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CONFUCIUS

difficult to determine what there was about Confucius to secure for him the influence which he has wielded. Reference has been made to his literary tasks; but the study of them only renders the undertaking more difficult. He left no writings in which he detailed the principles of his moral and social system. The Doctrine of the Mean, by his grandson Tze-sze, and The Great Learning, by Tsăng Sin, the most profound, perhaps, of his disciples, give us the fullest information on that subject, and contain many of his sayings. The Lun-Yii, or Analects, “Discourses and Dialogues,” is a compilation in which many of his disciples must have taken part, and has great value as a record of his ways and utterances; but its chapters are mostly disjecta membra, affording faint traces of any guiding method or mind. Mencius, Hsiin K‛ing and writers of the Han dynasty, whose works, however, are more or less apocryphal, tell us much about him and his opinions, but all in a loose and unconnected way. No Chinese writer has ever seriously undertaken to compare him with the philosophers and sages of other nations.

The sage, probably, did not think it necessary to put down many of his own thoughts in writing, for he said of himself that he was “a transmitter, and not a maker.” Nor did he lay claim to have any divine revelations. He was not born, he declared, Connexion with the literature
of China.
with knowledge, but was fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking knowledge there. The rule of life for men in all their relations, he held, was to be found within themselves. The right development of that rule, in the ordering not of the individual only, but of society, was to be found in the words and institutions of the ancient sages.

China had a literature before Confucius. All the monuments of it, however, were in danger of perishing through the disorder into which the kingdom had fallen. The feudal system that had subsisted for more than 1500 years had become old. Confucius did not see this, and it was impossible that he should.

China was in his eyes drifting from its ancient moorings, drifting on a sea of storms “to hideous ruin and combustion”; and the expedient that occurred to him to arrest the evil was to gather up and preserve the records of antiquity, illustrating and commending them by his own teachings. For this purpose he lectured to his disciples on the histories, poems and constitutional works of the nation. What he thus did was of inestimable value to his own countrymen, and all other men are indebted to him for what they know of China before his time, though all the contents of the ancient works have not come down to us.

He wrote, we are told, a preface to the Shu King, or Book of Historical Documents. The preface is, in fact, only a schedule, without any remark by Confucius himself, giving the names of 100 books, of which it consisted. Of these we now possess 59, the oldest going back to the 23rd century, and the latest dating in the 8th century B.C. The credibility of the earlier portions, and the genuineness of several of the documents, have been questioned, but the collection as a whole is exceedingly valuable.

The Shih king, or Ancient Poems, as existing in his time, or compiled by him (as generally stated, contrary to the evidence in the case), consisted of 311 pieces, of which we possess 305. The latest of them dates 585 years B.C., and the oldest of them ascends perhaps twelve centuries higher. It is the most interesting book of ancient poetry in the world, and many of the pieces are really fine ballads. Confucius was wont to say that he who was not acquainted with the Shih was not fit to be conversed with, and that the study of it would produce a mind without a single depraved thought. This is nearly all we have from him about the poems.

The Li ki, or Books of Rites and Ancient Ceremonies and of Institutions, chiefly of the Chow dynasty, have come down to us in a sadly mutilated condition. They are still more than sufficiently voluminous, but they were edited, when recovered under the Han dynasty, with so many additions, that it is hardly worth while to speak of them in connexion with Confucius, though much of what was added to them is occupied with his history and sayings.

Of all the ancient books not one was more prized by him than the Yi-king, or “The Book of Changes,” the rudiments of which are assigned to Fuh-hi about the 30th century B.C. Those rudiments, however, are merely the 8 trigrams and 64 hexagrams, composed of a whole and a broken line (——, — —), without any text or explanation of them earlier than the rise of the Chow dynasty. The leather thongs, by which the tablets of Confucius’s copy were tied together, were thrice worn out by his constant handling. He said that if his life were lengthened he would give fifty years to the study of the Yi, and might then be without great faults. This has come down to us entire. If not intended from the first for purposes of divination, it was so used both before and after Confucius, and on that account it was exempted, through the superstition of the emperor of the Ts‛in dynasty, from the flames. It is supposed to give a theory of the phenomena of the physical universe, and of moral and political principles by the trigrams and the different lines and numbers of the hexagrams of Fuh-hi. Almost every sentence in it is enigmatic. As now published, there are always subjoined to it certain appendixes, which are ascribed to Confucius himself. Pythagoras and he were contemporaries, and in the fragments of the Samian philosopher about the “elements of numbers as the elements of realities” there is a remarkable analogy with much of the Yi. No Chinese critic or foreign student of Chinese literature has yet been able to give a satisfactory account of the book.

But a greater and more serious difficulty is presented by his last literary labour, the work claimed by him as his own, and which has already been referred to more than once as the Annals of Lu. Its title is the Ch‛un Ch‛iu, or “Spring and Autumn,” the events of every year being digested under the heads of the four seasons, two of which are used by synecdoche for the whole. Mencius held that the composition of the Ch‛un Ch‛iu was as great a work as Yu’s regulation of the waters of the deluge with which the Shu King commences, and did for the face of society what the earlier labour did for the face of nature. This work also has been preserved nearly entire, but it is excessively meagre. The events of 242 years barely furnish an hour or two’s reading. Confucius’s annals do not bear a greater proportion to the events which they indicate than the headings in our Bibles bear to the contents of the chapters to which they are prefixed. Happily Tso K‛iu-ming took it in hand to supply those events, incorporating also others with them, and continuing his narratives over some additional years, so that through him the history of China in all its states, from year to year, for more than two centuries and a half, lies bare before us. Tso never challenges the text of the master as being incorrect, yet he does not warp or modify his own narratives to make them square with it; and the astounding fact is, that when we compare the events with the summary of them, we must pronounce the latter misleading in the extreme. Men are charged with murder who were not guilty of it, and base murders are related as if they had been natural deaths. Villains, over whose fate the reader rejoices, are put down as victims of vile treason, and those who dealt with them as he would have been glad to do are subjected to horrible executions without one word of sympathy. Ignoring, concealing and misrepresenting are the characteristics of the Spring and Autumn.

And yet this work is the model for all historical summaries in China. The want of harmony between the facts and the statements about them is patent to all scholars, and it is the knowledge of this, unacknowledged to themselves, which has made the literati labour with an astonishing amount of fruitless ingenuity and learning to find in individual words, and the turn of every sentence, some mysterious indication of praise or blame. But the majority of them will admit no flaw in the sage or in his annals. His example in the book has been very injurious to his country. One almost wishes that critical reasons could be found for denying its authenticity. Confucius said that “by the Spring and Autumn men would know him and men would condemn him.” It certainly obliges us to make a large deduction from our estimate of his character and of the beneficial influence which he has exerted. The examination of his literary labours does not on the whole increase our appreciation of him. We get a higher idea of the man from the accounts which his disciples have given us