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SECTION II.: the authority of the chinese classics. - Confucius, The Chinese Classics: Vol. 1. The Life and Teachings of Confucius (Analects, Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean) 
The Chinese Classics: Translated into English with Preliminary Essays and Explanatory Notes by James Legge. Vol. 1. The Life and Teachings of Confucius. Second Edition (London: N. Trübner, 1869).
Part of: The Chinese Classics
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the authority of the chinese classics.
1.This subject will be discussed in connection with each separate Work, and it is only designed here to exhibit generally the evidence on which the Chinese Classics claim to be received as genuine productions of the time to which they are referred.
2. In the memoirs of the Former Han dynasty (bc 201—ad 24), we have one chapter which we may call the History of Literature. It commences thus:—“After the death of Confucius, there was an end of his exquisite words; and when his seventy disciples had passed away, violence began to be done to their meaning. It came about that there were five different editions of the Ch‘un Ts‘ew, four of the She, and several of the Yih. Amid the disorder and collision of the warring States (bc 480—221), truth and falsehood were still more in a state of warfare, and a sad confusion marked the words of the various scholars. Then came the calamity inflicted under the Ts‘in dynasty (bc 220—205), when the literary monuments were destroyed by fire, in order to keep the people in ignorance. But, by and by, there arose the Han dynasty, which set itself to remedy the evil wrought by the Ts‘in. Great efforts were made to collect slips and tablets,2 and the way was thrown wide open for the bringing in of Books. In the time of the emperor Heaou-woo (bc139—86), portions of Books being wanting and tablets lost, so that ceremonies and music were suffering great damage, he was moved to sorrow, and said, ‘I am very sad for this.’ He therefore formed the plan of Repositories, in which the Books might be stored, and appointed officers to transcribe Books on an extensive scale, embracing the works of the various scholars, that they might all be placed in the Repositories. The Emperor Ch‘ing (bc 31—6), finding that a portion of the Books still continued dispersed or missing, commissioned Ch‘in Nung, the superintendent of guests, to search for undiscovered Books throughout the empire, and by special edict ordered the chief of the Banqueting House, Lew Heang, to examine the classical Works, along with the commentaries on them, the writings of the scholars, and all poetical productions; the master-controller of infantry, Jin Hwang, to examine the Books on the art of war; the grand historiographer, Yin Hëen, to examine the Books treating of the art of numbers (i. e. divination); and the imperial physician, Le Ch‘oo-kŏ, to examine the Books on medicine. Whenever any Book was done with, Heang forthwith arranged it, indexed it, and made a digest of it, which was presented to the emperor. While the undertaking was in progress, Heang died, and the emperor Gae (bc 5—ad) appointed his son, Hin, a master of the imperial carriages, to complete his father’s work. On this, Hin collected all the Books, and presented a report of them, under seven divisions.”
The first of these divisions seems to have been a general catalogue, containing perhaps only the titles of the works included in the other six. The second embraced the classical Works. From the abstract of it, which is preserved in the chapter referred to, we find that there were 294 collections of the Yih-king, from 13 different individuals or editors;1 412 collections of the Shoo-king, from nine different individuals; 416 volumes of the She-king, from six different individuals;2 of the Book of Rites, 555 collections, from 13 different individuals; of the Books on Music, 165 collections, from six different editors; 948 collections of History, under the heading of the Ch‘un Ts‘ew, from 23 different individuals; 229 collections of the Lun Yu, including the Analects and kindred fragments, from 12 different individuals; of the Heaou-king, embracing also the Urh Ya, and some other portions of the ancient literature, 59 collections, from 11 different individuals; and finally of the Lesser Learning, being works on the form of the characters, 45 collections, from 11 different individuals. The Works of Mencius were included in the second division, among the Writings of what were deemed orthodox scholars, of which there were 836 collections, from 53 different individuals.
3. The above important document is sufficient to show how the emperors of the Han dynasty, as soon as they had made good their possession of the empire, turned their attention to recover the ancient literature of the nation, the Classical Books engaging their first care, and how earnestly and effectively the scholars of the time responded to the wishes of their rulers. In addition to the facts specified in the preface to it, I may relate that the ordinance of the Ts‘in dynasty against possessing the Classical Books (with the exception, as will appear in its proper place, of the Yih-king) was repealed by the second sovereign of the Han, the emperor Heaou Hwuy, in the 4th year of his reign, bc 190, and that a large portion of the Shoo-king was recovered in the time of the third emperor, bc 178—156, while in the year bc 135, a special Board was constituted, consisting of literati who were put in charge of the five King.
4. The collections reported on by Lew Hin suffered damage in the troubles which began ad 8, and continued till the rise of the second or eastern Han dynasty in the year 25. The founder of it (ad 25—57) zealously promoted the undertaking of his predecessors, and additional repositories were required for the books which were collected. His successors, the emperors, Heaou-ming (58—75), Heaou-chang (75—88), and Heaou-hwo (89—105), took a part themselves in the studies and discussions of the literary tribunal, and the emperor Heaou-ling, between the years 172—178, had the text of the five King, as it had been fixed, cut in slabs of stone, in characters of three different forms.
5. Since the Han, the successive dynasties have considered the literary monuments of the country to be an object of their special care. Many of them have issued editions of the classics, embodying the commentaries of preceding generations. No dynasty has distinguished itself more in this line than the present Manchow possessors of the Empire. In fine, the evidence is complete that the Classical Books of China have come down from at least a century before our Christian era, substantially the same as we have them at present.
6. But it still remains to inquire in what condition we may suppose the Books were when the scholars of the Han dynasty commenced their labours upon them. They acknowledge that the tablets—we cannot here speak of manuscripts—were mutilated and in disorder. Was the injury which they had received of such an extent that all the care and study put forth on the small remains would be of little use? This question can be answered satisfactorily only by an examination of the evidence which is adduced for the text of each particular Classic; but it can be made apparent that there is nothing, in the nature of the case, to interfere with our believing that the materials were sufficient to enable the scholars to execute the work intrusted to them.
7. The burning of the ancient Books by order of the founder of the Ts‘in dynasty is always referred to as the greatest disaster which they sustained, and with this is coupled the slaughter of many of the literati by the same monarch.
The account which we have of these transactions in the Historical Records is the following:1 —
“In his 34th year” (the 34th year, that is, after he had ascended the throne of Ts‘in. It was only the 8th after he had been acknowledged Sovereign of the empire, coinciding with bc 212) “the emperor, returning from a visit to the south, which had extended as far as Yuĕ, gave a feast in the palace of Heen-yang, when the Great Scholars, amounting to seventy men, appeared and wished him long life.2 The superintendent of archery, Chow Ts‘ing-ch‘in, came forward and praised him, saying, ‘Formerly, the State of Ts‘in was only 1000 le in extent, but Your Majesty, by your spirit-like efficacy and intelligent wisdom, has tranquillized and settled the whole empire, and driven away all barbarous tribes, so that wherever the sun and moon shine, all appear before you as guests acknowledging subjection. You have formed the States of the various princes into provinces and districts, where the people enjoy a happy tranquillity, suffering no more from the calamities of war and contention. This condition of things will be transmitted for 10,000 generations. From the highest antiquity there has been no one in awful virtue like Your Majesty.’
“The Emperor was pleased with this flattery, when Shun-yu Yuĕ, one of the great scholars, a native of Ts‘e, advanced and said, ‘The sovereigns of Yin and Chow, for more than a thousand years, invested their sons and younger brothers, and meritorious ministers, with domains and rule, and could thus depend upon them for support and aid;—that I have heard. But now Your Majesty is in possession of all within the seas, and your sons and younger brothers are nothing but private individuals. The issue will be that some one will arise to play the part of T‘een Ch‘ang,1 or of the six nobles of Ts‘in. Without the support of your own family, where will you find the aid which you may require? That a state of things not modelled from the lessons of antiquity can long continue;—that is what I have not heard. Ts‘ing is now showing himself to be a flatterer, who increases the errors of Your Majesty, and is not a loyal minister.’
“The Emperor requested the opinions of others on this representation, when the premier, Le Sze, said, ‘The five emperors were not one the double of the other, nor did the three dynasties accept one another’s ways. Each had a peculiar system of government, not for the sake of the contrariety, but as being required by the changed times. Now, Your Majesty has laid the foundations of imperial sway, so that it will last for 10,000 generations. This is indeed beyond what a stupid scholar can understand. And, moreover, Yuĕ only talks of things belonging to the Three Dynasties, which are not fit to be models to you. At other times, when the princes were all striving together, they endeavoured to gather the wandering scholars about them; but now, the empire is in a stable condition, and laws and ordinances issue from one supreme authority. Let those of the people who abide in their homes give their strength to the toils of husbandry, and those who become scholars should study the various laws and prohibitions. Instead of doing this, however, the scholars do not learn what belongs to the present day, but study antiquity. They go on to condemn the present time, leading the masses of the people astray, and to disorder.
“ ‘At the risk of my life, I, the prime minister, say,—Formerly, when the empire was disunited and disturbed, there was no one who could give unity to it. The princes therefore stood up together; constant references were made to antiquity to the injury of the present state; baseless statements were dressed up to confound what was real, and men made a boast of their own peculiar learning to condemn what their rulers appointed. And now, when Your Majesty has consolidated the empire, and, distinguishing black from white, has constituted it a stable unity, they still honour their peculiar learning, and combine together; they teach men what is contrary to your laws. When they hear that an ordinance has been issued, every one sets to discussing it with his learning. In the court, they are dissatisfied in heart; out of it, they keep talking in the streets. While they make a pretence of vaunting their Master, they consider it fine to have extraordinary views of their own. And so they lead on the people to be guilty of murmuring and evil speaking. If these things are not prohibited, Your Majesty’s authority will decline, and parties will be formed. As to the best way to prohibit them, I pray that all the Records in charge of the Historiographers be burned, excepting those of Ts‘in; that, with the exception of those officers belonging to the Board of Great Scholars, all throughout the empire who presume to keep copies of the She-king, or of the Shoo-king, or of the books of the Hundred Schools, be required to go with them to the officers in charge of the several districts, and burn them; that all who may dare to speak together about the She and the Shoo be put to death, and their bodies exposed in the market-place; that those who make mention of the past, so as to blame the present, be put to death along with their relatives; that officers who shall know of the violation of these rules and not inform against the offenders, be held equally guilty with them; and that whoever shall not have burned their books within thirty days after the issuing of the ordinance, be branded and sent to labour on the wall for four years. The only books which should be spared are those on medicine, divination, and husbandry. Whoever wants to learn the laws may go to the magistrates and learn of them.’
“The imperial decision was—‘Approved.’ ”
The destruction of the scholars is related more briefly. In the year after the burning of the Books, the resentment of the Emperor was excited by the remarks and flight of two scholars who had been favourites with him, and he determined to institute a strict inquiry about all of their class in Hëen-yang, to find out whether they had been making ominous speeches about him, and disturbing the minds of the people. The investigation was committed to the Censors; and it being discovered that upwards of 460 scholars had violated the prohibitions, they were all buried alive in pits, for a warning to the empire, while degradation and banishment were employed more strictly than before against all who fell under suspicion. The Emperor’s eldest son, Foo-soo, remonstrated with him, saying that such measures against those who repeated the words of Confucius, and sought to imitate him, would alienate all the people from their infant dynasty, but his interference offended his father so much that he was sent off from court, to be with the general who was superintending the building of the great wall.
8. No attempts have been made by Chinese critics and historians to discredit the record of these events, though some have questioned the extent of the injury inflicted by them on the monuments of their ancient literature. It is important to observe that the edict against the Books did not extend to the Yih-king, which was exempted as being a work on divination, nor did it extend to the other classics which were in charge of the Board of Great Scholars. There ought to have been no difficulty in finding copies when the Han dynasty superseded that of Ts‘in; and probably there would have been none but for the sack of the capital, in bc 203, by Heang Yu, the most formidable opponent of the founder of the House of Han. Then, we are told, the fires blazed for three months among the palaces and public buildings, and proved as destructive to the copies of the ‘Great Scholars,’ as those ordered by the tyrant had done to the copies of the people.
It is to be noted, moreover, that his life lasted only three years after the promulgation of his edict. He died bc 209; and the reign of his second son, who succeeded him, lasted only other three years. Then the reign of the founder of the Han dynasty dates from bc 201:—eleven years were all which intervened between the order for the burning of the Books and the establishment of that Family which signalized itself by the care which it bestowed for their recovery; and from the issue of the edict against private individuals having copies in their keeping to its express abrogation by the Emperor Hwuy, there were only 22 years. We may believe, indeed, that vigorous efforts to carry the edict into effect would not be continued longer than the life of its author,—that is, not for more than about three years. The calamity inflicted on the ancient Books of China by the House of Ts‘in could not have approached to anything like a complete destruction of them.
9. The idea of forgery by the scholars of the Han dynasty on a large scale is out of the question. The catalogues of Lew Hin enumerated more than 13,000 volumes of a larger or smaller size, the productions of nearly 600 different writers, and arranged in 38 subdivisions of subjects. In the third catalogue, the first subdivision contained the orthodox writers, to the number of 53, with 836 Works or portions of their Works. Between Mencius and K‘ung Keih, the grandson of Confucius, eight different authors have place. The second subdivision contained the Works of the Taouist school, amounting to 993 collections, from 37 different authors. The sixth subdivision contained the Mihist writers, to the number of six, with their productions in 86 collections. I specify these two subdivisions, because they embraced the Works of schools or sects antagonist to that of Confucius, and some of them still hold a place in Chinese literature, and contain many references to the five Classics, and to Confucius and his disciples.
10. The inquiry pursued in the above paragraphs conducts us to the conclusion that the materials from which the Classics, as they have come down to us, were compiled and edited in the two centuries preceding our Christian era, were genuine remains, going back to a still more remote period. The injury which they sustained from the dynasty of Ts‘in was, I believe, the same in character as that to which they were exposed during all the time of “the Warring States.” It may have been more intense in degree, but the constant warfare which prevailed for some centuries among the different States which composed the empire was eminently unfavourable to the cultivation of literature. Mencius tells us how the princes had made away with many of the records of antiquity, from which their own usurpations and innovations might have been condemned.1 Still the times were not unfruitful, either in scholars or statesmen, to whom the ways and monuments of antiquity were dear, and the space from the rise of the Ts‘in dynasty to Confucius was not very great. It only amounted to 258 years. Between these two periods Mencius stands as a connecting link. Born probably in the year bc 371, he reached, by the intervention of K‘ung Keih, back to the sage himself, and as his death happened bc 288, we are brought down to within nearly half a century of the Ts‘in dynasty. From all these considerations, we may proceed with confidence to consider each separate Work, believing that we have in these Classics and Books what the great sage of China and his disciples found, or gave to their country, more than 2000 years ago.
OF THE CONFUCIAN ANALECTS.
[2 ] Slips and tablets on bamboo, which supplied in those days the place of paper.
[1 ] How much of the whole Work was contained in each “collection” or p‘een, it is impossible for us to ascertain. P. Regis says:—“Pien, quemadmodum Gallice dicimus ‘des pièces d’eloquence, de poesie.’ ”
[2 ] The collections of the She-king are mentioned under the name of keuen, “sections,” “portions.” Had p‘een been used, it might have been understood of individual odes. This change of terms shows that by p‘een in the other summaries, we are not to understand single blocks or chapters.
[1 ] I have thought it well to endeavour to translate the whole of the passages. Father de Mailla merely constructs from them a narrative of his own; see L’Histoire Générale de La Chine, tome II., pp. 399—402. The common histories current in China avoid the difficulties of the original by giving an abridgment of it.
[2 ] These were not only “great scholars,” but had an official rank. There was what we may call a college of them, consisting of seventy members.
[1 ] The T‘ëen family grew up in the State of Ts‘e, and in the early part of the 4th century bc supplanted the ruling House. The dismemberment of Ts‘in was still earlier.
[1 ] See Mencius, V. Pt. II. ii. 2.