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11: CHAPTER IX. On Destiny and Fortune

CHAPTER IX. On Destiny and Fortune (Ming-lu). 

Man's success as well as his troubles depend upon destiny.  It determines his life and his death, and the length of his span, and it likewise provides for his rank and his wealth. From the princes and dukes downwards to the commoners, and from the sages and worthies down to the illiterate people, all those who have a head and eyes, and blood in their veins, each and every one possess their own destiny. If any one is to become poor and miserable, he will be involved in misfortunes and disasters, even though he passes through wealth and honour, whereas he for whom wealth and honour are in store, meets with happiness and bliss even in the midst of penury and misery. Therefore, whoever is predestinated for great things, rises by himself from his humble position, while another whose fate is misery, falls down from his high sphere. 

Thus it seems, as if the gods lent their help to the wealthy and the great folks, and as if the mishap of the poor and low class people were the work of the demons. When future grandees study with others, they alone reach the goal,1 and after having taken office, they alone are promoted from among their colleagues.  What the future rich men strive for with other competitors, they alone obtain, and what they do conjointly, they alone complete.  With poor and low people it is just the reverse. They fail in their studies, fail to be promoted, and fail to complete what they have begun. They make themselves guilty, suffer punishment, fall sick, die, and perish. The loss of wealth and honour means poverty and meanness. 

Consequently, there is no guarantee whatever that men of high endowments and excellent conduct will in any case attain to wealth and honour, and we must not imagine that others whose knowledge is very limited, and whose virtue is but small, are therefore doomed to poverty and misery. Sometimes, men of great 



1 Passing the examinations, which is mere hick. 



On Destiny and Fortune. 145 

talents and excellent conduct have a bad fate, which cripples them, and keeps them down, and people with scanty knowledge and small virtue may have such a propitious fate, that they soar up and take a brilliant flight. 

Wisdom and dullness, pure and mean conduct under given circumstances are character and natural gifts: high and low rank in the official career, and wealth and poverty in business depend on destiny and time. Destiny is not amenable to coercion, or time to compulsion. The knowing, therefore, leave every thing to Heaven, placid, serene, and equanimous even in case their poverty or misery should be changed into wealth and honour. 

When in digging a creek or cutting firewood a special energy be shown, or great strength be displayed, then by dint of digging the creek will be deepened, and by dint of hewing much wood will be cut down. Even people without a fate would thus obtain their ends, how then would poverty and meanness, disasters and dangers come in? Perhaps heavy showers might interfere with the completion of the creek, or the wood-cutter might fall in with a tiger, before he had gathered much wood. The low rank of an official and the unprofitableness of a business are like the showers interrupting the digging of a creek, and like the tiger met by the wood-cutter. 

Perhaps able men find no occasion to use their talents, and the wise cannot practise their wisdom, or they use their talents, but have no success, and practise their principles, but do not accomplish what they had in view. Though being as gifted and as wise as Confucius, it may happen that they never come to the front.  The world seeing their high moral standard will ask, " How is it that these sort of worthies and wise men do not become exalted?," and admiring their deep thoughts, they will say, " Why do men of such a wonderful intellect not become rich? " 

Rank and wealth depend upon fate, happiness and fortune are not connected with wisdom and intelligence. Therefore it is said that wealth cannot be acquired by calculations, nor rank be secured by talents. Profound philosophy does not procure riches, and the highest accomplishments do not win an official post. Those who carry silver in their bosoms and wear pendants of red jewels, are not necessarily a Chi 1 or a Hsieh 2 in talent, and those who amass gold or heap up precious stones, must not be a Chu of 



1The god of cereals (cf. p. 130). 

2 The wise minister of Shun (cf. chap. XXXIX). 




146 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

T'ao 1 in wisdom. Not seldom simpletons are in possession of a thousand chin, and blockheads are made governors of a city. Officers may show the same ability in their administration, their different rank is the result of their fate, and in doing business people may display the same knowledge, their different wealth is the outcome of their fortune. It is fortune which determines wealth and poverty, through knowledge one does neither thrive nor perish, and it is destiny that fixes one's high or low position, through talents one does not advance or fail in one's career. 

King Ch'êng's 2 ability did not equal that of the Duke of Chou.  and Duke Huan's 3 intelligence fell short of that of Kuan Chung.  Nevertheless Chêng and Huan were endowed with the most glorious fate, whereas the Duke of Chou and Kuan Chung received inferior appointments. In ancient times, princes very seldom did not learn from their ministers. Possessing an extensive knowledge the latter would, as a rule, act as their fathers and instructors. In spite of this unsufficiency, the princes would take the place of sovereigns, and their ministers with all their accomplishments had to serve as their menials. That shows that rank depends upon destiny, and not on intelligence, and that wealth is good fortune, and has nothing to do with mental faculties. 

Most people discussing these questions fancy that men of genius ought to be made generals and ministers, and that less gifted persons should become peasants and traders. Observing that scholars of great abilities are not called to office, they are surprised, and reproach them with incompetency for practical business, and likewise they wonder at other scholars, who have a turn of mind for the practical (but do not get on), and imagine that they must be too weak in theory. As a matter of fact, they are not aware that, though a person may be most admirable either in theory or in practice, it is merely destiny that governs his official status and his emoluments. When clever men undertake something at a lucky and propitious time, and happiness survenes, then people will call them clever, whereas, when they witness a decline, and the arrival of misfortune, they regard them as stupid. They do not know a lucky and inauspicious fate, or a thriving and declining fortune. 

1 This was the name assumed by the famous minister of the Yüeh State Fan Li, when, having retired from public life, he lived incognito in Ch'i. Under this name he amassed a large fortune so, that T'ao Chu Kung has become a synonym for a "millionaire." (Cf. Gile8, Bill. Diet. N. 540.) 

3 King Ch'êng of the Chou dynasty (cf. chap. XL). 

4 Huan, duke of Chi (cf. p. 17(j). 



On Destiny and Fortune. 1 47 

Po Kuei 1 and Tse Kung 2 made a fortune by the transport of wares, and had heaps of gold and jewels. People spoke of their excellent methods and their great learning. Chu Fu Yen 3 was despised and slighted in Chi, which would have none of him. He went to the imperial palace, and presented a memorial, whereupon he was employed by the Han., and rose in office as high as a minister of State. Hsü Yüeh of Chao also sent up a memorial, when he was together with Yen Chang. His Majesty was pleased with his words, and appointed him secretary of a board. People praise the talents of Chu Fu Yen and the skill of Hsü Yüeh., but they are mistaken. 

When literati are able to comment upon one classic, in which they have become well versed in the capital, as lucidly as Kuang Chih Kuei and as thoroughly as Chao Tse Tu, who passed the first and the second examinations at the first trial, and immediately were promoted to the rank of a secretary of a ministry and of an academician, people believe that they have obtained this by their profound knowledge of the classics and their genius, which is wrong. 

In the case of able speakers4 such as Fan Sui,5 who in Chin was ennobled as a Marquis of Ying, and of T'sai Tse 6 who after he had spoken to Fan Sui, was appointed alien minister, 7 they pretend that these happy results were brought about by the excellence of Fan Sui and T'sai Tse, but that is erroneous. All the above-mentioned persons were predestinated for opulence and nobility, and it was just the proper time for these lucky events to happen. 

Confucius said, " Life and death depend on Destiny, wealth and honour come from Heaven." 8 Duke Ping of Lu wished to see Mencius, but his minion Tsang T'sang slandered Mencius, and dissuaded him. Mencius said, " It is Heaven." 9 Confucius, a sage, 



1 A keen business man, who flourished under the Marquis Wen of Wei in the 5th cent. b.c. 

2 A disciple of Confucius, who became very rich. 

3 Chu Fu Yen lived in the 2nd cent. b.c. He was an enemy of Tung Chung Shu (cf. p. 84). 

4 Who could explain a book, and solve knotty questions in the presence of the sovereign. 

5 Cf. p. 115. 

6 Cf. chap. XXIV. 

7 Because T'sai Tse was not a native of Ch'in, but of Yen. King Ch'ao of Ch'in (305—250 b.c.) made him his minister on the recommendation of Fan Sui. 

8 Cf. p. 136. 

9 See chap. XXXIV. 



148 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

and Mencius, a worthy, exhorting people to conform to the right principles, did not confound truth and untruth. Since they spoke of destiny, it is evident that there is a destiny. Huai Nan Tse says in his work, " Benevolence and meanness depend upon time, not on conduct, and profit and loss are brought about by fate, not by knowledge." And Chia Yi 1 states, "With Heaven one cannot fix a time, and with Tao one cannot lay plans. Early and late are predetermined by destiny. How could the time be known? " 

When Kao Tsu fought against Ch'ing Pu, 2 he was hit by a stray arrow. His illness being very serious, the Empress Lü Hou consulted an able physician. This doctor said that the disease could be cured, but Kao Tsu abused him saying, " I, a simple citizen, have with my sword of three feet conquered the world.  Was that not Heaven's decree? Destiny depends on Heaven. Even a Pien Ch'ioh 3 would be no use." 4 When Han Hsin 5 spoke with the emperor on military things, he said to Kao Tsu, " The heavenly appointment, of which Your Majesty speaks, cannot be won by skill or force." 

Yang Tse Yün 6 teaches that to meet with what one desires, or not to meet with it, is fate, and the Grand Annalist asserts that wealth and honour do not exclude poverty and meanness, and that the latter do not exclude wealth and honour. That means that opulence and nobility may turn into indigence and humbleness, and that indigence and humbleness may be changed into opulence and nobility. Rich and noble persons do not desire poverty and misery, but poverty and misery may come of themselves, and poor and humble fellows may not strive for wealth and honour, yet wealth and honour fall to their sort spontaneously. 

When in spring or summer people die in prison, and when in autumn and winter they wear an air of prosperity, 7 this is not the result of their works. The sun rises in the morning, and sets in the evening, not because people wish it, for the principle of Heaven is spontaneity. The King of Tai 8 arrived from Tai, and 



1 A scholar of the 2nd cent., who wrote the Hsn-shu and some poetry. 

2 The king of Huai-nan, who had revolted. 

3 A celebrated physician. 

4 The passage is quoted from the Shi-chi, chap. S (Chavannes, mém. Hist.  Vol. II, p. 400). 

5 One of the Three Heroes who helped Han Kao Tsu, to win the throne. 

6 Cf. p. 124. 

7 According to Chinese customs executions of criminals take place in autumn. 

8 The fifth son of the Emperor Kao Tsu, The empress Lü hou wished to leave the empire to one of the Lü princes, her own kinsmen. 



On Destiny and Fortune. 149 

became the Emperor Wen Ti. 1 Chou Ya Fu,1 an illegitimate son, was made Marquis of Tiao. At first, the King of Tai was not heir-apparent, and Chou Ya Fa was not the legitimate son, but they encountered the proper time, and fell in with the right moment, which led to their elevation. 

In case a person predestinated for poverty, acquires wealth by his exertions and his energy, he dies, when he has made a fortune, and should another doomed to humility win honours by his talents and abilities, he will be dismissed, when he has made himself a position. They win wealth and honour by their energy and their genius, but are unable to keep in possession of fate and luck, just as a vessel holds but a certain quantity, and as a hand lifts but a certain weight. If a vessel holds just one pint, then one pint exactly fills it, but, as soon as there is more than one pint, it flows over. Provided that a hand can just lift one chün, 3 then it balances one chün, but, when one chün is exceeded, he who lifts it up, tumbles and falls. 

Former generations knew the truth, therefore they ascribed every thing to destiny, and such is destiny indeed. Those who trust in destiny, can live in retirement and await their time. They need not exhaust their vitality, or harass their bodies, hunting after it — for it is like pearls and jewels, concealed in lakes and mountains. Heaven's fate is difficult to know. People are unable to find it out. Although their fate be propitious, they have no confidence in it, and therefore seek it. If they understood it, they would be aware that, though fleeing wealth and shunning honour, at length they cannot get rid of it. 

Thus they presume that force overcomes poverty, and that diligence vanquishes misfortune. They exert themselves, and do their utmost to acquire wealth, and they cultivate their faculties, and purify their conduct to win honour. But neglecting the proper time, and acting in a wrong way, they will never obtain the wealth and honour they crave for. Even though they admit the existence of fate, they imagine that it must be sought. 

He who is convinced that fate cannot be sought, maintains that it must come of its own accord. One obtains it of itself without any alien assistance, it is completed without any work, and it arrives spontaneously without any cooperation on the part of the recipient. The nerves and sinews of those who are to be 



1 179-157 B.C. 

2 Chief minister of Han Wen Ti (cf. chap. XXIV). 

3 30 catties. 



150 Lun-Hêng: B. Metaphysical.  


rich, become strong of themselves, and those who are to have rank and titles, get a fine intellect spontaneously, just as in a thousand Li horse 1 the head, the eyes, the feet, and the hoofs all suit together. 

That fate, if sought, cannot be obtained, does not mean that it can be won, if not affected. Men of great knowledge need not seek honour, for it comes of its own accord, and the active and * energetic need not seek wealth, for it falls to them spontaneously.  The happiness of wealth and honour cannot be attracted by any efforts, nor can the unhappiness of poverty and humbleness be simply avoided. Consequently, the fate of wealth and honour is obtained without any effort. Those who believe in fate will say they know that luck requires no seeking. When the heavenly fate is particularly lucky, it is obtained spontaneously without an effort, whereas, when it is unpropitious, all endeavours are of no help against it. 

As creatures are born not because they have wished it, so men become exalted without having struggled for it. Human character is such, that some people are good of themselves without instruction, and that others never become good in spite of instruction. The heavenly nature is like fate. King Yi of Yüeh 2 escaped into the mountains, earnestly desiring not to become king, and wishing to find a substitute. But the people of Yüeh smoked his den so, that at last he could not escape, and ascended the throne by force. By Heaven's fate it had to be so. Though fleeing and running away from it, he could not avoid it at last. Thus he spontaneously obtained the honour which he had not sought, 

1 A swift horse supposed to make a thousand Li in one day. 

2 He was assassinated by his younger brother in 376 b.c.(Chavannes, Mén.  Hist. Vol. IV, p. 433, Note 5). 



On Chance and Luck. 151 

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