Gems of Chinese Literature/Wang An-shih-On the Study of False Doctrines

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Gems of Chinese Literature  (1922)  translated by Herbert Allen Giles
On the Study of False Doctrines by Wang An-shih


a.d. 1021-1086

[A scholar, poet, and statesman, popularly known as “the Reformer,” in consequence of certain momentous political reforms he was enabled temporarily to introduce; the most remarkable being a system of compulsory military training for all classes of the people. He denounced the Tao Tê Ching, attributed to Lao Tzŭ (q.v.), as “akin to nonsense.” In 1104, his tablet was placed in the Confucian temple, only, however, to remain there about a hundred and forty years, when it was removed.]

IHAVE been debarred by illness from writing to you now for some time, though my thoughts have been with you all the while.

In reply to my last letter wherein I expressed a fear that you were not progressing with your study of the Canon, I have received several from you, in all of which you seem to think I meant the Canon of Buddha, and you are astonished at my recommendation of such pernicious works. But how could I possibly have intended any other than the Canon of the sages of China? And for you to have thus missed the point of my letter is a good illustration of what I meant when I said I feared you were not progressing with your study of the Canon.

Now a thorough knowledge of our Canon has not been attained by any one for a very long period. Study of the Canon alone does not suffice for a thorough knowledge of the Canon. Consequently, I have been myself an omnivorous reader of books of all kinds, even, for example, of ancient medical and botanical works. I have moreover dipped into treatises on agriculture and on needlework, all of which I have found very profitable in aiding me to seize the great scheme of the Canon itself. For learning in these days is a totally different pursuit from what it was in the olden times; and it is now impossible otherwise to get at the real meaning of our ancient sages.

There was Yang Hsiung. He hated all books that were not orthodox. Yet he made a wide study of heterodox writers. By force of education he was enabled to take what of good and to reject what of bad he found in each. Their pernicious influence was altogether lost on him; while on the other hand he was prepared the more effectively to elucidate what we know to be the Truth. Now do you consider that I have been corrupted by these pernicious influences? If so, you know me not.

No! the pernicious influences of the age are not to be sought for in the Canon of Buddha. They are to be found in the corruption and vice of those in high places; in the false and shameless conduct which is now rife among us. Do you not agree with me?