Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I.: THE OPINIONS OF YANG CHOO. - The Chinese Classics: Vol. 2 The Life and Teachings of Mencius
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SECTION I.: THE OPINIONS OF YANG CHOO. - 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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THE OPINIONS OF YANG CHOO.
1. “The words of Yang Choo and Mih Teih,” said Mencius, “fill the empire. If you listen to people’s discourses throughout it, you will find that they have adopted the views of the one or of the other. Now, Yang’s principle is—‘Each one for himself,’ which does not acknowledge the claims of the sovereign. Mih’s principle is—‘To love all equally,’ which does not acknowledge the peculiar affection due to a father. To acknowledge neither king nor father is to be in the state of a beast. If their principles are not stopped, and the principles of Confucius set forth, their perverse speakings will delude the people, and stop up the path of benevolence and righteousness.
“I am alarmed by these things, and address myself to the defence of the doctrines of the former sages, and to oppose Yang and Mih. I drive away their licentious expressions, so that such perverse speakers may not be able to show themselves. When sages shall rise up again, they will not change my words.”1
His opposition to Yang and Mih was thus one of the great labours of Mencius’ life, and what he deemed the success of it one of his great achievements. His countrymen generally accede to the justice of his claim; though there have not been wanting some to say—justly, as I think and will endeavour to show in the next section—that Mih need not have incurred from him such heavy censure. For Yang no one has a word to say. His leading principle as stated by Mencius is certainly detestable, and so far as we can judge from the slight accounts of him that are to be gathered from other quarters, he seems to have been about “the least erected spirit,” who ever professed to reason concerning the life and duties of man.
2. The generally received opinion is that Yang belonged to the period of “The Warring States,” the same era of Chinese history as Mencius. He was named Choo, and styled Tsze-keu. In a note, p. 159 of my larger work, I have supposed that he was of the times of Confucius and Laou-tsze, having then before me a passage of the Taouist philosopher Chwang, in which he gives an account of an interview between Laou-tsze and Yang Choo. That interview, however, must be an invention of Chwang. The natural impression which we receive from all the references of Mencius is that Yang must have been posterior to Confucius, and that his opinions had come into vogue only in the times of our philosopher himself. This view would be placed beyond doubt if we could receive as genuine the chapter on Yang, which is contained in the writings of the philosopher Leeh. And so far we may accept it, as to believe that it gives the sentiments which were attributed to him in the 1st century before our era. The leading principle ascribed to him by Mencius nowhere appears in it in so many words, but the general tenor of his language is entirely in accordance with it. This will appear from the following specimens:—
“Yang Choo said, ‘A hundred years are the extreme limit of longevity; and not one man in a thousand enjoys such a period of life. Suppose the case of one who does so:—infancy borne in the arms, and doting old age, will nearly occupy the half; what is forgotten in sleep, and what is lost in the waking day, will nearly occupy the half; pain and sickness, sorrow and bitterness, losses, anxieties, and fears will nearly occupy the half. There may remain ten years or so; but I reckon that not even in them will be found an hour of smiling self-abandonment, without the shadow of solicitude.—What is the life of man then to be made of? What pleasure is in it?
“ ‘[Is it to be prized] for the pleasure of food and dress? or for the enjoyments of music and beauty? But one cannot be always satisfied with those pleasures; one cannot be always toying with beauty and listening to music. And then there are the restraints of punishments and the stimulants of rewards; the urgings and the repressings of fame and laws:—these make one strive restlessly for the vain praise of an hour, and calculate on the residuary glory after death; they keep him, as with body bent, on the watch against what his ears hear and his eyes see, and attending to the right and the wrong of his conduct and thoughts. In this way he loses the real pleasure of his years, and cannot allow himself for a moment.—In what does he differ from an individual manacled and fettered in an inner prison? The people of high antiquity knew both the shortness of life, and how suddenly and completely it might be closed by death, and therefore they obeyed the movements of their hearts, refusing not what it was natural for them to like, nor seeking to avoid any pleasure that occurred to them. They paid no heed to the incitements of fame; they enjoyed themselves according to their nature; they did not resist the common tendency of all things to self-enjoyment; they cared not to be famous after death. They managed to keep clear of punishment; as to fame and praise, being first or last, long life or short life, these things did not come into their calculations.’ ”
“Yang Choo said, ‘Wherein people differ is the matter of life; wherein they agree is death. While they are alive, we have the distinctions of intelligence and stupidity, honourableness and meanness; when they are dead, we have so much stinking rottenness decaying away:—this is the common lot. Yet intelligence and stupidity, honourableness and meanness, are not in one’s power; neither is that condition of putridity, decay, and utter disappearance. A man’s life is not in his own hands, nor is his death; his intelligence is not his own, nor is his stupidity, nor his honourableness, nor his meanness. All are born and all die;—the intelligent and the stupid, the honourable and the mean. At ten years old some die; at a hundred years old some die. The virtuous and the sage die; the ruffian and the fool also die. Alive, they were Yaou and Shun; dead they were so much rotten bone. Alive they were Këeh and Chow; dead, they were so much rotten bone. Who could know any difference between their rotten bones? While alive, therefore, let us hasten to make the best of life; what leisure have we to be thinking of anything after death?’ ”
“Măng-sun Yang asked Yang-tsze, saying, ‘Here is a man who sets a high value on his life, and takes loving care of his body, hoping that he will not die:—does he do right?’ ‘There is no such thing as not dying,’ was the reply. ‘But if he does so, hoping for long life, is he right?’ Yang-tsze answered, ‘One cannot be assured of long life. Setting value upon life will not preserve it; taking care of the body will not make it greatly better. And, in fact, why should long life be made of? There are the five feelings with their likings and dislikings,—now as in old time; there are the four limbs, now at ease, now in danger,—now as in old time; there are the various experiences of joy and sorrow,—now as in old time; there are the various changes from order to disorder, and from disorder to order,—now as in old time:—all these things I have heard of, and seen, and gone through. A hundred years of them would be more than enough, and shall I wish the pain protracted through a longer life?’ Mang-sun said, ‘If it be so, early death is better than long life. Let a man go to trample on the pointed steel, or throw himself into the caldron or flames, to get what he desires.’ Yang-tsze answered, ‘No. Being once born, take your life as it comes, and endure it, and, seeking to enjoy yourself as you desire, so await the approach of death. When you are about to die, treat the thing with indifference and endure it; and seeking to accomplish your departure, so abandon yourself to annihilation. Both death and life should be treated with indifference; they should both be endured:—why trouble onesself about earliness or lateness in connexion with them?’ ”
“K‘in-tsze asked Yang Choo, saying, ‘If you could benefit the world by parting with one hair of your body, would you do it?’ ‘The world is not to be benefited by a hair,’ replied Yang. The other urged, ‘But suppose it could be, what would you do?’ To this Yang gave no answer, and K‘in went out, and reported what had passed to Măng-sun Yang. Măng-sun said, ‘You do not understand our Master’s mind:—let me explain it to you. If by enduring a slight wound in the flesh, you could get ten thousand pieces of gold, would you endure it?’ ‘I would.’ ‘If by cutting off one of your limbs, you could get a kingdom, would you do it?’ K‘in was silent; and after a little, Măng-sun Yang resumed, ‘To part with a hair is a slighter matter than to receive a wound in the flesh, and that again is a slighter matter than to lose a limb:—that you can discern. But consider:—a hair may be multiplied till it become as important as the piece of flesh, and the piece of flesh may be multiplied till it becomes as important as a limb. A single hair is just one of the ten thousand portions of the body;—why should you make light of it?’ K‘in-tsze replied, ‘I cannot answer you. If I could refer your words to Laou Tan or Kwan Yin, they would say that you were right; but if I could refer my words to the great Yu or Mih Teih, they would say that I was right.’ Măng-sun Yang, on this, turned round, and entered into conversation with his disciples on another subject.”
“Yang Choo said, ‘The empire agrees in considering Shun, Yu, Chow-kung, and Confucius to have been the most admirable of men, and in considering Këeh and Chow to have been the most wicked.
“ ‘Now, Shun had to plough the ground on the south of the Ho, and to play the potter by the Luy lake. His four limbs had not even a temporary rest; for his mouth and belly he could not find pleasant food and warm clothing. No love of his parents rested upon him; no affection of his brothers and sisters. When he was thirty years old, he had not been able to get the permission of his parents to marry. When Yaou at length resigned to him the throne, he was advanced in age; his wisdom was decayed; his son Shang-keun proved without ability; and he had finally to resign the throne to Yu. Sorrowfully came he to his death. Of all mortals never was one whose life was so worn out and empoisoned as his. K‘wăn was required to reduce the deluged land to order; and when his labours were ineffectual, he was put to death on mount Yu, and Yu [his son] had to undertake the task, and serve his enemy. All his energies were spent on his labours with the land; a child was born to him, but he could not foster it; he passed his door without entering; his body became bent and withered; the skin of his hands and feet became thick and callous. When at length Shun resigned to him the throne, he lived in a low, mean house, while his sacrificial apron and cap were elegant. Sorrowfully came he to his death. Of all mortals never was one whose life was so saddened and embittered as his. On the death of king Woo [his son], king Shing was young and weak. Chow-kung had to undertake all the imperial duties. The duke of Shaou was displeased, and evil reports spread through the empire. Chow-kung had to reside three years in the east; he slew his elder brother, and banished his younger; scarcely did he escape with his life. Sorrowfully came he to his death. Of all mortals never was one whose life was so full of hazards and terrors as his. Confucius understood the ways of the ancient emperors and kings. He responded to the invitations of the princes of his time. The tree was cut down over him in Sung; the traces of his footsteps were removed in Wei; he was reduced to extremity in Shang and Chow; he was surrounded in Ch‘in and Ts‘ae; he had to bend to the Head of the Ke family; he was disgraced by Yang Hoo. Sorrowfully came he to his death. Of all mortals never was one whose life was so agitated and hurried as his.
“ ‘Those four sages, during their life, had not a single day’s joy. Since their death they have had a [grand] fame that will last through myriads of ages. But that fame is what no one who cares for what is real would choose. Celebrate them;—they do not know it. Reward them;—they do not know it. Their fame is no more to them than to the trunk of a tree or a clod of earth.
“ ‘[On the other hand], Këeh came into the accumulated wealth of many generations; to him belonged the honour of the imperial seat; his wisdom was enough to enable him to set at defiance all below; his power was enough to shake the empire. He indulged the pleasures to which his eyes and ears prompted him; he carried out whatever it came into his thoughts to do. Brightly came he to his death. Of all mortals never was one whose life was so luxurious and dissipated as his. [Similarly], Chow came into the accumulated wealth of many generations; to him belonged the honour of the royal seat; his power enabled him to do whatever he would; his will was everywhere obeyed; he indulged his feelings in all his palaces; he gave the reins to his lusts through the long night; he never made himself bitter by the thought of propriety and righteousness. Brightly came he to his destruction. Of all mortals never was one whose life was so abandoned as his.
“ ‘These two villains, during their life, had the joy of gratifying their desires. Since their death, they have had the [evil] fame of folly and tyranny. But the reality [of enjoyment] is what no fame can give. Reproach them;—they do not know it. Praise them;—they do not know it. Their [ill]fame is no more to them than to the trunk of a tree, or to a clod of earth.
“ ‘To the four sages all admiration is given; yet were their lives bitter to the end, and their common lot was death. To the two villains all condemnation is given; yet their lives were pleasant to the last, and their common lot was likewise death.’ ”
3. The above passages are sufficient to show the character of Yang Choo’s mind and of his teachings. It would be doing injustice to Epicurus to compare Yang with him, for though the Grecian philosopher made happiness the chief end of human pursuit, he taught also that “we cannot live pleasurably without living virtuously and justly.” The Epicurean system is, indeed, unequal to the capacity, and far below the highest complacencies, of human nature; but it is widely different from the reckless contempt of all which is esteemed good and great that defiles the pages where Yang is made to tell his views.
We are sometimes reminded by him of fragmentary utterance in the Book of Ecclesiastes:—“In much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” “As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is, in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? As the fool. Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous to me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” “There is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity. . . All his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night:—this is also vanity. There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.” “That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence over a beast: for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. . . Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?”
But those thoughts were suggestions of evil from which the Hebrew Preacher recoiled in his own mind; and he put them on record only that he might give their antidote along with them. He vanquished them by his faith in God; and so he ends by saying, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter.—Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” Yang Choo has no redeeming qualities. His reasonings contain no elements to counteract the poison that is in them. He never rises to the thought of God. There are, he allows, such ideas as those of propriety and righteousness, but the effect of them is merely to embitter and mar the enjoyment of life. Fame is but a phantom which only the fool will pursue. It is the same with all at death. There their being ends. After that there is but so much putridity and rottenness. With him therefore the conclusion of the whole matter is:—“Let us eat and drink; let us live in pleasure; gratify the ears and eyes; get servants and maidens, music, beauty, wine; when the day is insufficient, carry it on through the night; each one for himself.”
Mencius might well say that if such “licentious talk” were not arrested, the path of benevolence and righteousness would be stopped up. If Yang’s principles had been entertained by the nation, every bond of society would have been dissolved. All the foundations of order would have been destroyed. Vice would have become rampant, and virtue would have been named only to be scorned. There would have remained for the entire State only what Yang saw in store for the individual man—“putridity and rottenness.” Doubtless it was owing to Mencius’ opposition that the foul and dangerous current was stayed. He raised up against it the bulwark of human nature formed for virtue. He insisted on benevolence, righteousness, propriety, fidelity, as the noblest attributes of man’s conduct. More was needed, but more he could not supply. If he had had a living faith in God, and had been in possession of His revealed will, the present state of China might have been very different. He was able to warn his countrymen of the gulf into which Yang Choo would have plunged them; but he could direct them in the way of truth and duty only imperfectly. He sent them into the dark cave of their own souls, and back to the vague lessons and imperfect examples of their sages; and China has staggered on, waxing feebler and feebler, to the present time. Her people need to be directed above themselves and beyond the present. When stars shine out to them in heaven and from eternity, the empire will perhaps renew its youth, and go forward from strength to strength.
[1 ] Bk III. Pt II. ix. 9, 10.