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Dêng Hsi Tse


(1) Heaven is not kind to man, the ruler is not kind to his people, the father to his son, the elder to the younger brother. Why do I say so? Because Heaven cannot remove disastrous epidemics, nor keep those alive who are cut off in their prime, nor always grant a long life to good people. That is unkindness to the people. Whenever people break holes through walls, and rob or deceive others, and lead them astray, want is at the root of all these offences, and poverty their main spring. Albeit; yet the ruler takes the law, and punishes the culprits. That is unkindness to the people. Yao and Shun swayed the Empire, whereas Tan Chu and Shang Chün continued simple citizens. That is unkindness to sons. The duke of Chou put Kuan and Ts'ai  to death, that is unkindness to younger brothers. From these examples, which may be multiplied, we see that there is no such thing as kindness.

(2) The duty of the ruler consists in critically examining the names of things and investigating the truth. His officials are expected to receive the law from him and promulgate his commands. The inferiors must not take the law into their own hands. As long as the sovereign wields his power,  everything is well governed. A prince is confronted with three difficulties; an official may become guilty of four faults. Which are the three difficulties? To rely only on one’s entourage is the first. To elect scholars for official posts according to their names is the second. To keep up old friendships and take an interest in persons that do not come near one is the third. And which are the four faults? The first is to be the recipient of extraordinary favours without accomplishing anything extraordinary. The second is to be in a high position, and do nothing in the government. The third is to be unjust in one’s official dealings. The fourth is to lead an army into battle, and take to one’s heels. If a prince is free from these three difficulties and his officials from the four faults, they will secure tranquillity to their country.

(3) A prince’s power is like his carriage, his authority like his whip, the officials are his horses, the people his cart-wheels. If his power is strong, the carriage is safe. If his authority is recognised, the whip hits well. Obedient officials make good horses, and, if the people are peaceful, the wheels turn quickly. Should in a country there be anything amiss in this respect, there will be a disaster. The state-car is upset, the horses bolt, the wheels break, and everything inside the carriage is smashed.

A great danger indeed !

For a long time past like and unlike could not be separated, right and wrong not be determined, white and black not be divided, pure and unpure not be regulated. He who really hears, can hear where there is no sound, he who really sees, can see where there is no sight. He can lay his plans, conformably to what is not yet manifest, and take the necessary precautions against what has not yet come to pass. That is the only method. Not hearing with the ear he apprehends the soundless, not seeing with the eye he perceives the immaterial, not scheming with the mind he grasps what is not yet manifest, not meditating with the intellect he conforms to what has not yet come into existence.

If  a prince conceals his person and hides himself, the lower classes are all unselfish. If he closes his eyes and shuts his ears, the whole people are in awe of him.

(4) A wise ruler ascertains the truth by a critical examin of names, and establishes his power by finding and fixing the law, and establishing his authority. Well versed in outward forms, he does not wait to derive his distinctions from events, and when having tested the doings of others, he employs them, he does not lose thereby, but does so to advantage. When a wise prince has made one investigation, all things take there fixed place. For names outward things are of no use. Knowledge cannot be merely based on that of others i.e. one must search for it in one’s own self .

(5) In governing the ruler must not exceed his power, and the officials not get into confusion. All the state-functionaries have their special departments and exercise their judicial rights. The sovereign studies names to find out the truth, whereas his inferiors receive his instructions, and do not disobey. What is good, he tries to increase, what is bad, to remove. He does not reward, because he is pleased, or punish, because he is angry. That may be called a government.

(6) A person carrying a heavy load on his shoulders feels oppressed by the length of the road. He whose aim is glory, is distressed, if deserted by the people. The one carrying a heavy load is worn out by the length of the road, and does not attain his purpose. The exalted one, if deserted by the people, may exert himself ever so much, he cannot govern. Therefore, the wise man estimates the length of the road, before he takes up the load, and an intelligent ruler tests the people, before he sets about governing. One does not hunt bears or tigers in kennels or harpoon whales in fresh-water ponds. Why? Because bears and tigers have not their dens in kennels, and ponds are not the waters where whales live; just as the people of Ch'u did not sail against the current, or that of Chên fold up their flags, or as Chang Lu did not become an official and Lü Tse covered his face for shame 1.

(7) If anybody is not treated with consideration abroad, it is because he is not polite. If anybody is not beloved where he lives, he does not show himself kind. He who does not find employment despite all his talk, is not trustworthy. He who seeks without finding, has not made a good beginning to start from. He who plans without the approval of others, has no principles, who finds no adherents in his projects has lost the true path.

Since praise is bestowed according to circumstances, the deeds may be the same, but they are called by different names 3. If of two persons who are alike one uses his opportunity, the energy exerted by him is only equal to that of the other, but his glory is double. The reason is that he relies upon influence beyond himself.

Disputations are not listened to 4. Empty words did not yet find an echo. Actions which do not improve an unsatisfactory state of things are not belauded. Hence in discussions one merely discriminates various categories, lest they injure one another. One arranges how different classes have to follow each other, so that they are not mixed up. One elucidates purposes and explains meanings, but does not aim at contradictions. To adorn one’s speech with a view to create confusion or to use ambiguous words in order to shift the ground of the discussion is not the ancient method of dialectic.

Without forethought one is unable to cope with sudden emergencies, just as soldiers, who have not drilled when at leisure, are unfit to oppose the enemy. If in the palace p.43 schemes are prepared for an area of a thousand li, and admirable plans made in the commander’s tent, then a hundred battles give a hundred victories, and we have an army like that of Huang Ti.

(8) Life and death depend on fate, wealth and poverty on time. He who sorrows over an untimely death, does not understand fate, and he who frets over poverty and misery, does not understand time. If a man feels no fear in danger, he knows Heaven’s fate, if he is not oppressed by poverty and want, he is aware of the regular change of time.

If in a year of famine the father dies in the house, and the son expires near the door, they do not complain, because they do not see each other. If people go to sea in the same boat, and have a storm on their way, their chances to be rescued and their dangers are about equal, and their sorrows the same. Persons spreading the nets and hunting together cry out and regularly answer the calls, and their booty will be nearly equal. Feeling bodily pain one cannot but cry out, and, if a man is full of joy, his face will laugh.

To give a weak person a thousand stone to carry, to direct a lame one to catch a running horse, to chase a swift-footed animal in a parlour, or to wish a monkey to show its quickness in a cage, all this is against reason. He who acts in such a way nevertheless, is like a man who puts his clothes on upside down, and then cannot find the collar.

To treat as intimate friends those whom their deeds place at a great distance from us, but as strangers those who are near us ; not to employ people, when they are there, but to p.44 run after them, when they are away; these four follies 3 are a source of much pain to a wise sovereign.

(9) In muddy water there are no fish swimming about, moving their tails, under an oppressive government there are no gay and jolly scholars. The commands being too numerous, the people have recourse to deceit, the administration interfering too much, the people begin to be unsettled. To have only the end in view, and not care for the root is like helping a man about to be drowned by throwing stones upon him, or like putting out fire by throwing in fire-wood.

(10) The doctrine when understood cannot be apprehended, cannot be practised. He who knows the great doctrine 2, does not know it 3, and thus obtains it ; does not practise it, and thus completes it 4. He has nothing, but nothing fails him ; holding the empty 5, he finds out the full truth. Thus all things are done. Honesty is evolved 6 out of what is not honest, justice is born from what is not just 7.

Talking without restraint is called recklessness, and speaking without controlling one’s words ignorance. From looking at their shapes, one learns to know bodies. Following p.45 up their principles, one gives things their correct names. Finding out their reasons, one understands the feelings of others. Is there anything that could not be accomplished or, if spoiled, be made good again in this way ?

That which has objects, is purpose, that which has no externals, is virtue. What requires others, is action, what requires nobody, is the right way. Thus virtue is not active 8. Stopping in a place, where one must not stop, one is lost. Taking for the right way, what is not the right way, one is not on the right way, and falls into traps. Though one’s purposes be not good, one’s aspirations not honest, one’s deeds not correct 1, one’s words empty, yet one can do everything, provided one gets hold of the truth.

(11) To say that honour is not like disgrace is no correct statement, and to pretend that obtaining is not like losing no true saying. Not advancing one goes back ; not enjoying one’s self, one is sad ; not being present, one is absent. This is what common people always think. The true sage changes 2 all these ten predicates into one.

The great dialecticians distinguish between actions in general, and embrace all the things of the world. They choose p.46 what is good, and reject what is bad. They do what must be done in the right moment, and thus become successful and virtuous. The small dialecticians are otherwise. They distinguish between words and establish heterogeneous principles. With their words they hit each other, and crush one another by their actions. They do not let people know what is of importance. There is no other reason for this than their own shallow knowledge. The ideal man 4, on the other hand, takes all the things together and joins them, combines all the different ways and uses them. The five flavours, he discerns in his mouth, before he has tasted them. The five virtues, though residing in his body, are nevertheless extended to others. There is no certain direction which he follows. He rejects justice before the eyes. Measures to suppress disorder, he does not take. He is contented, having no desires ; serene, for he takes everything easy. His devices are unfailing, his perspicacity enters into the smallest minutiae.

(12) A ship floats on the water, a cart rolls on the earth. That is their natural movement. Those who do not govern know that they need not prepare for the future.

(13) When a stone breaks the axle-top or the waves shatter a ship, one is not angry with the stones or the waves, but one blames the workman for his lack of skill 2, and does not use p.47 his vehicle any more. Thus the knowing fall into errors, the prudent skirt danger, and those who have eyes are dazed. Therefore there is only one rule which does not change. Not relaxing in one’s principles for Chin’s or Chu’s sake, not altering one’s appearance for Hu or Yueh 3 ; bent on one aim, unwavering 4, walking straight on, never at random : if one practises that one day, the whole world will follow suit, and there will be the doing of the non-doing.

(14) Seeing with one’s own eyes, one sees, borrowing other people’s, one is blind. Hearing with one’s own ears, one hears, borrowing other people’s one is deaf. A wise ruler knows that, and accordingly clearly distinguishes between what he has to do and what he has to avoid.

A prince must be like the sunshine on a winter-day, or the shade in summer 1. Then all creatures will obey him unforced 2. While he quietly lies down, his deeds are done of themselves, and while he amuses himself walking about, his government works spontaneously. The rolling of eyes, grasping of hands, and flourishing of whips and sticks are not its necessary premises.

(15) If persons around a prince do not stand by him, the reason is his knowing and not knowing. Those who though connected with are not addicted to him, are to all outward appearance his intimate friends, but inwardly they are strangers to him. His real friends, if far away, forget to respond to his call, and strangers, who are near him, forget that nothing connects them with him.

If people while near do not find employment, their plans are frustrated 4. If they are wanted after they have gone, they do not forget that they have gone 5. In case a prince does not condescend to those near, their hearts become estranged from him, and if he thinks of them when far away, he furthers their aims 1. Therefore does an intelligent ruler take great care in choosing his men, and the scholar likewise in offering his services.