The Writings of Chuang Tzu

Book 28: Kings who have wished to resign the Throne

Chuang Tzu

Zang Wang, or 'Kings who have wished to resign the Throne.'

1. Yâo proposed to resign the throne to Hsü Yü, who would not accept it. He then offered it to Tsze-kâu Kih-fû, but he said, 'It is not unreasonable to propose that I should occupy the throne, but I happen to be suffering under a painful sorrow and illness. While I am engaged in dealing with it, I have not leisure to govern the kingdom.' Now the throne is the most important of all positions, and yet this man would not occupy it to the injury of his life; how much less would he have allowed any other thing to do so! But only he who does not care to rule the kingdom is fit to be entrusted with it.

Shun proposed to resign the throne to Tsze-kâu Kih-po, who declined in the very same terms as Kih-fû had done. Now the kingdom is the greatest of all concerns, and yet this man would not give his life in exchange for the throne. This shows how they who possess the Tâo differ from common men.

Shun proposed to resign the throne to Shan Küan, who said, 'I am a unit in the midst of space and time. In winter I wear skins and furs; in summer, grass-cloth and linen; in spring I plough and sow, my strength being equal to the toil; in autumn I gather in my harvest, and am prepared to cease from labour and eat. At sunrise I get up and work; at sunset I rest. So do I enjoy myself between heaven and earth, and my mind is content:-- why should I have anything to do with the throne? Alas! that you, Sir, do not know me better!' Thereupon he declined the proffer, and went away, deep among the hills, no man knew where.

Shun proposed to resign the throne to his friend, a farmer of Shih-hû. The farmer, however, said (to himself), 'How full of vigor does our lord show himself, and how exuberant is his strength! If Shun with all his powers be not equal (to the task of government, how should I be so?).' On this he took his wife on his back, led his son by the hand, and went away to the sea-coast, from which to the end of his life he did not come back.

When Thâi-wang Than-fû was dwelling in Pin, the wild tribes of the North attacked him. He tried to serve them with skins and silks, but they were not satisfied. He tried to serve them with dogs and horses, but they were not satisfied, and then with pearls and jade, but they were not satisfied. What they sought was his territory. Thâi-wang Than-fû said (to his people), 'To dwell with the elder brother and cause the younger brother to be killed, or with the father and cause the son to be killed,-- this is what I cannot bear to do. Make an effort, my children, to remain here. What difference is there between being my subjects, or the subjects of those wild people? And I have heard that a man does not use that which he employs for nourishing his people to injure them.' Thereupon he took his staff and switch and left, but the people followed him in an unbroken train, and he established a (new) state at the foot of mount Khî. Thus Thâi-wang Than-fû might be pronounced one who could give its (due) honour to life. Those who are able to do so, though they may be rich and noble, will not, for that which nourishes them, injure their persons; and though they may be poor and mean, will not, for the sake of gain, involve their bodies (in danger). The men of the present age who occupy high offices and are of honourable rank all lose these (advantages) again, and in the prospect of gain lightly expose their persons to ruin:-- is it not a case of delusion?

The people of Yüeh three times in succession killed their ruler, and the prince Sâu, distressed by it, made his escape to the caves of Tan, so that Yüeh was left without a ruler. The people sought for the prince, but could not find him, till (at last) they followed him to the cave of Tan. The prince was not willing to come out to them, but they smoked him out with moxa, and made him mount the royal chariot. As he took hold of the strap, and mounted the carriage, he looked up to heaven, and called out, '0 Ruler, 0 Ruler, could you not have spared me this?' Prince Sâu did not dislike being ruler;-- he disliked the evil inseparable from being so. It may be said of him that he would not for the sake of a kingdom endanger his life; and this indeed was the reason why the people of Yüeh wanted to get him for their ruler.

2. Han and Wei were contending about some territory which one of them had wrested from the other. Tsze-hwâ Tsze went to see the marquis Kâo-hsi (of Han), and, finding him looking sorrowful, said, 'Suppose now that all the states were to sign an agreement before you to the effect that "Whoever should with his left hand carry off (the territory in dispute) should lose his right hand, and whoever should do so with his right hand should lose his left hand, but that, nevertheless, he who should carry it off was sure to obtain the whole kingdom;" would your lordship feel yourself able to carry it off?' The marquis said, 'I would not carry it off,' and Tsze-hwâ rejoined, 'Very good. Looking at the thing from this point of view, your two arms are of more value to you than the whole kingdom. But your body is of more value than your two arms, and Han is of much less value than the whole kingdom. The territory for which you are now contending is further much less important than Han:-- your lordship, since you feel so much concern for your body, should not be endangering your life by indulging your sorrow.'

The marquis Kâo-hsî said, 'Good! Many have given me their counsel about this matter; but I never heard what you have said.' Tsze-hwâ Tsze may be said to have known well what was of great importance and what was of little.

3. The ruler of Lû, having heard that Yen Ho had attained to the Tâo, sent a messenger, with a gift of silks, to prepare the way for further communication with him. Yen Ho was waiting at the door of a mean house, in a dress of coarse hempen cloth, and himself feeding a cowl. When the messenger arrived, Yen Ho himself confronted him. 'Is this,' said the messenger, 'the house of Yen Ho?' 'It is,' was the reply; and the other was presenting the silks to him, when he said, 'I am afraid you heard (your instructions) wrongly, and that he who sent you will blame you. You had better make sure.' The messenger on this returned, and made sure that he was right; but when he came back, and sought for Yen Ho, he was not to be found.

Yes; men like Yen Ho do of a truth dislike riches and honours. Hence it is said, 'The true object of the Tâo is the regulation of the person. Quite subordinate to this is its use in the management of the state and the clan; while the government of the kingdom is but the dust and refuse of it.' From this we may see that the services of the Tîs and Kings are but a surplusage of the work of the sages, and do not contribute to complete the person or nourish the life. Yet the superior men of the present age will, most of them, throw away their lives for the sake of their persons, in pursuing their (material) objects;-- is it not cause for grief? Whenever a sage is initiating any movement, he is sure to examine the motive which influences him, and what he is about to do. Here, however, is a man, who uses a pearl like that of the marquis of Sui to shoot a bird at a distance of 10,000 feet. All men will laugh at him; and why? Because the thing which he uses is of great value, and what he wishes to get is of little. And is not life of more value than the pearl of the marquis of Sui?