posted 18 Mar 2013, 16:54 by Jim Sheng   [ updated 18 Mar 2013, 16:54 ]

[Mencius, B.C. 372-289., is China's "second sage." He was to Confucius much what St. Paul was to Christ. The great principles which were henceforth to guide the nation had been already enunciated, and to these Mencius added nothing new. He lacked the inspiration which has placed Confucius in the front rank of the world's Prophets. But he did good work in expounding and disseminating the message which the Master had left behind him; especially in denouncing the theories of Mo Ti and Yang Chu. His writings have been justly included in the Canon of Confucianism, and for more than twenty centuries his name has been a household word over the length and breadth of China.] 


KING HUI of Liang said to Mencius, "I exhaust my energies in the administration of government. If the harvest is bad on one side of the river, I transfer a number of the inhabitants to the other, and send supplies to those who remain. No ruler among the neighbouring States devotes himself as I do to the welfare of his people. Yet their populations do not decrease; neither does mine increase. How is this?" 

Mencius replied, "Your Majesty loves war. Let us take an illustration from war: 

"The drums beat: blades cross: arms are flung aside: the vanquished seek safety in flight. Some will run a hundred yards and then stop; others, fifty only. Can those who run fifty laugh at those who run a hundred?" 

"No, indeed," replied the king, "it was flight in both cases." 

"And so," rejoined Mencius, "your Majesty, perceiving the application of what I have said, will not (under present conditions) expect your population to exceed the populations of neighbouring States. 

"Let the times for agriculture be not neglected, and there will be more grain than can be eaten. Let no close-meshed nets sweep your streams, and there will be more fishes and turtles than can be eaten. Let forestry be carried on in due season, and there will be more wood than can be used. Thus, the people will be able to feed their living and bury their dead without repining; and this is the first step towards establishing a perfect system of government. 

"Let the mulberry-tree be cultivated in accordance with regulation; then persons of fifty years old will be able to wear silk. Let due attention be paid to the breeding of poultry, and swine, and dogs; then persons of seventy years old will be able to eat meat. Let there be no interference with the labour of the husbandman; and there will be no mouths crying out for food. Let education of the people be reverently attended to;  above all, let them be taught their duties towards their parents and brethren;  and there will be no gray-headed burden-carriers to be seen along the highway. For, where septuagenarians wear silk and eat meat, where the blackhaired people are neither hungry nor cold, it has never been that perfect government did not prevail. 

"Your dogs and swine are battening on the food of men, and you do not limit them. By the roadside there are people dying of hunger, and you do not succour them. If they die, you say, 'It was not I; it was the bad season.' What is this but to stab a man to death, and say, 'It was not I; it was the weapon?' O king, blame not the season for these things, and all men under the canopy of heaven will flock to you." 

King Hui replied, "I beg to receive your instructions." 

Mencius continued, "Is there any difference between killing a man with a bludgeon and killing him with a sword ! " 

"There is none," answered the king. 

"Or between killing him with a sword and killing him by misrule?" pursued Mencius. 

"There is none," replied the king again. 

"Yet in your kitchen," said Mencius, "there is fat meat, and in your stables there are sleek horses, while famine sits upon the faces of your people, and men die of hunger in the fields. This is to be a beast, and prey upon your fellow-man. 

"Beasts prey upon one another, in a manner abhorrent to us. If, then, he who holds the place of father and mother to the people, preys upon them like a beast, wherein does his prerogative consist? 

"Confucius said, 'Was he not without posterity who first buried images with the dead?' meaning that these, being in the likeness of man, suggested the use of living men. What then of him who causes his people to die of hunger?" 


Kao Tzu said, "Human nature may be compared with a block of wood; duty towards one's neighbour, with a wooden bowl. To develop charity and duty towards one's neighbour out of human nature is like making a bowl out of a block of wood." 

To this Mencius replied, "Can you without interfering with the natural constitution of the wood, make out of it a bowl? Surely you must do violence to that constitution in the process of making your bowl. And by parity of reasoning you would do violence to human nature in the process of developing charity and duty towards one's neighbour. From which it follows that all men would come to regard these rather as evils than otherwise." 

Kao Tzu said, "Human nature is like rushing water, which flows east or west according as an outlet is made for it. For human nature makes indifferently for good or for evil, precisely as water makes indifferently for the east or for the west." 

Mencius replied, "Water will indeed flow indifferently towards the east or west; but will it flow indifferently up or down? It will not; and the tendency of human nature towards good is like the tendency of water to flow down. Every man has this bias towards good, just as all water flows naturally downwards. By splashing water, you may indeed cause it to fly over your head; and by turning its course you may keep it for use on the hillside; but you would hardly speak of such results as the nature of water. They are the results, of course, of a force majeure. And so it is when the nature of man is diverted towards evil." 

Kao Tzu said, "That which comes with life is nature." 

Mencius replied, "Do you mean that there is such a thing as nature in the abstract, just as there is whiteness in the abstract? " 

"I do," answered Kao Tzu. 

"Just, for instance," continued Mencius, "as the whiteness of a feather is the same as the whiteness of snow, or the whiteness of snow as the whiteness of jade?" 

"I do," answered Kao Tzu again. 

"In that case," retorted Mencius, "the nature of a dog is the same as that of an ox, and the nature of an ox the same as that of a man." 

Kao Tzu said, "Eating and reproduction of the species are natural instincts. Charity is subjective and innate; duty towards one's neighbour is objective and acquired. For instance, there is a man who is my senior, and I defer to him as such. Not because any abstract principle of seniority exists subjectively in me, but in the same way that if I see a white man I recognise him as such, because he is so objectively to me. Consequently, I say that that duty towards one's neighbour is objective or acquired." 

Mencius replied, "The cases are not analogous. The whiteness of a white horse is undoubtedly the same as the whiteness of a white man; but the seniority of a horse is not the same as the seniority of a man. Does our duty to our senior begin and end with the fact of his seniority? Or does it not rather consist in the necessity of deferring to him as such?" 

Kao Tzu said, " I love my own brother; but I do not love another man's brother. The distinction arises from within myself; therefore I call it subjective or innate. But I defer to a stranger who is my senior just as I defer to a senior among my own people. The distinction comes to me from without; therefore I call it objective or acquired." 

Mencius retorted, "We enjoy food cooked by strangers just as much as food cooked by our own people. Yet extension of your principle lands us in the conclusion that our appreciation of cooked food is also objective and acquired." 


A disciple asked, saying, "Is it true that Yao gave the throne to Shun?" "It is not true," replied Mencius; "the Son of God cannot take the throne and give it to any one." "Yes," said the disciple, "but Shun got it. Who gave it to him?" "God gave it to him." "Oh, God gave it to him, did He? Were there any particular commands as to what his duties would be." "No," replied Mencius, "God does not speak. God made manifest His will through Shun's own behaviour." "Oh," said the disciple, "through Shun's own behaviour, was it? How did He manage that?" "The Son of God,"replied Mencius, "can recommend any one to God, but he cannot make God give that man the throne. Just so, the feudal nobles can recommend any one to the Son of God, but they cannot make the Son of God appoint that man to be a feudal noble. Likewise, a Minister can recommend any one to his suzerain, but he cannot make his suzerain appoint that man to be a Minister. In those days of old, Yao recommended Shun to God, and God accepted him; he let the people see what sort of man Shun was, and the people accepted him. Therefore I said, God does not speak; He manifests his will through behaviour." "May I ask," said the disciple, "how this was managed." "Yao," replied Mencius, "caused Shun to preside over the sacrifices; and as the spirits were well pleased, God accepted him. Yao also caused him to preside over the conduct of affairs; and as affairs were well administered and a general wellbeing prevailed, the people accepted him. Thus, it was God and the people who gave Shun the throne; and therefore I said that the Son of God cannot give the throne to any one."


There are dignities of God, and there are dignities of man. Charity of heart, duty towards one's neighbour, loyalty, and truth  these are the dignities of God. To be a duke, a minister of State, or a high official  these are the dignities of man. The men of old cultivated the dignities of God, and the dignities of man followed. The men of to-day cultivate the dignities of God in order to secure the dignities of man; and when they have obtained the dignities of man, they cast aside all further thought of the dignities of God. In this they greatly err, and the probability is that they will lose their dignities of man as well. 

Charity of heart is the noblest gift of God; it is a house, so to speak, in which a man may live in peace. No one can prevent us from possessing this gift; if we have it not, that is due to our own folly. 

Charity of heart subdues uncharitableness just as water subdues fire. But people nowadays employ charity of heart much in the same way as if they were to try to put out a blazing cartload of firewood with a single cupful of water; and then when they fail to put out the flames, they turn round and blame the water.


"Master," said a disciple, "people all declare that you are fond of disputing; I venture to ask if this is so." "It is not," replied Mencius; "the fact is that I cannot do otherwise. Inspired rulers are no longer in power; the feudal barons have thrown off all restraint; and idle scholars are discussing unorthodox themes. The words of Yang Chu and Mo Ti fill the empire, and those who are not on the side of one will be found on the side of the other. Yang's doctrine is Every man for himself, which means that he recognizes no ruler. Mo's doctrine is Love all equally, which means that he does not recognize the special claim of a parent. But to recognize neither parent nor ruler is to be a brute beast. If these doctrines are not checked, and the doctrines of Confucius are not put forward, heterodox teachings will delude the people, and charity of heart and duty towards one's neighbour will cease to prevail. Then, beasts will be led on to devour men, and men will soon be devouring one another. I am alarmed by these things, and address myself to the doctrines of the inspired men of old in order to oppose Yang and Mo. 


A philosopher asked Mencius, saying, "That men and women, in giving and receiving, shall not touch hands,  is such the rule of propriety?" "It is," replied Mencius. "But supposing," said the philosopher, "that a sister-in-law was drowning, should a man not give her a hand and pull her out?" "A man," answered Mencius, "who could see his sister-in-law drown and not give her his hand, would be a wolfish brute. That men and women, in giving and receiving, do not touch hands, is a rule of propriety; but when a sister-in-law is drowning, to give her a hand and pull her out comes under the head of exceptions to the rule." "Just now," retorted the philosopher, "the empire is drowning; why do you not pull it out?" "The drowning empire," replied Mencius, "must be saved by the eternal principles of Right; a drowning sister-in-law by the hand. Would you have me save the empire by my hand?"