Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter II.: The Credibility of the Records in the Shû. - 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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Chapter II.: The Credibility of the Records in the Shû. - 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 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.
[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).