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07: CHAPTER IV. The Nature of Things


The Nature of Things. 103 



CHAPTER IV. The Nature of Things (Wu-shih). 

The literati declare that Heaven and Earth produce man on purpose. This assertion is preposterous, for, when Heaven and Earth mix up their fluids, man is born as a matter of course unintentionally. In just the same manner a child is produced spontaneously, when the essences of husband and wife are harmoniously blended. At the time of such an intercourse, the couple does not intend to beget a child. Their passionate love being roused, they unite, and out of this union a child is born. From the fact that husband and wife do not purposely beget a child one may infer that Heaven and Earth do not produce man on purpose either. 

However, man is produced by Heaven and Earth just as fish in a pond, or lice on man. They grow in response to a peculiar force, each species reproducing itself. This holds good for all the things which come into being between Heaven and Earth. 

It is said in books that Heaven and Earth do not create man on purpose, but that man is produced unintentionally, as a matter of course. If anybody holds this view, how can he admit that Heaven and Earth are the furnace, all things created, the copper, the Yin and the Yang, the fire, and all the transformations, the work- ing? If the potter and the founder use fire in order to melt the copper, and to burn their ware, their doings are dictated by a certain purpose. Now, they own that Heaven and Earth create man without a purpose, that, under given circumstances, he grows spontaneously.  Can it be said of the potter and founder, that they too make their ware purposeless, and that it grows naturally, and of its own accord? 

If a comparison is not to the point, it cannot be called an analogy, and if words do not express the truth, the statement can- not be considered correct. It may be urged that the purport of the above simile is but to show that the heavenly fluid, with which man is imbued, is not quite uniform, as the moulds into which the liquid copper runs, and the fire applied in burning earthenware, may be different, and that it is not said that Heaven and Earth create man in the same way as potters and founders do their business. 



104 Lun-hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

Whenever human affairs are referred to, to explain human nature, they must be taken as a whole, which cannot be divided into different parts. When the eye tries to have a look at its own head, the head will turn, and when the hand grasps at the foot, the foot will move. Eye and head belong to the same organ- ism, hand and foot to the same body.1

The potter and founder having first prepared the clay for the vessel, require a mould to form it, which is a designed act.  Burning coal in order to have a fire, they regulate the furnace or stove, which is done on purpose also. Yet not all the molten copper gets a proper shape, and the burned vessels do not invariably turn out well, for their completion is not a designed act.2 

Since Heaven and Earth cannot create man on purpose, the creation of all the other things and beings cannot be intentional either. The fluids of Heaven and Earth mixing, things grow naturally and spontaneously. 

Tilling, weeding the ground, and sowing are designed acts, but whether the seed grows up, and ripens, or not, depends on chance, and spontaneous action. How do we know? If Heaven had produced its creatures on purpose, it ought to have taught them to love each other, and not to prey upon and destroy one another.  One might object that such is the nature of the Five Elements, that when Heaven creates all things, it imbues them with the fluids of the Five Elements,3 and that these fight together, and destroy one another. But then Heaven ought to have filled its creatures with the fluid of one element only, and taught them mutual love, not permitting the fluids of the five elements to resort to strife and mutual destruction. 

People will rejoin, that wishing to use things, one must cause them to fight and destroy each other, because thereby only can they be made into what they are intended to be. Therefore they 



1 The meaning is that, if the creation of man by Heaven and Earth be compared to the melting of copper or the burning of earthenware. these latter processes must be taken in their entirety like a body or an organism. Touching one member, one affects the whole organism. One cannot single out some constituent parts of the process, such as the moulding or the firing. Then " purpose " is comprised in the image, which thereby becomes distorted. 

2 The completion of a work done by man on purpose, depends on conditions and circumstances over which he has not always control. Man acts with a purpose, but the forces of nature which he sets in motion, and which bring about the final result, have no purpose. 

3 The Five Elements of Chinese natural philosophy: — metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. 



The Nature of Things. 105 

say, Heaven uses the fluids of the Five Elements in producing all things, and man uses all these things in performing his many works.  If one thing does not subdue the other, they cannot be employed together, and, without mutual struggle and annihilation, they cannot be made use of. If the metal does not hurt the wood, the wood cannot be used, and if the fire does not melt the metal, the metal cannot be made into a tool. Thus the injury done by one thing to the other turns out to be a benefit after all. If all the living creatures overpower, bite, and devour one another, it is the fluids of the Five Elements also that compel them to do so. 

Ergo we are to understand that all created things must injure one another, if they are to be useful. Now tigers, wolves, serpents, snakes, wasps, and scorpions attack and hurt man. Did then Heaven design man to be made use of by those animals? 

Furthermore, because the human body harbours the fluids of the Five Elements, man practises the Five Virtues, which are the outcome of the Five Elements. As long as he has the Five Organs in his bosom, those fluids are in order. If, according to this view, animals prey upon and destroy one another, because of their being- endued with the fluids of the Five Elements, the human body with the Five Organs in its breast ought to be a victim of internecine strife, and the heart of a man living a righteous life be lacerated by discord. But what proves us that there is really an antagonism of the Five Elements, and that therefore animals oppress each other? 

The sign Yin corresponds to wood, its proper animal is the tiger. 1 Hsü corresponds to earth, its animal is the dog. Ch'ou and Wei correspond to earth likewise, Ch'ou having as animal the ox, and Wei having the sheep. Wood overcomes earth, therefore the dog, the ox, and the sheep are overpowered by the tiger. Hai goes with water, its animal being the boar. Sse goes with fire, and has the serpent as animal. Tse means also water, its animal being the rat. Wu also corresponds to fire, its animal is the horse. Water overcomes fire, therefore the boar devours the serpent. Fire is quenched by water, therefore, when the horse eats the excrements of rats, its belly swells up." 2



1 In the ancient, so called natural philosophy of the Chinese, a cyclical character, such as Hsü, Ch'ou, Wei, etc., and a certain animal are supposed to correspond to each of the five elements. From the relations between the elements one has drawn conclusions concerning their attributes. The greatest Chinese scholars have indulged in these plays, and mistaken them for natural science. 

2 To wit the horse is hurt by the rat, because fire, the element of the horse, is quenched by water, which corresponds to the rat. 



106 Lun-Hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

However, going more thoroughly into the question, we are confronted with the fact that not unfrequently it does not appear that animals overpower one another, which they ought, after this theory. Wu is connected with the horse, Tse with the rat, Yu with the cock, and Mao with the hare. Water is stronger than fire, why does the rat not drive away the horse? Metal is stronger than wood, why does the cock not eat the hare? Hai means the boar, Wei the sheep, and Ch'ou the ox. Earth overcomes water, wherefore do the ox and the sheep not kill the boar. Sse corresponds to the serpent, Shên to the monkey. Fire destroys metal, how is it that the serpent does not eat the monkey? The monkey is afraid of the rat, and the dog bites the monkey. The rat goes with water, and the monkey with metal. Water not being stronger than metal, why does the monkey fear the rat? Hsü is allied to earth, Shên to the monkey. Earth not forcing metal, for what reason is the monkey frightened by the dog? 

The East is represented by wood, its constellation is the Blue Dragon, 1 the West by metal, its constellation is the White Tiger.  The South corresponds to fire, and has as constellation the Scarlet Bird, the North is connected with water, its constellation is the Black Tortoise. 2 Heaven by emitting the essence of these four stars produces the bodies of these four animals on earth. 3 Of all the animals they are the first, and they are imbued with the fluids of the Five Elements in the highest degree. Now, when the dragon and the tiger meet, they do not fight, and the scarlet bird and the tortoise do each other no harm. Starting from these four famous animals, and from those belonging to the twelve horary characters,4 we find that all the other animals endued with the Five Elements, can much less be prompted to strife and discord by their natural organisation. 

As all created things struggle and fight together, the animals subdue one another. When they try to tear their enemies to pieces. 



1 The points of the compass, the stars, hours, days, months, and years, colours, grains, etc. have all been incorpoi'ated into the af'ore-mcntioned scheme, based on the interaction of the elements. 

2These Four Constellations are the Four Quadrants into which the Twenty- eight Stellar Mansions are divided. (Cf. Mayers Manual, Pt. II, N. 91 and 313.) 

3 Tiiosc four constellations are stars, but not animals, though they bear the names of animals. How then could Heaven produce animals fi'om their essence? 

4 'I'he Twelve Horary (Iharacters are the Twelve Branches or Twelve Cyc- lical Signs apphed to the twelve double hours of the day. They as well as their corresponding animals have been enumerated above, though not in their regular sequence. 'J'he Twelve Animals are: — Rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog, boar. (Vid. Giles, Diet. p. 1383.) 



The Nature of Things. 107 

and devour them, all depends on the sharpness of their teeth, the strength of their muscles and sinews, the agility of their movements, and their courage. 

If with men on earth the power is not equally divided, or their strength equally balanced, they vanquish and subjugate one another as a matter of course, using their strength to subdue, and their swords to despatch their foes. Man strikes with his sword just as the beasts butt, bite, and scratch with their horns, teeth, and claws. A strong arm, pointed horns, a truculent courage, and long teeth win the victory. Pusillanimity, short claws, cowardice, and blunted spurs bring about defeat. 

Men are audacious or faint-hearted. That is the reason why they win or lose their battles. The victors are therefore not necessarily endowed with the fluid of metal, or the vanquished with the essence of wood.1 

Confucius afraid of Yang Hu 2 took himself off, covered with perspiration. Yang Hu's colour was not necessarily white, and Confucius was not blue-faced.3 Because the falcon pounces upon pigeons and sparrows, and because the hawk-owl kills, and devours wild geese, it does not follow that the falcon and the hawk-owl are born in the south, or that pigeons, sparrows, and wild geese inhabit the west. 4 It is but bodily strength and courage that lead to victory. 

In the mansion there will always be people disputing, and in the cottage, litigating. In a law-suit there must be right and wrong, in a discussion truth and error. He who is in error, and in the wrong, loses, whereas he who tells the truth, and is right, wins. 

It may happen, however, that in arguing, the glib-tongued, whose speech flows with flippant rapidity, win, and that the ineloquent, who falter and stammer in their speech, are beaten. The tongue plays the same roll in debates as swords and halberds in battles. Sharp swords, long halberds, strong and quick hands and feet secure the victory. Blunt swords, short spears, and slow hands and feet cause the defeat. 



1 Metal is stronger than wood, as we were told above. 

2 Yang Hu was the principal minister of the Chi family, one of the three leading families in the Lu State, Confucius' country. Yang Hu being an usurper, scheming to arrogate the whole authority of the Lu State to himself, Confacius refused to see him. (Cf. Analects XVII, 1.) 

3 White overcomes blue. 

4 Because the south is supposed to be stronger than the west. 



108 Lun-Hêng: B. Metaphysical. 

Whether one creature vanquishes the other, depends on its bodily strength, or its prowess, or its dexterity. If a small being is courageous, and possesses a quick tongue and nimble feet, a small animal may overpower a big one, and a big one without bodily strength and destitute of powerful horns or wings, may succumb to a small antagonist despite its bigness. The magpie eats the skin of the hedgehog, and the shrike swallows the snake, for the hedge- hog and the snake are not very nimble. Gnats and mosquitoes are not as strong as the ox or the horse, yet these latter are tormented by gnats and mosquitoes, which are a very audacious lot. 

The horns of a stag are strong enough to pierce a dog, and a monkey might well catch a rat with its hands, but the stag is brought to bay by the dog, and the monkey driven away by a rat, for they do not know how to make use of their horns and claws. Thus an ox, ten years old, is lead by a herdsboy, and an elephant, eight cubits high, obeys the hook of a young Annamese mahout, all for want of skill. With cleverness a small creature gets the better of a big one, but without it the weak succumbs to the strong. 

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