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04: A. biographical

Selected Essays of the Philosopher Wang Ch'ung.

CHAPTER I.  Autobiography ( Tse-chi) . 

Wang Qiung is a native of Shang-yü-hsien 1 in K'uei-chi. 2 His style is Chung Jên. His family hails from Yuan-ch'êng 3 in the Wei 4 circuit. One of his clan, Sun-yi, served his whole life as a soldier, and distinguished himself so much, that he was appointed warden of the southern part of K'uei-chi, but, when one year a disturbance broke out, which disorganised the State, he continued to reside there, and became a farmer and cultivator of mulberry-trees. 

His great grand-father was very bold and violent, and, when in a passion, cared for nobody. In a year of dearth he behaved like a ruffian, and wounded and killed people. Those whom he had wronged, and who were waiting for an opportunity to wreak their vengeance, were very numerous. As in K'uei-chi revolts were of constant occurrence, and there was danger that his enemies would seize upon liim, the grand-father Fan removed his family and his household from K'uei-chi, and settled in Ch'ien-t'ang-hsien, 5 where he lived as a merchant. He had two sons, the elder was called Mêng, the younger Sung. Sung is the father of Wang Ch'ung. 

The grand-father had a violent temper, which in his sons, Meng and Sung, became so intense, that many people in Ch'ien-t'ang had to suffer from their vehemence. At last they became involved again in a feud with Ting Po and other influential families, in consequence of which they emigrated with their families to Sang-yü. 

In the third year of Chien-wu,6 Wang Ch'ung was born. When playing with his companions, he disliked all frivolous games. His comrades would entrap birds, catch cicadas, play for money, and gambol on stilts. Wang Ch'ung alone declined to take part in their games to the great amazement of his father. 

1 In Shao-hsing-fu [(Chekiang). 

2 Under the Han dynasty K'uei-chi comprises Chekiang, the South of Anhui, and the North of Fukien. 

3 In Ta-ming-fu (Chili). 

4 A circuit comprising parts of Chili and Honan. 

5 In the Hang-chou prefecture of Chekiang. 

6 27 A.D. 

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At the age of six, he received his first instruction, and learned to behave with politeness, honesty, benevolence, obedience, propriety, and reverence. He was grave, earnest, and very quiet, and had the will of a great man. His father never flogged him, his mother never gave him a harsh word, and the neighbours never scolded him. When he was eight years old, he went to school.  There Mere over one hundred small boys in this school. As a punishment for faults committed they used to be stripped, or were whipped for bad writing. Wang Ch'ung made daily progress, and never committed any offence. 

When he could write sentences, his teacher explained to him the Analects and the Shuking, of which he daily read a thousand characters. When he knew the Classics, and his virtue had thus been developed, he left his teacher, and devoted his private studies to writing and composing so, that every one was astonished, and the extent of his reading widened day by day. But he did not make bad use of his talents, and though he possessed great dialectical skill, he was not fond of disputations. Unless he found the proper audience, he did not speak the whole day. His speech was quaint and not like that of others, but those who listened to him to the end, agreed with him. Such were also the productions of his pen, and so were his conduct, and his behaviour towards his superiors. 

In a district he rose to the rank of a secretary, and held the same office in the department of a military governor. In a prefecture he was one of the five chief secretaries,^ and in a department he was appointed assistant-magistrate. He did not strive for fame, and did not regulate his conduct in accordance with his personal profits. He always spoke of people's merits and seldom of their faults. Those who had not yet got on in their career, were specially recommended by him, and he exposed only the faults of those who had secured a position. When he thought anything wrong, he did not praise it, and when a fault was not done away with, lie did not again condemn the man. He could pardon the great faults of a man, and also pitied his minor mistakes. His desire was to be unimpeachable himself, but he did not wish to shine.  He endeavoured to base his claims on recognition upon his actions, and was ashamed to presume upon his talents. 

1 A prefecture or a circuit — of which there were 36 during the Han epoch — was divided into 5 regions : — the centre and four quarters. Each region was superintended by a chief secretary of the prefect, who had the jurisdiction over his region. 

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In public meetings he did not speak, unless he was asked, and in the presence of princes and generals he only replied, when he was addressed. In the country he attempted to follow the example of Chü Po Yü,1 and in the court he wished to imitate Shih Tse Yü.2 

When insulted, he did not white-wash himself, and, when in his career he was not promoted, he did not feel grieved. Although he was poor and had not an acre to dwell upon, his mind was freer than that of kings and dukes, and though he had no emolu- ments counted by pecks and piculs, he felt, as if he had ten thousand chung 3 to live upon. Obtaining an appointment, he was not overjoyed, and losing it, he did not feel distressed. He enjoyed a tranquil happiness, but his desires did not run riot, and though he was living in a state of poverty, his energy was not broken. The study of ancient literature was his debauchery, and strange stories his relish. In the current books and common sayings he found much, in which he could not aquiesce. A recluse in his solitary retirement, he tried to find truth and falsehood. 


Wang Ch'ung had a pure and sterling character. He made friends wherever he went, but did not contract these friendships carelessly. The position of his friends might be ever so low, and in years they might be ever so young, provided only that they rose above common-place mediocrity, he would seek their friendship. He had a great admiration for superior men, and liked to associate with distinguished people, but would not lightly become intimate with men of common gifts. In case these latter slandered him for a slight fault or any insignificant mistake, he would not clear himself of these accusations, nor did he bear any grudge against them. 

1 A disciple of Confucius, whom the master esteemed very much. 

2 Shih Tse Yü r= Shih Yü, a high officer in Wei. When Duke Ling of Wei (533-492). did not employ Chü Po Yü, Shih Tse Yü remonstrated with the duke, but in vain. Soon afterwards he fell sick. Feeling his end coming, he told his son to place his corpse under the window, without performing the usual funeral rites, because he did not deserve them, not having been able to convince the duke of what was right. When the duke paid his condolence, the son informed him of what his father had said. The duke repented, and then appointed Chu Po Yü.  When Confucius heard of this, he exclaimed: — "How upright was Shih Tse Yü, who still as a corpse admonished his sovereign." Chü Po Yü was of a different turn of mind. Confucius said of him that, when bad government prevailed, he could roll his principles up, and keep them in his breast, (Analects XV, 6.) 

3 One chung = 4 pecks. 

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Some one might ask, why a man of remarkable gifts and extraordinary literary talent should not defend himself against false incriminations. Yang Shêng and others were foul-mouthed and glib-tongued; But Tsou Yang vindicated himself and came out of jail again.' When a man's conduct is perfect, people should not attempt to find flaws in it, and when somebody exerts himself to come to the front, they should not keep him down. 

I reply that none but the pure remark dust, and none but the exalted perceive dangers. Only those living in abundance, feel restraints, and those in opulence know what is want. The scholars at present talk too much of themselves, therefore they are slandered by others, which is their due. Desirous to get on, they show themselves, and resenting neglect, they assert themselves. Being free of these desires and resentments, I keep quiet. 

The slanders of Yang Shêng were probably prompted by somebody, and when Tsou Yang was delivered, some one saved him.  Confucius spoke of destiny and Mencius of heaven. Luck and mishap, quietude and danger do not depend on man. The ancients knew this, therefore they ascribed these things to destiny and attributed them to time. Placid, tranquil, and equanimous, they did not complain of injustice. When happiness came, they did not imagine that they themselves had brought it about, and when misfortune befell them, they did not consider it their own doing. When they were successful, their joy was not immoderate, and when they suffered reverses, their courage did not fail them. They did not hate need, and therefore crave for plenty, nor did they brave dangers to win peace. Their wisdom they did not sell for wages, and they did not decline honours to become famous. Not being bent on success, they did not try to show off, and not resenting reverses, they did not complain of others. Tranquillity and excitement were the same to them, life and death equal, luck and mishap identical, and victory and defeat one. Meeting even ten Yang Shengs, they would have said that it mattered not; they left everything to heaven, and therefore did not wish to shine. 


Wang Ch'ung was of a cheerful and easy-going disposition, and did not strive for wealth and honour. When his superiors took notice of him, and promoted him above the heads of others, 

1 Tsou Tang lived under the reign of Ching Ti (156-141 B.C.). At the court of King Hsiao of Liang he was denounced by Yang Sheng and others, and thrown into prison, but by a memorial, which from his confinement he sent to the king, he obtained his release, and was re-instated into all his honours. 

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he did not cling to his high post, and, when they ignored, denounced, and degraded him, he did not pine at his low rank. When in the district magistrate's office, he had no ambition and no repugnance. 

Some one might object that to act like this is easy enough, but that the difficulty lies with the heart. Meeting with congenial friends, scholars do not care for the place, but whose example can they follow, when they have dirty and distasteful business to do? 

There is no better paragon than Confucius, I should say. Confucius as an official had no aversions. In charge of the public fields and as keeper of the granaries he was not low-spirited, and when he was superintendent of works and minister, his face was not beaming with joy. Shun tilled the land on the Li-shan,1 as though he should continue to do so for ever, and when he had received the empire from Yao, he behaved, as if he had obtained it later on as a matter of course. We must be sorry that our virtue is not quite perfect, but not regret our humble rank, and we may be abashed, if our name is not without blemish, but should not feel chagrined, because we do not advance in our career. Marble may be kept in the same box with tiles, and moon-stones in the same bag with pebbles. Being both of precious stuff, they are not injured by being mixed with other things in the world. For him who knows what is good, good things shine even in base places, whereas to those who cannot make these distinctions, they look common even in a prominent place. As long as the deeds of people in low and high spheres can be measured, and as the virtues of men in humble positions, and of noble rank can be compared, it is all right. 


The world courts those who have been successful, and disdains those who have failed. It hails the victor, and spurns the defeated. As long as Wang Ch'ung was rising, and holding rank and office, all the people swarmed around him like ants, but, when he had lost his position and was living in poverty, his former friends abandoned him. He pondered over the heartlessness of the world and in his leisure he wrote twelve chapters " Censures on Common Morals ",2 hoping that the reading of these books would rouse the public conscience. For this purpose he expressly wrote 

1 It is not certain where this Mount Li was situated. Various places are assigned to it. 

2 Chi su chich yi. 

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it in an easy, popular style. Should anybody condemn it as shallow , I would reply that if the style of the Sacred Institutions 1 be employed for the Lesser Odes, 2 or if an elegant speech be addressed to rustics, they would not understand anything, and therefore not agree. Thus Su Ch'in 3 spoke very elegantly in Chao, but Li Tui was not enchanted at all. Shang Yang 4 spoke in Ch'in, as if he had addressed an emperor, but Duke Hsiao 5 did not follow his advice. If no attention be paid to the individuality and inclinations of the hearers, one may exhaust the eloquence of Yao and Shun, it would be like giving an ox wine to drink and feeding a horse on preserved meat. A refined, rhetorical, and scientific style is fit for the upper classes of society, but out of place for small-minded people. It happens very seldom, that those who must hear something nolens colens, take it to heart. 

When Confucius had lost a horse in the country, the country-people locked it up, and did not return it. Tse Kung spoke to them in well turned sentences, but only made them angry, but when the groom addressed them in a familiar, jocular tone, they relented.6 

To use high-flown expressions at all costs instead of the plain and simple language of the people is like mixing an elixir, as the spirits use, to cure a cold or a cough, and to put on a fur-coat of sable or fox to fetch firewood or vegetables. As regards propriety, a thing is often out of place, and many an action is often better left undone. To give a decision, and understand a grievance, one must not be a Kao Yao,7 and to cook sunflower-seed and onions, no Yi Ti 8 or Yi Ya 9 is required. In a side-alley one does not play the music of Shun and Wu, and to the Village Mother 10 one does not sacrifice a whole ox. What is unnecessary, is also inadequate. 

1 Parts of the Shu-king. 

2 The minor odes of the Shi-king. 

3 A politician of the 4th cent. b.c. (Cf. Cliap. XXXVII.) 

4 Vid. p. 171, Note 2. 

5 Duke Hsiao of Chin, 361-337 b.c. 

6 This adventui-e is related by Huai Nan Tse (quoted in the Pei-wen-yun-fu) likewise, who adds that the horse of Confucius was retained by the peasants, because it had eaten their corn. 

7 A minister of Shun. 

8 Yi Ti, the inventor of wine, who presented the first cup to Great Yü. 

9 Yi Ya, the famous cook of Duke Huan of Chi, 7th cent. b.c. (Cf. Mencius, Bk. VI, Pt. I, chap. 7, Legge Vol. H, p. 281.) 

10 The matron-saint of a village. 

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To carve a fowl with a butcher's knife, to reap sun-flowers with a Shu ^ spear, to cut chop-sticks with an iron halberd, and to pour a glassful into a basin or a tureen would be incongruous, and few would recommend it. What is the principle of debating? To illustrate deep thoughts by simple ones. And how do we prove that we possess knowledge? By illustrating difficult points by easy ones.  Sages and worthies use to weigh, what suits the different talents.  Hence the difference of style, which may be difficult or easy. 

Since Wang Ch'ung deplored the popular feeling, he wrote his Censures on Public Morals, and also lamenting the vain efforts of the emperor's government, which was endeavouring to govern the people, but could not find the right way, nor understand what was required, and mournful and disheartened did not see its course, he wrote the book on government.2 Furthermore disgusted with the many deceitful books and popular literature devoid of veracity and truthfulness, he composed the Disquisitions (Lun-hêng). 

The worthies and sages are dead, and their great doctrine has split up. Many new roads have been struck out, on which many people have stumbled. Every one must have his own school. Intelligent men have seen this, but were unable to find the right way. Old traditions have been transmitted, either written down, or spread by hearsay. Since they were dating from over a hundred years backwards and growing older from day to day, people have regarded them as antique fore and therefore near the truth, and this belief became so rooted in their minds, that they themselves were incapable of eradicating it again. 

For this reason the Disquisitions have been written to show the truth. They are in a lively style and full of controversy. Every specious and futile argument has been tested, semblance and false-hood have been rejected, and only what is real and solid has been preserved. Loose manners have been suppressed, and the customs of Fu Hsi's time 3 revived. 


Wang Ch'ung's writings are lucid and easy to understand. There are those who pretend that the words of a good debater must be profound, and the compositions of an able writer obscure. The 

1 An old State in Ankni. 

2 (Jheng-wu. 

3 The Golden Age. 

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style of the classic literature and the sayings of worthies and sages are grand and majestic, beautiful and relined, and difficult to grasp at first. Those who study their whole life, learn to understand them with the necessary explanations. The genius of the first thinkers being so wonderful, their expressions cannot be the same as those of ordinary people. Gems, they say, are concealed in stones, and pearls in fish-maws. Only jewel-lapidaries and pearl-experts can find them.  These precious things cannot be seen, because they are hidden, and thus truisms must be profound and deep, and hard to grasp. 

The "Censures on Morals" are intended to rouse people, therefore the meaning is perspicuous and the style quite plain. But why must the Lung-heng be like this too? Is the talent of the author so shallow, that it was absolutely impossible to hide anything? Why is the style so perspicuous, and quite a different principle followed than in the classical literature? 

My reply is as follows. A gem is concealed in a stone and a pearl in a fish-maw, and therefore they are covered and in the dark. But, when the colour of the gem beams from the heart of the stone, and the lustre of the pearl breaks through the fish-maw, are they still hidden? They are like my thoughts, before they have been fixed in books. Enshrined in my bosom, they are like gems or pearls in their concealment, shining forth, brilliant as the splendour of the heavenly bodies, and clear as the distinct lines of the surface of the earth. 

Lest things should remain doubtful and obscure to us, we can describe them all by names, and, provided that the names are clear, all the things become defined. The lun-hêng discusses these questions impartially. 

In speaking, it is essential to use clear words, and in writing, to employ plain signs. The style of eminent scholars is refined, but their words can always be understood, and their meaning always be caught. Their readers are suddenly enlightened like blind men who recover their sight, or stirred up like deaf men who suddenly learn to hear. When a child who has been blind for three years, unexpectedly sees his parents, he would not, at once, know them on perceiving them, why then should he give utterance to his joy? 

Let a huge tree stand by the road-side, and a long ditch run along a bank, then the locality is well defined, and everybody knows it. Now, should the tree not be huge any more and disappear, and the ditch not be long and be hidden, and the place be shown to people, even Yao and Shun would be perplexed. 

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The human features are divided into more than seventy different classes. The flesh of the cheeks being pure and white, the five colours can be clearly discerned, and the slightest sorrow, pleasure, and other emotions, all find expression in the features.  A physiognomist will not once be mistaken in ten cases. But if the face be blackened and begrimed, or covered with a layer of dirt so, that the features are hidden, then physiognomists will give wrong answers nine times out of ten. 

The style is formed of words. It may be shallow, perspicuous, and distinct, or deep, abstruse, elegant, and polished. Who shall distinguish it? 

We speak to express our thoughts, and from fear, that our words might be lost, we commit them to writing. Writing having the same purpose as speaking, wherefore should it conceal the meaning? 

A judge must hate wrong. Now, would a magistrate, who while deciding a doubtful case gives a confuse and unintelligent verdict, be a better official than another, who clearly distinguishes every point, and can easily be understood? 

In oral discussions, one makes clear distinctions out of regards for the audience, and in written disputations one elucidates one's meaning to be understood. In historical works, a clear and intelligible style is most appreciated, and of profound productions, full of beautiful thoughts, but hard to read, there are only pieces of irregular verse and dithyrambs. As for the classical and semi-classical works and the words of the worthies and sages, the ancient and modern languages are different, and speech varies in the different parts of the empire. At the time, when these men spoke, they did not wish that their words should be difficult to understand, or that their meaning should be hidden. If later ages did not understand them, this is owing to the remoteness of time.  Therefore one may speak of the difference of language, but not of genius or shallowness of style. If the reading offers great difficulties, the works may be considered as not very cleverly written, but this should not be reputed a great wisdom. 

Ch'in Shih Huan Ti reading Han Fei Tse's work exclaimed with a sigh! "Alas! that I am alone, and have not got this man!" 1 They were contemporaries, he could understand his words and 

1 According to the Shi-chi chap. 03 p. 11v (Biography of Han Fei Tse) the emperor said: — "Alas! If I could see this man, I would be willing to live and die with him! " 

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reflect upon what he said, if the book had been so profound and exquisite, that he wanted a teacher to comprehend it, he would have flung it to the ground, and it was no use sighing.1 

An author wishes his work to be intelligible, but difficult to write, and he does not care, if it be hard to grasp, but easy to write. In lectures one aims at perspicuity, that the hearers can follow, and does not affect obscurity and ambiguity to baffle the readers. Mencius knew an intelligent man by the sparkling of his eyes.2 One learns to know what a text is worth by its lucidity. 


The book of Wang Ch'ung is of another type than the usual writings. The following objection might be raised against it: — 

In literature it is of importance to conform to the public feeling, and not to be in opposition to received ideas. Then not one out of a hundred readers will find anything to blame, and not one out of a thousand hearers will take exception. Therefore Kuan Tse 3 said that, where somebody is speaking in a house, the audience must fill the whole house, and, when he speaks in a hall, the entire hall should be full. Now Wang Ch'ung's arguments are not in accordance with public opinion. Consequently his words controvert all common ideas, and do not tally with the general views. 

I reply that in arguing, the essential thing is truth, not elegance, that the facts should at all events be correct, and that consensus is not the highest aim. Investigating a question, one discusses the pros and cons, how would it be possible not to deviate from old ideas and perhaps offend the ears of the common hearer? When the general feeling is wrong, it cannot be followed. One denounces and discards that which is false, and keeps and establishes that which is true. If we were to go by majority, and conform to the public feeling, we could only follow the good old rules and precedents, and recite them over and over again, but how could there be any discussion? 

1 Han Fei Tse was sent as envoy from his native State (Han) to Ch'in Shih Huang Ti, who first appreciated Him very much and wished to appoint him to some high post. By the intrigues of Li Sse, however, he was induced to imprison him, and to condemn him to death. The emperor afterwards repented, and cancelled the death warrant, but is was too late, for meanwhile Han Fei Tse had taken poison.  (Cf. p. 170.) 

2 Cf. Chap. XXXU. 

3 The philosopher Kuan Chung. 

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When Confucius was attending the court and sitting next to Duke Ai of Lu, the duke favoured him with a peach and millet.  Confucius first ate the millet and then the peach. This, we must admit, was the right order of eating the two courses. The courtiers, however, all covered their mouth and laughed. They had, for a long time, been used to another custom. Now I, in fact, resemble Confucius eating the two dishes in the order described above. Ordinary people take exception like the courtiers laughing in their sleeves. 

Beautiful festive songs were considered as too melancholic, in Cheng 1 and pantomimes, at great celebrations, found no favour in Chao. 

The five Leading Princes 2 declined to cast a look upon the Canons of Yao and Shun, and Chi and Mêng 3 would not read the works of Confucius and Mê Ti. Plans for securing the peace in times of danger are scoffed at in side-alleys, and schemes of reform ridiculed by common people. If there were an exquisite dish, vulgar people would not taste it, though Yi Ti and Yi Ya 4 might eat it with the greatest relish, and if there were a precious jade-stone, ordinary people would throw it away, whereas Pien Ho 5 would hoard it up as a treasure. Who would be right, who wrong, and who could be trusted? Propriety and common usage are always in opposition, when has it not been so? When Duke Wen of Lu infringed the rule of sacrifices,6 five men resisted him. 

Great scholars will never give up researches of the above mentioned kind, and common people will always dislike them. And so will the savants enjoy and appreciate books, which bewilder the masses, and which the narrow-minded will flee. 


Wang Ch'ung's book cannot be free from imperfection. Some say that in speaking he does not choose the words, nor in writing, the phrases. Compositions must be tastefully written, and discussions 

1 In Chêng licentious music, but not the serious songs of the Book of Odes were appreciated. 

2 The five leaders of the empire, the most powerful princes during the 7th cent. B.C. to wit: — Daka Huag of Ch'i, Duke Wên of Ch'in, Duke Hsiang of Sung, Duke Chuang of Ch'u, and Duke Mu of Ch'in. They were more bent on conquest than interested in the moral laws expounded in the Canons of Yao and Shun in the Shu-king. 

3 The chiefs of two noble families in Lu, contemporaries of Confucius. 

4 Vid. p. 69. 

5 Cf. p. 89. 

6 Duke Wên placed the tablet of his deceased father above that of his uncle in the ancestral temple. The latter, Duke Min, was a younger brother of Duke Hsi, but he preceded in reign. For more details vid. Tsuo-chuan, Duke Wen 2nd year. 

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ingeniously conducted. When such words strike the ear, they cause a pleasant feeling in the heart, and when the eye falls on writing, the hand does not lay the book aside again. Such disputations are always listened to, and excellent compositions always appreciated.  Now, since this new book chiefly consists of comparisons and strictures on the depravity of the age, and does not praise what is good, it does not please the reader. The tunes played by the music-master K'uang 1 were always full of feeling, and the delicacies prepared by Yi Ti and Yi Ya were never tasteless. When a clever man writes a book, it is without a flaw. Lü Shih 2 and Huai Nan made an advertisement on the market gates, and the readers did not find fault with one word in their books. 3 Now the Lun-hêng does not possess the beauties of these two books. It is long enough, but open to objections in many respects. 

In reply I beg to state that he who cherishes veracity does not trouble much about beauty, and that regulating the conduct, he does not polish liis words. Luxuriant grass has often abundance of blossoms, and mighty forests have many dry branches.  The purport of words is to clearly show the nature of things, how can they be polished and above all censure? Saving a man from fire or out of water, we do not care, whether we do it in a beautiful style or not, and, when we debate on a question, our words must not necessarily be ingenious. Plunging into a lake to seize turtles, we have no time to think, whether we place our feet right, and catching dragons in deep water, we have no time to care for the position of our hands. 

In spite of bad style and faulty terms the meaning may be excellent and far reaching sometimes, and sweet words and beautiful expressions give often a very poor sense. When a thousand chung of grain are cleansed, more than half are husks, and examining a hundred thousand cash, one finds that the broken coins exceed ten thousand. Fine soups are often insipid, and the best jewels have their flaws. A slip-shod production may possess great beauties, and a great artist do very second-rate work. Every discussion has its weak points, and in the ablest production some deficiencies can be detected. 

1 The music-master of the Duke of Chin (cf. Chap. XVII). 

2 Lu Pu Wei, the author of the Lü Shih ch'un-ch'iu. 

3 It is related of Lü Pu Wei that he placed a copy of his work in the market place and offered a reward of a thousand chin to any one who could alter one character in it. The same is not known of Huai Nan Tse. 

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Golden words come from noble houses, and foul productions from poor families, they think. — Huai Nan Tse and Lü Shih 1 did not encounter any difficulties, because they were descendants of rich houses and of high rank. Since they were noble, they could well advertise on the market place, and being so wealthy, they could easily make the alternate promise of a thousand chin. Their readers were intimidated and in awe, and would never have ventured to criticise one character, even if it had been quite out of place. 


When Wang Cheung's book was completed, it was compared by some with the works of the ancients, and found to be quite different from the writings of previous authors. Some hold that the book may be said to be written partly in a slovenly style. Sometimes it is terse, at others diffuse, sometimes concise, sometimes prolix. When a problem is being discussed or a question investigated, the author is too summary or too loquacious, half sweet, half sour. The Classics he does not resemble, with the semi-classics he does not agree, nor does he harmonize with either Yang Chêng Tse Chang or Yang Tse Yü. 2 Since he is unlike the ancient authors, how can he be considered a good writer, or his book be reputed an able production? 

I answer that, if anybody puts on an alien appearance forcibly to be like somebody else, his own shape is lost, and if he changes his style to resemble others, he loses his peculiar character. The sons of a hundred persons have not the same parents. Being all born in different families, they cannot be similar. Each one distinguishes himself by his peculiar gifts. If writings could only then be considered good, when they are conform to a certain standard, this would be like substituting one workman for another and declaring his work to be a master-piece, provided that in hewing he did not cut his own hand. 

All literary men have their own specialties. The one polishes his phrases to produce an elegant composition, the other combats all errors to establish the truth. Their ultimate aims are the same, and the words follow of themselves. Thus the deeds of the Five Emperors were not different, and there was no conflict between the actions of the Three Rulers. Beautiful looks are not 

1 Both were princes.  2 Vid. p. 88. 

Autobiography. 77 

the same, but their aspect is always pleasing to the eye: sentimental airs are not identical, but their music is always gratifying to the ear. Wines have different flavours, but they all inebriate, the tastes of various cereals vary, but they all appease our hunger.  If conformity to old standard be required of a literary production, then we would be entitled to expect that Shun also should have eye-brows with eight colours 1 and Yü eyes with double pupils. 2 

Wang Ch'ung's book is very voluminous. Some say that in writing the chief thing is to be brief and clear, and that in speaking one must be short and plain. The words of a good debater are succinct, but to the point, the style of a good writer is concise, but perspicuous. Now Wang Ch'ung's new work contains more than ten thousand sentences. For a reader it is impossible to work through such an enormous mass, and there are so many chapters, that they cannot all be transmitted. The author of so much bad stuff may well be called a fool. Short sentences are easy to enunciate, whereas a bulky work presents great difficulties. Gems are few, stones many: that which occurs in great number, is not precious. Dragons are rare, fish numerous: that which is of rare occurrence, is justly deemed divine. 

I admit that there is such a saying. Concise language is not long, but beautiful language must not be concise. If they are useful to the world, a hundred chapters do no harm, while one paragraph, if useless, may be superfluous. If there are several things, all useful, the longer rank before the shorter. Who is richer, he who has piled up a thousand chin, or he who possesses a hundred? 

Longer works are preferable to shorter ones, and a small amount of wealth is better than poverty. Most people have not a single book, I possess a hundred chapters: others have not one character, I have more than ten thousand sentences. Who is the cleverer? 

Now they do not say that my words are wrong, but that they are too many: they do not say that the world does not like good things, but that it cannot take them all in. The reason why my book cannot be so concise is that for building many houses a small ground would not be sufficient, and that for the registration of a large populace few registers would be inadequate. At present, the errors are so many, that the words necessary to point out the truth, show what is right, and controvert what is false, cannot well be brief and succinct. 

1 Like Yao (cf. Chap. XXIV).  2 As Shun had (loc. cit.). 

78 Lun-hêng: A. Biographical. 

Han Fei Tse's work is like the branch of a tree. The chapters are joined together by tens, and the sentences count by ten thousands. For a large body the dress cannot be narrow, and if there be many subjects, the text must not be too summary. A great variety of subjects requires abundance of words. In a large extent of water, there are many fish, in an emperor's capital, there is plenty of grain, and on the market of a metropolis, there is a throng of people. 

My book may be voluminous, but the subjects treated are manifold. T'ai Kung Wang 1 in ancient times and recently Tung Chung Shu 2 produced books containing more than a hundred chapters.  My book also contains more than a hundred chapters. Those who contend that they are too many, only mean to say that the author is of low origin, and that the readers cannot but take exception to it. 

When we compare a river, whose waters overflow the banks, with others, which is the biggest? And, when the cocoons of a certain species of worms are especially heavy and big, which worms yield most silk? 


Wang Chung was not lucky in his official career, and only wrote books and this autobiography. Some one might find fault with him, arguing thus: 

" The important thing is always that a man of great talent should make a good career. When he finds employment, and his words are listened to, he can distinguish himself by his work, and thus rise to high honour. Now, you are living in misery, and your career has been spoiled. You had no opportunity of trying your talents in practice, or using your strength in the fulfilment of official duties. Therefore you only committed your speculations to writing and made your notes. What use are your beautiful words to yourself, and what aim are you pursuing with your extensive writings?" 

Nobody was ever more talented than Confucius, and yet his talents were not appreciated. He was expelled, and a tree felled over him. He had to hasten the washing of his rice 3 and was 

1 T'ai Kung Wang is the full appellative of Wên Wang's minister, usually called T'ai Kung, on whom cf. Cha|). XXXIX. 

2 Cf. p. 39 and Chap. XXXVII. 

3 When forced to leave Ch'i. (Vid. Mencius Bk. V, Pt. II, chap. I, 4, Legge Vol. U, p. 247.) 

Autobiography. 79 aaaa surrounded. His traces were obliterated, he was tormented by hunger between Ch'en and T'sai, and his disciples looked starved.^ Now, my talents do not come near those of Confucius, but my bardships do not equal bis. Am T to be despised therefore ? 

Besides the successful are not always clever, or the distressed, simpletons. The lucky win, and the unlucky lose. With a liberal fate and good fortune, even a vulgar person becomes noble and genteel, with a niggardly fate and bad fortune, the most remarkable man remains wretched and miserable. If talents and virtue were to be measured by success, then the great fords invested with the domain of a town, and living on the soil, would all be wise men. 

Confucius and Me Ti were noble of themselves, but their rank was low. If, therefore, people are living in pure spheres, but do black deeds, or if they have a yearly income of a thousand chung to live upon, but not a single accomplishment, we can only smile.  Provided that our virtue be high and our name untarnished, then our office may be low and our income meagre, it is not the fault of our talents, and we should not feel oppressed by it. 

Scholars would like to share the hut with Hsien 2 but not to be put on a level with T'se,3 they would gladly wander about with Po Yi, but decline to associate with robber Che. Great scholars have other ambitions than their people. Therefore their fame is not that of the world. Their bodies decay like grass and trees, but their glory shines as long as the sun and the moon send their rays. Their condition may be as poor as that of Confucius, provided only that their writings rank with those of Yang Hsiung. That is my ideal. Outward success, but a limited knowledge, a high post, but little virtue that is the ambition of others. I would consider it a bondage. 

If somebody has the luck to be heard with his advice, and lives in honour and well being, all this is gone after a hundred years like other things. His name does not come down to the next generation, and not a word from his hand is left in any document. He has had stores full of emoluments perhaps, in the 

1 Cf. Chap. XL. 

2 Hsien = Yuan Sse, a disciple of Confucius, noted for his contempt of worldly advantages. Made governor of a town, he declined his official allowance (Ayialects Vl, 3) Chuang Tse makes him live in a mud hut. He contrasts him with Tse, another follower of Confucius, who came driving up to his door in a fine chariot and in a white robe lined with purple. 

3 T'se = Tuan Mu Tse or Tse Kung, a disciple of Confucius, who became a high official, and very wealthy (vid. Chap. XXXI and XXXIII). He was a swell, just the reverse of Hsien. 

80 Lun-Hêng: A. Biographical. 

realms of literature and virtue he leaves no riches. That is not what I prize. Vast virtue of the highest excellence, abundance of extensive knowledge, a pencil dripping with characters like rain, and an overflowing spring of words, rich talents, a wonderful erudition, generous deeds, and a noble mind, with such qualities a man's body may belong to one generation, his name will be transmitted for a thousand years. That seems extraordinary and desirable to me. 

Wang Ch'ung is from a simple family, in which he stands quite alone. A caviller might say: — 

" Your ancestors have not left you a treasure of pure virtue, nor a collection of literary works. You may yourself write the most brilliant essays, you have no basis to stand upon, and therefore no claim to our admiration." 

" When a force bursts upon us quite suddenly, not by degrees, we call it a phenomenon. When a creature is born from quite dissimilar parents, we call it a wonder. When something quite unusual appears all at once, it is regarded as a supernatural appearance, and when something different from anything else quite abruptly comes forth, it is termed a miracle." 

"Who are your ancestors? Their names have not been recorded in former times. You did not spring from a learned family, whose members have already walked the path of literature, and you write disquisitions of several thousand or ten thousand sentences. This must be considered a supernatural phenomenon. How could we appreciate such writings, or think them able productions?"1 

I beg to reply that a bird without a pedigree is a phœnix, an animal without a family, a unicorn, a man without an ancestry, a sage, and a thing without a peer, a jewel. And so it is with men of great talents, who are browbeaten and viewed with disfavour by their age. Scholars of worth appear single, and precious things grow solitary. How could literature be inherited? If a man could learn to become a sage, then the water of the Fêng river 2 would have a source, and auspicious grain an old stem. 

1 The Chinese are in awe of, but do not like wonders, miracles, monsters, in short all that is against the regular course of nature. So they are prejudiced against Wang Ch'ung, because he is a homo novus. Not being a descendant from a literary or a noble family, he should not attempt to rise above the average of his fellow-citizens. 

3 The source of the Fêng, an affluent of the Wei in Shensi is well known.  I presume that for "Fêng river" 灃水 we ought to read " Wine Spring " 醴泉.  The phonetic element for Fêng and Li "Wine" is very similar, and the Wine Springs are often mentioned as auspicious omens in connection with phenixes, unicorns, and auspicious grain. 

Autobiography. 81 

When a remarkable scholar appears and puts forward his noble doctrines, he does not fall under the general rule, and his capacity cannot be measured by the bushel. Therefore events which seldom happen are recorded on tablets and books, and rare things engraved on bronze vases. The Five Emperors did not rise in one generation, and Yi Yin 1 and T'ai Kung Wang 2 did not issue from one family. There was a distance of thousand Li between them, and one lived several hundred years after the other. When scholars of note quietly develop their marvellous faculties, they do not become famous as descendants of noble lines. 

The calf of a black cow may be brown, this does not affect the nature of the animal. The ancestors of a scholar may be coarse, provided that he himself is pure, it has no influence upon his character. K'un 3 was wicked, and Yü a sage, Sou 4 was perverse, and Shun divine. Po Niu 5 was visited with a horrible disease, and Chung Kung 6 was clean and strong. Yen Lu 7' was vulgar and mean, and Yen Hui outvied all his companions. Confucius and Me Ti had stupid ancestors, and they themselves were sages. The Yang family had not been successful, when Yang Tse Yün rose like a star, and the house of Huan had been tolerably well off, until Huan Chün Shan 8 took his brilliant flight. A man must have been imbued with more than the ordinary dose of the original fluid to become an able writer. 

---- In the third year of Yuan-ho, 9 Wang Ch'ung emigrated to Tan- yang,10 Chiu-chiang,11 smd Lu-chiang 12 in the province of Yang-chou, 13 and was appointed sub-prefect. His abilities were small, and his office 

1 Minister of T'ang, the founder of the Shang dynasty. 

2 Cf. p. 78. 

3 Yü's father. 

4 Ku Sou, Shun's father. 

5 A disciple of Confucius, who suffered from leprosy (cf. Chap. XXXIII). 

6 Another disciple of Confucius, a relation of Po Niu, both belonging to the Jan clan, 

7 Yen Hui's father. 

8 Cf. p, 39 and Chap. XXXVH. 

9 86a.d. 

10 Under the Han a circuit comprising parts of Kiangsu and Anhui. 

11 A circuit in Anhui, 

12 Another circuit in Anhui. 

13 A very large province under the Han dynasty, comprising nearly the whole territory of the modern provinces of Kiangsu, Anhui, Kiang-si, Fukien, and Chekiang. 

82 Lun-hêng: A. Biographical. 

was important. His chief duties were in connection with official correspondence. All plans of writing anything he had given up for many years. In the second year of Chang-ho,1 his business in the province ceased. He lived at home, and gradually advanced in age, till he reached about seventy years. Then he gave up his official carriage, and his official career was definitely closed. He could not help it. He had many annoyances, and his body felt the infirmities of age. His hair grew white, his teeth fell out, he became older from day to day, and his comrades dispersed. He had nothing to rely upon, was too poor to nurse himself, and had no joy left. But time went slowly on, the keng and hsing years 2 came to an end, but though he was afraid that his death was near at hand, he was still full of silly ideas. Then he wrote a book on Macrobiotics 3 in sixteen chapters. 

To keep himself alive, he cherished the vital fluid. As a stimulant for the appetite he used wine. Closing eyes and ears against external influences, he spared his energy as a means of self- protection. Using medicines he kept up his forces, and by following this method he hoped to prolong his days. For a while he did not age, but when it was too late, there was no return. 

This book was left as a guide to posterity. But the duration of human life is limited. Men like animals live for a while and die. We can only remember the years gone by, who can order them to stand still? We must go down to the yellow sources, and become earth and ashes. From Huang Ti and T'ang down to the Chin and Han many have been guided by the holy doctrine and have found the truth by their genius, just like a scales and bright like a mirror, yet young and old they have lived and died, of old and now all have been included. Life cannot be prolonged, alas! 

1 88 A.D. 

2 The cyclical years keng-yin : 90 a.d. and Hsing-mao : 91 a.d.  3 Yang hsing shu.