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20: CHAPTER XIX. On Heaven

CHAPTER XIX. On Heaven (Tan-fien)

In the books of the Literati 1 we find the statement that Kung 

Kung 2 struggled with Chuan Hsü 3 for the empire, and that out of 

anger that he was defeated, he knocked against the Pu Chou Mountain,4

thereby causing the break-down of the " Pillar of Heaven " and 

the délabrement of the confines of the earth. But Nü Wa 5 melted 

multicoloured stones, and therewith plastered up the blue sky, and 

cut off the legs of a sea-turtle, which she erected at the four extremities of the universe. However, heaven was not complete in 

the north-west, therefore sun and moon moved, 6 and there was a 

piece of the earth missing in the south-east, hence all the rivers 

flowed to the ocean. 7 This is a very old tradition, believed by most 

people. 8 Well educated persons will think it strange, but they have 

nothing to say against it, or if they have, they are unable to settle 

the question. They may also be afraid, lest the thing should be 

really true, and therefore dare not discuss it seriously. According to 

the laws of nature and from a human point of view, it is all idle talk. 

If a man fighting with another for the empire, out of anger 

that he did not win, knocked against the Pu Chou Mountain, and 

caused the pillar of heaven to break, and the confines of the earth 

to be smashed, if his strength was like that, he would have no opponent on earth. With such a force he could engage three armies, 

and the soldiers would be to him like ants, and their weapons like 

blades of grass. Why should he, resenting his defeat, strike against 

Mount Pu Chou? 

There is nothing harder and heavier than a mountain. The 

strength of ten thousand men pushing would not be able to move 

1 In Huai Nan Tse. Cf. p. 89. 

2 A legendary being of prehistoric times. 

3 A mythical emperor. 

4 The Pu Chou Mountain forms part of the K'un-lun, which latter is also 

called " Pillar of Heaven " (T'ien-chu). 

5 The sister of the mythical emperor Fu Hsi. 

6 To wit from east to west. 

7 The ocean is in the east of China. 

8 Cf. Lieh Tsu V, 5v. ; where this old tradition is told with almost the 

same words. 

On Heaven. 251 

even a small mountain, and Mount Pu Chou must have been a big 

one. If it was really the " Pillar of Heaven," it would be a difficult thing to break it. If it was not, then it cannot be admitted 

that by knocking against the Pu Chou Mountain the " Pillar of 

Heaven" was broken. — Chuan Hsü in his fight against Kung Kung 

might have mustered all the soldiers on earth and all the multitudes 

peopling the land within the seas, he would not have been a match 

for him. How should Kung Kung not have been victorious? 

Moreover, is heaven air or a body? If it be air, it cannot 

be different from clouds and mist. Then there could be no pillar 

which might be broken. Since Nü Wa repaired it with stones, it 

must be a body. If it be so in fact, then it is something like gems 

and stones. The substance of stones is heavy, a single pillar would 

not be a sufficient support for a thousand Li. Not even the peaks 

of the Five Mountains 1 could prop heaven as pillars. 

When Mount Pu Chou was struck, did it support heaven? 

The mountain was broken by Kung Kung. At that time heaven 

ought to have fallen down. How could it be raised again, once 

collapsed, and how could the four poles be erected with cut off 

legs of a sea-turtle? Some one might say that a sea-turtle was a 

monster of olden times with immense legs, and that its legs therefore could be erected as the four poles. 

Now Pu Chou is a mountain, a sea-turtle an animal. Originally a mountain was serving as pillar of heaven. Kung Kung 

broke it, and it was replaced by the legs of an animal. Bones 

become putrified, how could they long stand upright? If the legs 

of a sea-turtle could support heaven, the body of the turtle must 

have been of such enormous dimensions, that it would not have had 

room enough between heaven and earth. How could Nü Wa have 

killed it, though she was a saint? If she was able to do it, how did 

she manage it? Provided that the legs could be used as the pillars 

of heaven, their skin must have been as hard as stone and iron; 

swords as well as halberds would have been ineffective against it, nor 

could a sharp arrow, shot from a strong cross-bow, have pierced it. 

We see that at present heaven is very high and far distant 

from the earth. The heaven of to-day is the same with that of 

antiquity. When Kung Kung damaged it, heaven did not fall down 

upon the earth. Nü Wa was human; a man may be very tall, he 

never will reach up to heaven. When Nü Wa was repairing it, on 

1 The Five Sacred Mountains of China: — Tai-shan in Shantung, Hêng-shan 

in Hunan, Hua-shan in Shensi, Hêng-shan in Chili, and Sung-shan in Honan. 

252 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

what steps did she climb up, and on what did she stand, while 

doing her work? Was the heaven of olden days perhaps like the 

roof of a hall, and not far distant from men, so that Kung Kung 

could destroy, and Nü Wa repair it? If this was actually so, there 

would have been many Nü Wa's. Of people living prior to Nü Wa 

the Human Emperors 1 were the oldest. Was at the time of the 

Human Emperors heaven like a canopy? 

The commentators of the Yiking say that previous to the separation of the primogenial vapours there was a chaotic and uniform 

mass, and the books of the Literati speak of a wild medley, and 

of air not yet separated. When it came to be separated, the pure 

elements formed heaven, and the impure ones earth. According to 

the expositors of the Yiking and the writings of the Literati the 

bodies of heaven and earth, when they first became separated,, were 

still small, and they were not far distant from each other, so much 

so, that heaven might well have reclined on the Pa Chou Mountain, 

and that Kung Kung could smash, and Nü Wa repair it. 

All beings filled with air grow. Heaven and earth contain 

air, which develops spontaneously. A great many years have elapsed 

since their first beginning. Hence it is impossible to calculate the 

distance between heaven and earth now, whether it be wide or narrow, far or near. What the scholars write about it may so far be 

correct, the statement, however, that Kung Kung knocked against 

Mount Pu Chou, broke the " Pillar of Heaven," and smashed the 

borders of the earthy that with liquified multicoloured stones the 

blue sky was repaired, and that the legs of a sea-turtle were cut 

off, and set up as the four poles, is all the same untenable. Even 

though a mountain might be moved, Kung King's force would not 

suffice to break it. Were at the time, when heaven and earth first 

separated, the mountains small and men great? How else could 

they have knocked against a mountain, and broken it? 

The repairing of heaven by means of five kinds of stones may 

at least be discussed. These stones might have worked like mineral 

drugs curing a disease. 2 But the cutting off of the legs of a sea-turtle and putting them up at the four poles, cannot be mentioned 

in earnest. It is a long time since Nü Wa. Do the four poles look 

like the legs of a turtle? 

1 These are still believed to have been preceded by a dynasty of sovereigns 

of Heaven, and of sovereigns of Earth, all fabulous beings. 

2 Supposing heaven to be a spirit or a human-like living being. 

On Heaven. 258 

In Tsou Yen's 1 book there is a notice to the effect, that there 

are nine divisions of the Empire viz. the nine divisions forming the 

tributary land of Yü. The Nine Circuits of Yü are so to speak but 

one continent. If in the " Tribute of Yü "2 Nine Circuits are mentioned, they are the present Nine Circuits of the Empire. They are 

situated in the south-east of the earth and bear the name of Ch'ih-hsien 3 or Shen-chou 4 (China). But there are eight continents besides. 

Each continent is hemmed in by the Four Seas, which are called Pai

hai.5 Beyond the Nine Continents there is still the Great Ocean. 6 — 

This statement is extraordinary and bewildering to the hearers, 

but they are unable to make out, whether it be correct or not. Thus 

it is being handed down by books, which are read, or repeated by 

word of mouth. Reality and fiction are equally transmitted to 

posterity, and the world does not distinguish between truth and 

untruth. People become perplexed, and a discussion is very difficult. 

Tsou Yen's knowledge did not surpass that of Yü. When Yü 

controlled the deluge, Yi acted as his assistant. 7 While Yü was 

regulating the water, Yi noted all things. He explored the expanse 

of heaven, and penetrated to the farthest limits of the earth. He 

distinguished what was beyond the Four Seas, 8 and thoroughly 

investigated the region within the Four Mountains. 9 In the thirty 

five States he enumerated all the beasts and birds, plants, trees, 

minerals, stones, waters, and earths, but he did not say that there 

are still nine continents besides. 

Liu An, prince of Huai Nan 10 invited scientists like Wu Pei 

and Tso Wu. His palaces were full of such men, who wrote books 

on the Taoist doctrine. In the chapter where he treats of the 

things of the world and the shape of the earth, 11 he speaks of 

1 A scholar of the 4th cent. b.c. who wrote on cosmogony and geography. 

See p. 19. 

2 The well known chapter of the Shuking. 

3 Literally the "Red Region," 赤县. 

4 The " Divine Circuit," 神州 . 

5 Minor Seas, 稗海. 

6 Ying-hai, 瀛海 

7 Cf. p. 330. 

8 The Four Seas supposed to surround the habitable land i. e. China.


9 The Four Sacred Mountains: — Tai-shan, Hêng-shan, Hua-shan and Hêng 

shan in the East, South, West, and North of ancient China. The Sung-shan in the 

Centre is omitted. See above p. 251. 

10 The Taoist philosopher Huoi Nan T^e of. p. 335. 

11 Chap. IV of Huai Nan Tse's work. 

254 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

prodigies and the wonders of foreign lands, he also talks of the 

peculiarities of the thirty-five countries, but does not mention the 

existence of Nine Continents. 

Tsou Yen did not travel as far as Yü and Yi on earth, and 

his experience was not greater than that of either Wu Pei or Tso 

Wu. His talents were not those of a sage, and he did not learn 

things by a special revelation from heaven. How then could he 

make such statements? Examined by the light of Yü's "Mountain 

Book " 1 and of Huai Nan's chapter on the shape of the earth, his 

words are utterly wrong. 

The Grand Annalist 2 says: — "In the ' Chronicle of Yü' 3 it is 

said that the Yellow River has its fountain-head in the K'un-lun, 

which is three thousand and five hundred Li 4 high. There where 

sun and moon hide in the K'un-lun, it is full of splendour. On the 

mountain there is the Jade Spring and the Flower Lake. 5 Now, 

after Chang Ch'ien went as envoy to Bacfria, 6 he traced the springs 

of the Yellow River, but did he see what the Chronicle relates 

about the K'un-lun? In what it says about the nine divisions, 

mountains, and rivers the Shuking may be near the truth, 7 of the 

wonderful things to be found in Yü's Chronicle and the ' Mountain 

Book.' 8 I dare not express myself." 

"I dare not express myself" means that there is no truth in 

them. Every one has heard about the height of the K'un-lun, the 

Jade Spring, and the Flower Lake, but, when Chang Ch'ien went 

there personally, he found that these things did not exist. In the 

" Tribute of Yü " mountains, rivers, and wonderful things, precious 

metals and stones occurring in the Nine Circuits are all enumerated, 

but there is no reference to the Jade Spring or the Flower Lake 

on the K'un-lun. In the opinion of the Grand Annalist the reports of the "Mountain Book" and the "Chronicle of Yü" are 


1 The " Mountain Book " = Shan-king forms the first five chapters of the 

"Mountain and Sea Classic " = Shan-hai-king, which tradition ascribes to Yü and 

his minister yi, but it is probably not earlier than the 4th or the 3d cent. e.c. 

2 Shi-chi chap. 123, p. 19v. 

3 This book is now lost. 

4 The Shi-chi has 2,500 Li. 

5  玉泉 and 华池, The Shi-chi writes: — "the Sweet Wine Spring and 

the Jasper Lake": 醴泉 and 瑶池. 

6 Chang Ch'ien started on his famous expedition in 122 B.C. 

7 These subjects are treated in the chapter entitled the " 'Tribute of Yü."

8 The Shi-chi writes: — The Skan-hai-king. 

On Heaven. 255 

In all tilings which are difficult to know, it is not easy to 

find out the truth. 

The pole is the centre of heaven. At present the world lies 

south from the pole of Yü, therefore the heavenly pole must be 

in the north, heaven must be high there, and more people living 

in that region. According to the ''Tribute of Yü " the east is 

washed by the ocean, and the west covered with " flying sand.". 

These must be the extreme limits of heaven and earth. 

When the sun pricks, his diameter measures a thousand Li. 

Now, if the sun is observed at his rise from Yin and Chih Hsien 1 

in K'uei-chi on the eastern sea-shore, his diameter appears to be no 

more than, two feet, which proves that the sun is still very far. 

Consequently there must be more land eastward. This being the 

case, the assertion about the pole being in the north and about 

the extension of heaven and earth is not made at random.2 In 

this way the statements of Tsou Yen cannot be controverted, and 

what the " Chronicle of Yü " says on mountains and seas, and 

Huai Nan Tse's lucubrations on the shape of the earth appear unreliable. 

Tsou Yen holds that at present the " land under heaven " 3 

lies in the south-east of the earth, and is called Ch'ih hsien or Shên 

chou. Now, the heavenly pole is the centre of heaven. If at present 

the " land under heaven " were situated in the south-east of the 

earth, the pole ought to appear in the north-west. Since in fact 

it is straight north, the world at present lies south of the pole. 

In regard to the pole the world cannot he in the south-east, hence 

Tsou Yen's statement to this effect is wrong. 

If it were in the south-east, it would be near to the sun's 

rising place, and the light of the rising sun ought to appear bigger. 

Now, whether looked at from the Eastern Sea or from the Gobi, 

the size of the sun remains the same. Although the points of 

observation be ten thousand Li distant, it makes no difference in 

the size of the sun. That shows that at present the world occupies 

but a small part of the expanse of the earth. 

1 Chih =  must be a misprint, for such a character is not to be found 

in the dictionaries. We ought to read Mou = . Yin and Mou were two districts of the K'uai-chi circuit comprising Chekiang and parts of Anhui and Fukien 

under the Han dynasty. I'm was in the south-east of Mou, both situated in the 

present Ningpo prefecture. (Cf. Kanghi's Diet.) 

2 Tsou Yen's assertion. 

3 i. e. the habitable land or China. 

256 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

Loyang is the centre of the Nine Circuits.1 Viewed from 

Loyang the north-pole appears direct north. The shore of the 

Eastern Sea is three thousand Li distant from Loyang. Seen from 

there the pole is likewise in the north. By analogy we may safely 

assume that viewed from the Gobi the pole will also appear in 

the north. The Eastern Sea and the Gobi are the eastern and 

western borders of the Nine Circuits, ten thousand Li distant from 

one another, nevertheless the pole appears always north. The earth 

must therefore be very small and occupying a narrow space, since 

one never gets away from the pole. 

The principality of Annam (Jih Nan i. e. the South of the Sun) 

is ten thousand Li distant from Loyang. People who had emigrated 

there, and came back, when asked, have said that, when the sun 

culminates, his resting-place cannot be in Annam. If we go ten 

thousand Li further south, the sun there must reach his south-point. 

Then the south-point of the sun would be twenty thousand Li 

distant from Loyang. Now, if we measure the distance of the way 

made by the sun from Loyang, it cannot be the same, as if we 

measure from the north-pole, because the pole is still very far from 

Loyang. Let us suppose that we went thirty thousand Li north. 

Even then we would not arrive under the pole. But provided we 

did, then we could say that we had reached the place just beneath 

the north-pole. Since from there to the south-point there would 

be fifty thousand Li, there must be fifty thousand Li north of the 

pole likewise, and under these circumstances there would also be 

fifty thousand Li from the pole eastward and westward in either 

direction. One hundred thousand Li from north to south, and one 

hundred thousand Li from east to west multiplied would give a 

million square Li.2 

Tsou Yen opines that between heaven and earth there are 

nine continents like China. At the Chou period the Nine Circuits 

measured five thousand Li from east to west, and from north to 

south also five thousand Li. Five times five gives twenty-five, one 

continent therefore would contain twenty-five thousand square Li, 

which would be the size of China.3 Twenty-five thousand Li multi- 

1 Loyang is considered the centre of the world i. e. China. 

2 Wang Ch'ung is a better theorist than arithmetician. The square of 

100,000 is 10,000 millions, not 1 million. Wang Ch'ung supposes the earth to be 

an equilateral, rectangular square. 

3 The same mistake. The square of 5,000 is 25 millions. 25 million square 

Li, about 8 million square kilometer is approximately the area of the Eighteen Provinces or China Proper. 

On Heaven. 257 

plied by nine would give two hundred and twenty-five thousand 

square Li. Tsou Yen's figure 1 may appear too high, but computation 

and a thorough investigation show us that, on the contrary, it is 

too low. 2 

The Literati say that heaven is air, and therefore not far from 

man. Consequently it immediately knows, whether they are right 

or wrong, and whether they possess secret virtues or vices, and 

also responds to them. This is regarded as a proof of its vicinity. 

But, if we examine the question critically, we find that heaven's 

body is not air. 

Men are created by heaven, why then grudge it a body? 

Heaven is not air, but has a body on high and far from men. 

According to private traditions heaven is upwards of sixty-thousand 

Li distant from the earth. 3 Some mathematicians reckon the entire 

circumference of heaven at 365 degrees. Thus the world all round 

is divided into degrees, and its height measures a certain number 

of Li. If heaven were really air, air like clouds and mist, how 

could then be so many Li or so many degrees? Besides we have 

the " twenty-eight constellations," which serve as resting-places to 

sun and moon, just as on earth the couriers lodge in postal stations. 

The postal stations on earth correspond to the solar mansions on 

heaven. Hence the statement found in books that heaven has a 

body is not baseless. To him who considers the question, as we 

have done, it becomes evident that heaven cannot be something 

diffuse and vague. 

1 225,000 square Li (22.5 millions), which number is based on Tsou Yens 

hypothesis that there are nine continents as large as China. 

2 Wang Ch'ung has calculated a million square Li (10,000 millions). The 

area of our Earth measures about 510 million square kilometer, not 2,500 millions 

(= 10,000 million square Li) as results from Wang Ch'ung' s calculation. 

3 Huai ]San Tse says 50,000 Li. 

258 Lun-Hêng: C. Physical.