Chapter 9 The Sacred Literature of the Chinese

The Scriptures of Mankind: An Introduction
by Charles Samuel Braden

Chapter 9 The Sacred Literature of the Chinese

In the strict sense of the word there is no sacred literature of Confucianism. There is no belief that the books associated with the Sage were in any sense inspired by God, and yet in every other respect they may well be considered alongside the other sacred literatures. There is a definite canon, made up of the five canonical books and four classics, often collectively called the Chinese Classics. They are the authoritative basis of religious and moral teaching for what has in the West been called Confucianism, and have actually been quite as influential on the religious and moral life of the Chinese people as has any other sacred collection upon the people for whom it is divinely inspired literature.

Much of the content of the collection has little or nothing to do with religion at all and popular religion may not have looked to it as the final authority, but higher religion in China has found in it a secure foundation, and morally it has been the predominant influence upon the Chinese people for more than two thousand years. Its ethical precepts have been the basis of moral education of most of the Chinese people for a period longer than the entire Christian era. And while the impact of the modern world has brought many changes in Chinese outlook and the Confucian books have lost their place of preeminence in the Chinese educational system, they have by no means ceased to exert a tremendous influence upon the Chinese people. What will be their fate under the Communist regime it is too early to predict with any assurance, but it is likely that Communism will be quite as much modified by Confucian ideas as will the age-old traditions based upon these ancient classics, by modern Communism.

The religion known as Confucianism is not a product of Confucius and the books attributed to him. The religion associated with his name is far older than the sixth century B.C. which saw the birth of the Sage. He was no religious prophet or innovator. It is probable rather that these books only gathered up and channeled one aspect of Chinese religion present in Confucius’ day, that which has usually had official sanction; and thereby gave it a definiteness of form which enabled it to exert its influence more effectively than would otherwise have been possible.

Confucius stands in sharp contrast to Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed, indeed, to most of the great founders of religion, in that he represents no sharp break with the past. Jesus pointedly says: "Ye have heard that it was said of old time . . . but I say unto you." Confucius on the other hand remarks, "How I love the old things!" And he finds the basis for his moral teachings in what the ancients did, constantly citing the sayings and acts of certain paragons of virtue, either legendary or real, in the remote past. He took their ideas, their moral values, their religious teachings and practices, and gave them a permanent form in which they have been transmitted for centuries,1 and been the effective moral basis, at least, of Chinese culture as a whole. Whatever China may be religiously, and sometimes she is Buddhist, sometimes Taoist, sometimes animist, or Moslem, or Christian, or all of them together, morally she has been dominantly Confucian, thanks largely to the literature which in one way or another is associated with Confucius, the Sage.

Some even regard Confucianism as not properly a religion at all, but an ethical philosophy, and there is something to be said for this point of view. In the end, however, as we shall presently see, there is, underlying Confucian ethics, as found in the classics, a profound religious basis, which justifies calling Confucianism a religion. Whether this basis was put there by Confucius himself, or has been imported into them by a later hand, it is definitely a part of the so-called Confucian classics, as they have been transmitted to the present day. We now know that there has been a great deal of editing and re-editing of these books, until it is not now always possible to say with certainty what is early and what is late.

The scholars of recent years have been applying to the Confucian classics the same rigorous, scientific, historico-literary study that the Bible has undergone, and with comparable results. Furthermore archaeological work has had at least a beginning in China, though rudely interrupted by war, and valuable finds have been made which tend to modify the conclusions of older scholars, who had only literary sources upon which to base their inquiries. Some of these results will be pointed out as we discuss the various books.

The books that have for more than a thousand years formed the fixed and unvariable canon are in outline:

I. The Five Canonical Books

1. The Shu Ching, or Book of History

2. The Shih Ching, or Book of Poetry, or Odes

3. The I Ching, or Book of Changes

4. The Li Chi, or Book of Rites

5. The Ch’un Chi’iu, or Spring and Autumn

II. The Four Classics

1. The Lun Yu, or Analects

2. Ta Hsueh, or Great Learning

3. Chung Yung, or Doctrine of the Mean

4. Meng Tzu, or the Teaching of Mencius

The Shu Ching, or Book of History, is one of the most valuable

of the Chinese classics for an understanding of the Chinese people and Confucianism. Lin Yutang says, "It is to Confucianism as the Upanishads are to Hinduism."2 That is, it is much more than just history. It is important as revealing also the character of the people, of government to some extent, of their ancient religion, and very revealing indeed as to their moral ideals. It was held for a long time to have been the work of Confucius, then that at least Confucius edited it; but later scholars will grant little more than that Confucius knew it and used it, so that it finally became connected with his name. This fact was a powerful factor in its preservation. For when, in 213 B.C., the first Ch’in emperor, Shih Huang, burned the Confucian books, there were scholars who had committed them to memory and were able to reproduce them in writing. It is possible they did not remember all, or that they did not remember them exactly, but what they did recall, they wrote down in the newer script, known as the "Modern Script," that had been introduced during the Ch’in regime. Nor did they agree exactly among themselves in every detail. Later, manuscripts were found that had been hidden away, written in the "ancient script," one in Confucius’ own house, where it had been concealed in a wall. The text of these differs from that of the Modern Script, and each includes material not found in the other. Scholars are in disagreement as to the true text. By some modern scholars the ancient script is regarded as forgery. On the other hand, there are quotations from the Book of History found in writings that recognizably go back of the time of the destruction of the books, which give support to the belief that the "Ancient Script" is reliable, or that at least it contains genuine early material. The controversy cannot be resolved here, nor for our purposes does it greatly matter whether it is all authentic. It has entered into the stream of Confucian history as it is and had its influence, rightly or wrongly, in making Confucianism what it is.3

The Chinese, earlier than most people, came to have an interest in history. The Tai Shih or Great Historian was recognized, to the extent of being a Minister of State, from a very early period. The fact that the historian of one period not infrequently quotes the records of his predecessors is clear evidence that there were written records, probably preserved in the state archives. Thus, whoever put the Book of History together as we have it, had access to sources going far back of his own time. Recent scholars are disposed to find more of legendary material in the narrative than older scholars, and are more critical in evaluating the ancient sources, basing their conclusions upon wide comparative study of the ancient literature of China. To these scholars some of the ancient emperors are only legendary, but again, for our present purposes, this is not of great concern. It may be of academic interest to know whether the virtues attributed to the redoubtable Yu can be traced so far back into history as the ancient narrative seems to carry them, but there can be no doubt that from the time of Confucius these were the virtues approved and exalted by him, and as such have played a highly significant role in Chinese life.

The Book of History is not just history in the limited sense of being a chronicle of events. It is history with a purpose, very much like that of the historical sections of the Bible, where the interest is not so much in what happened, but in the relationship of what happened to the central interest of the writers, which was definitely religious. The judgments and the character of God are revealed in Hebrew history. In the Book of History one gets the impression that the interest is primarily moral. Moral interest seems to determine to a considerable degree the selection of material included in the book. Some of the narratives do seem casual, and circumstantial, but by far the greater part can be seen to be concerned in one way or another with moral purpose. A few brief examples will reveal this.

Examining into antiquity (we find that) the Ti Yao was styled Fanghsiin. He was reverential, intelligent, accomplished, and thoughtful, -- naturally and without effort. He was sincerely courteous and capable of (all) complaisance. The bright (influence of the qualities) was felt through the four quarters (of the land) , and reached to (heaven) above and (earth) beneath.

He made the able and virtuous distinguished, and thence proceeded to the love of (all in) the nine classes of his kindred, who (thus) be came harmonious. He (also) regulated and polished the people (of his domain) , who all became brightly intelligent. (Finally) , he united and harmonized the myriad states; and so the black-haired people were transformed. The result was (universal) concord.4

When he sought for some one whom he could employ for a certain task his own son was suggested as highly intelligent. Emperor Yao said, "Alas! he is insincere and quarrelsome! Can he do?"

He sought someone to control the floods which in that early day (traditionally dated as in the twenty-third century B.C.) he said, "embrace the hills and overtop great heights, threatening the heavens with their flood so that the lower people groan and murmur." Kun was suggested. "Alas, how perverse he is," said the Emperor. "He is disobedient to orders, and tries to injure his peer." Nevertheless, he was tried and after nine years did not succeed.

When he sought a successor saying, "Show me someone among the illustrious, or set forth one from among the poor and the mean, they all said, "There is Shun of Yu. He is the son of a blind man. His father was obstinately unprincipled, his (step-) mother was insincere; his half brother, Hsiang, was arrogant. He has been able (however) by his filial piety to live in harmony with them, and to lead them gradually to self-government, so that they no longer proceed to great wickedness."

Said Emperor Yao, "I will try him." So he gave him two of his daughters to wife, saying to them, "Be reverent."5

Shun became emperor and chose his ministers wisely. Floods plagued the land. Said Shun, "Find me the man who shall cause the rivers to flow in their appointed channels and abate these floods which devastate my people’s country." At once they suggested Lord Yu and he was appointed Surveyor General. His industry and attention to his task were notable.

He went forth upon his marriage morn, nor tarried in dalliance, but having received the commands of his emperor he straightway sought to fulfill them. He divided the country into nine provinces, partitioning the land and fixing the boundaries by the high hills and great rivers. Ascending the hills he filled the timber; and making dams, bridges and pontoons, he widened and deepened the canals and drained off the marshes into the rivers, conducting them into the Yang-tze and the Ho. Three times in the course of his survey he passed the door of his own dwelling and heard the voice of his bride and the prattle of his infant son, but yet he did not enter. Thus after eight years he completed his task, and presented his staff to the emperor.6

Shun, like his predecessors, sought as his successor not one of his own family but the ablest man in his realm. He approached Yu thus: "Come, you Yu. I have occupied my place for thirty and three years. I am between ninety and a hundred years old, and the laborious duties weary me. Do you, eschewing all indolence, take the leading of my people." Yu replied, "My virtue is not equal (to the position) and the people will not repose in me, (but there is) Kaoyao with vigorous activity, sowing abroad his virtue, which has descended on the black-haired people, till they cherish him in their heart. O, Ti, think of him."

But Shun persisted, "You are without any prideful assumption, but no one under heaven can contest with you the palm of ability; you make no boasting, but no one under heaven can contest with you the palm of merit. I see how great is your virtue, how admirable your vast achievements. The determinate appointment of Heaven rests on your person; you must eventually ascend the throne of the great sovereign."7 At last Yu accepted and became emperor. With him the succession became hereditary.

There are many speeches and counsels recorded as given by kings to ministers and people and by counsellors to kings. One of the kings charged his prime minister as follows:

"Morning and evening present your instructions to aid my virtue. Suppose me a weapon of steel, I will use you for a whetstone. Suppose me crossing a great stream; I will use you for a boat with its oars. Suppose me in a year of great drought; I will use you as a copious rain. Open your mind and enrich my mind. (Be you) like medicine, which must distress the patient in order to cure his sickness. Think me as one walking barefoot, whose feet are sure to be wounded if he do not see the ground."8

Part of an announcement of T’ang on his return from conquering the last of the Hsia dynasty sets forth the idea that he rules by mandate from Heaven.

The way of Heaven is to bless the good and make the bad miserable. It sent down calamities on the (House of) Hsia to make manifest its guilt. Therefore I, the little child, charged with the decree of Heaven and its bright terrors, did not dare to forgive the criminal . . . and the criminal has been degraded and subjected. What Heaven appoints is without error. . . .

It is given to me the One man to secure the harmony and tranquillity of your states and clans. . . do not, ye princes, follow lawless ways; make no approach to insolence and dissoluteness; let every one be careful to keep his statutes; so that we may receive the favor of Heaven. The good in you I will not dare to keep concealed; and for the evil in me I will not dare to forgive myself. I will examine these things in harmony with the mind of God. When guilt is found anywhere in you who occupy the myriad regions, let it rest on me, the One man. When guilt is found in me, the One man; it shall not attach to you who occupy the myriad regions. Oh! let us attain to be sincere in these things, and so we shall likewise have a (happy) consummation.9

Not a few of the selected pieces are for the purpose of illustrating the folly of evil practices and the certainty of retribution upon evildoers. There was, for example, Wu-Yih, who was unprincipled and profane.

"He made images of the gods and caused the people to play at chess with them. He also made trial of his powers therein, and when he lost the game, he forthwith abused the gods for their incompetence. Moreover he made bladders to be filled with blood and used them for flying targets which sport he denominated ‘shooting the heavens.’

"For this cause he was smitten from Heaven while hunting in the Valley of Wei."

Also there was Chow-Sin, King of Yiu. He was a man of great strength and ungodly nature. Those who reproved him he slew without remorse, and those who flattered him he advanced. He gave himself over to luxury and extravagance and his patronage to women without virtue. . . . He became tyrannical and despotic, regarding himself in all respects as a god.

"When he first made chop-sticks of ivory, the wise Ki-tze rebuked him saying: ‘Now that you make chop-sticks of ivory you will shortly be making crystal cups. Then you will be eating the paws of bears and the wombs of leopards. These and other things in like measure you will want in great abundance. Surely the country will soon become impoverished."’

He took a wife, Ta-ki, who exercised great influence upon him. "Whomsoever she favored, him did the emperor advance, and whomsoever she hated, him did the emperor slay. . . . For her delight he built a gallery . . . with chambers and doors of precious stones . . . a thousand cubits high and half a li in length (about seven hundred feet long) . Seven years of heavy taxation and oppression were endured by the people during the building

. . . so that it might be filled with gold and grain.

"And the black-haired people trembled with rage and vexation.

"Then Ta-ki said, ‘Lord, the executions are too rare, the punishments are too simple. The throne is thereby endangered.’

"She therefore invented the trial by fire, the hot brazen pillar or climbing pole, and the punishment of the roasting pit. And the people repined with shuddering."

When reproved for his tyranny he only slew his accusers. One reproved him thus: "The people have withdrawn their favor and Heaven hath turned its face away because of your transgressions. Amend your ways before you become the ruin of your country, or in the days to come the people will only mention your name to pronounce an anathema."

But retribution only delayed. In the end he was undone by one of the men he had thrown in prison. By a bit of clever strategy the prisoner secured his release, and being Duke of Chow, he governed his realm so wisely that his fame spread abroad and forty-two states accepted his government. He himself died leaving to his son, Fa, this wise counsel: "My son, look for that which is good and be not slow to practice it. When opportunity serves, do not hesitate. Exterminate evil, and let it not abide. In these three points do virtue and goodness consist." To the son, Fa, "was given the decree of Heaven to cut off and destroy the tyrant emperor, who upon being defeated in the desert was bereft of his senses and fled to Lu-tai (the Stag Gallery) where he adorned himself in jewels and precious stones and burned himself to death."

So evil destroys itself.10

The Shih Ching, or Book of Odes or the Book of Poetry, was for a long time thought to be an anthology of old Chinese poetry compiled by Confucius. But even James Legge, one of the older Chinese scholars, believed that Confucius’ contribution to the Odes lay only in the reformation in the music by which each ode was accompanied. All that is completely certain is that Confucius knew the Odes; that he esteemed them highly, and made them a definite object of study. It was his approval of them, and the subsequent linking of them with his name which assured their survival. There is no doubt that he was fond of poetry, and that he referred to this particular collection many times in his reported sayings. A disciple once remarked to Confucius’ son that he must surely have heard from his father things not disclosed to the others. But the son replied, "No, once when he was standing in the courtyard alone and I passed by he suddenly asked, ‘Have you studied the Songs?’ I replied that I had not. Then said he, ‘If you do not study the Odes you will not be fit to converse with.’" 11 On another occasion the Sage likened a man who did not know the first two books of the Odes to one who had his face pressed against a wall.12

The book consists of a total of three hundred and five poems of which only forty are distinctly religious, being chiefly odes for the temple and the altar. Thirty-one are laudatory poems for use at court and feudal festivals, seventy-four are festive songs of many kinds, and the remainder, more than half, are what may be called songs of the people. There is in the book the greatest variety of poetic forms, ballads, hymns, narrative poems, dirges, prayers, odes, lyrics; and the range of subjects is wide. There are poems of home, of love, of loneliness, political, festive, martial, ethical, didactic, ritual. Some are melancholy, some serious and profound, but some are distinctly humorous. A great variety of moods is evoked by them: patriotism, parental love, romantic love, a deep sense of responsibility, humility, pride, courage, determination. In short, they pretty well run the gamut of human interest. It is for this reason doubtless that the book lives, for even the great name of the Sage could hardly have kept it alive for so many centuries, had it not made a genuine appeal to human interest and expressed much of what humanity longs to express but cannot do unaided.

The poetry of the Odes differs greatly from the modern Chinese poetry in form. It is rhymed verse and generally the line contains four characters. Obviously it must be read in translation by people of the West, and Chinese verse is exceedingly difficult to translate. It is interesting to read the same poem translated by different persons. Since the Chinese language is very different from our European speech, has no auxiliary verbs and is not inflected, much has to be supplied by the translator which is not explicitly to be found in the original. Hence the surprising differences in what comes out in English. An example of this will be illuminating, four translations of the same identical stanza:


Kwan kwan go the ospreys

On the islet in the river

The modest, retiring, virtuous young lady

For our prince a good mate she.13


As the ospreys woo

On the river ait (island)

So the graceful lass

Has her manly mate.14


They sent me to gather the cresses which lie

And sway on the stream as it glances by,

That a fitting welcome we might provide,

For our prince’s modest and virtuous bride.15


Hark from the islet in the stream the voice

Of the fish hawks that o’er their nests rejoice

From them our thoughts to that young lady go

Modest and virtuous, loth herself to show.

Where could be found to share our prince’s state

So fair, so virtuous, and so fit a mate?16

Whether the poem has suffered or been made better by the translator, who can tell -- if he knows no Chinese? Some of the English titles are interesting. "O fell not that sweet pear tree," "O Sweet Maiden, so fair and retiring," "Behold, a rat," "My worthy Ching, I pray," "The widow," "Anxiety of a young lady to get married," etc. Only a very few poems can be included here. "The Pear Tree" has something of a familiar ring about it. We give only the first stanza.

The Pear tree, woodman spare,

Touch not a single bough,

Shao’s chief once rested there

Leave it uninjured now."

Or in another translation:

This shade bestowing pear tree thou

Hurt not, nor lay its leaf age low:

Beneath it slept the Duke of Shaou.’8

A brief poem on Clothes or Robes carries a philosophy that might well commend itself to Western peoples who are much troubled about matters of dress:

I have no clothes at all, you declare!

You are wrong: I have plenty, you see,

They may not be so rich or so rare

As your own, but they’re excellent wear,

And warm, and do nicely for me.19

A romantic bit celebrates the young lady who kept her young man waiting -- again we give but the first stanza:

O sweet maiden, so fair and retiring,

At the corner I’m waiting for you

And I’m scratching my head, and inquiring

What on earth it were best I should do.

The young lady for whom time is passing all too rapidly and who is threatened with being left an old maid voices her anxiety thus:

The plums are ripening quickly;

Nay, some are falling too,

‘Tis surely time for suitors

To come to me and woo.

See, more and more are falling

From off the parent tree

Why don’t the men come forward

To win a maid like me?

At length upon the plum tree

No fruit can be espied

Yet no one comes to woo me

Or bid me be his bride.20

A frequent note in Chinese poetry, ancient and modem, is the

loneliness of the wife whose husband is absent on some distant duty of war, or peace.


My noble husband has gone away

To fight for his king, and the country’s weal.

No moment he snatches to rest or stay,

No toil nor danger can quench his zeal.


I list to the distant thunder’s roar

To the south of the mountains across the plain;

And wish that my husband may come once more

To gladden his home and his wife again.21

Also the plaintive note of the widow in her loneliness is heard:

The Widow


The trailing creepers shroud the thorns in gloom,

The wild vines spreading o’er the wasted plains

But mock my sorrow, for they hide the tomb

Which holds my lord’s remains.


My husband, oh, the night when first we met,

My head lay on the pillow at his side.

They threw the splendid broidered coverlet

O’er bridegroom and his bride.


By me must now long days of summer heat,

Long winter nights, in loneliness be passed

But though I live a hundred years, we’ll meet

Within the grave at last.22

The myriad flies buzzing about lead the poet to reflect on other pests of a political sort.



The blue flies float on the summer air,

They are humming and buzzing everywhere

They pollute each fence, and our trees infest,

Till no spot is clear of this noisome pest.


Some men I know like these loathsome flies,

Who infest the realm with their slandrous lies,

Their hatred and spite they will not restrain,

So confusion, malice, and mischief reign.


Ah, be not careless, dear Lord, be wise,

And crush these men, as we crush the flies:

Lest the friendship between old friends should fail,

And contentious strife in its stead prevail.23

Typical of a number of poems descriptive of the common work-a-day life of the Chinese farmer is this. One gets a pretty good idea from it of a number of aspects of the farmer’s life, how he woeks, what he eats, what he wears. etc.


With sharp and well-shaped glittering share,

The toilers turn, with patient care,

The southern acres to prepare.

The different kinds of grain they sow.

Each seed, though hid the earth below,

Its form of life will quickly show.

Behold their wives and children there!

These the cooked millet to them bear,

Carried in baskets round and square.

In light splint hats their hoes they speed,

Clearing the ground for fruitful seed,

And rooting out the noisome weed.

The weeds, uprooted, die away,

And feed the ground by their decay.

The millets grow from day to day.

And now the golden stalks and tall

Before the reapers, rustling, fall.

Straightway they’re built up like a wall.

High as a wall the sheaves are placed,

Like comb-teeth close, and interlaced.

Anon the grain is stored in haste.

Hundreds of houses hold the store;

The wives and children fret no more;

The labours of the year are o er.

This black-lipped tawny bull we slay,

Whose horns the well-known curve display,

The rites of husbandry to pay.

Thus to the future hand we down

These rites long held in high renown,

Glad the ancestral ways to own.24

Among the religious poems is an ode of Thanksgiving for a plentiful year.


The plenteous ear has given us large supply

Of rice and millet, and our granaries high

Hardly suffice the produce to contain, --

Millions of measures of the garnered grain!

From this distilled, shall spirits, strong and sweet,

Our sires and mothers with their fragrance greet,

When to their shrines each season we repair;

And in all other rites their part shall bear.

Blessings of every kind our land shall crown; --

And all the Spirits our devotion own!25

And finally, for space is all too limited, here is the prayer of an emperor, which certainly strikes an authentic note of humility as he faces the responsibilities of empire.

The Prayer Of The Emperor Ching -- I

Let me be reverent, be reverent,

Even as the way of Heaven is evident,

And its appointment easy is to mar.

Let me not say, "It is too high above,"

Above us and below us doth it move,

And daily watches wheresoe’er we are.

It is but as a little child I ask,

Without intelligence to do my task,

Yet learning, month by month, and day by day,

I will hold fast some gleams of knowledge bright.

Help me to bear my heavy burden right,

And show me how to walk in wisdom’s way.26

The Prayer of the Emperor Ching -- II

Even as a little helpless child am I,

On whom hath fallen the perplexed affairs

Of this unsettled state. High loneliness

And sorrow are my portion. Thou great Father,

Thou kingly pattern of parental awe,

Whose mind for ever in the courts beheld,

Roaming, the royal image of thy sire,

Night long and day long, I -- the little child --

Will so be reverent.

 O ye great kings!

Your crowned successor crowns you in his heart.

Live unforgotten. Here, upon the verge

Of the momentous years, I pause and trace

The shining footsteps of my forefathers,

And the far distant goal that drew them on --

Too distant for my range. Howe’er resolved

I may go forward. Lo! a thousand tracks

Cause me to swerve aside. A little child --

Only a little child -- I am too frail

To cope with the anxieties of state

And cares of king-craft. Yet I will ascend

Into my Father’s room, and through the courts

Below, for ever seeking, I will pass,

To brush the skirts of inspiration

And touch the sleeves of memory.


O great

And gracious Father, hear and condescend

To guard, to cherish, to enlighten me.27

The I Ching, or Book of Changes is a curious book. It is a book of divination and quite unintelligible to people who do not take stock in the occult. One is amazed to read that Confucius once said that if he had fifty more years to live he would give half of it to the study of the I Ching. Yet the book has been the object of intense interest to many of the Chinese sages.

The legendary story of its origin is that one of the emperors on an occasion was down by the river. There he saw a tortoise with some curious markings on his back. Having them copied he found that they formed eight trigrams or various arrangements of three broken and unbroken lines, thus three unbroken lines




the two top lines unbroken, the lowest broken, and so on. There are eight possible combinations. To each of these he gave a name, making it the symbol of some natural object and some moral quality consistent with that natural object. And these became means of divination. Later the trigrams became hexagrams of which sixty-four exist, and to each was given a name and qualities.

These mysterious signs, open to an infinite number of interpretations, have been of perennial interest to the type of mind that revels in obscure symbolism. Only in recent years a book was published in America in which the authors claim that they have discovered the key to its interpretation and that they have found a degree of correlation with the Bible. They declare: "assuredly in the fulness of time, it, the I Ching, will take its rightful place as a World Scripture, a presentment of vital and undying truth."28 As an example of the kind of a book it is we include here what is said about the first, called the Ch’ien Hexagram. It is made up of six unbroken lines:

I. The Ch’ien Hexagram








Explanation of the entire figure by King Wan. Ch’ien represents

what is great and originating, penetrating, advantageous, correct and


Explanation of the separate lines by the Duke of Chou:

1. In the first or (lowest line) undivided, we see its subject as the dragon lying hid (in the deep) . It is not the time for active doing.

2. In the second line, undivided, (we see its subject as) the dragon appearing in the field. It will be advantageous to meet with the great man.

3. In the third line, undivided, we see its subject as the superior man active and vigilant all the day, and in the evening still careful, and apprehensive. (The position) is dangerous but there will be no mistake.

4. In the fourth line, undivided, (we see its subject) as the dragon looking) as if he were leaping up, but still in the deep. There will be no mistake.

5. In the fifth line, undivided, (we see its subject as) the dragon on the wing in the sky. It will be advantageous to meet the great man.

6. In the sixth or topmost line, undivided, (we see its subject as) the dragon exceeding the proper limits. There will be occasion for repentance.

7. The lines of this hexagram are all strong and undivided, as appears from) the use of the number nine. If the host of dragons thus appearing were to divest themselves of their heads, there would be good fortune.29

The Li Chi, or Book of Rites, is called by James Legge, the translator, "a collection of treatises on the rules of propriety or ceremonial usages." It is made up of forty-six books. Something of the nature of the collection may be seen in the titles of some of the books. The first is a "Summary of the Rules of Propriety."

It is by no means a summary of all the rules of propriety, for that would be a summary of the entire book. It does, however, deal with important aspects of propriety, a word which probably more than any other lies at the center of Confucian teaching. "A life ordered in harmony with it would realize the highest Chinese ideal, and surely a very high ideal, of human character," writes James Legge30 It is one of four primary human qualities which belong as naturally to men as do their limbs according to Mencius. The others are benevolence (jen) , righteousness (i) , and understanding (Chih) . To do the proper thing on the proper occasion is the mark of the "superior man," or as both Arthur Waley and Lin Yutang translate it, the gentleman.

Other books are: T’an Kung, which deals in three parts chiefly with Mourning Rites. It contains also a number of historical incidents which involve Confucius and so throw additional light upon the master, though most scholars hold that they are only legendary. Book III deals with "Royal Regulations," which purport to be a report of regulations of early kings for the behavior of feudal nobles, other officers, their slaves, their sacrifices, and their care for the aged. Book IV is called the "Proceedings of Government in the Different Months"; Book X, "The Pattern of the Family"; Book XIV, "The Great Treatise"; treating of the greatest sacrifice, the greatest instance of filial piety, the greatest principle of regulation of the family, etc.; Book XVI, "Record of Studies," dealing with education; Book XVII, "Record of Music"; Book XX, "Laws or Rules of Sacrifice." In Book X, "Pattern of the Family," there are directions as to food which reveal the variety available, presumably to the well-to-do:

21. Of grain food, there was millet, the glutinous rice, rice, maize, the white millet, and the yellow maize, cut when ripe, or when green.

Of prepared meats, there were beef soup, mutton soup, pork soup, and roast beef; pickle slices of beef, pickle and minced beef; roast mutton, slices of mutton, pickle, and roast pork; pickle, slices of pork, mustard sauce, arid minced fish; pheasant, hare, quail, and partridge.

23. For relishes, snail-juice, and a condiment of the broad-leaved water-squash were used with pheasant soup, a condiment of wheat with soups and dried slices of fowl; broken glutinous rice with dog soup and hare soup; the rice-balls mixed with these soups had no smart-weed in them.

A suckling-pig was stewed, wrapped up in sonchus leaves and stuffed with smart-weed; a fowl, with the same stuffing, and along with pickle sauce; a fish, with the same stuffing and egg sauce; a tortoise, with the same stuffing and pickle sauce.

For meat spiced and dried they placed the brine of ants; for soup made of sliced meat, that of hare; for a ragout of elk, that of fish; for minced fish, mustard sauce; for raw elk flesh, pickle sauce; for preserved peaches and plums, egg-like suet.

24. . . . In all attempering ingredients, sour predominated in the spring; bitter, in the summer; acrid, in the autumn; and salt, in the winter: -- with the due proportioning of the unctuous and sweet.31

Some interesting directions as to filial piety, the duties of sons to parents are also included in the tenth book:

Sons, in serving their parents, on the first crowing of the cock, should all wash their hands and rinse their mouths, comb their hair, draw over it the covering of silk, fix this with the hair-pin, bind the hair at the roots with the fillet, brush the dust from that which is left free, and then put on their caps, leaving the ends of the strings hanging down. They should then put on their squarely made black jackets, knee-covers, and girdles, fixing in the last their tablets. From the left and right of the girdle they should hang their articles for use: -- on the left side, the duster and handkerchief, the knife and whetstone, the small spike, and the metal speculum for getting fire from the sun; on the right, the archer’s thimble for the thumb and the armlet, the tube for writing instruments, the knife-case, the larger spike, and the borer for getting fire from wood. They should put on their leggings, and adjust their shoe-strings.32

4. Thus dressed, they should go to their parents and parents-in-law. On getting to where they are, with bated breath and gentle voice, they should ask if their clothes are (too) warm or (too) cold, whether they are ill or pained, or uncomfortable in any part; and if they be so, they should proceed reverently to stroke and scratch the place. They should in the same way, going before or following after, help and support their parents in quitting or entering (the apartment) . In bringing in the basin for them to wash, the younger will carry the stand and the elder the water; they will beg to be allowed to pour out the water, and when the washing is concluded, they will hand the towel. They will ask whether they want anything, and then respectfully bring it. All this they will do with an appearance of pleasure to make their parents feel at ease. (They should bring) gruel, thick or thin, spirits or must, soup with vegetables, beans, wheat, spinach, rice millet, maize, and glutinous millet,-- whatever they wish, in fact; with dates, chestnuts, sugar and honey, to sweeten their dishes; with the ordinary or the large-leaved violets, leaves of elm-trees, fresh or dry, and the most soothing rice-water to lubricate them; and with fat and oil to enrich them. The parents will be sure to taste them, and when they have done so, the young people should withdraw.33

11. When with their parents, (sons and their wives) , when ordered to do anything, should immediately respond and reverently proceed to do it. In going forwards or backwards, or turning round, they should be careful and grave; while going out or coming in, while bowing or walking, they should not presume to eructate, sneeze, or cough, to yawn or stretch themselves, to stand on one foot, or to lean against anything or to look askance. They should not dare to spit or snivel, nor, if it be cold, to put on more clothes, nor, if they itch anywhere, to scratch themselves.34

Book XXVIII, sometimes translated as the Doctrine of the Mean, which Legge says "gives the best account of the Confucian philosophy and morals," and Book XXXIX, the "Great Learning," are now usually published as separate books and considered as among the "Four Books" which, in addition to the "Five Classics," constitute the generally accepted Confucian canon. These will be discussed later.

The Book of Rites is not the work of Confucius, at least as we have it today. The very fact that it is called a Chi or "record" rather than a Ching or "text" is evidence that the orthodox do not regard it as of Confucian origin, for they reserve that term only for books which they believe were by Confucius. It is rather a compilation from documents purporting to come from Confucius and his followers, made late in the pre-Christian era, and edited and re-edited until it reached its present form near the end of the second century A.D. But it has all the force of Confucius’ teaching, since it is believed to derive ultimately from him, and has been authoritative for the regulation of many phases of Chinese life down to the modern period. Under the stress of modern life, and the influx of foreign influences it has lost much of its former compelling influence over the lives of the Chinese people.

Two other similar works, the Chan Li, and the I Li, have also been important in controlling Chinese practices. The Chou Li, said to be older than the Li Ki, was regarded as a sixth classic, until the Ming dynasty in the fourteenth century. It dealt more specifically with political matters. The I Li has to do with the conduct of everyday life. It is of more recent origin than the other two and has not been as authoritative as either of the other two.

Spring and Autumn, the last of the "Five Classics," is the only book of the five which may confidently be assigned to the authorship of Confucius. And it turns out to be quite the least important of the lot. The title itself is deceptive, and one wonders as he reads why it was chosen. Probably its only significance is that it was the annals of the state of Lu of the four seasons, and came to be called Spring and Autumn for short. There are numerous references to nothing more than the change of season, thus "It was autumn, the seventh month." "It was winter, the tenth month." Later when the book had come to be thought of as of great moral significance, probably just because it was the work of Confucius, some said that it was so called because "its commendations are like life-giving spring and its censures are withering like the autumn."35

Confucius is reported to have said of the book that it was the work by which men would remember and commend him. Mencius rated it very highly. Said he: "Confucius completed the Spring and Autumn and rebellious ministers and bad sons were struck with terror." On reading it one wonders why, for it seems on the surface to be nothing more nor less than a bare catalogue of events which occurred in Confucius’ native state of Lu, compiled by the Master from the State Annals. It covers the period 722-484 B.C., or from more or less the end of the Book of History to nearly the end of Confucius’ own lifetime. It follows through the period of rule of the successive dukes who headed the state and gives by years, within each administration, the list of events which were considered of sufficient importance to note. Here, for example, is the record of the thirteenth year of Duke Hwan.

1. In his thirteenth year in spring in the second month the duke had a meeting with the marquis of Ke and the earl of Ch’ing; and on Ke-sze they fought with the marquis of Tse, the duke of Sung, the marquis of Wei, and an officer of Yen, . . .

2. In the third month there was the burial of duke Seuen of Wei.

3. In summer there were great floods.

4. It was autumn, the seventh month.

5. It was winter, the tenth month.36

It is neither inspired nor inspiring writing. But in time, as Confucius acquired prestige and authority, it must have been assumed that there was more to it than met the eye. So commentators began to find in the barren record profound meanings. If this seems strange let Western readers reflect on what commentators on the Bible have found in some similar barren passages, or what preachers have been able to get out of a simple historical statement like "and Jesus went up to Jerusalem."

It is the commentators who have given life to the annals; taking the bare statements of fact, they have woven about them a mass of detailed exposition, including history, legend, and homily, which is not without interest or significance. The great commentary, that of Tso, known as the Tso Chuen, is by no means uninteresting, and its value as an aid to the study of Chinese history is great. Often moral discourses are included which are of the Confucian order, so that the book seems to have importance in the teaching of morals as well as history. For example, Book I, IV, has this item:


The Duke of Sung, the marquis of Ch’in, an army of Ts’ae and an army of Wei invaded Ch’ing.

As part of the lengthy comment on the verse this homily on the use of violence appears:

Your servant has heard that the people may be made well affected by virtue: I have not heard that they may be made so by violence. To use violence with that in view, is like trying to put silk in order and only ravelling it. Chow-yu relies on his military force and can do cruel things, for his military likings the multitude will not cleave to him; and for his cruelties his relatives will not. With the multitude rebellious and his friends leaving him, it will be difficult for him to be successful. Military weapons are like fire; if you don’t lay the fire aside it will burn yourself. Chow-yu murdered his prince, and he uses his people oppressively, thus not making excellent virtue his pursuit; he will certainly not escape calamity.37

Or again the occurrence of a great drought furnished the occasion of a condemnation of witch-burning. In Book V, year XXI it is said:

"In summer, there was great drought." The Tso-Chuen comments thus. The duke wished in consequence of the drought to burn a witch, and a person much emaciated, Ts’ang Wau-Chung said to him, "That is not proper preparation in a time of drought. Put in good repair your walls, the inner and the outer; lessen your food; be sparing in all your expenditures. Be in earnest to be economical and encourage people to help one another; this is the most important preparation. What have the witch and the emaciated person to do with the matter? If Heaven wish to put them to death, it had better not have given them life. If they can really produce drought, to burn them will increase the calamity." The duke followed his advice and that year the scarcity was not very great.38

The mention of the flood in the 13th year of Duke Hwan, given above, is commented upon by another commentator, Wang Paou, thus:

Nine times is the calamity of floods recorded in the Ch’un Ch’iu; twice in the time of Hwan, and thrice in the time of Chwang. Of the nine calamities five of them occurred in the days of the father and his son. May we conclude that they were in retribution to the father for his wickedness accumulated and unrepented of, and to the son for allowing his father’s wrong to go unavenged? So speculate Chinese scholars.39

The fact that the Spring and Autumn falls so far short of what might be expected from Confucius’ own estimate of the work, and that of Mencius, has led some to the belief that the book, now known under that name, is not at all the book to which Confucius or Mencius referred. If it is not, where is the book? The answer given is that it was really destroyed by Emperor Shih Hwang in 213 B.C., in the general attempt to destroy the Confucian books, and that the book of annals which was somehow preserved came to bear the name of the real document, Spring and Autumn. This seems not to be a wholly unplausible conjecture, but we shall probably never know certainly.

The Lun Yu, variously translated, the Analects, or the sayings, or Aphorisms of Confucius, were not of course written or collected by the sage himself. It rather consists, chiefly, of the sayings of the Master which his disciples remembered, and some description of him and his characteristic behavior. The book thus resembles the Gospels of the New Testament. More is to be learned directly concerning Confucius from this source than from any other. But it is in no sense a biography of Confucius, much less so indeed than the gospels are of Jesus. Most of the sayings, as recorded, are isolated utterances, with little or no indication as to whom spoken, or under what circumstances, though in some cases both the persons and the situation under which the words were uttered are given. They are grouped into twenty books, but the books are seldom a unit, rather each is a collection of miscellaneous sayings of the Sage. Lin Yutang wonders that no Chinese writer has undertaken to regroup the related sayings in some more or less topical fashion. This he himself has done in his Wisdom of Confucius under such headings as "Description of Confucius by Himself and Others," "The Emotional and Artistic Life of Confucius," "The Conversational Style"; "Wit and Wisdom," "The Superior Man and the Inferior Man" etc. But he adds to the sayings taken from the Analects others taken from certain chapters of the Li Chi, which differ but little from the Analects, unfortunately, without indicating which ones. Also he includes not more than a fourth of the whole collection.

Modern scholars differ considerably in their estimate of the authenticity of these sayings. Arthur Waley says, "I think we are justified in supposing that the book does not contain many authentic sayings, and possibly none at all."40 Creel, on the other hand, says that while all scholars agree that some parts of the book are open to question, they nevertheless agree that "the book in general is our best single source for Confucius."41 He regards it as an early book, on the basis of internal evidence; Confucius has not yet become the legendary figure of later Chinese thought. He is still a man of doubts and weaknesses as well as struggle. Also it contains statements about the Sage which Confucius might have preferred not to have mentioned. These would seem to be out of place in an Undoubtedly Confucian book, if there were no basis in fact for them. It was probably not the collection of his immediate disciples, but of a generation farther removed from his own time, made perhaps by disciples of some Confucian followers. Legge thinks it may have appeared near the end of the fifth or the beginning of the fourth century B.C. Both Creel and Waley agree that the oldest stratum is to be found within the first nine books. Book X, which many regard as descriptive of Confucius and so the most revealing of all the Confucian literature as to his personal characteristics, is held by Waley to be a compilation of old maxims on ritual. The last five books seem to have been the latest additions to the collection, but, even so, may contain genuine early material. Some of the sayings herein included are really hostile to Confucian ideas as set forth in other portions of the book.

But whether early or late, authentic or not, traditionally, it has come to be accepted as the most basic of the Confucian books, and the Confucius recognized by the greater number of the Chinese is precisely the Confucius of the Analects.

It is not a book to sit down and read from cover to cover, any more than is the Book of Proverbs. Lin Yutang compares it to Bartlett’s Quotations. He quotes the great Chinese philosopher, Chu Hsi, on the way to read the Analects. "Just take one or two sections a day. Never mind whether the passage is difficult or easy to understand, or whether it is a profound passage or not. Just read on from the beginning of the section, and if you don’t get the meaning by thinking, then read again. Turn it back and forth and try to get the flavor. Thus, after a long while you will understand what is in it."42

A few examples, chosen more or less at random will give something of the flavor of the book.

At fifteen I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy I could follow what my heart desired (II, 4) .

Tsze Kung asked what constituted the superior man. The Master said, "He acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according to his actions" (II, 13) .

The Master said, "If the will be set on virtue, there will be no practice of wickedness" (IV, 4) .

The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain (IV, 16) .

The cautious seldom err (IV, 23) .

The superior man wishes to be slow in his speech and earnest in his conduct (IV, 24) .

Tsze Kung said, "What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men." The Master said, "Tsze, you have not attained to that" (V, 11) .

The Master said, "In a hamlet of ten families there may be found one honorable and sincere as I am, but not so fond of learning" (V, 27) .

When a prince’s personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders but they will not be followed (XIII, 6) .

The superior man is modest in his speech but exceeds in actions (XIV, 29) .

If a man take no thought about what is distant he will find sorrow near at hand (XV, 11) .

When a man at forty is the object of dislike he will always continue what he is (XVII, 26) .43

If, indeed, the tenth book is a description of Confucius, as traditionally held, and not the book of ritual maxims Waley considers it to be, the sage is seen to be a very precise person, extremely meticulous in his observance of the amenities of life.

He did not eat meat which was not cut properly, nor what was served without its proper sauce (VIII, 3) .

He did not eat much. When eating he did not converse. When in bed he did not speak. If his mat was not straight, he did not sit on it. He required his sleeping dress to be half as long again as his body (VIII, 7, 9, IX, VI, 6) .

Although his food might be coarse rice and vegetable soup, he would offer a little of it in sacrifice with a grave respectful air (VIII, 10) .

When he saw anyone in a mourning dress though it might be an acquaintance, he would change countenance, when he saw anyone wearing the cap of full dress, or a blind person, though he might be in his undress, he would salute him in a ceremonious manner (XVI, 2) ."

The Chung Yung, translated variously as the "Doctrine of the Mean," or the "Golden Mean," is traditionally thought to have been the work of a grandson of Confucius, Tsu Ssu, who had been a disciple of Tseng Tzu, one of Confucius’ outstanding followers, himself the teacher of Mencius, whose work constitutes one of the "Four Books." It consists, in part, of reported sayings of the Sage, and in part of the sayings of Tsu Ssu himself. It has generally been regarded as the best statement of Confucius’ philosophy and ethics. It forms a part of the Li Chi and is, therefore, probably a much later work than the other Confucian books. This may account for the religious development evident in it.

An ancient Chinese sage enthusiastically says of it, "Unroll it, and it fills the universe; roll it up and it retires and lies hid in mysteriousness. The relish of it is inexhaustible. The whole of it is solid learning. When the skilled leader has explored it, he may carry it into practice all his life, and will find that it cannot be exhausted."46 The modern writer, Lin Yutang, thinks that it gives the best approach to Confucian philosophy.46

It has been the custom to minimize the religious basis of Confucian ethics, and to regard the system as purely humanistic. But on the basis of this book it is difficult to see how one could arrive at such a conception. For here, in crystal clear form, is a statement of the moral nature of the universe itself.

The ordinance of God is what we call the law of our being. To fulfil the law of our being is what we call the moral law. The moral law when reduced to a system is what we call religion.

The moral law is a law from whose operation we cannot for one instant in our existence escape. A law from which we may escape is not the moral law. Therefore it is that the moral man watches diligently over what his eyes cannot see and is in fear and awe of what his ears cannot hear.

There is nothing more evident than that which cannot be seen by the eyes and nothing more palpable than that which cannot be perceived by the senses. Wherefore the moral man watches diligently over his secret thoughts.

When the passions such as joy, anger, grief, and pleasure, have not awakened, that is our true self, or moral being. When these passions awaken and each and all attain due measure and degree that is the moral order. Our true self or moral being is the great reality (lit. great root) of existence, and moral order is the universal law in the world.

When true moral being and moral order are realized, the universe then becomes a cosmos and all things attain their full growth and development.47

Nor is this the only such statement. The book is full of it.

There is no place in the highest heavens above nor in the deepest waters below where the moral law does not reign. The moral law takes its rise in the relation between man and woman; but in the utmost reaches it reigns supreme over heaven and earth (Sec. 12) .48

In considering the nature and organization of human society it is

necessary for him to understand the laws of God.

Truth is the law of God. Acquired truth is the law of man.

Confucius remarked, "The power of spiritual forces in the Universe -- how active it is everywhere! Invisible to the eyes, and unpalpable to the senses, it is inherent in all things and nothing can escape its operation. . . .Like the rush of mighty waters the presence of unseen Powers is felt: sometimes above us, sometimes around us. . . such is the evidence of things invisible that it is impossible to doubt the spiritual nature of man.

Oh, how great is the divine moral law in man! Vast and illimitable, it gives birth and life to all created things. . . . All the institutions of human society and civilization -- laws, customs, usages -- have their origin there. . . . Unless there be highest moral power, the highest moral law cannot be realized.

There moral laws form one system with the laws by which Heaven and Earth support and contain; overshadow and canopy all things. . . . It is this -- one system running through all --

that makes the Universe so impressively great.49

This book is undoubtedly more religious in its emphasis than the others, but all through the Book of History and the Odes and the Analects (less here perhaps than elsewhere) is evidence that while Confucius was eminently practical and commonsense in his ethical outlook, he was also a deeply religious man who believed that there was a power beyond man whereon he was dependent. And he was apparently most scrupulous in the performance of the rituals, both religious and social, which were proper to his time and station.

This book, if more philosophical than the others, is nevertheless

also packed with moral counsel as are the other books. One example must suffice:

The moral man conforms himself to his life circumstances; he does not desire anything outside of his position.

Finding himself in a position of wealth and honor he lives as becomes one living in a position of poverty and humble circumstances. Finding himself in uncivilized countries, he lives as becomes one living in uncivilized countries. Finding himself in circumstances of danger and difficulty, he acts according to what is required of a man under such circumstances. In one word, the moral man can find himself in no situation in life in which he is not master of himself.

In a high position he does not domineer over his subordinates. In a subordinate position he does not court the favours of his superiors. He puts in order his own personal conduct and seeks nothing from others; hence he has no complaint to make. He complains not against God nor rails against men.

Thus it is that the moral man lives out the even tenor of his life, calmly waiting for the appointment of God, whereas the vulgar person takes to dangerous courses, expecting the uncertain changes of luck.

Confucius remarked: "In the practice of archery we have something resembling the principle in a moral man’s life. When the archer misses the centre of the target he turns around and seeks the cause for his failure within himself."50


The Ta Hsueh or Great Learning, better translated, thinks Ku Hung Ming, as "Higher Education,"51 is also to be found as Chapter 39 of the Li Chi. It was the twelfth-century philosopher, Chu Hsi, who lifted this book and the Chung Yung out of the Li Chi and, joining them with the Analects and the works of Mencius, formed the Four Books, thus giving them a greater importance than they had, tucked away in the Book of Rites. The Ta Hsueh may have been written primarily as the basis of an education for princes, but it has for centuries been studied by all who have aspired to any important place in government.

It consists chiefly of an introductory statement of principle, when it is then commented upon and expounded in considerable detail. Its method of statement is the familiar regressus which we saw used in the Upanishads. There is an orderliness about things, one thing resting back upon another, and true education seems to arise from an appreciation of this fact and a willingness to take the necessary and logical steps, in order.

The principles of higher education consist in preserving man’s clear character, in giving new life to the people, and in dwelling (or resting) in perfection, or the ultimate good.

But how does one arrive at these desirable ends?

Only after knowing the goal of perfection where one should dwell, can one have a definite purpose in life. Only after having a definite purpose in life can one achieve calmness of mind. Only after having achieved a calmness of mind can one have peaceful repose. Only after having peaceful repose can one begin to think. Only after one has learned to think, can one achieve knowledge. There are a foundation and a superstructure in the constitution of things, and a beginning and an end in the course of events. Therefore to know the proper sequence or relative order of things is the beginning of wisdom.

Then follows what is the real heart of Confucian ethics and of Confucian education. Knowledge is the basic requisite for moral ends and knowledge depends upon the investigation of things. This is strikingly similar to the modern empirical emphasis.

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their own states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were thus rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed. Their states being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.52

The remainder of the document is chiefly commentary upon the foregoing.

Longest section of the commentary is the one explaining the saying "the restoration of peace in the world depends on ordering the material life"; quite in keeping with Confucius’ well-known preoccupation with questions of a political nature. Sentences taken at random from this part are:

Those who have the people with them can keep their rule over a

country, and those who have forfeited the following of their people thereby forfeit their rule over the country.

The mandate of Heaven is not fixed and unchangeable. The good rulers get it and the bad rulers forfeit it.

The material prosperity of a nation does not consist in its material prosperity but in righteousness.53

The last of the "Four Books" does not purport to come from Confucius at all. It was the work of Mencius, a man who lived about a century later, who drank deeply at the fountain of Confucian wisdom, as it had been transmitted to his times, and who became the foremost Confucian teacher of antiquity, or perhaps of all time. He has often been likened to St. Paul, not of course because of any similarity that exists between the teachings of the two, but because of the relative position he occupies in relation to the founder of the faith of which he was a major apostle. In many respects his life was parallel to that of his Master. He was of humble birth; he became a scholar and a teacher. He also held public office, and like Confucius seemed more interested in political matters than religious. He, too, lost his government employment, and for years sought, wandering from state to state, some ruler who would allow him to test out his theory of government in actual practice, but found no one willing to give him the chance.

Confucian thought had, with the passage of time, been variously interpreted and there came to be various schools. Mencius stands in the orthodox line, and in it was preeminent. He took some of the Confucian ideas, developed them, and gave them well defined and systematic form, particularly his ideas of government. He was an excellent speaker and writer, good at debate and at detailed exposition of his thought. Where we have only brief sayings of Confucius, the work of Mencius contains fairly long and well-reasoned discourses. The seven books of Mencius represent in bulk about a third more than the Analects, and are said to be written in much better Chinese prose. He was a pupil of Tsu Ssu to whom the Chung Yung is attributed, who was in turn a disciple of Tseng Tzu or Master Tseng, whose name figures so often in the Analects. Lin Yutang quotes a Chinese scholar, Han Yu, as saying: "In order to understand the Sage one must begin with Mencius," and also, "Mencius was the purest of the pure in the interpretation of Confucius."54

One of the teachings for which Mencius is noted is his doctrine of the goodness of human nature.

The philosopher Kaou said, "Man’s Nature is like water whirling round in a corner. Open a passage for it to the east, and it will flow to the east; open a passage for it to the west and it will flow to the west. Man’s nature is indifferent to good and evil, just as the water is indifferent to the east and west."

Mencius replied, "Water indeed will flow indifferently to the east or west, but will it flow indifferently up or down? The tendency of man s nature to good is like the tendency of water to flow downwards. There are none but have this tendency to good, just as all water flows downwards."55

This single quotation states the doctrine, but it is defended at

length against the objections of the philosopher, Kao Tzu, in what might be entitled an essay on the goodness of human nature.56

In respect to government, Mencius states not only general principles as in the case of most of Confucian sayings on the subject, but goes into specific detail as to what should or should not be done, for example the following bit as to husbandry and conservation:

If the seasons of husbandry be not interfered with, the grain will be more than can be eaten. If close nets are not allowed to enter the pools and ponds, the fishes and turtles will be more than can be consumed. If the axes and bills enter the hills and forests only at the proper time, the wood will be more than can be used. When the grain and fish and turtles are more than can be eaten, and there is more wood than can be used, this enables the people to nourish their living and bury their dead, without any feeling against any. The condition, in which the people nourish their living and bury their dead without any feeling against any, is the first step of royal government.

Let mulberry trees be planted about the homesteads with their five mow, and persons of fifty years may be clothed with silk. In keeping fowls, pigs, dogs, and swine, let not their times of breeding be neglected, and persons of seventy years may eat flesh. Let there not be taken away the time that is proper for the cultivation of the farm with its hundred mow, and the family of several mouths that is supported by it shall not suffer from hunger. Let careful attention be paid to education in schools, inculcating in it especially the filial and fraternal duties, and grey-haired men will not be seen upon the roads, carrying burdens on their backs or on their heads. It never has been that the ruler of a state where such results were seen, -- persons of seventy wearing silk and eating flesh and the black-haired people suffering neither from hunger nor cold -- did not attain to the imperial dignity.

Your dogs and swine eat the food of men, and you do not know to make any restrictive arrangements. There are people dying from famine on the roads, and you do not know to issue the stores of your granaries for them. When people die, you say, "It is not owing to me; it is owing to the year." In what does this differ from stabbing a man and killing him, and then saying, "It was not I; it was the weapon?" Let your Majesty cease to lay the blame on the year, and instantly from all the empire the people will come to you.

King Hui of Liang said, "I wish quietly to receive your instruction!"

Mencius replied, "Is there any difference between killing a man with a stick and with a sword?" The king said, "There is no difference." "Is there any difference between doing it with a sword and with the style of government?" "There is no difference," was the reply.57


Mencius, like Confucius, was a man of strong character and with a passion for righteousness. It is the most important thing in the world, more important than life itself.

Mencius said, "I like fish and I also like bear’s paws. If I cannot have the two together, I will let the fish go, and take the bear’s paws. So, I like life, and I also like righteousness. If I cannot keep the two together, I will let life go and choose righteousness.

"I like life indeed, but there is that which I like more than life, and therefore, I will not seek to possess it by any improper ways. I dislike death indeed, but there is that which I dislike more than death, and therefore there are occasions when I will not avoid danger."58

Probably it was to Mencius, more than any other of his disciples, that Confucius owes his great influence, for Mencius served to popularize and give currency to the teachings of the sage. The fact that the work came, in the end, to rank as one of the "Four Books," is an indication of the high esteem in which he came to be held by the Chinese, and of the faithfulness with which he interpreted and developed the teachings of the Master.

Eventually, these Confucian books, which we have passed so rapidly in review, became the basis of Chinese education, particularly the education of those who aspired to rule the people. For centuries scholars studied them, learned them by rote and sought to understand them and expound their meaning. The examinations, held annually, brought great numbers to the capital city of the reigning dynasty. In Nanking, or the Southern capital, halls are said to stand even yet, where candidates spent days in what was probably as formidable a set of examinations as students anywhere have had to pass. They have not been used since the coming of the revolution.

And even now, when the Confucian books are no longer a required study, they still continue to exercise a great influence, for even with the changes the modern world and modern war have brought to China, the major institutions of Chinese life are still largely determined by the age-old traditions of China, which were and still are largely in accord with patterns laid down in this literature. What will be the effect of Communism on these traditions? China is an anvil that has worn out many hammers. It is likely that in the end Communism will be affected by it, as much as or more than it will affect Chinese culture.


There are two native religions of China. Confucianism, which, until the twentieth century revolution, was for centuries the State religion, has been the dominant faith, and has been most influential in shaping the patterns of the religious and moral life of the people. But there has always been a minority group which held quite a different view of religion and life from that of the Confucian majority. This was true long before the time either of Confucius or Lao Tzu, the so-called founders of the two faiths. For Confucius and Lao Tzu were founders only in the sense of channelling and giving definite form to attitudes and outlooks already present in China long before they came along. In general, Confucianism represents the more humanistic outlook, the common-sense, down-to-earth attitude, while Taoism represents the more mystical, otherworldly point of view. Since in China there is no such sharp separation into religious groups as in the West, it may be said that most Chinese have in them something of both tendencies, and feel perfectly free to express themselves at one time through one, at another time through the other. Someone has truly said that these two so-called faiths represent simply different moods of the Chinese people.

But in time separate organizations and institutions did emerge, and have existed side by side for over two thousand years, generally at peace one with another, though Taoism has suffered persecution, at times, at the hands of the State religion.

It was perhaps the emergence of a literature in both cases which had the effect of crystallizing them into institutions. Confucianism grew up around the books attributed directly or indirectly to Confucius, as we have seen. Taoism in a somewhat less definitely traceable fashion was the outgrowth of writings attributed to Lao Tzu, and one of his great disciples Chuang Tzu. Taoism flourished as a philosophy long before it became the popular religion known as Taoism today. The philosophy dates from the time of Lao Tzu, formerly thought to be a slightly older contemporary of Confucius: but recent scholars are inclined to date Lao Tzu some two or three centuries later than the traditionally accepted date. Taoism as a distinct religion is thought to have arisen in the second century AD., founded by one Chang Tao Ling. But in any event the sacred writings are the same -- the little classic attributed to Lao Tzu, and the writings of Chuang Tzu.

There is a legend to account for the Tao-Te-Ching, the supposed work of Lao Tzu. He was a scholar, keeper of the archives of his native state. He was a gentle soul, much troubled by the unsettled times in which he lived, and about which nobody seemed to be doing anything very effective. Perhaps he did see one attempt after another to improve the situation, but without success. Pondering deeply upon the problems, he came to the conclusion that there was really only one solution to the whole sorry situation, and that was to give up active striving and to leave it all to the Tao, or the Way, the very nature of things. Accordingly, he resolved to abandon the world, and so set out one day to leave it all behind. World flight was the logical result of this thinking.

Legend has it that when he was about to pass through the gate, bound for an unknown destination, the gatekeeper recognized him and besought him that, before leaving, he set down his thought for other men to read and profit by. He consented, and before going out, sat down and wrote quickly the five thousand characters which constitute what is at once the most delightful, and perhaps also the most baffling of all the sacred books.59 It is translated variously into English as The Canon of Reason and Virtue, The Way and Its Power, and otherwise, but when one compares the translations, they differ greatly one from the other, probably reflecting therein the religious biases of the several translators. By one, a Buddhist, it has become almost entirely a Buddhist document. No one who is not himself acquainted with the Chinese language can say whether it is well translated by one or another of the translators, and even Chinese differ among themselves as to its meaning. But, curiously enough, whether one understands it completely or not, it makes interesting reading. The difficulty is that it deals with concepts so vague and so intangible, that precise meanings are difficult to make clear to the reader.

The central concept of the document is the Tao, or the Way. It is described in a dozen different ways, and yet when all of them have been carefully read and considered, one is not yet certain that he has captured its meaning. It is like trying to grasp a handful of air or of fog. It is elusive.

Take for example the first section as translated by Lin Yutang:

The Tao that can be told of

Is not the absolute Tao

The names that can be given

Are not absolute names.60

Earlier translators gave an English translation of the word Tao. G. G. Alexander translates the same passage thus:

God (the great everlasting infinite First Cause from whom all things in heaven and earth proceed) can neither be defined nor named. For the God which can be defined or named is but the Creator, the Great Mother of all those things of which our sense have cognizance.61

Since the term God conveys such a definitely personal meaning to Western readers, it is much better to use the Chinese term, Tao, and let the document itself reveal what it may as to the nature of the Tao, as conceived by Lao Tzu.

But if the Tao is essentially indescribable, Lao Tzu does not fail to characterize it in a variety of ways.

Tao is all-pervading

And its use is inexhaustible,


Like the fountain head of all things

Its sharp edges rounded off.

Its tangles untied,

Its light tempered,

Its turmoil submerged.

Yet crystal clear like water it seems to remain,

I do not know whose son it is,

An image which existed before God.62

The thing called Tao is elusive

Is elusive, evasive,

Evasive, elusive,

Yet latent in it are forms,

Elusive, evasive,

Yet latent in it are objects.

Dark and dim,

Yet latent in it is the life-force.

The life-force being very true,

Latent in it are evidences. . . .63


Once again:

But Tao is mild to the taste.

Looked at it cannot be seen;

Listened to it cannot be heard;

Applied, its supply never fails.64

Though difficult to grasp, there is nothing to compare with the Tao in the effectiveness of its operation. Paradoxically, says Lao Tzu:

The Tao never does,

Yet through it everything is done.65

There are many paradoxes in the work of Lao Tzu. Section XXXVI, which Lin Yutang entitles "The Rhythm of Life," is a series of paradoxes.

He who is to be made to dwindle (in power)

Must first be caused to expand.

He who is to be weakened

Must first be made strong.

He who is to be laid low

Must first be exalted to power.

He who is to be taken away from

Must first be given.


This is the subtle light

Gentleness overcomes strength. . . .66

Other striking paradoxes are found in section XXII.

To yield is to be preserved whole,

To become bent is to become straight

To be hollow is to be filled,

To be tattered is to be renewed.

To be in want is to possess,

To have plenty is to be confused.

Therefore the Sage embraces the One

And becomes the model of the world.

He does not reveal himself

And is therefore luminous.

He does not justify himself

And is therefore far-famed.

He does not boast himself

And therefore people give him credit.

He does not pride himself

And is therefore the ruler among men.

It is because he does not contend

That no one in the world can contend against him.67

Lao Tzu comes close to the New Testament in many of his utterances for example in section VII.

The universe is everlasting.

The reason that the universe is everlasting

Is that it does not live for Self.

Therefore it can long endure.

Therefore the Sage puts himself last

And finds himself in a foremost place;

Regards his body as accidental

And his body is thereby preserved.

Is it not because he does not live for Self.

That his Self achieves perfection?68

He advocates returning good for evil as do Buddha and Jesus. "To the good I do good," he said, "and to the evil I also do good." This is in contrast to Confucius who said in effect "Requite good with good, but requite evil with justice."

Perhaps his most outstanding emphasis was upon the principle of wu wei. This has been translated variously as "harmlessness," "non-action," and even as laissez-faire.

The softest substance of the world

Goes through the hardest.

That which is without form penetrates that

which has no crevice;

Through this I know the benefit of taking no action

The teaching without words,

And the benefit of taking no action

Are without compare in the universe.69

The most famous statement of it is that which inquires how one goes about making muddy water clear. The answer is, of course, by doing precisely nothing. Let it alone and it will clear itself.

By doing nothing everything is done.

He who conquers the world often does so by doing nothing.

Where one is compelled to do something,

The world is already beyond his conquering.70

Naturally, violent action would be excluded by this principle, so he is not only a passivist but a pacifist.

Of all things, soldiers are instruments of evil

Hated by men.

Therefore the religious man possessed of Tao avoids them.71

Others have taught this maxim

Which I preach also:

The violent man shall die a violent death

This I shall regard as my spiritual teacher.72

Although passages occur which may be interpreted as permitting force where it cannot be helped, it is likely that this persistent emphasis of Lao Tzu may have contributed much to the generally pacific nature of Chinese culture, and in particular to the low esteem in which, until very recently, the military also has been held.

His prescription for world peace will make little appeal to a hyper-activist generation, but maybe he had something after all. Activism and aggressiveness do not seem to be doing too well at attaining it.

If kings and barons can keep the Tao,

The world will of its own accord be reformed. . .

Let it be restrained by the Nameless pristine simplicity,

The Nameless pristine simplicity

Is stripped of desire (for contention) .

By stripping of desire quiescence is achieved

And the world arrives at peace of its own accord.73

The Tao-Te-Ching, perhaps because of its rather vague, elusive character, has not become so widely known as the more practical, common-sense, far more easily understood Confucian books. But mystics have always prized it highly, both in China and elsewhere. Aldous Huxley quotes it again and again in the Perennial Philosophy which he describes as "the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality, substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with final Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being."74

Lin Yutang, the very modern Chinese writer, says of it:

If there is one book in the whole of Oriental literature which one should read above all others, it is, in my opinion, Lao Tzu’s Book of Tao. It teaches the wisdom of appearing foolish, the success of appearing to fail, the strength of weakness and the advantage of lying low, the benefit of yielding to your adversary and the futility of contention for power . . . if there is one book advising against the multifarious activities and futile busy-ness of the modern man. . , it is the Book of Tao. It is one of the profoundest books in the world’s philosophy.75

The Tao-Te-Ching is a book not to be read through at a sitting

but to be read a little at a time and pondered. It is a book which

grows on one as he reads.

Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu stands in relation to Lao Tzu somewhat as does Paul to Jesus, and Mencius to Confucius. He was a contemporary of Mencius. On the basis of the older chronology he lived some two centuries after his Master. But, if the suggestions of later scholars that Lao Tzu belonged to the fourth century is accepted, the interval between the two men is greatly lessened. Certainty at this point is not at present possible.

Little is known of his life. He held an inconspicuous governmental position in a small provincial city. Once he tells us that he was asked to assume a position of greater importance as Prince Minister in the Ch’u state. But he declined. Public office of high degree was not for him. He was essentially a poet and a dreamer, to whom the responsibilities of high office would have been irksome. But his writings brought him into contact with many of the great scholars of his time.

He was a profound disciple of Lao Tzu. Confucianism he deeply disliked, and attacked with great vigor. This brought down upon him the enmity of the exponents of the popular and dominant Confucian teaching, which precisely during his own time was being expounded by the great Mencius. It is rather curious that the two men never met, and that there is no reference in the writings of either one to the other.

Lao Tzu’s teaching, never highly popular, was being rapidly eclipsed by the revival of Confucianism, due to Mencius and others. There was an increasing emphasis upon the Confucian controls upon the whole of life, against which the teachings of Lao Tzu stood in such extreme contrast. Confucius was essentially an activist. Lao Tzu was a passivist. His great principle of non-action (wu-wei) was diametrically opposed to the regimented activism of Confucius and his school. Chuang Tzu came boldly to the defense of his master’s teaching and lent it much needed support. He gave it a currency it might never have gained otherwise, and he modified it in some respects.

For Chuang Tzu was no mere slavish follower of Lao Tzu. Some phases of his teaching he ignores, or passes over very lightly. Others he extends possibly far beyond what Lao Tzu would have been willing to do. But the central core of his teaching is unmistakably faithful to the Master.

Perhaps the greatest contribution he made was to give Taoism a literary expression which would carry it far beyond where the Tao-Te-Ching would reach. He is rated as one of China’s greatest literary figures. Lionel Giles writes almost lyrically in his praise:

He of all ancients wielded the most perfect mastery over Chinese prose style, and was the first to show to what heights of eloquence and beauty his native language could attain. And in these respects, great as the achievements are of which later Chinese literature can boast, he has never been surpassed. Indeed, his master-hand sounded chords that have vibrated to no other touch.76

Lin Yutang calls him the greatest prose writer of the Chou dynasty because of "the brilliance of his style and the depth of his thought." Despite his marked antagonism to Confucius and Confucian ideas, his opponents were obliged to admire his writing, even when disagreeing with his ideas.77

But Lin Yutang does go on to say that no pure-blooded Chinese could ever quite disagree with Chuang Tzu’s ideas, since: "Taoism is not a school of thought in China, it is a deep, fundamental trait of Chinese thinking, and of the Chinese attitude toward life and toward society. It has depth, while Confucianism has only a practical sense of proportion; it enriches Chinese poetry and imagination in an immeasurable manner, and it gives a philosophic sanction to whatever is in the idle, freedom-loving, poetic, vagabond Chinese soul. It provides the only safe, romantic release from the severe Confucian classic restraint and humanizes the very humanists themselves."78

Not only is Chuang Tzu a philosopher, he is also a humorist. No more delightfully humorous writing is to be found anywhere than in some of the whimsical anecdotes found in his book. One is tempted to present a number of such examples as a relief from the more or less solemn material which has perforce been drawn from most of the books discussed here.

(3) Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P’u when the prince of Ch’u sent two high officials to ask him to take charge of the administration of the Ch’u State.

Chuang Tzu went on fishing, and without turning his head said, "I have heard that in Ch’u there is a sacred tortoise which has been dead now some three thousand years. And that the prince keeps this tortoise carefully enclosed in a chest on the altar of his ancestral temple. Now would this tortoise rather be dead, and have its remains venerated, or be alive and wagging its tail in the mud?"

"It would rather be alive," replied the two officials, "and wagging its tail in the mud."

"Begone!" cried Chuang Tzu. "I, too, will wag my tail in the mud!"79

Another reads:

(5) The Grand Augur, in his ceremonial robes, approached the shambles and thus addressed the pigs: --

"How can you object to die? I shall fatten you for three months. I shall discipline myself for ten days and fast for three. I shall strew fine grass, and place you bodily upon a carved sacrificial dish. Does this not satisfy you?"

Then, speaking from the pigs’ point of view, he continued, "It is better perhaps after all to live on bran and escape the shambles.

"But then," added he, speaking from his own point of view, "to enjoy honour when alive, one would readily die on a war-shield or in the headsman’s basket."

So he rejected the pigs’ point of view and adopted his own point of view. In what sense then was he different from the pigs?80

He is a master of the use of figures of speech. He draws his numerous illustrations from the common things of everyday life, the river, the spring, the horse, the frog, the pigs, the market, the fish, the fisherman, the seasons. And they are very telling. "The life of man passes by like a galloping horse" (p. 100) . "A man does not seek to see himself in running water, but in still water" (p. 94) . "The life of a man is but as a stoppage at an inn" (p. 103) . "A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker" (p. 105) 81

Could anything be more graphic, or delightful than his story of

the well frog and the sea turtle?

(2) Have you never heard of the frog in the old well? The frog said to the turtle of the eastern seas, "Happy indeed am I! I hop on the rail around the well. I rest in the hollow of some broken brick. Swimming, I gather the water under my arms and shut my mouth. I plunge into the mud, burying my feet and toes; and not one of the cockles, crabs, or tadpoles I see around me are my match. (Fancy pitting the happiness of an old well, ejaculates Chuang Tzu, against all the water of ocean!) Why do you not come, sir, and pay me a visit!"

Now the turtle of the eastern sea had not got its left leg down ere its right had already stuck fast, so it shrank back and begged to be excused. It then described the sea, saying, "A thousand li would not measure its breadth, nor a thousand fathoms its depth. In the days of the Great Yu, there were nine years of flood out of ten; and this did not add to its bulk. In the days of T’ang, there were seven years out of eight of drought, but this did not narrow its span. Not to be affected by duration of time, not to be affected by volume of water, such is the great happiness of the eastern sea.

At this the well frog was considerably astonished, and knew not what to say next. And for one whose knowledge does not reach to the positive-negative domain, to attempt to understand me, Chuang Tzu, is like a mosquito trying to carry a mountain, or an ant to swim a river, . . . they cannot succeed.82

His chapter on "Autumn Floods" from which the story of the well frog is taken, and incidentally also the quotation preceding that, begins with the following story:

(1) It was the time of autumn floods. Every stream poured into the river, which swelled in its turbid course. The banks receded so far from one another that it was impossible to tell a cow from a horse.

Then the Spirit of the River laughed for joy that all the beauty of the earth was gathered to himself. Down with the stream he journeyed east, until he reached the ocean. There, looking eastwards and seeing no limit to its waves, his countenance changed. And as he gazed over the expanse, he sighed and said to the Spirit of the Ocean, "A vulgar proverb says, that he who has heard but part of the truth thinks no one equal to himself. And such a one am I.

"When formerly I heard people detracting from the learning of Confucius, or underrating the heroism of Po I, I did not believe. But now that I have looked upon your inexhaustibility, alas for me had I not reached your abode, I should have been for ever a laughing stock to those of comprehensive enlightenment."

To which the Spirit of the Ocean replied, "You cannot speak of ocean to a well frog, -- the creature of a narrower sphere. You cannot speak of ice to a summer-insect, -- the creature of a season. You cannot speak of Tao to a pedagogue: his scope is too restricted. But now that you have emerged from your narrow sphere and have seen the great ocean, you know your own insignificance, and I can speak to you of great principles."83

The whole chapter seems, to some extent, to be a discussion of relativity: "If we look at the great from the standpoint of the small -- we cannot reach its limit; and if we look at the small from the standpoint of the great it eludes our sight." Different things are differently applied. A battering ram can knock down a wall, but it cannot repair a break. An owl can catch fleas at night and see the tip of a hair, but if it comes out in the daytime it can open its eyes and yet fail to see a mountain. Different creatures are differently constituted.

From all this he draws the conclusion: "Thus, those who say they would have right without its correlate wrong; or good government without its correlate, misrule, do not apprehend the great principles of the universe, nor the nature of creation. One might as well talk of the existence of Heaven without that of Earth, or of the negative principles without the positives which is clearly impossible. Yet people keep on discussing it without stop; such people must be either fools or knaves."84

While Chuang Tzu writes with a light touch, he does not fail to discuss most abstruse matters, for example:

There is nothing which is not objective, there is nothing which is not subjective. But it is impossible to start from the objective. Only from subjective knowledge is it possible to proceed to objective knowledge. When subjective and objective are both without their correlates that is the very axis of Tao. And when that axis passes through the center at which all infinities emerge, positive and negative alike blend into an infinite One.

Therefore it is that viewed from the standpoint of Tao, a beam and a pillar are identical. So are ugliness and beauty, greatness, wickedness, perverseness and strangeness. Separation is the same as construction; construction is the same as destruction; nothing is subject either to construction or to destruction, for these conditions are brought together into One.85

Like his great master, Chuang Tzu was a firm believer in wu wei.

"Repose, tranquillity, stillness, inaction, -- these were the levels of the universe, the ultimate perfection of Tao. Therefore wise rulers and sages rest therein . . . from repose comes inaction, and from inaction comes potentiality of action. And inaction is happiness: and where there is happiness no cares abide, and life is long. . . . Appeal to arms is the lowest form of virtue. Rewards and punishments are the lowest form of education. Ceremonies and laws are the lowest form of government. Music and fine clothes are the lowest form of happiness. Weeping and mourning are the lowest form of grief. These five should follow the movement of the mind."86

Space does not permit a discussion of all Chuang Tzu’s ideas, nor even of the manner in which he deviates from Lao Tzu. Here it was only our purpose to show the general nature of his writing which will be found to be among the most unique and readable of all the scriptures here examined. His was a unique personality. He has made a deep impression upon Chinese life and thought. During a portion of China’s long history his works, like those of Confucius, were required to be studied by persons seeking high political posts. These final selections must suffice, two of which, rather, oddly, show his attitude toward death.

When his wife died one of his followers went to express his sympathy. He found Chuang Tzu "sitting on the ground, singing, with his legs spread out at a right angle and beating time on a bowl."

"To live with your wife," exclaimed Hui Tzu "and see your oldest son grow up to be a man, and then not to shed a tear over her corpse, -- this would be bad enough. But to drum on a bowl, and sing; surely this is going too far."

"Not at all," replied Chuang Tzu. "When she died, I could not help being affected by her death. Soon, however, I remembered that she had already existed in a previous state before birth, without form, or even substance; that while in that unconditional condition substance was added to spirit; that this substance then assumed form; and that the next stage was birth. And now, by virtue of a further change, she is dead, passing from one phase to another, like the sequence of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. And while she is lying thus asleep in eternity, for me to go about weeping and wailing would be to proclaim myself ignorant of these natural laws. Therefore, I refrain."87

When he himself was about to die his disciples wished to give him a splendid funeral. Characteristically, Chuang Tzu said:

"With Heaven and Earth for my coffin and shell; with the sun, moon, and stars, as my burial regalia; and with all creation to escort me to my grave, are not my funeral paraphernalia ready to hand?"

"We fear," argued his disciples, "lest the carrion kite should eat the body of our Master." To which Chuang Tzu replied: "Above ground I shall be food for kites; below I shall be food for moles, crickets, and ants. Why rob one to feed the other?"88

By reason of one of his stories he came to be known as "butterfly Chuang." Said he, on one occasion:

How then do I know but that the dead repent of having previously clung to life?

Those who dream of the banquet, wake to lamentation and sorrow, wake to join the hunt. While they dream, they do not know what they dream. Some will even interpret the very dream they are dreaming; and only when they awake do they know it was a dream. By and by comes the Great Awakening, and then we find out that this life is really a great dream. Fools think they are awake now, and flatter themselves they know if they are really princes or peasants. Confucius and you are both dreams; and I who say you are dreams, -- I am but a dream myself.

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awakened, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.89


Confucian Literature

Sources for Further Reading


James Legge, The Chinese Classics, 5 Vols., Oxford University Press.

Sacred Books of the East.

Sacred Books and Literature of the East.

Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of Confucius, Modern Library, N. Y., 1938.

For sources in which separate books may be found, see footnotes, ad bc.


Harvard Classics, Vol. 43, pp. 5-72.

Bible of the World, pp. 379-470.

Bible of Mankind, pp. 183-280.

The Wisdom of China and India, Lin Yutang, pp. 695-862.

The World’s Great Scriptures, pp. 209-280.

Tongues of Fire, pp. 121-156.

The Tree of Life, pp. 157-187.

Sacred Writings of the World’s Great Religions, pp. 91-118.


Taoist Literature

Sources for Further Reading


Sacred Books and Literature of the East, Vol. 12, pp. 15-74. Translation of G. G. Alexander.

Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 19. Translation by James Legge. Paul Cams, The Canon of Reason and Virtue, Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago, 1927.

Arthur Waley, The Way and Its Power, G. Allen and Unwin, London, 1934. Excellent introduction.


Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of China and India, excellent introduction, pp. 579-582 and translation by Lin Yutang, pp. 583-624.

Robert Ballou, The Bible of the World. Translation by Chu Ta Kao, pp.


Lewis Browne, World’s Great Scriptures, pp. 297-327. Selections only. Translation of Lin Yutang.

Ruth Smith, The Tree of Life, pp. 193-198. Selections only. Lionel Giles, Sayings of Lao Tzu, Wisdom of the East Series. The arrangement is topical, and in prose form.

S. E. Frost, Sacred Writings of the World’s Religions, pp. 81-86.

Grace Turnbull, Tongues of Fire, pp. 159-164. Selected sentences only, prose translation.

M. A. Sohrab, The Bible of Mankind, pp. 289-348.


On the Writings of Chuang Tzu

Sacred Books of the East, Volume 39. Translation by James Legge. Sacred Books and Literature of the East, Vol. 12, pp. 75-197. A good selection, translation of James Legge.

Lin Yutang, Wisdom of China and India, pp. 629-691. Translation of Lin Yutang. Some good longer selections, good introduction.

The Bible of the World, pp. 505-558. Translation of Herbert A. Giles. Good selection, generally of short pieces.

Lewis Browne, The World’s Great Scriptures, pp. 328-358. Translation of H. A. Giles.

Ruth Smith, The Tree of Life, pp. 203-212.

S. E. Frost, The Sacred Writings of the World’s Great Religions, pp. 87-90.

Grace Turnbull, Tongues of Fire, pp. 164-166. Only scattered sentences.

M. A. Sohrab, The Bible of Mankind, pp.281-350.

Lionel Giles, Musings of a Chinese Mystic, Wisdom of the East Series, pp. 37-112. Excellent introduction, pp. 11-36, good selection, arranged topically.



1. Modern Chinese scholarship tends to credit Confucius with having been not merely a transmitter, but also a transformer of the ideas he inherited from the past; indeed some make him a thoroughgoing reformer, notably H. C. Creel in Confucius, the Man and the Myth. Others think he is at least partly correct.

2. Wisdom of China and India, Random House, N.Y., 1942, p. 698.

3. The merits of the case are discussed by Lin Yutang in The Wisdom of China and India, pp. 700 ff.

4. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. III, p.32, Translation of James Legge.

5. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 3, pp. 34-36, passim.

6. Book of History, p. 27, translation of W. Gorn Old, Wisdom of East Series.

7. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 3, pp. 48-49, passim.

8. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 3, p. 114.

9. Id., pp. 90-91, passim.

10. From the translation of W. Gorn Old, The Book of History, Wisdom of the East Series, John Murray, London, 1918, pp. 55-63, passim.

The entire text of the Book of History is printed and translated in James Legge, Chinese Classics, Vol. III. It is also to be found entire in The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. III.

Lin Yutang, Wisdom of China and India, has a good selection of what he chooses to call Documents of Chinese Democracy, pp. 707-742, and a good introduction.

W. Gorn Old, Book of History, Wisdom of the East Series, has a brief introduction and a selection of about fifty pages which disclose the nature of the book.

Lewis Browne, The World’s Great Scriptures, pp. 211-222, has a very brief selection.

11. Analects, 16:13.

12. 17:10

13. J. Legge translator, Chinese Classics, Vol. 4, Pt. 1, p. 1, 5 vols., Oxford University Press.

14. Sacred Books and Literature of the East, Vol. 11, p. 124, no indication of translator.

15. C. Allen.

16. J. Legge, The She King or The Book of Ancient Poetry, Truebner and Co., London, 1876, p. 59. For still another translation see Arthur Waley, The Book of Songs, Allen and Unwin, London, 1937.

17. Sacred Books and Literature of the East, Vol. 11, p. 136.

18. L. Cranmer-Byng, Confucius -- The Odes, p. 34.

19. Sacred Books and Literature of the East, Vol. 11, p. 146.

20. Sacred Books and Literature of the East, Vol. 11, pp. 138-139.

21. Sacred Books and Literature of the East, Vol. 11, p. 138.

22. Sacred Books and Literature of the East, Vol. 11, p. 147.

23. Ibid., p. 174-175.

24. James Legge, The She King or The Book of Ancient Poetry, p. 25.

25. Ibid., pp. 358-359.

26. L. Cranmer-Byng, Confucius -- The Odes, J.Murray, London, 1927, p. 25.

27. Ibid., pp. 26-27.

28. G. Mears and L. B. Mears, Creative Energy, E. P. Dutton and Co., N. Y., 1932.

29. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 16, pp. 57-58.

30. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 27, p. 10.

31. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXVII, Book X, pp. 459-461.

32. Sacred Books of the East, Book X, Sec. 14, pp. 450-451.

33. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXVII, Book X, Sec. 14, pp. 450-451.

34.Op. cit., pp. 449-454, passim.

35. Legge, Chinese Classics, V, Part 2, p. 7.

36. Op. cit., V, Part 1, p. 60.

37. Legge, Chinese Classics, Vol. V, Part 1, pp. 15, 16.

38. Id., pp. 179-180.

39. Legge, op. cit., Vol. 5, Part 1, p. 61.

40. Analects of Confucius, p. 25

41. H. G. Creel, Confucius, the Man and the Myth, John Day Co., N. Y., 1949.

42. The Wisdom of Confucius, p. 157.

43. Translation of James Legge.

Note: The Analects may be read entire in the translation of James Legge in Chinese Classics, Vol. 1, pp. 137-354, where the text and copious scholarly notes accompany it. Legge’s translation is used in a number of anthologies which include parts or all of the collection. See also Wm. Jennings, The Confucian Analects, Routledge, London, 1895, Lionel Giles, The Sayings of Confucius, E. P. Dutton, N. Y., 1932. Still a later translation taking into account a great deal of critical work on the text is that of Arthur Waley, The Anal ects of Confucius, Macmillan Company, N. Y., 1938. Selections from the Anal ects may be found in Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of Confucius, The Modern Library, N. Y., 1938, chapter 5, and in The Wisdom of China and india, Random House, N. Y., 1942, in his own translation, pp. 814-842.

The Bible of the World, pp. 398-419.

The Bible of Mankind, pp. 183-280.

Lewis Browne, The World’s Great Scriptures, Macmillan, N. Y., 1946, pp. 229-244.

Harvard Classics, Vol. 43, pp. 1-69.

Ruth Smith, The Tree of Life, pp. 174-180.

S. E. Frost, Sacred Writings of the World’s Great Religions, pp. 103-108.

James Mare, The Best of Confucius, Garden City, Halcyon House, 1950.

44. Op. cit., Legge translation, pp. 232-236, passim.

45. Quoted in Ku Hung Ming, The Conduct of Life, Wisdom of the East Series, London, 1920, p. 8.

46. Wisdom of Confucius, p. 101.

47. The Conduct of Life, Wisdom of the East Series, p. 14.

48. Id., p. 24.

49. Conduct of Life, pp. 31,37,43-44, 49-50, 53.

50. Quoted in The Conduct of Life, Wisdom of the East Series, pp. 27-28.

51. Conduct of Life, p.8.

52. The Chinese Classics, James Legge translation, Vol. I, pp. 357-359.

53. Lin Yutang, Wisdom of Confucius, pp. 149-151, passim.

54. Wisdom of Confucius, pp. 276-282.

55. James Legge, The Works of Mencius, Chinese Classics,Vol. II, pp. 395-396; Vol. VI, I; 2-3.

56. See Wisdom of Confucius, pp. 276-282.

57. Works of Mencius; Book I, Part 1, Chapter III, 3; Chapter IV, 2. Translation of James Legge. Chinese Classics, Vol. II, pp. 130-133.

58. Works of Mencius, Bk. VI, Part 1, Chapter 10. Legge translation. Op. cit., Vol. 2, pp. 411-412.

59. It need hardly be said that the legend is not generally credited as true by scholars.

60. Wisdom of China and India, Section IV, p. 585.

61. Sacred Books and Literature of the East, Vol. 12, p. 15.

62. Wisdom of China and India, p. 585, Section IV, copyright 1942 by Random House, Inc., New York. This and subsequent quotations from this source reprinted by permission of Random House.

63. Wisdom of China and India, Sec. XXI, p. 594.

64. Id., Sec. XXXV, p. 603.

65. Id., Sec.XXXVII, p.603.

66. Id., p. 603.

67. Lin Yutang, op. cit., pp. 594-595.

68. Lin Yutang, op. cit., p. 586.

69. Lin Yutang, op. cit., Sec. XLIII, p. 607

70. Lin Yutang, op. cit., Sec. XLVIII, p. 608.

71. Lin Yutang, op. cit., Sec. XXXI, p. 600.

72. Lin Yutang, op. cit., p. 607.

73. Id., p. 603.

74. P. vii, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1944.

75. Lin Yutang, Wisdom of China and India, p. 579.

76. Musings of a Chinese Mystic, John Murray, London, 1927, p. 36.

77. Lin Yutang, Wisdom of China and India, p. 625.

78. Lin Yutang, op. cit., pp. 625-626.

79. H. A. Giles, History of Chinese Literature, p. 66

80. Giles, op. cit., p. 67.

81. Page references are to Musing of a Chinese Mystic, John Murray, London, 1927. Translation of Herbert A. Giles.

82. Herbert A. Giles, op. cit., p.65.

83. H.A, Giles, History of Chinese Literature, pp. 64-65.

84. Lin Yutang, op. cit., pp. 685-686.

85. Ballou, Bible of the World, p. 507.

86. Musings of a Chinese Mystic, John Murray, London, 1927, pp. 98-99.

87. Musings of a Chinese Mystic, p. 111. Translation of Herbert A. Giles.

88. Id., p. 112.

89. H. A. Giles, History of Chinese Literature, p. 63.