Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION II.: CHAOU K'E AND HIS LABOURS UPON MENCIUS. - The Chinese Classics: Vol. 2 The Life and Teachings of Mencius
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SECTION II.: CHAOU K‘E AND HIS LABOURS UPON MENCIUS. - Mencius, The Chinese Classics: Vol. 2 The Life and Teachings of Mencius 
The Chinese Classics: Translated into English with Preliminary Essays and Explanatory Notes by James Legge. Vol. 2 The Life and Teachings of Mencius. (London: N. Trübner, 1875).
Part of: The Chinese Classics
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CHAOU K‘E AND HIS LABOURS UPON MENCIUS.
1.It has been shown that the Works of Mencius were sufficiently well known from nearly the beginning of the Han dynasty; but its more distinguished scholars do not seem to have devoted themselves to their study and elucidation. The classics proper claimed their first attention. There was much labour to be done in collecting and collating the fragments of them; and to unfold their meaning was the chief duty of every one who thought himself equal to the task. Mencius was but one of the literati, a scholar like themselves. He could wait. We must come down to the second century of the Christian era to find the first great commentary on his writings.
In the Prolegomena to the Confucian Analects, Section i. 7, I have spoken of Ch‘ing Heuen or Ch‘ing K‘ang-shing, who died at the age of 74 some time between ad 190—220, after having commented on every ancient classical book. It is said by some1 that he embraced the Works of Mencius in his labours. If he did so, which to me is very doubtful, the result has not come down to posterity. To give to our philosopher such a treatment as he deserved, and compose a commentary that should descend to the latest posterity, was the Work of Chaou K‘e.
2. K‘e was born ad 108. His father was a censor about the court of the emperor Heaou-gan, and gave him the name of Këa, which he afterwards changed into K‘e for the purpose of concealment, changing also his original designation of T‘ae-k‘ing into Pin-k‘ing. It was his boast that he could trace his descent from the emperor Chuen-hëuh, bc 2510.
In his youth K‘e was distinguished for his intelligence and diligent study of the classics. He married a niece of the celebrated scholar and statesman Ma Yung, but bore himself proudly towards him and her other relatives. A stern independence and hatred of the sycophancy of the times were from the first characteristic of him, and proved the source of many troubles.
When he was over thirty, K‘e was attacked with some severe and lingering illness, in consequence of which he lay upon his bed for seven years. At one time, thinking he was near his end, he addressed a nephew who was with him in the following terms:—“Born a man into the world, in retirement I have not displayed the principles exemplified on mount Ke,1 nor in office achieved the merit of E and Leu.2 Heaven has not granted me such distinction. What more shall I say? Set up a round stone before my grave, and engrave on it the inscription,—‘Here lies a recluse of Han, by surname Chaou, and by name Këa. He had the will, but not the opportunity. Such was his fate. Alas!’ ”
Contrary to expectation, K‘e recovered, and in ad 154 we find him again engaged in public life, but in four years he is flying into obscurity under a feigned name, to escape the resentment of T‘ang Hang, one of the principal ministers, and of his partizans. He saved his life, but his family and relatives fell victims to the vengeance of his enemies, and for some time he wandered about the country of the Këang and Hwae, or among the mountains and by the sea-coast on the north of the present Shan-tung. One day, as he was selling cakes in a market-place, his noble presence attracted the attention of Sun Ts‘ung, a young gentleman of Gan-k‘ëw, who was passing by in a carriage, and to him, on being questioned, he made known his history. This proved a fortunate rencontre for him. Sun Ts‘ung took him home, and kept him for several years concealed somewhere, “in the centre of a double wall.” And now it was that he solaced his hard lot with literary studies. He wooed the muse in twenty-three poetical compositions, which he called “Songs of Adversity,” and achieved his commentary on Mencius.
On the fall of the T‘ang faction, when a political amnesty was proclaimed, K‘e emerged from his friendly confinement, and was employed in important offices, but only to fall a victim again to the intrigues of the time. The first year of the emperor Ling, ad 168, was the commencement of an imprisonment which lasted more than ten years; but nothing could crush his elasticity, or daunt his perseverance. In 185, when he had nearly reached fourscore, he was active as ever in the field of political strife, and wrought loyally to sustain the fortunes of the falling dynasty. He died at last in ad 201, in King-chow, whither he had gone on a mission in behalf of his imperial master. Before his death, he had a tomb prepared for himself, which was long shown, or pretended to be shown, in what is now the district city of Keang-ling in the department of King-chow in Hoo-pih.
3. From the above account of Chaou K‘e it will be seen that his commentary on Mencius was prepared under great disadvantages. That he, a fugitive and in such close hiding, should have been able to produce a work such as it is shows the extent of his reading and acquirements in early days. I have said so much about him, because his name should be added to the long roll of illustrious men who have found comfort in sore adversity from the pursuits of literature and philosophy. As to his mode of dealing with his subject, it will be sufficient to give his own account:—
“I wished to set my mind on some literary work, by which I might be assisted to the government of my thoughts, and forget the approach of old age. But the six classics had all been explained and carefully elucidated by previous scholars. Of all the orthodox school there was only Mencius, wide and deep, minute and exquisite, yet obscure at times and hard to see through, who seemed to me to deserve to be properly ordered and digested. Upon this I brought forth whatever I had learned, collected testimonies from the classics and other books, and divided my author into chapters and sentences. My annotations are given along with the original text, and of every chapter I have separately indicated the scope. The Books I have divided into two Parts, the first and second, making in all fourteen sections.
“On the whole, with regard to my labour, I do not venture to think that it speaks the man of mark, but, as a gift to the learner, it may dispel some doubts and resolve perplexities. It is not for me, however, to pronounce on its excellencies or defects. Let men of discernment who come after me observe its errors and omissions and correct them;—that will be a good service.”
[1 ] In the “Books of the Suy dynasty” (ad 589—617), Bk xxxix., we find that there were then in the national Repositories three Works on Mencius,—Chaou K‘e’s, one by Ch‘ing Heuen, and one by Lëw He also a scholar of Han, but probably not earlier than Chaou K‘e. The same Works were existing under the T‘ang dynasty (624—907);—see the “Books of T‘ang,” Bk. xlix. By the rise of the Sung dynasty (ad 975), however, the two last were both lost. The entries in the Records of Suy and T‘ang would seem to prove that Ch‘ing Heuen had written on Mencius, but in the sketches of his life which I have consulted,—and that in the “Books of the After Han dynasty” must be the basis of all the rest,—there is no mention made of his having done so.
[1 ] It was to mount Ke that two ancient worthies are said to have withdrawn, when Yaou wished to promote them to honour.
[2 ] These are the well-known E Yin and T‘ae-kung Wang, ancestor of the lords of Ts‘e.