Gems of Chinese Literature
Various Authors, translated by Herbert Allen Giles
Han Dynasty (200 b.c. TO a.d. 200)
1519525Gems of Chinese Literature — Han Dynasty (200 b.c. TO a.d. 200)Herbert Allen GilesVarious Authors


[Died 122 b.c. Ruler of Huai-nan, and grandson of the founder of the Han dynasty. A student of Taoism under its grosser aspects, he directed his attention to alchemistic research and to the discovery of an elixir of immortality. Becoming mixed up in some treasonable conspiracy, he perished by his own hand.]


OF old, Shih K‘uang played before the Court a piece entitled “White Snow,” the action of which was rendered by a cast of supernatural beings.[1] Down came a storm of wind and rain; the Duke was stricken with old age, while afterwards his State became red with drought.

When a woman of the people cried aloud her wrongs to God, thunder and lightning came down and struck the palace of the Duke to ruins, crushing his Highness and breaking his limbs, followed by the sea flooding over the whole.[2]

A blind musician and his wife from the people occupied a very lowly position, below even that of the humblest official. Nevertheless, with great earnestness they put aside their personal occupations and devoted themselves to worshipping the saints, so that their devotion became known and received encouragement in heaven above.

Thus it is clear that no matter whether isolated in the wilds, or in concealment at a distance, or in a double-walled stone house, or separated by intervening obstacles and dangers, there is no place to which a man can escape from God.

When our Martial King (1122 b.c.) attacked the tyrant Shou, while crossing the river at the ford of Mêng, the spirit of the wicked Marquis (who had been drowned there) stirred up the waves to fury against him, with a bitter wind and so black a pall of darkness that men and horses could not see one another. Then the Martial King, grasping in his left hand a golden halberd and in his right hand a white-tasselled staff, shook them at the river, saying, “I am the ruler of all under the sky; who dares to cross my path?” Thereupon, the wind fell and the waves were stilled.

The Duke of the Lu State had become involved in trouble with the Han State, and a battle was raging fiercely when the sun began to set. The Duke seized his spear and shook it at the sun, which forthwith went back three zodiacal spaces in the heavens.

Thus, if we keep our physical nature complete, and preserve our spirituality, this will allow of no injury to the body. In the hour of danger or difficulty, such earnestness will appeal to God; and if there has been no departure from the great archetype,[3] what is there which cannot be accomplished?


Tao roofs over the sky and is the foundation of the earth; it extends north, south, east, and west, stretching to the eight extreme points in those directions. Its height is beyond reach and its depth is unfathomable; it enfolds both the sky and the earth, and produces things which had been formless. It is like the flow of a spring, which starts bubbling up from nothing but gradually forms a volume of rushing muddy water which again gradually becomes clear. Therefore, if set vertically, it will block all the space between the sky and the earth; if set laterally, it will touch the shores of the Four Seas; inexhaustible by use, it knows neither the fulness of morning nor the decay of night; dispersed, it fills space; compressed, it is scarce a handful; scant, it can be ample; dark, it can be light; weak, it can be strong; soft, it can be hard. Though open on all sides, it contains the two cosmogonical Principles; it binds up the universe, while making manifest the sun, moon, and stars; it is thick as clay, and yet is watery; it is infinitesimally fine, and yet it can be subdivided; it makes mountains rise high and valleys sink low; it makes beasts to walk, birds to fly, the sun and moon to shine, the stars to move, the unicorn to come forth, and the phoenix to hover above us.

The first two Emperors of old (3rd millennium b.c.) obtained control of Tao, and established themselves in the centre of all things (China), and by their divine influence brought about civilization and gave peace to the world. Thus, the sky duly turned round, while the earth stood still, and the wheel of human life revolved without ceasing.


1st and 2nd CENTURIES b.c.

[Author of the first general History of China. The work begins with the reign of Huang Ti, the Yellow Emperor (2697 b.c.), and closes with the year 104 b.c., at about the period described in the subjoined extract. As a youth, Ssŭ-ma Ch'ien had travelled widely throughout the empire. He finally settled down as Grand Astrologer; but his spirited defence of Li Ling (q.v.) when overthrown and captured by the Huns, brought down upon him the wrath of the Emperor. He was subjected to the punishment of mutilation, and ended his days in disgrace. He reformed the calendar, and determined the chronology which still obtains in China.]


(By an Eye-Witness)

Wealth, vice, corruption,―barbarism at last.
And history, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page.

WHEN the House of Han arose, the evils of their predecessors had not passed away. Husbands still went off to the wars. The old and the young were employed in transporting food. Production was almost at a standstill, and money became scarce. So much so, that even the Son of Heaven had not carriage horses of the same colour; the highest civil and military authorities rode in bullock-carts; and the people at large knew not where to lay their heads.

At this epoch, the coinage in use was so heavy and cumbersome that a new law was made, under which the people themselves cast money, the gold unit being equal to sixteen ounces. But the laws were too lax, and it was impossible to prevent grasping persons from coining largely, buying largely, and then holding against a rise in the market. The consequence was that prices went up enormously. Rice sold at 10,000 cash[4] per picul: a horse cost 100 ounces of silver. But by-and-by, when the empire was settling down to tranquility, His Majesty, Kao Tsu, gave orders that no trader should wear silk nor ride in a carriage; besides which, the imposts levied upon this class were greatly increased, in order to keep them down. Some years later, these restrictions were withdrawn; still, however, the descendants of traders were disqualified from holding any office connected with the State.

Meanwhile, certain levies were made on a scale calculated to meet the exigencies of public expenditure; while the land-tax and customs’ revenue were regarded by all officials, from the Emperor downwards, as their own personal emolument, and such revenue was not entered in the ordinary expenses of the empire. Grain was forwarded by water to the capital for the use of the officials there; but the quantity did not amount to more than a few hundred thousand piculs every year.

Gradually, the coinage began to deteriorate and light coins to circulate; whereupon another issue followed, each piece being marked “half an ounce.” But at length the system of private issues led to serious abuses, resulting first of all in vast sums of money accumulating in the hands of individuals; finally, in rebellion; until the country was flooded with the coinage of the rebels, and it became necessary to enact laws against any such issue in the future.

At this period, the Huns were harassing our northern frontier, and soldiers were massed there in large bodies, in consequence of which food become so scarce that the authorities offered certain rank and titles of honour to those who would supply a given quantity of grain. Later on, a drought ensued in the west, and in order to meet necessities of the moment, official rank was again made a marketable commodity, while those who broke the law were allowed to commute their penalties by money payments. And now horses began to reappear in official stables; and in palace and hall, signs of an ampler luxury were visible once more.

Thus it was in the early days of the dynasty, until some seventy years after the accession of the House of Han. The empire was then at peace. But for such catastrophes as flood and drought, the people had been in the enjoyment of plenty. The public granaries were well stocked; the government treasuries were full. In the capital, strings of cash were piled in myriads, until the very strings rotted, and their tale could no longer be told. The grain in the Imperial storehouses grew mouldy year by year. It burst from the crammed granaries, and lay about until it became unfit for human food. The streets were thronged with horses belonging to the people, and on the high roads whole droves were to be seen, so that it became necessary to prohibit the public use of mares. Village elders ate of the best grain and also meat. Petty government clerkships and the like lapsed from father to son; the higher offices of State were adopted as surnames. For there had gone abroad a spirit of self-respect and of reverence for the law, while a sense of charity and of duty towards one's neighbour kept men aloof from disgrace and shame.

At length, under lax laws, the wealthy began to use their riches for evil purposes of pride and self-aggrandisement and oppression of the weak. Members of the Imperial family received grants of land, while from the highest to the lowest, every one vied with his neighbour in lavishing money on houses, and appointments, and apparel, altogether beyond the limit of his means. Such is the everlasting law of the sequence of prosperity and decay.[5]

Then followed extensive military preparations in various parts of the empire; the establishment of a tradal route with the barbarians of the south-west, for which purpose mountains were hewn through for many miles. The object was to open up the resources of those remote districts; but the result was to swamp the inhabitants in hopeless ruin. Then, again, there was the subjugation of Korea; its transformation into an Imperial dependency; with other troubles nearer home. The Huns violated their treaty and broke in upon our northern frontier, with great injury to the empire. Nothing in fact but wars and rumours of wars from day to day. Those who went to the war carried money with them; those who remained sent money after them. The financial stability of the empire was undermined, and its impoverished people were driven thereby into crime. Wealth had been frittered away, and its renewal was sought in corruption. Those who brought money in their hands received appointments under government. Those who could pay escaped the penalties of their guilt. Military merit opened the door to advancement. Shame and scruples of conscience were laid aside. Laws and punishments were administered with severer hand.

From this period must be dated the rise and growth of official venality.


Educated people mostly deny the existence of a spiritual world. Yet they will concede supernatural attributes to things; as for instance in the story of Chang Liang's rencontre with the old man who gave him that wonderful book.[6]

Now, that the founder of the Han dynasty should find himself involved in difficulties was a mere matter of destiny. But that Chang Liang should so often come to his aid,―there we detect the hand of God.

His Majesty said, “In concocting stratagems in the tent for winning battles a thousand miles away, I cannot compare with Chang Liang.” And I too had always entertained great respect for the genius of this remarkable man. But when I saw his portrait, lo and behold! his features were those of a woman. However, according to Confucius, “If we always chose men for their looks, we should have lost Tzŭ-yü.”[7] And the same is true of Chang Liang.


The Odes have it thus:―“We may gaze up to the mountain’s brow: we may travel along the great road;” signifying that although we cannot hope to reach the goal, still we may push on thitherwards in spirit.

While reading the works of Confucius, I have always fancied I could see the man as he was in life; and when I went to Shantung I actually beheld his carriage, his robes, and the material parts of his ceremonial usages. There were his descendants practising the old rites in their ancestral home;―and I lingered on, unable to tear myself away. Many are the princes and prophets that the world has seen in its time; glorious in life, forgotten in death. But Confucius, though only a humble member of the cotton-clothed masses, remains among us after many generations. He is the model for such as would be wise. By all, from the Son of Heaven down to the meanest student, the supremacy of his principles is fully and freely admitted. He may indeed be pronounced the divinest of men.


He who will face death at the call of duty must necessarily be brave. There is no difficulty in merely dying: the difficulty lies in dying at fitting junctures only.

When Hsiang-ju carried in the jewel,[8] and with haughty gesture cursed right and left of the Prince of Ch'in, death was the worst he had to fear; yet few would have been bold enough to act as he did. His courageous attitude commanded the admiration even of an enemy; and when on his return he forbore to risk death in a wrong cause, he gained for himself a name which shall endure for ever.

Verily, wisdom and courage were well combined in that man!


Reigned 202-195 b.c.

[This wonderful man, who founded the splendid House of Han, raised himself from the plough-tail to the throne. He was a simple peasant, named Liu Pang; but his genius soon placed him at the head of those malcontents who sought to shake the tyrannical yoke of the Ch‘ins; and from that time until he was proclaimed Emperor, his career was one of uninterrupted success.]



You have long groaned under the despotic sway of the Ch‘ins. To complain openly was to incur the penalty of extermination. Even casual words of objection were punished by decapitation of the individual.

Now, it was agreed between myself and the other nobles that whosoever first entered the territory of Ch'in should rule over it. Therefore I am come to rule over you. With you, I further agree upon three laws, viz:―

1. For murder, death.

2. For injury to the person, proportionate punishment.

3. For theft, proportionate punishment.

The remainder of the Ch'in laws to be abrogated.

The officials and people will continue to attend to their respective duties as heretofore. My sole object in coming here is to eradicate wrong. I desire to do violence to no one. Fear not.

My camp is for the moment at Pa-shang. I await the arrival of my colleagues in order to ratify the terms of our agreement.


Reigned 179-157 b.c.

[Bastard son of Kao Ti. The tone of this letter is especially remarkable, as addressed by the Emperor to the captain of a barbarian horde. But the irresistible power of the Huns had already begun to make itself severely felt.]


WE respectfully trust that the great Captain is well. We have respectfully received the two horses which the great Captain forwarded to Us.

The first Emperor of this dynasty adopted the following policy:―All to the north of the Long Wall, comprising the nations of the bow and arrow, to be subject to the great Captain: all within the Long Wall―namely, the families of the hat and girdle, to be subject to the House of Han. Thus, these peoples would each pursue their own avocations,―Ours, agriculture and manufacture of cloth; yours, archery and hunting,―in the acquisition of food and raiment. Father and son would not suffer separation; suzerain and vassal would rest in peace; and neither side would do violence to the other.

But of late We hear that certain worthless persons have been incited by the hope of gain to shake off their natural allegiance. Breaches of moral obligation and of treaty have occurred. There has been forgetfulness of family ties; and the tranquility of suzerain and vassal is at an end. This, however, belongs to the past. Your letter says, “The two States had become friendly; their rulers friends. The tramp of armies had been stilled for more peaceful occupations, and great joy had come upon successive generations at the new order of things.” We truly rejoice over these words. Let us then tread together this path of wisdom in due compassion for the peoples committed to our charge. Let us make a fresh start. Let us secure quiet to the aged; and to the young, opportunity to grow up, and, without risk of harm, to complete their allotted span.

The Hans and the Huns are border nations. Your northern climate is early locked in deadly cold. Therefore We have annually sent large presents of food and clothing and other useful things; and now the empire is at peace and the people prosperous. Of those people, We and you are, as it were, the father and mother; and for trivial causes, such as an Envoy's error, we should not lightly sever the bonds of brotherly love. Heaven, it is said, covers no one in particular; and Earth is the common resting-place of all men. Let us then dismiss these trifling grievances, and tread the broader path. Let us forget bygone troubles in a sincere desire to cement an enduring friendship, that our peoples may live like the children of a single family, while the blessings of peace and immunity from evil extend even to the fishes of the sea, to the fowls of the air, and to all creeping things. Unresting for ever is the course of Truth. Therefore let us obliterate the past. We will take no count of deserters or of injuries sustained. Do you take no count of those who have joined our banner.

The rulers of old never broke the faith of their treaties. O great Captain, remember this. And when peace shall prevail once more, rest assured that its first breach will not proceed from the House of Han.


Died 155 b.c.

[An Imperial counsellor, chiefly known by his strenuous opposition to the system of vassal princes, which had been in part re-established under the Han dynasty after the total abolition of feudatory government by their predecessors, the Ch'ins. Ultimately, when a coalition of seven vassal princes threatened the very existence of the dynasty, Ch'ao Ts'o was shamefully sacrificed by the Emperor, with a view to appease the rebels and avert the impending disaster.]


MAY it please your Majesty,

Ever since the accession of the House of Han there have been constant irruptions of Tartar hordes, with more or less profit to the invaders. During one reign they twice fell upon Lung-hsi, besieging the city, slaughtering the people, and driving off cattle. On another occasion, they made a further raid, murdered the officials and garrison, and carried away everything upon which they could lay their hands.

Now, victory inspires men with additional courage: with defeat their morale disappears. And these three defeats at Lung-hsi have left the inhabitants utterly demoralised, with never a ray of hope for the future. The officials, acting under the protection of the Gods and armed with authority from the Throne, may strive to renew the morale and discipline of their soldiers, and to raise the courage of a beaten people to face the onset of Huns flushed with victory. They may struggle to oppose many with few, or to compass the rout of a host by the slaughter of its leader. The question, however, is not one of the bravery or cowardice of our people, but rather of the strategy of our generals. Thus it is said in the Art of War, “A good general is more indispensable to success than a good army.” Therefore we should begin by careful selection of competent generals. Further, there are three points upon which the fate of a battle depends. These are (1) Position, (2) Discipline, and (3) Arms.[9]

We read in the Art of War, “(1) A country intersected by ditches and watercourses, or marshy, or woody, or rocky, or overgrown with vegetation, is favourable to the operations of infantry. Two horsemen are there not equal to one foot-soldier.

“Gentle slopes of soft earth, and level plains, are adapted to the manoeuvres of cavalry. Ten foot-soldiers are there not a match for one horseman.

“Where the route lies between high hills some distance apart, or through defiles with steep precipices on each side, the conditions are favourable to bowmen. A hundred soldiers with side-arms are there no match for a single archer.

“Where two armies meet at close quarters on a plain, covered with short grass and giving plenty of room to manoeuvre, the conditions are favourable to lancers. Three men with sword and buckler are not equal to one of these.

“But in jungle and amid thick undergrowth, there is nothing like the short spear. Two lancers are there not equal to one spearman.

“On the other hand, where the path is tortuous and difficult, and the enemy is concealed from view, then swordsmen carry everything before them, one man thus equipped being more than a match for three archers.

“(2) 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.

“(3) 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.”

Therefore, the Art of War says, “Bad weapons betray soldiers. Raw soldiers betray their general. Incompetent generals betray their sovereign. Injudicious sovereigns betray their country.” The above four points are of vital importance in military matters.

May it please your Majesty. There is a difference in outline between great things and small ones. There is a difference in power between the strong and the weak. There is a difference in preparation between dangerous enterprises and easy ones. To truckle and cringe to the powerful,―this is the behaviour of a petty State. To mass small forces against one great force,―this is the attitude of a hostile State. To use barbarians as a weapon against barbarians,―this is what we do in the Central State.

The configuration of the Hun territory, and the particular skill there available, are not what we are accustomed to at home. In scaling mountains and fording rivers our horses do not excel; nor our horsemen in galloping wildly along precipitous mountain paths, shooting as they go; nor our soldiers in endurance of cold, hunger, and thirst. In all these respects the Huns are our superiors. On level ground we beat them out of the field. Our bows, our spears, are incomparably better than theirs. Our armour, our blades, and the manoeuvres of our troops, are unmatched by anything the Huns can show. When our good archers discharge their arrows, the arrows strike the target all together, against which their cuirasses and wooden bucklers are of no avail. And when it comes to dismounting and hand-to-hand fighting with sword and spear in the supreme struggle, the victory is easily ours. In these respects we excel them. Thus, the Huns may be compared with us in strength as three to five. Besides which, to slaughter their myriads we can bring tens of myriads, and crush them by mere force of numbers. But arms are a curse, and war is a dread thing. For in the twinkling of an eye the mighty may be humbled, and the strong may be brought low. The stake is great, and men’s lives of no account. For him who falls to rise no more, the hour of repentance is past.

Now the maxim of our ancient kings was this:―“The greatest safety of the greatest number.” And as we have among us several thousand barbarians who, in point of food and skill, are closely allied to the Huns, let us clothe them in stout armour and warm raiment, arm them with trusty bows and sharp blades, mount them on good horses, and set them to guard the frontier. Let them be under the command of a competent general, familiar with their customs, and able to develop their morale according to the military traditions of this empire. Then, in the event of arduous military operations, let these men go to the front, while we keep back our light war-chariots and horse-arches for work upon level ground. We shall thus have, as it were, an outside and a lining; each division will be employed in the manner for which best adapted; our army will be increased, and the greatest safety of the greatest number will be achieved.

It is written, “The rash minister speaks, and the wise ruler decides.” I am that rash minister, and with my life in my hand I dare to utter these words, humbly awaiting the decision of your Majesty.


“A bold peasantry, their country’s pride.”

When the people are prosperous under the sway of a wise ruler, familiar with the true principle of national wealth, it is not only the tiller of the soil who fills his belly, nor the weaver alone who has a suit of clothes to his back.

In the days of Yao[10] there was a nine years’ flood: in the days of T‘ang, a seven years’ drought. Yet the State suffered not, because of the preparations which had been made to meet such emergencies. Now, all within the boundary of the sea is under one sceptre; and our country is wider and its inhabitants more numerous. For many years Heaven has sent upon us no visitation of flood or drought. Why then is our provision against emergency less? The fertility of the soil is not exhausted; and more labour is to be had. All cultivable land is not under tillage; neither have the hills and marshes reached their limit of production; neither has every available idler put his hand to the plough.

Crime begins in poverty; poverty in insufficiency of food; insufficiency of food in neglect of agriculture. Without agriculture, man has no tie to bind him to the soil. Without such tie, he readily leaves his birth-place and his home. He is like unto the birds of the air or the beasts of the field. Neither battlemented cities, nor deep moats, nor harsh laws, nor cruel punishments, can subdue this roving spirit that is strong within him.

He who is cold examines not the quality of cloth: he who is hungry tarries not for choice meats. When cold and hunger come upon men, honesty and shame depart. As man is constituted, he must eat twice daily, or hunger; he must wear clothes, or be cold. And if the stomach cannot get food and the body clothes, the love of the fondest mother cannot keep her children at her side. How then should a sovereign keep his subjects gathered round him?

The wise ruler knows this. Therefore he concentrates the energies of his people upon agriculture. He levies light taxes. He extends the system of grain storage, to provide for his subjects at times when their resources fail.

Man makes for grain, just as water flows of necessity in the direction of a lower level. Gold, silver, and jewels, are powerless to allay the pangs of hunger or to ward off the bitterness of cold; yet the masses esteem these things because of the demand for them among their betters. Light and of limited bulk, a handful of such valuables will carry one through the world without fear either of cold or hunger. It is for these things that a minister plays false to his prince. It is for these things that a man lightly leaves his home:―a stimulus to theft, the godsend of fugitives!

Grain and cotton cloths come to us from the earth. They are produced in due season by the labour of man, and time is needed for their growth. A few hundred-weight of such stuffs is more than an ordinary man can carry. They offer no inducement to crime; yet to be without them for a single day is to suffer both hunger and cold. Therefore the wise ruler holds grain in high honour, but degrades gold and jewels.

Now in every family of five there is an average of at least two capable husbandmen, who have probably not more than a few roods of land, the yield of which would perhaps be not more than a hundred piculs. In spring they have to plough; in summer, to weed; in autumn, to reap; in winter, to store; besides cutting fuel, repairing official residences, and other public services. Exposed, in spring, to wind and dust; in summer, to scorching heat; in autumn, to fog and rain; in winter, to cold and frost,―from year’s end to year’s end they know not what leisure means. They have besides their own social obligations, visits of sympathy and condolence, the nourishment of orphans, of the aged, and of the young. Then, when flood and drought come upon them, already compassed round with toil and hardship, the government pressing harshly, collecting taxes at unsettled times, issuing orders in the morning to revoke them at night,―those who have grain sell at half value, while those who have not borrow at exorbitant usury. Then paternal acres change hands; sons and grandsons are sold to pay debts; merchants make vast profits, and even petty tradesmen realise unheard-of gains. These take advantage of the necessities of the hour. Their men do not till: their women do not spin. Yet they all wear fine clothes and live on the fat of the land. They share not the hardships of the husbandman. Their wealth pours in from the four quarters of the earth. Vying in riches with kings and princes, in power they out-do the authorities themselves. Their watchword is gain. When they go abroad they are followed by long retinues of carriages and servants. They ride in fine coaches and drive sleek horses. They are shod in silk and robed in satin. Thus do they strip the husbandman bare of his goods; and thus it is that the husbandman is an outcast on the face of the earth.

At present, the merchant is de jure an ignoble fellow; de facto, he is rich and great. The husbandman is, on the other hand, de jure an honourable man; de facto, a beggar. Theory and practice are at variance; and in the confusion which results, national prosperity is out of the question. Now there would be nothing more presently advantageous than to concentrate the energies of our people upon agriculture; and the way to do this is to enhance the value of grain by making it an instrument of reward and punishment. Let rank be bestowed in return for so much grain. Let penalties be commuted for so much. By these means, rich men will enjoy honours, husbandmen will make money, and grain be distributed over the face of the empire. Those who purchase rank in this way will purchase out of their surplus; and by handing this over to the Imperial exchequer, the burden of taxes may be lightened, one man’s superfluity making up for the deficiency of another, to the infinite advantage of the people. The benefits of this plan may in fact be enumerated under the following heads:―(1) Sufficiency for Imperial purposes; (2) Light taxation; (3) Impetus given to agriculture.

Then again, at present a horse and cart are taken in lieu of three men under conscription for military service, on the ground that these are part of the equipment of war. But it was said of old, “An you have a stone rampart a hundred feet high, a moat a hundred feet broad, and a million of soldiers to guard the city, without food it shall be of no avail.”

From the above it is clear that grain is the basis of all government. Rather then bid men gain rank and escape conscription by payments of grain: this would be better far than payment in horses and carts. Rank can be given at will by the mere fiat of the Emperor, and the supply is inexhaustible; grain can be produced from the earth by man in endless measure; and rank and exemption from penalty are what men above all things desire.

Therefore, I pray your Majesty, bestow rank and commute penalties for grain-payments; and within three years the empire will be amply supplied.


Reigned 140-87 b.c.

[This Emperor is famous for his long and magnificent reign of fifty-four years; for his energetic patronage of scholars engaged in the resuscitation of Confucian literature; for the brilliant exploits of his generals in Central Asia against the Huns; for the establishment of universities and literary degrees, etc., etc. For a reply to the Proclamation annexed, see Tung-fang So.]


EXCEPTIONAL work demands exceptional men. A bolting or a kicking horse may eventually become a most valuable animal.

A man who is the object of the world's detestation may live to accomplish great things. As with the untractable horse, so with the infatuated man;―it is simply a question of training.

We therefore command the various district officials to search for men of brilliant and exceptional talents, to be Our generals, Our ministers, and Our envoys to distant States.


2nd Century b.c.

[Popularly known as “The Wag.” The following memorial was forwarded by him in response to the Proclamation of Wu Ti (q.v.), calling for heroes to assist in the government Tung-fang So became at once an intimate friend and adviser of the young Emperor, continuing in favour until his death. On one occasion he drank off some elixir of immortality, which belonged to the Emperor, and the latter in a rage ordered him to be put to death. But Tung-fang So smiled and said, “If the elixir was genuine, your Majesty can do me no harm; if it was not, what harm have I done?]


ILOST my parents while still a child, and grew up in my elder brother’s home. At twelve I learnt to write, and within the year I was well advanced in history and composition. At fifteen, I learnt sword exercise; at sixteen, to repeat the Odes and the Book of History―220,000 words in all. At nineteen, I studied the tactics of Sun Wu,[11] the accoutrements of battle array, and the use of the gong and drum, also 220,000 words in all, making a grand total of 440,000 words. I also carefully laid to heart the sayings of the bold Tzŭ Lu.[12]

I am now twenty-two years of age. I am nine feet three inches in height.[13] My eyes are like swinging pearls, my teeth like a row of shells. I am as brave as Mêng Fên, as prompt as Ch‘ing Chi, as pure as Pao Shu, and as devoted as Wei Shêng.[14] I consider myself fit to be a high officer of State; and with my life in my hand, I await your Majesty’s reply.


Died 117 b.c.

[A distinguished statesman, scholar, and poet, who flourished during the reigns of Ching Ti and Wu Ti of the Han dynasty. In his early days, he eloped with a young widow, and the two of them ran a wine-shop until her father came to the rescue with pecuniary assistance.]


IHAD accompanied the Imperial hunt to Ch'ang-yang. At that time His Majesty (Wu Ti, 2nd century b.c.) was an ardent follower of the chase, and loved to slaughter bears and wild boars with his own hands. Therefore I handed in the following Memorial:―

May it please your Majesty,

I have heard that although the human race is comprised under one class, the capabilities of each individual are widely different. Thus we praise the strength of this man, the swiftness of that, and the courage of a third. And I venture to believe that what is true of us in this respect is equally true of the brute creation.

Now your Majesty enjoys laying low the fierce quarry in some close mountain pass. But one day there will come a beast, more terrible than the rest, driven from its lair; and then disaster will overtake the Imperial equipage. There will be no means of escape, no time to do anything, no scope for the utmost skill or strength, over the rotten branches and decaying trunks which help to complete the disorder. The Huns rising up under your Majesty’s chariot-wheels, the barbarians of the west clinging on behind, would hardly be worse than this. And even if, in every case, actual injury is avoided, still this is not a fitting scene for the presence of the Son of Heaven. Besides, even on smooth ground and on a beaten track there is always a risk of accident,―a broken rein or a loose pin; how much more so in the jungle or on the rough mountain-side, where, with the pleasure of the chase ahead and no thought of danger within, misfortune easily comes?

To neglect the affairs of a mighty empire and to find no peaceful occupation therein, but to seek for pleasure in the chase, never wholly without peril, this is what in my opinion your Majesty should not do. The clear of vision discern coming events before they actually loom in sight: the wise in counsel avoid dangers before they definitely assume a shape. Misfortunes often lie concealed in trifles, and burst forth when least expected. Hence the vulgar saying, He who has piled up a thousand ounces of gold, should not sit with chair overhanging the dais; which proverb, though trivial in itself, may be used in illustration of great matters. I trust that your Majesty will deign to reflect hereon.


About 110 b.c.

[An Emperor of the Han dynasty was feasting several of his vassal princes who had come to pay their respects at Court, when it was observed that one of them shed tears at the sound of the music.[15] His Majesty enquired the cause of his distress, and the following was the prince’s reply. He had been a terrified witness of the unexpected fall of a number of his colleagues, apparently without other reason than the caprice of their Imperial master excited by the voice of secret slander, and was evidently afraid that his own turn might be at hand.]


MAY it please your Majesty!

There are moments when those who sorrow must weep, when those who are pensive cannot restrain their sighs. And so, when Kao Chien-li struck his lute, Ching K‘o bowed his head and forgot to eat; when Yung Mên-tzŭ vented his sorrow in song, Mêng Ch'ang-chün uttered a responsive cry. Now, mine has been a grief pent up for many a day; and whenever music's plaintive strains reach my ear, I know not how it is, my tears begin to flow.

Enough spittle will float a mountain; enough mosquitoes will cause a roar like thunder; a band of confederates will catch a tiger; ten men will break an iron bar. Combination has ever prevailed even against the greatest of the great.

And I,―I live afar off. I have but few friends, and none to intercede on my behalf. Against enough calumny, the purest purity and the ties of kindred cannot prevail. Light things may be piled on a cart until the axle snaps: it is by abundance of feathers that birds can raise their bodies in the air. And when I see so many of my colleagues tangled in the meshes of treason, my tears are beyond control.

When the sun is glowing brightly in the sky, the darkest corners are illumined by its light. Beneath the beams of the clear moon, the eye discerns the insect on the wing. But when dark clouds hide the sky behind their murky veil; when storms of dust thicken the surrounding air;―then even mighty mountains are lost to sight behind the screen of intervening things.

Thus I am beyond the pale, while the lying tongues of courtiers chatter behind my back. The way is long, and none will speak on my behalf. Therefore I weep.

Rats are not flooded out of shrines: mice are not smoked out of a house, lest the buildings suffer withal. Now, I am but distantly related to your Majesty: still we are as the calyx and the fruit of the persimmon. My rank may be low: still I address your Majesty as my elder brother. But the courtiers round the Throne: their claims to relationship are thin as the pellicle of the rush, light as the down of the wild goose. Yet they combine, and each supports the other. They bring about separations in the Imperial family, until the ties of blood vanish like melting ice. It was this that drove Poh Ch'i into exile: it was this that hurried Pi Kan to his grave.

It is said in the Odes, “Sorrow stabs my heart, and I am overwhelmed with sad thoughts. Vainly trying to sleep, I do naught but sigh. My grief is aging me. My heart throbs with it, like a throbbing head.” And such, may it please your Majesty, is my case now.


1st and 2nd Centuries b.c.

[Su Wu, the friend to whom this letter was addressed, had been sent 100 b.c. on a special mission to the court of the Huns, where, because he would not renounce his allegiance, he was thrown into prison and remained in captivity for nineteen years. He subsequently effected an escape, and returned to China, whence he wrote to Li Ling (who had meanwhile surrendered to the Huns) in a sense that will be gathered from a perusal of the latter’s reply.]


OTZŬ-CH‘ING,[16] O my friend, happy in the enjoyment of a glorious reputation, happy in the prospect of an imperishable name,―there is no misery like exile in a far-off foreign land, the heart brimful of longing thoughts of home! I have thy kindly letter, bidding me be of good cheer, kinder than a brother's words; for which my soul thanks thee.

Ever since the hour of my surrender until now, destitute of all resource, I have sat alone with the bitterness of my grief. All day long I see none but barbarians around me. Skins and felt protect me from wind and rain. With mutton and whey I satisfy my hunger and slake my thirst. Companions with whom to while time away, I have none. The whole country is stiff with black ice. I hear naught but the moaning of the bitter autumn blast, beneath which all vegetation has disappeared. I cannot sleep at night. I turn and listen to the distant sound of Tartar pipes, to the whinnying of Tartar steeds. In the morning I sit up and listen still, while tears course down my cheeks. O Tzŭ-ch'ing, of what stuff am I, that I should do aught but grieve? The day of thy departure left me disconsolate indeed. I thought of my aged mother butchered upon the threshold of the grave. I thought of my innocent wife and child, condemned to the same cruel fate. Deserving as I might have been of Imperial censure, I am now an object of pity to all. Thy return was to honour and renown, while I remained behind with infamy and disgrace. Such is the divergence of man's destiny.

Born within the domain of refinement and justice, I passed into an environment of vulgar ignorance. I left behind me obligations to sovereign and family for life amid barbarian hordes; and now barbarian children will carry on the line of my forefathers.[17] And yet my merit was great, my guilt of small account. I had no fair hearing; and when I pause to think of these things, I ask to what end I have lived. With a thrust I could have cleared myself of all blame: my severed throat would have borne witness to my resolution; and between me and my country all would have been over for aye. But to kill myself would have been of no avail: I should only have added to my shame. I therefore steeled myself to obloquy and to life. There were not wanting those who mistook my attitude for compliance, and urged me to a nobler course; ignorant that the joys of a foreign land are sources only of a keener grief.

Tzŭ-ch‘ing, my friend, I will complete the half-told record of my former tale. His late Majesty commissioned me, with five thousand infantry under my command, to carry on operations in a distant country. Five brother generals missed their way: I alone reached the theatre of war. With rations for a long march, leading on my men, I passed beyond the limits of the Celestial Land, and entered the territory of the fierce Huns. With five thousand men I stood opposed to a hundred thousand: mine jaded foot soldiers, theirs horsemen fresh from the stable. Yet we slew their leaders, and captured their standards, and drove them back in confusion towards the north. We obliterated their very traces: we swept them away like dust: we beheaded their general. A martial spirit spread abroad among my men. With them, to die in battle was to return to their homes; while I——I venture to think that I had already accomplished something.

This victory was speedily followed by a general rising of the Huns. New levies were trained to the use of arms, and at length another hundred thousand barbarians were arrayed against me. The Hun chieftain himself appeared, and with his army surrounded my little band, so unequal in strength,―foot-soldiers opposed to horse. Still my tired veterans fought, each man worth a thousand of the foe, as, covered with wounds, one and all struggled bravely to the fore. The plain was strewed with the dying and the dead: barely a hundred men were left, and these too weak to hold a spear and shield. Yet, when I waved my hand and shouted to them, the sick and wounded arose. Brandishing their blades, and pointing towards the foe, they dismissed the Tartar cavalry like a rabble rout. And even when their arms were gone, their arrows spent, without a foot of steel in their hands, they still rushed, yelling, onward, each eager to lead the way. The very heavens and the earth seemed to gather round me, while my warriors drank tears of blood. Then the Hunnish chieftain, thinking that we should not yield, would have drawn off his forces. But a false traitor told him all: the battle was renewed, and we were lost.

The Emperor Kao Ti, with 300,000 men at his back, was shut up in P‘ing-ch‘êng. Generals he had, like clouds; counsellors, like drops of rain. Yet he remained seven days without food, and then barely escaped with life. How much more then I, now blamed on all sides that I did not die? This was my crime. But, O Tzŭ-ch‘ing, canst thou say that I would live from craven fear of death? Am I one to turn my back on my country and all those dear to me, allured by sordid thoughts of gain? It was not indeed without cause that I did not elect to die. I longed, as explained in my former letter, to prove my loyalty to my prince. Rather than die to no purpose, I chose to live and to establish my good name. It was better to achieve something than to perish. Of old, Fan Li did not slay himself after the battle of Hui-chi; neither did Ts‘ao Mo die after the ignominy of three defeats. Revenge came at last; and thus I too had hoped to prevail. Why then was I overtaken with punishment before the plan was matured? Why were my own flesh and blood condemned before the design could be carried out? It is for this that I raise my face to Heaven, and beating my breast, shed tears of blood.

O my friend, thou sayest that the house of Han never fails to reward a deserving servant. But thou art thyself a servant of the house, and it would ill beseem thee to say other words than these. Yet Hsiao and Fan were bound in chains; Han and P‘êng were sliced to death. Ch‘ao Ts‘o was beheaded, Chou Po was disgraced, and Tou Ying paid the penalty with his life. Others too, great in their generation, have also succumbed to the intrigues of base men, and have been overwhelmed beneath a weight of shame from which they were unable to emerge. And now, the misfortunes of Fan Li and Ts‘ao Mo command the sympathies of all.

My grandfather filled heaven and earth with the fame of his exploits―the bravest of the brave. Yet, fearing the animosity of an Imperial favourite, he slew himself in a distant land, his death being followed by the secession, in disgust, of many a brother-hero. Can this be the reward of which thou speakest?

Thou too, O my friend, an envoy with a slender equipage, sent on that mission to the robber race, when fortune failed thee even to the last resource of the dagger. Then years of miserable captivity, all but ended by death among the wilds of the far north. Thou left us full of young life, to return a gray-beard; thy old mother dead, thy wife gone from thee to another. Seldom has the like of this been known. Even the savage barbarian respected thy loyal spirit: how much more the lord of all under the canopy of the sky? A many-acred barony should have been thine, the ruler of a thousand-charioted fief! Nevertheless, they tell me ’twas but two paltry millions, and the chancellorship of the Tributary States. Not a foot of soil repaid thee for the past, while some cringing courtier gets the marquisate of ten thousand families, and each greedy parasite of the Imperial house is gratified by the choicest offices of the State. If then thou farest thus, what could I expect? I have been heavily repaid for that I did not die. Thou hast been meanly rewarded for thy unswerving devotion to thy prince. This is barely that which should attract the absent servant back to his fatherland.

And so it is that I do not now regret the past. Wanting though I may have been in my duty to the State, the State was wanting also in gratitude towards me. It was said of old, “A loyal subject, though not a hero, will rejoice to die for his country.” I would die joyfully even now; but the stain of my prince’s ingratitude can never be wiped away. Indeed, if the brave man is not to be allowed to achieve a name, but to die like a dog in a barbarian land, who will be found to crook the back and bow the knee before an Imperial throne, where the bitter pens of courtiers tell their lying tales?

O my friend, look for me no more. Tzŭ-ch'ing, what shall I say? A thousand leagues lie between us, and separate us for ever. I shall live out my life as it were in another sphere: my spirit will find its home among a strange people. Accept my last adieu. Speak for me to my old acquaintances, and bid them serve their sovereign well. O my friend, be happy in the bosom of thy family, and think of me no more. Strive to take all care of thyself; and when time and opportunity are thine, write me once again in reply.

Li Ling salutes thee!


1st Century b.c.

[He taught himself to read and write while working as a shepherd, and soon attracted attention. Graduating as what was in his day the equivalent of B.A., he rose to some distinction in official life. The Memorial given below was presented in 67 b.c.]


MAY it please your Majesty,

Of the ten great follies of our predecessors, one still survives in the maladministration of justice which prevails.[18]

Under the Ch‘ins, learning was at a discount: brute force carried everything before it. Those who cultivated a spirit of charity and duty towards their neighbour were despised. Judicial appointments were the prizes coveted by all. He who spoke out the truth was stigmatised as a slanderer, and he who strove to expose abuses was set down as a pestilent fellow. Consequently, all who acted up to the precepts of our ancient code, found themselves out of place in their generation; and loyal words of good advice to the sovereign remained locked up within their bosoms, while hollow notes of obsequious flattery soothed the monarch’s ear and lulled his heart with false images, to the exclusion of disagreeable realities. And so the rod of empire fell from their grasp for ever.

At the present moment, the State rests upon the immeasurable bounty and goodness of your Majesty. We are free from the horrors of war, from the calamities of hunger and cold. Father and son, husband and wife, are united in their happy homes. Nothing is wanting to make this a golden age, save only reform in the administration of justice.

Of all trusts, this is the greatest and most sacred. The dead man can never come back to life: that which is once cut off cannot be joined again. “Rather than slay an innocent man, it were better that the guilty escape.” Such, however, is not the view of our judicial authorities of to-day. With them, oppression and severity are reckoned to be signs of magisterial acumen, and lead on to fortune; whereas leniency entails naught but trouble. Therefore, their chief aim is to compass the death of their victims; not that they entertain any grudge against humanity in general, but simply that this is the shortest cut to their own personal advantage. Thus, our market-places run with blood, our criminals throng the gaols, and many thousands annually suffer death. These things are injurious to public morals, and hinder the advent of a truly golden age.

Man enjoys life only when his mind is at peace; when he is in distress, his thoughts turn towards death. Beneath the scourge, what is there that cannot be wrung from the lips of the sufferer? His agony is over-whelming, and he seeks to escape by speaking falsely. The officials profit by the opportunity, and cause him to say what will best confirm his guilt. And then, fearing lest the conviction be quashed by higher courts, they dress the victim's deposition so to suit the circumstances of the case, so that, when the record is complete, even were Kao Yao[19] himself to rise from the dead, he would declare that death still left a margin of unexpiated crime. This, because of the refining process adopted to ensure the establishment of guilt.

Our magistrates indeed think of nothing else. They are the bane of the people. They keep in view their own ends, and care not for the welfare of the State. Truly they are the worst criminals of the age. Hence the saying now runs, “Chalk out a prison on the ground, and no one would remain within. Set up a gaoler of wood, and he will be found standing there alone.”[20] Imprisonment has become the greatest of all misfortunes; while among those who break the law, who violate family ties, who choke the truth,―there are none to be compared in iniquity with the officers of justice themselves.

Where you let the kite rear its young undisturbed, there will the phœnix come and build its nest. Do not punish for misguided advice, and by-and-by valuable suggestions will flow in. The men of old said, “Hills and jungles shelter many noxious things: rivers and marshes receive much filth: even the finest gems are not wholly without flaw. Surely then the ruler of an empire should put up with a little abuse.” But I would have your Majesty exempt from vituperation, and open to the advice of all who have aught to say. I would have freedom of speech in the advisers of the Throne. I would sweep away the errors which brought about the downfall of our predecessors. I would have reverence for the virtues of our ancient kings, and reform in the administration of justice, to the utter confusion of those who now pervert its course. Then, indeed, would the golden age be renewed over the face of the glad earth, and the people would move ever onwards in peace and happiness boundless as the sky itself.


1st Century b.c.

[The following is the reply of an aged statesman to his friends and kinsmen, on being urged by them to invest a sum of money, granted to him by the Emperor on his retirement from office, in landed property for his descendants. He began life as a teacher, and his success was so great that pupils flocked to him from a distance. In 67 b.c. he was appointed Tutor to the Heir Apparent.]


HOW should I be so infatuated in my old age as to make no provision for my children? There is the family estate. Let them work hard upon it, and that toil will find them in clothes and food, like other people. To add anything, and so create a superfluity, would be to hold up a premium for sloth. The genius of men who possess is stunted by possession. Wealth only aggravates the natural imbecility of fools. Besides, a rich man is an eyesore to all. I may not be able to do much to improve my children; at least, I will not stimulate their vices and cause them to be objects of hate.

Then again, this money was graciously bestowed upon me by His Majesty, as pension for the old age of a servant. Therefore I rejoice to spend it freely among my clansmen and my fellow-villagers, as I pass to my appointed rest. Am I not right?


1st Century b.c.

[A distinguished scholar who by 36 b.c. had risen to be a Censor. In 34 b.c. there was an eclipse of the sun, accompanied by a severe earthquake, which he attributed to the favours shown to the Empress and the ladies of the seraglio. For this he suffered no penalty, but ultimately died in high office. The following memorial refers to the reception of a Hun refugee, named Issimoyen, who was seeking to become a naturalised subject of China.]


{{p|aj|text=AT the rise of the Han dynasty, the Huns were a frontier curse. Accordingly, presents and honours were heaped upon them, in the hope that they would be led to join the Empire. And now that the Hun Captain has tendered his allegiance and become an officer of this government, his territory being enrolled among the Tributary States of the north,―he can entertain but one feeling towards us, and it behoves us to treat him in a manner different from that of past years. But if with one hand we receive his tribute, while with the other we welcome his fugitive servant, is not this to clutch with greedy grasp at a single individual and sacrifice the trust and confidence of a nation; to clasp to our bosom a defaulting officer and cast from us the honourable friendship of a prince?

Possibly the Hun Captain has sent his man here to test our good faith, and the request to be naturalised is but a specious plea. In this case, to receive him would be a breach of duty, and would cause the Hun Captain to separate from us altogether.

Or it may be the Hun Captain’s wish to bring about a separation in this way; and then we should but play into his hands, and enable him to quote his own loyalty against our disloyalty.

These are the beginnings of frontier troubles, of recourse to arms, and of military expeditions. Let us rather refuse to receive this man. Let us lay bare the integrity of our own hearts, and prevent the operation of any possible ruse by adhering closely to the principles of honest friendship.


Died a.d. 49.

[Popularly known as the “Wave-quelling General.” A famous commander, who crushed a dangerous rebellion in Tonquin, organised by a native Joan of Arc with a view to shake off the suzerainty of China. Was also successfully employed against the Huns and other border tribes.]


MY younger brother used often to find fault with my indomitable ambition. He would say, “The man of letters requires food and clothing only. A modest carriage and a humble hack; some small official post in a quiet place, where he may win golden opinions from the surrounding villagers―that should suffice. Why toil and strive for more?”

Later on, when away in the far barbarian south, before the rebellion was stamped out―a bog beneath my feet, a fog above my head, so that I have even seen kites drop dead in the water, killed by the poisonous vapours of the place―then I used to lie and muse upon the other view of life which my brother had set before my eyes.

And now that, thanks to you my brave comrades, my efforts have been crowned with success, and I have preceded you on the path to glory and honour―I have cause both for joy and for shame.[21]


1st Century a.d.

[A brilliant exponent of China's "higher school of criticism." Born a.d. 27, in poverty, he managed to pick up a good education and entered official life. After a short spell he retired dissatisfied to his home, and there composed his great work, the Lun Hêng or "Animadversions," in which he criticizes freely the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, and tilts generally against the errors and superstitions of his day. His subsequent writings were chiefly of a reforming character. He memorialized the throne on the prevailing vice and extravagance; and in the days of a drunken China, he pleaded for the prohibition of alcohol.]


THE Confucianists of the present day have great faith in their Master and accept antiquity as the standard of right. They strain every nerve to explain and practise the words which are attributed to their sages and inspired men. The writings, however, of these sages and inspired men, over which much thought and research have been spent, cannot be said to be infallibly true; how much less, then, can their casual utterances be so? But although their utterances are not true, people generally do not know how to convict them; and even if their utterances were true, because of the difficulty of grasping abstruse ideas, people generally would not know how to criticize them. I find that the words of these sages and inspired men are often contradictory, the value of one passage being frequently destroyed by the language of a later passage; but the scholars of our day do not see this. It is invariably said that the seventy disciples of Confucius were superior in talent to the Confucian scholars of to-day; but this is nonsense. According to that view, Confucius was a Master, and the inspired men who preached his doctrines must have been exceptionally gifted, and therefore different (from our scholars). The fact is that there is no difference. Those whom we now call men of genius, the ancients called inspired or divine beings; and therefore it has been said that men like the seventy disciples have rarely been heard of since that time.


There are but few good men in the empire, and many bad ones. The good follow right principles, and the bad defy the will of God. Yet the lives of bad men are not therefore shortened, nor the lives of good men prolonged. How is it that God does not arrange that the virtuous shall always enjoy a hundred years of life, and that the wicked shall die young, as punishment for their guilt?


Look at the hair and feathers of animals and birds, with their various colourings; can these have all been made? At that rate, animals and birds would never be finished. In spring we see plants growing, and in autumn we see them full-grown. Can God and Mother Earth have done this, or do things grow of themselves? If we say that God and Mother Earth have done it, they must have used hands for the purpose. Do God and Mother Earth possess many thousands or many myriads of hands, so that they can produce many thousands and many myriads of things, all at the same time?


All creatures are to God like children, and the kindness and love of father and mother are the same to all their children.


The dead do not become disembodied spirits; neither have they consciousness, nor do they injure anybody. Animals do not become spirits after death; why should man alone undergo this change? That which informs man at his birth is a vital fluid, or soul, and at death this vitality is extinguished, the body decays and becomes dust. How can it become a spirit? Vitality becomes humanity, just as water becomes ice. The ice melts and is water again; man dies and reverts to the condition of the vital fluid. Death is like the extinction of fire. When a fire is extinguished, its light does not shine any more; and when a man dies, his intellect does not perceive any more. The nature of both is the same. If people, nevertheless, pretend that the dead have knowledge, they are mistaken. The spirits which people see are invariably in the form of human beings, and that very fact is enough of itself to prove that these apparitions cannot be the souls of dead men. If a sack is filled with grain, it will stand up, and is obviously a sack of grain; but if the sack is burst and the grain falls out, then it collapses and disappears from view. Now, man's soul is enfolded in his body as grain in a sack. When the man dies, his body decays and his vitality is dissipated. When the grain is taken away, the sack loses its form; why then, when vitality is gone, should the body obtain a new shape in which to appear again in the world?

The number of persons who have died since the world began, old, middle-aged, and young, must run into thousands of millions, far exceeding the number of persons alive at the present day. If every one of these has become a disembodied spirit, there must be at least one to every yard as we walk along the road; and those who die now must suddenly find themselves face to face with vast crowds of spirits, filling every house and street. If these spirits are the souls of dead men, they should always appear naked; for surely it is not contended that clothes have souls as well as men. It can further be shown not only that dead men never become spirits, but also that they are without consciousness, by the simple fact that before birth they are without consciousness. Before birth man rests in God; when he dies he goes back to God. God is vague and without form, and man's soul is there in a state of unconsciousness. The universe is, indeed, full of disembodied spirits, but these are not the souls of dead men. They are beings only of the mind, conjured up for the most part in sickness, when the patient is especially subject to fear. For sickness induces fear of spirits; fear of spirits causes the mind to dwell upon them; and thus apparitions are produced. Even if disembodied spirits did exist, they could not be either pleased or angry with a sacrifice, for the following reason. We must admit that spirits do not require man for their maintenance; for if they did, they would hardly be spirits. If we believe that spirits only smell the sacrifices, which sacrifices are supposed to bring either happiness or misfortune, how do we picture to ourselves the habitations of these spirits? Have they their own provisions stored up, or must they use the food of man to appease their hunger? Should they possess stores of their own, these would assuredly be other than human, and they would not have to eat human food. If they have no provisions of their own, then we should have to make offerings to them every morning and evening; and according as we sacrificed to them or did not sacrifice, they would be satiated or hungry, pleased or angry, respectively.


The people of to-day rely on sacrifice. They do not improve their morals, but multiply their prayers; they do not honour their superiors, but are afraid of spirits. When they die, or when misfortune befalls them, these things are ascribed to noxious influences which have not been properly dealt with. When they have been properly dealt with, and offerings have been prepared, and yet misfortunes continue to be as numerous as before, they attribute it all to the sacrifices, declaring that they have not been performed with sufficient reverence. Exorcism is of no use; sacrifices are of no avail. Wizards and priests have no power, for it is plain that all depends on man, and not on disembodied spirits; on his morality, and not on his sacrifices.

  1. And therefore blasphemous.
  2. For misgovernment
  3. Tao. For this writer’s conception of Tao, see the following extract, with which may be compared the views of Chuang Tzŭ, his predecessor.
  4. About 25 cash used to go to a penny. 1 picul = 133 1/3 lbs.
  5. For further on this law, see Fulness and Decay, by Ou-yang Hsiu.
  6. Chang Liang was the friend and adviser whose counsels contributed so much to the success of Kao Ti (q.v.), founder of the House of Han. Having had occasion, in his youth, to oblige an old man by picking up his sandal for him, the latter is said to have presented him with a book from which he drew the wisdom that distinguished him so much in after life.
  7. A disciple, chiefly remarkable for great ugliness combined with lofty mental characteristics.
  8. A remarkable stone in the possession of the Prince of Chao, from whom it had been demanded by the Prince of Ch'in, in exchange for fifteen cities, which however were never intended to be handed over. Hsiang-ju managed to out-manœuvre the enemy, and bore back the stone in triumph to his master.
  9. These words were penned about two thousand years ago; and yet Mr. Demetrius Boulger (horresco referens), in the June number of the Fortnightly for 1883 treats us to the following:―}} {{p|ac|text=“China has yet to learn that arms alone will not make an efficient army.”
  10. 2356 b.c. An attempt has been made, as stated under Yang Chu (note), to identify this with Noah’s flood. It was ultimately drained away by the engineering skill of an individual known in history as the Great Yü. “Ah!” says a character in the Tso Chuan, “if it had not been for Yü, we should all have been fishes.”
  11. A skilful commander who flourished in the sixth century before Christ, and wrote a treatise on the art of war.
  12. One of Confucius’s favourite disciples, specially remarkable for his courage. Whatever he said, he did. Of him, Mr. Watters said in his “Tablets in the Confucian Temple,” p. 20, “It is very unfair of Dr. Legge to call him ‘a kind of Peter,’ meaning of course Simon Peter, a man who lacked faith, courage and fidelity, and moreover cursed and swore.”
  13. We must understand a shorter foot-rule than that now in use.
  14. Hereby hangs a pretty tale. Wei Shêng was a young man who had an assignation with a young lady beneath a bridge. At the time appointed she did not come, but the tide did; and Wei Shêng, rather than quit his post, clung to a pillar and was drowned.
  15. See note to Unpopularity, by Sung Yü.
  16. Su Wu's literary name or style.
  17. He had taken a Tartar wife.
  18. The “ten great follies” which helped to bring about the overthrow of the Ch‘in dynasty were―

     1.Abolition of the feudal system.

     2.Melting down all weapons and casting twelve huge figures from the metal.

     3.Building the Great Wall to keep out the Tartars.

     4.Building a huge pleasaunce, the central hall of which was over sixty feet in height, and capable of accommodating ten thousand guests. It is described in a poem by Tu Mu, or the younger Tu.

     5.The Burning of the Books. See Li Ssŭ.

     6.The massacre of the Literati.

     7.Building a vast mausoleum.

     8.Searching for the elixir of life.

     9.Appointing the Heir-Apparent to be Commander-in-Chief.

    10.Maladministration of justice

  19. A famous Minister of Crime in the third millennium B.C.
  20. Contrary to what is believed to have been the case during the Golden Age.
  21. Implying that his success had been due to good luck.