Sacred Books of the East/Volume 3/The Shu/Part 5/The Great Plan

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Book IV. The Great Plan.

The Great Plan, ordinarily classed among the 'Counsels' or among the 'Instructions' of the Shû, might as well have a place among the 'Canons.' It is a remarkable production, and though it appears among the documents of the Kâu dynasty, there is claimed for the substance of it a much greater antiquity. According to the introductory sentences, king Wû, the founder of Kâu, obtained it from the count of Khî in the same year, the thirteenth of his dignity as Chief of the West, that he took the field against the tyrant of Shang. The count of Khî, it is understood, was the Grand-Master at the court of Shang, who appears in the concluding Book of the last Part. He says there, that, when ruin overtook the House of Shang, he would not be the servant of another dynasty. Accordingly, he refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of king Wû, who had delivered him from the prison in which he had been confined by Kâu-hsin, and fled or purposed perhaps to flee to Corea. Wû respected and admired his fidelity to the fallen dynasty, and invested him with that territory. He then, it is said, felt constrained to appear at the court of Kâu, when the king consulted him on the principles of government; and the result was that he communicated to him this Great Plan, with its nine divisions. When we read the Book, we see that it belonged originally to the time of Hsiâ, and that the larger portion of it should be ascribed to the Great Yü, and was as old, indeed, as the reign of Yâo. How it had come into the possession of the count of Khî we cannot tell. Nor does it appear how far the language of it should be ascribed to him. That the larger portion of it had come down from the times of Hsiâ is not improbable. The use of the number nine and other numbers, and the naming of the various divisions of the Plan, are in harmony with Yü's style and practice in his Counsels in the second Part of our Classic, and in the second Part also of the Tribute of Yü. We are told in the introductory sentences, that Heaven or God gave the Plan with its divisions to Yü. To explain the way in which the gift was made, there is a tradition about a mysterious tortoise that appeared in the waters of the Lo, bearing well-defined marks on its back from one to nine, and that thereupon Yü determined the meaning of those marks and of their numbers, and completed the nine divisions of the Plan. Of this legend, however, it is not necessary to speak in connexion with the Shû, which does not mention it; it will come up in connexion with the translation of the Yî King.

The Great Plan means the great model for the government of the nation,—the method by which the people may be rendered happy and tranquil, in harmony with their condition, through the perfect character of the king, and his perfect administration of government.

P. Gaubil says that the Book is a treatise at once of physics, astrology, divination, morals, politics, and religion, and that it has a sufficiently close resemblance to the work of Ocellus the Lucanian. There is a shadowy resemblance between the Great Plan and the curious specimen of Pythagorean doctrine which we have in the treatise on the Universe; but the dissimilarities are still greater and more numerous. More especially are the differences between the Greek mind, speculative, and the Chinese mind, practical, apparent in the two works. Where the Chinese writer loses himself in the sheerest follies of his imagining, he yet gropes about for a rule to be of use in the conduct of human affairs.

The whole of the treatise is divided into three chapters. The first is introductory, and relates how the Great Plan with its nine divisions was at first made known to Yü, and came at this time to be communicated to king Wû; the second contains the names of the nine divisions of the Plan; and in the third we have a description of the several divisions. 'The whole,' says a Chinese writer, 'exhibits the great model for the government of the nation.' The fifth or middle division on royal perfection is the central one of the whole, about which the Book revolves. The four divisions that precede it show how this royal perfection is to be accomplished, and the four that follow show how it is to be maintained.

1. In the thirteenth year[1], the king went to enquire of the count of Khî, and said to him, 'Oh! count of Khî, Heaven, (working) unseen, secures the tranquillity of the lower people, aiding them to be in harmony with their condition[2]. I do not know how the unvarying principles (of its method in doing so) should be set forth in due order.'

The count of Khî thereupon replied, 'I have heard that in old time Khwăn dammed up the inundating waters, and thereby threw into disorder the arrangement of the five elements. God was consequently roused to anger, and did not give him the Great Plan with its nine divisions, and thus the unvarying principles (of Heaven's method) were allowed to go to ruin.* Khwăn was therefore kept a prisoner till his death, and his son Yü rose up (and entered on the same undertaking). To him Heaven gave the Great Plan with its nine divisions, and the unvarying principles (of its method) were set forth in their due order.'*

2. '(Of those divisions) the first is called "the five elements;" the second, "reverent attention to the five (personal) matters;" the third, "earnest devotion to the eight (objects of) government;" the fourth, "the harmonious use of the five dividers of time; " the fifth, "the establishment and use of royal perfection;" the sixth, "the discriminating use of the three virtues;" the seventh, "the intelligent use of (the means for) the examination of doubts;" the eighth, "the thoughtful use of the various verifications;" the ninth, "the hortatory use of the five (sources of) happiness, and the awing use of the six (occasions of) suffering."'

3. i. First, of the five elements[3]. The first is water; the second is fire; the third, wood; the fourth, metal; and the fifth, earth. (The nature of) water is to soak and descend; of fire, to blaze and ascend; of wood, to be crooked and straight; of metal, to yield and change; while (that of) earth is seen in seed-sowing and in-gathering. That which soaks and descends becomes salt; that which blazes and ascends becomes bitter; that which is crooked and straight becomes sour; that which yields and changes becomes acrid; and from seed-sowing and in-gathering comes sweetness.'

ii. 'Second, of the five (personal) matters[4]. The first is the bodily demeanour; the second, speech; the third, seeing; the fourth, hearing; the fifth, thinking. (The virtue of) the bodily appearance is respectfulness; of speech, accordance (with reason); of seeing, clearness; of hearing, distinctness; 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.'

iii. 'Third, of the eight (objects of) government[5].— The first is food; the second, wealth and articles of convenience; the third, sacrifices; the fourth, (the business of) the Minister of Works; the fifth, (that of) the Minister of Instruction; the sixth, (that of) the Minister of Crime; the seventh, the observances, to be paid to guests; the eighth, the army.'

iv. 'Fourth, of the five dividers of time[6].—The first is the year (or the planet Jupiter); the second, the moon; the third, the sun; the fourth, the stars and planets, and the zodiacal spaces; and the fifth, the calendaric calculations.'

v. 'Fifth, of royal perfection[7].—The sovereign, having established (in himself) the highest degree and pattern of excellence, concentrates in his own person the five (sources of) happiness, and proceeds to diffuse them, and give them to the multitudes of the people. Then they, on their part, embodying your perfection, will give it (back) to you, and secure the preservation of it. Among all the multitudes of the people there will be no unlawful confederacies, and among men (in office) there will be no bad and selfish combinations;—let the sovereign establish in (himself) the highest degree and pattern of excellence.

'Among all the multitudes of the people there will be those who have ability to plan and to act, and who keep themselves (from evil):—do you keep such in mind; and there will be those who, not coming up to the highest point of excellence, yet do not involve themselves in evil:—let the sovereign receive such. And when a placid satisfaction appears in their countenances, and they say, "Our love is fixed on virtue," do you then confer favours on them;—those men will in this way advance to the perfection of the sovereign. Do not let him oppress the friendless and childless, nor let him fear the high and distinguished. When men (in office) have ability and administrative power, let them be made still more to cultivate their conduct; and the prosperity of the country will be promoted. All (such) right men, having a competency, will go on in goodness. If you cannot cause them to have what they love in their families, they will forthwith proceed to be guilty of crime. As to those who have not the love of virtue, although you confer favours (and emoluments) on them, they will (only) involve you in the of employing the evil.

'Without deflection, without unevenness,
Pursue the royal righteousness.
Without selfish likings,
Pursue the royal way.
Without selfish dislikings,
Pursue the royal path.
Avoid deflection, avoid partiality;—
Broad and long is the royal way.

Avoid partiality, avoid deflection;—
Level and easy is the royal way.
Avoid perversity, avoid one-sidedness;—
Correct and straight is the royal way.
(Ever) seek for this perfect excellence,
(Ever) turn to this perfect excellence.'

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.* All the multitudes of the people, instructed in this amplification of the perfect excellence, and carrying it into practice, will thereby 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 all under the sky."'

vi. 'Sixth, of the three virtues [8].—The first is correctness and straightforwardness; the second, strong rule; and the third, mild rule. In peace and tranquillity, correctness and straightforwardness (must sway); in violence and disorder, strong rule; in harmony and order, mild rule. For the reserved and retiring there should be (the stimulus of) the strong rule; for the high(-minded) and distinguished, (the restraint of) the mild rule.

'It belongs only to the sovereign to confer dignities and rewards, to display the terrors of majesty, and to receive the revenues (of the kingdom). There should be no such thing as a minister's conferring dignities or rewards, displaying the terrors of majesty, or receiving the revenues. Such a thing is injurious to the clans, and fatal to the states (of the kingdom); smaller affairs are thereby managed in a one-sided and perverse manner, and the people fall into assumptions and excesses.'

vii. 'Seventh, of the (means for the) examination of doubts [9].—Officers having been chosen and appointed for divining by the tortoise-shell and the stalks of the Achillea, they are to be charged (on occasion) to execute their duties. (In doing this), they will find (the appearances of) rain, of clearing up, of cloudiness, of want of connexion, and of crossing; and the inner and outer diagrams. In all (the indications) are seven;—five given by the shell, and two by the stalks; and (by means) of these any errors (in the mind) may be traced out. These officers having been appointed, when the divination is proceeded with, three men are to interpret the indications, and the (consenting) words of two of them are to be followed.*

'When you have doubts about any great matter, consult with your own mind; consult with your high ministers and officers; consult with the common people; consult the tortoise-shell and divining stalks. If you, the shell, the stalks, the ministers and officers, and the common people, all agree about 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. If you, the shell, and the stalks agree, while the ministers, and officers, and the common people oppose, the result will be fortunate. If the ministers and officers, with the shell and stalks, agree, while you and the common people oppose, the result will be fortunate. If the common people, the shell, and the stalks agree, while you, with the ministers and officers, oppose, the result will be fortunate. If you and the shell agree, while the stalks, with the ministers and officers, and the common people, oppose, internal operations will be fortunate, and external undertakings unlucky. When the shell and stalks are both opposed to the views of men, there will be good fortune in being still, and active operations will be unlucky.'*

viii. 'Eighth, of the various verifications[10].—They are rain, sunshine, heat, cold, wind, and seasonableness. When the five come, all complete, and each in its proper order, (even) the various plants will be richly luxuriant. Should any one of them be either excessively abundant or excessively deficient, there will be evil.*

There are the favourable verifications [11]:—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 unfavourable verifications:—namely, of recklessness, emblemed by constant rain; of assumption, emblemed by constant sunshine; of indolence, emblemed by constant heat; of hastiness, emblemed by constant cold; and of stupidity, emblemed by constant wind.'*

He went on to say, 'The king should examine the (character of the whole) year; the high ministers and officers (that of) the month; and the inferior officers (that of) the day. If, throughout the year, the month, the day, there be an unchanging seasonableness, all the grains will be matured; the measures of government will be wise, heroic men will stand forth distinguished; and in the families (of the. people) there will be peace and prosperity. If, throughout the year, the month, the day, the seasonableness be interrupted, the various kinds of grain will not be matured; the measures of government will be dark and unwise; heroic men will be kept in obscurity; and in the families (of the people) there will be an absence of repose.

'By the common people the stars should be examined. Some stars love wind, and some love rain. The courses of the sun and moon give winter and summer. The way in which the moon follows the stars gives wind and rain.'

ix. ' Ninth, of the five (sources of) happiness[12].—The first is long life; the second, riches; the third, soundness of body and serenity of mind; the fourth, the love of virtue; and the fifth, fulfilling to the end the will (of Heaven).* Of the six extreme evils, the first is misfortune shortening the life; the second, sickness; the third, distress of mind; the fourth, poverty; the fifth, wickedness; the sixth, weakness[13].'

  1. See the commencement of Book i.
  2. Khung Ying-tâ of the Thang dynasty says on this:—'The people have been produced by supreme Heaven, and both body and soul are Heaven's gift. Men have thus the material body and the knowing mind, and Heaven further assists them, helping them to harmonize their lives. The right and the wrong of their language, the correctness and errors of their conduct, their enjoyment of clothing and food, the rightness of their various movements;—all these things are to be harmonized by what they are endowed with by Heaven.'
  3. Gaubil gives here 'les cinq hing,' without translating the Chinese term. English sinologists have got into the habit of rendering it by 'elements,' but it hardly seems possible to determine what the Chinese mean by it. We intend by 'elements' 'the first principles or ingredients of which all things are composed.' The Pythagoreans, by their four elements of earth, water, air, and fire, did not intend so much the nature or essence of material substances, as the forms under which matter is actually presented to us. The character hsing, meaning 'to move,' 'to be in action,' shows that the original conception of the Chinese is of a different nature; and it is said in the Khang-hsî Dictionary, 'The five hsing move and revolve between heaven and earth, without ever ceasing, and hence they are named.' The editors of the latest imperial edition of the Shû say, 'Distributed through the four seasons, they make "the five dividers of time;" exhibited in prognostications, they give rise to divination by the tortoise-shell and the reeds; having lodgment in the human body, they produce "the five personal matters;" moved by good fortune and bad, they produce "the various verifications;" communicated to organisms, they produce the different natures, hard and soft, good and evil; working out their results in the changes of those organisms, they necessitate—here benevolence and there meanness, here longevity and there early death:—all these things are from the operation of the five hsing. But if we speak of them in their simplest and most important character, they are what man's life depends on, what the people cannot do without.' After all this, I should still be sorry to be required to say what the five hsing are.
  4. These five 'matters' are represented as being in the human person what the five hsing are in nature. Demeanour is the human correspondency of water, speech that of fire, &c.
  5. Medhurst calls the eight (objects of) government 'the eight regulators,' and Gaubil calls them 'les huit règles du gouvernement.' The phrase means the eight things to be attended to in government,—its objects and departments.
  6. 'The five dividers of time' are with Medhurst 'the five arrangers,' and with Gaubil 'les cinq périodes.' This division of the Great Plan is substantially the same as Yâo's instructions to his astronomers.
  7. By 'royal perfection' we are to understand the sovereign when he is, or has made himself, all that he ought to be. 'Perfection' is 'the utmost point,' the extreme of excellence, realized in the person of the sovereign, guiding his administrative measures, and serving as an example and attractive influence to all below, both ministers and people.
  8. 'The three virtues' are not personal attributes of the sovereign, but characteristics of his rule, the varied manifestations of the perfection described in the preceding division.
  9. The practice of divination for the satisfaction of doubts was thus used in China from the earliest times. In the Counsels of Yü, p. 50, that sage proposes to Shun to submit the question of who should be his successor on the throne to divination, and Shun replies that he had already done so. Gaubil says that according to the Great Plan divination was only used in doubtful cases; but if such was the practice of the sages, diviners and soothsayers must have formed, as they do now, a considerable and influential class in society. The old methods of divination have fallen into disuse, and we do not know how far other methods are employed and sanctioned by the government. Those old methods were by means of the tortoise-shell, and the stalks of the Khî plant. 'The tortoise,' says Kû Hsî, 'after great length of years becomes intelligent; and the Khî plant will yield, when a hundred years old, a hundred stalks from one root, and is also a spiritual and intelligent thing. The two divinations were in reality a questioning of spiritual beings, the plant and the shell being employed, because of their mysterious intelligence, to indicate their intimations. The way of divination by the shell was by the application of fire to scorch it till the indications appeared on it; and that by the stalks of the plant was to manipulate in a prescribed way forty-nine of them, eighteen different times, till the diagrams were formed.'
    The outer shell of the tortoise was removed, leaving the inner portion on which were the marks of the lines of the muscles of the creature. This was smeared with a black pigment, and, fire being applied beneath, the pigment was examined, and according as it had been variously dried by the heat, presented the indications mentioned in the text. The Khî plant was probably the Achillea millefolium. It is cultivated largely on the mound over the grave of Confucius. I brought from that two bundles of the dried stalks in 1873.
  10. P. Gaubil renders by 'les apparences' the characters which I have translated 'the various verifications,' observing that he could not find any word which would cover the whole extent of the meaning. He says, 'In the present case, the character signifies meteors, phenomena, appearances, but in such sort that these have relation to some other things with which they are connected;—the meteor or phenomenon indicates some good or some evil. It is a kind of correspondency which is supposed, it appears, to exist between the ordinary events of the life of men and the constitution of the air, according to the different seasons;—what is here said supposes—I know not what physical speculation of those times. It is needless to bring to bear on the text the interpretation of the later Chinese, for they are full of false ideas on the subject of physics. It may be also that the count of Khî wanted to play the physicist on points which he did not know.' There seems to underlie the words of the count that feeling of the harmony between the natural and spiritual worlds, which occurs at times to most men, and strongly affects minds under deep religious thought or on the wings of poetic rapture, but the way in which he endeavours to give the subject a practical application can only be characterised as grotesque.
  11. Compare with this what is said above on the second division of the Plan, 'the five (personal) matters.' It is observed here by ℨhâi Khăn, the disciple of Kû Hsî, and whose commentary on the Shû has, of all others, the greatest authority:—'To say that on occasion of such and such a personal matter being realized, there will be the favourable verification corresponding to it, or that, on occasion of the failure of such realization, there will be the corresponding unfavourable verification, would betray a pertinacious obtuseness, and show that the speaker was not a man to be talked with on the mysterious operations of nature. It is not easy to describe the reciprocal meeting of Heaven and men. The hidden springs touched by failure and success, and the minute influences that respond to them:—who can 'know these but the man that has apprehended all truth?' This is in effect admitting that the statements in the text can be of no practical use. And the same thing is admitted by the latest imperial editors of the Shû on the use which the text goes on to make of the thoughtful use of the verifications by the king and others.
  12. It is hardly possible to see how this division enters into the scheme of the Great Plan.
  13. 'Wickedness' is, probably, boldness in what is evil, and 'weakness,' feebleness of will in what is good.