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33:CHAPTER XXXII. On Original Nature

CHAPTER XXXII. On Original Nature (Pen-hsing). 

Natural feelings and natural disposition are the basis of human 

activity, and the source from which morals and music spring. Morals impede, and music checks the excesses of original nature. The 

natural disposition may be humble, modest, and yielding. The 

moral laws are enforced with a view to generalizing such praiseworthy qualities. The natural feelings may be good or bad, cheerful 

or angry, mournful or merry. Music is made in order to make 

every one behave respectfully. What morals and music aim at are 

the natural feelings and natural disposition. 

The ancient literati and scholars who have written essays 

have all touched upon this question, but could not give a satisfactory 

answer. The philosopher Shih Tse 1 of the Chou time held that 

human nature is partly good and partly bad, that, if the good 

nature in man be cultivated and regulated, his goodness increases, 

and if his bad nature be, his badness develops. Thus in the human 

heart there would be two conflicting principles, and good and evil 

depend on cultivation. Accordingly, Shih Tse composed a chapter 

on cultivation. 

Fu Tse Chien, Ch'i Tiao K'ai, and Kung Sun Ni Tse 2 also discuss this subject in very much the same way as Shih Tse, all declaring that nature is partly good, partly bad. 

Mencius wrote a chapter on the goodness of nature,3 contending 

that all men are originally good, and that the bad ones are corrupted by the world. Men, he says, are created by heaven and 

earth; they are all provided with a good nature, but when they 

grow up and come into contact with the world, they run wild. 

1 His full name is Shih Shê. He was one of the seventy disciples of Confucius and a writer. The Catalogue of the Han-shu chap. 30 mentions twenty-one 

chapters of his pen. Faber in his Doctrines of Confucius p. 29 states that the title 

of the lost work of Shih Shê was " yang-shu" 养书, and that he is said to have 

been a disciple of Ch'i Tiao K'ai, whom vide. 

2 All disciples of Confucius, whose writings were still extant during the Hun 

dynasty, but are now lost. According to Liu Hsin's Catalogue Fu Tse Chien alias 

Fu Pu Ch'i wrote 16 chapters, Ch'i Tiao K'ai 12, and Kunff Sun Ni Tse 28. 

3 Mencius Bk. VI, Pt. I. 

On Original Nature. 385 

and are perverted, and their wickedness increases daily. According 

to Mencius opinion, man, when young, would be invariably good. 

Wên Tse 1 said, " I have formerly remarked, that as a child 

the prince (Chou) did not show off." 

When Chou was a child, Wei Tse observed that he had no 

good character. Inclined to evil, he did not eclipse the common 

people, and when he had grown up, he caused endless revolutions. 

Therefore Wei Tse's remark. 

When Yang-Shê Shih-Wo 2 was born and Lady Shu saw him, 

and upon entering the hall heard him cry, she went back and said, 

" His voice is that of a wolf. He has a reckless character, destitute of all affection. But for him the Yang Shê family would not 

perish." Afterwards she declined to see him. When he had grown 

up, Ch'i Shêng made a rebellion, in which Shih-Wo took part. 

The people killed him, and the Yang Shê family was extinguished 

thereby. 3 

Chou's wickedness dated from his childhood, and Shi-Wo's

rebellion could be foretold from the new-born's whine. As a new-born child has not yet had any intercourse with the world, who 

could have brought about his perversion? 

Tan Chu was born in Yao's palace, and Shang Chün in Shuns 

hall. Under the reign of these two sovereigns, the people house 

by house were worthy of being entrusted with a fief. Those with 

whom the two might have mixed, were most excellent, and the 

persons forming the suit of the two emperors, were all most virtuous. Nevertheless, Tan Chu was haughty, and Shang Chiln brutal. 

Both lacked imperial decorum to such a degree, that they were 

set up as a warning to coming generations. 

Mencius judges men by the pupils of their eyes. If the heart 

be bright, says he, the pupils are clear, if it be dark, the pupils 

are dim.4 However, the clearness and dimness of the eyes reaches 

back to as far as man's birth. These differences are due to the 

different fluids received from heaven. The eyes are not clear during 

childhood, or dimmed, when man grows, and associates with other 

people. Nature at first is spontaneous, goodness and badness are 

1 The Viscount of Wei, a kinsman of prince Chou i. e. Chou Hsin, the last 

emperor of the Shang dynasty, who lost the throne through his wickedness and 

tyrany (1154-1122 b.c). 

2 The Yang Shê family was very powerful in the Chin State. Lady Shu had 

married one Yang Shê and was thus related to Yang-Shê Shih-Wo. 

3 This took place in the Chin State in 513 b.c. 

4 Mencius Bk. IV, Pt. I, chap. XV. 

Lun-hêng. 25 

386 Lun-hêng: D. Ethical. 

the outcome of different dispositions. What Mencius says about 

original nature is not true. 

Yet something may have contributed to the idea of the goodness of nature. A man may be benevolent or just, it is the wonderful proficiency of his nature, as in his locomotion and movements 

he shows his extraordinary natural ability. But his colour, whether 

white or black, and his stature, whether long or short, remain unchanged until old age and final death. Such is his heavenly nature. 1 

Everybody knows that water, earth, and other substances 

differ in their natures, but people are not aware that good and 

evil are due to different natural dispositions. A one year old baby 

is not inclined to violent robbery. After it has grown up, its 

greed may gradually develop, and lead to ferocity and aggressiveness. 

Kao Tse, a contemporary of Mencius denies the difference of 

goodness and badness in nature, comparing it to flowing water 

which led to the east, runs eastward, and to the west, westward. 

As water cannot be divided according to its eastern or western 

direction, a division of men into good and bad ones is untenable.2 

Therefore Kao Tse asserts that human nature is similar to the 

nature of water. Such being the case, water may well be used as 

an illustration. 

Nature is as metal is metal, and wood, wood. A good man 

has a natural bent towards goodness, and a wicked man to wickedness. Man is endowed by heaven with a spontaneous mind, and 

has received a uniform disposition.3 Therefore portents appear at 

the time of birth, from which man's goodness and badness can be 


People with whom no difference of good and bad exists, and 

who may be pushed one or the other way, are called average 

people. Being neither good nor bad, they require instruction in 

order to assume a certain type. Therefore Confucius says that with 

people above the average one can discourse on higher subjects, but 

that with those under the average one cannot do so.4 Kao Tse's 

comparison with channelled water applies only to average people, 

but does not concern extremely good or extremely bad persons. 

1 The spiritual nature may be transformed, but not the physical one. Human 

nature is so wonderful, that even originally bad people may by much training become benevolent and just. Mencius seeing these wonderful results was misled into 

the belief that human nature was originally good. 

3 Mencius Bk. VI, Pt. I, chap. II. 

4 Either good or bad, not partly good and partly bad. 

5 Analects U, 19. 

On Original Nature. B87 

According to Confucius people are nearly related to one another by 

character, but become very different by habit. 1 The character of 

average people is the work of habit. Made familiar with good, 

they turn out good, accustomed to evil, they become wicked. Only 

with extremely good, or extremely bad characters habit is of no 

avail. Therefore Confucius holds that only highly cultured and 

grossly ignorant people cannot be changed. 2 Their natures being 

either good or otherwise, the influence of sages, and the teaching 

of wise men is impotent to work a change. Since Confucius, the 

Nestor in wisdom and virtue, and the most eminent of all philosophers, asserts the unchangeability of highly cultured and grossly 

ignorant people, we may conclude that Kao Tse's sayings are not 


However, there is some foundation for Kao Tse's view. The 

Shiking 3 says: — "What can that admirable man be compared to? " 

The Tso-chuan answers: — "He is like boiled silk; dyed with indigo 

it becomes blue, coloured with vermilion it turns crimson." Leading 

water eastward or westward is like dyeing silk blue or red. Tan 

Chu and Shang Chün were also imbued with Yao and Shuns doctrines, but Tan Chu remained haughty, and Shang Chün cruel. The 

extremely bad stuff they were made of did not take the blue or 

the red colour. 

In opposition to Mencius, Sun Ching 4 wrote a chapter on the 

wickedness of nature, supposing human nature to be wicked, and 

its goodness to be ficticious. Wickedness of nature means to say 

that men, when they are born, have all a bad nature, and ficticiousness that, after they have grown up, they are forcibly induced 

to do good. According to this view of Sun Ching, among men, even 

as children, there are no good ones. 

Chi as a boy amused himself with planting trees. When Confucius could walk, he played with sacrificial vessels. When a stone 

is produced, it is hard, when a fragrant flower comes forth, it 

smells. All things imbued with a good fluid develop accordingly 

with their growth. He who amused himself with tree planting, 

1 Analects XVII, 2. 

2 Analects XVII, 3. 

3 Shiking I, Bk. IV, Ode IX, 2. Vid. above p. 374. 

4 One of the Ten Philosophers, whose work has come down to us. He 

lived in the 3rd cent. b.c. His original surname Hsün — hence Hün Tse — 荀子 

was changed into Sim 孙 under the reign of the Emperor Hsüan Ti of the Han 

dynasty, 73-48 b.c, whose personal name was Hsün. Of. Edkins, " Siün King the 

Philosopher " in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Shanghai Vol. XXXIII, p. 46. 

388  Lun-hêng: D. Ethical. 

became the minister of T'ang,1 and the hoy who played with 

sacrificial vessels, the sage of Chou. Things with a fragrant or 

stony nature show their hardness and fragrance. Sun Ching's 

opinion is, therefore, incompatible with truth, yet his belief in the 

wickedness of nature is not quite without foundation: 

A one year old baby has no yielding disposition. Seeing 

something to eat, it cries, and wants to eat it, and beholding a 

nice thing, it weeps, and wants to play with it. After it has 

grown up, its propensities are checked, and its wishes cut down, 

and it is compelled to do good. 

Liu Tse Chêng 2 objects that in this case heaven would have 

no fluid. Where would the first good deed come from, if the Yang 

and the Yin principles and good and evil were not counterbalancing 

each other? 

Lu Chia 3 says that, when heaven and earth create men, they 

predispose them in favour of propriety and justice, that man can 

see what for he has received life and act accordingly, which accordance is called virtue. Lu Chia thinks that the human mind 

is turned towards propriety and justice, and that man also can discover what for he has come into life. However, the right-minded 

do good of their own accord without waiting for this discovery, 

and the evil-minded disregard propriety and defy justice, although 

they see quite clearly in the matter. It is impossible that justice 

should win them to the good cause. Thus the covetous can speak 

very well on disinterestedness, and the rebels on good government, 

robber Chê 4 condems theft and Chuang Chiao 5 stigmatises lawlessness. They have a clear conception of themselves, and know how 

to talk on virtue, but owing to their vicious character they do not 

practise what they say, and the good cause derives no benefit from 

it. Therefore Lu Chia's opinion cannot be considered the right one. 

Tung Chung Shu 6 having read Mencius and Sun Ching's writings, 

composed himself an essay on natural feelings and natural disposition, 

1 Viz. of Yao who reigned at T'ang, in Chili. 

2 A famous author, more generally known by the name Liu Hsiang, 80-9 b.c, 

whose works we still possess. 

3 A politician and scholar of the 3rd and 2nd cent, b.c, author of the " New 

Words" 新语" same as mentioned above p. 383 as envoy to the king of the 

southern Yüeh. 

4 Cf. p. 139. 

5 Another outlaw. 

6 An author of the 2nd cent. n.c. who wrote the " Dew of the Spring and 

Autumn " 春秋繁露 which is still extant. 

On Original Nature. 389 

 in which he says: — Heaven's great principles are on one 

side the Yin, on the other the Yang. The great principles in man 

are on one side the natural feelings, on the other natural disposition. 

The disposition comes out of the Yang, the feelings out of the Yin. 

The Yin fluid is base, the Yang fluid humane. Who believes in the 

goodness of nature sees the Yang, who speaks of its wickedness 

the Yin. That is, Tung Chung Shu means to say that Mencius saw 

only the Yang, and Sun Ching the Yin. 

The opinions of the two philosophers may well thus be 

distinguished, but as regards human nature, such a distinction does 

not hold good. Goodness and badness are not divided in this way. 

Natural feelings and natural disposition are simultaneously produced 

by the Yin and the Yang combined, either more or less copiously. 

Precious stones growing in rocks are partly of a single colour, 

partly multicoloured, how can natural feelings or natural disposition 

growing in the Yin and Yang be either exclusively good? What 

Tung Chung Shu says is not correct. 

Liu Tse Chêng teaches that the natural disposition is formed 

at birth, that it is inherent to the body and does not come out, 

that on the other hand natural feelings arise from the contact with 

the world, and manifest themselves outwardly. That which manifests itself outwardly, he calls Yang, that which does not appear, 

he calls Yin Thus Liu Tse Cheng submits that the natural disposition is inherent to the body, but does not come out, whereas 

the natural feelings unite with external things, and appear outwardly. Therefore he designates them as Yang. The natural disposition he designates as Yin, because it does not appear, and has 

no communication with the outer world. Liu Tse Chêng's identification of natural feelings with Yang and disposition with Yin leaves 

the origin of these qualities quite out of the question, insomuch 

as the Yin and the Yang are determined in an oft-hand way by 

outward manifestation and non-appearance. If the Yang really 

depends on outward manifestation, then it may be said that natural disposition also comes into contact with external things. " In 

moments of haste, he cleaves to it, and in seasons of danger he 

cleaves to it." 1 The compassionate cannot endure the sight of 

suffering;. This non-endurance is an effluence of benevolence. Humility and modesty are manifestations of natural disposition. These 

qualities have all their external objects. As compassion and modesty 

1 A quotation from Analects IV, 5, where we read that the superior man always cleaves to benevolence. 

390 Lun-Hêng: D. Ethical. 

manifest themselves outwardly, I am afraid that the assertion 

that natural disposition is something inside without any connection 

with external things, cannot be right. By taking into consideration 

merely outwardness and inwardness, Yin and Yang, without reference to the goodness and badness of nature, the truth cannot be 

known. As Liu Tse Chêng has it, natural disposition would be Yin, 

and natural feelings Yang, but have men not good as well as bad 


From Mencius down to Liu Tse Chêng the profoundest scholars 

and greatest thinkers have propounded a great many different views 

without, however, solving the problem of original nature in a satisfactory way. The arguments of the philosophers Shih Tse, Kung 

Sun Ni Tse, and others of the same class 1 alone contain much truth. 

We may say that it is easy to understand the subject, but the 

difficulty is to explain the principle. Style and diction may be 

ever so brilliant and flowery,- and the conceptions and arguments 

as sweet as honey, all that is no proof of their truth. 

As a matter of fact, human natural disposition is sometimes 

good, and sometimes bad, just as human faculties can be of a 

high or of a low order. High ones cannot be low, nor low ones 

high. To say that human nature is neither good nor bad would 

be the same as to maintain that human faculties are neither high 

nor low. The original disposition which Heaven gives to men, and 

the destiny which it sends down, are essentially alike. By destiny 

men are honoured or despised, by nature good or bad. If one 

disputes the existence of goodness and badness in human nature, 

he might as well call in question that destiny makes men great 

or miserable. 

The nature of the soil of the Nine Provinces 3 is different in 

regard to goodness and badness. It is yellow, red, or black, of 

superior, average, or inferior quality. The water courses are not 

all alike. They are limpid or muddy, and run east, west, north 

or southward. Man is endowed with the nature of Heaven and 

Earth, and imbued with the spirit of the Five Qualities.4 He may 

1 Who maintain that human nature is partly good and partly bad. 

2 The text has 鄷文茂记 which looks like a name : — the Record of 

Fêng Wên Mao. The fact, however, that a philosopher of the name of Fêng Wên 

Mao is unknown, and the symmetry of the context leads me to the conclusion that 

instead of 鄷 we should read 丰 and translate, as I have done. 

3 In prehistoric times China was divided into nine provinces, hence the term 

the Nine Provinces has become a synonym of China. 

4 Cf. p. 381 Note 2. 

On Original Nature. 891 

be benevolent or just, it is the wonderful proficieniy of his nature. 

In his locomotion and movements he may be majestic or agile, it 

is his extraordinary natural ability. But his colour, whether white 

or black and his stature, whether long or short, remain unchanged 

until old age and final death. Such is heavenly nature. 1 

I am decidedly of opinion that what Mencius says on the 

goodness of human nature, refers to people above the average, 

that what Sun Ching says on its badness, refers to people under 

the average, and that, if Yang Hsiung teaches that in human nature 

goodness and badness are mixed together, he means average people. 

Bringing people back to the unchanging standard and leading them 

into the right way, one may teach them. But this teaching alone 

does not exhaust human nature. 

The last sentences are repeated from p. 386. 

392 Lun-hêng: E. Critique.