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
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.