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32:CHAPTER XXXI. The Forming of Characters

CHAPTER XXXI. The Forming of Characters (Shuai-hsing). 

Speaking of human nature one must distinguish good and bad 

characters. The good ones are so of themselves, the wicked can 

be instructed and urged on to do good. A sovereign or a father 

seeing that his subjects or sons have good characters, provides for 

them, exhorts them, and keeps them out of the reach of evil, if 

the latter come into contact with it, they assist and shield them, 

and try to win them back to the cause of virtue. It is by the 

transition of virtue into wickedness and of wickedness into virtue 

that the characters are formed. 

The duke of Shao admonished King Ch'êng saying: — "Now you 

for the first time carry out Heaven's decree. Oh! you are like a 

youth with whom all depends on his first years of life." 1 

By youth is meant the age up to fifteen. If a youth's thoughts 

are directed towards virtue, he will be virtuous to the last, but if 

his propensities tend to badness, he will end badly. 

The Shiking says " What can that admirable man be compared 

to?"2 The Tso-chuan answers, "He is like boiled silk; dyed with 

indigo, it becomes blue; coloured with vermilion, it turns crimson." 

A youth of fifteen is like silk, his gradual changes into good or 

bad resembling the dying of boiled silk with indigo and vermilion, 

which gives it a blue or a red colour. When these colours have 

once set, they cannot be altered again. It is for this reason 

that Yang Tse 3wept over the by-roads and Mê Ti 4 over boiled 

1 Shuking, The Announcement of Shao V, Bk. XII, 18-19. Wang Ch'ung reads 

於戲 "alas!" instead of 呜呼. 

2 Shiking I, Bk. IV, Ode IX, 2 where we read now 何以予之 "what 

can he give?" instead of 与之 "what can he be compared to?" 

3 Yang Chu, the philosopher of egoism. The story referred to here is told 

in Lieh Tse VIII, 10 v. A sheep had been lost on by-roads. When Yang Chu heard 

of it, he became thoughtful and changed countenance. No mention is made of his 

having wept. Wang Ch'ung seems to have quoted from Huai Nan Tse XVII, 25 v, 

who expressly mentions Yang Tse's weeping. 

4 Mê Ti, the philosopher of altruism. We read in his works :— Mê Tse 

chap. 3, p. 4 (What colours) and in the Lu-shih-ch'un-ch'iu chap. 2, No. 4, p. 8 (Colouring) that Mê Ti witnessing the dying of silk said, heaving a sigh, " Dyed blue, it 

turns blue, and dyed yellow, it turns yellow " and then he goes on to explain, how 

man also takes the colour of his environments, especially of those with whom he has 

intercourse, wherefore " coloring " is a very serious affair. Nothing is said about 

his having shed tears. 

The Forming of Characters. 375 

silk. They were sorrowful, because men having gone astray from 

the right path cannot be transformed any more. Human nature 

turns from good into bad, and from bad into good only in this 

manner. Creepers growing amidst hemp, stand upright without 

support by themselves. White silk yarn placed amongst dark, 

becomes black without boiling. Creepers are not straight by nature, nor is the black colour an attribute of silk yarn. The hemp 

affording support, and the dark silk lending the colour, creepers 

and white silk become straight and black. Human nature bears a 

resemblance to creepers and silk yarn. In a milieu favourable to 

transformation or colouring, it turns good or bad. 

Wang Liang and Tsao Fu were famous as charioteers: — out of 

unruly and vicious animals they made good ones. Had they only 

been able to drive good horses, but incapable of breaking bad ones, 

they would have been nothing more than jockeys and ordinary 

equerries. Their horsemanship would not have been remarkable 

nor deserving of world-wide fame. Of Wang Liang the saying goes 

that, when he stepped into a chariot, the steeds knew no exhaustion. 

Under the rule of Yao and Shun people were neither seditious 

nor ignorant. Tradition says that the people of Yao and Slam 

might have been invested with fiefs house by house, 1 whereas those 

of Chieh Kuei 2 were worthy of death door by door. The people 

followed the way prescribed by the three dynasties. That the 

people of the holy emperors were like this, those of the wicked 

emperors otherwise, was merely the result of the influence of their 

rulers, not of the people's original nature. 

The covetous hearing of Po Yi's fame became disinterested, 

and the weak resolute. The news of Liu Hia Hui's 4 reputation 

made the niggardly generous and the mean liberal. If the spread 

of fame alone could bring about such changes, what then must be 

the effect of personal intercourse and tuition? 

The seventy disciples of the school of Confucius were each of 

them able to creditably fill the post of a minister of state. Conforming 

1 So excellent were they all. 

2 The last emperor of the Hsia dynasty, the type of a tyrant. 

3 Po Yi and Shu Ch'i, two brothers famous for their disinterestedness in refusing to ascend the throne of their father, lest the other should be deprived of it. 

Mayers No. 543. 

4 An official of the State of Lu famous for honesty and upright character, 

often mentioned by Confucius. 

376 Lun-hêng: D. Ethical. 

to the holy doctrines, they became accomplished scholars, 

and their knowledge and skill grew tenfold. This was the result 

of teaching; thus latent faculties were gradually developed. Before 

they joined Confucius' school, they sauntered about in the streets as 

quite ordinary and in no wise exceptional people. The most ungovernable of all was Tse Lu, who is generally reported to have 

been a common and unsteady individual. Before he became Confucius' 

pupil, he wore a feather hat and a pig skin belt. He was brutal 

and unmannerly. Whenever he heard some reading, he tossed up 

his feather hat, pulled his belt, and uttered such a yell, that he 

deafened the ears of the worthies and sages. Such was his wickedness. Confucius took him under his guidance. By degrees he polished and instructed him. The more he advanced in knowledge, 

the more he lost his fierceness, and his arrogance was broken. At 

last he was able to govern a state, and ranked in the four classes.1 

This is a shining example of how a man's character was changed 

from bad into good. 

Fertility and sterility are the original nature of the soil. If 

it be rich and moist, the nature is good, and the crops will be 

exuberant, whereas, if it be barren and stony, the nature is bad. 

However, human efforts: — deep ploughing, thorough tilling, and a 

copious use of manure may help the land, so that the harvest will 

become like that of the rich and well watered fields. Such is the 

case with the elevation of the land also. Fill up the low ground 

with earth, dug out by means of hoes and spades, and the low 

land will be on a level with the high one. If these works are still 

continued, not only will the low land be on a level, but even higher 

than the high land. The high ground will then become the low 

one. Let us suppose that the human natures are partly good, 

partly bad; as the land may be either high or low. By making 

use of the good effects of education goodness can be spread and 

generalized. Reformation being pushed on and instruction persevered in, people will change and become still better. Goodness will 

increase and reach a still higher standard than it had before, just 

as low ground, filled up with hoes and spades, rises higher than 

the originally elevated ground. 

T'se 2 though not predestinated thereto, made a fortune. His 

capital increased without a decree from Heaven which would have 

1 The four classes, into which the ten principal followers of Confucius were 

divided. Cf Analects XI, 2. 

2 A disciple of Confucius, whose full name was Tuan Mu T'se alias T'se Kung, 

possessed of great abilities. He became a high official. 

The Forming of Characters. 377 

him rich. The accumulation of wealth is due to the cleverness of 

the rich men of the time in making a fortune. Through this ability 

of theirs they are themselves the authors of their growing wealth 

without a special decree from Heaven. Similarly, he who has a 

wicked nature changes his will and his doings, if he happens to 

he taught by a Sage, although he was not endowed with a good 

character by Heaven. 

One speaks of good swords for which a thousand chin 1 are 

paid, such as the Yü-ch'ang 2 sword of T'ang-ch'i 3 and the Tai-a 

sword 4 of Lung-ch'üan.5 Their blade is originally nothing more than 

a common piece of iron from a mountain. By the forger's smelting 

and hammering they become sharp-edged. But notwithstanding this 

smelting and hammering the material of good swords is not different 

from others. All depends on excellent workmanship and on the 

blade-smith's ability in working the iron. Take a sword worth 

only one chin from Tung-hsia, heat it again, and forge it, giving it 

sufficient fire, and smoothing and sharpening its edge, and it will 

be like a sword of a thousand chin. Iron and stones are made by 

Heaven, still being worked, they undergo a modification of their 

substance. Why then should man, whose nature is imbued with 

the five virtues, despair of the badness of his character, before he 

has been thoroughly worked upon by Worthies and Sages? 

The skillful physicians that in olden days were held in high 

esteem, knew the sources where virulent diseases sprang from, and 

treated and cured them with acupuncture and medicines. Had they 

merely known the names of the complaints, but done nothing besides, looking quietly on, would there have been anything wonderful in them? Men who are not good have a disease of their nature. 

To expect them to change without proper treatment and instruction 

would be hopeless indeed. 

The laws of Heaven can be applied in a right and in a wrong 

way. The right way is in harmony with Heaven, the wrong one 

owes its results to human astuteness, but cannot in its effects be 

1 The name of the ancient copper coins, which first were called 金 " metal," 

not " gold," as may be seen from the works on coinage. 

2 This sword is said to have been fabricated by the famous blade-smith Ou 

Yeh in the kingdom of Yüeh. 

3 A place in Honan. 

4 This sword is the work of Ou Yeh of Yüeh and Kan Chiang of Wu, both 

celebrated sword-cutlers, who wrought it for the King of Ch'u. 

5 A place most likely in Chekiang, called 剑川 "Sword river" under the 

Sung dynasty. Playfair, Cities No. 4650. 

378 Lun-Hêng: D. Ethical. 

distinguished from the right one. This will be shown by the 

following. Among the " Tribute of Yü" are mentioned jade and 

white corals." 2 These were the produce of earth and genuine precious 

stones and pearls. But the Taoists melt five kinds of stones, and 

make five-coloured gems out of them. Their lustre, if compared with 

real gems, does not differ. Pearls in fishes and shells are as genuine 

as the jade-stones in the Tribute of Yü. Yet the Marquis of Sui 3 

made pearls from chemicals, which were as brilliant as genuine ones.4 

This is the climax of Taoist learning and a triumph of their skill. 

By means of a burning-glass one catches fire from heaven. 

Of five stones liquefied on the Ping-wu 5 day of the 5th moon an 

instrument is cast, which, when polished bright, held up against 

the sun, brings down fire too, in precisely the same manner as, 

when fire is caught in the proper way. Now, one goes even so 

far as to furbish the crooked blades of swords, till they shine, 

when, held up against the sun, they attract fire also. Crooked 

blades are not burning-glasses; that they can catch fire is the effect 

of rubbing. Now, provided the bad-natured men are of the same 

kind as good-natured ones, then they can be influenced, and induced 

to do good. Should they be of a different kind, they can also be 

coerced in the same manner as the Taoists cast gems, Sui Hon made 

pearls, and people furbish the crooked blades of swords. En- 

lightened with learning and familiarized with virtue, they too begin 

by and by to practise benevolence and equity. 

When Huang Ti fought with Yen Ti 6 for the empire, he taught 

bears, leopards, and tigers to combat for him in the wilds of Fan- 

Chüan. After three battles he gained his end, and Yen Ti was routed. 

Yao yielded the empire to Shun. Kun,7 one of his vassals, 

desired to become one of the three chief ministers, but Yao did 

1 The Tribute of Yü, Yu-kung, is also the name of a book of the Shuking. 

2 Cf. Shuking Pt. III, Book I (Legge, Classics Vol. III, Pt. I, p. 127). 

3 A principality in Hupei. 

4 The time of this Marquis of Sui is unknown. His pearls are very famous 

in Chinese literature. According to one tradition the Marquis found a wounded snake, 

and cured it. Out of gratitude the snake presented him with a precious pearl, which 

shone at night. Wang Ch'ung makes the Marquis produce artificial pearls himself. 

5 A number of the sexagenary cycle used for the designation of years, months, 

and days. 

6 Yen Ti is usually identified with Shên Nung and said to have been his 

predecessor, but we do not learn that he fought with Huang Ti for the empire. 

7 According to Kang Hi, Kun = 魚玄  would be the same as 鲧 Kun, Yao's 

Minister of Works, who in vain endeavoured to drain the waters of the great flood. 

His son Yü, who subsequently became emperor, succeeded at last in regulating the 

water courses. Here we seem to have a different tradition. 

The Forming of Characters. 379 

not listen to this request. Thereupon Kun became more infuriated 

than even ferocious animals are, and wished to rebel. The horns 

of animals, all in a line, served him as a rampart, and their lifted 

tails were his banners. They opposed and tackled their foe with 

the utmost determination and energy. — If birds and beasts, which 

are shaped otherwise than man, can nevertheless be caused to fight, 

how much more so man's own kindred? Proceeding on this line 

of argument we have no reason to doubt that (by music) the multitudinous animals were made to dance, the fish in the ponds to 

come out and listen, and the six kinds of horses ' to look up from 

their fodder.2 

The equalization of what varies in different categories as well 

as the differentiation of what is the same in similar classes, does 

not depend on the thing itself, but is man's doing. 

It is by instruction that living beings are transformed. Among 

the Three Miao tribes 3 some were honest, some disreputable. Yao 

and Shun made them all alike by conferring the boon of instruction 

upon them. 

Suppose the men of Ch'u and Yüeh 4 to settle down in Chuang 

or Yü.5 Having passed there months and years, they would become 

pliant and yielding, and their customs changed. They say that the 

people of Ch'u are soft and supple, those of Ch'in unsteady and 

versatile, of Ch'u lively and passionate, of Yen 6 dull and simple. 

Now let us suppose that people of the four States alternately went 

to live in Chuang and Yü for a certain time, the prolonged stay in 

a place remote from their country would undubitably bring about 

a change of their character. 

A bad natured man's heart is like wood or stone, but even 

wood and stone can be used by men, why not what really is 

neither wood nor stone? We may hope that it will still be able 

1 Six kinds of horses were distinguished in the studs of the Chou emperors, 

according to their height. Tcheou Li (Chou Li), trad, par Biot, Vol. II, p. 262. 

2 There are many myths illustrative of the power of music. Hu Pa, 瓠巴, 

played the guitar, so that the fish came out to listen, and Po Ya, 伯牙, played 

the lute in such an admirable way, that the horses forgot their fodder, and looked up to 

harken. Han-shih-wai ch'uan, quoted hy the P'ei-wen-yên fu chap. 96 under 仰秣. 

3 The aborigines of China. 

4 They were settled in modern Hukuang and Chekiang. 

5 An allusion to Mencius Bk. III, Pt. II, chap. 6, where the difference of the 

dialects of Chi and Ch'u is pointed out. Chuang and Yü were two quarters in the 

capital of Ch'i. 

6 The Ch'i State was in northern Shantung, Ch'in in Shensi, and Yen in Chili. 

The characteristic of the inhabitants of these provinces is partly still true to-day. 

380 Lun-hêng: D. Ethical. 

to understand the precepts of superior men. Only in the case of 

insanity, when a person sings and weeps in the streets, knowing 

neither east nor west, taking no heed of scorching heat or humidity, 

unaware of his own madness and unconscious of hunger and satiety, 

nature is deranged and upset, and there is no help. As such a man 

sees nothing before him, he is afraid of nothing. 

Therefore the government does not abolish the officers of 

public instruction or dispense with criminal judges, wishing thereby 

to inculcate the observance of the moral laws. The schools guide 

people at first, the laws control and restrain them later on. 

Even the will of a Tan Chu might be curbed; the proof is 

that the soldiers of a big army are kept in order by reproofs. 

Men and officers are held in check to such an extent, that they 

look at death as a return. 

Ho Lu 1 put his soldiers to the test by the "Five Lakes." 2

They all cut their arms with swords, that the blood trickled down 

to the ground. Kou Chien3 also gave his men a trial in the hall 

of his inner palace. Those who jumped into the fire and perished, 

were innumerable. Human nature is not particularly fond of swords 

and fire, but the two rulers had such a power over their men, 

that they did not care for their lives. It is the effect of military 

discipline to make light of cuts and blood. 

Mêng Pên 4 was bold, but on hearing the order for the army 

he became afraid. In the same way the officers who were wont 

to draw their swords to fight out, whose merits were first, went 

through all the ceremonial, and prostrated themselves (before the 

emperor), when Shu Sun Tung 5 had fixed the rites. Imperious and 

overbearing first, they became obedient and submissive. The power 

of instruction and the influence of virtue transform the character. 

One need not sorrow that a character is bad, but it is to be 

regretted, if it does not submit to the teachings of the sages. Such 

an individual owes his misfortune to himself. 

Beans and wheat are different from rice and millet, yet their 

consumption satisfies the appetite. Are the natures of low and 

1 King of the Wu State, 514-496 b.c. 

2 Another name of the T'ai-hu lake in Kiangsu, which consisted of five 

lakes, or five connected sheets of water. 

3 The ruler of the Yüeh State, 496 b.c, who overthrew the kingdom of Wu. 

4 A hero of enormous strength in the Chou epoch. 

5 An official of great power under Han Kao Tsu, who subdued the arrogance 

and superciliousness of the princes and nobles by the ceremonial they were made 

to undergo at an audience before the new emperor. Shi-chi chap. 09, p. 7v. 

The Forming uf Characters. 381 

superior men then of a different kind? They resemble the Five 

Grains 1 all have their use. There is no fundamental difference 

between them, only their manifestations are unlike. The fluid men 

are endowed with, is either copious or deficient, and their character 

correspondingly good or bad. The wicked have received but a 

small dose of kindness, the irascible, plenty of temper. If kindness 

be unsufficient, people do wrong, and there is not much hope for 

an improvement. With plenty of temper, people become violent, 

and have no sense of justice. Moreover, their feeling of sympathy 

is defective, joy and anger do not happen at the proper time, and 

they have baseless and irreasonable fears. Reckless men like that 

commit outrages, therefore they are considered bad. 

Man has in his body the Five Qualities 2 and the Five Organs.3 

If he got too little of them, or if they are too small, his actions 

do not attain to goodness.4 Man himself is either accomplished 

or deficient, but accomplishment and deficiency do not mean a difference of organisation. Use leaven in big, or in small quantities, 

and the result will be similar. In rich as well as in poor wine 

there is the same leaven. Good men as well as bad ones are 

permeated by the same original fluid. According to its greater or 

smaller volumen the mind of the individual is bright or dull. 

Hsi Mên Pao would tighten his leathern belt, whenever he 

wanted to relax himself. Tung An Yü loosened his girdle strings, 

when he was going to rouse himself. 5 Yet neither passion nor 

indolence is the right medium. However, he who wears a belt or 

a girdle on his body is properly dressed. When the question 

arises, how deficiencies can be made good by means of belts and 

strings, the names of Hsi Men Pao and lung An Yü must be mentioned 

together. 6 

1 Hemp, millet, rice, wheat, and beans. 

2 The Five Cardinal Virtues: — benevolence, justice, propriety, knowledge, 

and truth. 

3 The heart, the liver, the stomach, the lungs, and the kidneys. 

4 Human character, to wit the Five Qualities, depends on the volumen of the 

original fluid, the vital force, which shapes the Five Organs. According as they 

are bigger or smaller, the nature of the individual is different. This idea finds expression in the Chinese language. A man with a big heart, 心厚 , is generous 

and liberal, with a small heart, 心薄, mean. The fluid of the stomach, 脾气, 

is equivalent to anger. 

5 Cf. p. 122. 

6 In both cases the belt or girdle is the same indispensable part of a gentleman's toilet, but the use made of it, and the results achieved, are quite different. 

The same may be said of human nature. 

382 Lun-hêng: D. Ethical. 

Houses of poor, wretched people are not in a proper state. 

They have holes in the walls under the roof, to which others take 

objection. When rich and well-to-do people build houses, they 

have the walls made in a way, that they find there real shelter. 

The whole house is in good repair, and nobody could say anything 

against it.1 

In Wei2 the land was divided in lots of a hundred mow, in 

Yeh 3 alone the lots measured two hundred mow. Hsi Mên Pao irrigated his land with water from the Chang 4 and made it so fertile, 

that it yielded one bushel 5 per mow. Man's natural parts are like 

the fields of Yeh, tuition and education, like the water from the 

Chang. One must be sorry for him that cannot be transformed, 

but not for a man whose character it is difficult to govern. 

In the streets of the city of Loyang 6 there was no water. It 

was therefore pulled up from the Lo by watermen.7 If it was 

streaming quickly day and night, it was their doing. From this 

point of view kindness and justice must increase manifold in him 

who comes into close contact with an excellent man.8 Mencius 

mother changed her domicile, for she had ascertained this truth.9 

Water amongst men is dirty and muddy, in the open country 

it is clear and limpid. It is all the same water, and it flows from 

the confines of heaven; its dirtiness and limpidity are the effects 

of its environments. 

Chao To, king of the southern Yüeh, was originally an honourable man of the Han State, 10 but he took to the habits of the 

southern barbarians, disregarded the imperial commands, dressed 

his hair in a tuft, and used to squat down. He was so fond of 

1 Human nature is like those houses. They are all houses, and serve the 

same purpose, but some are in good repair, others in a wretched state. 

2 An ancient State in North Honan and South Chili. 

3 The modern Chang-tê-fa. 

4 A large tributary of the river Wei in Honan, near Chang-tê-fa. 

5 A Chung, an ancient measure equal to 4 pecks = 1 bushel, as some say. 

According to others it would be as much as 34 pecks. 

6 The capital of the Chou dynasty in Honan, the modern Honanfu. 

7 Probably with pump-works. 

8 The excellent man is like the river Lo. Streams of kindness and justice 

part from him. 

9 She changed her domicile for the purpose of saving her son from the bad 

influences of the neighbourhood. 

10 Chao T'u went to Yüeh, modern Kuang-tung, as general of Chin Shih 

Huang Ti, and subsequently became king of the southern barbarians, whose customs 

he adopted. Lu Chia was sent to him by the first emperor of the Han dynasty to 

receive his declaration of allegiance. 

The Forming of Characters. 383 

this, as if it had been his nature. Lu Chia spoke to him of the 

virtues of the Han, and impressed him with their holy power, so 

that he suddenly rose up, and felt remorse. He received the commands of his sovereign, and communicated them to the savages. 

Against his hair-dress and to his squatting he felt something like 

a natural repugnancy. First he acted in the aforesaid manner, 

afterwards thus. It shows what force instruction also has, and 

that nature is not the only factor.