Sacred Books of the East/Volume 3/The Shu/Part 2/Counsels of the Great Yu

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Book II. The Counsels of the Great Yü.


Of the six classes of documents in the Shû, 'Counsels' are the second, containing the wise remarks and suggestions of high officers on the subject of government.

This Book may be divided into three chapters:—the first, containing counsels of Yü and Yî on principles and methods of government; the second, occupied with Shun's resignation of the administration to Yü, and containing also many sage observations and maxims; and the third, describing Yü's operations against the people of Miâo, and counsels addressed to him by Yî. The style differs from that of the Canons; being more sententious, and falling occasionally into rhyme.

1. Examining into antiquity, (we find that) the Great Yü[1] was styled Wăn-ming[2]. Having arranged and divided (the land), all to the four seas, in reverent response to the Tî, he said, 'If the sovereign can realize the difficulty of his sovereignship, and the minister the difficulty of his ministry, the government will be well ordered, and the black-haired people will sedulously seek to be virtuous.'

The Tî said, 'Yes; let this really be the case, and good words will nowhere lie hidden; no men of virtue and talents will be left neglected, away from court, and the myriad states will all enjoy repose. (But) to obtain the views of all; to give up one's opinion and follow that of others; to keep from oppressing the helpless, and not to neglect the straitened and poor;—it was only the (former) Tî who could attain to this.'

Yî said, 'Oh! your virtue, O Tî, is vast and incessant. It is sagely, spirit-like, awe-inspiring, and adorned with all accomplishments. Great Heaven regarded you with its favour, and bestowed on you its appointment. Suddenly you possessed all within the four seas, and became ruler of all under heaven.'*

Yü said, 'Accordance with the right leads to good fortune; following what is opposed to it, to bad;—the shadow and the echo.' Yî said, 'Alas! be cautious! Admonish yourself to caution, when there seems to be no occasion for anxiety. Do not fail to observe the laws and ordinances. Do not find your enjoyment in idleness. Do not go to excess in pleasure. In your employment of men of worth, let none come between you and them. Put away evil without hesitation. Do not carry out plans, of (the wisdom of) which you have doubts. Study that all your purposes may be with the light of reason. Do not go against what is right, to get the praise of the people. Do not oppose the people's (wishes), to follow your own desires. (Attend to these things) without idleness or omission, and the barbarous tribes all around will come and acknowledge your sovereignty.'

Yü said, 'Oh! think (of these things), O Tî. The virtue (of the ruler) is seen in (his) good government, and that government in the nourishing of the people. There are water, fire, metal, wood, the earth, and grain,—these must be duly regulated; there are the rectification of (the people's) virtue, (the tools and other things) that supply the conveniences of life, and the securing abundant means of sustentation,—these must be harmoniously attended to. When the nine services (thus indicated) have been orderly accomplished, that accomplishment will be hailed by (the people's) songs. Caution them with gentle (words), correct them with the majesty (of law), stimulate them with the songs on those nine subjects,—in order that (your success) may not suffer diminution.' The Tî said, 'The earth has been reduced to order, and the (influences of) heaven produce their complete effect; those six magazines and three departments of (governmental) action are all truly regulated, and may be depended on for a myriad generations:—this is your merit.'

2. The Tî said, 'Come, you Yü. I have occupied my place for thirty and three years. I am between ninety and a hundred years old, and the laborious duties weary me. Do you, eschewing all indolence, take the leading of my people.' Yü replied, 'My virtue is not equal (to the position), and the people will not repose in me. (But there is) Kâo-yâo with vigorous activity sowing abroad his virtue, which has descended on the black-haired people, till they cherish him in their hearts. O Tî, think of him! When I think of him, (my mind) rests on him (as the man fit for this place); when I would put him out of my thoughts, (my mind still) rests on him; when I name and speak of him, (my mind) rests on him (for this); the sincere outgoing of my thoughts about him is that he is the man. O Tî, think of his merits.'

The Tî said, 'Kâo-yâo, that of these my ministers and all (my people) hardly one is found to offend against the regulations of the government is owing to your being Minister of Crime, and intelligent in the use of the five punishments, thereby assisting (the inculcation of) the five cardinal duties, with a view to the perfection of my government, and that through punishment there may come to be no punishments, but the people accord with (the path of) the Mean. (Continue to) be strenuous.' Kâo-yâo replied, 'Your virtue, O Tî, is faultless. You condescend to your ministers with a kindly ease; you preside over the multitudes with a generous forbearance. Punishments do not extend to (the criminal's) heirs, while rewards reach to (succeeding) generations. You pardon inadvertent faults, however great, and punish purposed crimes, however small. In cases of doubtful crimes, you deal with them lightly; in cases of doubtful merit, you prefer the high estimation. Rather than put an innocent person to death, you will run the risk of irregularity and error. This life-loving virtue has penetrated the minds of the people, and this is why they do not render themselves liable to be punished by your officers.' The Tî said, 'That I am able to follow and obtain what I desire in my government, the people responding everywhere as if moved by the wind,—this is your excellence.'

The Tî said, 'Come Yü. The inundating waters filled me with dread, when you accomplished truly (all that you had represented), and completed your service;—thus showing your superiority to other men. Full of toilsome earnestness in the service of the country, and sparing in your expenditure on your family, and this without being full of yourself and elated,—you (again) show your superiority to other men. You are without any prideful assumption, but no one under heaven can contest with you the palm of ability; you make no boasting, but no one under heaven can contest with you the palm of merit. I see how great is your virtue, how admirable your vast achievements. The determinate appointment of Heaven rests on your person; you must eventually ascend (the throne) of the great sovereign.* The mind of man is restless, prone (to err); its affinity to what is right is small. Be discriminating, be uniform (in the pursuit of what is right), that you may sincerely hold fast the Mean. Do not listen to unsubstantiated words; do not follow plans about which you have not sought counsel. Of all who are to be loved, is not the ruler the chief? Of all who are to be feared, are not the people the chief? If the multitude were without their sovereign Head, whom should they sustain aloft? If the sovereign had not the multitude, there would be none to guard the country for him. Be reverential! Carefully maintain the throne which you are to occupy, cultivating (the virtues) that are to be desired in you. If within the four seas there be distress and poverty, your Heaven-conferred revenues will come to a perpetual end. It is the mouth which sends forth what is good, and raises up war. I will not alter my words.'

Yü said, 'Submit the meritorious ministers one by one to the trial of divination[3], and let the favouring indication be followed.' The Tî replied, '(According to the rules for) the regulation of divination, one should first make up his mind, and afterwards refer (his judgment) to the great tortoise-shell. My mind (in this matter) was determined in the first place; I consulted and deliberated with all (my accord with me. The spirits signified their assent, and the tortoise-shell and divining stalks concurred. Divination, when fortunate, should not be repeated.'* Yü did obeisance with his head to the ground, and firmly declined (the place). The Tî said, 'You must not do so. It is you who can suitably (occupy my place).' On the first morning of the first month, (Yü) received the appointment in the temple (dedicated by Shun) to the spirits of his ancestors[4], and took the leading of all the officers, as had been done by the Tî at the commencement (of his government).*

3. The Tî said, 'Alas! O Yü, there is only the lord of Miâo[5] who refuses obedience; do you go and correct him.' Yü on this assembled all the princes, and made a speech to the host, saying, 'Ye multitudes here arrayed, listen all of you to my orders. Stupid is this lord of Miâo, ignorant, erring, and disrespectful. Despiteful and insolent to others, he thinks that all ability and virtue are with himself. A rebel to the right, he destroys (all the obligations of) virtue. Superior men are kept by him in obscurity, and mean men fill (all) the offices. The people reject him and will not protect him. Heaven is sending down calamities upon him.* I therefore, along with you, my multitude of gallant men, bear the instructions (of the Tî) to punish his crimes. Do you proceed with united heart and strength, so shall our enterprize be crowned with success.'

At the end of three decades, the people of Miâo continued rebellious against the commands (issued to them), when Yî came to the help of Yü, saying, 'It is virtue that moves Heaven; there is no distance to which it does not reach. Pride brings loss, and humility receives increase; this is the way of Heaven.* In the early time of the Tî, when he was living by mount Lî[6], he went into the fields, and daily cried with tears to compassionate Heaven, and to his parents, taking to himself all guilt, and charging himself with (their) wickedness.* (At the same time) with respectful service he appeared before Kû-sâu, looking grave and awe-struck, till Kû also became transformed by his example. Entire sincerity moves spiritual beings, how much more will it move this lord of Miâo!'* Yü did homage to the excellent words, and said, 'Yes.' (Thereupon) he led back his army, having drawn off the troops. The Tî set about diffusing on a grand scale the virtuous influences of peace; with shields and feathers they danced between the two staircases (in his courtyard). In seventy days, the lord of Miâo came (and made his submission).

  1. The name Yü, taken as an epithet, would mean 'the Unconstrained.' As an epithet after death, it has the meaning of 'Receiving the Resignation and Perfecting the Merit;' but this is evidently based on the commonly received history of Yü.
  2. Wăn-ming may be translated, 'the Accomplished and the Issuer of Commands.'
  3. On Divination, see Part V, iv.
  4. Many contend that this was the ancestral temple of Yâo. But we learn from Confucius, in the seventeenth chapter of the Doctrine of the Mean, that Shun had established such a temple for his own ancestors, which must be that intended here.
  5. The lord of Miâo against whom Yü proceeded would not be the one whom Shun banished to San-wei, as related in the former Book, but some chieftain of the whole or a portion of the people, who had been left in their native seat. That Yâo, Shun, and Yü were all obliged to take active measures against the people of Miâo, shows the difficulty with which the Chinese sway was established over the country.
  6. Mount Lî is found in a hill near Phû Kâu, department of Phing-yang, Shan-hsî. It is difficult to reconcile what Yî says here of Shun 'in his early life' and his father Kû-sâu with the account of it as happening when Shun was fifty years old; see Mencius V, Part i, ch. 5. The whole is legendary, and there were, no doubt, more forms of the legend than one.