CHAPTER XXXVIII. The Equality of the Ages (Ch'i-shih).
There is a saying that in ancient times people were tall,
good-looking, and strong, and lived to become about a hundred
years old, whereas in modern times they are short, ugly, cut off
in their prime, and short-lived. The following cause is given: — In
ancient times the harmonious fluid was in abundance. People
married at the proper time. At their birth they received this
good fluid, and therefore suffered no injuries afterwards. Their
bones and joints being strong and solid, they grew tall, and reached
a high age, and their outward appearance was beautiful. In later
generations all this was reversed, therefore they were small, died
young, and looked nasty.
This statement is preposterous. In olden days the rulers
were sages, and so they are in modern times. The virtue of the
sages then and now does not differ, therefore their government in
ancient and modern times cannot be different. The Heaven of
antiquity is the Heaven of later ages. Heaven does not change,
and its fluid has not been altered. The people of former ages
are the same as those of modern times. They all are filled with
the original fluid. This fluid is genuine and harmonious now as
well as in days of yore, why then should their bodies, which are
made of it, not be the same? Being imbued with the same fluid,
they have the same nature, and their nature being the same, their
physical frames must be alike. Their physical frames being alike,
their outward appearance must be similar, and this being the case,
their length of life cannot but be equal. One Heaven and one
Earth conjointly produce all beings. When they are created, they
all receive the same fluid. Its scarcity and abundance varies in
all ages equally. Emperors and kings reign over successive generations, and all the different ages have the same principles. People
marry at the same time and with similar ceremonies, for although
472 Lun-hêng: E. Critique.
it has been recorded that men married at the age of thirty, and
women at that of twenty, and though there has been such a rule
for marriages,1 it is not certain that it really has been observed.
We can infer this from the fact that it is not observed now either.
The rules for ceremonies and music have been preserved up to
our days, but are the people of to-day willing to comply with
them? Since they do not like to practise them, people of old
have not done so either. From the people of to-day we learn to
know the people of old.
Creatures are creatures. Man can live up to one hundred
years, but very often we see boys who only reach the age of ten
years. The lives of the creatures living on earth and their transformations at the utmost last one hundred years. When they
approach this period, they die, which can always be observed.
Between all these creatures and those who do not become older
them ten years is no fundamental difference. If people of ancient
and modern times do not differ, it must be possible to predetermine
the length of their lives within the limit of one hundred years by
means of divination.
In the height of the domestic animals, the size of the various
kinds of grain, the reptiles, plants, trees, metals, stones, pearls, and
jewels as well as in the creeping, wriggling, crawling, and panting
of the various animals there is no difference, which means that
their shape is identical. The water and the fire in olden days are
the present water and fire. Now, the fluid changes into water
or fire. Provided that there be a difference in the fluids, was the
water pellucid, and the fire hot formerly, and is now the water
opaque, and the fire, cold?
Man grows six to seven feet high, measures three to four
spans in circumference, his face has five colours,2 and his greatest
age is one hundred years. During thousands and thousands of
generations there is no change. Let us suppose that in ancient
times men were tall, good-looking, strong, and long-lived, and that
in later generations all this was reversed. Then, when Heaven
and Earth were first established, and the first men were created,
could they be as tall as the Prince of Fang-fêng,3 as handsome as
1 This seems to have been the rule under the Chou dynasty. Cf. Liki, Nei-Tsê Sect. II (Legge, Sacred Books Vol. XXVII, p. 478).
2 The complexion is yellowish, the lips are red, the teeth white, the hair
black, and the veins are bluish,
3 Cf. p. 486.
The Equality of the Ages. 473
Prince Chao of Sung,1 and as long-lived as Peng Tsu? 2 And after
thousand generations hence, will they be as small as flower-seeds,
as ill-favoured as Mu Mu,3 and as short-lived as an ephemeral fly?
Under the reign of Wang Mang 4 there was a giant ten feet
high, called Pa Ch'u, and during the Chien-wu 5 period Chang Chung
Shih in Ying-ch'uan 6 measured ten feet, two inches, and Chang T'ang
over eight feet, whereas his father was not quite five feet high.
They all belong to the present generation, and were either tall or
small. The assertion of the Literati is wrong therefore and a
They say that in times of yore people were employed, as
befitted them. Hunchbacks were used as gate-keepers, and dwarfs
as actors. But, if all were tall and good-looking, where did the
hunchbacks and the dwarfs come from?
It is further alleged that the natures of the people of the
past were honest and easily reformed, whereas the culture of later
ages is superficial, so that they are difficult to be governed. Thus
the Yiking says that in the remote past, cords were knotted as a
means of governing the people, which knots in later ages were replaced by books. 7 First knots were used, because reforms were
easy, the books afterwards prove the difficulty of government. Prior
to Fu Hsi,8 the characters of the people were of the plainest
kind: — They lay down self-satisfied, and sat up perfectly pleased.
They congregated, and flocked together, and knew their mothers,
but not their fathers." At Fu Hsi's time people had attained such
a degree of refinement, that the shrewd attempted to deceive the
simple-minded, the courageous would frighten the timid, the
strong insult the weak, and the many oppress the few. Therefore Fu Hsi invented the eight diagrams for the purpose of restraining them. At the Chou epoch, the state of the people had
1 A contemporary of Confucius, famous for his beauty (cf. Analects VI, 14),
but of a perverse character. He committed incest with his half-sister Nan Tse, the
wife of Duke Ling of Wei.
2 The Chinese Methusaleh.
3 The fourth wife of Huang Ti, an intelligent, but very ill-favoured woman.
4 9-23 A.D.
5 25-56 A.D.
6 A circuit in Anhui.
7 Yiking, Chi-t'se II (Legge's translation p. 385).
8 The most ancient mythical emperor.
9 Does that mean that the pre-historic Chinese lived in a state of matriarchate
or in polyandry like the Tibetans? We find the same notice in Chuang Tse chap. 29,
474 Lun-Hêng: K. Critique.
become very degenerate, and it was difficult to raise the eight
diagrams to their former importance. Therefore King Wên increased
their number to sixty-four. The changes were the principal thing,
and the people were not allowed to flag. When, during the Chou
epoch, they had been down for a long while, Confucius wrote the
" Spring and Autumn," extolling the smallest good, and criticizing
the slightest wrong. He also said, "Chou 1 had the advantage of
viewing the two past dynasties. How complete and elegant are
its regulations. I follow Chou." 2 Confucius knowing that the age
was steeped in sin, ill-bred, and hard to govern, made the strictest
rules, and took the minutest preventive measures to repress the
disrespectful, and everything was done in the way of restrictions.
This is absurd. Of old, people were imbued with the Five
Virtues, and later generations were so likewise. They all had the
principle of the Five Virtues in their hearts, and at birth were
endowed with the same fluid. Why shall the natures of the
former have been plain and honest, and the latter unmannerly?
The opponents have noted that in olden times people drank blood,
and ate herbs, as they had no grain for food. In later ages they
dug up the earth for wells, tilled the ground, and sowed grain.
They drank from the wells, and ate grain, which they had prepared with water and fire. They also note that in remote antiquity people were living high up in caverns, and wrapt themselves
in skins of wild beasts and birds. Later generations changed the
caverns into houses and palaces, and bedecked themselves with
cloth and silk fabrics. It is for this reason that they regard the
natures of the former as plain and honest, and the later as ill-bred.
The tools and the methods have undergone a change, but nature
and its manifestations have continued the same. In spite of that,
they speak of plainness of nature and the poorness of culture.
In every age prosperity alternates with decay, and, when the
latter has gone on for a long time, it begets vices. That is what
happens with raiment and food used by man. When a garment
has just been made, it is fresh and intact, and food just cooked
is clean and smells good. After a while, the garment becomes
worn out, and after some days, the food begins to smell bad.
The laws by which nature and culture were governed in the past
and at the present, are the same. There is nature, and there is
culture, sometimes there is prosperity, and sometimes decay. So
it has been of yore, not only now. How shall we prove that?
1 The Chou dynasty.
2 Analects III, 14.
The Equality of the Ages. 475
It has been put on record that the kings of the house of
Hsia 1 taught faithfulness. The sovereign teaching faithfulness, good
men were faithful, but, when the decline set in, common people
became rude. To combat rudeness nothing is better than politeness. Therefore the kings of the Yin dynasty 2 taught politeness.
The sovereign inculcating politeness, good men were polite, but
when the decline began, common people became rogues. To repress
roguishness nothing is better than education. Therefore the kings
of Chou 3 taught science. The sovereign teaching science, good men
were scholarly, but then came the decline, and common people
became narrow-minded. The best antidote against narrow-mindedness is faithfulness, therefore the rulers succeeding the Choii dynasty
ought to have recourse to faithfulness. The reforms of Yü continued by the Hsia dynasty, were labouring under narrow-mindedness, therefore it inculcated faithfulness. Since Yü based his reforms on science, roguishness must have been the defect of the people
under his predecessors. Our contemporaries viewing the narrow-mindedness of our present culture, despise and condemn it, and
therefore they say that in old times the natures of people were
plain and honest, whereas the culture of later ages is narrow-minded. In the same manner, when the members of one family
are not zealous, people will say that the members of other families
are diligent and honest.4
It has been asserted that the ancients set high store in
righteousness, and slighted their bodies. When an event happened
that appealed to their sense of loyalty and justice, so that they
felt it their duty to suffer death, they would jump into boiling
water, or rush into the points of swords, and die without lament.
Such was the devotion of Hung Yen. 5 and the honesty of Pu Ch'an
of Ch'en, 6 who acted like this. Similar instances have been recorded in books. The cases of voluntary deaths, and self-sacrifices
are very numerous, and not scarce. The people now-a-days, they
believe, are struggling for gain only, and leading a wild life. They
have discarded justice, and are not scrupulous as to the means
1 2205-1766 B.C.
2 1766-1122 B,c,
3 1122-249 B,c.
4 People like to contrast, even though there be little difference between the
things thus contrasted.
5 A faithful minister of Duke I of Wei. Cf. p. 496.
6 When in 546 b.c. Chuang, Duke of Ch'i, was murdered, Pu Chan drove to
his palace and on hearing the affray, died of fright.
476 Lun-hêng: E. Critique.
they employ in obtaining their ends. They do not restrain one
another by righteousness, or vie in doing good. The disregard
of justice they do not consider a source of danger, nor are they
afraid of the consequences of their wrong doing.
This is nonsense. The heroes of ancient times are the heroes
of the present age. Their hearts are equally sensible to benevolence
and justice, and in case of any emergency they will be roused.
In the past, there have been unprincipled characters, and at present
there are persons with the keenest sense of honour. Goodness
and badness are mixed, why should one age be devoid of either?
The story-tellers like to extol the past, and disparage the present
time. They make much of what they know by hearsay, and
despise what they see with their own eyes. The disputants will
discourse on what is long ago, and the literati write on what is
far away. The curious things near at hand, the speakers do not
mention, and the extraordinary events of our own time are not
committed to writing.
When during a famine starved people were going to eat the
elder brother of Tse Ming, a young man of Lang-yeh,1 he bound
and prostrated himself, and asked to be eaten in lieu of his brother.
The hungry people so much admired his generosity, that they set
them both free, and did not eat them. After the elder brother
had died, he took his orphan son, and brought him up, and loved
him as much as his own son. At a time of scarcity, when no
grain was left, so that both boys could not be kept alive, he
killed his own son by starvation, and preserved the life of the
son of his elder brother. Hsü Shu of Lin-huai 2 also brought up
the orphan son of his elder brother, and at a time of dearth allowed his own son to die of hunger in order to keep his brother's
son alive. His magnanimity was like that of Tse Ming.
The father of Mêng Chang in K'uei-chi, 3 Ying, was judicial secretary of the prefecture. When the general of the prefecture had
beaten an innocent man to death, and the case came up for revision, Ying took the guilt upon himself, offered himself for punishment, and at last suffered death for the general. Mêng Chang later
on became civil secretary of a prefecture. He took part in a campaign against insurgents, but the soldiers were routed, and shot by
the rebels. Thereupon he took the place of the commander, which
he did not leave, until he was killed. Is there any difference from
1 A place in Shantung.
2 A circuit in Anhui province.
3 A city in Chekiang.
The Equality of the Ages. 477
the faithfulness of Hung Yen or the righteousness of Pu Chan of
Ch'ên? But would the writers of our own time deign to use these
cases as examples? For illustrations in proof of their views they
go up to Yü and the Hsia period, and down as far as the Yin and
Chou dynasties. The exploits and remarkable feats of the Chin
and Han epoch are already too modern for them, and fancy our
own time, which comes after all the other ages, and what the narrators have seen with their own eyes! The painters like to paint
men of ancient dynasties, and reject heroes of the Ch'in and Han
epoch, however wonderful their deeds may have been. The scholars of the present age prize antiquity, and scorn the present. They
value the snow-goose and disdain the fowl, because the snow-goose
is from afar, and the fowl is near.
Provided that there were a moralist now more profound than
either Confucius or Mê Ti, yet his name would not rank as high
as theirs, and, if in his conduct he should surpass even Tsêng Tse
and Yen Hui, he would not be as famous as they. Why? Because
the masses think nothing of what they see, but esteem what they
know only by hearsay. Should there be a man now, just and
generous to the highest degree, and should an inquiry into his
actions prove that he is not outvied by anybody in the past, would
the writers mention him in their works, showing that they give
him credit for what he has done? Narrating marvellous stories,
they would not wrong the ancients by taking their subjects from
modern times, but would those who are fond of these stories put
aside those books on antique fore and things far off, and take an
interest in modern writings? Yang Tse Yün wrote the T'ai-hsüan, and
composed the Fa-yen, 1 but Chang Po Sung did not deign to cast a
look upon these books. As he was living with Yang Tse Yün
shoulder to shoulder, he had a poor opinion of what he said. Had
Yang Tse Yün lived prior to him, Chang Po Sung would have looked
upon him as a gold safe.
One hears people say that the sages of old possessed most
brilliant qualities, and accomplished wonderful works. Hence Confucius said, " Great indeed was Yao as a sovereign! How majestic
was he! It is only Heaven that is grand, and only Yao corresponded to it. How vast was his virtue! The people could find
no name for it. How majestic was he in the works which he accomplished! How glorious in the elegant regulations which he
1 These two works of the philosopher Yang Tse Yün have come down to us.
The more celebrated of the two is the Fa-yen, the T'ai-hsüan, soi-disant an elucidation
of the Yiking, is very obscure.
478 Lun-hêng: E. Critique.
instituted ! " 1 Shun followed Yao, and did not impair his grand
institutions, and Yü succeeded Shun, and did not mar his great
works. Subsequently we come to T'ang. He rose in arms, and
defeated Chieh, and Wu Wang took the battle-axe, and punished
Chou. 2 Nothing is said about majesty or glory, we hear only of
fighting and defeating. The qualities of these princes were bad,
therefore they appealed to arms. They waged war, and neglected
the arts of peace. That explains why they could not get along
together. When the Ch'in and Han period arrived, swords were
drawn, and conclusions tried everywhere. Thus Ch'in conquered
the empire. When Ch'in was in possession of it, no felicitous omen
appeared as the phoenix e. g., which comes, when all the States are
at peace. Does that not show their moral impotence and the poorness of their achievements?
This statement is unreasonable. A sage is born by a fusion
of the fluids of Heaven and Earth; he does great things, when he
takes the reins of government. But this fusion of the fluids does
not only take place in the past and formerly in few instances; why
then should a sage alone be good? The masses are inclined to
cherish the past, and decry the present, to think nothing of what
they behold, and very much of what they have heard. Besides,
they see that in the Classics and other works the excellence of
sages and wise men is painted in the most vivid colours, and that
Confucius extols the works of Yao and Shun still more. Then they
have been told that Yao and Yü abdicated, and declined the throne,
whereas T'ang and Wu fought for it, and snatched it from their
predecessors. Consequently they think that in olden times the
sages were better than now, and that their works, and their civilizing influence was greater than in later times. The Classics contain
highly coloured reports, and extravagant and exaggerated stories
are current among the people. Those who study the Classics and
read books all know this.
Confucius said, " Chou's wickedness was not so very great.
Therefore the superior man hates to consort with base persons, for
the faults of the whole world are laid to their charge."3 People
always will contrast Chieh and Chou with Yao and Shun. When
they have any praise to bestow, they give is to Yao and Shun,
1 Analects VIII, 19.
2 When Chou was defeated, he burned himself on the "Deer Terrace." Afterwards Wu Wang shot thrice arrows at the corpse, struck at it with his sword, and
with his battle-axe severed the head from the body. Cf Shi-chi chap. 4, p. 11.
3 Analects XIX, 20.
The Equality of the Ages. 479
and, when they speak of any wickedness, they impute it to Chou
and Chieh. Since Confucius says that the wickedness of Chou was
not so very great, we conclude that the virtue of Yao and Shun
was not so extraordinary either. The resignation of Yao and Shun
and the overthrow of the preceding dynasties by T'ang and Wu
were predetermined by the fate of Heaven. It could not be achieved
by goodness or badness, or be brought about by human actions.
If T'ang and Wu had lived in the time of Yao and Shun, they would
also have abdicated the throne instead of defeating their predecessors, and had Yao and Shun lived in the Yin and Chou dynasties,
they would likewise have overthrown their opponents, and not
have declined the throne. What has really been fate, is by people
thoughtlessly described as goodness or wickedness. At the period,
when according to the Classics all the States were living in harmony, there was also Tan Chu, 1 and when the phoenix made its
appearance, there were at the same time the Yu Miao, 2 against
whom every one had to take up arms and fight continually.
How did goodness and wickedness or great and small virtue
They say that the wickedness of Chieh and Chou was worse
than that of doomed Ch'in, but, as a matter of fact, we must admit
that as for wickedness doomed Ch'in was ahead of Chieh and Chou.3
There is the same contrast between the excellence of the Han and
the depravity of the Ch'in dynasty as between Yao and Shun on
the one, and Chieh and Chou on the other side. Doomed Ch'in and
Han belong both to the later generations. Since the wickedness
of doomed Ch'in is worse than that of Chieh and Chou, we may
infer that in virtue the great Han are not outrivalled by Yao and
Shun. Yao consolidated the various States, but his work did not
last. The phoenix which appeared under the reign of Shun was
five times attracted by Hsüan Ti. 4 Under the reign of Ming Ti
lucky omens and portents were seen in great numbers.5 Omens
appear, because there is high virtue. When the omens are equal,
the achievements must be on a level too. Should Hsüan Ti and
Hsiao Ming Ti be inferior and not come up to Yao and Shun, how
could they evoke the omens of Yao and Shun?
1 The degenerate son of virtuous Yao.
2 Aboriginal tribes, against which Shun had to fight. Vid. p. 494.
3 The hatred of the scholars of the Han time towards Ch'in Shih Huang Ti
was still fresher and therefore more intense than their aversion to Chieh and Chou.
4 Cf. p. 359.
5 Cf. p. 372.
480 Lun-Hêng: E. Critique.
Under Kuang Wu Ti 1 dragons rose, and phoenixes came forth.
If, when he got the empire, things left in the street were picked
up, did he not equal T'ang of the Yin and Wu of the Chou dynasty
People say that Ch'êng 2 and K'ang of Chou did not impair the
imposing works of Wên Wang, and that Shun in his glory did not
mar the brilliant achievements of Yao. Our present sage and enlightened sovereign is continuing the blessings and the prosperity
of the reigns of Kuang Wu Ti and Hsiao Ming Ti, 3 without the
slightest symptom of a decline. 4 Why should he not rank with
Shun and Yü in remote antiquity, and be on a par with Ch'êng and
K'ang later on? It is because the Five Emperors and the Three
Rulers lived previous to the classical writings, that the chronicles
of the Han time look up to them, and that the writers imagine
that in ancient times there were sages and excellent men, who
accomplished great works, whereas later generations have declined,
and that their culture is low.
1 Cf. p. 3(55.
2 The Emperor Ch'êng reigned from 1115 to 1078, K'ang from 1078 to 1052.
3 The Emperor Chang Ti, 76 - 89 a.d., who succeeded Ming Ti. Under his
reign the Lun-hêng seems to have been written. Vid. p. 37'2 Note 3.
4 The reigns of these three first sovereigns of the later Han dynasty were