Hundred Schools‎ > ‎Lun Hêng‎ > ‎

28: CHAPTER XXVII. Unfounded Assertions

CHAPTER XXVII. Unfounded Assertions (Wu hsing). 

Men receive the vital fluid from heaven at their birth, and 

are all given a fate fixing the length of their lives, in accordance 

to which their bodies exist for a longer or shorter period. Just 

so vases are formed out of clay by the potter, and plates from 

copper by the founder. As the shape of a vessel, once completed, 

cannot be made smaller or bigger, thus the duration of the corporeal 

frame having been settled, cannot be shortened or prolonged. The 

said fluid forms the constitution, which determines fate and shapes 

the body. The fluid and the material body pervade each other. 

Life and death correspond to fixed periods. The body cannot be 

transformed, and likewise fate cannot be lengthened or shortened. 

We may elucidate the question as to the duration of human life by 

observing the potter and founder. 

Some one might object saying, " True, if a potter uses his 

stuff to make a vase, this vase, after its completion, lasts, until it 

breaks, but cannot be formed anew. If, however, a founder casts 

a plate out of copper, although it be finished, it can be melted 

again, and be made into a cup or, if that is not possible, into a 

vessel. Although men, who owe their spirits to heaven, all have 

a destiny fixing their span, by which their bodies are regulated, 

they can, if they know the right way and an effective elixir, change 

their bodies and prolong their lives all the same." 

I reply, "If a founder recasts a finished vessel, he must first 

liquefy it in fire, before he is able to enlarge or diminish, extend 

or shorten it. If a man desiring to protract his years, should 

wish to be like the copper vessel, there must be some sort of a 

furnace with coal, where the change and the transmutation of his 

body could take place. The body having been changed, the life-time might also be extended. How could men, in order to change 

their bodies, undergo a smelting process like a copper vessel?" 

The Li Ki states. " When the water pours down, one does 

not offer fish or turtles for food."1 Why? Because, when the 

1 Li Ki chap. 1, No. 1 (Chü-H), p. 20 v. (Legge's translation Vol.1, p. 84.) 

Various reasons have been assigned by the commentators for this rule. They say, 

326 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

rain water rushes down, snakes and reptiles are changed and become 

fish or turtles. Since they give up their original real nature and 

are transformed only for a while, the servants take care and dare 

not offer them to their masters for food. Would men desirous of 

having their bodies transmuted, be satisfied with a change like that 

of reptiles and snakes ? Those reptiles which are liable to a change 

are worse off than those which do not change at all. Before they 

change, they are not eaten by men, but, when they have been 

transformed into fish and turtles, men eat them. Being eaten, 

their long lives are cut short, and that is not what people desire. 

Years and months change, and the intrinsic fluid may transform one species into another. Frogs become quails, and sparrows 

turn into clams. Man longing for bodily transformation would like 

to resemble quails and crabs. These are in the same plight as 

fish and turtles. Man fishes for crabs and eats them, when he 

catches them. Although without a metamorphose of the body, life 

cannot be lengthened, this result 1 cannot be aimed at. 

Duke Niu Ai of Lu was laid up with a malady for seven days, 

when he was transformed into a tiger. 2 Kun 3 when banished to 

Mount Yu-shan turned into a moose. Do those who seek transformation desire to become a tiger like Niu Ai, or a moose like 

Kun? The life of a tiger or a moose is not longer than the human. 

In this world the human nature is the noblest of all, therefore the 

transmutation of a man into a bird or a beast cannot be desirable. 

It would be a great boon, if an old man could be transformed into 

a youth, or if at least the white hair could turn black again, the 

lost teeth grow once more, and the animal forces be strengthened, 

so that the person could jump about, devoid of all decrepitude. 

This would be grand indeed! Where would be the advantage of 

a transformation, if life were not prolonged thereby? 

If a thing is transformed, its concomitant fluid, as it were, favours the change. Human work may produce new forms, it is not 

Heaven which transforms things in order to prolong their duration. 

No more can a transformation be brought about by eating divine 

herbs or wonderful drugs. A man constantly using cordials can 

in opposition to Wang Ch'ung, that during heavy rain-falls fish are so easily got as 

not to be valuable, or that then they are muddy and not fit for eating. This last 

reason seems the most plausible. 

1 To become like a quail or a crab. 

2 Quoted from Huai Nan Tse, who adds that the tiger devoured his brother, 

when he opened the door. 

3 A legendary minister of Yao and father to Great lu. 

Unfounded Assertions. 327 

thereby merely strengthen his constitution and add to his years. 

A sudden transmutation is not caused by the real heavenly fluid 

or the true nature, with which men are endowed. Heaven and 

earth do not change, sun and moon are not transformed, and the 

stars do not disappear. Such is their real nature. As man has 

received part of their real fluid, his body cannot be transformed 

either: men do not sometimes become women, or women men. A 

high mound may be turned into a valley, or a deep ravine into a 

hill. But then the change keeps pace with human labour, it is a 

change by labour, not by inherent nature. 

At the rise of the Han dynasty, an old man presented Chang 

Liang 1 with a book, and then was transformed into a stone. Therefore the essence of a stone was a propitious omen for the rising 

Han. Similarly the essence of the River 2 became a man who gave 

a jade-badge to the envoy of Chin, which was an unlucky augury, 

indicating the downfall of Ch'in 3 

The silkworm feeds on mulberry leaves, when it grows old, 

it sets to spinning, and becomes a cocoon, and the cocoon again 

is changed into a moth. The moth has two wings, and in its 

altered form widely differs from the silkworm. Grubs change into 

chrysalisses, and these turn into crickets. The crickets are born 

with two wings, and are not of the same type as grubs. A great 

many of all worms and insects alter their shapes and transform 

their bodies. Man alone is not metamorphosed, being the recipient 

of the real heavenly fluid. Born as a child, he grows into a man, 

and, when he is old, into greybeard. From birth to death 

there is no metamorphose, for such is his original nature. Creatures 

which by their nature are not transformed, cannot be induced to 

do so, whereas those which must pass through a metamorphose, 

cannot forego it. Now, the length of life of those transformed 

creatures does not compare favourably with that of non-transformed 

ones. Nothing would be said, if a man desirous of a metamorphose 

could thereby prolong his years, but if he only changes his body 

without increasing his years, he would be merely on a level with 

crickets. Why should he like this? 

Dragons are reptiles which appear sometimes, and then again 

become invisible, and which sometimes are long and sometimes short. 

It is in their nature to undergo transformations, but not for good, 

1 An adherent of the founder of the Han dynasty. The Taoists have claimed 

him as one of their patriarchs and mystics. See p. 235. 

2 The Yellow River. 

3 This event is told In detail on p. 233. 

328 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

since after a short while, they relapse into their previous state. 

Ergo, every thing considered, we find that the human being, endowed 

with an unchangeable body, is not liable to metamorphoses, and 

that his years cannot be prolonged. 

Kao Tsung 1 having witnessed the abnormal growth of a paper 

mulberry,2 is reported to have repented of his faults, changed the 

style of government, and enjoyed happiness for one hundred years. 3 

This is not correct. Of Duke Ching of Sung 4 it is said that on his 

having uttered three excellent maxims, the planet Mars left out 

three solar mansions, and twenty one years were added to the duke's 

life, 5 which is likewise unfounded. DukeMu of Ch'in 6 is believed 

to have been rewarded by God 7 with nineteen extra years on account of his conspicuous virtue, an untruth too. Ch'ih Sung 8 and 

Wang Ch'iao, 9 they say, became genii by their love of Tao, and 

lived on without dying, also a falsehood. 

Let us suppose that a man is born, gets a body, and is given 

the name A, then he always preserves this body called A through 

his whole life up to his death. Adherents of Tao are said to have 

become genii, but it never has happened that A was transformed 

into B; neither can the body pass through a metamorphose, nor 

years be added. Wherefore? Because of the body, the vital force, 

and the constitution, which are from heaven. The body being 

1 Posthumous name of the Shang emperor Wu Ting, 1324-1265 b.c. 

2 A paper mulberry tree grew in the court of the Emperor, which had two 

spans of circumference on the second day already. This was, of course, regarded 

as a portent. Cf. Lun-hêng Bk. V, p. 1 (Yi Hsfi) where the legend is told in full. 

3 According to the Shuking Pt. V, Bk. XV (Legge Vol. Ill, Pt. II, p. 4G7) Kao 

Tsung reigned 59 years. 

4 515-451 B.C. 

5 This story is told in full in Lun-hêng Bk. IV, p. 9v. which seems quoted 

from Huai Kan Tse XII, 11v. The planet Mars being in the constellation of the 

" Heart," the astrologer Tse Wei informed the Duke that Heaven was going to 

inflict a punishment upon him, advising him, however, to shift this misfortune on his 

prime minister, or on his people, or on the year. The prince thrice declined to 

allow others to suffer in his stead, giving his reasons for each refusal. These are 

the three good maxims of our text. Ts Wei then changed and congratulated the 

Duke, saying that Heaven had heard the three excellent sentiments uttered by him, 

that the same night it would cause Mars to pass through three solar mansions, and 

that it would add twenty-one years to his life, each mansion consisting of seven 

stars and each star representing one year. 

6 658-619 B.C. 

7 Shang Ti, the supreme being, God. 

8 A magician of the time of Shên Nung. 

9 A prince of Chin 571 b.c, who became a Taoist and an immortal. He was 

seen riding through the air upon a white crane. Mayers, No. 801. 

Unfounded Assertions. 329 

spring, the vital force is summer. 1 Man's lifetime is the outcome 

of his vitality. The body follows the vital force in its actions. If 

the vital force and the constitution are not the same, there must 

be a diversity in the bodies also. The life of an ox is half as 

long as that of a horse, and a horse lives half as long as man. 

Therefore, the outward forms of the ox and the horse must be 

different from the human. Having obtained the shape of an ox 

or a horse, one cannot but get their spans too. As oxen and horses 

do not change into men, their lifetime is also shorter than that of 

human beings. 

Because of Kao Tsung and the like it is not stated that they 

underwent a transmutation, but simply that their lifetime was lengthened, people put faith in these reports. The force pulsating in 

the veins of the body is like rice hoarded up in a sack. The bulk 

of a picul sack also corresponds to a picul. If rice be taken away 

or more added, the sack appears smaller or bigger. The vital force 

determines the length of the human life. It is like the rice, and 

the body like the sack. In order to increase or diminish the life- 

time, the body too must become bigger or thinner, it cannot remain 

the same. Should anybody think the human body to be quite 

different from a sack, and that the vital force cannot well be compared to rice, we may still take another illustration from a gourd. 

The juice of a gourd is like the human blood, its pulp like flesh. 

Now, let a man take away or add some juice but so that the 

gourd's form remains unaltered; he will be unable to perform this. 

It being impossible to man to diminish or to replenish the juice 

of the gourd, how can Heaven extend or curtail the human span? 

As the human life can neither be lengthened nor shortened, who 

could have done such a thing in the case of Kao Tsung and others, 

so that we might speak of an increase of years? The assertion 

that Kao Tsung and others were metamorphosed, and their years 

increased would after all be credible, but the statement advanced 

now that their years were prolonged, no mention being made of any 

transformation of their bodies, is past all belief for the following 

reason : 

Man receives the vital force from Heaven. When it is complete, the body is informed. During life both work harmoniously 

together up to the last, death. Since the body cannot be transformed, the years cannot be increased either. As long as man 

1 The meaning is. as summer is preceded by spring, thus the body exists, 

before it is informed by the vital force. 

B30 Lun-hêng: C. Physical. 

lives, he can move, but when he dies, he collapses. At death the 

vital force vanishes, and the body is dissolved and decomposed. 

As a man, while in possession of life, cannot be metamorphosed, 

how should his years be prolonged? 

What changes on the body from birth to old age is the hair 

and the skin. The youth's hair is black, the aged man's, white. 

Later on, it turns yellow. But this change concerns the hair alone, 

not the body. A youngster has a white skin, an old man a dark 

one, which, later on, becomes blackish, as if covered with dust. 

Respecting the yellow hair and the dusty skin the Li-ki says: " We 

will have yellow hair and wizened faces indefinitely." 1 If the 

hair changes, people reach an old age and die late. Despite this, 

bones and flesh do not change; the limit of life being reached, 

death ensues. 

From amongst the five elements earth alone admits of several 

transformations. Moistened with water, it can be shaped into a 

horse, and this again be altered into a human being, but be it 

noted that it must not yet have been put in a kiln and burned. 

If, after having been modelled as a utensil, it has already been 

hardened by burning in the kiln, a new transformation is out of 

the question. Now, man may be thought of as having been baked 

and moulded in the furnace of Heaven and Earth. How can he 

still undergo a change after his shape has been fixed? 

In representing the bodies of genii one gives them a plumage, 

and their arms are changed into wings with which they poise in 

the clouds. This means an extension of their lifetime. They are 

believed not to die for a thousand years. These pictures are false, 

for there are not only false reports in the world, but also fancy 

pictures. However, man in reality does not belong to the class 

of crickets and moths. In the thirty-five kingdoms beyond the sea 

there live plumigerous and feathered tribes. Feathered relates to 

their pinions.^ These people are the produce of their soil, it cannot 

be said that their bodies were covered with plumage and feathers 

through the influence of Tao. Yü 3 and Yi 4 visited Hsi Wang Mu,5 

1 This verse does not occur in the Liki, but in the Shiking Pt. IV, Bk. Ill, 

Ode II (Legge, Classics Vol. IV, Pt. 11, p. 635) : — " He (the ancestor) will bless us with 

the eyebrows of longevity.— We will have yellow hair and wizened laces indefinitely." 

2 Fore more details see the Shan-hai-king. 

3 Great Yü 2205-2197. 

4 A minister of Yü. 

5 A Taoist goddess. Cf. my article " Ma Wang and die Königin von Saba " 

in the Mitteilungen des Seminars für Orientalische Sprachen zu Berlin Vol. VII, 1904. 

Unfounded Assertions. 33 1 

but she is not reported to have had a plumage or feathers. There 

are also immortals in foreign countries, but they are not described 

as having a plumage and feathers, and, conversely, the plumigerous 

and feathered tribes are not said to be immortal. As plumage and 

feathers are not ascribed to the immortals, these attributes cannot 

imply immortality. How then can it be inferred that the genii 

must live for ever, because they have wings?