posted 17 Mar 2013, 13:51 by Jim Sheng   [ updated 17 Mar 2013, 13:57 ]
[Yang Chu, 4th century B.C., is a heterodox thinker who taught the doctrine of egoism, as opposed to the altruism of Mo Tzu. He has left us no book. His views are taken from chapter VII of Lieh Tzu.] 


A HUNDRED years are the extreme limit of human life,  an age which not one in a thousand attains. Let us take the case of a man who does. His helpless infancy and his helpless old age will together occupy nearly half the time. Pain and sickness, sorrow and misfortune, actual losses and opportunities missed, anxieties and fears,  these will almost fill up the rest. He may possibly have some ten years or so to the good; but even then he will hardly enjoy a single hour of absolute serenity, undarkened by the gloom of care. What, then, can be the object of human existence? Wherein is happiness to be found? 

In the appointments of wealth and luxury? Or in the enjoyment of the pleasures of sense? Alas! those will not always charm, and these may not always be enjoyed. 

Then again there is the stimulus of good report, there is the restraint of law, in things we may do and in things we may not do. And thus we struggle on for a breath of fame, and scheme to be remembered after death; ever on our guard against the allurements of sense, ever on the watch over our hearts and actions. We miss whatever of real happiness is to be got out of life, never being able even for a single moment to relax the vigilance of our heed. In what do we differ, indeed, from the fettered captives of a gaol? 

The men of old knew that with life they had come but for a while, and that with death they would shortly depart again. Therefore they followed the desires of their own hearts, and did not deny themselves pleasures to which they felt naturally inclined. Fame tempted them not; but led by their instincts alone, they took such enjoyments as lay in their path, not seeking for a name beyond the grave. They were thus out of the reach of censure; while as for precedence among men, or length or shortness of life, these gave them concern whatever. 

A disciple asked Yang Chu, saying, "Here is a man who values his life, and loves his body so that he may escape death; is that possible?" "We know," replied Yang Chu, "that there is no one who does not die." "So that he may obtain a very long life," said the enquirer; "is that possible?" "We know," replied Yang Chu, "that no one has a very long life. Life cannot be kept by being valued, nor can the body be strengthened by being loved. Moreover, what will long life do for you? The five passions, with love and hate, are still with us, as of old. Comfort and discomfort of our four limbs are still with us, as of old. The miseries and pleasures of this life are still with us, as of old. The changes of good government and rebellion are still with us, as of old. And since these things are actually heard and seen and do alternate, even a hundred years seem too many; how much more miserable would be a still further prolongation of life?" To this the enquirer rejoined, "If this is so, then a short life would be better than a long one, an end which could be reached by falling on a spear or a sword, by water or by fire." "Not so," answered Yang Chu; "once you are born, regard life as a disease, and bear it, following the desires of your heart until death comes; being about to die, regard death as a disease, and bear it, following its lead until there is an end of you. Life and death should both be regarded as diseases, and both should be borne as such; why worry about slowly or quickly in these matters?" 


Yang Chu said, A certain man would not part with a single hair in order to benefit any one. He turned his back on his country and went into retirement, occupying himself with agriculture. The Great Yü who did not employ himself for his own advantage, became paralysed on one side. The men of old, if by losing one hair they could advantage the empire, would not give it; but all would offer the whole body, which was not wanted. If no man ever lost a single hair, and no man ever advantaged the empire, the empire would enjoy good government. An enquirer then asked Yang Chu, saying, "If by sacrificing a single hair you could help the world, would you do it?" "The world," replied Yang Chu, "could most certainly not be helped by a single hair." "But if it could," urged the enquirer, "would you do it?" To this, Yang Chu returned no answer, and the enquirer took his leave. 


Yang Chu said, The admiration of the empire is for Shun, Yü, Chou, and Confucius; its detestation, for Chieh and Chou. 

Shun was engaged in ploughing and in making pottery. His four limbs never knew a moment's rest; his palate was never tickled and his belly never full; his parents ceased to love him, and his brothers and sisters ceased to care for him. He had lived for thirty years before he asked his parents' leave to be married; and when Yao resigned the throne to him, he was already old, his mind was impaired, and his son was worthless, so he handed on the throne to Yü and dragged out a melancholy existence until the end. Here was a divine man who exhausted all the poisons of this life. 

When K'un failed to reduce the waters of the flood, and was put to death, Yü (his son), ignoring the question of vengeance, took over the task and worked at it with great energy. A son was born to him, but he had no time to care for it; he even passed his own door without going into the house. He was paralysed on one side; his hands and feet became hard and horny; when he received the throne from Shun, his palace was a humble cottage, though his State regalia was magnificent; and thus he dragged out a melancholy existence until the end. Here was a divine man whose life was sorrowful and wretched. 

After the death of the Martial King, his heir being a child, Duke Chou became Regent. One of the feudal nobles was aggrieved, and mutterings were heard throughout the Four States. The Duke had to stay in the east; he killed his elder brother and banished his younger brother; and then he dragged out a melancholy existence until the end. Here was a divine man whose life was full of dangers and alarms. 

Confucius preached the doctrines of the rulers of old, and took service under the princes of his day. In the Sung State, the tree under which he was preaching was cut down; in the Wei State, his traces were obliterated; in the Shang and Chou States, he was reduced to want; in the Ch'en and Ts'ai States, he was in danger of his life; he had to take rank below Chi, whose chief Minister insulted him; and thus he dragged out a melancholy existence until the end. Here was a divine man whose life was all hurry, without a moment's leisure. 

All these four holy men failed to get a single day's enjoyment out of life. Dead, their fame will last for ten thousand generations; but they will get no reality out of that. Though praised, they do not know it; though rewarded, they do not know it  any more than if they were logs of wood or clods of clay. 

Chieh inherited vast wealth and enjoyed the dignity of the throne. He had wit enough to enable him to hold in check his officials, and power enough to make himself feared within the empire. He gave himself over to the lusts of the ear and of the eye; he carried out to the uttermost every fanciful scheme, and had a glorious time until the end. Here was a divine man whose life was all pleasure and dissipation. 

Chou likewise inherited great wealth, and enjoyed the dignity of the throne. His power enabled him to do anything, and he might have gratified any ambition. He indulged his passions with his concubines, spending long nights in such revelry. He did not bother about rites and ceremonies or his duties, and had a glorious time until he was slain. 

These two scoundrels had every pleasure in life that they wished to have. Dead, they will be branded as fools and tyrants; but they will get no reality out of that. Though reviled, they do not know it; though praised, they do not know it;  what difference is there between these two and logs of wood or clods of clay? 

Those four holy men, although objects of admiration to all, suffered miseries throughout their lives and then died like everybody else. Those two scoundrels, although objects of detestation to all, enjoyed themselves throughout their lives and also died like everybody else.