Mencius: Opinions and Influence
Source: Mencius, The Chinese Classics: Translated into English with Preliminary Essays and Explanatory Notes by James Legge. Vol. 2 The Life and Teachings of Mencius. (London: N. Trübner, 1875). Chapter: SECTION II.: HIS INFLUENCE AND OPINIONS.
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HIS INFLUENCE AND OPINIONS.
1.Confucius had hardly passed off the stage of life before his merits began to be acknowledged. The duke Gae, who had neglected his counsels when he was alive, was the first to pronounce his eulogy, and to order that public sacrifices should be offered to him. His disciples proclaimed their estimation of him as superior to all the sages whom China had ever seen. Before long this view of him took possession of the whole nation; and since the Han dynasty, he has been the man whom sovereign and people have delighted to honour.
The memory of Mencius was not so distinguished. We have seen that many centuries elapsed before his Writings were received among the classics of the empire.
The emperor Shin-tsung,1 in ad 1083, issued a patent, constituting Mencius “duke of the State of Tsow,” and ordering a temple to be built to him in the district of Tsow, at the spot where the philosopher had been interred. In the following year it was enacted that he should have a place in the temple of Confucius, next to that of Yen Yuen, the favourite disciple of the sage.
In ad 1330, the emperor W?n,2 of the Yuen dynasty, made an addition to Mencius’ title, and styled him “duke of the State of Tsow, Inferior Sage.” This continued till the rise of the Ming dynasty, the founder of which had his indignation excited in 1372 by one of Mencius’ conversations with king Seuen. The philosopher had said:—“When the ruler regards his ministers as his hands and feet, the ministers regard their ruler as their belly and heart; when he regards them as his dogs and horses, they regard him as any other man; when he regards them as the ground or as grass, they regard him as a robber and an enemy.”3 To apply such names as robber and enemy in any case to rulers seemed to the imperial reader an unpardonable outrage, and he ordered Mencius to be degraded from his place in the temples of Confucius, declaring also that if any one remonstrated on the proceeding he should be dealt with as guilty of “Contempt of Majesty.”
The scholars of China have never been slow to vindicate the memory of its sages and worthies. Undeterred by the imperial threat, Ts‘ëen T‘ang, a president of the Board of Punishments, presented himself with a remonstrance, saying—“I will die for Mencius, and my death will be crowned with glory.” The emperor was moved by his earnestness, and allowed him to go scathless. In the following year, moreover, examination and reflection produced a change of mind. He issued a second proclamation to the effect that Mencius, by exposing heretical doctrines and overthrowing perverse speakings, had set forth clearly the principles of Confucius, and ought to be restored to his place as one of his assessors.1
In 1530, the ninth year of the period Kea-tsing, a general revision was made of the sacrificial canon for the sage’s temple, and the title of Mencius was changed into—“The philosopher M?ng, Inferior Sage.” So it continues to the present day. His place is the second on the west, next to that of the philosopher Ts?ng. Originally, we have seen, he followed Yen Hwuy, but Hwuy, Tsze-sze, Ts?ng, and M?ng were appointed the sage’s four assessors, and had their relative positions fixed, in 1267.
2. The second edict in the period Hung-woo, restoring Mencius to his place in the temples of Confucius, states fairly enough the services which he is held to have rendered to his country.
3. The place which Mencius occupies in the estimation of the literati of China may be seen by the following testimonies, selected from those appended by Choo He to the prefatory notice of his Life in the “Collected Comments.”
Han Yu4 says, “If we wish to study the doctrines of the sages, we must begin with Mencius.” He also quotes the opinion of Yang Tsze-yun,5 “Yang and Mih were stopping up the way [of truth], when Mencius refuted them, and scattered their delusions without difficulty;” and then remarks upon it:—“When Yang and Mih walked abroad, the true doctrine had nearly come to nought. Though Mencius possessed talents and virtue, even those of a sage, he did not occupy the throne. He could only speak and not act. With all his earnestness, what could he do? It is owing, however, to his words, that learners now-a-days still know to revere Confucius, to honour benevolence and righteousness, to esteem the true sovereign and despise the mere pretender. But the grand rules and laws of the sage and sage-emperors had been lost beyond the power of redemption; only one in a hundred of them was preserved. Can it be said in those circumstances that Mencius had an easy task? Yet had it not been for him, we should have been buttoning the lappets of our coats on the left side, and our discourse would have been all-confused and indistinct;—it is on this account that I have honoured Mencius, and consider his merit not inferior to that of Yu.”
One asked the philosopher Ch‘ing6 whether Mencius might be pronounced to be a sage. He replied, “I do not dare to say altogether that he was a sage, but his learning had reached the extremest point.” The same great scholar also said:—“The merit of Mencius in regard to the doctrine of the sages is more than can be told. Confucius only spoke of benevolence, but as soon as Mencius opens his mouth, we hear of benevolence and righteousness. Confucius only spoke of the will or mind, but Mencius enlarged also on the nourishment of the passion-nature. In these two respects his merit was great.” “Mencius did great service to the world by his teaching the goodness of man’s nature.” “Mencius had a certain amount of the heroical spirit, and to that there always belong some jutting corners, the effect of which is very injurious. Yen Yuen, all round and complete, was different from this. He was but a hair’s-breadth removed from a sage, while Mencius must be placed in a lower rank, a great worthy, an inferior sage.” Ch‘ing was asked where what he called the heroical spirit of Mencius could be seen. “We have only to compare his words with those of Confucius,” he said, “and we shall perceive it. It is like the comparison of ice or crystal with a precious stone. The ice is bright enough, but the precious stone, without so much brilliancy, has a softness and richness all its own.”1 The scholar Yang Kwei-shan2 says:—“The great object of Mencius in his writings is to rectify men’s hearts, teaching them to preserve their heart and nourish their nature, and to recover their lost heart. When he discourses of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and knowledge, he refers to the principles of these in the heart commiserating, feeling shame and dislike, affected with modesty and complaisance, approving and disapproving. When he speaks of the evils springing from perverted speakings, he says—‘Growing first in the mind, they prove injurious to government.’ When he shows how a prince should be served, he says—‘Correct what is wrong in his mind. Once rectify the prince, and the kingdom will be settled.’ With him the thousand changes and ten thousand operations of men all come from the mind or heart. If a man once rectify his heart, little else will remain for him to do. In ‘The Great Learning,’ the cultivation of the person, the regulation of the family, the government of the State, and the tranquillization of the empire, all have their root in the rectifying of the heart and the making the thoughts sincere. If the heart be rectified, we recognize at once the goodness of the nature. On this account, whenever Mencius came into contact with people, he testified that man’s nature is good. When Ow-yang Yung-shuh1 says, that, in the lessons of the sages, man’s nature does not occupy the first place, he is wrong. There is nothing to be put before this. Yaou and Shun are the models for ten thousand ages simply because they followed their nature. And to follow our nature is just to accord with Heavenly principle. To use plans and arts, away from this, though they may be successful in great achievement, is the selfishness of human desires, and as far removed from the mode of action of the sage, as earth is from heaven.” I shall close these testimonies with a sentence from Choo He himself. He says:—“Mencius, when compared with Confucius, always appears to speak in too lofty a style; but when we hear him proclaiming the goodness of man’s nature, and celebrating Yaou and Shun, then we likewise perceive the solidity of his discourses.”
4. The judgment concerning our philosopher contained in the above quotations will approve itself to every one who has carefully perused his Works.
But while we are not to look to Mencius for new truths, the peculiarities of his natural character were more striking than those of his master. There was an element of “the heroical” about him. He was a dialectician, moreover. If he did not like disputing, as he protested that he did not, yet, when forced to it, he showed himself a master of the art. An ingenuity and subtlety which we cannot but enjoy often mark his reasonings. We have more sympathy with him than with Confucius. He comes closer to us. He is not so awe-ful, but he is more admirable. The doctrines of the sages take a tinge from his mind in passing through it, and it is with that Mencian character about them that they are now held by the cultivated classes and by readers generally.
I will now call attention to a few passages illustrative of these remarks. Some might prefer to search them out for themselves in the body of the volume, and I am far from intending to exhaust the subject. There will be many readers, however, pleased to have the means of forming an idea of the man for themselves brought within small compass. My next object will be to review his doctrine concerning man’s mental constitution and the nourishment of the passion-nature, in which he is said to have rendered special service to the cause of truth. That done, I will conclude by pointing out what I conceive to be his chief defects as a moral and political teacher. To the opinions of Yang Choo and Mih, which he took credit to himself for assailing and exposing, it will be necessary to devote another chapter.
5. It was pointed out in treating of the opinions of Confucius, that he allowed no “right divine” to a sovereign, independent of his exercising a benevolent rule.
“The people,” he said, “are the most important element [in a country] the spirits of the land and grain are the next; the ruler is the lightest When the ruler endangers the altars of the spirits of the land and grain, he is changed, and another appointed in his place.
“The people are the most important element in a country, and the ruler is the lightest;”—that is certainly a bold and ringing affirmation.
With regard to the ground of the relation between ruler and people, Mencius refers it very clearly to the will of God. In one place he adopts for his own purpose the language of king Woo in the Shoo-king:—
It may not be easy to dispute these principles. I for one have no hesitation in admitting them. Their application, however, must always be attended with difficulty.
King Seuen of Ts‘e asked him about the office of chief ministers. Mencius said, “Which chief ministers is your Majesty asking about?” “Are there differences among them?” inquired the king. “There are,” was the reply; “there are the chief ministers who are noble and relatives of the ruler, and there are those who are of a different surname.” The king said, “I beg to ask about the chief ministers who are noble and relatives of the ruler.” Mencius answered, “If the ruler have great faults, they ought to remonstrate with him, and if he do not listen to them when they have done so again and again, they ought to appoint another in his place.” The king on this looked moved, and changed countenance. Mencius said, “Let not your Majesty think what I say strange. You asked me, and I did not dare to reply but correctly.”2
This plan for disposing of an unworthy sovereign has been acted on in China and in other countries. It is the best that can be adopted to secure the throne in the ruling House.
His disciple Kung-sun Ch‘ow said to him, “E Yin said, ‘I cannot be near so disobedient a person,’ and therewith he banished T‘ae-këah to T‘ung. The people were much pleased. When T‘ae-keah became virtuous, he brought him back, and the people were again much pleased. When worthies are ministers, may they indeed banish their rulers in this way when they are not virtuous?” Mencius replied, “If they have the mind of E Yin, they may. If they have not that mind, it would be usurpation.”3
His grand device, however, is what he calls “the minister of Heaven.” When the sovereign has become worthless and useless, his hope is that Heaven will raise up some one for the help of the people;—some one who shall so occupy in his original subordinate position as to draw all eyes and hearts to himself.1 Let him then raise the standard, not of rebellion but of righteousness,2 and he cannot help attaining to the highest dignity. So it was with the great T‘ang; so it was with the kings W?n and Woo. Of the last Mencius says:—“There was one man”—i.e., the tyrant Chow—“pursuing a violent and disorderly course in the land, and king Woo was ashamed of it. By one display of his anger, he gave repose to all the people.”3 He would have been glad if any one of the princes of his own time had been able to vault in a similar way to the royal throne, and he went about counselling them to the attempt. “Let your Majesty,” said be to king Seuen, “in like manner, by one burst of anger, give repose to all the people of the empire.” This was in fact advising to rebellion, but the philosopher would have recked little of such a charge. The House of Chow had forfeited in his view its title to the kingdom. Alas! among all the princes he had to do with, he did not find one who could be stirred to so honourable an action.
We need not wonder that Mencius, putting forth the above views so boldly and broadly, should not be a favourite with the rulers of China. His sentiments, professed by the literati, and known and read by all the people, have operated powerfully to compel the good behaviour of “the powers that be.” It may be said that they encourage the aims of selfish ambition, and the lawlessness of the licentious mob. I grant it. They are lessons for the virtuous, and not for the lawless and disobedient, but the government of China would have been more of a grinding despotism, if it had not been for them.
On the readiness of the people to be governed Mencius only differs from Confucius in the more vehement style in which he expresses his views.
But the misery which he saw around him, in consequence of the prevailing anarchy and constant wars between State and State, led Mencius to insist on the necessity of what he called “a benevolent government.” The king Seang asked him, “Who can unite all under the sky under one sway?”
On the effects of a benevolent rule he says:—
“Keeh and Chow’s losing the kingdom arose from their losing the people: and to lose the people means to lose their hearts. There is a way to get the kingdom:—get the people, and the kingdom is got. There is a way to get the people:—get their hearts, and the people are got. There is a way to get their hearts:—it is simply to collect for them what they desire, and not to lay on them what they dislike. The people turn to a benevolent rule as water flows downwards, and as wild beasts run to the wilds. As the otter aids the deep waters, driving the fish into them, and as the hawk aids the thickets, driving the little birds to them, so Këeh and Chow aided T‘ang and Woo, driving the people to them. If among the present rulers throughout the kingdom there were one who loved benevolence, all the other rulers would aid him by driving the people to him. Although he wished not to exercise the royal sway, he could not avoid doing so.”
1 Two principal elements of this benevolent rule, much insisted on by Mencius, deserve to be made prominent. They are to be found indicated in the Analects, and in the older classics also, but it was reserved for our philosopher to set them forth, sharply defined in his own style, and to show the connexion between them. They are:—that the people be made well off, and that they be educated;
Once, when Confucius was passing through Wei in company with Yen Yew, he was struck with the populousness of the State. The disciple said, “Since the people are thus numerous, what more shall be done for them?” Confucius answered, “Enrich them.” “And when they have been enriched, what more shall be done for them?” The reply was—“Teach them.”2 This brief conversation contains the germs of the ideas on which Mencius delighted to dwell.
We read in one place:—
“Let it be seen to that their fields of grain and hemp are well cultivated, and make the taxes on them light:—so the people may be made rich.
“Let it be seen to that they use their resources of food seasonably, and expend them only on the prescribed ceremonies:—so they will be more than can be consumed.
“The people cannot live without water and fire; yet if you knock at a man’s door in the dusk of the evening, and ask for water and fire, there is no man who will not give them, such is the great abundance of them. A sage would govern the kingdom so as cause pulse and grain to be as abundant as water and fire. When pulse and grain are as abundant as water and fire, how shall there be among the people any that are not virtuous?”3
Again he says:—
“In good years the children of the people are most of them good, and in bad years they are most of them evil.”4
It is in his conversations, however, with king Seuen of Ts‘e and duke W?n of T‘?ng, that we find the fullest exposition of the points in hand.
“They are only men of education who, without a certain livelihood, are able to maintain a fixed heart. As to the people, if they have not a certain livelihood, it follows that they will not have a fixed heart. And if they have not a fixed heart, there is nothing which they will not do in the way of self-abandonment, of moral deflection, of depravity, and of wild license. When they have thus been involved in crime, to follow them up and punish them:—this is to entrap the people. Therefore an intelligent ruler will regulate the livelihood of the people, so as to make sure that, above, they shall have sufficient wherewith to serve their parents, and, below, sufficient wherewith to support their wives and children; that in good years they shall always be abundantly satisfied, and that in bad years they shall escape the danger of perishing. After this he may urge them, and they will proceed to what is good, for in this case the people will follow after that with readiness.”1
It is not necessary to remark here on the measures which Mencius recommends in order to secure a certain livelihood for the people. They embrace the regulation both of agriculture and commerce.2 And education should be directed simply to illustrate the human relations.3 What he says on these subjects is not without shrewdness, though many of his recommendations are inappropriate to the present state of society in China itself as well as in other countries. But his principle, that good government should contemplate and will be seen in the material well-being of the people, is worthy of all honour. Whether government should interfere to secure the education of the people is questioned by not a few. The religious denomination to which I have the honour to belong has distinguished itself by opposing such a doctrine in England,—more zealously perhaps than wisely.4 But when Mencius teaches that with the mass of men education will have little success where the life is embittered by a miserable poverty, he shows himself well acquainted with human nature. Educationists now seem generally to recognize it, but I think it is only within a century that it has assumed in Europe the definiteness and importance with which it appeared to Mencius here in China two thousand years ago.
We saw how Mencius, when he was residing in T‘?ng, came into contact with a class of enthusiasts, who advocated a return to the primitive state of society,
“When Adam delved and Eve span.”
They said that wise and able princes should cultivate the ground equally and along with their people, and eat the fruit of their labour,—that “to have granaries, arsenals, and treasuries was an oppressing of the people.”
“I suppose,” he said to a follower of the strange doctrines, “that Heu Hing sows grain and eats the produce. Is it not so?” “It is so,” was the answer. “I suppose that he also weaves cloth, and wears his own manufacture. Is it not so?” “No; Heu wears clothes of haircloth.” “Does he wear a cap?” “He wears a cap.” “What kind of cap?” “A plain cap.” “Is it woven by himself?” “No; he gets it in exchange for grain.” “Why does Heu not weave it himself?” “That would injure his husbandry.” “Does Heu cook his food in boilers and earthen-ware pans, and does he plough with an iron share?” “Yes.” “Does he make those articles himself?” “No; he gets them in exchange for grain.” On these admissions Mencius proceeds:—“The getting those various articles in exchange for grain is not oppressive to the potter and the founder, and the potter and the founder in their turn, in exchanging their various articles for grain, are not oppressive to the husbandman. How should such a thing be supposed? But why does not Heu, [on his principles,] act the potter and founder, supplying himself with the articles which he uses solely from his own establishment? Why does he go confusedly dealing and exchanging with the handicraftsmen? Why does he not spare himself so much trouble?” His opponent attempted a reply:—“The business of the handicraftsman can by no means be carried on along with the business of husbandry.” Mencius resumed:—“Then, is it the government of the empire which alone can be carried along with the practice of husbandry? Great men have their proper business, and little men have their proper business. Moreover, in the case of any single individual, whatever articles he can require are ready to his hand, being produced by the various handicraftsmen:—if he must first make them for his own use, this way of doing would keep all the people running about upon the roads. Hence there is the saying:—‘Some men labour with their minds, and some with their strength. Those who labour with their minds govern others; those who labour with their strength are governed by others. Those who are governed by others support them; those who govern others are supported by them.’ This is a principle universally recognized.”1
Sir John Davis has observed that this is exactly Pope’s line,
“And those who think still govern those who toil.”1
Mencius goes on to illustrate it very clearly by referring to the labours of Yaou and Shun. His opponent makes a feeble attempt at the end to say a word in favour of the new doctrines he had embraced:—
“If Heu’s doctrines were followed there would not be two prices in the market, nor any deceit in the kingdom. If a boy were sent to the market, no one would impose on him; linen and silk of the same length would be of the same price. So it would be with bundles of hemp and silk, being of the same weight: with the different kinds of grain, being the same in quantity; and with shoes which were the same in size.” Mencius meets this with a decisive reply:—“It is the nature of things to be of unequal quality; some are twice, some five times, some ten times, some a hundred times, some a thousand times, some ten thousand times as valuable as others. If you reduce them all to the same standard, that must throw the empire into confusion. If large shoes were of the same price with small shoes, who would make them? For people to follow the doctrines of Heu would be for them to lead one another on to practise deceit. How can they avail for the government of a State?”
There is only one other subject which I shall here notice, with Mencius’ opinions upon it,—the position namely, which he occupied himself with reference to the princes of his time.
Never did Christian priest lift up his mitred front, or show his shaven crown, or wear his Geneva gown, more loftily in courts and palaces than Mencius, the Teacher, demeaned himself. We have seen what struggles sometimes arose between him and the princes who would fain have had him bend to their power and place.
“Those,” said he, “who give counsel to the great should despise them, and not look at their pomp and display. Halls several fathoms high, with beams projecting several cubits:—these, if my wishes were to be realized, I would not have. Food spread before me over ten cubits square, and attendant girls to the amount of hundreds:—these, though my wishes were realized, I would not have. Pleasure and wine, and the dash of hunting, with thousands of chariots following after me:—these, though my wishes were realized, I would not have. What they esteem are what I would have nothing to do with; what I esteem are the rules of the ancients.—Why should I stand in awe of them?”1
Before we bring a charge of pride against Mencius on account of this language and his conduct in accordance with it, we must bear in mind that the literati in China do in reality occupy the place of priests and ministers in Christian kingdoms. Sovereign and people have to seek the law at their lips. The ground on which they stand,—“the rules of the ancients,”—affords but poor footing compared with the Word of God; still it is to them the truth, the unalterable law of life and duty, and, as the expounders of it, they have to maintain a dignity which will not compromise its claims. That “scholars are the first and head of the four classes of the people,” is a maxim universally admitted. I do desiderate in Mencius any approach to humility of soul, but I would not draw my illustrations of the defect from the boldness of his speech and deportment as “a Teacher.”
“Shun rose to the Empire from among the channeled fields; Foo Yueh was called to office from the midst of his building-frames: Kaou Kih from his fish and salt”1 “E Yin was a farmer in Sin. When T‘ang sent persons with presents of silk, to entreat him to enter his service, he said, with an air of indifference and self-satisfaction, ‘What can I do with those silks with which T‘ang invites me? Is it not best for me to abide in the channeled fields, and there delight myself with the principles of Yaou and Shun?’ ”2
It does not appear that any of those worthies accepted favours while they were not in office, or from men whom they disapproved. With Mencius it was very different: he took largely from the princes whom he lectured and denounced. Possibly he might plead in justification the example of Confucius, but he carried the practice to a greater extent than that sage had ever done,—to an extent which staggered even his own disciples and elicited their frequent inquiries. For instance:—
P‘ang K?ng asked him, saying, “Is it not an extravagant procedure to go from one prince to another and live upon them, followed by several tens of carriages, and attended by several hundred men?” Mencius replied, “If there be not a proper ground for taking it, a single bamboo-cup of rice may not be received from a man. If there be such a proper ground, then Shun’s receiving the empire from Yaou is not to be considered excessive. Do you think it was excessive?” “No,” said the other, “but for a scholar performing no service to receive his support notwithstanding is improper.” Mencius answered, “If you do not have an intercommunication of the productions of labour, and an interchange of men’s services, so that one from his overplus may supply the deficiency of another, then husbandmen will have a superfluity of grain, and women will have a superfluity of cloth. If you have such an interchange, carpenters and carriage-wrights may all get their food from you. Here now is a man who, at home, is filial, and, abroad, respectful to his elders, and who watches over the principles of the ancient kings, awaiting the rise of future learners;—and yet you will refuse to support him. How is it that you give honour to the carpenter and carriage-wright, and slight him who practises benevolence and righteousness?” P‘ang K?ng said, “The aim of the carpenter and carriage-wright is by their trades to seek for a living. Is it also the aim of the superior man in his practice of principles to seek for a living?” “What have you to do,” returned Mencius, “with his purpose? He is of service to you. He deserves to be supported, and should be supported. And let me ask—Do you remunerate a man’s intention, or do you remunerate his service?” To this K?ng replied, “I remunerate his intention.” Mencius said, “There is a man here who breaks your tiles and draws unsightly figures on your walls;—his purpose may be thereby to seek for his living, but will you indeed remunerate him?” “No,” said K?ng; and Mencius then concluded: “That being the case, it is not the purpose which you remunerate, but the work done.”3
The ingenuity of Mencius in the above conversation will not be questioned. The position from which he starts in his defence, that society is based on a division of labour and an interchange of services, is sound, and he fairly hits and overthrows his disciples on the point that we remunerate a man not for his aim but for his work done. But he does not quite meet the charge against himself. This will better appear from another brief conversation with Kung-sun Ch‘ow on the same subject.
“It is said, in the Book of Poetry,” observed Chow,
- “ ‘He will not eat the bread of idleness’
How is it that we see superior men eating without labouring?” Mencius replied, “When a superior man resides in a country, if the sovereign employ his counsels, he comes to tranquillity, wealth, honour, and glory; if the young in it follow his instructions, they become filial, obedient to their elders, true-hearted, and faithful.—What greater example can there be than this of not eating the bread of idleness?”1
The argument here is based on the supposition that the superior man has free course, is appreciated by the sovereign, and venerated and obeyed by the people. But this never was the case with Mencius. Only once, the short time that he was in T‘?ng, did a ruler listen favourably to his counsels. His lessons, it may be granted, were calculated to be of the greatest benefit to the communities where he was, but it is difficult to see the “work done,” for which he could claim the remuneration. His reasoning might very well be applied to vindicate a government’s extending its patronage to literary men, where it recognized in a general way the advantages to be derived from their pursuits. Still more does it accord with that employed in western nations where ecclesiastical establishments form one of the institutions of a country. The members belonging to them must have their maintenance, independently of the personal character of the rulers. But Mencius’ position was more that of a reformer. His claims were of those of his personal merit. It seems to me that P‘ang K?ng had reason to doubt the propriety of his course, and characterize it as extravagant.
Another disciple, Wan Chang, pressed him very closely with the inconsistency of his taking freely the gifts of the princes on whom he was wont to pass sentence so roundly. Mencius had insisted that, where the donor offered his gift on a ground of reason and in a manner accordant with propriety, even Confucius would have received it.
“Here now,” said Chang, “is one who stops and robs people outside the city-gates. He offers his gift on a ground of reason and in a proper manner;—would it be right to receive it so acquired by robbery?” The philosopher of course said it would not, and the other pursued:—“The rulers of the present day take from their people just as a robber despoils his victim. Yet if they put a good face of propriety on their gifts, the superior man receives them. I venture to ask you to explain this.” Mencius answered:—“Do you think that, if there should arise a truly royal sovereign, he would collect the rulers of the present day and put them all to death? Or would he admonish them, and then, on their not changing their ways, put them to death? Indeed to call every one who takes what does not properly belong to him a robber, is pushing a point of resemblance to the utmost, and insisting on the most refined idea of righteousness.”1
Here again we must admire the ingenuity of Mencius; but it amuses us more than it satisfies. It was very well for him to maintain his dignity as “a Teacher,” and not go to the princes when they called him, but his refusal would have had more weight, if he had kept his hands clean from all their offerings. I have said above that if less awe-ful than Confucius, he is more admirable. Perhaps it would be better to say he is more brilliant. There is some truth in the saying of the scholar Ch‘ing, that the one is the glass that glitters, and the other the gem that is truly valuable.
Without dwelling on other characteristics of Mencius, or culling from him other striking sayings,—of which there are many,—I proceed to exhibit and discuss his doctrine of the goodness of human nature.
6. If the remarks which I have just made on the intercourse of Mencius with the princes of his day have lowered him somewhat in the estimation of my readers, his doctrine of human nature, and the force with which he advocates it, will not fail to produce a high appreciation of him as a moralist and thinker.
The utterances of Confucius on the subject of our nature were few and brief. The most remarkable is where he says:—“Man is born for uprightness.
The opening sentence of “The Doctrine of the Mean,”—“What Heaven has conferred is called the nature;
What gave occasion to his dwelling largely on the theme was the prevalence of wild and injurious speculations about it. In nothing did the disorder of the age more appear. Kung-too, one of his disciples, once went to him and said:—
“The philosopher Kaou says:—‘Man’s nature is neither good nor bad.’ Some say:—‘Man’s nature may be made to practise good, and it may be made to practise evil; and accordingly, under W?n and Woo, the people loved what was good, while, under Yew and Le, they loved what was cruel.’ Others say:—‘The nature of some is good, and the nature of others is bad. Hence it was that under such a sovereign as Yaou there yet appeared Sëang; that with such a father as Koo-sow there yet appeared Shun; and that with Chow for their sovereign, and the son of their elder brother besides, there were found K‘e, the viscount of Wei, and the prince Pe-kan.’ And now you say:—‘The nature is good.’ Then are all those opinions wrong?”1
“The nature of man is good:”—this was Mencius’ doctrine. By many writers it has been represented as entirely antagonistic to Christianity; and, as thus broadly and briefly enunciated, it sounds startling enough. As fully explained by himself, however, it is not so very terrible. Butler’s scheme has been designated “the system of Zeno baptized into Christ.”2 That of Mencius, identifying closely with the master of the Porch, is yet more susceptible of a similar transformation.
But before endeavouring to make this statement good, it will be well to make some observations on the opinion of the philosopher Kaou.
The two first conversations1 between them are more particularly worthy of attention, because, while they are a confutation of his opponent, they indicate clearly our philosopher’s own theory.
Mencius has no stronger language than this, as indeed it would be difficult to find any stronger, to declare his belief in the goodness of human nature. To many Christian readers it proves a stumbling-block and offence. But I venture to think that this is without sufficient reason. He is speaking of our nature in its ideal, and not as it actually is,—as we may ascertain from the study of it that it ought to be, and not as it is made to become. My rendering of the sentences last quoted may be objected to, because of my introduction of the term tendency; but I have Mencius’ express sanction for the representation I give of his meaning. Replying to Kung-too’s question, whether all the other opinions prevalent about man’s nature were wrong, and his own, that it is good, correct, he said:—“From the feelings proper to it, we see that it is constituted for the practice of what is good. This is what I mean in saying that the nature is good. If men do what is not good, the blame cannot be imputed to their natural powers.”1 Those who find the most fault with him, will hardly question the truth of this last declaration. When a man does wrong, whose is the blame,—the sin? He might be glad to roll the guilt on his Maker, or upon his nature,—which is only an indirect charging of his Maker with it;—but it is his own burden, which he must bear himself.
The proof by which Mencius supports his view of human nature as formed only for virtue is twofold.
“All men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others. My meaning may be illustrated thus:—Even now-a-days,” i. e., in these degenerate times, “if men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress. They will feel so, not as a ground on which they may gain the favour of the child’s parents, nor as a ground on which they may seek the praise of their neighbours and friends, nor from a dislike to the reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing. From this case we may see that the feeling of commiseration is essential to man, that the feeling of shame and dislike is essential to man, that the feeling of modesty and complaisance is essential to man, and that the feeling of approval and disapproval is essential to man. These feelings are the principles respectively of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and the knowledge [of good and evil]. Men have these four principles just as they have their four limbs.”3
Let all this be compared with the language of Butler in his three famous Sermons upon Human Nature. He shows in the first of these:—“First, that there is a natural principle of benevolence in man; secondly, that the several passions and affections, which are distinct both from benevolence and self-love, do in general contribute and lead us to public good as really as to private; and thirdly, that there is a principle of reflection in men, by which they distinguish between, approve and disapprove, their own actions.”1 Is there anything more in this than was apprehended and expressed by Mencius? Butler says in the conclusion of his first discourse that “men follow their nature to a certain degree but not entirely; their actions do not come up to the whole of what their nature leads them to; and they often violate their nature.” This also Mencius declares in his own forceful manner:—“When men having these four principles, yet say of themselves that they cannot develope them, they play the thief with themselves, and he who says of his prince that he cannot develope them, plays the thief with his prince.”2 “Men differ from one another in regard to the principles of their nature;—some as much again as others, some five times as much, and some to an incalculable amount:—it is because they cannot carry out fully their natural powers.”3
So much for the first or preliminary view of human nature insisted on by Mencius, that it contains principles which are disinterested and virtuous. But there wants something more to make good the position that virtue ought to be supreme,
To all this Butler replies by showing that the principle of reflection or conscience is “not to be considered merely as a principle in the heart, which is to have some influence as well as others, but as a faculty, in kind and in nature, supreme over all others, and which bears its own authority of being so;” that the difference between this and the other constituents of human nature is not “a difference in strength or degree,” but “a difference in nature and in kind;” that “it was placed within to be our proper governor; to direct and regulate all under principles, passions and motives of action:—this is its right and office; thus sacred is its authority.” It follows from the view of human nature thus established, that “the inward frame of man is a system or constitution; whose several parts are united, not by a physical principle of individuation, but by the respects they have to each other, the chief of which is the subjection which the appetites, passions, and particular affections have to the one supreme principle of reflection or conscience.”1
Now, the substance of this reasoning is to be found in Mencius. Human nature—the inward frame of man—is with him a system or constitution as much as with Butler. He says, for instance:—
“There is no part of himself which a man does not love; and as he loves all, so he should nourish all. There is not an inch of skin which he does not love, and so there is not an inch of skin which he will not nourish. For examining whether his way of nourishing be good or not, what other rule is there but this, that he determine by reflecting on himself where it should be applied?
“Some parts of the body are noble, and some ignoble; some great and some small. The great must not be injured for the small, nor the noble for the ignoble. He who nourishes the little belonging to him is a little man, and he who nourishes the great is a great man.”2
“Those who follow that part of themselves which is great are great men, those who follow that part which is little are little men.”3
The great part of ourselves is the moral elements of our constitution; the lower part is the appetites and passions that centre in self. He says finely:—
“There is a nobility of Heaven, and there is a nobility of man. Benevolence, righteousness, self-consecration, and fidelity, with unwearied joy in the goodness [of these virtues]:—these constitute the nobility of Heaven. To be a duke, a minister, or a great officer;—this constitutes the nobility of man.”4
There is one passage very striking:—
“For the mouth to desire tastes, the eye colours, the ear sounds, the nose odours, and the four limbs ease and rest:—these things are natural. But there is the appointment [of Heaven] in connexion with them; and the superior man does not say [in his pursuit of them], ‘It is my nature.’ [The exercise of] love between father and son, [the observance of] righteousness between ruler and minister, the rules of ceremony between host and guest, the [display of] knowledge in [recognizing] the able and virtuous, and [the fulfilling] the heavenly course by the sage:—these are appointed [by Heaven]. But there is [an adaptation of our] nature [for them]; and the superior man does not say, [in reference to them,] ‘There is a [limiting] appointment [of Heaven].’ ”1
From these paragraphs it is quite clear that what Mencius considered as deserving properly to be called the nature of man, was not that by which he is a creature of appetites and passions, but that by which he is lifted up into the higher circle of intelligence and virtue. By the phrase, “the appointment of Heaven,” most Chinese scholars understand the will of Heaven, limiting in the first case the gratification of the appetites, and in the second the exercise of the virtues. To such limitation Mencius teaches there ought to be a cheerful submission so far as the appetites are concerned, but where the virtues are in question, we are to be striving after them notwithstanding adverse and opposing circumstances. They are our nature, what we were made for, what we have to do. I will refer but to one other specimen of his teaching on this subject. “The will,” he said, using that term for the higher moral nature in activity,—“the will is the leader of the passion-nature. The passion-nature pervades and animates the body. The will is first and chief, and the passion-nature is subordinate to it.”2
My readers can now judge for themselves whether I exaggerated at all in saying that Mencius’ doctrine of human nature was, as nearly as possible, identical with that of Bishop Butler. Sir James Mackintosh has said of the sermons to which I have made reference, and his other cognate discourses, that in them Butler “taught truths more capable of being exactly distinguished from the doctrines of his predecessors, more satisfactorily established by him, more comprehensively applied to particulars, more rationally connected with each other, and therefore more worthy of the name of discovery, than any with which we are acquainted; if we ought not, with some hesitation, to except the first steps of the Grecian philosophers towards a Theory of Morals.”3 It is to be wished that the attention of this great scholar had been called to the writings of our philosopher. Mencius was senior to Zeno, though a portion of their lives synchronized. Butler certainly was not indebted to him for the views which he advocated; but it seems to me that Mencius had left him nothing to discover.
But the question now arises—“Is the view of human nature propounded by Mencius correct?” So far as yet appears, I see not how the question can be answered otherwise than in the affirmative. Man was formed for virtue.
From the ideal of man to his actualism there is a vast descent. Between what he ought to be and what he is, the contrast is melancholy.
“It is not to be wondered at that the king is not wise! Suppose the case of the most easily growing thing in the world;—if you let it have one day’s genial heat, and then expose it for ten days to cold, it will not be able to grow. It is but seldom that I have an audience of the king, and when I retire, there come all those who act upon him like the cold. Though I succeed in bringing out some buds of goodness, of what avail is it?”1 “In good years the children of the people are most of them good, while in bad years the most of them abandon themselves to evil. It is not owing to their natural powers conferred on them by Heaven that they are thus different:—the abandonment is owing to the circumstances through which they allow their minds to be ensnared and drowned in evil. There now is barley:—let it be sown and covered up; the ground being the same, and the time of sowing likewise the same, it grows rapidly up, and when the full time is come, it is all found to be ripe. Although there may be inequalities [of produce], that is owing to [the difference of] the soil as rich or poor, the unequal nourishment afforded by the rains and dews, and to the different ways in which man has performed his business.”2
The inconsistencies in human conduct did not escape his observation. After showing that there is that in human nature which will sometimes make men part with life sooner than with righteousness, he goes on:—“And yet a man will accept of ten thousand chung without any consideration of propriety and righteousness. What can they add to him? When he takes them, is it not that he may obtain beautiful mansions, that he may secure the services of wives and concubines, or that the poor and needy may be helped by him?” The scalpel is used here with a bold and skilful hand. The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are laid bare, nor does he stop till he has exposed the subtle workings of the delusion that the end may sanctify the means, that evil may be wrought that good may come. He pursues:—“In the former case the offered bounty was not received though it would have saved from death, and now the emolument is taken for the sake of beautiful mansions. The bounty that would have preserved from death was not received, and the emolument is taken to get the services of wives and concubines. The bounty that would have saved from death was not received, and the emolument is taken that one’s poor and needy acquaintance may be helped. Was it then not possible likewise to decline this? This is a case of what is called—‘Losing the proper nature of one’s mind.’ ”1
To the principle implied in the concluding sentences of this quotation Mencius most pertinaciously adheres.
“The trees.” said he, “of the Nëw mountain were once beautiful Being situated, however, in the suburbs of [the capital of] a large State, they were hewn down with axes and bills:—and could they retain their beauty? Still, through the growth from the vegetative life day and night, and the nourishing influence of the rain and dew, they were not without buds and sprouts springing forth;—but then came the cattle and goats, and browsed upon them. To these things is owing the bare and stript appearance [of the mountain], and when people see this they think it was never finely wooded. But is this the proper nature of the mountain? And so even of what properly belongs to man:—shall it be said that the mind [of any man] was without benevolence and righteousness? The way in which a man loses his proper goodness of mind is like the way in which those trees were denuded by axes and bills. Hewn down day after day, can the mind retain its excellence? But there is some growth of its life day and night, and in the [calm] air of the morning, just between night and day, the mind feels in a degree the desires and aversions which are proper to humanity; but the feeling is not strong, and then it is fettered and destroyed by what the man does during the day. This fettering takes place again and again; the restorative influence of the night is not sufficient to preserve [the proper goodness of the mind]; and when this proves insufficient for that purpose, the nature becomes not much different from that of the irrational animals, and when people see this, they think that it never had those powers [which I assert]. But does this condition represent the feelings proper to humanity?”2
Up to this point I fail to perceive anything in Mencius’ view of human nature that is contrary to the teachings of our Christian Scriptures, and that may not be employed with advantage by the missionary in preaching the Gospel to the Chinese. It is far from covering what we know to be the whole duty of man, yet it is defective rather than erroneous. Deferring any consideration of this for a brief space, I now inquire whether Mencius, having an ideal of the goodness of human nature, held also that it had been and could be realized? The answer is that he did.
“All things which are the same in kind,” he says, “are like one another;—why should we doubt in regard to man, as if he were a solitary exception to this? The sage and we are the same in kind. The feet, the mouths, the eyes of the sages were not different from those of other people, neither were their minds.”1 “Is it so,” he was once asked, “that all men may be Yaous and Shuns?” and he answered, “It is,” adding by way of explanation:—“To walk slowly, keeping behind his elders, is to perform the part of a younger brother, and to walk quickly and precede his elders is to violate that duty. Now, is it what a man cannot do,—to walk slowly? It is what he does not do. The course of Yaou and Shun was simply that of filial piety and fraternal duty. Do you wear the clothes of Yaou, repeat the words of Yaou, and do the actions of Yaou;—and you will just be a Yaou.”2
Among the sages, however, Mencius made a distinction. Yaou and Shun exceeded all the rest, unless it might be Confucius. Those three never came short of, never went beyond, the law of their nature. The ideal and the actual were in them always one and the same. The others had only attained to perfection by vigorous effort and culture. Twice at least he has told us this. “Yaou and Shun were what they were by nature; T‘ang and Woo were so by returning [to natural virtue].”3 The actual result, however, was the same, and therefore he could hold them all up as models to his countrymen of the style of man that they ought to be and might be. What the compass and square were in the hands of the workman, enabling him to form perfect circles and squares, that the sages, “perfectly exhibiting the human relations,” might be to every earnest individual, enabling him to perfect himself as they were perfect.4
Here we feel that the doctrine of Mencius wants an element which Revelation supplies. He knows nothing of the fact that “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed” (passed on, extended, διη?λθεν) “to all men, because all sinned.”
When Mencius therefore points us to Yaou, Shun, and Confucius, and says that they were perfect, we cannot accept his statement. Understanding that he is speaking of them only in the sphere of human relations, we must yet believe that in many things they came short. One of them, the greatest of the three in Mencius’ estimation, Confucius, again and again confesses so of himself. He was seventy years old, he says, before he could follow what his heart desired without transgressing what was right.1 It might have been possible to convince the sage that he was under a delusion in this important matter even at that advanced age; but what his language allows is sufficient to upset Mencius’ appeal to him. The image of sagely perfection is broken by it. It proves to be but a brilliant and unsubstantial phantasm of our philosopher’s own imagining.
When he insists again, that every individual may become what he fancies that the sages were,—i.e., perfect, living in love, walking in righteousness, observant of propriety, approving whatsoever is good, and disapproving whatever is evil,—he is pushing his doctrine beyond its proper limits; he is making a use of it of which it is not capable. It supplies a law of conduct, and I have set it forth as entitled to our highest admiration for the manner in which it does so; but law only gives the knowledge of what we are required to do:—it does not give the power to do it. We have seen how when it was necessary to explain accurately his statement that the nature of man is good, Mencius defined it as meaning that “it is constituted for the practice of that which is good.” Because it is so constituted, it follows that every man ought to practise what is good. But some disorganization may have happened to the nature; some sad change may have come over it. The very fact that man has, in Mencius’ own words, to recover his “lost mind,”1 shows that the object of the constitution of the nature has not been realized. Whether he can recover it or not, therefore, is a question altogether different from that of its proper design.
In one place, indeed, Mencius has said that “the great man is he who does not lose his child’s-heart.”2 I can only suppose that, by that expression—“the child’s-heart,” he intends the ideal goodness which he affirms of our nature. But to attribute that to the child as actually existing in it is absurd. It has neither done good nor evil. It possesses the capacity for either. It will by and by awake to the consciousness that it ought to follow after the one, and eschew the other; but when it does so,—I should rather say when he does so, for the child has now emerged from a mere creature existence, and assumed the functions of a moral being, he will find that he has already given himself to inordinate affection for the objects of sense; and in the pursuit of gratification he is reckless of what must be acknowledged to be the better and nobler part, reckless also of the interest and claims of others, and whenever thwarted glows into passion and fury. The youth is more pliant than the man in whom the dominion of self-seeking has become ingrained as a habit; but no sooner does he become a subject of law, than he is aware of the fact, that when he would do good, evil is present with him. The boy has to go in search of his “lost heart,” as truly as the man of fourscore. Even in him there is an “old man, corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,” which he has to put off.
Butler had an immense advantage over Mencius, arising from his knowledge of the truths of Revelation. Many, admiring his sermons, have yet expressed a measure of dissatisfaction, because he does not in them make explicit reference to the condition of man as fallen and depraved.
Mencius is not to be blamed for his ignorance of what is to us the Doctrine of the Fall. He had no means of becoming acquainted with it. We have to regret, however, that his study of human nature produced in him no deep feeling on account of men’s proneness to go astray.
I said above that Mencius’ doctrine of human nature was defective, inasmuch as even his ideal does not cover the whole field of duty. He says very little of what we owe to God. There is no glow of natural piety in his pages.
This absence of the recognition of man’s highest obligations from Mencius’ ideal of our nature is itself a striking illustration of man’s estrangement from God. His talking of Heaven has combined with the similar practice of his master to prepare the way for the grosser conceptions of the modern literati, who would often seem to deny the divine personality altogether, and substitute for both God and Heaven a mere principle of order or fitness of things. It has done more: it has left the people in the mass to become an easy prey to the idolatrous fooleries of Buddhism. Yea, the unreligiousness of the teachers has helped to deprave still more the religion of the nation, such as it is, and makes its services a miserable pageant of irreverent forms.
It is time to have done with this portion of my theme. It may be thought that I have done Mencius more than justice in the first part of my remarks, and less than justice at the last; but I hope it is not so. A very important use is to be made both of what he succeeds in, and where he fails, in his discoursing upon human nature. His principles may be, and, I conceive, ought to be, turned against himself. They should be pressed to produce the conviction of sin. There is enough in them, if the conscience be but quickened by the Spirit of God, to make the haughtiest scholar cry out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” Then may it be said to him with effect, “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!” Then may Christ, as a new and true exemplar of all that man should be, be displayed, “altogether lovely,” to the trembling mind! Then may a new heart be received from Him, that shall thrill in the acknowledgment of the claims both of men and God, and girding up the loins of the mind, address itself to walk in all His commandments and ordinances blameless! One thing should be plain. In Mencius’ lessons on human duty there is no hope for his countrymen. If they serve as a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ, they will have done their part; but it is from Christ alone that the help of the Chinese can come.
7. Besides giving more explicit expression to the doctrine of the goodness of man’s nature than had been done before him, Mencius has the credit also of calling attention to the nourishment of the passion-nature. It may be questioned whether I translate his language exactly by this phrase. What I render the passion-nature, Julien renders by “vitalisspiritus.” The philosopher says himself that it is difficult to describe what he intends. Attempting such a description, he says:—“This is it:—It is exceedingly great and exceedingly strong. Being nourished by rectitude, and sustaining no injury, it fills up all between heaven and earth. This is it:—It is the mate and assistant of righteousness and reason. Without it man is in a state of starvation. It is produced by the accumulation of righteous deeds; it is not to be taken, as by surprise, by incidental acts of righteousness. If the mind does not feel complacency in the conduct, this is starved.”1 From such predicates we may be sure that it is not anything merely or entirely physical of which he is speaking. “The righteous,” said Solomon, “are bold as a lion.” The Hebrew saying is very much in Mencius’ style. That boldness is the result of the nourishment for which he thought he had a peculiar aptitude. Strong in it and in a knowledge of words, a faculty of discovering the moral aberrations of others from their forms of speech, he was able to boast of possessing “an unperturbed mind;” he could “sit in the centre” of his being, “and enjoy bright day,” whatever clouds and storms gathered around him.
The nourishment, therefore, of “the passion-nature,” “the vital spirit,” or whatever name we choose to give to the subject, is only an effect of general good-doing. This is the practical lesson from all Mencius’ high-sounding words. He has illustrated it amusingly:—
“There was a man of Sung, who was grieved that his growing corn was not longer, and pulled it up. Having done this, he returned home, looking very wearied, and said to his people, ‘I am tired to-day. I have been helping the corn to grow long.’ His son ran to look at it, and found the corn all withered. There are few in the world, who do not assist the corn [of their passion-nature] to grow long. Some consider it of no benefit to them, and let it alone:—they do not weed their corn. Those who assist it to grow long, pull out their corn. What they do is not only of no benefit to the nature, but it also injures it.”2
This portion of Mencius’ teaching need not detain us. He has put a simple truth in a striking way. That is his merit. It hardly seems of sufficient importance to justify the use which has been made of it in vindicating a place for him among the sages of his country.
8. I said I should end the discussion of Mencius’ opinions by pointing out what I conceive to be his chief defects as a moral and political teacher. His defects, however, in the former respect have been already not lightly touched on. So far as they were the consequence of his ignorance, without the light which Revelation sheds on the whole field of human duty, and the sanctions, which it discloses, of a future state of retribution, I do not advance any charge against his character. That he never indicates any wish to penetrate into futurity, and ascertain what comes after death; that he never indicates any consciousness of human weakness, nor moves his mind Godward, longing for more light:—these are things which exhibit strongly the contrast between the mind of the East and the West. His self-sufficiency is his great fault. To know ourselves is commonly supposed to be an important step to humility; but it is not so with him. He has spoken remarkably about the effects of calamity and difficulties. He says:—“When Heaven is about to confer a great office on a man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil; it exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty; it confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and supplies his incompetencies.”1 Such have been the effects of Heaven’s exercising some men with calamities; but if the issue has been a fitting for the highest offices, there has been a softening of the nature rather than a hardening of it. Mencius was a stranger to the humbling of the lofty looks of man, and the bowing down his haughtiness, that the Lord alone may be exalted.
His faults as a political teacher are substantially the same as those of Confucius. More than was the case with his sayings of a political character, the utterances of Mencius have reference to the condition and needs of his own age. They were for the time then being, and not for all time. He knew as little as Confucius of any other great and independent nation besides his own; and he has left one maxim which is deeply treasured by the rulers and the people of China at the present day, and feeds the supercilious idea which they are so unwilling to give up of their own superiority to foreigners. “I have heard,” said he, “of men using [the doctrines of] our great land to change barbarians, but I have never yet heard of any being changed by barbarians.” “I have heard of birds leaving dark valleys to remove to lofty trees, but I have not heard of their descending from lofty trees to enter into dark valleys.”1 Mongol and Tartar sway has not broken the charm of this dangerous flattery, because only in warlike energy were the Mongols and Tartars superior to the Chinese, and when they conquered the country they did homage to its sages. During the last four-and-thirty years, Christian Powers have come to ask admission into China, and to claim to be received as her equals. They do not wish to conquer her territory, though they have battered and broken her defences. With fear and trembling their advances are contemplated. The feeling of dislike to them arises from the dread of their power, and suspicion of their faith. It is feared that they come to subdue; it is known that they come to change. The idol of Chinese superiority is about to be broken. Broken it must be ere long, and a new generation of thinkers will arise, to whom Mencius will be a study but not a guide.
[1 ]ad 1068—1085.
[2 ]ad 1330—1333.
[3 ] Bk IV. Pt II. iii.
[1 ] I have taken this account from “The Sacrificial Canon of the Sage’s Temples” (Vol. I. Proleg. p. 103). Dr. Morrison in his Dictionary, under the character M?ng, adds that the change in the emperor’s mind was produced by his reading the remarkable passage in Bk VI. Pt II. xv., about trials and hardships as the way by which Heaven prepares men for great services. He thought it was descriptive of himself, and that he could argue from it a good title to the crown;—and so he was mollified to the philosopher. It may be worth while to give here the concluding remarks in “The Paraphrase for Daily Lessons, Explaining the Meaning of the Four Books” (Vol. I. Proleg. of larger Work, p. 131), on the chapter of Mencius which was deemed by the imperial reader so objectionable:—“Mencius wished that sovereigns should treat their ministers according to propriety, and nourish them with kindness, and therefore he used these perilous words in order to alarm and rouse them. As to the other side, the part of ministers, though the sovereign regaid them as his hands and feet, they ought notwithstanding to discharge most earnestly their duties of loyalty and love. Yea, though he regard them as dogs and horses, or as the ground and grass, they ought still more to perform their part in spite of all difficulties, and oblivious of their person. They may on no account make the manner in which they are regarded, whether it be of appreciation or contempt, the standard by which they regulate the measure of their grateful service. The words of Confucius, that the ruler should behave to his ministers according to propriety, and the ministers serve their sovereign with faithfulness, contain the unchanging rule for all ages” The authors of the Daily Lessons did their work by imperial order, and evidently had the fear of the court before their eyes. Their language implies a censure of our philosopher. There will ever be a grudge against him in the minds of despots, and their creatures will be ready to depreciate him.
[1 ] Bk II. Pt I. ii. 18, 19.
[2 ] Bk III. Pt II. ix. 10.
[3 ]Ib., par. 13.
[4 ] See above.
[5 ] Died ad 18.
[6 ] See Vol. I., Proleg., p. 24.
[1 ] This is probably the original of what appears in the “Memoires concernant les Chinois,” in the notice of Mencius, vol. iii., and which Thornton (vol. ii., pp. 216, 217) has faithfully translated therefrom in the following terms:—“Confucius, through prudence or modesty, often dissimulated; he did not always say what he might have said: M?ng-tsze, on the contrary, was incapable of constraining himself; he spoke what he thought, and without the least fear or reserve. He resembles ice of the purest water, through which we can see all its defects as well as its beauties: Confucius, on the other hand, is like a precious gem, which though not so pellucid as ice, has more strength and solidity.” The former of these sentences is quite alien from the style of Chinese thinking and expression.
[2 ] One of the great scholars of the Sung dynasty, a friend of the two Ch‘ing. He has a place in the temples of Confucius.
[1 ] Also one of China’s greatest scholars. He has now a place in the temples of Confucius.
[1 ] Bk VII. Pt II. xiv.
[2 ] Bk I. Pt II. viii.
[3 ] Bk I. Pt II. iii. 7.
[1 ] Bk V. Pt I. v.
[2 ] Bk V. Pt II. ix.
[3 ] Bk VII. Pt I. xxxi.
[1 ] Bk II. Pt I. v.
[2 ] “Raise righteous soldiers;”—this is the profession of all rebel leaders in China.
[3 ] Bk I. Pt II. iii. 7.
[1 ] Bk III. Pt I. ii. 4.
[2 ] Bk IV. Pt I. xx.
[3 ] Bk I. Pt I. vi.
[4 ] Bk IV. Pt II. xvi.
[1 ] Bk IV. Pt I. ix.
[2 ] Con. Ana., XIII. ix.
[3 ] Bk VII. Pt I. xxiii.
[4 ] Bk VI. Pt I. vii.
[1 ] Bk I. Pt I. vii. 20, 21; Bk III. Pt I. iii. 3.
[2 ] Bk III. Pt I. iii.; Bk I. Pt II. iv.; Bk II. Pt I. v.: et al.
[3 ] Bk III. Pt I. iii. 10.
[4 ] Its views are now, in 1874, very different.
[1 ] Bk III. Pt iv.
[1 ] The Chinese, vol. ii. p. 56.
[2 ] See Bk V. Pt II. iii. vii.: et al.
[1 ] Bk VII. Pt II. xxxiv. This passage was written on the pillars of a hall in College street, East, where the gospel was first preached publicly in their own tongue to the people of Canton, in February, 1858.
[1 ] Bk VI. Pt II. xv. 1.
[2 ] Bk V. Pt I. vii. 2, 3.
[3 ] Bk III. Pt II. iv.
[1 ] Bk VII. Pt I. xxxii.
[1 ] Bk V. Pt II. iv.
[1 ] Ana., VI. xvii.
[2 ] Bk VI. Pt I. vi. 8; viii. 4.
[3 ] See the annotations of the editor of Yang-tsze’s works in the “Complete Works of the Ten Tsze.”
[1 ] Bk VI. Pt I. vi. 1—4.
[2 ] Wardlaw’s Christian Ethics, edition of 1833, p. 119.
[3 ] Bk VI. Pt I. iii.
[1 ] Bk VI. Pt I. i. ii.
[1 ] Bk VI. Pt I. vi. 5, 6.
[2 ] Bk VI. Pt I. vi. 7.
[3 ] Bk II. Pt I. vi. 3, 4, 5, 6.
[1 ] I am indebted to Butler for fully understanding Mencius’ fourth feeling, that of approving and disapproving, which he calls “the principle of knowledge,” or wisdom. In the notes on II. Pt I. vi. 5, I have said that he gives to this term “a moral sense.” It is the same with Butler’s principle of reflection, by which men distinguish between, and approve or disapprove, their own actions.—I have heard gentlemen speak contemptuously of Mencius’ case in point, to prove the existence of a feeling of benevolence in man. “This,” they have said, “is Mencius’ idea of virtue, to save a child from falling into a well. A mighty display of virtue, truly!” Such language arises from misconceiving Mencius’ object in putting the case. “If there be,” says Butler, “any affection in human nature, the object and end of which is the good of another, this is itself benevolence. Be it ever so short, be it in ever so low a degree, or ever so unhappily confined, it proves the assertion and points out what we were designed for, as really as though it were in a higher degree and more extensive.” “It is sufficient that the seeds of it be implanted in our nature.” The illustration from a child falling into a well must be pronounced a happy one. How much lower Mencius could go may be seen from his conversation with king Seuen, Bk I. Pt I. vii., whom he leads to a consciousness of his commiserating mind from the fact that he had not been able to bear the frightened appearance of a bull which was being led by to be killed, and ordered it to be spared. The kindly heart that was moved by the suffering of an animal had only to be carried out, to suffice for the love and protection of all within the four seas.
[2 ] Bk II. Pt I. vi. 6.
[3 ] Bk VI. Pt I. vi. 7.
[1 ] See Sermon Second.
[1 ] See note to Sermon Third.
[2 ] Bk VI. Pt I. xiv.
[3 ]Ib., ch. xv.
[4 ]Ib., ch. xvi.
[1 ] Bk VII. Pt II. xxiv.
[2 ] Bk II. Pt I. ii. 9.
[3 ] Encyclopædia Britannica, Second Preliminary Dissertation; on Butler.
[1 ] Bk VII. Pt II. xvi.
[2 ] Bk III. Pt II. ii. 3.
[1 ] Bk VI. Pt I. ix.
[2 ]Ib. ch. vii.
[1 ] Bk VI. Pt I. xii. 7, 8.
[2 ] Bk VI. Pt I. ch. viii. 1, 2.
[1 ] Bk VI. Pt I. ch. vii. 3.
[2 ]Ib. Pt II. ii. 1, 4, 5.
[3 ] Bk VII. Pt I. xxx. 1; Pt II. xxxiii. 1.
[4 ] Bk IV. Pt I. ii. 1.
[1 ] Con. Ana., II. iv. 6.
[1 ] Bk VI. Pt I. xi. 4.
[2 ] Bk IV. Pt II. xii.
[1 ] The Analogy of Religion; Part II. chap. I.
[1 ] Bk IV. Pt I. x.
[1 ] First Sermon Upon the Love of God.
[2 ] Bk I. Pt II. ii. 3.
[3 ] Bk IV. Pt I. xxvii. My friend, the Rev. Mr Moule, of Ningpo, has supplied me with the following interesting coincidence with the sentiments of Mencius in this passage, from one of the letters of Charles Lamb to Coleridge, dated Nov. 14th, 1796:—“Oh, my friend, cultivate the filial feelings; and let no one think himself relieved from the kind charities of relationship; these shall give him peace at the last; these are the best foundation for every species of benevolence.”
[1 ] Bk II. Pt I. ii. 13—15.
[2 ] Bk II. Pt I. ii. 16.
[1 ] Bk VI. Pt II. xv.
[1 ] Bk III. Pt I. iv. 12, 15.
- 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