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
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
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,
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?