CHAPTER XV. On Death(Lun-sse).
People say that the dead become ghosts, are conscious, and
can hurt men. Let us examine this by comparing men with other
The dead do not become ghosts, have no consciousness, and
cannot injure others. How do we know this? We know it from
other beings. Man is a being, and other creatures are likewise
beings. When a creature dies, it does not become a ghost, for
what reason then must man alone become a ghost, when he expires? In this world you can separate man from other creatures,
but not on the ground that he becomes a ghost. The faculty to
become a ghost cannot be a distinctive mark. If, on the other
hand, there is no difference between man and other creatures, we
have no reason either to suppose that man may become a ghost.
Man lives by the vital fluid. When he dies, this vital fluid
is exhausted. It resides in the arteries. At death the pulse stops,
and the vital fluid ceases to work: then the body decays, and
turns into earth and clay. By what could it become a ghost?
Without ears or eyes men have no perceptions. In this
respect the deaf and the blind resemble plants and trees. But are
men, whose vital fluid is gone, merely as if they had no eyes, or
no ears? No. their decay means complete dissolution.
That which is diffuse and invisible, is called a ghost, or a
spirit. When people perceive the shape of a ghost or a spirit, it
cannot be the vital fluid of a dead man, because ghost and spirit
are only designations for something diffuse and invisible. When a
man dies, his spirit ascends to heaven, and his bones return to
the earth, therefore they are called Kwei (ghost) 1 which means " to
return."2 A spirit (Shen) is something diffuse and shapeless.
Some say that ghost and spirit are names of activity and
passivity. The passive principle opposes things and returns, hence
its name Kuei (ghost). The active principle fosters and produces
1 鬼 2 归
192 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical.
things, and therefore is called Slim (spirit),1 which means " to ex-
tend."2 This is re-iterated without end. When it finishes, it begins again.
Man lives by the spiritual fluid. When he dies, he again
returns this spiritual fluid. Activity and passivity are spoken of
as spirit and ghost. When man dies, one speaks likewise of his
spirit and his ghost.
The fluid becomes man, just as water turns into ice. The
water crystallises to ice, and the fluid coagulates, and forms man.
The ice melting becomes water, and man dying becomes spirit
again. It is called spirit, just as molten ice resumes the name
water. When we have a man before us, we use another name.
Hence there are no proofs for the assertion that the dead possess
knowledge, or that they can take a form, and injure people.
When men see ghosts, they appear like living men. Just
from the fact that they have the shape of living men we can infer
that they cannot be the essence of the dead, as will be seen from
the following : —
Fill a bag with rice, and a sack with millet. The rice in
the bag is like the millet in the sack. Full, they look strong,
stand upright, and can be seen. Looking at them from afar, people
know that they are a bag of rice, and a sack of millet, because
their forms correspond to their contents, and thus become perceptible. If the bag has a hole, the rice runs out, and if the sack
is damaged, the millet is spilt. Then the bag and the sack col-
lapse, and are no more visible, when looked at from afar.
Man's vital fluid resides in the body, as the millet and the
rice do in the bag and the sack. At death the body decays, and
the vital fluid disperses, just as the millet and the rice escape from
the pierced or damaged bag, or sack. When the millet or the rice
are gone, the bag and the sack do not take a form again. How
then could there be a visible body again, after the vital fluid has
been scattered and lost?
When animals die, their flesh decomposes, but their skin and
their hair still remain, and can be worked into a fur, which appears still to have the shape of an animal. Therefore dog thieves
will don dog skins. People then do not discover them, because
disguised in a dog's fur-skin, they do not rouse any suspicion.
Now, when a man dies, his skin and hair are destroyed.
Provided that his vital force did still exist, how could the spirit
' 神 ' 伸
On Death. 198
again enter the same body, and become visible? The dead cannot
borrow the body of a living man to re-appear, neither can the
living borrow the soul of the dead to disappear.
The Six Animals 1 can only be transformed into a human
shape as long as their bodies and their vital fluid are still unimpaired. When they die, their bodies putrefy, and even, if they
possess the courage and the audacity of a tiger or a rhinoceros,
they can no more be metamorphosed. Niu Ai, duke of Lu 2 during
an illness could be transformed into a tiger, because he was not
yet dead. It happens that a living body is transformed into
another living body, but not that a dead body is changed into a
From the time, when heaven and earth were set in order,
and the reign of the " Human Emperors" 3 downward people died
at their allotted time. Of those, who expired in their middle age,
or quite young, millions and millions might be counted. The
number of the persons actually living would be less than that of
those who died. If we suppose that after death a man becomes
a ghost, there would be a ghost on every road, and at every
step. Should men appear as ghosts after death, then tens of
thousands of ghosts ought to be seen. They would fill the halls,
throng the courts, and block the streets and alleys, instead of the
one or two which are occasionally met with.
When a man has died on a battle-field, they say that his
blood becomes a will-o'-the-wisp. The blood is the vital force of
the living. The will-o'-the-wisp seen by people, while walking at
night, has no human form, it is desultory and concentrated like
a light. Though being the blood of a dead man, it does not resemble a human shape in form, how then could a man, whose
vital force is gone, still appear with a human body?
If the ghosts seen all looked like dead men, there might be
some doubt left that the dead become ghosts, and sometimes even
assume human form.
1 The Six Domestic Animals are: — the horse, the ox, the goat, the pig, the
dog, and the fowl.
2 Cf. Chap.XXVII.
3 A series of mythical rulers of remotest antiquity.
194 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical.
Sick people see ghosts, and say that So-and-So has come to
them. At that time So-and-So was not yet dead, but the fluid
perceived resembled him. If the dead become ghosts, how is it
that sick people see the bodies of the living?
The nature of heaven and earth is such, that a new fire can
be lighted, but an extinguished fire cannot be set ablaze again. A
new man can be born, but a dead one cannot be resurrected. If
burnt-out ashes could be kindled again into a blazing fire, I would
be very much of opinion that the dead might take a bodily form
again. Since, however, an extinguished fire cannot burn again, we
are led to the conclusion that the dead cannot become ghosts.
Ghosts are considered to be the vital spirits of the dead. If
this were really the case, people seeing ghosts ought to see their
bodies naked only, but not wearing dresses, or covered with garments, because garments have no vital spirits. When men die,
their clothes become decomposed together with their bodies, how
could they be put on again?
The vital spirits have their original seat in the blood fluid,
and this fluid always adheres to the body. If notwithstanding the
decay of the body the vital spirits were still extant, they might
become ghosts. Now garments are made of silk stuffs and other
fabrics. During man's life-time his blood fluid does not permeate
them, nor have they any blood of their own. When the body is
destroyed, they share its fate, how could they of themselves re-assume the shape of garments. Consequently, if ghosts are seen
which bear a resemblance to dresses, they must also be like bodies,
and if they are, we know that they cannot be the vital spirits of
Since the dead cannot become ghosts, they cannot have any
consciousness either. We infer this from the fact that before their
birth men have no consciousness. Before they are born, they form
part of the, primogenial fluid, and when they die, they revert to
it. This primogenial fluid is vague and diffuse, and the human
fluid, a j)art of it. Anterior to his birth, man is devoid of consciousness, and at his death he returns to this original state of
unconsciousness, for how should he be conscious?
Man is intelligent and sagacious, because he has in himself
the fluid of the Five Virtues, which is in him, because the Five
On Death. 195
Organs 1 are in his body. As long as the five parts are uninjured,
man is bright and clever, but, when they become diseased, his
intellect is dimmed and confused, which is tantamount to stupidity
After death the five inward parts putrefy, and, when they do
so, the five virtues lose their substratum. That which harbours
intelligence is destroyed, and that which is called intelligence dis-
appears. The body requires the fluid for its maintenance, and the
fluid, the body to become conscious. There is no fire in the world
burning quite of itself, how could there be an essence without a
body, but conscious of itself?
Man's death is like sleep, and sleep comes next to a trance, 2
which resembles death. If a man does not wake up again from
a trance, he dies. If he awakes, he returns from death, as though
he had been asleep. Thus sleep, a trance, and death are essentially the same. A sleeper cannot know what he did, when he
was awake, as a dead man is unaware of his doings during his
life-time. People may talk or do anything by the side of a sleeping man, he does not know, and so the dead man has no consciousness of the good or bad actions performed in front of his
coffin. When a man is asleep, his vital fluid is still there, and his
body intact, and yet he is unconscious. How much more must
this be the case with a dead man, whose vital spirit is scattered
and gone, and whose body is in a state of decay?
When a man has been beaten and hurt by another, he goes
to the magistrate, and makes his complaint, because he can talk
to people, and is conscious. But, when a person is slain by somebody, the murderer is unknown, his family perhaps not knowing
even the place, where his corpse is lying. If under such circumstances the murdered man was conscious, he would assuredly be
filled with the greatest wrath against his murderer. He ought to
be able to speak into the magistrate's ear, and give him the name
of the miscreant, and, if he were able to go home, and speak to
his people, he would inform them, where the body was. But all
that he cannot do. That shows that he has no consciousness.
1 The Five Virtues are: — Benevolence, Justice, Propriety, Knowledge, and
Truth; the Five Organs: — the Heart, the Liver, the Stomach, the Lungs, and the
2 No dictionary gives this meaning for t'ien 殄, which usually means " to
exterminate, to cut off, to cease." But it cannot be anything else here. The Chinese
of to-day will likewise call a faint "death," or "small death," hsiao-sse 小死.
196 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical.
Now-a-days, living persons in a trance will sometimes as mediums
speak for those who have died, and diviners, striking black chords,
will call down the dead, whose souls then will talk through the diviner's mouth. All that is brag and wild talk. If it be not mere
gossip, then we have a manifestation of the vital fluid of some being.
Some say that the spirit cannot speak. If it cannot speak,
it cannot have any knowledge either. Knowledge requires a force,
just as speech does.
Anterior to man's death, his mental faculties and vital spirit
are all in order. When he falls sick, he becomes giddy, and his
vital spirit is affected. Death is the climax of sickness. If even
during a sickness, which is only a small beginning of death, a
man feels confused and giddy, how will it be, when the climax
is reached? When the vital spirit is seriously affected, it loses its
consciousness, and when it is scattered altogether?
Human death is like the extinction of fire. When a fire is
extinguished, its light does not shine any more, and when man
dies, his intellect does not perceive any more. The nature of both
is the same. If people nevertheless pretend that the dead have
knowledge, they are mistaken. What is the difference between a
sick man about to die and a light about to go out? When a light
is extinguished, its radiation is dispersed, and only the candle
remains. When man has died, his vital force is gone, and the
body alone remains. To assert that a person after death is still
conscious is like saying that an extinguished light shines again.
During the chilly winter months the cold air prevails, and
water turns into ice. At the approach of spring, the air becomes
warm, and the ice melts to water. Man is born in the universe,
as ice is produced, so to say. The Yang and the Yin fluids crystallise, and produce man. When his years are completed, and
his span of life comes to its end, he dies, and reverts to those
fluids. As spring water cannot freeze again, so the soul of a dead
man cannot become a body again.
Let us suppose that a jealous husband and a jealous wife are
living together. The debauchery and the disreputable conduct of one
party is the cause of constant outbursts of anger, fighting, and quarreling. Now, if the husband dies, the wife will marry again, and if
the wife dies, the husband will do the same. If the other knew of it,
he would undoubtedly fly into a rage. But husband and wife, when
dead, keep perfectly quiet, and give no sound. The other may
marry again, they take no heed, and it has no evil consequences.
That proves that they are unconscious.
On Death. 197
Confucius buried his mother at Fang. 1 Subsequently such
heavy rain fell, that the tomb at Fang collapsed. When Confucius
heard of it, he wept bitterly and said: — " The ancients did not
repair graves." 2 Therefore he did not repair it. Provided the
dead are conscious, they ought to be angry with those who do
not keep their tombs in repair. Knowing this, Confucius would
have repaired the grave to please the departed soul, but he did
not do so. His intelligence as a Sage was of the highest order,
but he knew that spirits are unconscious.
When dried bones are lying about in lonely places, it may
happen that some mournful cries are heard there. If such a wail
is heard at night-time, people believe that it is the voice of a dead
man, but they are wrong. When a living man talks, he breathes.
His breath is kept in his mouth and his throat. He moves his
tongue, opens and shuts his mouth, and thus produces words. It
is like playing a flute. When the flute is broken, the air escapes,
and does not keep inside, and the hands have nothing to touch.
Consequently no sound is produced. The tubes of the flute correspond to the human mouth and throat. The hands touch the
holes in the tubes in the same manner, as man moves his tongue.
When he is dead, his mouth and throat decay, and the tongue
moves no more. How should words be articulated then? If, while
dried bones are lying about, wails and laments are heard, they
come from men, for bones cannot produce them.
Others imagine that it is the autumn (which produces these
sounds). This statement is not much different from the other that
ghosts cry at night. If the autumn air causes these extraordinary
moans and wails, it must have some substratum. Because this has
happened near the bones of a dead man, people have presumed
that these bones are still conscious, and utter these mournful cries
in the wilderness. There are thousands and thousands of skeletons
bleaching in the grass and in the swamps, therefore we ought to
be haunted by their laments at every step.
It is possible to make somebody speak, who usually does not
speak, but impossible that somebody who speaks, should be induced to speak again after death. Even he who spoke before,
cannot be caused to speak again. Similarly, when a plant comes
1 A place in Lu (Shantung).
2 A quotation abridged from the Li-ki, Tan Kung. Cf. Legge, Li-ki Vol. I,
p. 123. Modern commentators explain the passage quite differently. The dictum of
Confucius would mean that the ancients did not repair tombs, because they built them
so well, that they could not collapse. Wang Ch'ung's interpretation is more natural.
198 Lun-Hêng: B. Metaphysical.
forth, its fluid is green, which is, as it were, given it. When the
same plant dies, the green colour disappears, or is taken away.
Endowed with the fluid, the plant is green, deprived of it, it loses
the green colour. After the latter is gone, it cannot be added again,
nor can the plant grow green again of its own accord. Sound
and colour correspond to one another, and are both derived from
Heaven. The brilliant green colour is like a lugubrious cry. The
colour of a faded plant cannot become green again, it would, therefore, be a mistake to assume that a dead man's cry could still be
produced of itself.
Man is able to talk, because he possesses vital energy. As
long as he can eat and drink, the vital energy is well fed, but no
sooner do eating and drinking cease, than the energy is destroyed.
After this destruction there are no more sounds possible. When
the person is worn out, and cannot eat any more, the mouth cannot
speak any further. Death is exhaustion in the highest degree, how
could man still speak then?
There are those who say that the dead smell the sacrificed
meat, and eat the air, and that they are thus enabled to speak.
The vital force of the dead is that of the living. Let a living
being neither eat nor drink, and only inhale the smell of offerings,
and feed upon air, and he will die of starvation after no more
than three days.
Another opinion is that the vital force of the dead is more
powerful than that of the living, and that for this reason it can
smell the air, and produce sounds.
The vital force of the living is in their body, that of the
dead, out of it. In what do the dead and the living differ, and
what difference does it make that the vital fluid is within the
body, or outside of it? Take water, and fill it into a big jug.
When the jug breaks, the water flows to the earth, but can the
water on the floor be different from that in the jug? The water
on the floor is not different from that in the jug, then why
should the vital force outside the body be different from that
Since a man, when dead, does not become a ghost, has no
knowledge, and cannot speak, he cannot hurt others either for
the following reason, in his anger, a man uses breath, but in
order to injure others, he requires strength. To make use of it,
his sinews and bones must he strong, then he can hurt others.
An angry man may breathe heavily so near to others, that his
breath shoots forth against their faces, but though he possess the
On Death. 199
valour of Mêng Pên, 1 it does them no harm. However, when he
stretches out his hand, and strikes, or lifts the foot and kicks, he
breaks whatever he hits. The bones of the dead decay, the strength
of his muscles is lost, and he does not lift hand or foot. Although
the vital fluid be still existant, it is, as if it were, only breathing, and nothing else follows. How then should it do harm to
Men and other creatures hurt others by means of knives,
which they grasp with their hands and arms, and with their strong
and sharp nails or teeth. Now, when a man is dead, his hands
and arms waste away, and cannot lift a blade any more, and nails
and teeth fall out, and cannot bite any more. How should they
do harm to others then?
When a child is just born, his hands and feet are quite
complete, yet the hands cannot grasp, and the feet cannot kick.
The fluid has just concreted, but has no strength. Hence it is
evident that the vital fluid possesses no strength. The fluid forms
the body. As long as the body is still feeble and weak, it cannot
do harm to any one, and how much less still, when through death
the fluid becomes lost, and the vital spirit is dissolved. Something
feeble and weak is uncapable of injuring people, and one asserts
that cold bones can do it? Is the fluid of the dead not lost? How
should it injure anybody?
Before a hen's egg is hatched, there is a formless mass in the
egg-shell, which, on leaking out, looks like water. After a good
hen has covered the egg, the body of the chicken is formed, and
when it has been completed, the young bird can pick the shell,
and kick. Human death resembles the time of the formless mass.
How could a formless fluid hurt anybody?
A man becomes bold and fierce, so that he can assault others,
by eating and drinking. Eating and drinking his fill, he grows
stout and strong, bold and fierce, and can do harm to others.
While a man is sick, he can neither eat nor drink, and his body
becomes worn out and weak. W^hen this weariness and languor
reach the highest degree, death ensues. During that time of sickness and languor his enemy may stand by his side, he cannot
revile him, and a thief may take his things away, he has no means
to prevent him, all on account of his debility and lassitude. Death
is the debility and languor in the extreme, how then could a man
after death still injure any one?
1 Cf. Chap. XXXI.
200 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical.
If chickens or dogs, which somebody keeps, are stolen, he
will, at all events, wax angry, though he be timid, and not very
strong. and his anger may be so violent, that he tries conclusions
with the robber, and is slain by him. During the time of great
anarchy people will use one another as food. Now, provided that
the spirit was conscious, it ought to be able to destroy its enemies.1 A human body is worth more than a chicken or a dog,
and one's own death is of greater consequence than a robbery.
The fact that a man is excited over a chicken or a dog, but has
no bad feeling against the individual who devoured him, shows
that he 2 has not the power to hurt any one.
Prior to its casting off its exuviæ, a cicada is a chrysalis.
When it casts them off, it leaves the pupa state, and is transformed
into a cicada. The vital spirit of a dead man leaving the body
may be compared to the cicada emerging from the chrysalis. As
cicada it cannot hurt the chrysalises. Since it cannot do so, why
should the vital spirit of a dead man hurt living bodies?
The real nature of dreams is very doubtful. Some say that,
while people are dreaming, their vital spirits remain in their bodies,
and produce lucky or unlucky visions. Others hold that the vital
spirit communicates with men and other creatures. Now, if it
really remains in the body, the vital spirit of the dead must do
the same. If. however, the spirit mixes with men, people may
dream that they have killed somebody. Having killed somebody,
they are perhaps themselves murdered by somebody else. But if,
on the following day, they look at the body of that person, or
examine their own, they will find no trace whatever of a wound
inflicted by a sword. Dreams are caused by the vital spirit, and
this spirit is identical with the vital spirit of the dead. The vital
Spirit of dreams cannot injure people, therefore the spirit of the
dead cannot do so either.
When the fire burns, the caldron boils, and when the boiling
stops, the steam ceases. All depends on the fire. When the vital
spirit is incensed, it can do harm, not being angry, it cannot injure
people. The fire blazing in the stove, the kettle bubbles, and
the steam rises. When the vital force is enraged in the bosom,
there is an innervation of strength, and the body is hot. Now,
when a man is about to die, his body is cold and chilly. The
cold and chilliness increase, until at last he expires. At the time
1 Those who used its body as food.
2 His spirit.
On Death. 201
of death, the vital spirit is not irritated, and after the death of
the body it is like the hot water taken from the caldron, how
should it hurt people?
Things have a certain relation to man. When a man becomes
insane, and one knows the proper tiling, his malady may be cured
by applying this thing as a remedy. As long as a thing is alive,
its vital spirit adheres to its body, and consequently can change
its form, and enter into close connection with man. After it has
died, its body rots, and the vital spirit is dispersed. In default
of a substratum it cannot undergo any more changes. The human
vital spirit is like that of things. While they are alive, their spirit
may become sick, when they die, it evaporates and disappears.
Men are like things in this respect, when they die, their vital spirit
also becomes extinguished, how could it still do any mischief?
Should anybody object by saying that men are much more
precious than things, and that their vital spirit is different, we can
reply that, as a matter of fact, things can be metamorphosed, but
man cannot, and that so far his vital spirit is on the contrary
inferior to that of things, whose essence surpasses that of man.
Water and fire drown and burn. All that can injure man
must be a substance belonging to one of the five elements. ^Metal
hurts man, wood beats him, earth crushes him, water drowns him,
and fire burns him. Is the vital spirit of the dead a substance
like the five elements? Does it injure people, or is it not a sub-
stance? — It cannot injure people. Not being a substance, it must
be a fluid. Of the fluids which injure man that of the sun is the
most virulent. Does the fluid of a man, when he dies, become
virulent? Can it injure people or not? — It cannot injure people.
Thus we hold that the dead do not become ghosts, are not
conscious, and cannot hurt people. Consequently, it is evident that
the ghosts, which are seen, are not the vital force of dead men,
and that, when men have been hurt, it cannot have been done
through this vital force.
202 Lun-Hêng: B. Metaphysical.