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23: CHAPTER XXII. On Thunder and Lightning

CHAPTER XXII. On Thunder and Lightning (Lei-hsü). 

In midsummer thunder and lightning rapidly following each 

other, split trees, demolish houses, and occasionally kill men. Common people are of opinion that, when the lightning strikes a tree, 

or demolishes a house, Heaven fetches a dragon, whereas, when a 

man is killed, they say that it is for his hidden faults. If in eating 

and drinking people use impure things, Heaven becomes angry, and 

strikes them dead. The deep rolling sound is the expression of 

Heaven's anger like the breathing and gasping of angry men. Every 

one, no matter whether intelligent or stupid, says so. But if we 

look into the matter, taking human nature as a basis, we find that 

all this is nonsense. 

By a thunder-stroke one fluid is set in motion, and one sound 

produced.1 A tree is hit, and a dwelling damaged, and at the same 

time a man may be killed. When a man is slain, a tree may be 

struck, and a house damaged also. But they assert that, when a 

tree is struck, and a house damaged. Heaven fetches a dragon, 

whereas, when it kills a man, it punishes him for his hidden 

guilt. In that case something inauspicious would clash with the 

auspicious fetching of the dragon.2 That both things should happen 

at the same moment, and with the same sound, would not be proper. 

It has been argued that the rolling is the sound of Heaven's 

growling. That would be appropriate for the punishment of the 

guilty, but out of place for fetching dragons. In meting out punishment. Heaven may be angry, but, when it fetches a dragon, 

what fault has it, that it should be irritated like that? Provided 

that the dragon be a spirit, then Heaven in fetching it, ought not 

to be angry. If, however, a dragon has faults, which are to be 

atoned for like those of man. Heaven would kill it, but why must 

it still fetch it? While destroying a man. Heaven may be in wrath, 

but, when it fetches a dragon, what wrong has the dragon done, 

that Heaven should be so enraged at it? Having smitten a man, 

Heaven does not fetch him. If under the same circumstances it 

1 The same force destroys the tree, the house, and the man. 

2The dragon is accounted a sacred animal. 

286 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

does so with a dragon, what difference is there between human 

guilt and that of dragons? If both are put to death, where does 

a difference come in? We can no more accept the assertion that 

Heaven fetches dragons, than approve of the idea that the guilty 

meet with their dues for the following reasons: 

When the thunder instantaneously follows upon the lightning, 

and a man falls to the around dead, the rolling sound is close 

above his head, which brings about his death. But is the rolling 

really Heaven's anger? If so, in its wrath, it would kill a man 

by the angry breath of its mouth. But how can the angry breath 

of a mouth kill a man? On examining the body of a man, who 

has been struck by a thunderbolt, one discovers traces of burning. 

Provided that Heaven used its mouth in its anger, could its angry 

breath become fiery then? 

Moreover, the mouth is connected with the body, and its movements must be the same as those of the body. When lightning 

strikes, the sound is on the earth, and, when the work of destruction is done, it is again in the sky. Now, the moment, when the 

sound is on the earth, the mouth must approach it, and the body 

do the same. But, if at a thunder-clap we look up to Heaven, we 

do not see it descending. Since we do not see it come down, 

the rolling sound cannot be the expression of Heaven's anger. 

Heaven's anger cannot be different from that of man. When 

an angry person comes near anybody, his voice sounds loud, when 

he is for off, his voice seems low. Now, Heaven's voice is near, 

but its body far away. Therefore, anger is out of the question. 

When the peals of thunder rapidly succeed one another, the 

sound may be in the East, the West, the North or the South. 

Provided that Heaven be angry and move its body, then, if its 

mouth is in an eastern, western, northern, or southern direction, 

looking up we ought to see Heaven in one of these directions 


Some one might object that Heaven really was in one of these 

directions, but could not be seen by man owing to the obscurity, 

caused by the clouds and the rain. Yet over a distance of a thousand 

Li there are not the same winds, and within a hundred Li there 

is not the same tempest. As the Yiking has it: — "A hundred Li 

are frightened by the concussion." 1 The region where the thunderstorm is raging, is darkened by the thunder-clouds and the rain, 

but beyond a hundred Li, where no rain is falling, one ought to 

1 Yiking Book V, Chi'en Hexagram (No. 51). 

On Thunder and Lighting. 287 

see Heaven moving eastward, westward, north or southward. The 

mouth being joined to Heaven, Heaven must follow it. Whenever 

the mouth moves, the entire Heaven must shift its place also, and 

it is not only where the tempest rages, that Heaven follows the 

movements of its mouth. 

And who is it, whom we believe to be angry? The Spirit 

of Heaven or the dark blue sky? if we say, the Spirit of Heaven, 

an angry spirit can give no sound, and, if we say, the dark blue 

sky, its body cannot become angry, for anger requires a mouth. 

Heaven and Earth are like husband and wife, they are father 

and mother of mankind. Now, let a son have committed a fault, 

and his father in a fit of passion beat him to death, would not 

his mother weep for him? When Heaven in its wrath slays a man, 

Earth ought also to cry over him, but one only hears of Heaven's 

anger, and never of Earth's crying. If Earth cannot shed tears. 

Heaven cannot be angry either. 

Furthermore, anger must have its counterpart in joy. Men 

have hidden faults, but they have also latent virtues. Hidden faults 

in a man call forth Heaven's anger, which prompts it to kill him, 

but in case of latent virtues Heaven ought also to requite him 

with good. If the rolling sound is regarded as an expression of 

Heaven's anger, Heaven, when pleased, ought to give a hearty laugh. 

Men are pleased or angry, therefore the same is said of Heaven. 

We try to get a conception of Heaven by ascribing human qualities 

to it. The source of this knowledge of Heaven is man. If man 

would feel no anger, there is no reason either, why Heaven should. 

Since our knowledge of Heaven is derived from that of man, human 

nature in its entirety must be taken as basis, A man, when angry, 

breathes heavily, when pleased, he sings and laughs. We much less 

often hear of Heaven's joy, than of its anger, and much more 

seldom see it reward, than punish. Is Heaven always irritated 

and never content? Does it mete out punishment pretty freely, 

but is rather sparing of its rewards? How does its anger and vindictiveness become manifest, whereas there are no instances of its 

joy and liberality? 

When lightning strikes, it hits a tree, damages a house, and 

eventually kills a man. This is looked upon as Heaven's anger. But 

not unfrequently a thunder-clap is without effect, causing no damage, 

and destroying no human life. Does Heaven in such a case indulge 

in useless anger? A sovereign's joy and anger are not in vain. Being  

pleased or angry, he will certainly reward or punish. Useless anger 

without punishment would be unbecoming in Heaven. Doing something 

288 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

unseeming, it would lose its dignity thereby. That is not 

Heaven's way. 

The writers on government hold that cold and heat coincide 

with joy and anger. When the sovereign is pleased, the weather 

is mild, when he is angry, it is cold. Then on the day of a thunder-storm the temperature ought to be cold. 

Before Han Kao Tsu was born, Dame Liu 1 while sleeping on 

the banks of a big pond had intercourse with a spirit in her dream. 

At that time there was thunder and lightning, and a great darkness. Heaven was just then emitting its fluid, and ought to have 

been pleased, 2 why was it irritated and thundering? 

If striking and breaking is construed as a sign of Heaven's 

anger, and not striking or breaking as a sign of Heaven's joy, the 

rolling noise would not be appropriate in both cases. 3 Man expresses joy and anger by different sounds, if Heaven used the same 

sound for two different purposes, there would be a fundamental 

difference between him and man. From what circumstance then 

could we infer Heaven's anger? 

To give other persons impure things to eat is a small offence. 

For Heaven to chastise such small offenders in person with its 

own most precious body, would be derogatory to its majesty. 

Exalted persons do not punish personally, therefore does the em- 

peror not execute the criminals with his own hand. Heaven is 

more exalted than the emperor. If it punished small misdemeanours 

itself, its virtue would be inferior to that of the emperor. 

Heaven's sentiments must be similar to man's feelings. When 

a prince punishes the wicked, he upon first hearing of their crime, 

becomes furious and condemns them, but when it comes to taking 

their lives, he commiserates and pities them. Therefore the Analects 

say "When you have found out the truth, be grieved and pity 

them, and do not feel joy."4 Chou was utterly depraved, yet, when 

Wu Wang was going to put him to death, he deplored and pitied 

him. Thus in the Shuking he says: — " I commanded the wild tribes, 

but I am sorry for you."5 A sovereign puts the bad to death. 

1 The mother of the Emperor Kao Tsu. Cf. p. 177. 

2 Heaven as a spirit was just then engendering Han Kao Tsu, the Son of 


3 In the case of joy as well as of anger. 

4 Analects XIX, 19. The criminal judge Yung Fa having consulted the philosopher Tsêng Tse on the duties of his office, the latter advised him to pity the offenders, whose misdeeds were perhaps a consequence of bad administration. 

5 This passage is not to be found in our text of the Shuking. 

On Thunder and Lightning. 289 

but with a feeling of commiseration, whereas Heaven in punishing 

misdemeanours, strikes people dead in its rage. Thus Heaven 

would be less merciful than man. 

Rain is believed to be a fluid emitted by Heaven. Put forth 

by Heaven, it becomes moistened, and gives the rain. When the 

rain saturates everything, one speaks of timely showers. Unless 

he be in good humour, man does not show kindness, and unless 

it be pleased. Heaven does not pour down rain. If thunder be 

taken for an expression of Heaven's anger, then rain must be a 

sign of its joy. When there is thunder, it is always accompanied 

by rain. One must suppose, therefore, that Heaven is at the same 

time grumbling: and laughing. A sovereign does not mete out rewards and punishments on the same day. Should Heaven's anger 

and joy coincide in time, Heaven and man would not be in harmony, 

and their ways of rewarding and punishing quite different. Moreover, anger and joy are both fitful. To fly into a fit of passion 

out of disgust at man's conduct, to punish him for his offence, 

and, in doing so, to be guided by passion, would be unworthy of 


Regarding a thunderstorm in winter, people assert that the 

Yang fluid has lost its force. When it thunders in spring, they 

say, it comes out, but when there is a tempest in summer, instead 

of owning that then the fluid has its greatest force, they speak of 

Heaven's anger. Of course that is nothing but idle talk. 

Man is a creature between Heaven and Earth. Other creatures 

are likewise creatures. What other creatures eat and drink, Heaven 

does not know, and it should be aware of what man eats and 

drinks? All beings are to Heaven like children. The kindness 

and love of father and mother to all their children are the same. 

Why then does Heaven watch the nobler and more intelligent 

being so closely, but takes no heed of the humbler and less gifted 

ones? Why does it pry into all that man does, but ignores other 

creatures ? 

Dogs and pigs eat human excrements, yet Heaven does not 

kill them for that. Provided that Heaven restricts only man on 

account of his superiority, then, if rats contaminate his drink or 

food, and man unwittingly eat it by mistake. Heaven does not 

destroy the rats. If Heaven can pardon the rats, it can do the 

same for man. Man may by mistake give others impure things to 

eat, and those unaware of it, may eat them. But they will never 

offer rotten things on purpose. Should they do so, the others 

would not take them. 

290 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

The Empress Lü Houn 1 cut off Lady Ch'i's hands, tore out 

her eyes, and placed her in a privy as a human swine. Then she 

called people, and showed them her victim. All felt sick at heart. 

When the emperor Hui Ti saw her, he fell sick, and did not rise 

again. 2 Lü Hou acted on purpose, but Heaven did not punish her. 

If on the other hand Heaven strikes people dead for a mere inadvertence without mercy or regard for the faults, its government 

is tyrannical. 

When men eat something impure, they do not discover it 

by the taste. If they feel it, after having swallowed it, they call 

it a pollution of their bowels. When Lady Ch'i was put into the 

cess-pool, her whole body was disgracefully soiled, which is nothing 

else than impurity, for the body does not differ from the bowels. 

To care for the intestines, but disregard the body, to resent impurity, but not to feel the afore-mentioned horrible disgrace, would 

not be like Heaven. 

The news that anybody has eaten something unclean does 

not disturb people's minds, whereas all that saw Lady Ch'i felt 

sick at heart. Man being hurt. Heaven must feel pity too. Commiserating Lady Ch'i, it must hate Lü Hou. Notwithstanding, when 

Lü Hou died, she was not struck by a thunderbolt. 

The Taoist Liu Ch'un made a fool of the king of Ch'u, Ying, 

and caused him to eat some dirty stuff. Liu Ch'un died later on, 

but it needed no lightning to make him die. 

In the 6th mouth of summer of the year 79 a.d. Chin Ch'uan 

of K'uei-chi 3 was killed by lightning. Of the sheep which he used 

for his daily meals, five died together with him. What hidden 

faults had these animals, that the lightning killed them? 

Boatmen sometimes pollute a stream up-river, while other people 

drink its water down-river. Yet the boatmen do not die by lightning. 

The Spirit of Heaven dwells in heaven just as a king in his 

residence. A king lives behind many gates, therefore the Spirit of 

1 The first wife of Han Kao Tsu, who usurped the imperial power, and reigned 

under her own name against all custom from 187-179 b.c. Her son, the Emperor 

hui Ti, whose nominal reign lasted from 194-187 b.c, was nothing but a puppet in 

her hands. Lü Hou was a fiend in human shape, who had always some poison ready 

for her enemies. One of her first acts, after she came to power, was to wreak her 

vengeance on her rival. Lady Ch'i, a concubine of Han Kao Tsu, who had attempted 

to have her own son made heir-apparent in place of Hui Ti, the son of Lü Hou. 

Hui Ti, a very kind-hearted, but weak sovereign did all in his power to shield his 

half-brother from the wrath of his mother, who poisoned him all the same. 

2 This story is abridged from the Shi-chi chap. 9, p. 3. 

3 A city in Chekiang. 

On Thunder and Lightning. 291 

Heaven must stay in some secluded place likewise. As the king has 

his palaces and halls, Heaven also has the T'ai-wei, Tse-kung, Hsüan- 

yuan and Wen-ch'ang mansions.1 

A king being far away from men does not know their occult 

crimes. How could the Spirit of Heaven in his four palaces see 

the secret misdeeds of men? If a king hears of the faults of his 

subjects, he learns it through others. If Heaven becomes cognizant 

of the crimes of men, it must have it from its angels. In case 

the spirits are Heaven's informants as to crimes, it must also 

entrust the spirits with retributive justice. Such being the case, 

the so-called anger of Heaven is not that of Heaven, but of the 


A king inflicts capital punishment in autumn,2 Heaven kills 

in summer. Thus the king in meting out justice, does not observe 

the time of Heaven. As Heaven's anointed he should in executions 

also imitate the example of majestic Heaven. Heaven chooses 

summer for killing, whereas the king executes in autumn. Heaven 

and man are thus at variance, which would never do for Heaven's 


Some people will argue that giving impure things to eat or 

drink is a great crime before Heaven, which in killing the culprit 

does not pay attention to time.3 Great crimes in the eyes of kings 

are high-treason, rebellion, and lawlessness, whereas Heaven considers the offering of unclean things to others as food or drink as 

a serious offence. The crimes condemned by Heaven are of different gravity. Were the light and the serious ones all equally 

dealt with, the king would have to imitate Heaven's government, 

and put to death every one, who had given others unclean things 

to eat or drink. When the holy emperors were ruling, they had 

not such a penalty. That would mean that the holy emperors 

were remiss, and had forgotten this punishment.4 

It may be said that the ghosts have power over what is secret, and that a king's sway extends over what is public only. 

.Secret faults are wrapt in darkness and invisible to man, therefore 

spirits must be employed to watch over them. I reply, there being 

1 Names of constellations. 

2 In China the regular executions take place in autumn. 

3 It destroys the guilty on the spot, and does not delay judgment until 


4 A deduclio ad absurdum from a Chinese point of view, for the holy emperors, 

Yao, Shun, and the like, were perfect, and could not have omitted to punish serious 


292 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

not only one secret fault, why are not all the offenders put to 

death? To fix upon one single offence would not be a just retribution for hidden sins. 

Heaven vents its anger, before the sun returns, and an outburst of human ire takes less than the time one needs to turn 

round upon one's heels.1 However, secret crimes of men often 

become manifest in winter and not exclusively in summer. If he 

who misconducts himself in winter, is not struck by thunder forthwith, but must wait till summer, Heaven's wrath cannot be quicker 

than a revolution of the sun. 

When painters represent the thunder, it is like so many joined 

drums, heaped together. They also paint a man having the semblance of an athlete and call him " the Thunderer " (Lei Kung). 

With his left hand they give him joined drums to pull, in his 

right hand he brandishes a hammer, as though he were going to 

strike. It means that the rolling sound of thunder is produced by 

the knocking together of the united drums, and that the sudden 

crashing noise is the blow of the hammer. When a man is killed, 

he is struck with the drums and the hammer at the same time. 

People also believe in this, and nobody objects. But if we 

get at the bottom of it, we find that these pictures are pure fictions. Thunder is either a sound or a fluid. How can a sound 

or a fluid brandish a hammer, or pull drums, and have the shape 

of joined drums? If the thunder can really swing or pull these 

things, it must be a creature. That which, when knocked together, 

produces sounds, can be either a drum or a bell. Should the rolling sound be produced by drums or bells? In that case, bells and 

drums could not hang free in the air, they would require a frame 

with vertical and cross-beams. Suspended between, they could be 

sounded. Now, the bells and drums have nothing to hang upon, 

and the feet of the Thunderer nothing to walk upon, how then 

should the thunder be produced? 

Somebody might object that for this very reason there must 

be a spirit, for, if in order to produce thunder a frame were required, or a support for the feet, it would be quite human, and 

by no means spirit-like. 

I hold that spirits are diffuse and incorporeal. Departing or 

coming in they need no aperture, nor have they any hold above or 

below, therefore one calls them spirits. Now the Thunderer has 

a body, and for the thunder there are instruments, how can he be 

1 This seems to be an old adage. 

On Thunder and Lightning. 298 

deemed a spirit? If the Thunderer were incorporeal, his semblance 

could not be drawn, and, if he possesses a body, he does not 

deserve the name of a spirit. 

People talk of the dragon spirit rising to heaven. But whoever thoroughly examines the question, discredits this idea. Men 

sometimes see the shape of a dragon, and o-wing to this circumstance they paint the shape of a dragon rising to heaven. The 

best proof that, as a fact, there is no spirit is, that it can be 

pictorially represented. 

My opponents will argue: "Men also see apparitions of ghosts. 

Are they not spirits?" I say: "If men see ghosts sometimes, has 

anybody already seen the Thunderer? Ghosts are called spirits, 

but they walk about on earth like men. The Thunderer, however, 

does not rest his head in heaven, nor walk on earth with his feet. 

How can he, therefore, be a thunderer? " 

All flying creatures have wings. Those who can fly without 

wings are styled genii. In representing the forms of genii men 

give them wings. Provided the Thunderer is like the genii, he 

ought to have wings equally. If, in case the Thunderer does not 

fly, the painters pretend that he can fly, they are wrong, and if 

he really could fly, but had no wings, it would be wrong likewise. 

Thus the pictures of the Thunderer's outward appearance, made 

by painters, are merely fancy work. 

Those who argue about thunder aver that it is Heaven's 

angry snorting, whereas those who sketch it, contend that the 

Thunderer in his anger pulls the joined drums. If it is really as 

the critics say, the painters are wrong, and if they are right, the 

critics must be in error. The two classes are antagonistic. If both 

their views were taken as genuine, there would he no difference 

of right and wrong, and in default of that, no real right and wrong. 

Doubts would not be settled, and fallacies would triumph. 

The Liki speaks of a goblet with the thunder carved upon 

it.1 One thunder rushes forth, the other reverts, one is coiled up, 

the other stretched forth. Their friction would give a sound. They 

look as if they were colliding, piled up in a grotesque and phantastic way. This form represents the thunder. When through 

friction the air breaks, there is a rolling sound, the sound of friction. 

1 Neither the Liki nor the Chou-li contains such a passage, as far as I could 

make out. On the old sacrificial bronze vases, called tsun 尊 = goblets, clouds 

and thunders i. e. coiled up clouds were represented. The thunder ornament is the 

Chinese Meander. Specimens of these goblets can be seen in the Po-ku-t'u-lu chap. 7. 

294 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

A sudden crash is the sound of the shooting forth of the air. 

When this shooting air hits a man, he dies. 

In fact thunder is nothing else than the exploding solar fluid. 

How do we know? — In the first month the Yang fluid begins to 

be roused, consequently we have the first thunder during the first 

moon. In the fifth month Yang is at its cynosure, therefore at 

that time thunder rapidly follows upon thunder. In autumn and 

winter Yang declines, therefore thunder ceases during these seasons. In the midst of summer the sun reigns supreme, but the 

Yin fluid endeavours to get the upperhand. In this dispute of the 

Yang and the Yin fluids it comes to frictions, and these frictions 

lead to explosions and shooting, which are destructive. A man 

struck by these forces is killed, a tree split, and a house demolished. 

A person under a tree or in a house may also by chance be hit 

and killed. 

To test the justness of this statement take a basin full of 

water, and throw it on a fire, used for melting purposes. The 

vapour will explode with a puff like the sound of thunder. Should 

any one be too near, his body will be burned. Heaven and earth 

are like a great furnace, the Yang fluid is an immense fire, clouds 

and rain are huge masses of water. When they struggle, explode 

and shoot, the effects must be most violent, and a man hit and 

injured cannot but die. 

When founders melt iron, they make a mould of earth, into 

which the liquid iron runs down. Else it bursts out, flows over, 

and spurts. Hitting a man's body, it burns his skin. The fiery 

Yang fluid is not only as hot as liquid iron, the exploding Yin 

fluid has not merely the wetness of earth and clay, and when 

the Yang fluid hits a man, it does not simply cause the pain of 


Thunder is fire. A man burned by this fluid must show traces 

of it. If those traces of burning look like written characters, people 

seeing them use to say that Heaven has written the man's guilt 

to make it known to the whole world. This is also unreasonable. 

If Heaven destroys men with its thunder, after they have 

perpetrated their misdeeds, he ought to make their wickedness quite 

public, with a view to frightening for the future, and write the characters clearly, but not quite indistinctly, as it does. When the "Plan" 

came out of the Yellow River,' and the " Scroll " emerged from 

1 The " Plan '' appeared to the Emperor Huang Ti in the Yellow River. 

A big fish carried it on its back. Huang Ti received the Plan, which consisted of 

a combination of symbolical lines and diagrams like the Pa-kua. 

On Thunder and Lightning. 295 

the Lo,1 Heaven and Earth produced them for men to read and 

take note of. The writing on people killed by thunder is also 

Heaven's work. Why is it so difficult to understand? 

Let us assume that the human skin is not fit to be written 

upon. The wife of Duke Hui of Lu,2 Ch'ung Tse was daughter to 

Duke Wu of Sung.3 When she was born, she had a writing on 

her palm to the effect that she was to be duchess of Lu. The 

writing was distinct and intelligible. Therefore Ch'ung Tse was 

married to Lu. The thunder's handwriting not being clear, it cannot 

serve as a deterrent for the future. Ergo the burnt spots are not 

characters engraved by Heaven. 

Sometimes people exaggerate things that really exist, sometimes they invent things that have no real basis at all. Imposed 

upon by fallacies, they indulge in fabricating wonders and miracles 

as the following arguments will prove: — 

1. Thunder is tire. When a man dies struck by thunder, one 

discovers upon examining his body, if the head be hit, that the 

hair is singed, and if the body be struck, that the skin is charred. 

Coming near the body, one scents the smell of burning. 2. Taoist 

experimentalists hold that a stone heated by a thunder-clap, becomes 

red. If it be thrown into a well, the stone being burning hot, the 

well cool, an explosion ensues with a loud detonation like thunder. 

3. When somebody takes cold, the cold fluid enters his stomach. 

The stomach being as a rule warm within, the warmth and the 

cold struggle together, and the exploding air gives a thunder-like 

sound. 4. In a thunder-storm brilliant lightnings appear every now 

and then like the glares of big fires. 5. When the lightning strikes, 

it often burns man's houses and buildings, or grass and trees. 

Those who declare thunder to be fire have these five arguments, those who prentend that thunder is Heaven's anger, not a 

single one. Therefore this latter assertion is without any foundation. 

However, it might be objected that there is a passage in the 

Analects to the eflect that, when thunder followed thunder, and the 

storm raged, Confucius used to be deeply impressed.4 The Liki says. 

1 The " Scroll " was carried by a dragon-horse, which rose from the waters 

of the Lo, a tributary of the Yellow River, at Fu Hsi's time. From the mystic signs 

on this " Scroll " the emperor is reported to have derived the Eight Diagrams and 

the first system of written characters, which took the place of the knotted cords, 

quipos, then in use. 

2 767-721 B.C. 

3 764-746 B.C. 

4 Quoted from Analects X, 16. 

296 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

" when a strong wind blows, and the thunder-claps quickly follow 

each other, and rain falls in torrents, a superior man will be deeply 

moved. Though it be night, he will rise, don his clothes and cap, 

and sit up " 1 in awe of Heaven's anger, fearing lest its punishment 

should reach him. If thunder were not the expression of Heaven's 

anger, nor its striking a punishment of the guilty, why should a 

good man be frightened by thunder, put on his official robe, and 

sit straight? 

The Master2 means that the relation of Heaven to man is 

similar to that of father and son. The father being moved, the 

son cannot remain indifferent. Therefore, when Heaven is moved, 

man must be likewise. Being in harmony with Heaven, he proves 

that he does not act in opposition to it. 

Man suddenly hearing a dog bark outside the house, will be 

startled, and with trembling limbs harken to find out, what it means. 

How much more so, when he hears Heaven assuming an extraordinary 

voice like the noise made by the quick rolling of heavy carts! 

The remark in the Analects and the observation of the Liki 

both refer to the wise man. The wise man displays the utmost 

care in all his doings and knows that he has no guilt, just like 

sun and moon, which, when eclipsed, have not clandestinely given 

impure food to men. Examining his heart, he feels no fear, wherefore should he be afraid of thunder? If he is not afraid, his excitement can be no proof of Heaven's anger, because he fears nothing 

for himself. Should he really be afraid of thunder, even that would 

not suffice to prove the punishment of hidden crimes, for people 

struck by lightning are mostly quite innocent. The wise man apprehends that he might be hit by chance. Therefore he is anxious 

and alarmed. But this alarm of the wise man cannot be put forward to demonstrate that thunder is Heaven's anger. It shows, 

on the contrary, that thunder strikes at random. Because it hits 

at random, and does not punish the guilty, people are afraid. If 

thunder actually punished the guilty, the wicked ought to stand 

in awe, and the wise had no cause for apprehensions. 

The king of Sung asked T'ang Yang saying " I have killed a 

great number of people, yet all the officials are still quite fearless. 

What is the reason?" 

T'ang Yang replied: — " Those that Your Highness has punished 

were exclusively bad characters. If the bad are called to account. 

1 Quoted from the Liki Book VI Yü-tsao (Legge, Sacred Books Vol. XXVIII, p. 5). 

2 Confucius in the passage quoted from the Analects. 

On Thunder and Lightning. 297 

why should the good be frightened? If Your Highness wishes all 

the officials to be in awe, the best way is to make no distinction 

between good and bad, and chastise them all occasionally. Then 

all the officialdom will be afraid." ' 

The king followed his advice, and all the functionaries became 

frightened, whereupon the king of Sung turned very angry. Owing 

to the indiscriminate punishments of the king of Sung, the whole 

people of Sung got greatly alarmed. Because thunder and lightning 

strike indiscriminately, a wise man becomes agitated. His alarm is 

like the great fright of the kingdom of Sung 

1 Quoted from Hsün Tse. 

298 Lun-hêng: C. Physical.