The Ch'un Ts'ew/Prolegomena/I/i

The Ch'un Ts'ew  (1872)  by Confucius, translated by James Legge
Prolegomena, Chapter I, Section I




1. In the prolegomena to vol. I., on page 1, I have said that of the five King or classical works, the authorship, or compilation rather, of which is loosely attributed to Confucius, 'the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw is the only one which can rightly be described as of his own making.' Was the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw made by Confucius?If I had been as familiar with the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw in 1861 as I am now, instead of appearing, as in that judgment, to allow that it is an original Work of the sage, I should have contented myself with saying that of it alone has the making been claimed for him. The question as to what he really did in the matter of this Classic is one of great perplexity.

2. The earliest authority who speaks on the subject is Mencius. No better could be desired; and the glowing account which he gives of the Work excites our liveliest expectations. Mencius' account of the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw.His language puts it beyond doubt that in his time, not far removed from that of Confucius, there was a book current in China, called the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw, and accepted without question by him and others as having been made by the sage. "The world," he says, 'was fallen into decay, and right principles had dwindled away. Perverse discourses and oppressive deeds were again waxen rife. Cases were occurring of ministers who murdered their rulers, and of sons who murdered their fathers. Confucius was afraid, and made the Ch‘un Ts‘ew.'[1] He describes the work as of equal value with Yu’s regulation of the waters of the deluge, and the duke of Chow's establishing his dynasty amid the desolations and disorder which had been wrought by the later sovereigns of the dynasty of Shang. 'Confucius completed the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw, and rebellious ministers and villainous sons were struck with terror.’[2] Going more particularly into the nature of the Work, and fortifying himself with the words of the Master, Mencius says, ‘The subjects of the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw are Hwan of Ts‘e and Wăn of Tsin, and its style is the historical. Confucius said, "Its righteous decisions I ventured to make."'[3] And again, 'What the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw contains are matters proper to the son of Heaven. On this account Confucius said, "Yes! It is the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw which will make men know me; and it is the Ch‘un Ts‘ew which will make men condemn me."[4] The words of Mencius, that 'Confucius made the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw,’ became thereafter part of the stock phraseology of Chinese scholars. If the Work itself had not been recovered under the Han dynasty, after the efforts of the tyrant of Ts‘in to destroy the ancient monuments of literature, we should have regretted its loss, thinking of it as a history from the stylus of the sage of China in which had been condensed the grandest utterances of his wisdom and the severest lessons of his virtue.

3. The making of a history, indeed, is different from the making of a poem, the development of a philosophy, and other literary achievements in which we expect large results of original thought. What we are to expect in a history.In those we look for new combinations of the phaenomena of human character, and new speculations on the divine order of the universe,—'things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.' But from the historian all that we are entitled to require is a faithful record of facts. If he would win our special approval, he must weave his facts into an interesting narrative, trace their connexion with one another, and by unfolding the motives of the actors teach lessons that may have their fruit in guiding and directing the course of events in future generations. The making of history should be signalized by the vigour and elegance of the composition, and by the correct discrimination, impartiality, and comprehensiveness of the author’s judgments.

When, with these ideas of what a history should be, we look into the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw, we experience immediately an intense feeling of disappointment. Our disappointment in reading with such expectations the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw. Instead of a history of events woven artistically together, we find a congeries of the briefest possible intimations of matters in which the court and State of Loo were more or less concerned, extending over 242 years, without the slightest tincture of literary ability in the composition, or the slighest indication of judicial opinion on the part of the writer. The paragraphs are always brief. Each one is designed to commemorate a fact; but whether that fact be a display of virtue calculated to command our admiration, or a deed of atrocity fitted to awaken our disgust, it can hardly be said that there is anything in the language to convey to us the shadow of an idea of the author's feeling about it. The notices, for we cannot call them narratives, are absolutely unimpassioned. A base murder and a shining act of heroism are chronicled just as the eclipses of the sun are chronicled. So and so took place;—that is all. No details are given; no judgment is expressed. The reader may be conscious of an emotion of delight or of indignation according to the opinion which he forms of the event mentioned, especially when he has obtained a fuller account of it from some other quarter; but there is nothing in the text to excite the one feeling or the other. Whether the statements found in the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw be all reliable, and given according to the truth of the facts, is a point of the utmost importance, which will be duly considered by and by. I am at present only concerned to affirm that the Work is not at all of the nature which we should suppose from our previous conception of it as a history by a great man, and from the accounts given of it by Confucius himself and by Mencius.[5]

4. If I have given in these remarks a correct, though brief, idea of what the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw is, we know not what to make of the statement of Confucius quoted by Mencius, The saying of Confucius that he had made the righteous decisions in the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw.that he had himself ventured to make the righteous decisions contained in it. Whether the book which we now have be that which Confucius is said to have made, or another, we examine it in vain for any ‘righteous decisions,’ for any decisions indeed of any kind, on the events which are indicated in it. This difficulty is a Gordian knot which I do not see any way of untying, and I have often wished that I could cut it by denying the genuineness of the present Ch‘un Ts‘ëw altogether.[6] But, as will by and by appear, the evidence which connects and identifies the existing Work with that made, whatever be the sense in which we are to take that term, by the sage, cannot be rebutted. The simplest way of disposing of the matter is to set the testimony of Mencius on one side, though that method of proceeding can hardly be vindicated on critical grounds.

There can be no doubt, however, that the expression in Mencius about ‘the righteous decisions’ has had a most powerful and pernicious influence over the interpretation of the Classic. Chaou K‘e, the earliest commentator on Mencius, explains the passage as intimating that the sage in making the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw exercised his prerogative as ‘the unsceptred king.’ A subject merely, and without any order from his ruler, he yet made the Work on his own private authority; and his saying that he ventured to give his own judgments on things in it was simply an expression of his humility.[7] Chaou gives the same explanation of those words of Mencius, that ‘what the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw contains are matters proper to the son of Heaven.' 'Confucius,’ says the commentator, ‘made the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw by means of the Historical Records of Loo, setting forth his laws as an unsceptred king, which are what Mencius calls "the matters of the Son of Heaven."'[8]

Hundreds of critics, from Kung-yang and Kuh-lëang downwards, have tried to interpret the Classic on the principle of finding in almost every paragraph some 'righteous decision;’ and in my notes I have in a hundred places pointed out the absurdities in which such a method lands us. The same peculiarity of the style, such as the omission of a clan-name, becomes in one passage the sign of censure and in another the sign of praise.[9] The whole Book is a collection of riddles, to which there are as many answers as there are guessers. It is hardly possible for a Chinese to cast off from his mind the influence of this 'praise-and-censure' theory in studying the Classic. He has learned it when a child by committing to memory at school the lines of the 'Primer of Three Characters,'[10] and it has been obtruded upon him in most of his subsequent reading. Even a foreigner finds himself occasionally casting about for some such way of accounting for the ever varying forms of expression, unwilling to believe that the changes have been made at random. I proceed in another section to give a fuller idea of the nature of the Work; and to consider what were its sources, and whether we have reason to think that Confucius, in availing himself of them, made additions of his own or retrenchments.

  1. Mencius, III. Pt. i. IX. 7, 8:—,,,,孔子春秋.
  2. Ib., 11:—洪水,天下,周公,,百姓,孔子春秋,.
  3. Mencius, IV. Pt. ii. XXI. 3.:—,,孔子,. We must suppose that Hwan of Ts‘e and Wăn of Tsin are here adduced as two of the most remarkable personages in the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw, and that the first clause is not intended to convey the idea that the Work was all about them. I have mused often and long over the other parts of the paragraph. might be translated:—'The text is from the historiographers.’ But where then would there be any room for 'the righteous decisions' of Confucius himself? I must hold to the version I have given of the observation quoted from the sage, and it seems to require the translation of the previous clause as I have published it. Julien has:—Ejus stylus, tunc historicus. Confucius aiebat: Haec equitas, tunc ego Khieou privatim sumpsi illam.'
  4. III. Pt. i. IX. 8.:—春秋,天子,是故孔子,春秋,春秋.
  5. It is amusing to read the following account of the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw given by the writer of the treatise 'On the Antiquity of the Chinese,' on pp. 47, 48 of the 1st vol. of the 'Memoires Concernant les Chinois:'—

    'Le Tchun-tsieou est un livre ecrit de génie. Notre Socrate y manie l’Histoire en homme d’Etat, en Citoyen, en Philosophe, en Savant, et en Moraliste. Son laconisme naïf et sublime le force à serrer sa narration, pour présenter les faits tout nouds et détachés, pour ainsi dire, de la chaine des evénemens; mais ils sont dessinés, colorés, ombrés et peints avec tant de force et de feu, qu'on sent d’abord pourquoi et jusqu’où ils sont dignes de louanges ou de blâme. Nous ne connaissons point de livre en Europe, où l’on voit si bien le commencement, le progrès, le dénouement, et le remede des révolutions dans I'Etat et dans les mœurs; les vrais signes de roideur ou de mollesse, de tyrannie ou de discrédit, de modération simulée ou d'inconséquence dans le Gouvernement; les différences du talent, du génie, de l'expérience, de la profondeur des vues, de la bonté de coup-d'œil, et des ressources d'un esprit fécond dans les Princes et dans leur ministres, l’imposant d’une administration bruyante et le faux d’une politique pateline, les souterrains de la trahison et les maneges de la negociation, les premieres etincelles d'une révolte qui commence et les derniers eclats d’une ligue epuisée; la maniere enfin dont le Chang-ti (Dieu) dirige le cours des evénemens, pour elever ou renverser les Trônes, et punir ou recompenser tour-à-tour les Sujets par leurs Princes et les Princes par leurs Sujets. Le Tchun-tsieou, envisagé sous ce point de vue, est le modele de toutes les Histoires. Confucius a un style qui ne va qu’à lui. Il semble que chaque caractere ait eté fait pour l’endroit où il le place. Plus il est avare de mots, plus ceux qu’il emploie sout clairs et expressifs.’

    The above is certainly of a piece with the estimate of the ancient odes of China which I quoted from the same article in the prolegomena to vol. IV., pp. 114, 115. Dr. Williams (Middle Kingdom, vol. I., p. 512) gives a more fair account of the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw, but even he thinks that it contains much good matter of which we find no trace:—‘It is but little better than a dry detail of facts, enlivened by few incidents, but containing many of those practical observations which distinguish the writings of the sage.’ Anyone who looks into the body of this volume will see that the text consists of nothing but a dry detail of facts or incidents, without a single practical observation, Confucian or non-Confucian.
  6. There have been Chinese scholars who have taken up this position. Wang Taou, in a monograph on the subject, places Ma Twan-lin among them; but this is more than Ma's words, quoted in the third section, will sustain. With more reason he gives the name of Hoh King () of the Ming dynasty, who contends that the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw of Confucius was not transmitted, and that we have only fragments of it in Tso-she. Wang also says that according to Tung Chung-shoo and Sze-ma Ts‘ëen the text consisted of several myriads of characters, in several thousand paragraphs, whereas Chang Gan of the T‘ang dynasty found in it only 18000 characters. But there can be no doubt the present text is substantially the same as that known in the Han dynasty. See Appendix II.
  7. 孔子,以爲,孔子,,,,聖人.
  8. 孔子,春秋,,,天子.
  9. It may be well here to give the discussion of one notable case, the occasional omission of the term king:—taken from Chaou Yih’s 陔餘業考,:—

    ‘Every year should commence with "In the spring, in the king’s first month," or if there was nothing to be recorded under the first month, "In the spring, in the king's second month,” or “In the spring, in the king’s third month;" the object being thereby to do honour to the king. In the 9th and 11th years, however, of duke Yin, we have only "In the spring," and in all the years of duke Hwan but four the expression 'the king's' is omitted. Too Yu holds that in those years the king had not issued the calendar; but seeing the prime intent of the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw was to honour the king, is it likely that for such an emission the classic would have denied the year to be the king’s? Moreover, such omission was most likely to occur when the court was in confusion, as in the troubles occasioned by the princes T‘uy, Tae, and Chaou; and yet we find the years of those times all with the regular formula. How unlikely that the calendar should have been given out in seasons of disorder, and neglected when all was tranquil in the times of Yin and Hwan! Too's explanation is inadmissible.

    'Ch‘ing E-ch‘uen says, “Duke Hwan succeeded to Loo by the murder of his predecessor, and in his first year the author wrote ‘the king’s,’ thereby by a royal law indicating his crime. The same expression in the second year in the same way indicates the crime of Tuh of Sung in murdering his ruler. Its omission in the third year shows that Hwan had no [fear of the] king before his eyes." But this is very inconsistent. If we say that the omission “the king’s" shows that Hwan had no fear of the king, surely it ought to have been omitted in his first year, when he was guilty of such a crime. If we say that its occurrence in the first year is to indicate his crime, are we to infer that wherever it occurs it indicates the crime of the ruler? What had Loo to do with Tuh of Sung’s murdering his ruler? Is it reasonable that Loo's historiographers should have constructed their annals to punish him?

    Ho Hëw says,—“In [Hwan's] 10th year we find ‘the king's,’ because ten is the completion of numbers, and we find it in his 18th year because that was the last of his rule." According to this we ought to find "the king‘s" only in the year of a ruler's accession, in his tenth year, and the year of his death; but the practice in the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw is quite different from this. Ho Hëw's remark is unintelligible.

    ‘It may be said that since the Chow commencement of the year was not universally followed during the Ch‘un Ts‘ëw period, some States reckoning by the 1st month of Yin and others by that of Hëa, although Loo generally held to the ritual of Chow, yet its irregularities in the matter of intercalation show that it did not keep to the first month of Chow. Perhaps the historiographers did so sometimes, and then Confucius wrote "the king's first month," by way of distinction, while he left the cases in which they made the year begin differently unmarked by such a note,—thereby condemning them.‘ This last is poor Chaou Yih's own explanation of the phenomenon, not a whit better than the devices of others which he condemns! It shows the correctness of my remark that it is next to impossible for a Chinese scholar to shake of the trammels of the creed in which he has been educated.
  10. ,春秋,,;—see the 三字經, II. 79, 80.