Great Plan

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Hong fan 洪範, translation from classical Chinese by James Legge (1815-1897)

Italics from the original edition are preserved, symbolizing the stylistic additions to the Chinese wording. Numeration of passages lacking in the original edition are supplemented in brackets. Roman numbers [i,ii, iii etc.], marking the Chinese sequencing of the Plan, are Legge's. Same concerns the punctuation and spelling. For a modernized version, see [1].



Book IV. The Great Plan.

1 I. In the thirteenth year, the king went to inquire of the viscount of Ke, and said to him
2 "Oh! viscount of Ke, Heaven, unseen, has given their constitution to mankind, aiding also the harmonious development of it in their various conditions. I do not know how their proper virtues in their various relations should be brought forth in due order.
3 The viscount of Ke thereupon replied, "I have heard that of old time K'wǎn dammed up the inundating waters, and thereby threw into disorder the arrangement of the five elements. God was thereby roused to anger, and did not give him 'the great Plan with its nine Divisions,' whereby the proper virtues of the various relations were left to go in ruine. K'wǎn was then kept a prisoner till his death, and Yu rose up to continue his undertaking. To him Heaven gave 'the great Plan with its nine Divisions,' and thereby the proper virtues of the various relations were brought forth in their order.

4 II. "Of those divisions, the first is called 'The five Elements;' the second is called 'The Reverent Practice of the five Businesses'; the third is called 'Earnest Devotion to the eight objects of Government;' the fourth is called 'The Harmonious Use of the five Arrangements'; the fifth is called 'The Cultivation and Use of the three Virtues'; the seventh is called 'The Thoughtful Use of various Verifications'; the ninth is called 'The Hortatory Use of the five Happinesses, and the Awing Use of the six Extremes.'

5 III.[i] "First. of the five elements. —— The first is named water; the second, fire; the third, wood; the fourth, metal; the fifth, earth. The nature of water is to soak and descend; of fire, to blaze and ascend; of wood, to be crooked and to be straight; of metal, to obey and to change; while the virtue of earth is seen in seed-sowing and ingathering. That which soaks and descends becomes salt; that which blazes and ascends becomes bitter; that which is crooked and straight becomes sour; that which obeys and changes becomes acrid; and from seed-sowing and ingathering comes sweetness.
6 [ii.] "Second, of the five businesses. —— The first is called demeanour; the second, speech; the third, seeing; the fourth, hearing; and the fifth, thinking. The virtue of the demeanour is called respectfulness; of speech, accordance with reason; of seeing, clearness; of hearing, distinctness; and of thinking, perspicaciousness. The respectfulness becomes manifest in gravity; accordance with reason, in orderliness; the clearness, in wisdom;the distinctness, in deliberation; and the perspicaciousness, in sageness.
7 [iii.] "Third, of the eight objects of government: — the first is called food; the second, commodities; the third, sacrifices; the fourth, the minister of works; the fifth, the minister of instruction; the sixth, the minister of crime; the seventh, the entertainment of guests; the eighth, the army.

8 [iv.] "Fourth, of five arrangements. — The first is called the year; the second, the month; the third, the day; the fourth, the stars and planets; and the zodiacal signs; and the fifth, the calendaric calculations.

9 [v.] "Fifth, of royal perfection. — The sovereign having established his highest point of excellence, he concentrates in himself the five happinesses, and then diffuses them so as to give them to his people: - then on their part the multitudes of people, resting in your perfection, will give you the preservation of it.

(10) That the multitudes of people have no lawless confederacies, and that men in office have no selfish combinations, will be an effect of the sovereign's establishing his highest point of excellence.

(11) Among all the multitudes of people, when any have counsel, and conduct, and keep themselves from evil, do you bear them in mind; those who do not come up up to the highest excellence, and yet do not involve themselves in crime, let the sovereign receive; and when a placid satisfaction appears in their countenance, and they say — 'Our love is fixed on virtue,' do you then confer favour on them. Those men will in this way advance to the perfection of the sovereign.

(12) Do not oppress the friendless and childless; do not fear the high and illustrious.

(13) When men have ability and administrative power, cause them still more to cultivate their conduct, and the prosperity of the country will be promoted. All right men, having a competency, will go on to be good. If you cannot make men have what they love in their families, they will only proceed to be guilty of crime; while they do not love virtue, though you confer favour on them, they will involve you in the guilt of employing them thus evil.

14 "Without deflection, without unevenness,
Pursue the Royal righteousness;
Without any selfish likings,
Pursue the Royal way;
Without any selfish dislikings,
Pursue the Royal path;
Without deflection, without partiality,
Broad and long is the Royal path.
Without partiality, without deflection,
The Royal path is level and easy;
Without perversity, without one-sidedness,
The Royal path is right and straight.
Seeing this perfect excellence,
Turn to this perfect excellence."

15 He went on to say, "This amplification of the Royal perfection contains the unchanging rule, and is the great lesson; — yea, it is the lesson of God. 16 All the multitudes, instructed in this amplification of the perfect excellence, and carrying it into practice, will approximate to the glory of the son of Heaven, and say, 'The son of Heaven is the parent of the people, and so becomes the sovereign of the empire.'

17 [vi.] "Sixth, of the three virtues.—The first is called correctness and straightforwardness; the second, strong government; and the third, mild government. In peace and tranquillity, correctness and straightforwardness must sway; in violence and disorder, strong government must sway; in harmony and order, mild government must sway. For the reserved and retiring there is the strong rule; for the lofty and intelligent there is the mild rule.

18 "It belongs only to the prince to confer favors, to display the terrors of majesty, and to receive the revenues of the empire.

19 There should be no such thing as a minister conferring favors, displaying the terrors of justice, or receiving the revenues of the country. Such as thing is injurious to the families, and fatal to the States of the empire;— small officers become one-sided and perverse, and the people commit assumptions and excesses.

20 [vii.] "Seventh, of the examination of doubts.— Having chosen and appointed officers for divining by the tortoise and by the milfoil, they are to be charged on occasion to perform their duties.

21 In doing this, they will find the appearances of rain, clearing up, cloudiness, want of connection, and crossing;

22 and the symbols, solidity, and repentance.

23 In all the indications are seven: five given by the tortoise and two by the milfoil, by which the errors of affairs may be traced out.

24 These officers having been appointed, when the operations with the tortoise and milfoil are proceeded with, three men are to obtain and interpret the indications and symbols, and the consenting words of two of them are to be followed.

25 "If you have doubts about any great matter, consult with your own heart; consult with your nobles and officers; consult with the masses of the people; consult the tortoise and milfoil.

26 If you, the tortoise, the milfoil, the nobles and officers, and the common people all consent to a course, this is what is called a great concord, and the result will be the welfare of your person, and good fortune to your descendants.

27 If you, the tortoise, and the milfoil all agree, while the nobles and common people oppose, the result will be fortunate.

28 If the nobles and officers, the tortoise, and the milfoil all agree, while you oppose and the common people oppose, the result will be fortunate.

29 If the common people, the tortoise, and the milfoil all agree, while you and the nobles and officers oppose, the result will be fortunate. 30 If you and the tortoise agree, while the milfoil, the nobles and officers, and the common people oppose, internal perations will be fortunate, and external operations will be unlucky. When the tortoise and milfoil are both opposed to the views of men, there will be good fortune in stillness, and active operations will be unlucky.

32 [viii] "Eighth, of the various verifications.— They are rain; sunshine; heat; cold; wind; and seasonableness. When the five come all complete, and each is in its proper order, even the various plants will be abundantly luxuriant. 33 Should any one of them be either excessively abundant or excessively deficient, there is evil.

34 "There are the favorable verifications: —namely, of gravity, which is emblemed by seasonable rain; of orderliness, emblemed by seasonable sunshine; of wisdom, emblemed by seasonable heat; of deliberation, emblemed by seasonable cold; and of sageness, emblemed by seasonable wind. There are also the unfavorable verifications: —namely, of wildness, emblemed by constant rain; of assumption, emblemed by constant sunshine; of indolence, emblemed by constant heat; of haste, emblemed by constant cold; and of stupidity, emblemed by constant wind."

35 He went on to say, "The sovereign is to examine the character of the whole year; nobles and officers, that of the month; and the inferior officers, that of the day.

36 If throughout the year, the month, the day, there be an unchanging seasonableness, all the kinds of grain are matured; the operations of government are wise; heroic men stand forth eminent; and in the families of the people there are peace and prosperity.

37 If throughout the year, the month, the day, the seasonableness is interrupted, the various kinds of grain do not become matured; the operations of government are dark and unwise; heroic men are reduced to obscurity; in the families of the people there is no repose.

38 "The common people are like the stars. Some stars love the wind, and some love the rain. The course of the sun and moon give winter and summer. The course of the moon among the stars gives wind and rain.

39 [ix.] "Ninth, of the five happinesses.— The first is long life; the second is riches; the third is soundness of body and serenity of mind; the fourth is the love of virtue; the fifth is an end crowning the life.

40 As to the six extremities again, the first is misfortune, shortening the life; the second is sickness; the third is sorrow; the fourth is poverty; the fifth is wickedness; the sixth is weakness."


The Confucian Classics, translated by James Legge, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1890s)

Reprint in Michael Nylan, The Shifting Center: the Original "Great Plan" and Later Readings. Sankt Augustin: Institut Monumenta Serica, 1992:151-75.