Confucius: Influence and Doctrines
Source: Confucius, 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). CHAPTER V.: CONFUCIUS; HIS INFLUENCE AND DOCTRINES.
Copyright: The text is in the public domain.
Fair Use: 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.
CONFUCIUS; HIS INFLUENCE AND DOCTRINES.
LIFE OF CONFUCIUS.
1. “And have you foreigners surnames as well?” This question has often been put to me by Chinese. It marks the ignorance which belongs to the people of all that is external to themselves, and the pride of antiquity which enters largely as an element into their character.
The more moderate writers, however, content themselves with exhibiting his ancestry back to the commencement of the Chow dynasty, bc 1121. Among the relatives of the tyrant Chow, the last emperor of the Yin dynasty, was an elder brother, by a concubine, named K‘c, who is celebrated by Confucius, Ana. XVIII. i., under the title of the viscount of Wei. Foreseeing the impending ruin of their family, K‘e withdrew from the court; and subsequently, he was invested by the Emperor Ch‘ing, the second of the house of Chow, with the principality of Sung, which embraced the eastern portion of the present province of Ho-nan, that he might there continue the sacrifices to the emperors of Yin. K‘e was followed as duke of Sung by a younger brother, in whose line the succession continued. His great-grandson, the Duke Min, was followed, bc 908, by a younger brother, leaving, however, two sons, Fuh-foo Ho, and Fang-sze. Fuh Ho resigned his right to the dukedom in favour of Fang-sze, who put his uncle to death in bc 893, and became master of the State. He is known as the Duke Le, and to his elder brother belongs the honour of having the sage among his descendants.
Three descents from Fuh Ho, we find Ching K‘au-foo, who was a distinguished officer under the dukes Tae, Woo, and Seuen (bc 799—728). He is still celebrated for his humility, and for his literary tastes. We have accounts of him as being in communication with the Grand-historiographer of the empire, and engaged in researches about its ancient poetry, thus setting an example of one of the works to which Confucius gave himself. K‘aou gave birth to K‘ung-foo Kea, from whom the surname of K‘ung took its rise. Five generations had now elapsed since the dukedom was held in the direct line of his ancestry, and it was according to the rule in such cases that the branch should cease its connection with the ducal stem, and merge among the people under a new surname. K‘ung Kea was Master of the Horse in Sung, and an officer of well-known loyalty and probity. Unfortunately for himself, he had a wife of surpassing beauty, of whom the chief minister of the State, by name Hwa Tuh, happened on one occasion to get a glimpse. Determined to possess her, he commenced a series of intrigues, which ended, bc 709, in the murder of Kea and the reigning Duke Shang. At the same time, Tuh secured the person of the lady, and hastened to his palace with the prize, but on the way she had strangled herself with her girdle.
An enmity was thus commenced between the two families of K‘ung and Hwa which the lapse of time did not obliterate, and the latter being the more powerful of the two, Kea’s great-grandson withdrew into the State of Loo to avoid their persecution. There he was appointed commandant of the city of Fang, and is known in history by the name of Fang-shuh. Fang-shuh gave birth to Pih-hea, and from him came Shuh-leang Heih, the father of Confucius. Heih appears in the history of the times as a soldier of great prowess and daring bravery. In the year bc 562, when serving at the siege of a place called Peih-yang, a party of the assailants made their way in at a gate which had purposely been left open, and no sooner were they inside than the portcullis was dropped. Heih was just entering, and catching the massive structure with both his hands, he gradually by dint of main strength raised it and held it up, till his friends had made their escape.
Thus much on the ancestry of the sage. Doubtless he could trace his descent in the way which has been indicated up to the imperial house of Yin, nor was there one among his ancestors during the rule of Chow to whom he could not refer with satisfaction. They had been ministers and soldiers of Sung and Loo, all men of worth; and in Ching K‘aou, both for his humility and literary researches, Confucius might have special complacency.
2. Confucius was the child of Shuh-leang Heih’s old age. The soldier had married in early life, but his wife brought him only daughters,—to the number of nine, and no son.
The notices which we have of Confucius’ early years are very scanty. When he was in his third year his father died. It is related of him, that as a boy he used to play at the arrangement of sacrificial vessels, and at postures of ceremony. Of his schooling we have no reliable account. There is a legend, indeed, that at seven he went to school to Gan P‘ing-chung, but it must be rejected, as P‘ing-chung belonged to the State of Ts‘e. He tells us himself that at fifteen he bent his mind to learning;1 but the condition of the family was one of poverty. At a subsequent period, when people were astonished at the variety of his knowledge, he explained it by saying, “When I was young my condition was low, and therefore I acquired my ability in many things; but they were mean matters.”2
When he was nineteen, he married a lady from the State of Sung, of the Keen-kwan family; and in the following year his son Le was born. On the occasion of this event, the Duke Ch‘aou sent him a present of a couple of carp. It was to signify his sense of his prince’s favour, that he called his son Le (The Carp), and afterwards gave him the designation of Pih-yu (Fish Primus). No mention is made of the birth of any other children, though we know, from Ana. V. i., that he had at least one daughter. The fact of the duke of Loo’s sending him a gift on the occasion of Le’s birth shows that he was not unknown, but was already commanding public attention and the respect of the great.
It was about this time, probably in the year after his marriage, that Confucius took his first public employment, as keeper of the stores of grain, and in the following year he was put in charge of the public fields and lands. Mencius adduces these employments in illustration of his doctrine that the superior man may at times take office on account of his poverty, but must confine himself in such a case to places of small emolument, and aim at nothing but the discharge of their humble duties. According to him, Confucius as keeper of stores, said, “My calculations must all be right:—that is all I have to care about;” and when in charge of the public fields, he said, “The oxen and sheep must be fat and strong and superior:—that is all I have to care about.”1 It does not appear whether these offices were held by Confucius in the direct employment of the State, or as a dependent of the Ke family in whose jurisdiction he lived. The present of the carp from the duke may incline us to suppose the former.
3. In his twenty-second year, Confucius commenced his labours as a public teacher, and his house became a resort for young and inquiring spirits, who wished to learn the doctrines of antiquity. However small the fee his pupils were able to afford, he never refused his instructions.2
His mother died in the year bc 528, and he resolved that her body should lie in the same grave with that of his father, and that their common resting-place should be in Fang, the first home of the K‘ung in Loo. But here a difficulty presented itself. His father’s coffin had been for twenty years, where it had first been deposited, off the road of The Five Fathers, in the vicinity of Tsow:—would it be right in him to move it? He was relieved from this perplexity by an old woman of the neighbourhood, who told him that the coffin had only just been put into the ground, as a temporary arrangement, and not regularly buried. On learning this, he carried his purpose into execution. Both coffins were conveyed to Fang, and put in the ground together, with no intervening space between them, as was the custom in some States. And now came a new perplexity. He said to himself, “In old times, they had graves, but raised no tumulus over them. But I am a man, who belongs equally to the north and the south, the east and the west. I must have something by which I can remember the place.” Accordingly he raised a mound, four feet high, over the grave, and returned home, leaving a party of his disciples to see everything properly completed. In the mean time there came on a heavy storm of rain, and it was a considerable time before the disciples joined him. “What makes you so late?” he asked. “The grave in Fang fell down,” they said. He made no reply, and they repeated their answer three times, when he burst into tears, and said, “Ah! they did not make their graves so in antiquity.”1
Confucius mourned for his mother the regular period of three years,—three years nominally, but in fact only twenty-seven months. Five days after the mourning was expired, he played on his lute but could not sing. It required other five days before he could accompany an instrument with his voice.2
Some writers have represented Confucius as teaching his disciples important lessons from the manner in which he buried his mother, and having a design to correct irregularities in the ordinary funeral ceremonies of the time. These things are altogether “without book.” We simply have a dutiful son paying the last tribute of affection to a good parent. In one point he departs from the ancient practice, raising a mound over the grave, and when the fresh earth gives way from a sudden rain, he is moved to tears, and seems to regret his innovation. This sets Confucius vividly before us,—a man of the past as much as of the present, whose own natural feelings were liable to be hampered in their development, by the traditions of antiquity which he considered sacred. It is important, however, to observe the reason which he gave for rearing the mound. He had in it a presentiment of much of his future course. He was “a man of the north, the south, the east, and the west.” He might not confine himself to any one State. He would travel, and his way might be directed to some “wise ruler,” whom his counsels would conduct to a benevolent sway that would break forth on every side till it transformed the empire.
4. When the mourning for his mother was over, Confucius remained in Loo, but in what special capacity we do not know. Probably he continued to encourage the resort of inquirers to whom he communicated instruction, and pursued his own researches into the history, literature, and institutions of the empire.
To the year bc 523, when Confucius was twenty-nine years old, is referred his studying music under a famous master of the name of Seang. He was approaching his 30th year when, as he tells us, “he stood firm,”3 that is, in his convictions on the subjects of learning to which he had bent his mind fifteen years before. Five years more, however, were still to pass by before the anticipation mentioned in the conclusion of the last paragraph began to receive its fulfilment,4 though we may conclude from the way in which it was brought about that he was growing all the time in the estimation of the thinking minds in his native State.
In the 24th year of Duke Ch‘aou, bc 517, one of the principal ministers of Loo, known by the name of M?ng He, died. Seventeen years before he had painfully felt his ignorance of ceremonial observances, and had made it his subsequent business to make himself acquainted with them. On his deathbed, he addressed his chief officer, saying, “A knowledge of propriety is the stem of a man. Without it he has no means of standing firm. I have heard that there is one K‘ung Kew, who is thoroughly versed in it. He is a descendant of Sages, and though the line of his family was extinguished in Sung, among his ancestors there were Fuh-foo Ho, who resigned the dukedom to his brother, and Ching K‘aou-foo, who was distinguished for his humility. Tsang Heih has observed that if sage men of intelligent virtue do not attain to eminence, distinguished men are sure to appear among their posterity. His words are now to be verified, I think, in K‘ung K‘ew. After my death, you must tell Ho-ke to go and study proprieties under him.” In consequence of this charge, Ho-ke, M?ng He’s son, who appears in the Analects under the name of M?ng E,1 and a brother, or perhaps only a near relative, named Nan-kung King-shuh, became disciples of Confucius. Their wealth and standing in the State gave him a position which he had not had before, and he told King-shuh of a wish which he had to visit the court of Chow, and especially to confer on the subject of ceremonies and music with Laou Tan. King-shuh represented the matter to the Duke Ch‘aou, who put a carriage and a pair of horses at Confucius’ disposal for the expedition.
At this time the court of Chow was in the city of L?, in the present department of Ho-nan of the province of the same name. The reigning emperor is known by the title of King, but the sovereignty was little more than nominal. The state of China was then analogous to that of one of the European kingdoms, during the prevalence of the feudal system. At the commencement of the dynasty, the various States of the empire had been assigned to the relatives and adherents of the reigning family. There were thirteen principalities of greater note, and a large number of smaller dependencies. During the vigorous youth of the dynasty, the emperor or lord paramount exercised an effective control over the various chiefs, but with the lapse of time there came weakness and decay. The chiefs—corresponding somewhat to the European dukes, earls, marquises, barons, &c.,—quarrelled and warred among themselves, and the stronger among them barely acknowledged their subjection to the emperor. A similar condition of things prevailed in each particular State. There were hereditary ministerial families, who were continually encroaching on the authority of their rulers, and the heads of those families again were frequently hard pressed by their inferior officers. Such was the state of China in Confucius’ time. The reader must have it clearly before him, if he would understand the position of the sage, and the reforms which, we shall find, it was subsequently his object to introduce.
Arrived at Chow, he had no intercourse with the court or any of the principal ministers. He was there not as a politician, but an inquirer about the ceremonies and maxims of the founders of the dynasty. Laou Tan, whom he had wished to see the acknowledged founder of the Taouists, or Rationalistic sect, which has maintained its ground in opposition to the followers of Confucius, was then a treasury-keeper. They met and freely interchanged their views, but no reliable account of their conversation has been preserved. In the 5th Book of the Le Ke, which is headed, “The philosopher Ts?ng asked,” Confucius refers four times to the views of Laou-tsze on certain points of funeral ceremonies, and in the “Family Sayings,” Book xxiv., he tells Ke K‘ang what he had heard from him about “The Five Te,” but we may hope their conversation turned also on more important subjects. Sze-ma Ts‘een, favourable to Laou-tsze, makes him lecture his visitor in the following style:—“Those whom you talk about are dead, and their bones are mouldered to dust; only their words remain. When the superior man gets his time, he mounts aloft; but when the time is against him, he moves as if his feet were entangled. I have heard that a good merchant, though he has rich treasures deeply stored, appears as if he were poor, and that the superior man whose virtue is complete, is yet to outward seeming stupid. Put away your proud air and many desires, your insinuating habit and wild will. These are of no advantage to you. This is all which I have to tell you.” On the other hand, Confucius is made to say to his disciples, “I know how birds can fly, how fishes can swim, and how animals can run. But the runner may be snared, the swimmer may be hooked, and the flyer may be shot by the arrow. But there is the dragon. I cannot tell how he mounts on the wind through the clouds, and rises to heaven. To-day I have seen Laou-tsze, and can only compare him to the dragon.”
While at L?, Confucius walked over the grounds set apart for the great sacrifices to Heaven and Earth; inspected the pattern of the Hall of Light, built to give audience in to the princes of the empire; and examined all the arrangements of the ancestral temple and the court. From the whole he received a profound impression. “Now,” said he with a sigh, “I know the sage wisdom of the duke of Chow, and how the house of Chow attained to the imperial sway.” On the walls of the Hall of Light were paintings of the ancient sovereigns from Yaou and Shun downwards, their characters appearing in the representations of them, and words of praise or warning being appended. There was also a picture of the duke of Chow sitting with his infant nephew, the king Ch‘ing, upon his knees, to give audience to all the princes. Confucius surveyed the scene with silent delight, and then said to his followers, “Here you see how Chow became so great. As we use a glass to examine the forms of things, so must we study antiquity in order to understand the present.” In the hall of the ancestral temple there was a metal statue of a man with three clasps upon his mouth, and his back covered over with an enjoyable homily on the duty of keeping a watch upon the lips. Confucius turned to his disciples, and said, “Observe it, my children. These words are true, and commend themselves to our feelings.”
About music he made inquiries of Ch‘ang Hwang, to whom the following remarks are attributed:—“I have observed about Chung-ne many marks of a sage. He has river eyes and a dragon forehead,—the very characteristics of Hwang-te. His arms are long, his back is like a tortoise, and he is nine feet six inches in height,—the very semblance of T‘ang the Successful. When he speaks, he praises the ancient kings. He moves along the path of humility and courtesy. He has heard of every subject, and retains with a strong memory. His knowledge of things seems inexhaustible.—Have we not in him the rising of a sage?”
I have given these notices of Confucius at the court of Chow, more as being the only ones I could find, than because I put much faith in them. He did not remain there long, but returned the same year to Loo, and continued his work of teaching. His fame was greatly increased; disciples came to him from different parts, till their number amounted to three thousand. Several of those who have come down to us as the most distinguished among his followers, however, were yet unborn, and the statement just given may be considered as an exaggeration. We are not to conceive of the disciples as forming a community, and living together. Parties of them may have done so. We shall find Confucius hereafter always moving amid a company of admiring pupils; but the greater number must have had their proper avocations and ways of living, and would only resort to the master, when they wished specially to ask his counsel or to learn of him.
5. In the year succeeding the return to Loo, that State fell into great confusion. There were three Families in it, all connected irregularly with the ducal house, which had long kept the rulers in a condition of dependency.
According to the “Family Sayings,” an incident occurred on the way to Ts‘e, which I may transfer to these pages as a good specimen of the way in which Confucius turned occurring matters to account in his intercourse with his disciples. As he was passing by the side of the T‘ae mountain, there was a woman weeping and wailing by a grave. Confucius bent forward in his carriage, and after listening to her for some time, sent Tsze-loo to ask the cause of her grief. “You weep, as if you had experienced sorrow upon sorrow,” said Tsze-loo. The woman replied, “It is so. My husband’s father was killed here by a tiger, and my husband also; and now my son has met the same fate.” Confucius asked her why she did not remove from the place, and on her answering, “There is here no oppressive government,” he turned to his disciples, and said, “My children, remember this. Oppressive government is fiercer than a tiger.”1
As soon as he crossed the border from Loo, we are told he discovered from the gait and manners of a boy, whom he saw carrying a pitcher, the influence of the sage’s music, and told the driver of his carriage to hurry on to the capital. Arrived there, he heard the strain, and was so ravished with it, that for three months he did not know the taste of flesh. “I did not think,” he said, “that music could have been made so excellent as this.”2 The Duke King was pleased with the conferences which he had with him,3 and proposed to assign to him the town of Lin-k‘ew, from the revenues of which he might derive a sufficient support; but Confucius refused the gift, and said to his disciples, “A superior man will only receive reward for services which he has done. I have given advice to the Duke King, but he has not yet obeyed it, and now he would endow me with this place! Very far is he from understanding me.”
On one occasion the duke asked about government, and received the characteristic reply, “There is government when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son.”1 I say that the reply is characteristic. Once, when Tsze-loo asked him what he would consider the first thing to be done if intrusted with the government of a State, Confucius answered, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”2 The disciple thought the reply wide of the mark, but it was substantially the same with what he said to the Duke King. There is a sufficient foundation in nature for government in the several relations of society, and if those be maintained and developed according to their relative significancy, it is sure to obtain. This was a first principle in the political ethics of Confucius.
Another day the duke got to a similar inquiry the reply that the art of government lay in an economical use of the revenues; and being pleased, he resumed his purpose of retaining the philosopher in his State, and proposed to assign to him the fields of Ne-k‘e. His chief minister, Gan Ying, dissuaded him from the purpose, saying, “Those scholars are impracticable, and cannot be imitated. They are haughty and concerted of their own views, so that they will not be content in inferior positions. They set a high value on all funeral ceremonies, give way to their grief, and will waste their property on great burials, so that they would only be injurious to the common manners. This Mr K‘ung has a thousand peculiarities. It would take generations to exhaust all that he knows about the ceremonies of going up and going down. This is not the time to examine into his rules of propriety. If you, prince, wish to employ him to change the customs of Ts‘e, you will not be making the people your primary consideration.”3
I had rather believe that these were not the words of Gan Ying; but they must represent pretty correctly the sentiments of many of the statesmen of the time about Confucius. The duke of Ts‘e got tired ere long of having such a monitor about him, and observed, “I cannot treat him as I would the chief of the Ke family. I will treat him in a way between that accorded to the chief of the Ke, and that given to the chief of the M?ng family.” Finally he said, “I am old; I cannot use his doctrines.”1 These observations were made directly to Confucius, or came to his hearing.2 It was not consistent with his self-respect to remain longer in Ts‘e, and he returned to Loo.3
6. Returned to Loo, he remained for the long period of about fifteen years without being engaged in any official employment.
To this period we must refer the almost single instance which we have of the manner of Confucius’ intercourse with his son Le. “Have you heard any lessons from your father different from what we have all heard?” asked one of the disciples once of Le. “No,” said Le. “He was standing alone once, when I was passing through the court below with hasty steps, and said to me, ‘Have you read the Odes?’ On my replying, ‘Not yet,’ he added, ‘If you do not learn the Odes, you will not be fit to converse with.’ Another day, in the same place and the same way, he said to me, ‘Have you read the rules of Propriety?’ On my replying, ‘Not yet,’ he added, ‘If you do not learn the rules of Propriety, your character cannot be established.’ I have heard only these two things from him.” The disciple was delighted, and observed, “I asked one thing, and I have got three things. I have heard about the Odes; I have heard about the rules of Propriety. I have also heard that the superior man maintains a distant reserve towards his son.”1
I can easily believe that this distant reserve was the rule which Confucius followed generally in his treatment of his son. A stern dignity is the quality which a father has to maintain upon his system. It is not to be without the element of kindness, but that must never go beyond the line of propriety. There is too little room left for the play and development of natural affection.
The divorce of his wife must also have taken place during these years, if it ever took place at all, which is a disputed point. The curious reader will find the question discussed in the notes on the second Book of the Le Ke. The evidence inclines, I think, against the supposition that Confucius did put his wife away. When she died, at a period subsequent to the present, Le kept on weeping aloud for her after the period for such a demonstration of grief had expired, when Confucius sent a message to him that his sorrow must be subdued, and the obedient son dried his tears.1 We are glad to know that on one occasion—the death of his favourite disciple, Yen Hwuy—the tears of Confucius himself would flow over and above the measure of propriety.2
7. We come to the short period of Confucius’ official life.
Just before he received this appointment, a circumstance occurred of which we do not well know what to make. When Yang-hoo fled into Ts‘e, Kung-shan Fuh-jaou, who had been confederate with him, continued to maintain an attitude of rebellion, and held the city of Pe against the Ke family. Thence he sent a message to Confucius inviting him to join him, and the sage seemed so inclined to go that his disciple Tsze-loo remonstrated with him, saying, “Indeed you cannot go! why must you think of going to see Kung-shan?” Confucius replied, “Can it be without some reason that he has invited me? If any one employ me, may I not make an eastern Chow?”1 The upshot, however, was that he did not go, and I cannot suppose that he had ever any serious intention of doing so. Amid the general gravity of his intercourse with his followers, there gleam out a few instances of quiet pleasantry, when he amused himself by playing with their notions about him. This was probably one of them.
As magistrate of Chung-too he produced a marvellous reformation of the manners of the people in a short time. According to the “Family Sayings,” he enacted rules for the nourishing of the living, and all observances to the dead. Different food was assigned to the old and the young, and different burdens to the strong and the weak. Males and females were kept apart from each other in the streets. A thing dropt on the road was not picked up. There was no fraudulent carving of vessels. Inner coffins were made four inches thick, and the outer ones five. Graves were made on the high grounds, no mounds being raised over them, and no trees planted about them. Within twelve months, the princes of the States all about wished to imitate his style of administration.
The Duke Ting, surprised at what he saw, asked whether his rules could be employed to govern a whole State, and Confucius told him that they might be applied to the whole empire. On this the duke appointed him assistant-superintendent of Works,2 in which capacity he surveyed the lands of the State, and made many improvements in agriculture. From this he was quickly made minister of Crime, and the appointment was enough to put an end to crime. There was no necessity to put the penal laws in execution. No offenders showed themselves.
These indiscriminating eulogies are of little value. One incident, related in the annotations of Tso-k‘ew on the Ts‘un Ts‘ew, commends itself at once to our belief, as in harmony with Confucius’ character. The chief of the Ke, pursuing with his enmity the Duke Chaou, even after his death, had placed his grave apart from the graves of his predecessors; and Confucius surrounded the ducal cemetery with a ditch so as to include the solitary resting-place, boldly telling the chief that he did it to hide his disloyalty. But he signalized himself most of all, in bc 499, by his behaviour at an interview between the dukes of Loo and Ts‘e, at a place called Shih-k‘e, and Ke?-kuh, in the present district of Lae-woo, in the department of T‘ae-gan. Confucius was present as master of ceremonies on the part of Loo, and the meeting was professedly pacific. The two princes were to form a covenant of alliance. The principal officer on the part of Ts‘e, however, despising Confucius as “a man of ceremonies, without courage,” had advised his sovereign to make the duke of Loo a prisoner, and for this purpose a band of the half-savage original inhabitants of the place advanced with weapons to the stage where the two dukes were met. Confucius understood the scheme, and said to the opposite party, “Our two princes are met for a pacific object. For you to bring a band of savage vassals to disturb the meeting with their weapons, is not the way in which Ts‘e can expect to give law to the princes of the empire. These barbarians have nothing to do with our Great Flowery land. Such vassals may not interfere with our covenant. Weapons are out of place at such a meeting. As before the spirits, such conduct is unpropitious. In point of virtue, it is contrary to right. As between man and man, it is not polite.” The duke of Ts‘e ordered the disturbers off, but Confucius withdrew, carrying the duke of Loo with him. The business proceeded, notwithstanding, and when the words of the alliance were being read on the part of Ts‘e,—“So be it to Loo, if it contribute not 300 chariots of war to the help of Ts‘e, when its army goes across its borders,” a messenger from Confucius added,—“And so it be to us, if we obey your orders, unless you return to us the fields on the south of the W?n.” At the conclusion of the ceremonies, the prince of Ts‘e wanted to give a grand entertainment, but Confucius demonstrated that such a thing would be contrary to the established rules of propriety, his real object being to keep his sovereign out of danger. In this way the two parties separated, they of Ts‘e filled with shame at being foiled and disgraced by “the man of ceremonies,” and the result was that the lands of Loo which had been appropriated by Ts‘e were restored.1
For two years more Confucius held the office of minister of Crime. Some have supposed that he was further raised to the dignity of chief minister of State, but that was not the case. One instance of the manner in which he executed his functions is worth recording. When any matter came before him, he took the opinion of different individuals upon it, and in giving judgment would say, “I decide according to the view of so and so.” There was an approach to our jury system in the plan, Confucius’ object being to enlist general sympathy, and carry the public judgment with him in his administration of justice. A father having brought some charge against his son, Confucius kept them both in prison for three months, without making any difference in favour of the father, and then wished to dismiss them both. The head of the Ke was dissatisfied, and said, “You are playing with me, Sir minister of Crime. Formerly you told me that in a State or a family filial duty was the first thing to be insisted on. What hinders you now from putting to death this unfilial son as an example to all the people?” Confucius with a sigh replied, “When superiors fail in their duty, and yet go to put their inferiors to death, it is not right. This father has not taught his son to be filial;—to listen to his charge would be to slay the guiltless. The manners of the age have been long in a sad condition; we cannot expect the people not to be transgressing the laws.”
At this time two of his disciples, Tsze-loo and Tsze-yew, entered the employment of the Ke family, and lent their influence, the former especially, to forward the plans of their master. One great cause of disorder in the State was the fortified cities held by the three chiefs, in which they could defy the supreme authority, and were in turn defied themselves by their officers. Those cities were like the castles of the barons of England in the time of the Norman kings. Confucius had their destruction very much at heart, and partly by the influence of persuasion, and partly by the assisting counsels of Tsze-loo, he accomplished his object in regard to Pe, the chief city of the Ke, and How, the chief city of the Shuh.
It does not appear that he succeeded in the same way in dismantling Ch‘ing, the chief city of the M?ng;1 but his authority in the State greatly increased. “He strengthened the ducal House and weakened the private Families. He exalted the sovereign, and depressed the ministers. A transforming government went abroad. Dishonesty and dissoluteness were ashamed, and hid their heads. Loyalty and good faith became the characteristics of the men, and chastity and docility those of the women. Strangers came in crowds from other States. Confucius became the idol of the people, and flew in songs through their mouths.
But this sky of bright promise was soon overcast. As the fame of the reformations in Loo went abroad, the neighbouring princes began to be afraid. The duke of Ts‘e said, “With Confucius at the head of its government, Loo will become supreme among the States, and Ts‘e which is nearest to it will be the first swallowed up. Let us propitiate it by a surrender of territory.” One of his ministers proposed they should first try to separate between the sage and his sovereign, and to effect this, they hit upon the following scheme. Eighty beautiful girls, with musical and dancing accomplishments, were selected, and a hundred and twenty of the finest horses that could be found, and sent as a present to Duke Ting. They were put up at first outside the city, and Ke Hwan having gone in disguise to see them, forgot the lessons of Confucius, and took the duke to look at the bait. They were both captivated. The women were received, and the sage was neglected. For three days the duke gave no audience to his ministers. “Master,” said Tsze-loo to Confucius, “it is time for you to be going.” But Confucius was very unwilling to leave. The time was drawing near when the great sacrifice to Heaven would be offered, and he determined to wait and see whether the solemnity of that would bring the duke back to his right mind. No such result followed. The ceremony was hurried through, and portions of the offerings were not sent round to the various ministers, according to the established custom. Confucius regretfully took his departure, going away slowly and by easy stages. He would have welcomed a messenger of recall. The duke continued in his abandonment, and the sage went forth to thirteen weary years of homeless wandering.
8. On leaving Loo, Confucius first bent his steps westward to the State of Wei, situate about where the present provinces of Chih-le and Ho-nan adjoin.
- “Fain would I still look towards Loo,
- But this Kwei hill cuts off my view.
- With an axe, I’d hew the thickets through:—
- Vain thought! ’gainst the hill I nought can do;”
- “Through the valley howls the blast,
- Drizzling rain falls thick and fast.
- Homeward goes the youthful bride,
- O’er the wild, crowds by her side,
- How is it. O azure Heaven,
- From my home I thus am driven,
- Through the land my way to trace,
- With no certain dwelling-place?
- Dark, dark, the minds of men!
- Worth in vain comes to their ken.
- Hastens on my term of years;
- Old age, desolate, appears.”1
A number of his disciples accompanied him, and his sadness infected them. When they arrived at the borders of Wei, at a place called E, the warden sought an interview, and on coming out from the sage, he tried to comfort the disciples, saying, “My friends, why are you distressed at your Master’s loss of office? The empire has been long without the principles of truth and right; Heaven is going to use your master as a bell with its wooden tongue.”1 Such was the thought of this friendly stranger. The bell did indeed sound, but few had ears to hear.
Confucius’ fame, however, had gone before him, and he was in little danger of having to suffer from want. On arriving at the capital of Wei, he lodged at first with a worthy officer, named Yen Ch‘ow-yew.2 The reigning duke, known to us by the epithet of Ling, was a worthless, dissipated man, but he could not neglect a visitor of such eminence, and soon assigned to Confucius a revenue of 60,000 measures of grain. Here he remained for ten months, and then for some reason left it to go to Ch‘in. On the way he had to pass by K‘wang, a place probably in the present department of K‘ae-fung in Ho-nan, which had formerly suffered from Yang-hoo. It so happened that Confucius resembled Hoo, and the attention of the people being called to him by the movements of his carriage-driver, they thought it was their old enemy, and made an attack upon him. His followers were alarmed, but he was calm, and tried to assure them by declaring his belief that he had a divine mission. He said to them, “After the death of King W?n, was not the cause of truth lodged here in me? If Heaven had wished to let this cause of truth perish, then I, a future mortal, should not have got such a relation to that cause. While Heaven does not let the cause of truth perish, what can the people of K‘wang do to me?”3 Having escaped from the hands of his assailants, he does not seem to have carried out his purpose of going to Ch‘in, but returned to Wei.
On the way, he passed a house where he had formerly been lodged, and finding that the master was dead, and the funeral ceremonies going on, he went in to condole and weep. When he came out, he told Tsze-kung to take one of the horses from his carriage, and give it as a contribution to the expenses of the occasion. “You never did such a thing,” Tsze-kung remonstrated, “at the funeral of any of your disciples; is it not too great a gift on this occasion of the death of an old host?” “When I went in,” replied Confucius, “my presence brought a burst of grief from the chief mourner, and I joined him with my tears. I dislike the thought of my tears not being followed by anything. Do it, my child.”1
On reaching Wei, he lodged with Keu Pih-yuh, an officer of whom honourable mention is made in the Analects.2 But this time he did not remain long in the State.
Ch‘in, which formed part of the present province of Ho-nan, lay south from Wei. After passing the small State of Ts‘aou, he approached the borders of Sung, occupying the present prefecture of Kwei-tih, and had some intentions of entering it, when an incident occurred, which it is not easy to understand from the meagre style in which it is related, but which gave occasion to a remarkable saying. Confucius was practising ceremonies with his disciples, we are told, under the shade of a large tree. Hwan T‘uy, an ill-minded officer of Sung, heard of it, and sent a band of men to pull down the tree, and kill the philosopher, if they could get hold of him. The disciples were much alarmed, but Confucius observed, “Heaven has produced the virtue that is in me;—what can Hwan T‘uy do to me?”1 They all made their escape, but seem to have been driven westwards to the State of Ch‘ing, on arriving at the gate conducting into which from the east, Confucius found himself separated from his followers. Tsze-kung had arrived before him, and was told by a native of Ch‘ing that “there was a man standing by the east gate, with a forehead like Yaou, a neck like Kaou-yaou, his shoulders on a level with those of Tsze-ch‘an, but wanting, below the waist, three inches of the height of Yu, and altogether having the disconsolate appearance of a stray dog.” Tsze-kung knew it was the master, hastened to him, and repeated to his great amusement the description which the man had given. “The bodily appearance,” said Confucius, “is but a small matter, but to say I was like a stray dog—capital! capital!” The stay they made at Ch‘ing was short, and by the end of bc 495, Confucius was in Ch‘in.
All the next year he remained there lodging with the warder of the city wall, an officer of worth, of the name of Ching,2 and we have no accounts of him which deserve to be related here.3
In bc 493, Ch‘in was much disturbed by attacks from Woo, a large State, the capital of which was in the present department of Soo-chow, and Confucius determined to retrace his steps to Wei. On the way he was laid hold of at a place called P‘oo, which was held by a rebellious officer against Wei, and before he could get away, he was obliged to engage that he would not proceed thither. Thither, notwithstanding, he continued his route, and when Tsze-kung asked him whether it was right to violate the oath he had taken, he replied, “It was a forced oath. The spirits do not hear such.”4 The duke Ling received him with distinction, but paid no more attention to his lessons than before, and Confucius is said then to have uttered his complaint, “If there were any of the princes who would employ me, in the course of twelve months I should have done something considerable. In three years the government would be perfected.”1
A circumstance occurred to direct his attention to the State of Tsin, which occupied the southern part of the present Shan-se, and extended over the Yellow river into Ho-nan. An invitation came to Confucius, like that which he had formerly received from Kung-shan Fuh-jaou. Peih Heih, an officer of Tsin, who was holding the town of Chung-mow against his chief, invited him to visit him, and Confucius was inclined to go. Tsze-loo was always the mentor on such occasions. He said to him, “Master, I have heard you say, that when a man in his own person is guilty of doing evil, a superior man will not associate with him. Peih Heih is in rebellion; if you go to him, what shall be said?” Confucius replied, “Yes, I did use those words. But is it not said that if a thing be really hard, it may be ground without being made thin; and if it be really white, it may be steeped in a dark fluid without being made black? Am I a bitter gourd? Am I to be hung up out of the way of being eaten?”2
These sentiments sound strangely from his lips. After all, he did not go to Peih Heih; and having travelled as far as the Yellow river that he might see one of the principal ministers of Tsin, he heard of the violent death of two men of worth, and returned to Wei, lamenting the fate which prevented him from crossing the stream, and trying to solace himself with poetry as he had done on leaving Loo. Again did he commuuicate with the duke, but as ineffectually, and disgusted at being questioned by him about military tactics, he left and went back to Ch‘in.
He resided in Ch‘in all the next year, bc 491, without anything occurring there which is worthy of note. Events had transpired in Loo, however, which were to issue in his return to his native State. The duke Ting had deceased bc 494, and Ke Hwan, the chief of the Ke family, died in this year. On his deathbed, he felt remorse for his conduct to Confucius, and charged his successor, known to us in the Analects as Ke K‘ang, to recall the sage; but the charge was not immediately fulfilled. Ke K‘ang, by the advice of one of his officers, sent to Ch‘in for the disciple Yen K‘ew instead. Confucius willingly sent him off, and would gladly have accompanied him. “Let me return!” he said, “Let me return!”1 But that was not to be for several years yet.
In bc 490, accompanied, as usual, by several of his disciples, he went from Ch‘in to Ts‘ae, a small dependency of the great fief of Ts‘oo, which occupied a large part of the present provinces of Hoo-nan and Hoo-pih. On the way, between Ch‘in and Ts‘ae, their provisions became exhausted, and they were cut off somehow from obtaining a fresh supply. The disciples were quite overcome with want, and Tsze-loo said to the master, “Has the superior man indeed to endure in this way?” Confucius answered him, “The superior man may indeed have to endure want; but the mean man, when he is in want, gives way to unbridled license.”2 According to the “Family Sayings,” the distress continued seven days, during which time Confucius retained his equanimity, and was even cheerful, playing on his lute and singing. He retained, however, a strong impression of the perils of the season, and we find him afterwards recurring to it, and lamenting that of the friends that were with him in Ch‘in and Ts‘ae, there were none remaining to enter his door.3
Escaped from this strait, he remained in Ts‘ae over bc 489, and in the following year we find him in Sh?, another district of Ts‘oo, the chief of which had usurped the title of duke. Puzzled about his visitor, he asked Tsze-loo what he should think of him, but the disciple did not venture a reply. When Confucius heard of it, he said to Tsze-loo, “Why did you not say to him,—He is simply a man who in his eager pursuit of knowledge forgets his food, who in the joy of its attainment forgets his sorrows, and who does not perceive that old age is coming on?”4 Subsequently, the duke, in conversation with Confucius, asked him about government, and got the reply, dictated by some circumstances of which we are ignorant, “Good government obtains, when those who are near are made happy, and those who are far off are attracted.”5
After a short stay in Sh?, according to Sze-ma Ts‘een, he returned to Ts‘ae, and having to cross a river, he sent Tsze-loo to inquire for the ford of two men who were at work in a neighbouring field. They were recluses,—men who had withdrawn from public life in disgust at the waywardness of the times. One of them was called Ch‘ang-tseu, and instead of giving Tsze-loo the information he wanted, he asked him, “Who is it that holds the reins in the carriage there?” “It is K‘ung Kew.” “K‘ung Kew of Loo?” “Yes,” was the reply, and then the man rejoined, “He knows the ford.”
Tsze-loo applied to the other, who was called Kë?-neih, but got for answer the question, “Who are you, Sir?” He replied, “I am Chung Yew.” “Chung Yew, who is the disciple of K‘ung Kew of Loo?” “Yes,” again replied Tsze-loo, and Ke?-heih addressed him, “Disorder, like a swelling flood, spreads over the whole empire, and who is he that will change it for you? Than follow one who merely withdraws from this one and that one, had you not better follow those who withdraw from the world altogether?” With this he fell to covering up the seed, and gave no more heed to the stranger. Tsze-loo went back and reported what they had said, when Confucius vindicated his own course, saying, “It is impossible to associate with birds and bcasts as if they were the same with us. If I associate not with these people,—with mankind,—with whom shall I associate? If right principles prevailed through the empire, there would be no use for me to change its state.”1
About the same time he had an encounter with another recluse, who was known as “The madman of Ts‘oo.” He passed by the carriage of Confucius, singing out, “O Fung, O Fung, how is your virtue degenerated! As to the past, reproof is useless, but the future may be provided against. Give up, give up your vain pursuit.” Confucius alighted and wished to enter into conversation with him, but the man hastened away.2
But now the attention of the ruler of Ts‘oo—king, as he styled himself—was directed to the illustrious stranger who was in his dominions, and he met Confucius and conducted him to his capital, which was in the present district of E-shing, in the department of Seang-yang, in Hoo-pih. After a time, he proposed endowing the philosopher with a considerable territory, but was dissuaded by his prime minister, who said to him, “Has your Majesty any officer who could discharge the duties of an ambassador like Tsze-kung? or any one so qualified for a premier as Yen Hwuy? or any one to compare as a general with Tsze-loo? The kings W?n and Woo, from their hereditary dominions of a hundred le, rose to the sovereignty of the empire. If K‘ung K‘ew, with such disciples to be his ministers, get the possession of any territory, it will not be to the prosperity of Ts‘oo? On this remonstrance, the king gave up his purpose, and when he died in the same year, Confucius left the State, and went back again to Wei.
The Duke Ling had died four years before, soon after Confucius had last parted from him, and the reigning duke, known to us by the title of Ch‘uh, was his grandson, and was holding the principality against his own father.
9. His return to Loo was brought about by the disciple Yen Yew, who, we have seen, went into the service of Ke K‘ang, in bc 491.
This event took place in the eleventh year of the Duke Gae, who succeeded to Ting, and according to K‘ung Foo, Confucius’ descendant, the invitation proceeded from him. We may suppose that while Ke K‘ang was the mover and director of the proceeding, it was with the authority and approval of the duke. It is represented in the chronicle of Tso-k‘ew Ming as having occurred at a very opportune time. The philosopher had been consulted a little before by K‘ung W?n, an officer of Wei, about how he should conduct a feud with another officer, and disgusted at being referred to on such a subject, had ordered his carriage and prepared to leave the State, exclaiming, “The bird chooses its tree. The tree does not chase the bird.” K‘ung W?n endeavoured to excuse himself, and to prevail on Confucius to remain in Wei, and just at this juncture the messengers from Loo arrived.
Confucius was now in his 69th year. The world had not dealt kindly with him. In every State which he had visited he had met with disappointment and sorrow. Only five more years remained to him, nor were they of a brighter character than the past. He had, indeed, attained to that state, he tells us, in which “he could follow what his heart desired without transgressing what was right,”1 but other people were not more inclined than they had been to abide by his counsels. The Duke Gae and Ke K‘ang often conversed with him, but he no longer had weight in the guidance of State affairs, and wisely addressed himself to the completion of his literary labours. He wrote, it is said, a preface to the Shoo-king; carefully digested the rites and ceremonies determined by the wisdom of the more ancient sages and kings; collected and arranged the ancient poetry; and undertook the reform of music. He has told us himself, “I returned from Wei to Loo, and then the music was reformed, and the pieces in the Imperial Songs and Praise Songs found all their proper place.”2 To the Yih-king he devoted much study, and Sze-ma Ts‘een says that the leather thongs by which the tablets of his copy were bound together were thrice worn out. “If some years were added to my life,” he said, “I would give fifty to the study of the Yih, and then I might come to be without great faults.”3 During this time also, we may suppose that he supplied Ts?ng Sin with the materials of the classic of Filial Piety. The same year that he returned, Ke K‘ang sent Yen Yew to ask his opinion about an additional impost which he wished to lay upon the people, but Confucius refused to give any reply, telling the disciple privately his disapproval of the proposed measure. It was carried out, however, in the following year, by the agency of Yen, on which occasion, I suppose, it was that Confucius said to the other disciples, “He is no disciple of mine; my little children, beat the drum and assail him.”4 The year bc 482 was marked by the death of his son Le, which he seems to have borne with more equanimity than he did that of his disciple Yen Hwuy, which some writers assign to the following year, though I have already mentioned it under the year bc 488.
In the spring of bc 480, a servant of Ke K‘ang caught a k‘e-lin on a hunting excursion of the duke in the present district of Këa-ts‘eang. No person could tell what strange animal it was, and Confucius was called to look at it. He at once knew it to be a lin, and the legend-writers say that it bore on one of its horns the piece of ribbon, which his mother had attached to the one that appeared to her before his birth. According to the chronicle of Kung-yang, he was profoundly affected. He cried out, “For whom have you come? For whom have you come?” His tears flowed freely, and he added, “The course of my doctrines is run.”
Notwithstanding the appearance of the lin, the life of Confucius was still protracted for two years longer, though he took occasion to terminate with that event his history of the Ch‘un Ts‘ew. This Work, according to Sze-ma Ts‘een, was altogether the production of this year, but we need not suppose that it was so. In it, from the stand-point of Loo, he briefly indicates the principal events occurring throughout the empire, every term being expressive, it is said, of the true character of the actors and events described. Confucius said himself, “It is the Spring and Autumn which will make men know me, and it is the Spring and Autumn which will make men condemn me.”1 Mencius makes the composition of it to have been an achievement as great as Yu’s regulation of the waters of the deluge.—“Confucius completed the Spring and Autumn, and rebellious ministers and villainous sons were struck with terror.”2
Towards the end of this year, word came to Loo that the duke of Ts‘e had been murdered by one of his officers. Confucius was moved with indignation. Such an outrage, he felt, called for his solemn interference. He bathed, went to court, and represented the matter to the duke, saying, “Ch‘in H?ng has slain his sovereign, I beg that you will undertake to punish him.” The duke pleaded his incapacity, urging that Loo was weak compared with Ts‘e, but Confucius replied, “One half of the people of Ts‘e are not consenting to the deed. If you add to the people of Loo one half of the people of Ts‘e, you are sure to overcome.” But he could not infuse his spirit into the duke, who told him to go and lay the matter before the chief of the three Families. Sorely against his sense of propriety, he did so, but they would not act, and he withdrew with the remark, “Following in the rear of the great officers, I did not dare not to represent such a matter.”1
In the year bc 479, Confucius had to mourn the death of another of his disciples, one of those who had been longest with him,—the well-known Tsze-loo. He stands out a sort of Peter in the Confucian school, a man of impulse, prompt to speak and prompt to act. He gets many a check from the master, but there is evidently a strong sympathy between them. Tsze-loo uses a freedom with him on which none of the other disciples dares to venture, and there is not one among them all, for whom, if I may speak from my own feeling, the foreign student comes to form such a liking. A pleasant picture is presented to us in one passage of the Analects. It is said, “The disciple Min was standing by his side, looking bland and precise; Tsze-loo (named Yew), looking bold and soldierly; Yen Yew and Tsze-kung, with a free and straightforward manner. The master was pleased, but he observed, ‘Yew there!—he will not die a natural death.’ ”2
This prediction was verified. When Confucius returned to Loo from Wei, he left Tsze-loo and Tsze-kaou engaged there in official service. Troubles arose. News came to Loo, bc 479, that a revolution was in progress in Wei, and when Confucius heard it, he said, “Ch‘ae will come here, but Yew will die.” So it turned out. When Tsze-kaou saw that matters were desperate he made his escape, but Tsze-loo would not forsake the chief who had treated him well. He threw himself into the mêlée, and was slain. Confucius wept sore for him, but his own death was not far off. It took place on the 11th day of the 4th month in the following year, bc 478.
Early one morning, we are told, he got up, and with his hands behind his back, dragging his staff, he moved about by his door, crooning over,—
- “The great mountain must crumble;
- The strong beam must break;
- And the wise man wither away like a plant.”
After a little, he entered the house and sat down opposite the door. Tsze-kung had heard his words, and said to himself, “If the great mountain crumble, to what shall I look up? If the strong beam break, and the wise man wither away, on whom shall I lean? The master, I fear, is going to be ill.” With this he hastened into the house. Confucius said to him, “Ts‘ze, what makes you so late? According to the statutes of Hea, the corpse was dressed and coffined at the top of the eastern steps, treating the dead as if he were still the host. Under the Yin, the ceremony was performed between the two pillars, as if the dead were both host and guest. The rule of Chow is to perform it at the top of the western steps, treating the dead as if he were a guest. I am a man of Yin, and last night I dreamt that I was sitting with offerings before me between the two pillars. No intelligent monarch arises; there is not one in the empire that will make me his master. My time is come to die.” So it was. He went to his couch, and after seven days expired.1
Such is the account which we have of the last hours of the great philosopher of China. His end was not unimpressive, but it was melancholy. He sank behind a cloud. Disappointed hopes made his soul bitter. The great ones of the empire had not received his teachings. No wife nor child was by to do the kindly offices of affection for him. Nor were the expectations of another life present with him as he passed though the dark valley. He uttered no prayer, and he betrayed no apprehensions. Deep-treasured in his own heart may have been the thought that he had endeavoured to serve his generation by the will of God, but he gave no sign. “The mountain falling came to nought, and the rock was removed out of his place. So death prevailed against him and he passed; his countenance was changed, and he was sent away.”
10. I flatter myself that the preceding paragraphs contain a more correct narrative of the principal incidents in the life of Confucius than has yet been given in any European language. They might easily have been expanded into a volume, but I did not wish to exhaust the subject, but only to furnish a sketch, which, while it might satisfy the general reader, would be of special assistance to the careful student of the classical Books. I had taken many notes of the manifest errors in regard to chronology and other matters in the “Family Sayings,” and the chapter of Sze-ma Ts‘een on the K‘ung family, when the digest of Keang Yung, to which I have made frequent reference, attracted my attention. Conclusions to which I had come were confirmed, and a clue was furnished to difficulties which I was seeking to disentangle. I take the opportunity to acknowledge here my obligations to it. With a few notices of Confucius’ habits and manners, I shall conclude this section.
Very little can be gathered from reliable sources on the personal appearance of the sage. The height of his father is stated, as I have noted, to have been ten feet, and though Confucius came short of this by four inches, he was often called “the tall man.” It is allowed that the ancient foot or cubit was shorter than the modern, but it must be reduced more than any scholar I have consulted has yet done, to bring this statement within the range of credibility. The legends assign to his figure “nine-and-forty remarkable peculiarities,” a tenth part of which would have made him more a monster than a man. Dr Morrison says that the images of him, which he had seen in the northern parts of China, represent him as of a dark swarthy colour.1 It is not so with those common in the south. He was, no doubt, in size and complexion much the same as many of his descendants in the present day.
But if his disciples had nothing to chronicle of his personal appearance, they have gone very minutely into an account of many of his habits. The tenth book of the Analects is all occupied with his deportment, his eating, and his dress. In public, whether in the village, the temple, or the court, he was the man of rule and ceremony, but “at home he was not formal.” Yet if not formal, he was particular. In bed even he did not forget himself;—“he did not lie like a corpse,” and “he did not speak.” “He required his sleeping dress to be half as long again as his body.” “If he happened to be sick, and the prince came to visit him, he had his face to the east, made his court robes be put over him, and drew his girdle across them.”
He was nice in his diet,—“not disliking to have his rice dressed fine, nor to have his minced meat cut small.” “Anything at all gone he would not touch.” “He must have his meat cut properly, and to every kind its proper sauce; but he was not a great eater.” “It was only in wine that he laid down no limit to himself, but he did not allow himself to be confused by it.” “When the villagers were drinking together, on those who carried staves going out, he went out immediately after.” There must always be ginger at the table, and “when eating, he did not converse.” “Although his food might be coarse rice and poor soup, he would offer a little of it in sacrifice, with a grave respectful air.”
“On occasion of a sudden clap of thunder, or a violent wind, he would change countenance. He would do the same, and rise up moreover, when he found himself a guest at a loaded board.” “At the sight of a person in mourning he would also change countenance, and if he happened to be in his carriage, he would bend forward with a respectful salutation.” “His general way in his carriage was not to turn his head round, nor talk hastily, nor point with his hands.” He was charitable. “When any of his friends died, if there were no relations who could be depended on for the necessary offices, he would say, ‘I will bury him.’ ”
The disciples were so careful to record these and other characteristics of their master, it is said, because every act, of movement or of rest, was closely associated with the great principles which it was his object to inculcate. The detail of so many small matters, however, does not impress a foreigner so favourably. There is a want of freedom about the philosopher. Somehow he is less a sage to me, after I have seen him at his table, in his undress, in his bed, and in his carriage.
HIS INFLUENCE AND OPINIONS.
1.Confucius died, we have seen, complaining that of all the princes of the empire there was not one who would adopt his principles and obey his lessons.
The emperors of the tottering dynasty of Chow had not the intelligence, nor were they in a position, to do honour to the departed philosopher, but the facts detailed in the first chapter of these prolegomena, in connection with the attempt of the founder of the Ts‘in dynasty to destroy the monuments of antiquity, show how the authority of Confucius had come by that time to prevail through the empire. The founder of the Han dynasty, in passing through Loo, bc 194, visited his tomb and offered an ox in sacrifice to him. Other emperors since then have often made pilgrimages to the spot. The most famous temple in the empire now rises over the place of the grave. K‘ang-he, the second and greatest of the rulers of the present dynasty, in the twenty-third year of his reign, there set the example of kneeling thrice, and each time laying his forehead thrice in the dust, before the image of the sage.
In the year of our Lord 1, began the practice of conferring honorary designations on Confucius by imperial authority. The Emperor P‘ing then styled him—“The Duke Ne, all-complete and illustrious.” This was changed, in ad 492, to—“The venerable Ne, the accomplished Sage.” Other titles have supplanted this. Shun-che, the first of the Manchow dynasty, adopted, in his second year, ad 1645, the style,—“K‘ung, the ancient Teacher, accomplished and illustrious, all-complete, the perfect Sage;” but twelve years later, a shorter title was introduced,—“K‘ung, the ancient Teacher, the perfect Sage.” Since that year no further alteration has been made.
At first the worship of Confucius was confined to the country of Loo, but in ad 57 it was enacted that sacrifices should be offered to him in the imperial college, and in all the colleges of the principal territorial divisions throughout the empire. In those sacrifices he was for some centuries associated with the duke of Chow, the legislator to whom Confucius made frequent reference; but in ad 609 separate temples were assigned to them, and in 628 our sage displaced the older worthy altogether. About the same time began the custom, which continues to the present day, of erecting temples to him,—separate structures, in connection with all the colleges, or examination-halls, of the country.
The sage is not alone in those temples. In a hall behind the principal one occupied by himself are the tablets—in some cases, the images—of several of his ancestors, and other worthies; while associated with himself are his principal disciples, and many who in subsequent times have signalized themselves as expounders and exemplifiers of his doctrines. On the first day of every month, offerings of fruits and vegetables are set forth, and on the fifteenth there is a solemn burning of incense. But twice a year, in the middle months of spring and autumn, when the first “ting” day of the month comes round, the worship of Confucius is performed with peculiar solemnity. At the imperial college the emperor himself is required to attend in state, and is in fact the principal performer. After all the preliminary arrangements have been made, and the emperor has twice knelt and six times bowed his head to the earth, the presence of Confucius’ spirit is invoked in the words, “Great art thou, O perfect sage! Thy virtue is full; thy doctrine is complete. Among mortal men there has not been thine equal. All kings honour thee. Thy statutes and laws have come gloriously down. Thou art the pattern in this imperial school. Reverently have the sacrificial vessels been set out. Full of awe, we sound our drums and bells.”
The spirit is supposed now to be present, and the service proceeds through various offerings, when the first of which has been set forth, an officer reads the following, which is the prayer on the occasion:—“On this. . . .month of this. . . .year, I, A.B., the emperor, offer a sacrifice to the philosopher K‘ung, the ancient Teacher, the perfect Sage, and say,—O Teacher, in virtue equal to Heaven and Earth, whose doctrines embrace the past time and the present, thou didst digest and transmit the six classics, and didst hand down lessons for all generations! Now in this second month of spring (or autumn), in reverent observance of the old statutes, with victims, silks, spirits, and fruits, I carefully offer sacrifice to thee. With thee are associated the philosopher Yen, continuator of thee; the philosopher Ts?ng, exhibiter of thy fundamental principles; the philosopher Tsze-sze, transmitter of thee; and the philosopher M?ng, second to thee. May’st thou enjoy the offerings!”
I need not go on to enlarge on the homage which the emperors of China render to Confucius. It could not be more complete. It is worship and not mere homage. He was unreasonably neglected when alive. He is now unreasonably venerated when dead. The estimation with which the rulers of China regard their sage leads them to sin against God, and this is a misfortune to the empire.
2. The rulers of China are not singular in this matter, but in entire sympathy with the mass of their people. It is the distinction of this empire that education has been highly prized in it from the earliest times.
At the present day education is widely diffused throughout China. In no other country is the schoolmaster more abroad, and in all schools it is Confucius who is taught. The plan of competitive examinations, and the selection for civil offices only from those who have been successful candidates,—good so far as the competition is concerned, but injurious from the restricted range of subjects with which an acquaintance is required,—have obtained for more than twelve centuries. The classical works are the text books. It is from them almost exclusively that the themes proposed to determine the knowledge and ability of the students are chosen. The whole of the magistracy of China is thus versed in all that is recorded of the sage, and in the ancient literature which he preserved. His thoughts are familiar to every man in authority, and his character is more or less reproduced in him.
The official civilians of China, numerous as they are, are but a fraction of its students, and the students, or those who make literature a profession, are again but a fraction of those who attend school for a shorter or longer period. Yet so far as the studies have gone, they have been occupied with the Confucian writings. In many school-rooms there is a tablet or inscription on the wall, sacred to the sage, and every pupil is required, on coming to school on the morning of the first and fifteenth of every month, to bow before it, the first thing, as an act of worship.2 Thus, all in China who receive the slightest tincture of learning do so at the fountain of Confucius. They learn of him and do homage to him at once. I have repeatedly quoted the statement that during his life-time he had three thousand disciples. Hundreds of millions are his disciples now. It is hardly necessary to make any allowance in this statement for the followers of Taouism and Buddhism, for, as Sir John Davis has observed, “whatever the other opinions or faith of a Chinese may be, he takes good care to treat Confucius with respect.1 For two thousand years he has reigned supreme, the undisputed teacher of this most populous land.
3. This position and influence of Confucius are to be ascribed, I conceive, chiefly to two causes:—his being the preserver, namely, of the monuments of antiquity, and the exemplifier and expounder of the maxims of the golden age of China; and the devotion to him of his immediate disciples and their early followers.
4. It may be well to bring forward here Confucius’ own estimate of himself and of his doctrines. It will serve to illustrate the statements just made. The following are some of his sayings.
Confucius cannot be thought to speak of himself in these declarations more highly than he ought to do. Rather we may recognize in them the expressions of a genuine humility. He was conscious that personally he came short in many things, but he toiled after the character, which he saw, or fancied that he saw, in the ancient sages whom he acknowledged; and the lessons of government and morals which he laboured to diffuse were those which had already been inculcated and exhibited by them. Emphatically he was “a transmitter and not a maker.” It is not to be understood that he was not fully satisfied of the truth of the principles which he had learned. He held them with the full approval and consent of his own understanding. He believed that if they were acted on, they would remedy the evils of his time. There was nothing to prevent rulers like Yaou and Shun and the great Yu from again arising, and a condition of happy tranquillity being realized throughout the empire under their sway.
If in anything he thought himself “superior and alone,” having attributes which others could not claim, it was in his possessing a Divine commission as the conservator of ancient truth and rules. He does not speak very definitely on this point. It is noted that “the appointments of Heaven was one of the subjects on which he rarely touched.”1 His most remarkable utterance was that which I have already given in the sketch of his Life:—“When he was put in fear in K‘wang, he said, ‘After the death of King W?n, was not the cause of truth lodged here in me? If Heaven had wished to let this cause of truth perish, then I, a future mortal, should not have got such a relation to that cause. While Heaven does not let the cause of truth perish, what can the people of K‘wang do to me?’ ”2 Confucius, then, did feel that he was in the world for a special purpose. But it was not to announce any new truths, or to initiate any new economy. It was to prevent what had previously been known from being lost. He followed in the wake of Yaou and Shun, of T‘ang, and King W?n. Distant from the last by a long interval of time, he would have said that he was distant from him also by a great inferiority of character, but still he had learned the principles on which they all happily governed the empire, and in their name he would lift up a standard against the prevailing lawlessness of his age.
5. The language employed with reference to Confucius by his disciples and their early followers presents a striking contrast with his own. I have already, in writing of the scope and value of “The Doctrine of the Mean,” called attention to the extravagant eulogies of his grandson Tsze-sze.
Another time, the same individual having spoken revilingly of Confucius, Tsze-kung said, “It is of no use doing so. Chung-ne cannot be reviled. The talents and virtue of other men are hillocks and mounds which may be stept over. Chung-ne is the sun or moon, which it is not possible to step over. Although a man may wish to cut himself off from the sage, what harm can he do to the sun and moon? He only shows that he does not know his own capacity.”3
In conversation with a fellow-disciple, Tsze-kung took a still higher flight. Being charged by Tsze-k‘in with being too modest, for that Confucius was not really superior to him, he replied, “For one word a man is often deemed to be wise, and for one word he is often deemed to be foolish. We ought to be careful indeed in what we say. Our master cannot be attained to, just in the same way as the heavens cannot be gone up to by the steps of a stair. Were our master in the position of the prince of a State, or the chief of a Family, we should find verified the description which has been given of a sage’s rule:—He would plant the people, and forthwith they would be established; he would lead them on, and forthwith they would follow him; he would make them happy, and forthwith multitudes would resort to his dominions; he would stimulate them, and forthwith they would be harmonious. While he lived, he would be glorious. When he died, he would be bitterly lamented. How is it possible for him to be attained to?”1
From these representations of Tsze-kung, it was not a difficult step for Tsze-sze to make in exalting Confucius not only to the level of the ancient sages, but as “the equal of Heaven.” And Mencius took up the theme. Being questioned by Kung-sun Ch‘ow, one of his disciples, about two acknowledged sages, Pih-e and E Yin, whether they were to be placed in the same rank with Confucius, he replied, “No. Since there were living men until now, there never was another Confucius;” and then he proceeded to fortify his opinion by the concurring testimony of Tsae Go, Tsze-kung, and Yew J?, who all had wisdom, he thought, sufficient to know their master. Tsae Go’s opinion was, “According to my view of our master, he is far superior to Yaou and Shun.” Tsze-kung said, “By viewing the ceremonial ordinances of a prince, we know the character of his government. By hearing his music, we know the character of his virtue. From the distance of a hundred ages after, I can arrange, according to their merits, the kings of a hundred ages;—not one of them can escape me. From the birth of mankind till now, there has never been another like our master.” Yew J? said, “Is it only among men that it is so? There is the k‘elin among quadrupeds; the fung-hwang among birds; the T‘ae mountain among mounds and ant-hills; and rivers and seas among rain-pools. Though different in degree, they are the same in kind. So the sages among mankind are also the same in kind. But they stand out from their fellows, and rise above the level; and from the birth of mankind till now, there has never been one so complete as Confucius.”1 I will not indulge in farther illustration. The judgment of the sage’s disciples, of Tsze-sze, and of Mencius, has been unchallenged by the mass of the scholars of China. Doubtless it pleases them to bow down at the shrine of the sage, for their profession of literature is thereby glorified. A reflection of the honour done to him falls upon themselves. And the powers that be, and the multitudes of the people, fall in with the judgment. Confucius is thus, in the empire of China, the one man by whom all possible personal excellence was exemplified, and by whom all possible lessons of social virtue and political wisdom are taught.
6. The reader will be prepared by the preceding account not to expect to find any light thrown by Confucius on the great problems of the human condition and destiny. He did not speculate on the creation of things or the end of them.
Confucius is not to be blamed for his silence on the subjects here indicated. His ignorance of them was to a great extent his misfortune. He had not learned them. No report of them had come to him by the ear; no vision of them by the eye. And to his practical mind the toiling of thought amid uncertainties seemed worse than useless.
The question has, indeed, been raised, whether he did not make changes in the ancient creed of China,1 but I cannot believe that he did so consciously and designedly. Had his idiosyncrasy been different, we might have had expositions of the ancient views on some points, the effect of which would have been more beneficial than the indefiniteness in which they are now left, and it may be doubted so far, whether Confucius was not unfaithful to his guides. But that he suppressed or added, in order to bring in articles of belief originating with himself, is a thing not to be charged against him.
I will mention two important subjects in regard to which there is a growing conviction in my mind that he came short of the faith of the older sages. The first is the doctrine of God. This name is common in the She-king, and Shoo-king. Te or Shung Te appears there as a personal being, ruling in heaven and on earth, the author of man’s moral nature, the governor among the nations, by whom kings reign and princes decree justice, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the bad. Confucius preferred to speak of Heaven. Instances have already been given of this. Two others may be cited:—“He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.”2 “Alas!” said he, “there is no one that knows me.” Tsze-kung said, “What do you mean by thus saying that no one knows you?” He replied, “I do not murmur against Heaven. I do not grumble against men. My studies lie low, and my penetration rises high. But there is Heaven;—that knows me!”3 Not once throughout the Analects does he use the personal name. I would say that he was unreligious rather than irreligious; yet by the coldness of his temperament and intellect in this matter, his influence is unfavourable to the development of true religious feeling among the Chinese people generally, and he prepared the way for the speculations of the literati of mediæval and modern times, which have exposed them to the charge of atheism.
Secondly, Along with the worship of God there existed in China, from the earliest historical times, the worship of other spiritual beings,—especially, and to every individual, the worship of departed ancestors. Confucius recognized this as an institution to be devoutly observed. “He sacrificed to the dead as if they were present; he sacrificed to the spirits as if the spirits were present. He said, ‘I consider my not being present at the sacrifice as if I did not sacrifice.’ ”1 The custom must have originated from a belief of the continued existence of the dead. We cannot suppose that they who instituted it thought that with the cessation of this life on earth there was a cessation also of all conscious being. But Confucius never spoke explicitly on this subject. He tried to evade it. “Ke Loo asked about serving the spirits of the dead, and the master said, ‘While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?’ The disciple added, ‘I venture to ask about death,’ and he was answered, ‘While you do not know life, how can you know about death.’ ”2 Still more striking is a conversation with another disciple, recorded in the “Family Sayings.” Tsze-kung asked him, “Do the dead have knowledge (of our services, that is), or are they without knowledge?” The master replied, “If I were to say that the dead have such knowledge, I am afraid that filial sons and dutiful grandsons would injure their substance in paying the last offices to the departed; and if I were to say that the dead have not such knowledge, I am afraid lest unfilial sons should leave their parents unburied. You need not wish, Ts‘ze, to know whether the dead have knowledge or not. There is no present urgency about the point. Hereafter you will know it for yourself.” Surely this was not the teaching proper to a sage. He said on one occasion that he had no concealments from his disciples.3 Why did he not candidly tell his real thoughts on so interesting a subject? I incline to think that he doubted more than he believed. If the case were not so, it would be difficult to account for the answer which he returned to a question as to what constituted wisdom. “To give one’s-self earnestly,” said he, “to the duties due to men, and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.”1 At any rate, as by his frequent references to Heaven, instead of following the phraseology of the older sages, he gave occasion to many of his professed followers to identify God with a principle of reason and the course of nature; so, in the point now in hand, he has led them to deny, like the Sadducees of old, the existence of any spirit at all, and to tell us that their sacrifices to the dead are but an outward form, the mode of expression which the principle of filial piety requires them to adopt, when its objects have departed this life.
It will not be supposed that I wish to advocate or defend the practice of sacrificing to the dead. My object has been to point out how Confucius recognized it, without acknowledging the faith from which it must have originated, and how he enforced it as a matter of form or ceremony. It thus connects itself with the most serious charge that can be brought against him,—the charge of insincerity. Among the four things which it is said he taught, “truthfulness” is specified,2 and many sayings might be quoted from him, in which “sincerity” is celebrated as highly and demanded as stringently as ever it has been by any Christian moralist; yet he was not altogether the truthful and true man to whom we accord our highest approbation. There was the case of M?ng Chefan, who boldly brought up the rear of the defeated troops of Loo, and attributed his occupying the place of honour to the backwardness of his horse. The action was gallant, but the apology for it was weak and wrong. And yet Confucius saw nothing in the whole but matter for praise.3 He could excuse himself from seeing an unwelcome visitor on the ground that he was sick, when there was nothing the matter with him.4 These perhaps were small matters, but what shall we say to the incident which I have given in the sketch of his Life,—his deliberately breaking the oath which he had sworn, simply on the ground that it had been forced from him? I should be glad if I could find evidence on which to deny the truth of that occurrence. But it rests on the same authority as most other statements about him, and it is accepted as a fact by the people and scholars of China. It must have had, and it must still have, a very injurious influence upon them. Foreigners charge, and with reason, a habit of deceitfulness upon the nation and its government. For every word of falsehood and every act of insincerity the guilty party must bear his own burden, but we cannot but regret the example of Confucius in this particular. It is with the Chinese and their sage, as it was with the Jews of old and their teachers. He that leads them has caused them to err, and destroyed the way of their paths.1
But was not insincerity a natural result of the unreligion of Confucius? There are certain virtues which demand a true piety in order to their flourishing in the corrupt heart of man. Natural affection, the feeling of loyalty, and enlightened policy, may do much to build up and preserve a family and a State, but it requires more to maintain the love of truth, and make a lie, spoken or acted, to be shrunk from with shame. It requires in fact the living recognition of a God of truth, and all the sanctions of revealed religion. Unfortunately the Chinese have not had these, and the example of him to whom they bow down as the best and wisest of men, encourages them to act, to dissemble, to sin.
7. I go on to a brief discussion of Confucius’ views on government, or what we may call his principles of political science.
This readiness to be governed arose, according to Confucius, from the duties of universal obligation, or those between sovereign and minister, between father and son, between husband and wife, between elder brother and younger, and those belonging to the intercourse of friends.”3 Men as they are born into the world, and grow up in it, find themselves existing in those relations. They are the appointment of Heaven. And each relation has its reciprocal obligations, the recognition of which is proper to the Heaven-conferred nature. It only needs that the sacredness of the relations be maintained, and the duties belonging to them faithfully discharged, and the “happy tranquillity” will prevail all under heaven. As to the institutions of government, the laws and arrangements by which, as through a thousand channels, it should go forth to carry plenty and prosperity through the length and breadth of the country, it did not belong to Confucius, “the throneless king,” to set them forth minutely. And indeed they were existing in the records of “the ancient sovereigns.” Nothing new was needed. It was only requisite to pursue the old paths, and raise up the old standards. “The government of W?n and Woo,” he said, “is displayed in the records,—the tablets of wood and bamboo. Let there be the men, and the government will flourish, but without the men, the government decays and ceases.”1 To the same effect was the reply which he gave to Yen Hwuy when asked by him how the government of a State should be administered. It seems very wide of the mark, until we read it in the light of the sage’s veneration for ancient ordinances, and his opinion of their sufficiency. “Follow,” he said, “the seasons of Hea. Ride in the state-carriages of Yin. Wear the ceremonial cap of Chow. Let the music be the Shaou with its pantomimes. Banish the songs of Ch‘ing, and keep far from specious talkers.”2
Confucius’ idea then of a happy, well-governed State did not go beyond the flourishing of the five relations of society which have been mentioned; and we have not any condensed exhibition from him of their nature, or of the duties belonging to the several parties in them. Of the two first he spoke frequently, but all that he has said on the others would go into small compass. Mencius has said that “between father and son, there should be affection; between sovereign and minister, righteousness; between husband and wife, attention to their separate functions; between old and young, a proper order; and between friends, fidelity.”3 Confucius, I apprehend, would hardly have accepted this account. It does not bring out sufficiently the authority which he claimed for the father and the sovereign, and the obedience which he exacted from the child and the minister. With regard to the relation of husband and wife, he was in no respect superior to the preceding sages who had enunciated their views of “propriety” on the subject. We have a somewhat detailed exposition of his opinions in the “Family Sayings.”—“Mau,” said he, “is the representative of Heaven, and is supreme over all things. Woman yields obedience to the instructions of man, and helps to carry out his principles. On this account she can determine nothing of herself, and is subject to the rule of the three obediences. When young, she must obey her father and elder brother; when married, she must obey her husband; when her husband is dead, she must obey her son. She may not think of marrying a second time. No instructions or orders must issue from the harem. Woman’s business is simply the preparation and supplying of wine and food. Beyond the threshold of her apartments she should not be known for evil or for good. She may not cross the boundaries of the State to accompany a funeral. She may take no step on her own motion, and may come to no conclusion on her own deliberation. There are five women who are not to be taken in marriage:—the daughter of a rebellious house; the daughter of a disorderly house; the daughter of a house which has produced criminals for more than one generation; the daughter of a leprous house; and the daughter who has lost her father and elder brother. A wife may be divorced for seven reasons, which may be overruled by three considerations. The grounds for divorce are disobedience to her husband’s parents; not giving birth to a son; dissolute conduct; jealousy (of her husband’s attentions, that is, to the other inmates of his harem); talkativeness; and thieving. The three considerations which may overrule these grounds are—first, if, while she was taken from a home, she has now no home to return to; second, if she have passed with her husband through the three years’ mourning for his parents; third, if the husband have become rich from being poor. All these regulations were adopted by the sages in harmony with the natures of man and woman, and to give importance to the ordinance of marriage.”
With these ideas—not very enlarged—of the relations of society, Confucius dwelt much on the necessity of personal correctness of character on the part of those in authority, in order to secure the right fulfilment of the duties implied in them. This is one grand peculiarity of his teaching. I have adverted to it in the review of “The Great Learning,” but it deserves some further exhibition, and there are three conversations with the chief Ke K‘ang, in which it is very expressly set forth. “Ke K‘ang asked about government, and Confucius replied, ‘To govern means to rectify. If you lead on the people with correctness, who will dare not to be correct?’ ” “Ke K‘ang, distressed about the number of thieves in the State, inquired of Confucius about how to do away with them. Confucius said, ‘If you, sir, were not covetous, though you should reward them to do it, they would not steal.’ ” “Ke K‘ang asked about government, saying, ‘What do you say to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?’ Confucius replied, ‘Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it.’ ”1
Example is not so powerful as Confucius in these and many other passages represented it, but its influence is very great. Its virtue is recognized in the family, and it is demanded in the Church of Christ. “A bishop”—and I quote the term with the simple meaning of overseer—“must be blameless.” It seems to me, however, that in the progress of society in the West we have come to think less of the power of example in many departments of State than we ought to do. It is thought of too little in the army and the navy. We laugh at the “self-denying ordinance” and the “new model” of 1644, but there lay beneath them the principle which Confucius so broadly propounded,—the importance of personal virtue in all who are in authority. Now that Great Britain is the governing power over the masses of India, and that we are coming more and more into contact with tens of thousands of the Chinese, this maxim of our sage is deserving of serious consideration from all who bear rule, and especially from those on whom devolves the conduct of affairs. His words on the susceptibility of the people to be acted on by those above them, ought not to prove as water spilt on the ground.
But to return to Confucius.—As he thus lays it down that the mainspring of the well-being of society is the personal character of the ruler, we look anxiously for what directions he has given for the cultivation of that. But here he is very defective. “Self-adjustment and purification,” he said, “with careful regulation of his dress, and the not making a movement contrary to the rules of propriety;—this is the way for the ruler to cultivate his person.”1 This is laying too much stress on what is external; but even to attain to this is beyond unassisted human strength. Confucius, however, never recognized a disturbance of the moral elements in the constitution of man. The people would move, according to him, to the virtue of their ruler as the grass bends to the wind, and that virtue would come to the ruler at his call. Many were the lamentations which he uttered over the degeneracy of his times; frequent were the confessions which he made of his own shortcomings. It seems strange that it never came distinctly before him, that there is a power of evil in the prince and the peasant, which no efforts of their own and no instructions of sages are effectual to subdue.
The government which Confucius taught was a despotism, but of a modified character. He allowed no “jus divinum,” independent of personal virtue and a benevolent rule. He has not explicitly stated, indeed, wherein lies the ground of the great relation of the governor and the governed, but his views on the subject were, we may assume, in accordance with the language of the Shoo-king:—“Heaven and Earth are the parents of all things, and of all things men are the most intelligent. The man among them most distinguished for intelligence becomes chief ruler, and ought to prove himself the parent of the people.”2 And again, “Heaven, protecting the inferior people, has constituted for them rulers and teachers, who should be able to be assisting to God, extending favour and producing tranquillity throughout all parts of the empire.” The moment the ruler ceases to be a minister of God for good, and does not administer a government that is beneficial to the people, he forfeits the title by which he holds the throne, and perseverance in oppression will surely lead to his overthrow. Mencius inculcated this principle with a frequency and boldness which are remarkable. It was one of the things about which Confucius did not like to talk. Still he held it. It is conspicuous in the last chapter of “The Great Learning.” Its tendency has been to check the violence of oppression, and to maintain the self-respect of the people, all along the course of Chinese history.
I must bring these observations on Confucius’ views of government to a close, and I do so with two remarks. First, they are adapted to a primitive, unsophisticated state of society. He is a good counsellor for the father of a family, the chief of a clan, and even the head of a small principality. But his views want the comprehension which would make them of much service in a great empire. Within three centuries after his death, the government of China passed into a new phase. The founder of the Ts‘in dynasty conceived the grand idea of abolishing all its feudal Kingdoms, and centralizing their administration in himself. He effected the revolution, and succeeding dynasties adopted his system, and gradually moulded it into the forms and proportions which are now existing. There has been a tendency to advance, and Confucius has all along been trying to carry the nation back. Principles have been needed, and not “proprieties.” The consequence is that China has increased beyond its ancient dimensions, while there has been no corresponding development of thought. Its body politic has the size of a giant, while it still retains the mind of a child. Its hoary age is but senility.
Second, Confucius makes no provision for the intercourse of his country with other and independent nations. He knew indeed of none such. China was to him “The middle Kingdom,” “The multitude of Great States,” “All under heaven.” Beyond it were only rude and barbarous tribes. He does not speak of them bitterly, as many Chinese have done since his time. In one place he contrasts them favourably with the prevailing anarchy of the empire, saying, “The rude tribes of the east and north have their princes, and are not like the States of our great land which are without them.”1 Another time, disgusted with the want of appreciation which he experienced, he was expressing his intention to go and live among the nine wild tribes of the east. Some one said, “They are rude. How can you do such a thing?” His reply was, “If a superior man dwelt among them, what rudeness would there be?”2 But had he been an emperor-sage, he would not only have influenced them by his instructions, but brought them to acknowledge and submit to his sway, as the great Yu did. The only passage of Confucius’ teachings from which any rule can be gathered for dealing with foreigners, is that in the “Doctrine of the Mean,” where “indulgent treatment of men from a distance” is laid down as one of the nine standard rules for the government of the empire. But “the men from a distance” are understood to be pin and leu simply,—“guests,” that is, or officers of one State seeking employment in another, or at the imperial court; and “visitors,” or travelling merchants. Of independent nations the ancient classics have not any knowledge, nor has Confucius. So long as merchants from Europe and other parts of the world could have been content to appear in China as suppliants, seeking the privilege of trade, so long the government would have ranked them with the barbarous hordes of antiquity, and given them the benefit of the maxim about “indulgent treatment,” according to its own understanding of it. But when their governments interfered, and claimed to treat with that of China on terms of equality, and that their subjects should be spoken to and of as being of the same clay with the Chinese themselves, an outrage was committed on tradition and prejudice, which it was necessary to resent with vehemence.
I do not charge the contemptuous arrogance of the Chinese government and people upon Confucius; what I deplore is, that he left no principles on record to check the development of such a spirit. His simple views of society and government were in a measure sufficient for the people, while they dwelt apart from the rest of mankind. His practical lessons were better than if they had been left, which but for him they probably would have been, to fall a prey to the influences of Taouism and Buddhism; but they could only subsist while they were left alone. Of the earth earthy, China was sure to go to pieces when it came into collision with a Christianly-civilized power. Its sage had left it no preservative or restorative elements against such a case.
It is a rude awakening from its complacency of centuries which China has now received. Its ancient landmarks are swept away. Opinions will differ as to the justice or injustice of the grounds on which it has been assailed, and I do not feel called to judge or to pronounce here concerning them. In the progress of events, it could not be but that the collision should come; and when it did come, it could not be but that China should be broken and scattered. Disorganization will go on to destroy it more and more, and yet there is hope for the people, with their veneration of the relations of society, with their devotion to learning, and with their habits of industry and sobriety;—there is hope for them, if they will look away from all their ancient sages, and turn to Him, who sends them, along with the dissolution of their ancient state, the knowledge of Himself, the only living and true God, and of Jesus Christ whom He hath sent.
8. I have little more to add on the opinions of Confucius. Many of his sayings are pithy, and display much knowledge of character; but as they are contained in the body of the Work, I will not occupy the space here with a selection of those which have struck myself as most worthy of notice. The fourth Book of the Analects, which is on the subject of jin, or perfect virtue, has several utterances which are remarkable.
Thornton observes:—“It may excite surprise, and probably incredulity, to state that the golden rule of our Saviour, ‘Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you,’ which Mr Locke designates as ‘the most unshaken rule of morality, and foundation of all social virtue,’ had been inculcated by Confucius, almost in the same words, four centuries before.”1 I have taken notice of this fact in reviewing both “The Great Learning,” and “The Doctrine of the Mean,” and would be far from grudging a tribute of admiration to Confucius for it. The maxim occurs also twice in the Analects. In Book XV. xxiii., Tsze-kung asks if there be one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life, and is answered, “Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself do not do to others.” The same disciple appears in Book V. xi., telling Confucius that he was practising the lesson. He says, “What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men;” but the master tells him, “Ts‘ze, you have not attained to that.” It would appear from this reply, that he was aware of the difficulty of obeying the precept; and it is not found, in its condensed expression at least, in the older classics. The merit of it is Confucius’ own.
When a comparison, however, is drawn between it and the rule laid down by Christ, it is proper to call attention to the positive form of the latter,—“All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them.” The lesson of the gospel commands men to do what they feel to be right and good. It requires them to commence a course of such conduct, without regard to the conduct of others to themselves. The lesson of Confucius only forbids men to do what they feel to be wrong and hurtful. So far as the point of priority is concerned, moreover, Christ adds, “This is the law and the prophets.” The maxim was to be found substantially in the earlier revelations of God.
But the worth of the two maxims depends on the intention of the enunciators in regard to their application. Confucius, it seems to me, did not think of the reciprocity coming into action beyond the circle of his five relations of society. Possibly, he might have required its observance in dealings even with the rude tribes, which were the only specimens of mankind besides his own countrymen of which he knew anything, for on one occasion, when asked about perfect virtue, he replied, “It is, in retirement, to be sedately grave; in the management of business, to be reverently attentive; in intercourse with others, to be strictly sincere. Though a man go among the rude uncultivated tribes, these qualities may not be neglected.”1 Still, Confucius delivered his rule to his countrymen only, and only for their guidance in their relations of which I have had so much occasion to speak. The rule of Christ is for man as man, having to do with other men, all with himself on the same platform, as the children and subjects of the one God and Father in heaven.
How far short Confucius came of the standard of Christian benevolence, may be seen from his remarks when asked what was to be thought of the principle that injury should be recompensed with kindness. He replied, “With what then will you recompense kindness? Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.”1 The same deliverance is given in one of the Books of the Le Ke, where he adds that “He who recompenses injury with kindness is a man who is careful of his person.” Ch‘ing Heuen, the commentator of the second century, says that such a course would be “incorrect in point of propriety.” This “propriety” was a great stumbling-block in the way of Confucius. His morality was the result of the balancings of his intellect, fettered by the decisions of men of old, and not the gushings of a loving heart, responsive to the promptings of Heaven, and in sympathy with erring and feeble humanity.
This subject leads me on to the last of the opinions of Confucius which I shall make the subject of remark in this place. A commentator observes, with reference to the inquiry about recompensing injury with kindness, that the questioner was asking only about trivial matters, which might be dealt with in the way he mentioned, while great offences, such as those against a sovereign or a father, could not be dealt with by such an inversion of the principles of justice. In the second Book of the Le Ke there is the following passage:—“With the slayer of his father, a man may not live under the same heaven; against the slayer of his brother, a man must never have to go home to fetch a weapon; with the slayer of his friend, a man may not live in the same State.” The lex talionis is here laid down in its fullest extent. The Chow Le tells us of a provision made against the evil consequences of the principle, by the appointment of a minister called “The Reconciler.” The provision is very inferior to the cities of refuge which were set apart by Moses for the manslayer to flee to from the fury of the avenger. Such as it was, however, it existed, and it is remarkable that Confucius, when consulted on the subject, took no notice of it, but affirmed the duty of blood-revenge in the strongest and most unrestricted terms. His disciple Tsze-hea asked him, “What course is to be pursued in the case of the murder of a father or mother?” He replied, “The son must sleep upon a matting of grass, with his shield for his pillow; he must decline to take office; he must not live under the same heaven with the slayer. When he meets him in the market-place or the court, he must have his weapon ready to strike him.” “And what is the course on the murder of a brother?” “The surviving brother must not take office in the same State with the slayer; yet if he go on his prince’s service to the State where the slayer is, though he meet him, he must not fight with him.” “And what is the course on the murder of an uncle or a cousin?” “In this case the nephew or cousin is not the principal. If the principal on whom the revenge devolves can take it, he has only to stand behind with his weapon in his hand, and support him.”
Sir John Davis has rightly called attention to this as one of the objectionable principles of Confucius.1 The bad effects of it are evident even in the present day. Revenge is sweet to the Chinese. I have spoken of their readiness to submit to government, and wish to live in peace, yet they do not like to resign even to government the “inquisition for blood.” Where the ruling authority is feeble, as it is at present, individuals and clans take the law into their own hands, and whole districts are kept in a state of constant feud and warfare.
But I must now leave the sage. I hope I have not done him injustice; but after long study of his character and opinions, I am unable to regard him as a great man. He was not before his age, though he was above the mass of the officers and scholars of his time. He threw no new light on any of the questions which have a world-wide interest. He gave no impulse to religion. He had no sympathy with progress. His influence has been wonderful, but it will henceforth wane. My opinion is, that the faith of the nation in him will speedily and extensively pass away.
[1 ] See Mémoires eoncernant les Chinois, Tome XII. p. 447, et seq. Father Amiot states, p. 501, that he had seen the representative of the family, who succeeded to the dignity of the “Duke, Continuator of the Sage’s line,” in the 9th year of K‘een-lung, ad 1744. It is hardly necessary that I should say here, that the name Confucius is merely the Chinese characters, K‘ung Foo-tsze, “The master, K‘ung,” latinized.
[1 ] See, on the length of the ancient foot, Ana. VIII. vi., but the point needs a more sifting investigation than it has yet received.
[1 ] The legends say that Ching-tsae, fearing lest she should not have a son, in consequence of her husband’s age, privately ascended the Ne-k‘ew hill to pray for the boon, and that when she had obtained it, she commemorated the fact in the names—K‘ew and Chung-ne. But the cripple, M?ng-p‘e, had previously been styled Pih-ne. There was some reason, previous to Confucius’ birth, for using the term ne in the family. As might be expected, the birth of the sage is surrounded with many prodigious occurrences. One account is, that the husband and wife prayed together for a son in a dell of mount Ne. As Ching-tsae went up the hill, the leaves of the trees and plants all erected themselves, and bent downwards on her return. That night she dreamt the Black Te appeared, and said to her, “You shall have a son, a sage, and you must bring him forth in a hollow mulberry tree.” One day during her pregnancy, she fell into a dreamy state, and saw five old men in the hall, who called themselves the essences of the five planets, and led an animal which looked like a small cow with one horn, and was covered with scales like a dragon. This creature knelt before Ching-tsae, and cast forth from its mouth a slip of gem, on which was the inscription,—“The son of the essence of water shall succeed to the withering Chow, and be a throneless king.” Ching-tsae tied a piece of embroidered ribbon about its horn, and the vision disappeared. When Heih was told of it, he said, “The creature must be the K‘e-lin.” As her time drew near, Ching-tsae asked her husband if there was any place in the neighbourhood called “The hollow mulberry tree.” He told her there was a dry cave in the south hill, which went by that name. Then she said, “I will go and be confined there.” Her husband was surprised, but when made acquainted with her former dream, he made the necessary arrangements. On the night when the child was born, two dragons came and kept watch on the left and right of the hill, and two spirit-ladies appeared in the air, pouring out fragrant odours, as if to bathe Ching-tsae; and as soon as the birth took place, a spring of clear warm water bubbled up from the floor of the cave, which dried up again when the child had been washed in it. The child was of an extraordinary appearance, with a mouth like the sea, ox lips, a dragon’s back, &c., &c. On the top of his head was a remarkable formation, in consequence of which he was named K‘ew, &c. Sze-ma Ts‘een seems to make Confucius to have been illegitimate, saying that Heih and Miss Yen cohabited in the wilderness. Keang Yung says that the phrase has reference simply to the disparity of their ages.
[2 ] Sze-ma Ts‘een says that Confucius was born in the 22nd year of Duke Seang, bc 550. He is followed by Choo He in the short sketch of Confucius’ life prefixed to the Lun Yu, and by “The Annals of the Empire,” published with imperial sanction in the reign Kea-k‘ing. (To this work I have generally referred for my dates.) The year assigned in the text above rests on the authority of Kuh-Jeang and Kung-yang, the two commentators on the Ch‘un Ts‘ew. With regard to the month, however, the 10th is that assigned by Kuh-leang, while Kung-yang names the 11th.
[1 ] Ana. II. iv.
[2 ] Ana. IX. vi.
[1 ] Mencius, V. Pt. II. v. 4.
[2 ] Ana. VII. vii.
[3 ] Ana. VII. viii.
[1 ] Le Ke, II. Pt. I. i. 10; Pt. II. iii. 30; Pt. I. i. 6. See also the discussion of those passages in Keang Yung’s “Life of Confucius.”
[2 ] Le Ke, II. Pt. I. i. 22.
[1 ] See the Ch‘un Ts‘ew, under the 7th year of Duke Ch‘aou.
[2 ] This rests on the respectable authority of Tso-k‘ew Ming’s annotations on the Ch‘un Ts‘ew, but I must consider it apocryphal. The legend-writers have fashioned a journey to T‘an. The slightest historical intimation becomes a text with them, on which they enlarge to the glory of the sage. Amiot has reproduced and expanded their romancings, and others, such as Pauthier (Chine, pp. 121—183) and Thornton (History of China, vol. i. pp. 151—215) have followed in his wake.
[3 ] Ana. II. iv.
[4 ] The journey to Chow is placed by Sze-ma Ts‘een before Confucius’ holding of his first official employments, and Choo He and most other writers follow him. It is a great error, and has arisen from a misunderstanding of the passages from Tso-K‘ew Ming upon the subject.
[1 ] Ana. II. v.
[1 ] See Analects, III. i. ii. et al.
[2 ] Ana. XVI. xii.
[1 ] I have translated, however, from the Le Ke, II. Pt. II. iii. 10, where the same incident is given, with some variations, and without saying when or where it occurred.
[2 ] Ana VII. xiii.
[3 ] Some of these are related in the Family Sayings;—about the burning of the ancestral shrine of the Emperor Le, and a one-footed bird which appeared hopping and flapping its wings in Ts‘e. They are plainly fabulous, though quoted in proof of Confucius’ sage wisdom. This reference to them is more than enough.
[1 ] Ana. XII. xi.
[2 ] Ana. XIII. iii.
[3 ] See in Sze-ma’s History of Confucius.
[1 ] Ana. XVIII. iii.
[2 ] Sze-ma Ts‘een makes the first observation to have been addressed directly to Confucius.
[3 ] According to the above account Confucius was only once, and for a portion of two years, in Ts‘e. For the retutation of contrary accounts, see Keang Yung’s Life of the sage.
[1 ] Ana. XVI. xiii.
[1 ] See the Le Ke, II. Pt. I. i. 27.
[2 ] Ana. XI. ix.
[3 ] Amiot says this was “la ville meme ou le Souverain tenoit sa Cour” (Vie de Confucius, p. 147). He is followed of course by Thornton and Pauthier. My reading has not shown me that such was the case. In the notes to K‘ang-he’s edition of the “Five King,” Le Ke, II. Pt. I. iii. 4, it is simply said—“Chung-too,—the name of a town of Loo. It afterwards belonged to Ts‘e, when it was called P‘ing-luh.”
[1 ] Ana. XVII. v.
[2 ] This office, however, was held by the chief of the M?ng family. We must understand that Confucius was only an assistant to him, or perhaps acted for him.
[1 ] This meeting at Ke?-kuh is related in Sze-ma Ts‘een, the Family Sayings, and Kuh-leang, with many exaggerations.
[1 ] In connection with these events, the Family Sayings and Sze-ma Ts‘een mention the summary punishment inflicted by Confucius on an able but unscrupulous and insidious officer, the Shaou-ching, Maou. His judgment and death occupy a conspicuous place in the legendary accounts. But the Analects, Tsze-sze, Mencius, and Tso-k‘ew Ming are all silent about it, and Keang Yung rightly rejects it, as one of the many narratives invented to exalt the sage.
[1 ] See Keang Yung’s Life of Confucius.
[1 ] Ana. III. xxiv.
[2 ] See Mencius, V. Pt. I. viii. 2.
[3 ] Ana. IX. v. In Ana. XI. xxii. there is another reference to this time, in which Yen Hwuy is made to appear.
[1 ] See the Le Ke. II. Pt. I. ii. 16.
[2 ] Ana. XIV. xxvi.; XV. vi.
[3 ] Ana. VI. xxvi.
[4 ] Ana. IX. xvii.
[1 ] Ana. IX. xxii.
[2 ] See Mencius, V. Pt. I. viii. 3.
[3 ] Keang Yung digests in this place two foolish stories,—about a large bone found in the State of Yu?, and a bird which appeared in Ch‘in and died, shot through with a remarkable arrow. Confucius knew all about them.
[4 ] This is related by Sze-ma Ts‘een, and also in the Family Sayings. I would fain believe it is not true. The wonder is, that no Chinese critic should have set about disproving it.
[1 ] Ana. XII. x.
[2 ] Ana. XVII. vii.
[1 ] Ana. V. xxi.
[2 ] Ana. XV. i. 2, 3.
[3 ] Ana XI. ii.
[4 ] Ana. VII. xviii.
[5 ] Ana. XIII. xvi.
[1 ] Ana. XVIII. vi.
[2 ] Ana. XVII. v.
[1 ] Ana. XIII. iii. In the notes on this passage, I have given Choo He’s opinion as to the time when Ts‘ze-loo made this remark. It seems more correct, however, to refer it to Confucius’ return to Wei from Ts‘oo, as is done by Keang Yung.
[1 ] Ana. XI. viii. In the notes on Ana. XI. vii., I have adverted to the chronological difficulty connected with the dates assigned respectively to the deaths of Yen Hwuy and Confucius’ own son, Le. Keang Yung assigns Hwuy’s death to bc 481.
[1 ] Ana. II. iv. 6.
[2 ] Ana. IX. xiv.
[3 ] Ana. VII. xvi.
[4 ] Ana. XI. xvi.
[1 ] Mencius, III. Pt. II. ix. 8.
[2 ] Mencius, III. Pt. II. ix. 11.
[1 ] Analects, XIV. xxii.
[2 ] Ana. XI. xii.
[1 ] See the Le Ke, II. Pt. I. ii. 20.
[1 ] Chinese and English Dictionary, char. Kung. Sir John Davis also mentions seeing a figure of Confucius, in a temple near the Po-yang Lake, of which the complexion was “quite black.” (“The Chinese,” vol. II. p. 66.)
[1 ] Le Ke, II. Pt. I. iii. 43. This eulogy is found at greater length in Tso-K‘ew Ming, immediately after the notice of the sage’s death.
[1 ] Ana. XIII. 30.
[1 ] Mencius, III. Pt. I. iii. 10.
[2 ] During the present dynasty, the tablet of the god of literature has to a considerable extent displaced that of Confucius in schools. Yet the worship of him does not clash with that of the other. He is “the father” of composition only.
[1 ] “The Chinese,” vol. II. p. 45.
[2 ] All these passages are taken from the VIIth Book of the Analects. See ch. xxxiii.; xxxii.; iii.; xix.; and i.
[1 ] Ana. IX. i.
[2 ] Ana. IX. iii.
[1 ] Ana. IX. x.
[2 ] Ana. XIX. xxiii.
[3 ] Ana. XIX. xxiv.
[1 ] Ana. XIX. xxv.
[1 ] Mencius, II. Pt. I. ii. 23—28.
[2 ] The contents of the Yih-king, and Confucius’ labours upon it, may be objected in opposition to this statement, and I must be understood to make it with some reservation. Six years ago, I spent all my leisure time for twelve months in the study of that Work, and wrote out a translation of it, but at the close I was only groping my way in darkness to lay hold of its scope and meaning, and up to this time I have not been able to master it so as to speak positively about it. It will come in due time, in its place, in the present publication, and I do not think that what I here say of Confucius will require much, if any, modification.
[3 ] Ana. VII. xvii.; xxiv.; xx.
[1 ] See Hardwick’s “Christ and other Masters,” Part III. pp. 18, 19, with his reference in a note to a passage from Meadows’ “The Chinese and their Rebellions.”
[2 ] Ana. III. xiii.
[3 ] Ana. XIV. xxxvii.
[1 ] Ana. III. xii.
[2 ] Ana. XI. xi.
[3 ] Ana. VII. xxiii.
[1 ] Ana. VI. xx.
[2 ] See above, near the beginning of this paragraph.
[3 ] Ana. VI. xiii.
[4 ] Ana. XVII. xx.
[1 ] Isaiah iii. 12.
[2 ] Ana. III. xi., et al.
[1 ] Doctrine of the Mean, xx. 3.
[2 ] Mencius, I. Pt. I. vi. 6.
[3 ] Doctrine of the Mean, xx. 8.
[1 ] Doctrine of the Mean, xx. 2.
[2 ] Ana. XV. x.
[3 ] Mencius, III. Pt. I. iv. 8.
[1 ] Analects, XII. xvii.; xviii.; xix.
[1 ] Doctrine of the Mean, xx. 14.
[2 ] See the Shoo-king, V. i. Sect. I. 2, 7.
[1 ] Ana. III. v.
[2 ] Ana. IX. xiii.
[1 ] History of China, vol. i. p. 209.
[1 ] Analects, XIII. xix.
[1 ] Ana. XXV. xxxvi.
[1 ] The Chinese, vol. II. p. 41.
- 18th Century British Moral Philosophy
- Cicero on Friendship
- Cicero on Moral Duties
- Cicero on Old Age
- Confucius: Influence and Doctrines
- Descartes: LIfe & Works
- Emerson on Montaigne
- Epictetus' Philosophy
- Fordyce’s Moral Philosophy
- Herbert Spencer, Principles of Ethics (1887)
- Hobbes' Philosophy
- Hodgskin on the Natural Right to Property (1832)
- Home on Criticism
- Hospers and the Socratic Spirit
- Hume the Pihlosopher
- Hume’s Essays
- Hutcheson and the Passions
- Hutcheson on Liberty and Happiness
- Hutcheson on Logic, Metaphysics & Sociability
- Hutcheson’s Annotated Table of Contents to Philosophiae Moralis
- Hutcheson’s Moral Philosophy
- Kant and Education
- Kant’s Critique of Judgement
- Kant’s Philosophy
- Kant’s Position as a Philosopher
- Maimonides & the Perplexed
- Mencius: Opinions and Influence
- Paley’s Moral Philosophy
- Passmore on the Perfectibility of Man
- Plotinus: A Conspectus of his Philosophy
- Pufendorf on the Duty of Man
- Rhazes’s Spiritual Physic
- Scottish School of Common Sense
- Shaftesbury’s Aesthetics & Moral Philosophy
- Turnbull and Liberal Education
- Upanishads and Philosophy