B.C. 550 – Rise of Confucius, The Chinese Sage by R.K. Douglas
RISE OF CONFUCIUS, THE CHINESE SAGE
Introduction by Charles F. Horne, Ph.D. & John Rudd, LL.D.
Confucius is the Latinized name of Kung Futusze, or “Master Kung,” whose work in China did much to educate the people in social and civic virtues. He began as a political reformer at a time when the empire was cut up into a number of petty and discordant principalities. As a practical statesman and administrator, he urged the necessity of reform upon the princes whom one after another he served. His advice was invariably disregarded, and as he said “no intelligent ruler arose in his time.” His great maxims of submission to the emperor or supreme head of the state he based on the analogous duty of filial obedience in a household, and his very spirit of piety prevented him from taking independent measures for redressing the evils and oppressions of his distracted country.
His moral teachings are not based on any specific religious foundation, but they have become the settled code of Chinese life, of which submissiveness to authority, industry, frugality, and fair dealing as prescribed by Confucian ethics are general characteristics. The political doctrines of this great reformer were eventually adopted, and his teaching and example brought about a peaceful and gradual, but complete revolution, in the Chinese Empire, whose consolidation into a simple kingdom was the practical result of this sage’s influence.
At the time of which we write the Chinese were still clinging to the banks of the Yellow River, along which they had first entered the country, and formed, within the limits of China proper, a few states on either shore lying between the 33d and 38th parallels of latitude, and the 106th and 119th of longitude. The royal state of Chow occupied part of the modern province of Honan. To the north of this was the powerful state of Tsin, embracing the modern province of Shanse and part of Chili; to the south was the barbarous state of Ts’oo, which stretched as far as the Yang-tsze-kiang; to the east, reaching to the coast, were a number of smaller states, among which those of Ts’e, Loo, Wei, Sung, and Ching were the chief and to the west of the Yellow River was the state of Ts’in, which was destined eventually to gain the mastery over the contending principalities.
On the establishment of the Chow dynasty, King Woo had apportioned these fiefships among members of his family, his adherents, and the descendants of some of the ancient virtuous kings. Each prince was empowered to administer his government as he pleased so long as he followed the general lines indicated by history; and in the event of any act of aggression on the part of one state against another, the matter was to be reported to the king of the sovereign state, who was bound to punish the offender. It is plain that in such a system the elements of disorder must lie near the surface; and no sooner was the authority of the central state lessened by the want of ability shown by the successors of kings Woo, Ching, and K’ang, than constant strife broke out between the several chiefs. The hand of every man was against his neighbor, and the smaller states suffered the usual fate, under like circumstances, of being encroached upon and absorbed, notwithstanding their appeals for help to their common sovereign. The House of Chow having been thus found wanting, the device was resorted to of appointing one of the most powerful princes as a presiding chief, who should exercise royal functions, leaving the king only the title and paraphernalia of sovereignity. In fact, the China of this period was governed and administered very much as Japan was up till about twenty years ago. For Mikado, Shogun, and ruling Daimios, read king, presiding chief, and princes, and the parallel is as nearly as possible complete. The result of the system, however, in the two countries was different, for apart from the support received by the Mikado from the belief in his heavenly origin, the insular position of Japan prevented the possibility of the advent of elements of disorder from without, whereas the principalities of China were surrounded by semi-barbarous states, the chiefs of which were engaged in constant warfare with them.
Confucius’ deep spirit of loyalty to the House of Chow forbade his following in the Book of History the careers of the sovereigns who reigned between the death of Muh in B.C. 946 and the accession of P’ing in 770. One after another these kings rose, reigned, and died, leaving each to his successor an ever-increasing heritage of woe. During the reign of Seuen (827-781) a gleam of light seems to have shot through the pervading darkness. Though falling far short of the excellencies of the founders of the dynasty, he yet strove to follow, though at a long interval, the examples they had set him; and according to the Chinese belief, as an acknowledgment from Heaven of his efforts in the direction of virtue, it was given him to sit upon the throne for nearly half a century.
His successor, Yew, “the Dark,” appears to even less advantage. No redeeming acts relieve the general disorder of his reign, and at the instigation of a favorite concubine he is said to have committed acts which place him on a level with Kee and Show. Earthquakes, storms, and astrological portents appeared as in the dark days at the close of the Hea and Shang dynasties. His capital was surrounded by the barbarian allies of the Prince of Shin, the father of his wife, whom he had dismissed at the request of his favorite, and in an attempt to escape he fell a victim to their weapons.
With this event the Western Chow dynasty was brought to a close.
Here, also, the Book of History comes to an end, and the Spring and Autumn Annals by Confucius takes up the tale of iniquity and disorder which overspread the land. No more dreadful record of a nation’s struggles can be imagined than that contained in Confucius’s history. The country was torn by discord and desolated by wars. Husbandry was neglected, the peace of households was destroyed, and plunder and rapine were the watchwords of the time.
Such was the state of China at the time of the birth of Confucius (B.C. 551). Of the parents of the Sage we know but little, except that his father, Shuh-leang Heih, was a military officer, eminent for his commanding stature, his great bravery, and immense strength, and that his mother’s name was Yen Ching-tsai The marriage of this couple took place when Heih was seventy years old, and the prospect, therefore, of his having an heir having been but slight, unusual rejoicings commemorated the birth of the son, who was destined to achieve such everlasting fame.
Report says that the child was born in a cave on Mount Ne, whither Ching-tsai went in obedience to a vision to be confined. But this is but one of the many legends with which Chinese historians love to surround the birth of Confucius. With the same desire to glorify the Sage, and in perfect good faith, they narrate how the event was heralded by strange portents and miraculous appearances, how genii announced to Ching-tsai the honor that was in store for her, and how fairies attended at his nativity.
Of the early years of Confucius we have but scanty record. It would seem that from his childhood he showed ritualistic tendencies, and we are told that as a boy he delighted to play at the arrangement of vessels and postures of ceremony. As he advanced in years he became an earnest student of history, and looked back with love and reverence to the time when the great and good Yaou and Shun reigned in:
- “A golden age, fruitful of golden deeds.”
At the age of fifteen “he bent his mind to learning,” and when he was nineteen years old he married a lady from the state of Sung. As has befallen many other great men, Confucius’ married life was not a happy one, and he finally divorced his wife, not, however, before she had borne him a son.
Soon after his marriage, at the instigation of poverty, Confucius accepted the office of keeper of the stores of grain, and in the following year he was promoted to be guardian of the public fields and lands. It was while holding this latter office that his son was born, and so well known and highly esteemed had he already become that the reigning duke, on hearing of the event, sent him a present of a carp, from which circumstance the infant derived his name, Le (“a carp”). The name of this son seldom occurs in the life of his illustrious father, and the few references we have to him are enough to show that a small share of paternal affection fell to his lot. “Have you heard any lessons from your father different from what we have all heard?” asked an inquisitive disciple of him. “No,” replied Le, “he was standing alone once when I was passing through the court below with hasty steps, and said to me, ‘Have you read the Odes?’ On my replying, ‘Not yet,’ he added, ‘If you do not learn the Odes, you will not be fit to converse with.’ Another day, in the same place and the same way, he said to me, ‘Have you read the rules of Propriety?’ On my replying, ‘Not yet,’ he added, ‘If you do not learn the rules of Propriety, your character cannot be established.'” “I asked one thing,” said the enthusiastic disciple, “and I have learned three things. I have learned about the Odes; I have learned about the rules of Propriety; and I have learned that the superior man maintains a distant reserve toward his son.”
At the age of twenty-two we find Confucius released from the toils of office, and devoting his time to the more congenial task of imparting instruction to a band of admiring and earnest students. With idle or stupid scholars he would have nothing to do. “I do not open the truth,” he said, “to one who is not eager after knowledge, nor do I help any one who is not anxious to explain himself. When I have presented one corner of a subject, and the listener cannot from it learn the other three, I do not repeat my lesson.”
When twenty-eight years old Confucius studied archery, and in the following years took lessons in music from the celebrated master, Seang. At thirty he tells us “he stood firm,” and about this time his fame mightily increased, many noble youths enrolled themselves among his disciples; and on his expressing a desire to visit the imperial court of Chow to confer on the subject of ancient ceremonies with Laou Tan, the founder of the Taouist sect, the reigning duke placed a carriage and horses at his disposal for the journey.
The extreme veneration which Confucius entertained for the founders of the Chow dynasty made the visit to Lo, the capital, one of intense interest to him. With eager delight he wandered through the temple and audience-chambers, the place of sacrifices and the palace, and having completed his inspection of the position and shape of the various sacrificial and ceremonial vessels, he turned to his disciples and said, “Now I understand the wisdom of the duke of Chow, and how his house attained to imperial sway.” But the principal object of his visit to Chow was to confer with Laou-tsze; and of the interview between these two very dissimilar men we have various accounts. The Confucian writers as a rule merely mention the fact of their having met, but the admirers of Laou-tsze affirm that Confucius was very roughly handled by his more ascetic contemporary, who looked down from his somewhat higher standpoint with contempt on the great apostle of antiquity. It was only natural that Laou-tsze, who preached that stillness and self-emptiness were the highest attainable objects, should be ready to assail a man whose whole being was wrapt up in ceremonial observances and conscious well-doing. The very measured tones and considered movements of Confucius, coupled with a certain admixture of that pride which apes humility, must have been very irritating to the metaphysically-minded treasurer. And it was eminently characteristic of Confucius, that notwithstanding the great provocation given him on this occasion, he abstained from any rejoinder. We nowhere read of his engaging in a dispute. When an opponent arose, it was in keeping with the doctrine of Confucius to retire before him. “A sage,” he said, “will not enter a tottering state nor dwell in a disorganized one. When right principles of government prevail he shows himself, but when they are prostrated he remains concealed.” And carrying out the same principle in private life, he invariably refused to wrangle.
It was possibly in connection with this incident that Confucius drew the attention of his disciples to the metal statue of a man with a triple clasp upon his mouth, which stood in the ancestral temple at Lo. On the back of the statue were inscribed these words: “The ancients were guarded in their speech, and like them we should avoid loquacity. Many words invite many defeats. Avoid also engaging in many businesses, for many businesses create many difficulties.”
“Observe this, my children,” said he, pointing to the inscription. “These words are true, and commend themselves to our reason.”
Having gained all the information he desired in Chow, he returned to Loo, where pupils flocked to him until, we are told, he was surrounded by an admiring company of three thousand disciples. His stay in Loo was, however, of short duration, for the three principal clans of the state, those of Ke, Shuh, and Mang, after frequent contests between themselves, engaged in a war with the reigning duke, and overthrew his armies. Upon this the duke took refuge in the state of T’se, whither Confucius followed him. As he passed along the road he saw a woman weeping at a tomb, and having compassion on her, he sent his disciple Tsze-loo to ask her the cause of her grief. “You weep as if you had experienced sorrow upon sorrow,” said Tsze-loo. “I have,” said the woman, “my father-in-law was killed here by a tiger, and my husband also; and now my son has met the same fate.” “Why, then, do you not remove from the place?” asked Confucius. “Because here there is no oppressive government,” replied the woman. On hearing this answer, Confucius remarked to his disciples, “My children remember this, oppressive government is fiercer than a tiger.”
Possibly Confucius was attracted to T’se by a knowledge that the music of the emperor Shun was still preserved at the court. At all events, we are told that having heard a strain of the much-desired music on his way to the capital, he hurried on, and was so ravished with the airs he heard that for three months he never tasted flesh. “I did not think,” said he, “that music could reach such a pitch of excellence.”
Hearing of the arrival of the Sage, the duke of T’se—King, by name—sent for him, and after some conversation, being minded to act the part of a patron to so distinguished a visitor, offered to make him a present of the city of Lin-k’ew with its revenues. But this Confucius declined, remarking to his disciples, “A superior man will not receive rewards except for services done. I have given advice to the duke King, but he has not followed it as yet, and now he would endow me with this place. Very far is he from understanding me.” He still, however, discussed politics with the duke, and taught him that “There is good government when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son.” “Good,” said the duke; “if, indeed, the prince be not prince, the minister not minister, and the son not son, although I have my revenue, can I enjoy it?”
Though Duke King was by no means a satisfactory pupil, many of his instincts were good, and he once again expressed a desire to pension Confucius, that he might keep him at hand; but Gan Ying, the Prime Minister, dissuaded him from his purpose. “These scholars,” said the minister, “are impracticable, and cannot be imitated. They are haughty and conceited of their own views, so that they will not rest satisfied in inferior positions. They set a high value on all funeral ceremonies, give way to their grief, and will waste their property on great funerals, so that they would only be injurious to the common manners. This Kung Footsze has a thousand peculiarities. It would take ages to exhaust all he knows about the ceremonies of going up and going down. This is not the time to examine into his rules of propriety. If you wish to employ him to change the customs of T’se, you will not be making the people your primary consideration.” This reasoning had full weight with the duke, who the next time he was urged to follow the advice of Confucius, cut short the discussion by the remark, “I am too old to adopt his doctrines.”
Under these circumstances Confucius once more returned to Loo, only however to find that the condition of the state was still unchanged; disorder was rife; and the reins of government were in the hands of the head of the strongest party for the time being. This was no time for Confucius to take office, and he devoted the leisure thus forced upon him to the compilation of the “Book of Odes” and the “Book of History.”
But in process of time order was once more restored, and he then felt himself free to accept the post of magistrate of the town of Chung-too, which was offered him by the duke King.
He now had an opportunity of putting his principles of government to the test, and the result partly justified his expectations. He framed rules for the support of the living, and for the observation of rites for the dead; he arranged appropriate food for the old and the young; and he provided for the proper separation of men and women. And the results were, we are told, that, as in the time of King Alfred, a thing dropped on the road was not picked up; there was no fraudulent carving of vessels; coffins were made of the ordained thickness; graves were unmarked by mounds raised over them; and no two prices were charged in the markets. The duke, surprised at what he saw, asked the sage whether his rule of government could be applied to the whole state. “Certainly,” replied Confucius, “and not only to the state of Loo, but to the whole empire.” Forthwith, therefore, the duke made him Assistant-Superintendent of Works, and shortly afterwards appointed him Minister of Crime. Here, again, his success was complete. From the day of his appointment crime is said to have disappeared, and the penal laws remained a dead letter.
Courage was recognized by Confucius as being one of the great virtues, and about this period we have related two instances in which he showed that he possessed both moral and physical courage to a high degree. The chief of the Ke family, being virtual possessor of the state, when the body of the exiled Duke Chaou was brought from T’se for interment, directed that it should be buried apart from the graves of his ancestors. On Confucius becoming aware of his decision, he ordered a trench to be dug round the burying-ground which should enclose the new tomb. “Thus to censure a prince and signalize his faults is not according to etiquette,” said he to Ke. “I have caused the grave to be included in the cemetery, and I have done so to hide your disloyalty.” And his action was allowed to pass unchallenged.
The other instance referred to was on the occasion, a few years later, of an interview between the dukes of Loo and T’se, at which Confucius was present as master of ceremonies. At his instigation, an altar was raised at the place of meeting, which was mounted by three steps, and on this the dukes ascended, and having pledged one another proceeded to discuss a treaty of alliance. But treachery was intended on the part of the duke of T’se, and at a given signal a band of savages advanced with beat of drum to carry off the duke of Loo. Some such stratagem had been considered probable by Confucius, and the instant the danger became imminent he rushed to the altar and led away the duke. After much disorder, in which Confucius took a firm and prominent part, a treaty was concluded, and even some land on the south of the river Wan, which had been taken by T’se, was by the exertions of the Sage restored to Loo. On this recovered territory the people of Loo, in memory of the circumstance, built a city and called it, “The City of Confession.”
But to return to Confucius as the Minister of Crime.
Though eminently successful, the results obtained under his system were not quite such as his followers have represented them to have been. No doubt crime diminished under his rule, but it was by no means abolished. In fact, his biographers mention a case which must have been peculiarly shocking to him. A father brought an accusation against his son, in the expectation, probably, of gaining his suit with ease before a judge who laid such stress on the virtues of filial piety. But to his surprise, and that of the on-lookers, Confucius cast both father and son into prison, and to the remonstrances of the head of the Ke clan answered, “Am I to punish for a breach of filial piety one who has never been taught to be filially minded? Is not he who neglects to teach his son his duties, equally guilty with the son who fails in them? Crime is not inherent in human nature, and therefore the father in the family, and the government in the state, are responsible for the crimes committed against filial piety and the public laws. If a king is careless about publishing laws, and then peremptorily punishes in accordance with the strict letter of them, he acts the part of a swindler; if he collect the taxes arbitrarily without giving warning, he is guilty of oppression; and if he puts the people to death without having instructed them, he commits a cruelty.”
On all these points Confucius frequently insisted, and strove both by precept and example to impart the spirit they reflected on all around him. In the presence of his prince we are told that his manner, though self-possessed, displayed respectful uneasiness. When he entered the palace, or when he passed the vacant throne, his countenance changed, his legs bent under him, and he spoke as though he had scarcely breath to utter a word. When it fell to his lot to carry the royal sceptre, he stooped his body as though he were not able to bear its weight. If the prince came to visit him when he was ill, he had himself placed with his head to the east, and lay dressed in his court clothes with his girdle across them. When the prince sent him a present of cooked meat, he carefully adjusted his mat and just tasted the dishes; if the meat were uncooked, he offered it to the spirits of his ancestors, and any animal which was thus sent him he kept alive.
At the village festivals he never preceded, but always followed after the elders. To all about him he assumed an appearance of simplicity and sincerity. To the court officials of the lower grade he spoke freely, and to superior officers his manner was bland but precise. Even at the wild gatherings which accompanied the annual ceremony of driving away pestilential influences, he paid honor to the original meaning of the rite, by standing in court robes on the eastern steps of his house, and received the riotous exorcists as though they were favored guests. When sent for by the prince to assist in receiving a royal visitor, his countenance appeared to change. He inclined himself to the officers among whom he stood, and when sent to meet the visitor at the gate, “he hastened forward with his arms spread out like the wings of a bird.” Recognizing in the wind and the storm the voice of Heaven, he changed countenance at the sound of a sudden clap of thunder or a violent gust of wind.
The principles which underlie all these details relieve them from the sense of affected formality which they would otherwise suggest. Like the sages of old, Confucius had an overweening faith in the effect of example. “What do you say,” asked the chief of the Ke clan on one occasion, “to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?” “Sir,” replied Confucius, “in carrying on your government why should you employ capital punishment at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good and the people will be good.” And then quoting the words of King Ching, he added, “The relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend when the wind blows across it.” Thus in every act of his life, whether at home or abroad, whether at table or in bed, whether at study or in moments of relaxation, he did all with the avowed object of being seen of men and of influencing them by his conduct. And to a certain extent he gained his end. He succeeded in demolishing a number of fortified cities which had formed the hotbeds of sedition and tumult; and thus added greatly to the power of the reigning duke. He inspired the men with a spirit of loyalty and good faith, and taught the women to be chaste and docile. On the report of the tranquillity prevailing in Loo, strangers flocked into the state, and thus was fulfilled the old criterion of good government which was afterward repeated by Confucius, “the people were happy, and strangers were attracted from afar.”
But even Confucius found it impossible to carry all his theories into practice, and his experience as Minister of Crime taught him that something more than mere example was necessary to lead the people into the paths of virtue. Before he had been many months in office, he signed the death-warrant of a well-known citizen named Shaou for disturbing the public peace. This departure from the principle he had so lately laid down astonished his followers, and Tsze-kung—the Simon Peter as he has been called among his disciples—took him to task for executing so notable a man. But Confucius held to it that the step was necessary. “There are five great evils in the world,” said he: “a man with a rebellious heart who becomes dangerous; a man who joins to vicious deeds a fierce temper; a man whose words are knowingly false; a man who treasures in his memory noxious deeds and disseminates them; a man who follows evil and fertilizes it. All these evil qualities were combined in Shaou. His house was a rendezvous for the disaffected; his words were specious enough to dazzle any one; and his opposition was violent enough to overthrow any independent man.”
But notwithstanding such departures from the lines he had laid down for himself, the people gloried in his rule and sang at their work songs in which he was described as their savior from oppression and wrong.
Confucius was an enthusiast, and his want of success in his attempt completely to reform the age in which he lived never seemed to suggest a doubt to his mind of the complete wisdom of his creed. According to his theory, his official administration should have effected the reform not only of his sovereign and the people, but of those of the neighboring states. But what was the practical result? The contentment which reigned among the people of Loo, instead of instigating the duke of T’se to institute a similar system, only served to rouse his jealousy. “With Confucius at the head of its government,” said he, “Loo will become supreme among the states, and T’se, which is nearest to it, will be swallowed up. Let us propitiate it by a surrender of territory.” But a more provident statesman suggested that they should first try to bring about the disgrace of the Sage.
With this object he sent eighty beautiful girls, well skilled in the arts of music and dancing, and a hundred and twenty of the finest horses which could be procured, as a present to the duke King. The result fully realized the anticipation of the minister. The girls were taken into the duke’s harem, the horses were removed to the ducal stables, and Confucius was left to meditate on the folly of men who preferred listening to the songs of the maidens of T’se to the wisdom of Yaou and Shun. Day after day passed and the duke showed no signs of returning to his proper mind. The affairs of state were neglected, and for three days the duke refused to receive his ministers in audience.
“Master,” said Tsze-loo, “it is time you went.” But Confucius, who had more at stake than his disciple, was disinclined to give up the experiment on which his heart was set. Besides, the time was approaching when the great sacrifice to Heaven at the solstice, about which he had had so many conversations with the duke, should be offered up, and he hoped that the recollection of his weighty words would recall the duke to a sense of his duties. But his gay rivals in the affections of the duke still held their sway, and the recurrence of the great festival failed to awaken his conscience even for the moment. Reluctantly therefore Confucius resigned his post and left the capital.
But though thus disappointed of the hopes he entertained of the duke of Loo, Confucius was by no means disposed to resign his role as the reformer of the age. “If any one among the princes would employ me,” said he, “I would effect something considerable in the course of twelve months, and in three years the government would be perfected.” But the tendencies of the times were unfavorable to the Sage. The struggle for supremacy which had been going on for centuries between the princes of the various states was then at its height, and though there might be a question whether it would finally result in the victory of Tsin, or of Ts’oo, or of Ts’in, there could be no doubt that the sceptre had already passed from the hands of the ruler of Chow. To men therefore who were fighting over the possessions of a state which had ceased to live, the idea of employing a minister whose principal object would have been to breathe life into the dead bones of Chow, was ridiculous. This soon became apparent to his disciples, who being even more concerned than their master at his loss of office, and not taking so exalted a view as he did of what he considered to be a heaven-sent mission, were inclined to urge him to make concessions in harmony with the times. “Your principles,” said Tsze-kung to him, “are excellent, but they are unacceptable in the empire, would it not be well therefore to bate them a little?” “A good husbandman,” replied the Sage, “can sow, but he cannot secure a harvest. An artisan may excel in handicraft, but he cannot provide a market for his goods. And in the same way a superior man can cultivate his principles, but he cannot make them acceptable.”
But Confucius was at least determined that no efforts on his part should be wanting to discover the opening for which he longed, and on leaving Loo he betook himself to the state of Wei. On arriving at the capital, the reigning duke received him with distinction, but showed no desire to employ him. Probably expecting, however, to gain some advantage from the counsels of the Sage in the art of governing, he determined to attach him to his court by the grant of an annual stipend of sixty thousand measures of grain—that having been the value of the post he had just resigned in Loo. Had the experiences of his public life come up to the sanguine hopes he had entertained at its beginning, Confucius would probably have declined this offer as he did that of the Duke of T’se some years before, but poverty unconsciously impelled him to act up to the advice of Tsze-kung and to bate his principles of conduct somewhat. His stay, however, in Wei was of short duration. The officials at the court, jealous probably of the influence they feared he might gain over the duke, intrigued against him, and Confucius thought it best to bow before the coming storm. After living on the duke’s hospitality for ten months, he left the capital, intending to visit the state of Ch’in.
It chanced, however, that the way thither led him through the town of Kwang, which had suffered much from the filibustering expeditions of a notorious disturber of the public peace, named Yang-Hoo. To this man of ill-fame Confucius bore a striking resemblance, so much so that the townspeople, fancying that they now had their old enemy in their power, surrounded the house in which he lodged for five days, intending to attack him. The situation was certainly disquieting, and the disciples were much alarmed. But Confucius’s belief in the heaven-sent nature of his mission raised him above fear. “After the death of King Wan,” said he, “was not the cause of truth lodged in me? If Heaven had wished to let this sacred cause perish, I should not have been put into such a relation to it. Heaven will not let the cause of truth perish, and what therefore can the people of Kwang do to me?” Saying which he tuned his lyre, and sang probably some of those songs from his recently compiled Book of Odes which breathed the wisdom of the ancient emperors.
From some unexplained cause, but more probably from the people of Kwang discovering their mistake than from any effect produced by Confucius’ ditties, the attacking force suddenly withdrew, leaving the Sage free to go wherever he listed. This misadventure was sufficient to deter him from wandering farther a-field, and, after a short stay at Poo, he returned to Wei. Again the duke welcomed him to the capital, though it does not appear that he renewed his stipend, and even his consort Nan-tsze forgot for a while her intrigues and debaucheries at the news of his arrival. With a complimentary message she begged an interview with the Sage, which he at first refused; but on her urging her request, he was fain obliged to yield the point. On being introduced into her presence, he found her concealed behind a screen, in strict accordance with the prescribed etiquette, and after the usual formalities they entered freely into conversation.
Tsze-loo was much disturbed at this want of discretion, as he considered it, on the part of Confucius, and the vehemence of his master’s answer showed that there was a doubt in his own mind whether he had not overstepped the limits of sage-like propriety. “Wherein I have done improperly,” said he, “may Heaven reject me! may Heaven reject me!” This incident did not, however, prevent him from maintaining friendly relations with the court, and it was not until the duke by a public act showed his inability to understand the dignity of the role which Confucius desired to assume, that he lost all hope of finding employment in the state of his former patron. On this occasion the duke drove through the streets of his capital seated in a carriage with Nan-tsze, and desired Confucius to follow in a carriage behind. As the procession passed through the market-place, the people perceiving more clearly than the duke the incongruity of the proceeding, laughed and jeered at the idea of making virtue follow in the wake of lust. This completed the shame which Confucius felt at being in so false a position.
“I have not seen one,” said he, “who loves virtue as he loves beauty.” To stay any longer under the protection of a court which could inflict such an indignity upon him was more than he could do, and he therefore once again struck southward toward Ch’in.
After his retirement from office it is probable that Confucius devoted himself afresh to imparting to his followers those doctrines and opinions which we shall consider later on. Even on the road to Ch’in we are told that he practised ceremonies with his disciples beneath the shadow of a tree by the wayside in Sung. In the spirit of Laou-tsze, Hwuy T’uy, an officer in the neighborhood, was angered at his reported “proud air and many desires, his insinuating habit and wild will,” and attempted to prevent him entering the state. In this endeavor, however, he was unsuccessful, as were some more determined opponents, who two years later attacked him at Poo, when he was on his way to Wei. On this occasion he was seized, and though it is said that his followers struggled manfully with his captors, their efforts did not save him from having to give an oath that he would not continue his journey to Wei. But in spite of his oath, and in spite of the public slight which had previously been put upon him by the duke of Wei, an irresistible attraction drew him toward that state, and he had no sooner escaped from the clutches of his captors than he continued his journey.
This deliberate forfeiture of his word in one who had commanded them to “hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles,” surprised his disciples; and Tsze-kung, who was generally the spokesman on such occasions, asked him whether it was right to violate the oath he had taken. But Confucius, who had learned expediency in adversity, replied, “It was an oath extracted by force. The spirits do not hear such.”
But to return to Confucius flying from his enemies in Sung. Finding his way barred by the action of Hwan T’uy, he proceeded westward and arrived at Ch’ing, the capital of the state of the same name. Thither it would appear his disciples had preceded him, and he arrived unattended at the eastern gate of the city. But his appearance was so striking that his followers were soon made aware of his presence. “There is a man,” said a townsman to Tsze-kung, “standing at the east gate with a forehead like Yaou, a neck like Kaou Yaou, his shoulders on a level with those of Tsze-ch’an, but wanting below the waist three inches of the height of Yu, and altogether having the forsaken appearance of a stray dog.” Recognizing his master in this description, Tsze-kung hastened to meet him, and repeated to him the words of his informant. Confucius was much amused, and said: “The personal appearance is a small matter; but to say I was like a stray dog—capital! capital!”
The ruling powers in Ch’ing, however, showed no disposition to employ even a man possessing such marked characteristics, and before long he removed to Ch’in, where he remained a year. From Ch’in he once more turned his face toward Wei, and it was while he was on this journey that he was detained at Poo, as mentioned above. Between Confucius and the duke of Wei there evidently existed a personal liking, if not friendship. The duke was always glad to see him and ready to converse with him; but Confucius’s unbounded admiration for those whose bones, as Laou-tsze said, were mouldered to dust, and especially for the founders of the Chow dynasty, made it impossible for the duke to place him in any position of importance. At the same time Confucius seems always to have hoped that he would be able to gain the duke over to his views; and thus it came about that the Sage was constantly attracted to the court of Duke Ling, and as often compelled to exile himself from it.
On this particular occasion, as at all other times, the duke received him gladly, but their conversations, which had principally turned on the act of peaceful government, were now directed to warlike affairs. The duke was contemplating an attack on Poo, the inhabitants of which, under the leadership of Hwan T’uy, who had arrested Confucius, had rebelled against him. At first Confucius was quite disposed to support the duke in his intended hostilities; but a representation from the duke that the probable support of other states would make the expedition one of considerable danger, converted Confucius to the opinion evidently entertained by the duke, that it would be best to leave Hwan T’uy in possession of his ill-gotten territory. Confucius’s latest advice was then to this effect, and the duke acted upon it.
The duke was now becoming an old man, and with advancing age came a disposition to leave the task of governing to others, and to weary of Confucius’ high-flown lectures. He ceased “to use” Confucius, as the Chinese historians say, and the Sage was therefore indignant, and ready to accept any offer which might come from any quarter. While in this humor he received an invitation from Pih Hih, an officer of the state of Tsin who was holding the town of Chung-mow against his chief, to visit him, and he was inclined to go. It is impossible to study this portion of Confucius’ career without feeling that a great change had come over his conduct. There was no longer that lofty love of truth and of virtue which had distinguished the commencement of his official life. Adversity, instead of stiffening his back, had made him pliable. He who had formerly refused to receive money he had not earned, was now willing to take pay in return for no other services than the presentation of courtier-like advice on occasions when Duke Ling desired to have his opinion in support of his own; and in defiance of his oft-repeated denunciation of rebels, he was now ready to go over to the court of a rebel chief, in the hope possibly of being able through his means “to establish,” as he said on another occasion, “an Eastern Chow.”
Again Tsze-loo interfered, and expostulated with him on his inconsistency. “Master,” said he, “I have heard you say that when a man is guilty of personal wrong-doing, a superior man will not associate with him. If you accept the invitation of this Pih Hih, who is in open rebellion against his chief, what will people say?” But Confucius, with a dexterity which had now become common with him, replied: “It is true I have said so. But is it not also true that if a thing be really hard, it may be ground without being made thin; and if it be really white, it may be steeped in a black fluid without becoming black? Am I a bitter gourd? Am I to be hung up out of the way of being eaten?” But nevertheless Tsze-loo’s remonstrances prevailed, and he did not go.
His relations with the duke did not improve, and so dissatisfied was he with his patron that he retired from the court. As at this time Confucius was not in the receipt of any official income, it is probable that he again provided for his wants by imparting to his disciples some of the treasures out of the rich stores of learning which he had collected by means of diligent study and of a wide experience. Every word and action of Confucius were full of such meaning to his admiring followers that they have enabled us to trace him into the retirement of private life. In his dress, we are told, he was careful to wear only the “correct” colors, viz., azure, yellow, carnation, white and black, and he scrupulously avoided red as being the color usually affected by women and girls. At the table he was moderate in his appetite but particular as to the nature of his food and the manner in which it was set before him. Nothing would induce him to touch any meat that was “high” or rice that was musty, nor would he eat anything that was not properly cut up or accompanied with the proper sauce. He allowed himself only a certain quantity of meat and rice, and though no such limit was fixed to the amount of wine with which he accompanied his frugal fare, we are assured that he never allowed himself to be confused by it. When out driving, he never turned his head quite round, and in his actions as well as in his words he avoided all appearance of haste.
Such details are interesting in the case of a man like Confucius, who has exercised so powerful an influence over so large a proportion of the world’s inhabitants, and whose instructions, far from being confined to the courts of kings, found their loudest utterances in intimate communings with his disciples, and in the example he set by the exact performance of his daily duties.
The only accomplishment which Confucius possessed was a love of music, and this he studied less as an accomplishment than as a necessary part of education. “It is by the odes that the mind is aroused,” said he. “It is by the rules of propriety that the character is established. And it is music which completes the edifice.”
But having tasted the sweets of official life, Confucius was not inclined to resign all hope of future employment, and the duke of Wei still remaining deaf to his advice, he determined to visit the state of Tsin, in the hope of finding in Chaou Keen-tsze, one of the three chieftains who virtually governed that state, a more hopeful pupil. With this intention he started westward, but had got no farther than the Yellow River when the news reached him of the execution of Tuh Ming and Tuh Shun-hwa, two men of note in Tsin. The disorder which this indicated put a stop to his journey; for had not he himself said “that a superior man will not enter a tottering state.” His disappointment and grief were great, and looking at the yellow waters as they flowed at his feet, he sighed and muttered to himself: “Oh how beautiful were they; this river is not more majestic than they were! and I was not there to avert their fate!”
So saying he returned to Wei, only to find the duke as little inclined to listen to his lectures, as he was deeply engaged in warlike preparations. When Confucius presented himself at court, the duke refused to talk on any other subject but military tactics, and forgetting, possibly on purpose, that Confucius was essentially a man of peace, pressed him for information on the art of manoeuvreing an army. “If you should wish to know how to arrange sacrificial vessels,” said the Sage, “I will answer you, but about warfare I know nothing.”
Confucius was now sixty years old, and the condition of the states composing the empire was even more unfavorable for the reception of his doctrines than ever. But though depressed by fortune, he never lost that steady confidence in himself and his mission, which was a leading characteristic of his career, and when he found the duke of Wei deaf to his advice, he removed to Ch’in, in the hope of there finding a ruler who would appreciate his wisdom.
In the following year he left Ch’in with his disciples for Ts’ae, a small dependency of the state of Ts’oo. In those days the empire was subjected to constant changes. One day a new state carved out of an old one would appear, and again it would disappear, or increase in size, as the fortunes of war might determine. Thus while Confucius was in Ts’ae, a part of Ts’oo declared itself independent, under the name of Ye, and the ruler usurped the title of duke. In earlier days such rebellion would have called forth a rebuke from Confucius; but it was otherwise now, and, instead of denouncing the usurper as a rebel, he sought him as a patron. The duke did not know how to receive his visitor, and asked Tsze-loo about him. But Tsze-loo, possibly because he considered the duke to be no better than Pih Hih, returned him no answer. For this reticence Confucius found fault with him, and said, “Why did you not say to him, ‘He is simply a man who, in his eager pursuit of knowledge, forgets his food; who, in the joy of its attainments, forgets his sorrows; and who does not perceive that old age is coming on?'”
But whatever may have been the opinion of Tsze-loo, Confucius was quite ready to be on friendly terms with the duke, who seems to have had no keener relish for Confucius’ ethics than the other rulers to whom he had offered his services. We are only told of one conversation which took place between the duke and the Sage, and on that occasion the duke questioned him on the subject of government. Confucius’ reply was eminently characteristic of the man. Most of his definitions of good government would have sounded unpleasantly in the ears of a man who had just thrown off his master’s yoke and headed a successful rebellion, so he cast about for one which might offer some excuse for the new duke by attributing the fact of his disloyalty to the bad government of his late ruler. Quoting the words of an earlier sage, he replied, “Good government obtains when those who are near are made happy, and those who are far off are attracted.”
Returning from Ye to Ts’ae, he came to a river which, being unbridged, left him no resource but to ford it. Seeing two men whom he recognized as political recluses ploughing in a neighboring field, he sent the ever-present Tsze-loo to inquire of them where best he could effect a crossing. “Who is that holding the reins in the carriage yonder?” asked the first addressed, in answer to Tsze-loo’s inquiry. “Kung Kew,” replied the disciple, “Kung Kew, of Loo?” asked the ploughman. “Yes,” was the reply. “He knows the ford,” was the enigmatic answer of the man as he turned to his work; but whether this reply was suggested by the general belief that Confucius was omniscient, or by wry of a parable to signify that Confucius possessed the knowledge by which the river of disorder, which was barring the progress of liberty and freedom, might be crossed, we are only left to conjecture. Nor from the second recluse could Tsze-loo gain any practical information. “Who are you, sir?” was the somewhat peremptory question which his inquiry met with. Upon his answering that he was a disciple of Confucius, the man, who might have gathered his estimate of Confucius from the mouth of Laou-tsze, replied: “Disorder, like a swelling flood, spreads over the whole empire, and who is he who will change it for you? Rather than follow one who merely withdraws from this court to that court, had you not better follow those who (like ourselves) withdraw from the world altogether?” These words Tsze-loo, as was his wont, repeated to Confucius, who thus justified his career: “It is impossible to associate with birds and beasts as if they were the same as ourselves. If I associate not with people, with mankind, with whom shall I associate? If right principles prevailed throughout the empire, there would be no necessity for me to change its state.”
Altogether Confucius remained three years in Ts’ae,—three years of strife and war, during which his counsels were completely neglected. Toward their close, the state of Woo made an attack on Ch’in, which found support from the powerful state of Ts’oo on the south. While thus helping his ally, the Duke of Ts’oo heard that Confucius was in Ts’ae, and determined to invite him to his court. With this object he sent messengers bearing presents to the Sage, and charged them with a message begging him to come to Ts’oo. Confucius readily accepted the invitation, and prepared to start. But the news of the transaction alarmed the ministers of Ts’ae and Ch’in. “Ts’oo,” said they, “is already a powerful state, and Confucius is a man of wisdom. Experience has proved that those who have despised him have invariably suffered for it, and, should he succeed in guiding the affairs of Ts’oo, we should certainly be ruined. At all hazards we must stop his going.” When, therefore, Confucius had started on his journey, these men despatched a force which hemmed him in a wild bit of desert country. Here, we are told, they kept him a prisoner for seven days, during which time he suffered severe privations, and, as was always the case in moments of difficulty, the disciples loudly bewailed their lot and that of their master.
“Has the superior man,” said Tsze-loo, “indeed, to endure in this way?” “The superior man may indeed have to suffer want,” replied Confucius, “but it is only the mean man who, when he is in straits, gives way to unbridled license.” In this emergency he had recourse to a solace which had soothed him on many occasions when fortune frowned: he played, on his lute and sang.
At length he succeeded in sending word to the duke of Ts’oo of the position he was in. At once the duke sent ambassadors to liberate him, and he himself went out of his capital to meet him. But though he welcomed him cordially, and seems to have availed himself of his advice on occasions, he did not appoint him to any office, and the intention he at one time entertained of granting him a slice of territory was thwarted by his ministers, from motives of expediency. “Has your majesty,” said this officer, “any servant who could discharge the duties of ambassador like Tsze-kung? or any so well qualified for a premier as Yen Hwuy? or any one to compare as a general with Tsze-loo? Did not kings Wan and Woo, from their small states of Fung and Kaou, rise to the sovereignty of the empire? And if Kung Kew once acquired territory, with such disciples to be his ministers, it will not be to the prosperity of Ts’oo.”
This remonstrance not only had the immediate effect which was intended, but appears to have influenced the manner of the duke toward the Sage, for in the interval between this and the duke’s death, in the autumn of the same year, we hear of no counsel being either asked or given. In the successor to the throne Confucius evidently despaired of finding a patron, and he once again returned to Wei.
Confucius was now sixty-three, and on arriving at Wei he found a grandson of his former friend, the duke Ling, holding the throne against his own father, who had been driven into exile for attempting the life of his mother, the notorious Nan-tsze. This chief, who called himself the duke Chuh, being conscious how much his cause would be strengthened by the support of Confucius, sent Tsze-loo to him, saying, “The Prince of Wei has been waiting to secure your services in the administration of the state, and wishes to know what you consider is the first thing to be done.” “It is first of all necessary,” replied Confucius, “to rectify names.” “Indeed,” said Tzse-loo, “you are wide of the mark. Why need there be such rectification?” “How uncultivated you are, Yew,” answered Confucius; “a superior man shows a cautious reserve in regard to what he does not know. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on successfully. When affairs cannot be carried on successfully, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not properly be awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore the superior man considers it necessary that names should be used appropriately, and that his directions should be carried out appropriately. A superior man requires that his words should be correct.”
The position of things in Wei was naturally such as Confucius could not sanction, and, as the duke showed no disposition to amend his ways, the Sage left his court, and lived the remainder of the five or six years, during which he sojourned in the state, in close retirement.
He had now been absent from his native state of Loo for fourteen years, and the time had come when he was to return to it. But, by the irony of fate, the accomplishment of his long-felt desire was due, not to his reputation for political or ethical wisdom, but to his knowledge of military tactics, which he heartily despised. It happened that at this time Yen Yew, a disciple of the Sage, being in the service of Ke K’ang, conducted a campaign against T’se with much success. On his triumphal return, Ke K’ang asked him how he had acquired his military skill. “From Confucius,” replied the general. “And what kind of man is he?” asked Ke K’ang. “Were you to employ him,” answered Yen Yew, “your fame would spread abroad; your people might face demons and gods, and would have nothing to fear or to ask of them. And if you accepted his principles, were you to collect a thousand altars of the spirits of the land it would profit you nothing.” Attracted by such a prospect, Ke K’ang proposed to invite the Sage to his court, “If you do,” said Yen Yew, “mind you do not allow mean men to come between you and him.”
But before Ke K’ang’s invitation reached Confucius an incident occurred which made the arrival of the messengers from Loo still more welcome to him. K’ung Wan, an officer of Wei, came to consult him as to the best means of attacking the force of another officer with whom he was engaged in a feud. Confucius, disgusted at being consulted on such a subject, professed ignorance, and prepared to leave the state, saying as he went away: “The bird chooses its tree; the tree does not choose the bird.” At this juncture Ke K’ang’s envoys arrived, and without hesitation he accepted the invitation they brought. On arriving at Loo, he presented himself at court, and in reply to a question of the duke Gae on the subject of government, threw out a strong hint that the duke might do well to offer him an appointment. “Government,” he said, “consists in the right choice of ministers.” To the same question put by Ke K’ang he replied, “Employ the upright and put aside the crooked, and thus will the crooked be made upright.”
At this time Ke K’ang was perplexed how to deal with the prevailing brigandage. “If you, sir, were not avaricious, though you might offer rewards to induce people to steal, they would not.” This answer sufficiently indicates the estimate formed by Confucius of Ke K’ang and therefore of the duke Gae, for so entirely were the two of one mind that the acts of Ke K’ang appear to have been invariably indorsed by the duke. It was plainly impossible that Confucius could serve under such a regime, and instead, therefore, of seeking employment, he retired to his study and devoted himself to the completion of his literary undertaking.
He was now sixty-nine years of age, and if a man is to be considered successful only when he succeeds in realizing the dream of his life, he must be deemed to have been unfortunate. Endowed by nature with a large share of reverence, a cold rather than a fervid disposition, and a studious mind, and reared in the traditions of the ancient kings, whose virtuous achievements obtained an undue prominence by the obliteration of all their faults and failures, he believed himself capable of effecting far more than it was possible for him or any other man to accomplish. In the earlier part of his career, he had in Loo an opportunity given him for carrying his theories of government into practice, and we have seen how they failed to do more than produce a temporary improvement in the condition of the people under his immediate rule. But he had a lofty and steady confidence in himself and in the principles which he professed, which prevented his accepting the only legitimate inference which could be drawn from his want of success. The lessons of his own experience were entirely lost upon him, and he went down to his grave at the age of seventy-two firmly convinced as of yore that if he were placed in a position of authority “in three years the government would be perfected.”
Finding it impossible to associate himself with the rulers of Loo, he appears to have resigned himself to exclusion from office. His wanderings were over:
- “And as a hare, when hounds and horns pursue,
- Pants to the place from whence at first he flew,”
he had lately been possessed with an absorbing desire to return once more to Loo. This had at last been brought about, and he made up his mind to spend the remainder of his days in his native state. He had now leisure to finish editing the Shoo King, or Book of History, to which he wrote a preface; he also “carefully digested the rites and ceremonies determined by the wisdom of the more ancient sages and kings; collected and arranged the ancient poetry; and undertook the reform of music.” He made a diligent study of the Book of Changes, and added a commentary to it, which is sufficient to show that the original meaning of the work was as much a mystery to him as it has been to others. His idea of what would probably be the value of the kernel encased in this unusually hard shell, if it were once rightly understood, is illustrated by his remark, “that if some years could be added to his life, he would give fifty of them to the study of the Book of Changes and that then he expected to be without great faults.”
In the year B.C. 482 his son Le died, and in the following year he lost by death his faithful disciple Yen Hwuy. When the news of this last misfortune reached him, he exclaimed, “Alas! Heaven is destroying me!” A year later a servant of Ke K’ang caught a strange one-horned animal while on a hunting excursion, and as no one present, could tell what animal it was, Confucius was sent for. At once he declared it to be a K’e-lin, and legend says that its identity with the one which appeared before his birth was proved by its having the piece of ribbon on its horn which Ching-tsae tied to the weird animal which presented itself to her in a dream on Mount Ne. This second apparition could only have one meaning, and Confucius was profoundly affected at the portent. “For whom have you come?” he cried, “for whom have you come?” and then, bursting into tears, he added, “The course of my doctrine is run, and I am unknown.”
“How do you mean that you are unknown?” asked Tsze-kung. “I don’t complain of Providence,” answered the Sage, “nor find fault with men that learning is neglected and success is worshipped. Heaven knows me. Never does a superior man pass away without leaving a name behind him. But my principles make no progress, and I, how shall I be viewed in future ages?”
At this time, notwithstanding his declining strength and his many employments, he wrote the Ch’un ts’ew, or Spring and Autumn Annals, in which he followed the history of his native state of Loo, from the time of the duke Yin to the fourteenth year of the duke Gae, that is, to the time when the appearance of the K’e-lin warned him to consider his life at an end.
This is the only work of which Confucius was the author, and of this every word is his own. His biographers say that “what was written, he wrote, and what was erased, was erased by him.” Not an expression was either inserted or altered by any one but himself. When he had completed the work, he handed the manuscript to his disciples, saying, “By the Spring and Autumn Annals I shall be known, and by the Spring and Autumn Annals I shall be condemned.” This only furnishes another of the many instances in which authors have entirely misjudged the value of their own works.
In the estimation of his countrymen even, whose reverence for his every word would incline them to accept his opinion on this as on every subject, the Spring and Autumn Annals holds a very secondary place, his utterances recorded in the Lun yu, or Confucian Analects, being esteemed of far higher value, as they undoubtedly are. And indeed the two works he compiled, the Shoo king and the She king, hold a very much higher place in the public regard than the book on which he so prided himself. To foreigners, whose judgments are unhampered by his recorded opinion, his character as an original historian sinks into insignificance, and he is known only as a philosopher and statesman.
Once again only do we hear of Confucius presenting himself at the court of the duke after this. And this was on the occasion of the murder of the duke of T’se by one of his officers. We must suppose that the crime was one of a gross nature, for it raised Confucius’ fiercest anger, and he who never wearied of singing the praises of those virtuous men who overthrew the thrones of licentious and tyrannous kings, would have had no room for blame if the murdered duke had been like unto Kee or Show. But the outrage was one which Confucius felt should be avenged, and he therefore bathed and presented himself at court.
“Sir,” said he, addressing the duke, “Ch’in Hang has slain his sovereign; I beg that you will undertake to punish him.” But the duke was indisposed to move in the matter, and pleaded the comparative strength of T’se. Confucius, however, was not to be so silenced. “One-half of the people of Tse,” said he, “are not consenting to the deed. If you add to the people of Loo one-half of the people of Tse, you will be sure to overcome.” This numerical argument no more affected the duke than the statement of the fact, and wearying with Confucius’ importunity, he told him to lay the matter before the chiefs of the three principal families of the state. Before this court of appeal, whither he went with reluctance, his cause fared no better, and the murder remained unavenged.
At a period when every prince held his throne by the strength of his right arm, revolutions lost half their crime, and must have been looked upon rather as trials of strength than as disloyal villanies. The frequency of their occurrence, also, made them less the subjects of surprise and horror. At the time of which we write, the states in the neighborhood of Loo appear to have been in a very disturbed condition. Immediately following on the murder of the duke of T’se, news was brought to Confucius that a revolution had broken out in Wei. This was an occurrence which particularly interested him, for when he returned from Wei to Loo he left Tsze-loo and Tsze-kaou, two of his disciples, engaged in the official service of the state. “Tsze-kaou will return,” was Confucius’ remark, when he was told of the outbreak, “but Tsze-loo will die.” The prediction was verified. For when Tsze-kaou saw that matters were desperate he made his escape; but Tsze-loo remained to defend his chief, and fell fighting in the cause of his master. Though Confucius had looked forward to the event as probable, he was none the less grieved when he heard that it had come about, and he mourned for his friend, whom he was so soon to follow to the grave.
One morning, in the spring of the year B.C. 478, he walked in front of his door, mumbling as he went:
- “The great mountain must crumble;
- The strong beam must break;
- And the wise man withers away like a plant.”
These words came as a presage of evil to the faithful Tsze-kung. “If the great mountain crumble,” said he, “to what shall I look up? If the strong beam break, and the wise man wither away, on whom shall I lean? The master, I fear, is going to be ill.” So saying, he hastened after Confucius into the house. “What makes you so late?” said Confucius, when the disciple presented himself before him; and then he added, “According to the statutes of Hea, the corpse was dressed and coffined at the top of the eastern steps, treating the dead as if he were still the host. Under the Yin, the ceremony was performed between the two pillars, as if the dead were both host and guest. The rule of Chow is to perform it at the top of the western steps, treating the dead as if he were a guest. I am a man of Yin, and last night I dreamed that I was sitting, with offerings before me, between the two pillars. No intelligent monarch arises; there is not one in the empire who will make me his master. My time is come to die.” It is eminently characteristic of Confucius that in his last recorded speech and dream, his thoughts should so have dwelt on the ceremonies of bygone ages. But the dream had its fulfilment. That same day he took to his bed, and after a week’s illness he expired.
On the banks of the river Sze, to the north of the capital city of Loo, his disciples buried him, and for three years they mourned at his grave. Even such marked respect as this fell short of the homage which Tsze-kung, his most faithful disciple, felt was due to him, and for three additional years that loving follower testified by his grief his reverence for his master. “I have all my life had the heaven above my head,” said he, “but I do not know its height; and the earth under my feet, but I know not its thickness. In serving Confucius, I am like a thirsty man, who goes with his pitcher to the river and there drinks his fill, without knowing the river’s depth.”