CHAPTER XXIII. On Poison (Yen-tu).
Sometimes the following question is considered: — Between
heaven and earth there are the ten thousand beings with their
characteristic nature. In the animal kingdom we find adders and
vipers, bees and scorpions, which are poisonous. When their bite
or sting has hurt a human body, the sickness which they cause
must be most carefully treated, for without timely help, the virus
spreads through the whole body. In the vegetable kingdom we
have croton oil beans and wild dolichos, which, when eaten, cause
a stomach-ache, and in large doses kill a man. What manner of
fluid have these created beings received from heaven? The ten
thousand beings, when created, are endowed with the original fluid.
Is there any poison in the original fluid?
Poison is the hot air of the sun; when it touches a man,
he becomes empoisoned. If we eat something which causes us
such a pain in the stomach, that we cannot endure it, that which
proves so unendurable is called poison. The fiery air of the sun
regularly produces poison. This air is hot. The people living in
the land of the sun are impetuous. The mouths and tongues of
these impetuous people become venomous. Thus the inhabitants
of Ch'u and Yüeh 1 are impetuous and passionate. When they talk
with others, and a drop of their saliva happens to fly against their
interlocutors, the arteries of the latter begin to swell and ulcerate.
The Southern Circuit 2 is a very hot region. When the people
there curse a tree, it withers, and, when they spit upon a bird,
it drops down. Wizards are all able to make people ill by their
prayers as well as to avert their misfortunes. They hail from
Kiang-nan, 3 and are imbued with the hot fluid. Poison is the fluid
of the sun, therefore it burns like fire, when somebody is aspersed
by it. When people bitten by a viper cut out the flesh, as some-
1 Hukuang and Chekiang.
3 The country south of the Yangtse, now the provinces Kiangsu Kiangsi,
On Poison. 299
times they do, and put it on the ground, it burns and bubbles up,
which shows that there is a hot fluid in it. At the four cardinal
points, are border-lands, but the south-eastern corner alone has
broiling hot air, which always comes North in Spring and Summer.
In Spring and Summer the sun rises in the south-eastern corner,
which is the proper sphere of the sun.
When the air of other things enters into our nose or eyes,
they do not feel pain, but as soon as fire or smoke enter into
our nose, it aches, and, when they enter into our eyes, they pain
us. This is the burning of the hot air. Many substances can be
dissolved, but it is only by burning fire that they are scorched.
Eating sweets is not injurious to man, but, when for instance
he takes a little too much honey, he has symptoms of poisoning.
Honey is a secretion of the bee, and the bee is an insect belonging
to the Yang fluid.
If a man without having hurt himself against anything in his
movements feels a sudden pain in his body, for which there is no
apparent reason, and if those parts of his body which pain him
show marks of flogging so to speak, he suffers from lumbago.
This lumbago, they say, is caused by devils who are beating the
person. Devils are supernatural apparitions produced by the sun.
If the disease be less acute, one calls it sciatica, and uses honey
and cinnabar to cure it. Honey and cinnabar are substances belonging to the Yang fluid. This cure is homeopathic. As an antidote against a cold one uses cold, and against fever one uses heat.
Since to cure sciatica they take honey and cinnabar, it shows us
that sciatica is the effect of the Yang fluid and of the diffusion of
Poisonous air is floating between heaven and earth. When a
man comes into touch with it, his face begins to swell, a disease
which people call a sun-stroke.
Men who have seen ghosts, state that they have a red colour.
The supernatural force of the sun must, of course, have this colour.
Ghosts are burning poison ; the man whom they assault, must die.
Thus did Earl Tu shoot King Hsüan of Chou dead.1 The paraphernalia of these demons of death are like the fire of the sun.
The bow as well as the arrow of Tu Po were both red. In the
south they term poison " small fox." The apparition of Earl Tu
had a bow in his hand, with which he shot. The solar fluid was
kindled simultaneously, and, when it was thus intensified, it shot.
Cf. p. 202.
300 Lun-hêng: C. Physical.
Therefore, when he hit the king, he seemed provided with bow
When heat is pent up, and the temperature increased, the
poison in the blood is stirred up. Therefore eating the liver of a
race horse will cause a man's death, the fluid pent up in the liver
having been chafed. During the dog-days, when a scorching heat
prevails, people die by insolation; the extreme heat has been turned
into poison. We perspire, while running, near a stove, in the sun-
shine at noon, and, when we are feverish. The four causes have
been different, but they all engender perspiration. The heat is the
same, and it has been equally pent up.
Fire is a phenomenon of the sun. All created beings of the
world are filled with the solar fluid and after their creation contain
some poison. Reptiles and insects possessing this poison in abundance become vipers and adders, bees and scorpions, plants become
croton seeds and wild dolichos, fishes become porpoises and " to-
shu'' 1 fish. Consequently men eating a porpoise liver die, and the
bite of a " to-shu " is venomous. Fishes and birds are related,
therefore birds can fly, and fishes too; birds lay eggs, and fishes
also. Vipers, adders, bees, and scorpions are all oviparous and have
a similar nature.
Among mankind bad characters take the place of these creatures.
Their mouths do mischief. The bad men of the world are imbued
with a poisonous fluid. The poison of the wicked living in the land
of the sun is still more virulent, hence the curses and the swearing
of the people of southern Yüeh produce such wonderful results.
A proverb says, " Many mouths melt metal." The mouth is
fire. Fire is the second of the five elements, and speech the second
of the five actions.2 There is an exact correspondence between
speech and fire, therefore in speaking of the melting of metal one
says that the mouth and the tongue melt it. They do not speak
of pulling out wood and burning it, but expressly refer to the
melting of metal. Metal is overcome by fire, fire and mouth belong
to the same class. 3
Medicinal herbs do not grow in one place only. T'ai Po left
his country and went to Wu. 4 The melting of metal does not take
1 Kang-hi quotes this passage, but does not say what kind of a fish the
"to-shu" () is. It may be a variety of the shu, which seems to be a kind
2 Cf. Shuking (Hung-fan) Pt. V, Bk. IV, 5-6.
3 Another instance of Chinese symbolism, which they mistake for science.
4 Cf. p. 120.
On Poison. 301
place in one foundry alone. People speak very much of T'ang-chi
in Ch'u.1 The warm air on earth has its regions. One dreads to go
into the southern sea, for the secretary falcon lives in the south, and he
who drinks anything that has been in contact with it, must die.2
Shên appertains to the dragon and sse to the snake. Shin
and sse 3 are placed in the south-east. The dragon is poisonous,
and the snake venomous, therefore vipers are provided with sharp
teeth, and dragons with an indented crust. Wood engenders fire,
and fire becomes poison. Hence the " Green Dragon " holds the
" Fire Star " in its mouth. 4
Wild dolichos and croton seed both contain poison, therefore
the dolichos grows in the south-east, and croton in the south-west.
The frequence of poisonous things depends on the dryness and the
humidity of the soil, and the strength of the poison is influenced
by the locality, where they have grown. Snakes are like fish,
therefore they grow in the grass and in marshes. Bees and scorpions
resemble birds and are born in houses and on trees. In Kiang-pei 5
the land is dry; consequently bees and scorpions abound there. In
Kiang-nan the soil is wet, hence it is a breeding place for great
numbers of snakes.
Those creatures growing in high and dry places are like the
male principle. The virile member hangs down, therefore bees and
scorpions sting with their tails. 6 The creatures living in low and
wet places resemble the female principle. The female organ is soft
and extensible, therefore snakes bite with their mouths.7 Poison
is either concealed in the head or the tail, whence the bite or the
sting becomes venomous, or under the epidermis so that the eating
causes stomach-ache, or it lies hidden in the lips and the throat,
so that the movement of the tongue does mischief.8
1 A place in Honan celebrated for its foundries. Vid. p. 377.
2 Chen 鸩 = secretary falcon has become a synonym for poison.
3 The fifth and the sixth of the Twelve Branches (Duodenary Cycle of symbols).
4 The "Green Dragon" is the quadrant or the division of the 28 solar mansions
occupying the east of the sky. The " Fire Star " is the Planet Mars. 31ars in the
quadrant of the " Green Dragon " forebodes war i. e. poison ; nothing but inane
symbolism. (Cf. Shi-chi chap. 27, p. 6 v.)
5 The country north of the Yangtse, now the northern parts of the provinces
Kiangsu and Anhui.
6 Which hang down likewise.
7 Which are soft and extensible. — To such ineptitudes even the most elevated
Chinese minds are led by their craze of symbolisation.
8 The mischief done by the tongue in speaking, which is not only compared
to, but identified with poison.
302 Lun-hêng: C. Physical.
The various poisons are all grown from the same fluid, and
however different their manifestations, internally they are the same.
Hence, when a man dreams of fire, it is explained as altercation,
and, when he sees snakes in his dreams, they also mean contention.
Fire is an emblem of the mouth and the tongue: they appear in
snakes likewise, which belong to the same class, have sprung from
the same root, and are imbued with the same fluid. Thus fire is
equivalent to speed, and speech to bad men. When bad men say
strange things, it is at the instigation of their mouths and their
tongues, and the utterances of mouth and tongue are provoked by
the influence heaven has exercised upon the persons in question.
Consequently the second of the five actions is called speech. "The
objectionable manifestation of speech is presemptuous error, symbolized by constant sunshine." ' Presumptions error is extravagant
and shining. In the same manner snakes are gaudily ornamented.
All ornaments originate from the Yang, which produces them, as it
were. Sunshine is followed by talk, which accounts for the weird
songs so often heard. 2
The magical force engenders beauty, but the beautiful are
very often vicious and depraved. The mother of Shu Hu 3 was a
beauty. Shu Hsiang's 4 mother knew her, and would not allow her
to go to the chamber of her husband. Shu Hsiang remonstrated.
" In the depths of mountains and in vast marshes dragons and
snakes really grow," said his mother. " She is beautiful, but I
am afraid, lest she give birth to a dragon or a snake, which would
bring mishap upon you. 5 You are of a poor family. In the States
great favours are sometimes given, but what can the recipient of
such favours do, when he is being slandered by malicious people.
How should I be jealous of her?"
She then allowed her to go to her husband's couch, and she
begot a son, named Shu Hu. Owing to his beauty and hero-like
strength Shu Hu became a favourite of Luan Huai Tse 6 however,
1 Shuking (Hung-fan) Pt. V, Bk. IV, .'H.
2 Cf. p. 246 and above p. 300.
3 Half-brother of Shu Hsiang. His mother was a concubine of Shu
4 An officer of Chin.
5 Being an exceptional woman by her beauty, she would give birth to an
extraordinary son - -a dragon, and it would be dangerous for an ordinary man like
her son Shu Hsiang to be a blood relation of such an extraordinary person, since
fate likes to strike the exalted.
6 Quoted from the Tso-chuan, Duke Hsiang, 21st year (551 b.c).
On Poison. 303
when Fan Hsüan Tse expelled Luan Huai Tse,1 he killed Shu Hu,
and so brought misfortune upon Shu Hsiang.
The recesses of mountains and vast marshes are the places
where dragons and snakes breed. Shu Hus mother was compared
to them, for under her charms the poison lay hidden. She bore
a son, Shu Hu, whose beauty consisted in his hero-like strength.
This strength grew from his beauty, and the disaster came from
Fire has splendour, and wood has a pleasant appearance. Dragons and snakes correspond to the east. Wood contains the essence
of fire, hence its beautiful colour and graceful appearance. The
gall being joined to the liver, courage and strength are produced.
The force of the fire is violent, hence the great courage: wood is
hard and strong, hence the great strength. When there is any
supernatural apparition produced, it is through beauty that it brings
about misfortune, and through courage and strength that it injures
like poison. All is owing to beauty.
Generous wine is a poison; one cannot drink much of it. The
secretion of the bees becomes honey; one cannot eat much of it.
A hero conquers an entire State, but it is better to keep aloof from
him. Pretty women delight the eyes, but it is dangerous to keep
them. Sophists are most interesting, but they can by no means
be trusted. Nice tastes spoil the stomach, and pretty looks beguile
the heart. Heroes cause disasters, and controversialists do great
harm. These four classes are the poison of society, but the most
virulent poison of all is that flowing from the mouths of the sophists.
When Confucius caught sight of Yang Hu, 2 he retreated, and
his perspiration trickled down, for Yang Hu was a glib-tongued man.
The poison from a glib tongue makes a man sick. When a man
has been poisoned, he dies alone, whereas a glib tongue ruins a
whole State. Thus we read in the Shiking:3 — " Endless are the
slanderous reports. They threw four States 4 into confusion." Four
States were thrown into confusion, how much more would be a
single individual. Therefore a man does not fear a tiger, but dreads
the calumniator's mouth, for his mouth contains the worst poison.
1 Two noblemen of Chin, cf. p. 206.
2 A powerful, but unworthy officer in Lu.
3 Shiking Pt. II, Bk. VII, 5.
4 Modem commentators explain the expression 四国 as meaning " the four quarters of the empire."
304 Lun-hêng: C. Physical.