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

A History of Chinese Literature - Herbert Allen Giles 1973

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

NAMES of the authors who belong to this period, B.C. 600 to B.C. 200, and of the works on a variety of subjects attributed to them, would fill a long list. Many of the latter have disappeared, and others are gross forgeries, chiefly of the first and second centuries of our era, an epoch which, curiously enough, is remarkable for a similar wave of forgery on the other side of the world. As to the authors, it will be seen later on that the Chinese even went so far as to create some of these for antiquity and then write up treatises to match.

There was SUN TZŬ of the 6th century B.C. He is said to have written the Ping Fa, or Art of War, in thirteen sections, whereby hangs a strange tale. When he was discoursing one day with Prince Ho-lu of the Wu State, the latter said, "I have read your book and want to know if you could apply its principles to women." Sun Tzŭ replied in the affirmative, whereupon the Prince took 180 girls out of his harem and bade Sun Tzŭ deal with them as with troops. Accordingly he divided them into two companies, and at the head of each placed a favourite concubine of the Prince. But when the drums sounded for drill to begin, all the girls burst out laughing. Thereupon Sun Tzŭ, without a moment's delay, caused the two concubines in command to be beheaded. This at once restored order, and ultimately the corps was raised to a state of great efficiency.

The following is an extract from the Art of War:—

"If soldiers are not carefully chosen and well drilled to obey, their movements will be irregular. They will not act in concert. They will miss success for want of unanimity. Their retreat will be disorderly, one half fighting while the other is running away. They will not respond to the call of the gong and drum. One hundred such as these will not hold their own against ten well-drilled men.

"If their arms are not good, the soldiers might as well have none. If the cuirass is not stout and close set, the breast might as well be bare. Bows that will not carry are no more use at long distances than swords and spears. Bad marksmen might as well have no arrows. Even good marksmen, unless able to make their arrows pierce, might as well shoot with headless shafts. These are the oversights of incompetent generals. Five such soldiers are no match for one."

It is notwithstanding very doubtful if we have any genuine remains of either Sun Tzŭ, or of Kuan Tzŭ, Wu Tzŭ, Wên Tzŭ, and several other early writers on war, political philosophy, and cognate subjects. The same remark applies equally to Chinese medical literature, the bulk of which is enormous, some of it nominally dating back to legendary times, but always failing to stand the application of the simplest test.

The Erh Ya, or Nearing the Standard, is a work which has often been assigned to the 12th century B.C. It is a guide to the correct use of many miscellaneous terms, including names of animals, birds, plants, etc., to which are added numerous illustrations. It was first edited with commentary by Kuo P'o, of whom we shall read later on, and some Chinese critics would have us believe that the illustrations we now possess were then already in existence. But the whole question is involved in mystery. The following will give an idea of the text:—

"For metal we say lou (to chase); for wood k'o (to carve); for bone ch'ieh (to cut)," etc., etc.

There are some interesting remains of a writer named T'AN KUNG, who flourished in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., and whose work has been included in the Book of Rites. The three following extracts will give an idea of his scope:—

1. "One day Yu-tzŭ and Tzŭ-yu saw a child weeping for the loss of its parents. Thereupon the former observed, 'I never could understand why mourners should necessarily jump about to show their grief, and would long ago have got rid of the custom. Now here you have an honest expression of feeling, and that is all there should ever be.'

"'My friend,' replied Tzŭ-yu, 'the mourning ceremonial, with all its material accompaniments, is at once a check upon undue emotion and a guarantee against any lack of proper respect. Simply to give vent to the feelings is the way of barbarians. That is not our way.

"'Consider. A man who is pleased will show it in his face. He will sing. He will get excited. He will dance. So, too, a man who is vexed will look sad. He will sigh. He will beat his breast. He will jump about. The due regulation of these emotions is the function of a set ceremonial.

"'Further. A man dies and becomes an object of loathing. A dead body is shunned. Therefore, a shroud is prepared, and other paraphernalia of burial, in order that the survivors may cease to loathe. At death there is a sacrifice of wine and meat; when the funeral cortège is about to start, there is another; and after burial there is yet another. Yet no one ever saw the spirit of the departed come to taste of the food.

"'These have been our customs from remote antiquity. They have not been discarded, because, in consequence, men no more shun the dead. What you may censure in those who perform the ceremonial is no blemish in the ceremonial itself.'"

2. "When Tzŭ-chü died, his wife and secretary took counsel together as to who should be interred with him. All was settled before the arrival of his brother, Tzŭ-hêng; and then they informed him, saying, 'The deceased requires some one to attend upon him in the nether world. We must ask you to go down with his body into the grave.' 'Burial of the living with the dead,' replied Tzŭ-hêng, 'is not in accordance with established rites. Still, as you say some one is wanted to attend upon the deceased, who better fitted than his wife and secretary? If this contingency can be avoided altogether, I am willing; if not, then the duty will devolve upon you two.' From that time forth the custom fell into desuetude."

3. "When Confucius was crossing the T'ai mountain, he overheard a woman weeping and wailing beside a grave. He thereupon sent one of his disciples to ask what was the matter; and the latter addressed the woman, saying, 'Some great sorrow must have come upon you that you give way to grief like this?' 'Indeed it is so,' replied she. 'My father-in-law was killed here by a tiger; after that, my husband; and now my son has perished by the same death.' 'But why, then,' inquired Confucius, 'do you not go away?' 'The government is not harsh,' answered the woman. 'There!' cried the Master, turning to his disciples; 'remember that. Bad government is worse than a tiger."'

The philosopher Hsün Tzŭ of the 3rd century B.C. is widely known for his heterodox views on the nature of man, being directly opposed to the Confucian doctrine so warmly advocated by Mencius. The following passage, which hardly carries conviction, contains the gist of his argument:—

"By nature, man is evil. If a man is good, that is an artificial result. For his condition being what it is, he is influenced first of all by a desire for gain. Hence he strives to get all he can without consideration for his neighbour. Secondly, he is liable to envy and hate. Hence he seeks the ruin of others, and loyalty and truth are set aside. Thirdly, he is a slave to his animal passions. Hence he commits excesses, and wanders from the path of duty and right.

"Thus, conformity with man's natural disposition leads to all kinds of violence, disorder, and ultimate barbarism. Only under the restraint of law and of lofty moral influences does man eventually become fit to be a member of regularly organised society.

"From these premisses it seems quite clear that by nature man is evil; and that if a man is good, that is an artificial result."

The Hsiao Ching, or Classic of Filial Piety, is assigned partly to Confucius and partly to TSÊNG TS'AN, though it more probably belongs to a very much later date. Considering that filial piety is admittedly the keystone of Chinese civilisation, it is disappointing to find nothing more on the subject than a poor pamphlet of commonplace and ill-strung sentences, which gives the impression of having been written to fill a void. One short extract will suffice:—

"The Master said, 'There are three thousand offences against which the five punishments are directed, and there is not one of them greater than being unfilial.

"'When constraint is put upon a ruler, that is the disowning of his superiority; when the authority of the sages is disallowed, that is the disowning of all law; when filial piety is put aside, that is the disowning of the principle of affection. These three things pave the way to anarchy.'"

The Chia Yü, or Family Sayings of Confucius, is a work with a fascinating title, which has been ascribed by some to the immediate disciples of Confucius, but which, as it now exists, is usually thought by native scholars to have been composed by Wang Su, a learned official who died A.D. 256. There appears to have been an older work under this same title, but how far the later work is indebted to it, or based upon it, seems likely to remain unknown.

Another discredited work is the Lü Shih Ch'un Ch'iu, or Spring and Autumn of LÜ Pu-WEI, who died B.C. 235 and was the putative sire of the First Emperor (see ch. vii.). It contains a great deal about the early history of China, some of which is no doubt based upon fact.

Lastly, among spurious books may be mentioned the Mu T'ien Tzŭ Chuan, an account of a mythical journey by a sovereign of the Chou dynasty, supposed to have been taken about 1000 B.C. The sovereign is unfortunately spoken of by his posthumous title, and the work was evidently written up in the 3rd century A.D. to suit a statement found in Lieh Tzŭ (see chapter vi.) to the effect that the ruler in question did make some such journey to the West.