Sunday, December 21, 2014

War and Change in China

Featuring Robert K. Douglas

Previously on Confucius. And now, Robert K. Douglas.

Time: 551 BC - 479 BC
Place: China

cc Wikipedia
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 dispatched 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.

Continued on Monday, December 22nd.

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