Gems of Chinese Literature/The Duke of Chou-Against Drunkenness


Died 1105 b.c.

[The following is not a translation; it is not even an ordinary paraphrase. It is an attempt to give the spirit of an ancient document by picking out the more interesting sentences and stringing them together, omitting such portions as would require long explanations and be wearisome to the general reader. Dr. Legge has given in his Chinese Classics, vol. III, p. 399, a full translation with copious notes. It only remains to add that the Duke of Chou was a younger son of king Wên, the founder and posthumously first ruler of China under the feudal system which lasted for eight hundred years; and that this edict was issued by order of the Duke's elder brother and second actual sovereign, reigning as King Ch'êng.]

THUS saith the King:―“Make known these important commands in the State of Mei.

“When our great and good father, King Wên, laid the foundations of our empire in the west, daily and nightly he warned his officials, saying, ‘For sacrifice you may use wine.’ And whenever God has favoured the people, it has been because wine was in use only at the great sacrifices. But whenever God has sent down His terrors, and the people have become disorganized and have lost their moral balance, this has always been due to indulgence in wine. So too when States, small and great alike, have similarly suffered, misuse of wine has always been the cause of their downfall.

“Hearken, then, to these instructions, all you high officers and others! When you have done your duty in ministering to your parents and serving your sovereign, then you may drink and eat until you are tipsy and replete. Again, when after constant examination and a course of virtuous conduct you have ministered with sacrifices to the spirits, then you may proceed to indulge yourselves with festivity. Thus, you will be serving your sovereign, God will approve of your great virtue, and you will never be forgotten by the royal House.

“The drunkenness of the last ruler of the House of Yin, and of his creatures, caused the resentment of the people to be heard on high; and God sent down calamity on Yin, because of these excesses God is not cruel; people bring punishment on themselves.