eight stars,’ meaning ‘the principal stars in the twenty-eight lunar mansions.’ The names of the stars and their mansions are not mentioned;—surely a sufficient indication that they were even then well known. See Biot’s Etudes sur l’Astronomie Indienne, &c., pp. 112, 113.
[1 ] Egypt’s Place in Universal History, III, pp. 400, 401.
[2 ] Etudes sur l’Astronomie Indienne, &c., pp. 361-366.
[1 ] See an excellent memoir by Mr. Williams, the late Assistant Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, on Chinese Comets, procurable at the apartments of the Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, London.