CONFUCIUS—THE FIVE CLASSICS - The Feudal Period(B.C. 600-200)

A History of Chinese Literature - Herbert Allen Giles 1973

The Feudal Period(B.C. 600-200)

IN B.C. 551 CONFUCIUS was born. He may be regarded as the founder of Chinese literature. During his years of office as a Government servant and his years of teaching and wandering as an exile, he found time to rescue for posterity certain valuable literary fragments of great antiquity, and to produce at least one original work of his own. It is impossible to assert that before his time there was anything in the sense of what we understand by the term general literature. The written language appears to have been used chiefly for purposes of administration. Many utterances, however, of early, not to say legendary, rulers had been committed to writing at one time or another, and such of these as were still extant were diligently collected and edited by Confucius, forming what is now known as the Shu Ching or Book of History. The documents of which this work is composed are said to have been originally one hundred in all, and they cover a period extending from the twenty-fourth to the eighth century B.C. They give us glimpses of an age earlier than that of Confucius, if not actually so early as is claimed. The first two, for instance, refer to the Emperors Yao and Shun, whose reigns, extending from B.C. 2357 to 2205, are regarded as the Golden Age of China. We read how the former monarch "united the various parts of his domain in bonds of peace, so that concord reigned among the black-haired people." He abdicated in favour of Shun, who is described as being profoundly wise, intelligent, and sincere. We are further told that Shun was chosen because of his great filial piety, which enabled him to live in harmony with an unprincipled father, a shifty stepmother, and an arrogant half-brother, and, moreover, to effect by his example a comparative reformation of their several characters.

We next come to a very famous personage, who founded the Hsia dynasty in B.C. 2205, and is known as the Great Yü. It was he who, during the reign of the Emperor Shun, successfully coped with a devastating flood, which has been loosely identified with the Noachic Deluge, and in reference to which it was said in the Tso Chuan, "How grand was the achievement of Yü, how far-reaching his glorious energy! But for Yü we should all have been fishes." The following is his own account (Legge's translation):—

"The inundating waters seemed to assail the heavens, and in their vast extent embraced the mountains and overtopped the hills, so that people were bewildered and overwhelmed. I mounted my four conveyances (carts, boats, sledges, and spiked shoes), and all along the hills hewed down the woods, at the same time, along with Yi, showing the multitudes how to get flesh to eat. I opened passages for the streams throughout the nine provinces, and conducted them to the sea. I deepened the channels and canals, and conducted them to the streams, at the same time, along with Chi, sowing grain, and showing the multitudes how to procure the food of toil in addition to flesh meat. I urged them further to exchange what they had for what they had not, and to dispose of their accumulated stores. In this way all the people got grain to eat, and all the States began to come under good rule."

A small portion of the Book of History is in verse:—

"The people should be cherished,

And should not be downtrodden.

The people are the root of a country,

And if the root is firm, the country will be tranquil

… … . .

The palace a wild for lust,

The country a wild for hunting,

Rich wine, seductive music,

Lofty roofs, carved walls,—

Given any one of these,

And the result can only be ruin."

From the date of the foundation of the Hsia dynasty the throne of the empire was transmitted from father to son, and there were no more abdications in favour of virtuous sages. The fourth division of the Book of History deals with the decadence of the Hsia rulers and their final displacement in B.C. 1766 by T'ang the Completer, founder of the Shang dynasty. By B.C. 1122, the Shang sovereigns had similarly lapsed from the kingly qualities of their founder to even a lower level of degradation and vice. Then arose one of the purest and most venerated heroes of Chinese history, popularly known by his canonisation as Wên Wang. He was hereditary ruler of a principality in the modern province of Shensi, and in B.C. 1144 he was denounced as dangerous to the throne. He was seized and thrown into prison, where he passed two years, occupying himself with the Book of Changes, to which we shall presently return. At length the Emperor, yielding to the entreaties of the people, backed up by the present of a beautiful concubine and some fine horses, set him at liberty and commissioned him to make war upon the frontier tribes. To his dying day he never ceased to remonstrate against the cruelty and corruption of the age, and his name is still regarded as one of the most glorious in the annals of the empire. It was reserved for his son, known as Wu Wang, to overthrow the Shang dynasty and mount the throne as first sovereign of the Chou dynasty, which was to last for eight centuries to come. The following is a speech by the latter before a great assembly of nobles who were siding against the House of Shang. It is preserved among others in the Book of History, and is assigned to the year B.C. 1133 (Legge's translation):—

"Heaven and Earth are the parents of all creatures; and of all creatures man is the most highly endowed. The sincere, intelligent, and perspicacious among men becomes the great sovereign, and the great sovereign is the parent of the people. But now, Shou, the king of Shang, does not reverence Heaven above, and inflicts calamities on the people below. He has been abandoned to drunkenness, and reckless in lust. He has dared to exercise cruel oppression. Along with criminals he has punished all their relatives. He has put men into office on the hereditary principle. He has made it his pursuit to have palaces, towers, pavilions, embankments, ponds, and all other extravagances, to the most painful injury of you, the myriad people. He has burned and roasted the loyal and good. He has ripped up pregnant women. Great Heaven was moved with indignation, and charged my deceased father, Wên, reverently to display its majesty; but he died before the work was completed.

"On this account I, Fa, who am but a little child, have, by means of you, the hereditary rulers of my friendly States, contemplated the government of Shang; but Shou has no repentant heart. He abides squatting on his heels, not serving God or the spirits of heaven and earth, neglecting also the temple of his ancestors, and not sacrificing in it. The victims and the vessels of millet all become the prey of wicked robbers; and still he says, 'The people are mine: the decree is mine,' never trying to correct his contemptuous mind. Now Heaven, to protect the inferior people, made for them rulers, and made for them instructors, that they might be able to be aiding to God, and secure the tranquillity of the four quarters of the empire. In regard to who are criminals and who are not, how dare I give any allowance to my own wishes?

"'Where the strength is the same, measure the virtue of the parties; where the virtue is the same, measure their righteousness.' Shou has hundreds of thousands and myriads of ministers, but they have hundreds of thousands and myriads of minds; I have three thousand ministers, but they have one mind. The iniquity of Shang is full. Heaven gives command to destroy it. If I did not comply with Heaven, my iniquity would be as great.

"I, who am a little child, early and late am filled with apprehensions. I have received charge from my deceased father, Wên; I have offered special sacrifice to God; I have performed the due services to the great Earth; and I lead the multitude of you to execute the punishment appointed by Heaven. Heaven compassionates the people. What the people desire, Heaven will be found to give effect to. Do you aid me, the one man, to cleanse for ever all within the four seas. Now is the time!—it may not be lost."

Two of the documents which form the Book of History are directed against luxury and drunkenness, to both of which the people seemed likely to give way even within measurable distance of the death of Wên Wang. The latter had enacted that wine (that is to say, ardent spirits distilled from rice) should only be used on sacrificial occasions, and then under strict supervision; and it is laid down, almost as a general principle, that all national misfortunes, culminating in the downfall of a dynasty, may be safely ascribed to the abuse of wine.

The Shih Ching, or Book of Odes, is another work for the preservation of which we are indebted to Confucius. It consists of a collection of rhymed ballads in various metres, usually four words to the line, composed between the reign of the Great Yü and the beginning of the sixth century B.C. These, which now number 305, are popularly known as the "Three Hundred," and are said by some to have been selected by Confucius from no less than 3000 pieces. They are arranged under four heads, as follows:—(a) Ballads commonly sung by the people in the various feudal States and forwarded periodically by the nobles to their suzerain, the Son of Heaven. The ballads were then submitted to the Imperial Musicians, who were able to judge from the nature of such compositions what would be the manners and customs prevailing in each State, and to advise the suzerain accordingly as to the good or evil administration of each of his vassal rulers. (b) Odes sung at ordinary entertainments given by the suzerain. (c) Odes sung on grand occasions when the feudal nobles were gathered together. (d) Panegyrics and sacrificial odes.

Confucius himself attached the utmost importance to his labours in this direction. "Have you learned the Odes?" he inquired upon one occasion of his son; and on receiving an answer in the negative, immediately told the youth that until he did so he would be unfit for the society of intellectual men. Confucius may indeed be said to have anticipated the apophthegm attributed by Fletcher of Saltoun to a "very wise man," namely, that he who should be allowed to make a nation's "ballads need care little who made its laws." And it was probably this appreciation by Confucius that gave rise to an extraordinary literary craze in reference to these Odes. Early commentators, incapable of seeing the simple natural beauties of the poems, which have furnished endless household words and a large stock of phraseology to the language of the present day, and at the same time unable to ignore the deliberate judgment of the Master, set to work to read into countryside ditties deep moral and political significations. Every single one of the immortal Three Hundred has thus been forced to yield some hidden meaning and point an appropriate moral. If a maiden warns her lover not to be too rash—

"Don't come in, sir, please!

Don't break my willow-trees!

Not that that would very much grieve me;

But alack-a-day! what would my parents say?

And love you as I may,

I cannot bear to think what that would be,"—

commentators promptly discover that the piece refers to a feudal noble whose brother had been plotting against him, and to the excuses of the former for not visiting the latter with swift and exemplary punishment.

Another independent young lady may say—

"If you will love me dear, my lord,

I'll pick up my skirts and cross the ford,

But if from your heart you turn me out …

Well, you're not the only man about,

You silly, silly, silliest lout!"—

still commentaries are not wanting to show that these straightforward words express the wish of the people of a certain small State that some great State would intervene and put an end to an existing feud in the ruling family. Native scholars are, of course, hide-bound in the traditions of commentators, but European students will do well to seek the meaning of the Odes within the compass of the Odes themselves.

Possibly the very introduction of these absurdities may have helped to preserve to our day a work which would otherwise have been considered too trivial to merit the attention of scholars. Chinese who are in the front rank of scholarship know it by heart, and each separate piece has been searchingly examined, until the force of exegesis can no farther go. There is one famous line which runs, according to the accepted commentary, "The muddiness of the Ching river appears from the (clearness of the) Wei river." In 1790 the Emperor Ch'ien Lung, dissatisfied with this interpretation, sent a viceroy to examine the rivers. The latter reported that the Ching was really clear and the Wei muddy, so that the wording of the line must mean "The Ching river is made muddy by the Wei river."

The following is a specimen of one of the longer of the Odes, saddled, like all the rest, with an impossible political interpretation, of which nothing more need be said

You seemed a guileless youth enough,

Offering for silk your woven stuff;1

But silk was not required by you;

I was the silk you had in view.

With you I crossed the ford, and while

We wandered on for many a mile

I said, 'I do not wish delay,

But friends must fix our wedding-day… .

Oh, do not let my words give pain,

But with the autumn come again?

"And then I used to watch and wait

To see you passing through the gate;

And sometimes, when I watched in vain,

My tears would flow like falling rain;

But when I saw my darling boy,

I laughed and cried aloud for joy.

The fortune-tellers, you declared,

Had all pronounced us duly paired;

'Then bring a carriage,' I replied,

'And Til away to be your bride.'

"The mulberry-leaf not yet undone

By autumn chill, shines in the sun.

O tender dove, I would advise,

Beware the fruit that tempts thy eyes!

O maiden fair, not yet a spouse,

List lightly not to lovers' vows!

A man may do this wrong, and time

Will fling its shadow o'er his crime;

A woman who has lost her name

Is doomed to everlasting shame.

"The mulberry-tree upon the ground

Now sheds its yellow leaves around.

Three years have slipped away from me

Since first I shared your poverty;

And now again, alas the day!

Back through the ford I take my way.

My heart is still unchanged, but you

Have uttered words now proved untrue;

And you have left me to deplore

A love that can be mine no more.

"For three long years I was your wife,

And led in truth a toilsome life;

Early to rise and late to bed,

Each day alike passed o'er my head.

I honestly fulfilled my part,

And you—well, you have broke my heart.

The truth my brothers will not know,

So all the more their gibes will flow.

I grieve in silence and repine

That such a wretched fate is mine.

"Ah, hand in hand to face old age!—

Instead, I turn a bitter page.

O for the river-banks of yore;

O for the much-loved marshy shore;

The hours of girlhood, with my hair

Ungathered, as we lingered there.

The words we spoke, that seemed so true,

I little thought that I should rue;

I little thought the vows we swore

Would some day bind us two no more."

Many of the Odes deal with warfare, and with the separation of wives from their husbands; others, with agriculture and with the chase, with marriage and feasting. The ordinary sorrows of life are fully represented, and to these may be added frequent complaints against the harshness of officials, one speaker going so far as to wish he were a tree without consciousness, without home, and without family. The old-time theme of "eat, drink, and be merry" is brought out as follows:—

"You have coats and robes,

But you do not trail them;

You have chariots and horses,

But you do not ride in them.

By and by you will die,

And another will enjoy them.

"You have courtyards and halls,

But they are not sprinkled and swept;

You have bells and drums,

But they are not struck.

By and by you will die,

And another will possess them.

"You have wine and food;

Why not play daily on your lute,

That you may enjoy yourself now

And lengthen your days?

By and by you will die,

And another will take your place."

The Odes are especially valuable for the insight they give us into the manners, and customs, and beliefs of the Chinese before the age of Confucius. How far back they extend it is quite impossible to say. An eclipse of the sun, "an event of evil omen," is mentioned in one of the Odes as a recent occurrence on a certain day which works out as the 29th August, B.C. 775; and this eclipse has been verified for that date. The following lines are from Legge's rendering of this Ode:—

"The sun and moon announce evil,

Not keeping to their proper paths.

All through the kingdom there is no proper government,

Because the good are not employed.

For the moon to be eclipsed

Is but an ordinary matter.

Now that the sun has been eclipsed,

How bad it is!"

The rainbow was regarded, not as a portent of evil, but as an improper combination of the dual forces of nature,—

"There is a rainbow in the east,

And no one dares point at it,"—

and is applied figuratively to women who form improper connections.

The position of women generally seems to have been very much what it is at the present day. In an Ode which describes the completion of a palace for one of the ancient princes, we are conducted through the rooms,—

"Here will he live, here will he sit,

Here will he laugh, here will he talk,"—

until we come to the bedchamber, where he will awake, and call upon the chief diviner to interpret his dream of bears and serpents. The interpretation (Legge) is as follows:—

"Sons shall be born to him:—

They will be put to sleep on couches;

They will be clothed in robes;

They will have sceptres to play with;

Their cry will be loud.

They will be resplendent with red knee-covers,

The future princes of the land.

"Daughters shall be born to him:—

They will be put to sleep on the ground;

They will be clothed with wrappers;

They will have tiles to play with.

It will be theirs neither to do wrong nor to do good.

Only about the spirits and the food will they have to think,

And to cause no sorrow to their parents."

The distinction thus drawn is severe enough, and it is quite unnecessary to make a comparison, as some writers on China have done, between the tile and the sceptre, as though the former were but a dirty potsherd, good enough for a girl. A tile was used in the early ages as a weight for the spindle, and is here used merely to indicate the direction which a girl's activities should take.

Women are further roughly handled in an Ode which traces the prevailing misgovernment to their interference in affairs of State and in matters which do not lie within their province:—

"A clever man builds a city,

A clever woman lays one low;

With all her qualifications, that clever woman

Is but an ill-omened bird.

A woman with a long tongue

Is a flight of steps leading to calamity;

For disorder does not come from heaven,

But is brought about by women.

Among those who cannot be trained or taught

Are women and eunuchs."

About seventy kinds of plants are mentioned in the Odes, including the bamboo, barley, beans, convolvulus, dodder, dolichos, hemp, indigo, liquorice, melon, millet, peony, pepper, plantain, scallions, sorrel, sowthistle, tribulus, and wheat; about thirty kinds of trees, including the cedar, cherry, chestnut, date, hazel, medlar, mulberry, oak, peach, pear, plum, and willow; about thirty kinds of animals, including the antelope, badger, bear, boar, elephant, fox, leopard, monkey, rat, rhinoceros, tiger, and wolf; about thirty kinds of birds, including the crane, eagle, egret, magpie, oriole, swallow, and wagtail; about ten kinds of fishes, including the barbel, bream, carp, and tench; and about twenty kinds of insects, including the ant, cicada, glow-worm, locust, spider, and wasp.

Among the musical instruments of the Odes are found the flute, the drum, the bell, the lute, and the Pandæan pipes; among the metals are gold and iron, with an indirect allusion to silver and copper; and among the arms and munitions of war are bows and arrows, spears, swords, halberds, armour, grappling-hooks, towers on wheels for use against besieged cities, and gags for soldiers' mouths, to prevent them talking in the ranks on the occasion of night attacks.

The idea of a Supreme Being is brought out very fully in the Odes—

"Great is God,

Ruling in majesty."


"How mighty is God,

The Ruler of mankind!

How terrible is His majesty!"

He is apparently in the form of man, for in one place we read of His footprint. He hates the oppression of great States, although in another passage we read—

"Behold Almighty God;

Who is there whom He hates?"

He comforts the afflicted. He is free from error. His "Way" is hard to follow. He is offended by sin. He can be appeased by sacrifice:—

"We fill the sacrificial vessels with offerings,

Both the vessels of wood, and those of earthenware.

Then when the fragrance is borne on high,

God smells the savour and is pleased."

One more quotation, which, in deference to space limits, must be the last, exhibits the husbandman of early China in a very pleasing light:—

"The clouds form in dense masses,

And the rain falls softly down.

Oh, may it first water the public lands,

And then come to our private fields!

Here shall some corn be left standing,

Here some sheaves unbound;

Here some handfuls shall be dropped,

And there some neglected ears;

These are for the benefit of the widow."

The next of the pre-Confucian works, and possibly the oldest of all, is the famous I Ching, or Book of Changes. It is ascribed to WÊN WANG, the virtual founder of the Chou dynasty, whose son, Wu WANG, became the first sovereign of a long line, extending from B.C. 1122 to B.C. 249. It contains a fanciful system of philosophy, deduced originally from Eight Diagrams consisting of triplet combinations or arrangements of a line and a divided line, either one or other of which is necessarily repeated twice, and in two cases three times, in the same combination. Thus there may be three lines , or three divided lines , a divided line above or below two lines , a divided line between two lines , and so on, eight in all. These so-called diagrams are said to have been invented two thousand years and more before Christ by the monarch Fu Hsi, who copied them from the back of a tortoise. He subsequently increased the above simple combinations to sixty-four double ones, on the permutations of which are based the philosophical speculations of the Book of Changes. Each diagram represents some power in nature, either active or passive, such as fire, water, thunder, earth, and so on.

The text consists of sixty-four short essays, enigmatically and symbolically expressed, on important themes, mostly of a moral, social, and political character, and based upon the same number of lineal figures, each made up of six lines, some of which are whole and the others divided. The text is followed by commentaries, called the Ten Wings, probably of a later date and commonly ascribed to Confucius, who declared that were a hundred years added to his life he would devote fifty of them to a study of the I Ching.

The following is a specimen (Legge's translation):—

"Text. This suggests the idea of one treading on the tail of a tiger, which does not bite him. There will be progress and success.

"1. The first line, undivided, shows its subject treading his accustomed path. If he go forward, there will be no error.

"2. The second line, undivided, shows its subject treading the path that is level and easy;—a quiet and solitary man, to whom, if he be firm and correct, there will be good fortune.

"3. The third line, divided, shows a one-eyed man who thinks he can see; a lame man who thinks he can walk well; one who treads on the tail of a tiger and is bitten. All this indicates ill-fortune. We have a mere bravo acting the part of a great ruler.

"4. The fourth line, undivided, shows its subject treading on the tail of a tiger. He becomes full of apprehensive caution, and in the end there will be good fortune.

"5. The fifth line, undivided, shows the resolute tread of its subject. Though he be firm and correct, there will be peril.

"6. The sixth line, undivided, tells us to look at the whole course that is trodden, and examine the presage which that gives. If it be complete and without failure, there will be great good fortune.

"Wing.—In this hexagram we have the symbol of weakness treading on that of strength.

"The lower trigram indicates pleasure and satisfaction, and responds to the upper indicating strength. Hence it is said, 'He treads on the tail of a tiger, which does not bite him; there will be progress and success.'

"The fifth line is strong, in the centre, and in its correct place. Its subject occupies the God-given position, and falls into no distress or failure;—his action will be brilliant."

As may be readily inferred from the above extract, no one really knows what is meant by the apparent gibberish of the Book of Changes. This is freely admitted by all learned Chinese, who nevertheless hold tenaciously to the belief that important lessons could be derived from its pages if we only had the wit to understand them. Foreigners have held various theories on the subject. Dr. Legge declared that he had found the key, with the result already shown. The late Terrien de la Couperie took a bolder flight, unaccompanied by any native commentator, and discovered in this cherished volume a vocabulary of the language of the Bák tribes. A third writer regards it as a calendar of the lunar year, and so forth.

The Li Chi, or Book of Rites, seems to have been a compilation by two cousins, known as the Elder and the Younger TAI, who flourished in the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. From existing documents, said to have emanated from Confucius and his disciples, the Elder Tai prepared a work in 85 sections on what may be roughly called social rites. The Younger Tai reduced these to 46 sections. Later scholars, such as Ma Jung and Chêng Hsüan, left their mark upon the work, and it was not until near the close of the 2nd century A.D. that finality in this direction was achieved. It then became known as a Chi = Record, not as a Ching = Text, the latter term being reserved by the orthodox solely for such books as have reached us direct from the hands of Confucius. The following is an extract (Legge's translation):—

Confucius said: "Formerly, along with Lao Tan, I was assisting at a burial in the village of Hsiang, and when we had got to the path the sun was eclipsed. Lao Tan said to me, 'Ch'in, let the bier be stopped on the left of the road; and then let us wail and wait till the eclipse pass away. When it is light again we will proceed.' He said that this was the rule. When we had returned and completed the burial, I said to him, 'In the progress of a bier there should be no returning. When there is an eclipse of the sun, we do not know whether it will pass away quickly or not; would it not have been better to go on?' Lao Tan said, 'When the prince of a state is going to the court of the Son of Heaven, he travels while he can see the sun. At sundown he halts and presents his offerings (to the spirit of the way). When a great officer is on a mission, he travels while he can see the sun, and at sundown he halts. Now a bier does not set forth in the early morning, nor does it rest anywhere at night; but those who travel by starlight are only criminals and those who are hastening to the funeral rites of a parent.'"

Other specimens will be found in Chapters iii. and iv.

Until the time of the Ming dynasty, A.D. 1368, another and a much older work, known as the Chou Li, or Rites of the Chou dynasty, and dealing more with constitutional matters, was always coupled with the Li Chi, and formed one of the then recognised Six Classics. There is still a third work of the same class, and also of considerable antiquity, called the I Li. Its contents treat mostly of the ceremonial observances of everyday life.

We now come to the last of the Five Classics as at present constituted, the Ch'un Ch'iu, or Spring and Autumn Annals. This is a chronological record of the chief events in the State of Lu between the years B.C. 722-484, and is generally regarded as the work of Confucius, whose native State was Lu. The entries are of the briefest, and comprise notices of incursions, victories, defeats, deaths, murders, treaties, and natural phenomena.

The following are a few illustrative extracts:—

"In the 7th year of Duke Chao, in spring, the Northern Yen State made peace with the Ch'i State.

"In the 3rd month the Duke visited the Ch'u State.

"In summer, on the chia shên day of the 4th month (March 11th, B.C. 594), the sun was eclipsed.

"In the 7th year of Duke Chuang (B.C. 685), in summer, in the 4th moon, at midnight, there was a shower of stars like rain."

The Spring and Autumn owes its name to the old custom of prefixing to each entry the year, month, day, and season when the event recorded took place; spring, as a commentator explains, including summer, and autumn winter. It was the work which Confucius singled out as that one by which men would know and commend him, and Mencius considered it quite as important an achievement as the draining of the empire by the Great Yü. The latter said, "Confucius completed the Spring and Autumn, and rebellious ministers and bad sons were struck with terror." Consequently, just as in the case of the Odes, native wits set to work to read into the bald text all manner of hidden meanings, each entry being supposed to contain approval or condemnation, their efforts resulting in what is now known as the praise-and-blame theory. The critics of the Han dynasty even went so far as to declare the very title elliptical for "praise life-giving like spring, and blame life-withering like autumn."

Such is the Ch'un Ch'iu; and if that were all, it is difficult to say how the boast of Confucius could ever have been fulfilled. But it is not all; there is a saving clause. For bound up, so to speak, with the Spring and Autumn, and forming as it were an integral part of the work, is a commentary known as the Tso Chuan or Tso's Commentary. Of the writer himself, who has been canonised as the Father of Prose, and to whose pen has also been attributed the Kuo Yü or Episodes of the States, next to nothing is known, except that he was a disciple of Confucius; but his glowing narrative remains, and is likely to continue to remain, one of the most precious heirlooms of the Chinese people.

What Tso did was this. He took the dry bones of these annals and clothed them with life and reality by adding a more or less complete setting to each of the events recorded. He describes the loves and hates of the heroes, their battles, their treaties, their feastings, and their deaths, in a style which is always effective, and often approaches to grandeur. Circumstances of apparently the most trivial character are expanded into interesting episodes, and every now and again some quaint conceit or scrap of proverbial literature is thrown in to give a passing flavour of its own. Under the 21st year of Duke Hsi, the Spring and Autumn has the following exiguous entry:—

"In summer there was great drought."

To this the Tso Chuan adds—

"In consequence of the drought the Duke wished to burn a witch. One of his officers, however, said to him, 'That will not affect the drought. Rather repair your city walls and ramparts; eat less, and curtail your expenditure; practise strict economy, and urge the people to help one another. That is the essential; what have witches to do in the matter? If God wishes her to be slain, it would have been better not to allow her to be born. If she can cause a drought, burning her will only make things worse.' The Duke took this advice, and during that year, although there was famine, it was not very severe."

Under the 12th year of Duke Hsüan the Spring and Autumn says—

"In spring the ruler of the Ch'u State besieged the capital of the Chêng State."

Thereupon the Tso Chuan adds a long account of the whole business, from which the following typical paragraph is extracted:—

"In the rout which followed, a war-chariot of the Chin State stuck in a deep rut and could not get on. Thereupon a man of the Ch'u State advised the charioteer to take out the stand for arms. This eased it a little, but again the horses turned round. The man then advised that the flagstaff should be taken out and used as a lever, and at last the chariot was extricated. 'Ah,' said the charioteer to the man of Ch'u, 'we don't know so much about running away as the people of your worthy State.'"

The Tso Chuan contains several interesting passages on music, which was regarded by Confucius as an important factor in the art of government, recalling the well-known views of Plato in Book III. of his Republic. Apropos of disease, we read that "the ancient rulers regulated all things by music." Also that "the superior man will not listen to lascivious or seductive airs;" "he addresses himself to his lute in order to regulate his conduct, and not to delight his heart."

When the rabid old anti-foreign tutor of the late Emperor T'ung Chili was denouncing the barbarians, and expressing a kindly desire to "sleep on their skins," he was quoting the phraseology of the Tso Chuan.

One hero, on going into battle, told his friends that he should only hear the drum beating the signal to advance, for he would take good care not to hear the gong sounding the retreat. Another made each of his men carry into battle a long rope, seeing that the enemy all wore their hair short. In a third case, where some men in possession of boats were trying to prevent others from scrambling in, we are told that the fingers of the assailants were chopped off in such large numbers that they could be picked up in double handfuls.

Many maxims, practical and unpractical, are to be found scattered over the Tso Chuan, such as, "One day's leniency to an enemy entails trouble for many generations;" "Propriety forbids that a man should profit himself at the expense of another;" "The receiver is as bad as the thief;" "It is better to attack than to be attacked."

When the French fleet returned to Shanghai in 1885, after being repulsed in a shore attack at Tamsui, a local wit at once adapted a verse of doggerel found in the Tso Chuan:—

"See goggle-eyes and greedy-guts

Has left his shield among the ruts;

Back from the field, back from the field

He's brought his beard, but not his shield;"

and for days every Chinaman was muttering the refrain—

"Yü sai, yü sai

Ch'i chia fu lai."

There are two other commentaries on the Spring and Autumn, similar, but generally regarded as inferior, to the Tso Chuan. They are by KU-LIANG and KUNGYANG, both of the fifth century B.C. The following are specimens (Legge's translation, omitting unimportant details):—

Text.—"In spring, in the king's first month, the first day of the moon, there fell stones in Sung—five of them. In the same month, six fish-hawks flew backwards, past the capital of Sung.

The commentary of Ku-liang says, "Why does the text first say "there fell," and then "stones"? There was the falling, and then the stones.

In "six fish-hawks flying backwards past the capital of Sung," the number is put first, indicating that the birds were collected together. The language has respect to the seeing of the eyes.

The Master said, "Stones are things without any intelligence, and fish-hawks creatures that have a little intelligence. The stones, having no intelligence, are mentioned along with the day when they fell, and the fish-hawks, having a little intelligence, are mentioned along with the month when they appeared. The superior man (Confucius) even in regard to such things and creatures records nothing rashly. His expressions about stones and fish-hawks being thus exact, how much more will they be so about men!"

The commentary of Kungyang says, "How is it that the text first says "there fell," and then "stones"?

"There fell stones" is a record of what was heard. There was heard a noise of something falling. On looking at what had fallen, it was seen to be stones. On examination it was found there were five of them.

Why does the text say "six," and then "fish-hawks"?

"Six fish - hawks backwards flew" is a record of what was seen. When they looked at the objects, there were six. When they examined them, they were fish - hawks. When they examined them leisurely, they were flying backwards.

Sometimes these commentaries are seriously at variance with that of Tso. For instance, the text says that in B.C. 689 the ruler of the Chi State "made a great end of his State." Tso's commentary explains the words to mean that for various urgent reasons the ruler abdicated. Kung-yang, however, takes quite a different view. He explains the passage in the sense that the State in question was utterly destroyed, the population being wiped out by the ruler of another State in revenge for the death in B.C. 893 of an ancestor, who was boiled to death at the feudal metropolis in consequence of slander by a contemporary ruler of the Chi State. It is important for candidates at the public examinations to be familiar with these discrepancies, as they are frequently called upon to "discuss" such points, always with the object of establishing the orthodox and accepted interpretations.

The following episode is from Kung-yang's commentary, and is quite different from the story told by Tso in reference to the same passage:—

Text.—"In summer, in the 5th month, the Sung State made peace with the Ch'u State.

"In B.C. 587 King Chuang of Ch'u was besieging the capital of Sung. He had only rations for seven days, and if these were exhausted before he could take the city, he meant to withdraw. He therefore sent his general to climb the ramparts and spy out the condition of the besieged. It chanced that at the same time an officer of the Sung army came forth upon the ramparts, and the two met. 'How is your State getting on?' inquired the general. 'Oh, badly,' replied the officer. 'We are reduced to exchanging children for food, and their bones are chopped up for fuel.' 'That is bad indeed,' said the general;' I had heard, however, that the besieged, while feeding their horses with bits in their mouths, kept some fat ones for exhibition to strangers. What a spirit is yours!' To this the officer replied, 'I too have heard that the superior man, seeing another's misfortune, is filled with pity, while the ignoble man is filled with joy. And in you I recognise the superior man; so I have told you our story.' 'Be of good cheer,' said the general. 'We too have only seven days' rations, and if we do not conquer you in that time, we shall withdraw.' He then bowed, and retired to report to his master. The latter said, 'We must now capture the city before we withdraw.' 'Not so,' replied the general; 'I told the officer we had only rations for seven days.' King Chuang was greatly enraged at this; but the general said, 'If a small State like Sung has officers who speak the truth, should not the State of Ch'u have such men also?' The king still wished to remain, but the general threatened to leave him, and thus peace was brought about between the two States."


1 Supposed to have been stamped pieces of linen, used as a circulating medium before the invention of coins.