The Works of Mencius

Book 6, Part 2: Kâo Tsze


Chapter I.

The importance of observing the rules of propriety, and, when they may be disregarded, the exception will be found to prove the rule. Extreme cases may not be pressed to invalidate the principle.

1. A man of Zan asked the disciple Wû-lû, saying, 'Is an observance of the rules of propriety in regard to eating, or eating merely, the more important?' The answer was, 'The observance of the rules of propriety is the more important.'

2. 'Is the gratifying the appetite of sex, or the doing so only according to the rules of propriety, the more important?' The answer again was, 'The observance of the rules of propriety in the matter is the more important.'

3. The man pursued, 'If the result of eating only according to the rules of propriety will be death by starvation, while by disregarding those rules we may get food, must they still be observed in such a case? If according to the rule that he shall go in person to meet his wife a man cannot get married, while by disregarding that rule he may get married, must he still observe the rule in such a case?'

4. Wû-lû was unable to reply to these questions, and the next day he went to Tsâu, and told them to Mencius. Mencius said, 'What difficulty is there in answering these inquiries?'

5. 'If you do not adjust them at their lower extremities, but only put their tops on a level, a piece of wood an inch square may be made to be higher than the pointed peak of a high building.

6. 'Gold is heavier than feathers;-- but does that saying have reference, on the one hand, to a single clasp of gold, and, on the other, to a waggon-load of feathers?

7. 'If you take a case where the eating is of the utmost importance and the observing the rules of propriety is of little importance, and compare the things together, why stop with saying merely that the eating is more important? So, taking the case where the gratifying the appetite of sex is of the utmost importance and the observing the rules of propriety is of little importance, why stop with merely saying that the gratifying the appetite is the more important?

8. 'Go and answer him thus, "If, by twisting your elder brother's arm, and snatching from him what he is eating, you can get food for yourself, while, if you do not do so, you will not get anything to eat, will you so twist his arm ? If by getting over your neighbour's wall, and dragging away his virgin daughter, you can get a wife, while if you do not do so, you will not be able to get a wife, will you so drag her away?"'

Chapter 2.

All may become Yâos and Shuns, and to become so, they have only sincerely, and in themselves, to cultivate Yâo and Shun's principles and ways.

1. Chiâo of Tsâo asked Mencius, saying, 'It is said, "All men may be Yâos and Shuns;"-- is it so?' Mencius replied, It is.'

2. Chiâo went on, 'I have heard that king Wan was ten cubits high, and T'ang nine. Now I am nine cubits four inches in height. But I can do nothing but eat my millet. What am I to do to realize that saying?'

3. Mencius answered him, 'What has this-- the question of size--- to do with the matter? It all lies simply in acting as such. Here is a man, whose strength was not equal to lift a duckling:-- he was then a man of no strength. But to-day he says, "I can lift 3,000 catties' weight," and he is a man of strength. And so, he who can lift the weight which Wû Hwo lifted is just another Wû Hwo. Why should a man make a want of ability the subject of his grief? It is only that he will not do the thing.

4. 'To walk slowly, keeping behind his elders, is to perform the part of a younger. To walk quickly and precede his elders, is to violate the duty of a younger brother. Now, is it what a man cannot do-- to walk slowly? It is what he does not do. The course of Yâo and Shun was simply that of filial piety and fraternal duty.

5. 'Wear the clothes of Yâo, repeat the words of Yâo, and do the actions of Yâo, and you will just be a Yâo. And, if you wear the clothes of Chieh, repeat the words of Chieh, and do the actions of Chieh, you will just be a Chieh.'

6. Chiâo said, 'I shall be having an interview with the prince of Tsâu, and can ask him to let me have a house to lodge in. I wish to remain here, and receive instruction at your gate.'

7. Mencius replied, 'The way of truth is like a great road. It is not difficult to know it. The evil is only that men will not seek it. Do you go home and search for it, and you will have abundance of teachers.'

Chapter 3.

Explanation of the odes Hsiâo P'ân and K'âi Fang. Dissatisfaction with a parent is not necessarily unfilial.

1. Kung-sun Ch'âu asked about an opinion of the scholar Kâo, saying, 'Kâo observed, "The Hsiâo P'ân is the ode of a little man."' Mencius asked, 'Why did he say so?' 'Because of the murmuring which it expresses,' was the reply.

2. Mencius answered, 'How stupid was that old Kâo in dealing with the ode! There is a man here, and a native of Yüeh bends his bow to shoot him. I will advise him not to do so, but speaking calmly and smilingly;-- for no other reason but that he is not related to me. But if my own brother be bending his bow to shoot the man, then I will advise him not to do so, weeping and crying the while;-- for no other reason than that he is related to me. The dissatisfaction expressed in the Hsiâo P'ân is the working of relative affection, and that affection shows benevolence. Stupid indeed was old Kâo's criticism on the ode.'

3. Ch'âu then said, 'How is it that there is no dissatisfaction expressed in the K'âi Fang?'

4. Mencius replied, 'The parent's fault referred to in the K'âi Fang is small; that referred to in the Hsiâo P'ân is great. Where the parent's fault was great, not to have murmured on account of it would have increased the want of natural affection. Where the parent's fault was small, to have murmured on account of it would have been to act like water which frets and foams about a stone that interrupts its course. To increase the want of natural affection would have been unfilial, and to fret and foam in such a manner would also have been unfilial.

5 'Confucius said, "Shun was indeed perfectly filial! And yet, when he was fifty, he was full of longing desire about his parents."'