The Wisdom of Confucius

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Mencius replied, "With a territory only a hundred li square it has been possible to obtain the Royal dignity. If your Majesty will indeed dispense a benevolent government to the people, being sparing in the use of punishments and fines, and making the taxes and levies of produce light, so causing that the fields shall be ploughed deep, and the weeding well attended to, and that the able-bodied, during their days of leisure, shall cultivate their filial piety, fraternal duty, faithfulness, and truth, serving thereby, at home, their fathers and elder brothers, and, [Pg 120] abroad, their elders and superiors, you will then have a people who can be employed with sticks which they have prepared to oppose the strong buff-coats and sharp weapons of the troops of Ts‘in and Ts‘oo.

"The rulers of those States rob their people of their time, so that they cannot plough and weed their fields in order to support their parents. Parents suffer from cold and hunger; elder and younger brothers, wives and children, are separated and scattered abroad. Those rulers drive their people into pitfalls or into the water; and your Majesty will go to punish them. In such a case, who will oppose your Majesty? In accordance with this is the saying, 'The benevolent has no enemy!' I beg your Majesty not to doubt what I said."

Mencius had an interview with King Sang [36] of Lang. When he came out he said to some persons, "When I looked at him from a distance, he did not appear like a ruler; when I drew near to him, I saw nothing venerable about him. Abruptly he asked me, 'How can the kingdom, all under the sky, be settled?' I replied, 'It will be settled by being united under one sway.'

"'Who can so unite it?' he asked.

"I replied, 'He who has no pleasure in killing men can so unite it.'

"'Who can give it to him?' he asked.

"I replied, 'All under heaven will give it to him. Does your Majesty know the way of the growing grain? During the seventh and eighth months, when drought prevails, the plants become dry. Then the clouds collect densely in [Pg 121] the heavens, and send down torrents of rain, so that the grain erects itself as if by a shoot. When it does so, who can keep it back? Now among those who are shepherds of men throughout the kingdom, there is not one who does not find pleasure in killing men. If there were one who did not find pleasure in killing men, all the people under the sky would be looking towards him with outstretched necks. Such being indeed the case, the people would go to him as water flows downwards with a rush, which no one can repress."

King Seuen of Ts‘e asked, saying, "May I be informed by you of the transactions of Hwan of Ts‘e and Wan of Ts‘in?"

Mencius replied, "There were none of the disciples of Chung-ne who spoke about the affairs of Hwan and Wan, and therefore they have not been transmitted to these after-ages; your servant has not heard of them. If you will have me speak, let it be about the principles of attaining to the Royal sway."

The king said, "Of what kind must his virtue be who can attain to the Royal sway?" Mencius said, "If he loves and protects the people, it is impossible to prevent him from attaining it."

The king said, "Is such an one as poor I competent to love and protect the people?" "Yes," was the reply. "From what do you know that I am competent to that?" "I have heard," said Mencius, "from Hoo Heih the following incident:—'The king,' said he, 'was sitting aloft in the hall, when some people appeared leading a bull past below it. The king saw it, and asked where the bull was going, and being answered that they were going to consecrate a bell with its blood, he said, "Let it go, I cannot bear its frightened appearance—as if it were an innocent person going to the place of death." They asked in reply whether, if they did so, they should omit the consecration of the bell, [Pg 122] but the king said, "How can that be omitted? Change it for a sheep." "I do not know whether this incident occurred."

"It did," said the king, and Mencius replied, "The heart seen in this is sufficient to carry you to the Royal sway. The people all supposed that your Majesty grudged the animal, but your servant knows surely that it was your Majesty's not being able to bear the sight of the creature's distress which made you do as you did."

The king said, "You are right; and yet there really was an appearance of what the people imagined. But though Ts‘e be narrow and small, how should I grudge a bull? Indeed it was because I could not bear its frightened appearance, as if it were an innocent person going to the place of death, that therefore I changed it for a sheep."

Mencius said, "Let not your Majesty deem it strange that the people should think you grudged the animal. When you changed a large one for a small, how should they know the true reason? If you felt pained by its being led without any guilt to the place of death, what was there to choose between a bull and a sheep?" The king laughed and said, "What really was my mind in the matter? I did not grudge the value of the bull, and yet I changed it for a sheep! There was reason in the people's saying that I grudged the creature."

Mencius said, "There is no harm in their saying so. It was an artifice of benevolence. You saw the bull, and had not seen the sheep. So is the superior man affected towards animals, that, having seen them alive, he cannot bear to see them die, and, having heard their dying cries, he cannot bear to eat their flesh. On this account he keeps away from his stalls and kitchen."

The king was pleased and said, "The Ode says,

'What other men have in their minds,
I can measure by reflection.'

[Pg 123] This might be spoken of you, my Master. I indeed did the thing, but when I turned my thoughts inward and sought for it, I could not discover my own mind. When you, Master, spoke those words, the movements of compassion began to work in my mind. But how is it that this heart has in it what is equal to the attainment of the Royal sway?"

Mencius said, "Suppose a man were to make this statement to your Majesty, 'My strength is sufficient to lift three thousand catties, but is not sufficient to lift one feather; my eyesight is sharp enough to examine the point of an autumn hair, but I do not see a wagon-load of fagots,' would your Majesty allow what he said?" "No," was the king's remark, and Mencius proceeded, "Now here is kindness sufficient to reach to animals, and yet no benefits are extended from it to the people—how is this? is an exception to be made here? The truth is, the feather's not being lifted is because the strength was not used; the wagon-load of firewood's not being seen is because the eyesight was not used; and the people's not being loved and protected is because the kindness is not used. Therefore your Majesty's not attaining to the Royal sway is because you do not do it, and not because you are not able to do it."

The king asked, "How may the difference between him who does not do a thing and him who is not able to do it be graphically set forth?" Mencius replied, "In such a thing as taking the T‘ae mountain under your arm, and leaping with it over the North Sea, if you say to people, 'I am not able to do it,' that is a real case of not being able. In such a matter as breaking off a branch from a tree at the order of a superior, if you say to people, 'I am not able to do it,' it is not a case of not being able to do it. And so your Majesty's not attaining to the Royal sway is not such a case as that of taking the T‘ae mountain under your arm and leaping over the North Sea with it; but it is a case like that of breaking off a branch from a tree.

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