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44: CHAPTER XLIII Criticisms on Noxious Influences

CHAPTER XLIII Criticisms on Noxious Influences (Pien-sui). 

It is a common belief that evil influences cause our diseases 

and our deaths, and that in case of continual calamities, penalties, 

ignominious execution, and derision there has been some offence.1 

When in commencing a building, in moving our residence, in 

sacrificing, mourning, burying, and other rites, in taking up office 

or marrying, no lucky day has been chosen, or an unpropitious 

year or month have not been avoided, one falls in with demons 

and meets spirits, which at that ominous time work disaster. Thus 

sickness, misfortunes, the implication in criminal cases, punishments, 

and even deaths, the destruction of a family, and the annihilation 

of a whole house are brought about by carelessness and disregard 

of an unfortunate period of time. But in reality this idea is unreasonable. 

In this world men cannot but be active, and, after they have 

been so, they become either lucky or unlucky. Seeing them lucky, 

people point at this happiness and regard it as the happy result 

of their previously having chosen a lucky day, and seeing them 

unlucky, they look at their misfortune as the fatal consequence of 

their former inattention to an ill-timed hour. However, there are 

many persons who become unhappy, although they have chosen 

their day, and others who obtain happiness in spite of their neglect. 

The horoscopists and seers, desirous of propagating their mystical 

theory, are silent upon such misfortunes, when they, observe them, 

and hush up those cases of happiness. Contrariwise they adduce 

abundance of misfortunes with a view to frighten people, lest they 

should be careless in electing a day, and give many instances of 

happiness to induce them to be cautious in observing the proper 

time. Consequently all classes of people, no matter whether they 

be intelligent or feeble-minded, virtuous or depraved, princes or 

common citizens, believe in this from fear, and dare not make any 

opposition. They imagine that this theory is of high antiquity. 

1 Not a moral offence, but a disregard of noxious influences. 

526 Lun-Hêng: F. Folklore and Religion. 

and make the nicest distinctions, regarding it as a revelation of 

Heaven and Earth and a doctrine of wise and holy men. The 

princes are anxious for their throne, and the people love their 

own persons, wherefore they always cling to this belief, and do 

not utter any doubts. Thus, when a prince is about to engage in 

some enterprise, the horoscopists throng his halls, and, when the 

people have some business, they first ask for the proper time to 

avoid collision and injury. A vast literature of sophistic works 

and deceitful writings has appeared in consequence. The writers 

are very clever in passing their inventions off as knowledge for 

their own profit, winning the stupid by fear, enticing the rich, 

and robbing the poor. 

This is by no means the method of the ancients or conformable to the intentions of the sages. When the sages undertook 

something, they first based it on justice, and, after the moral side 

of the question had been settled, they determined it by divination 

to prove that it was not of their Own invention, and showed that 

ghosts and spirits were of the same opinion, and concurred with 

their view. They wished to prevail upon all the subjects to trust 

in the usefulness of divination and not to doubt. Therefore the 

Shuking speaks of the seven kinds of divination by shells^ and the 

Yiking of the eight diagrams. Yet those who make use of them, 

are not necessarily happy, or those who neglect them, unhappy. 

Happy and unhappy events are determined by time, the 

moments of birth and death, by destiny. Human destiny depends 

on Heaven, luck and misfortune lie hidden in the lap of time. If 

their allotted span be short, people's conduct may be ever so virtuous. 

Heaven cannot lengthen their span, and, if this span be long. Heaven 

cannot snatch it away from them, though their doings be evil. 

Heaven is the master of the hundred spirits. Religion, virtue, 

kindness, and justice are the principles of Heaven, trembling and 

fear, heavenly emotions.2 The destruction of religion and the subversion of virtue are attacks upon the principles of Heaven; menaces and angry looks are antagonistic to the mind of Heaven. 

1 Shuking, Hung-fan Pt, V, Bk. IV, 23 (Legge Vol. Ill, Pt. II, p. 335). By 

another punctuation the commentators bring out another meaning viz. that there are 

seven modes of divination in all, five given by the tortoise and two by milfoil. 

2 We must not suppose that Heaven can fear and tremble, for, as "Wang 

Ch'ung tells us over and over again, Heaven is unconscious and inactive. It possesses 

those qualities ascribed to it only virtually. They become actual and are put into 

practice by man, who fulfils the commands of Heaven with trembling awe. Its moral 

feelings are heavenly principles and heavenly emotions. Cf. p. 129. 

Criticisms on Noxious Influences. 527 

Among the irreligious and wicked none were worse than Chieh 

and Chou, and among the lawless and unprincipled of the world 

none were worse than Yu and Li. 1 Yet Chieh and Chou did not 

die early, and Yu and Li were not cut off in their prime. Ergo 

it is evident that happiness and joy do not depend on the choice 

of a lucky day and the avoidance of an unpropitious time, and 

that sufferings and hardships are not the result of a collision with 

a bad year or an infelicitous month. 

Confucius has said, " Life and death are determined by fate, 

wealth and honour depend on Heaven." 2 In case, however, that 

certain times and days are to be observed, and that there are 

really noxious influences, wherefore did the sage hesitate to say 

so, or why was he afraid to mention it ? According to the ancient 

writings scholars have been enjoying peace or been in jeopardy, 

thousands of princes and ten thousands of officials have either 

obtained or lost luck or mishap, their offices have been high or 

low, their emoluments have increased or diminished, and in all 

this there have been many degrees and differences. Taking care 

of their property, some people have become rich, others poor, they 

have made profits, or suffered losses, their lives have been long or 

short, in brief, some have got on, while others remained behind. 

The exalted and noble have not selected lucky days in all their 

doings, nor have the mean and ignoble chosen an unlucky time. 

From this we learn that happiness and unhappiness as well 

as life and death do not depend on the lucky auguries which 

people encounter, or on the time of ill omen or dread, with which 

they fall in. While alive, men are nurtured by their vital fluid, 

and, when they expire, their life is cut off. During their lives 

people do not meet with a special luck or joy, nor can it be said 

that at their deaths they fall in with an ominous time of dread. 

Taking Confucius as a witness and basing our arguments on life 

and death, we come to the conclusion that the manifold misfortunes 

and calamities are not brought about by human actions. 

Confucius is a sage and a store of knowledge. Life and death 

are the greatest events. These great events prove the justness of 

our theory. Confucius has declared that life and death are deter- 

mined by destiny, and that wealth and honour depend on Heaven. 

All the writings and covert attacks cannot invalidate this dictum, 

and common and weak-minded people cannot controvert it. Our 

1 Two emperors of the Chou dynasty of bad repute. Yu Wang reigned from 

781 to 771 B.C., Li Wang from 878 to 828 b.c. 

2 Cf. p. 136. 

528 Lun-hêng: F. Folklore and Religion. 

happiness and unhappiness in this world are fixed by fate, but 

we can attract them ourselves by our actions.1 If people lead a 

tranquil and inactive life, happiness and misfortune arrive of their 

own accord. That is fate. If they do business and work, and 

luck or mishap fall to their lot, they have themselves been instrumental. 

Very few of the human diseases have not been caused by 

wind, moisture, eating or drinking. Having exposed themselves to 

a draught, or slept in a damp place, people spend their cash to 

learn, which evil influence has been at play. When they have 

overeaten themselves, they rid their vital essence from this calamity 

by abstinence, but, in case the malady cannot be cured, they believe that the noxious influence has not been detected, and, if their 

life comes to a close of itself, they maintain that the divining 

straws have not been well explained. This is the wisdom of 

common people. 

Among the three hundred and sixty naked animals 2 man 

ranks first; he is a creature, among the ten thousand creatures 

the most intelligent. He obtains his life from Heaven and his 

fluid from the primordial vapours in exactly the same manner as 

other creatures. Birds have their nests and eyries, beasts their 

dens and burrows, reptiles, fish, and scaly creatures their holes, 

just as man has cottages and houses, high-storied buildings and 


Those moving creatures die and suffer injuries, fall ill and 

become worn out, and the big and the small ones prey upon one 

another, or man hunts and seizes them as a welcome game for his 

mouth and belly. They do not miss the proper time in building 

their nests and burrowing their hollows, or fall in with unlucky 

days in rambling east and west. Man has birth and death, and 

so other creatures have a beginning and an end. He is active, and 

so other creatures have their work likewise. Their arteries, heads, 

feet, ears, eyes, noses, and mouths are not different from the human, 

only their likes and dislikes are not the same as the human, 

hence man does not know their sounds, nor understand their 

meaning. They associate with their kindred and consort with their 

flock, and know, when they can come near, and when they must 

keep away just like man. They have the same heaven, the same 

earth, and they look equally up at the sun and the moon. There- 

1 Even in that case there is fate, which includes human activity. 

2 Snakes, reptiles, and worms which like man have no scales, fur, or feathers. 

Criticisms on Noxious Influences. 529 

fore one does not see the reason, why the misfortune caused by 

demons and spirits should fall upon man alone, and not on the 

other creatures. In man the mind of Heaven and Earth reach their 

highest development. Why do the heavenly disasters strike the 

noblest creature and not the mean ones? How is it that their 

natures are so similar, and their fates so different? 

Punishments are not inflicted upon high officials, and wise 

emperors are lenient towards the nobility. Wise emperors punish 

the plebeians, but not the patricians, and the spirits visit the noblest 

creature with calamities and spare the mean ones? This would 

not tally with a passage in the Yiking to the effect that a great 

man shares the luck and mishap of demons and spirits.' 

When I have committed some offence and fallen into the 

clutches of the law, or become liable to a capital punishment, they 

do not say that it has been my Own fault, but that in my house 

some duty has been neglected. When I have not taken the necessary precautions for my personal accommodation, or when I have 

been immoderate in eating or drinking, they do not say that I 

have been careless, but discover some impordonable disregard of 

an unlucky time. In case several persons die shortly one after the 

other, so that there are up to ten coffins awaiting burial, they do 

not speak of a contagion through contaminated air, but urge that 

the day chosen for one interment has been unlucky. If some 

activity has been displayed, they will talk about the non-observance 

of lucky or unlucky days, and, if nothing has been done, they 

have recourse to one's habitation. Our house or lodging being 

in a state of decay or delapidation, flying goblins and floating 

spectres assemble in our residence, they say. They also pray to 

their ancestors for help against misfortunes and delivery from evil. 

In case of sickness, they do not ask a doctor and, when they are 

in difficulties, they do not reform their conduct. They ascribe 

everything to misfortune and call it offences or mistakes. Such is 

the type of the ordinary run: their knowledge is shallow, and they 

never get at the bottom of a thing. 

When delinquents are employed by the Minister of Works 

for hard labour, it does not follow that the day, when they appeared before the judge, was inauspicious, or that the time, when 

they were condemned to penal servitude, was one of ill omen. If 

a murderer selects an auspicious day to go out and meet the judge, 

who inflicts his punishment, and if he chooses a good time for 

1 Yiking, 1st diagram (Ch'ien). 

530 Lun-Hêng: F. Folklore and Religion. 

entering the prison, will the judgment then be reversed, and his 

pardon arrive? 

A man is not punished, unless he has met with mishap, nor 

thrown into jail, if not punished. Should one day a decree arrive, 

in consequence of which he could walk out released from his fetters, it would not follow that he had got rid of evil influences. 

There are thousands of jails in the world, and in these jails 

are ten thousands of prisoners, but they cannot all have neglected 

the precarious time of dread. Those who hold office and have 

their revenues, perhaps from special towns and districts, which 

have been given them in perpetual fief, number thousands and tens 

of thousands, but the days, when they change their residences, 

are not always lucky. 

The city of Li-yang 1 was flooded during one night and became a lake. Its inhabitants cannot all have been guilty of a disregard of the year and the months. When Kao Tsu rose, Fêng and P'ei 2 were recovered, yet their inhabitants cannot be said to have 

been particularly cautious with reference to times and days. When 

Hsiang Yü stormed Hsiang-an, no living soul was left in it.3 This 

does not prove, however, that its people have not prayed or worshipped. The army of Chao was buried alive by Ch'in below Ch'ang-ping. 400,000 men died at the same time together.4 When they 

left home, they had surely not omitted to choose a propitious time. 

On a shên day one must not cry, for crying entails deep sorrow. 

When some one dies on a wu or a chi day, other deaths will follow, 

yet in case an entire family dies out, the first death did not of 

necessity take place on a shen, wu, or chi 5 day. On a day, when 

blood-shed is forbidden, one must not kill animals, yet the abattoirs 

are not scenes of more misfortunes than other places. On the first 

day of the moon, people should not crowd together, yet shops are 

not especially visited with disasters. When skeletons become visible 

on the surface of the soil, they have not necessarily come out on 

a Wang-wang day, and a dead man, whose coffin is standing in a 

house, must not just have returned on a Kuei-chi day." Consequently 

1 Vid. p. 136. 

2 Cf. p. 185. 

3 The Shi-chi chap. 8, p. 11 v., where this passage occurs (Chavannes, Mém. 

Hist. Vol. II, p. 343), speaks of the city of Hsiang-ch'êng in Honan, whereas Hsiang-an 

is situated in Anhui. 

4 Cf. p. 186. 

5 Three cyclical numbers. 

6 On a Wang-wang day one must not go out, and on a Kuei-chi day returning 

home is disastrous. 

Criticisms on Noxious Influences. 531 

those who interpret evil influences cannot be trusted, for if they 

are, they do not find the truth. 

Now, let us suppose that ten persons living and eating together 

in the same house do not move a hoe or a hammer, nor change 

their residence, that in sacrificing and marrying they select but 

lucky days, and that from Spring to Winter they never come into 

collision with any inauspicious time. Would these ten persons not 

die, when they have attained a hundred years? 

The geomancers will certainly reply that their house would 

either be in good repair or commence to decay, and that, on the 

Sui-p'o or Chih-fu days they would not think of leaving it. In that 

case they might every now and then ask the soothsayers about the 

state of their house and remain in it, as long as it is in good 

repair, but leave it, when it begins to delapidate, and, on the Sui- 

p'o and Chih-fu 1 days, the whole family might move. But would 

they not die then at the age of a hundred years? 

The geomancers would again object that while changing their 

residence they would hit upon an unlucky time, or that their moving 

to and fro might be unpropitious. Then we would advise them 

to consult the seers and not to move, unless they can safely go, 

nor revert, unless their coming is without danger. But would they 

remain alive then after having reached a hundred years? 

The geomancers would not fail to reply that life stops and 

that age has a limit. Ergo human life and death solely depend 

on destiny : they are not affected by unlucky years and months, 

or influenced by a disregard of fatal days of dread. 

1 Wang-wang, Kuei-chi, Sui-p'o, and Chih-fu 往亡, 归忌, 岁破, 直符 are technical terms used by geomancers and in calendars to designate certain classes of unlucky days. 

532 Lun-Heng: F. Folklore and Religion.