Front Page Titles (by Subject) Book XIX.: The Establishment of Government. - The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism. Part I The Shu King, the Religious Portions of the Shih King, the Hsiao King
Return to Title Page for 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 Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Book XIX.: The Establishment of Government. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Establishment of Government.
The phrase, ‘the Establishment of Government,’ occurs several times in the course of the Book, and is thence taken to denominate it,—appropriately enough. The subject treated of throughout, is how good government may be established.
Some Chinese critics maintain that the text as it stands is very confused, ‘head and tail in disorder, and without connexion,’ and various re-arrangements of it have been proposed, for which, however, there is no manuscript authority. Keeping to the received text, and dividing it into six chapters, we may adopt a summary of its contents approved by the editors of the Shû, which was published in the Yung-kăng reign of the present dynasty.—In government there is nothing more important than the employment of proper men; and when such men are being sought, the first care should be for those to occupy the three highest positions. When these are properly filled, all the other offices will get their right men, and royal government will be established. The appointment of the officers of business, of pastoral oversight, and of the law, is the great theme of the whole Book, and the concluding words of chapter 1 are its pulse,—may be felt throbbing everywhere in all the sentiments. Chapters 2 and 3 illustrate the subject from the history of the dynasties of Hsiâ and Shang; and in chapter 4 it is shown how kings Wăn and Wû selected their officers, and initiated the happy state which was still continuing. In chapter 5 there is set forth the duty of the king to put away from him men of artful tongues; to employ the good, distinguished by their habits of virtue; to be always well prepared for war; and to be very careful of his conduct in the matter of litigations. Chapter 6 seems to have hardly any connexion with the rest of the Book, and is probably a fragment of one of the lost Books of the Shû, that has got tacked on to this.
The Book belongs to the class of ‘Instructions,’ and was made, I suppose, after the duke of Kâu had retired from his regency.
1. The duke of Kâu spoke to the following effect:—‘With our hands to our heads and our heads to the ground, we make our declarations to the Son of Heaven, the king who has inherited the throne.’ In such manner accordingly all (the other ministers) cautioned the king, saying, ‘In close attendance on your majesty there are the regular presidents1 , the regular ministers2 , and the officers of justice;—the keepers of the robes (also), and the guards.’ The duke of Kâu said, ‘Oh! admirable are these (officers). Few, however, know to be sufficiently anxious about them.’
2. ‘Among the ancients who exemplified (this anxiety) there was the founder of the Hsiâ dynasty. When his House was in its greatest strength, he sought for able men who should honour God (in the discharge of their duties).* (His advisers), when they knew of men thoroughly proved and trustworthy in the practice of the nine virtues1 , would then presume to inform and instruct their sovereign, saying, “With our hands to our heads and our heads to the ground, O sovereign, we would say, Let (such an one) occupy one of your high offices: Let (such an one) be one of your pastors: Let (such an one) be one of your officers of justice. By such appointments you will fulfil your duty as sovereign. If you judge by the face only, and therefrom deem men well schooled in virtue, and appoint them, then those three positions will all be occupied by unrighteous individuals.” The way of Kieh, however, was not to observe this precedent. Those whom he employed were cruel men;—and he left no successor.’
3. ‘After this there was Thang the Successful, who, rising to the throne, grandly administered the bright ordinances of God.* He employed, to fill the three (high) positions, those who were equal to them; and those who were called possessors of the three kinds of ability2 would display that ability. He then studied them severely, and greatly imitated them, making the utmost of them in their three positions and with their three kinds of ability. The people in the cities of Shang1 were thereby all brought to harmony, and those in the four quarters of the kingdom were brought greatly under the influence of the virtue thus displayed. Oh! when the throne came to Shâu, his character was all violence. He preferred men of severity, and who deemed cruelty a virtue, to share with him in the government of his states; and at the same time, the host of his associates, men who counted idleness a virtue, shared the offices of his court. God then sovereignly punished him, and caused us to possess the great land, enjoy the favouring decree which Shâu had (afore) received, and govern all the people in their myriad realms.’*
4. ‘Then subsequently there were king Wăn and king Wû, who knew well the minds of those whom they put in the three positions, and saw clearly the minds of those who had the three grades of ability. Thus they could employ them to serve God with reverence, and appointed them as presidents and chiefs of the people. In establishing their government, the three things which principally concerned them were to find the men for (high) offices, the officers of justice, and the pastors. (They had also) the guards; the keepers of the robes; their equerries; their heads of small departments; their personal attendants; their various overseers; and their treasurers. They had their governors of the larger and smaller cities assigned in the royal domain to the nobles; their men of arts1 ; their overseers whose offices were beyond the court; their grand historiographers; and their heads of departments;—all good men of constant virtue.
‘(In the external states) there were the Minister of Instruction, the Minister of War, and the Minister of Works, with the many officers subordinate to them. Among the wild tribes, such as the Wei, the Lû, and the Khăng2 , in the three Po, and at the dangerous passes, they had wardens.
‘King Wăn was able to make the minds of those in the (three high) positions his own, and so it was that he established those regular officers and superintending pastors, so that they were men of ability and virtue. He would not appear himself in the various notifications, in litigations, and in precautionary measures. There were the officers and pastors (to attend to them), whom he (simply) taught to be obedient (to his wishes), and not to be disobedient. (Yea), as to litigations and precautionary measures, he (would seem as if he) did not presume to know about them. He was followed by king Wû, who carried out his work of settlement, and did not presume to supersede his righteous and virtuous men, but entered into his plans, and employed, as before, those men. Thus it was that they unitedly received this vast inheritance.’
5. ‘Oh! young son, the king, from this time forth be it ours to establish the government, appointing the (high) officers, the officers of the laws, and the pastors;—be it ours clearly to know what courses are natural to these men, and then fully to employ them in the government, that they may aid us in the management of the people whom we have received, and harmoniously conduct all litigations and precautionary measures. And let us never allow others to come between us and them. (Yea), in our every word and speech, let us be thinking of (these) officers of complete virtue, to regulate the people that we have received.
‘Oh! I, Tan, have received these excellent words of others1 , and tell them all to you, young son, the king. From this time forth, O accomplished son (of Wû), accomplished grandson (of Wăn), do not err in regard to the litigations and precautionary measures;—let the proper officers manage them. From of old to the founder of Shang, and downwards to king Wăn of our Kâu, in establishing government, when they appointed (high) officers, pastors, and officers of the laws, they settled them in their positions, and allowed them to unfold their talents;—thus giving the regulation of affairs into their hands. In the kingdom, never has there been the establishment of government by the employment of artful-tongued men; (with such men), unlessoned in virtue, never can a government be distinguished in the world. From this time forth, in establishing government, make no use of artful-tongued men, but (seek for) good officers, and get them to use all their powers in aiding the government of our country. Now, O accomplished son (of Wû), accomplished grandson (of Wăn), young son, the king, do not err in the matter of litigations;—there are the officers and pastors (to attend to them).
‘Have well arranged (also) your military accoutrements and weapons, so that you may go forth beyond the steps of Yü, and traverse all under the sky, even to beyond the seas, everywhere meeting with submission:—so shall you display the bright glory of king Wăn, and render more illustrious the great achievements of king Wû1 .
‘Oh! from this time forth, may (our) future kings, in establishing the government, be able to employ men of constant virtue!’
6. The duke of Kâu spoke to the following effect:—‘O grand historiographer, the duke of Sû, the Minister of Crime, dealt reverently with all the criminal matters that came before him, and thereby perpetuated the fortunes of our kingdom. Here was an example of anxious solicitude (for future ministers), whereby they may rank with him in the ordering of the appropriate punishments2 .’
[1 ] We must understand by these the chiefs or presidents who had a certain jurisdiction over several states and their princes.
[2 ] The high ministers of Instruction, War, Works, &c.
[1 ] See chapter 2 of ‘the Counsels of Kâo-yâo’ in Part II.
[2 ] Some suppose that men are intended here who possessed ‘the three virtues’ of ‘the Great Plan.’ I think rather that men are intended who had talents and virtue which would make them eligible to the three highest positions. Thang had his notice fixed on such men, and was prepared to call them to office at the proper time.
[1 ] That is, within the royal domain.
[1 ] All who employed their arts in the service of the government;—officers of prayer, clerks, archers, charioteers, doctors, diviners, and the practisers of the various mechanical arts, &c.
[2 ] Compare what is said in ‘the Speech at Mû,’ ch. 1. The Khăng are not mentioned there. It would seem to be the name of a wild tribe. The three Po had all been capitals of the Shang kings, and their people required the special attention of the sovereigns of Kâu.
[1 ] Probably all the other officers or ministers referred to in ch. 1. They are there prepared to speak their views, when the duke of Kâu takes all the discoursing on himself.
[1 ] At the close of his address to prince Shih, Book xvi, the duke of Kâu breaks all at once into a warlike mood, as he does here.
[2 ] I have said in the introductory note that this chapter does not seem to have any connexion with the rest of the Book. From a passage in the Ȝo Kwan, under the eleventh year of duke Khăng, we learn that a Sû Făn-shăng, or Făn-shăng of Sû, was Minister of Crime to king Wû. It is probably to him that the duke here alludes.