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Mencius (371-289 BC)

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Born around 371 B.C. to a minor noble family in the small state of Tsou in the present-day province of Shandong, Mencius received an excellent education that started at an early age. His father died when he was three, but his mother took a keen interest in her child's well-being and moved the family near a school so that Mencius would grow up in the proper environment. As a young scholar Mencius was tutored by the grandson of Confucius, Tzu Ssu, and he soon became a leading expert in Confucian thought in his own right. For a brief time he served as a state official in the state of Ch'i, but political conditions were still unstable throughout China (Period of Warring States, 481-221 B.C.) and Mencius believed he could help bring order by tutoring the princes of the various provinces.

Mencius instructed his pupils that a stable and happy society is one in which princes guard the well-being of the common people by promoting economic growth and education. Both objectives, he argued, could be attained only if the princes lowered taxes, allowed for free trade, and conserved resources, especially human ones, by restraining themselves from unnecessary warfare. His underlying view of the essential good of human nature, when freed from abusive power, is basically the same as that of Confucius: "The tendency of man's nature to good is like the tendency of water to flow downwards. There are none but have this tendency to good, just as all water flows downwards."1 By the time of his death, in 289 B.C., Mencius was regarded as the "Second Sage."

Endnotes

[1] Mencius, The Works of Mencius, in The Four Books, trans. James Legge (New York: Paragon Books, 1966), pp. 851-52. Emphasis added by Pierre Goodrich.

Bibliography

Works by the Author

Mencius. Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China. Translated by Arthur Waley. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1939.

Mencius. The Four Books. Translated by James Legge. South Pasadena: Ione Perkins.

Source

The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

Last modified April 10, 2014