Chinese literature which comes under this head; but if we exclude certain brief notices of foreign countries, there remains nothing in the way of general geography which had been produced prior to the arrival of the Jesuit Fathers at the close of the 16th century. Up to that period geography meant the topography of the Chinese empire; and of topographical records there is a very large and valuable collection. Every prefecture and department, some eighteen hundred in all, has each its own particular topography, compiled from records and from tradition with a fullness that leaves nothing to be desired. The buildings, bridges, monuments of archaeological interest, &c., in each district, are all carefully inserted, side by side with biographical and other local details, always of interest to residents and often to the outside public. An extensive general geography of the empire was last published in 1745; and this was followed by a chronological geography in 1794.
The Chinese have always been fond of travel, and hosts of travellers have published notices, more or less extensive, of the different parts of the empire, and even of adjacent nations, which they visited either as private individuals Fa Hsien. or, in the former case, as officials proceeding to distant posts. With Buddhism came the desire to see the country which was the home of the Buddha; and several important pilgrimages were undertaken with a view to bring back images and sacred writings to China. On such a journey the Buddhist priest, Fa Hsien, started in A.D. 399; and after practically walking the whole way from central China, across the desert of Gobi, on to Khoten, and across the Hindu Kush into India, he visited many of the chief cities of India, until at length reaching Calcutta he took ship, and after a most adventurous voyage, in the course of which he remained two years in Ceylon, he finally arrived safely, in A.D. 414, with all his books, pictures, and images, at a spot on the coast of Shantung, near the modern German port of Kiao-chow.
Another of these adventurous priests was Hsüan Tsang (wrongly, Yüan Chwang), who left China on a similar mission in 629, and returned in 645, bringing with him six Hsüan Tsang. hundred and fifty-seven Buddhist books, besides many images and pictures, and one hundred and fifty relics. He spent the rest of his life in translating, with the help of other learned priests, these books into Chinese, and completed in 648 the important record of his own travels, known as the Record of Western Countries.
Philosophy.—Even the briefest résumé of Chinese philosophical literature must necessarily include the name of Lao Tzŭ, although his era, as seen above, and his personality are both matters of the vaguest conjecture. A number of Lao Tzŭ. his sayings, scattered over the works of early writers, have been pieced together, with the addition of much incomprehensible jargon, and the whole has been given to the world as the work of Lao Tzŭ himself, said to be of the 6th century B.C., under the title of the Tao Tê Ching. The internal evidence against this book is overwhelming; e.g. one quotation had been detached from the writer who preserved it, with part of that writer’s text clinging to it—of course by an oversight. Further, such a treatise is never mentioned in Chinese literature until some time after the Burning of the Books, that is, about four centuries after its alleged first appearance. Still, after due expurgation, it forms an almost complete collection of such apophthegms of Lao Tzŭ as have come down to us, from which the reader can learn that the author taught the great doctrine of Inaction—Do nothing, and all things will be done. Also, that Lao Tzŭ anticipated the Christian doctrine of returning good for evil, a sentiment which was highly reprobated by the practical mind of Confucius, who declared that evil should be met by justice. Among the more picturesque of his utterances are such paradoxes as, “He who knows how to shut, uses no bolts; yet you cannot open. He who knows how to bind uses no ropes; yet you cannot untie”; “The weak overcomes the strong; the soft overcomes the hard,” &c.
These, and many similar subtleties of speech, seem to have fired the imagination of Chuang Tzŭ, 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., with the result that he put much time and energy into the glorification of Lao Tzŭ and his doctrines. Possessed of a brilliant style and a master of Chuang Tzŭ. irony, Chuang Tzŭ attacked the schools of Confucius and Mo Ti (see below) with so much dialectic skill that the ablest scholars of the age were unable to refute his destructive criticisms. His pages abound in quaint anecdotes and allegorical instances, arising as it were spontaneously out of the questions handled, and imparting a lively interest to points which might otherwise have seemed dusty and dull. He was an idealist with all the idealist’s hatred of a utilitarian system, and a mystic with all the mystic’s contempt for a life of mere external activity. Only thirty-three chapters of his work now remain, though so many as fifty-three are known to have been still extant in the 3rd century; and even of these, several complete chapters are spurious, while in others it is comparatively easy to detect here and there the hand of the interpolator. What remains, however, after all reductions, has been enough to secure a lasting place for Chuang Tzŭ as the most original of China’s philosophical writers. His book is of course under the ban of heterodoxy, in common with all thought opposed to the Confucian teachings. His views as mystic, idealist, moralist and social reformer have no weight with the aspirant who has his way to make in official life; but they are a delight, and even a consolation, to many of the older men, who have no longer anything to gain or to lose.
Confucius, 551-479 B.C., who imagined that his Annals of the Lu State would give him immortality, has always been much more widely appreciated as a moralist than as an historian. His talks with his disciples and with others have been Confucius. preserved for us, together with some details of his personal and private life; and the volume in which these are collected forms one of the Four Books of the Confucian Canon. Starting from the axiomatic declaration that man is born good and only becomes evil by his environment, he takes filial piety and duty to one’s neighbour as his chief themes, often illustrating his arguments with almost Johnsonian emphasis. He cherished a shadowy belief in a God, but not in a future state of reward or punishment for good or evil actions in this world. He rather taught men to be virtuous for virtue’s sake.
The discourses of Mencius, who followed Confucius after an interval of a hundred years, 372-289 B.C., form another of the Four Books, the remaining two of which are short philosophical treatises, usually ascribed to a grandson of Confucius. Mencius. Mencius devoted his life to elucidating and expanding the teachings of the Master; and it is no doubt due to him that the Confucian doctrines obtained so wide a vogue. But he himself was more a politician and an economist (see below) than a simple preacher of morality; and hence it is that the Chinese people have accorded to him the title of The Second Sage. He is considered to have Mo Ti. effectually “snuffed out” the heterodox school of Mo Ti, a philosopher of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. who propounded a doctrine of “universal love” as the proper foundation for organized society, arguing that under such a system all the calamities that men bring upon one another would altogether disappear, and the Golden Age would be renewed. At the same time Mencius exposed Yang Chu. the fallacies of the speculations of Yang Chu, 4th century B.C., who founded a school of ethical egoism as opposed to the exaggerated altruism of Mo Ti. According to Mencius, Yang Chu would not have parted with one hair of his body to save the whole world, whereas Mo Ti would have sacrificed all. Another early Hsün Tzŭ. philosopher is Hsün Tzŭ, 3rd century B.C. He maintained, in opposition to Mencius, who upheld the Confucian dogma, and in conformity with Christian doctrine, that the nature of man at his birth is evil, and that this condition can only be changed Yang Hsiung. by efficient moral training. Then came Yang Hsiung, 53-18 B.C., who propounded an ethical criterion midway between the rival positions insisted on by Mencius and Hsün Tzŭ, teaching that the nature of man at birth is neither good nor evil, but a mixture of both, and that development in either direction depends wholly upon circumstances.
There is a voluminous and interesting work, of doubtful age, which passes under the title of Huai-nan Tzŭ, or the Philosopher of Huai-nan. It is attributed to Liu An, prince of Huai-nan, who died 122 B.C., and who is further said to have written on Huai-nan Tzŭ. alchemy; but alchemy was scarcely known in China at the date of his death, being introduced about that time from Greece. The author, whoever he may have been, poses as a disciple of Lao Tzŭ; but the speculations of Lao Tzŭ, as glorified by Chuang Tzŭ, were then rapidly sinking into vulgar efforts to discover the elixir of life. It is very difficult in many cases of this kind to decide what books are, and what books are not, partial or complete forgeries. In the present instance, the aid of the Shuo Wên, a dictionary of the 1st century A.D. (see below), may be invoked, but not in quite so satisfactory a sense as that in which it will be seen lower down to have been applied to the Tao Tê Ching. The Shuo Wên contains a quotation said to be taken from Huai-nan Tzŭ; but that quotation cannot be found in the work under consideration. It may be argued that the words in question may have been taken from another work by the same author; but if so, it becomes difficult to believe that a book, more than two hundred years old, from which the author of the Shuo Wên quoted, should have been allowed to perish without leaving any trace behind. China has produced its Bentleys