On the two principal philosophical Chinese systems, Confucianism and Taoism we are tolerably well informed by translations of the leading works and by systematical treatises. These two branches may be regarded as the most important, but it would be impossible to write a history of Chinese philosophy without paying special attention to the various heterodox philosophers, whose views do not agree with the current ideas of either Confucianists or Taoists. For that very reason they are often more interesting than the latter, being original thinkers, who disdain to resign themselves to merely iterating old stereotyped formulæ. Many of their tenets remind us of similar arguments propounded by various philosophical schools of the West. I have called attention to the Epicurean Yang Chu and to the Chinese Sophists (vid. Journ. of Peking Orient. Soc, vol. Ill, p. 203 and Journ. of China Branch of Royal Asiat. Soc, vol. XXXIV, p. 1) and now beg to place before the public a translation of the philosophical essays of Wang Ch'ung, whom we may well call a Materialist. As a first instalment I published, some years ago, a paper treating of Wang Ch'ung's ideas on Death and Immortality (Journ. of China Branch of Royal Asiat. Soc, vol. XXXI, p. 40). My lecture on the Metaphysics of Wang Ch'ung, held in 1899 before the East Asiatic Section of the Congress of Orientalists at Rome, has not been printed, the manuscript having been lost by the secretaries of the Section.
Although he has much in common with the Confucianists and still more with the Taoists, Wang Ch'ung's philosophy does not lack originality. He is an Eclectic, and takes his materials from wherever it suits him, but he has worked it into an elaborate system such as did not exist before Chu Hsi. Like a true philo- sopher he has reduced the multiplicity of things to some few fundamental principles, by which he explains every phenomenon. One or two leading ideas pervade his philosophy as ''Leitmotices."
The Lun-hêng is not a systematic digest of Wang Ch'ung's philo- sophy. Chinese philosophers like the Greeks before Aristotle have not yet learned the art of connecting their thoughts so as to form a complete system, in which each chapter is the logical sequence of the preceding one. But Wang Chung has already made one step in this direction. Whereas the Analects and the works of Mencius, Lieh Tse and Chuang Tse are hardly anything else than collections of detached aphorisms, each chapter embracing the most hetero- geneous subjects, each chapter of the Lun-hêng is a real essay, the theme of which is given first and adhered to throughout. But there is not much connection between the separate essays.
These essays are not all of equal value. Some may perhaps interest a Chinese, but are not calculated to enlist our interest. For this reason I have not translated the whole work, but made a selection. It comprises the philosophical essays, and of the others the most characteristic, enabling the reader to form an adequate idea of the author and his peculiarities. My chief aim has been to set forth Wang Ch'ung's philosophy. The introduction contains a sketch of his system, which I have attempted to abstract from his writings.
Of the 84 essays of the Lun-hêng I have translated 44. I have taken the liberty of arranging them more systematically than is done in the original, classing them under several heads as meta- physical, physical, critical, religious, and folkfore. The division is not a strict one, because with many chapters it is doubtful, to which class they belong. Especially between metaphysics and physics it is difficult to draw a distinction, since purely physical questions are often treated metaphysically. From a table of con- tents of the Lun-hêng in its entirety the reader will learn the subject of those essays, which have not been translated, and by its help he can easily find the place, which each chapter takes in the original.
With the exception of the Autobiography and the two chapters on Confucius and Mencius translated by Hutchinson (China Review, vol. VII. and VIII) the essays of Wang Ch'ung have not been put into any European language before. A Chinese commentary to the Lun-Hêng does not exist. I hope that my translation may prove trustwortliy. For any misunderstandings, which in Chinese and philosophical works particularly are unavoidable, I count upon the indulgence of my critics.
As far as lay in my power. I have endeavoured to trace the sources from which Wang Ch'ung has quoted, which has not been an easy task, and I have added such explanatory notes as to enable even persons not knowing Chinese to understand the text. For the many proper names the index at the end of the volume wall be of advantage.
To my thinking, Wang Ch'ung is one of the most ingenious Chinese writers, a satirist like Lucian and an esprit fort like Voltaire, whose Lun-hêng well deserves the widest publicity.