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Mengzi 孟子 "The Book of Master Meng"

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The Mengzi is one of the Four Books (Sishu 四書) that belong to the main corpus of Confucian writings. It is a collection of anecdotes about and teachings of Master Meng Ke 孟軻, latinized Mencius, a fourth-generation disciple of Confucius and by the anti-traditionalists called the "Second in the Confucian Shop". With many parables, Mengzi tries to persuade the rulers of different states to follow the way of the ancient sage kings and to rule with humanity and righteousness (ren 仁 and yi 義), and to let the people take part in the wealth of the upper class. On the other side, official immovable position and division of labour was for him an integral part of the society. He supposed that every man is good by nature and therefore every ruler is able to run an ideal government whithout exhausting himself. A central point in his social doctrine is the filial piety (xiao 孝) which has to be expressed in giving up everything to serve one's parents during lifetime and after their death.
Although the Mengzi achieved widespread attention already in Han times 漢, the book became not part of the Classical Canon until the Song Dynasty 宋.
The chapters of the Mengzi are grouped in pairs. Their titles are - except that of the last chapter - derived the persons appearing at the begin of the chapter:
1.-2.梁惠王 Liang Huiwang
3.-4.公孫丑 Gongsun Chou
5.-6.滕文公 Teng Wengong
7.-8.離婁 Li Lou
9.-10.萬章 Wan Zhang
11.-12.告子 Gaozi
13.-14.盡心 Jin Xin "Exhausting all his heart"
There is an abundant corpus of translations, of which that of James Legge is still the classical one, even if its language is a little bit antiquated.
The following examples shall give an overview of Mengzi's teachings: the good ruler, the goodness of man, against the egalizing doctrine of the Husbandry School (Nongjia 農家), the sage rulers of old, and the filial piety. The second example is a funny scene with the king feeling pity for a sacrificial ox. The last example portraits the case-to-case judgement of Mengzi that was not yet bound to a severe codex of behaviour.
孟子見梁惠王,王曰:「叟!不遠千里而來,亦將有以利吾國乎﹖」孟子對曰:「王何必曰『利』﹖ 亦有『仁義』而已矣。王曰『何以利吾國﹖』大夫曰『何以利吾家﹖』士庶人曰『何以利吾身﹖』上下 交征利,而國危矣。萬乘之國,弒其君者,必千乘之家;千乘之國,弒其君者,必百乘之家。萬取千焉, 千取百焉,不為不多矣。苟為後義而先利,不奪不饜。未有『仁』而遺其親者也;未有『義』而後其君者 也。王亦曰『仁義』而已矣,何必曰『利』﹖」
King Hui of Liang A
Mengzi went to see king Hui of Liang. The king said: "Venerable Sir, since you have not counted it far to come here, a distance of a thousand miles, may I presume that you are provided with counsels to profit my kingdom?"
Mengzi replied: "Why must your Majesty use that word 'profit'? What I am provided with, are counsels to benevolence and righteousness, and these are my only topics. If your Majesty say, 'What is to be done to profit my kingdom?' the great officers will say, 'What is to be done to profit our families?' and the inferior officers and the common people will say, 'What is to be done to profit our persons?' Superiors and inferiors will try to snatch this profit the one the other, and the kingdom will be endangered. In the kingdom of ten thousand chariots, the murderer of his sovereign shall be the chief of a family of a thousand chariots. In a kingdom of a thousand chariots, the murderer of his prince shall be the chief of a family of a hundred chariots. To have a thousand in ten thousand, and a hundred in a thousand, cannot be said not to be a large allotment, but if righteousness be put last, and profit be put first, they will not be satisfied without snatching all. There never has been a benevolent man who neglected his parents. There never has been a righteous man who made his sovereign an after consideration. Let your Majesty also say, 'Benevolence and righteousness, and let these be your only themes.' Why must you use that word 'profit'?"

王坐於堂上,有牽牛而過堂下者。王見之曰:『牛何之﹖』對曰:『將以釁鐘。』王曰:『舍之!吾不忍 其觳觫,若無罪而就死地。』對曰:『然則廢釁鐘與﹖』曰:『何可廢也﹖以羊易之。』
"The king was sitting aloft in the hall, when a man appeared, leading an ox past the lower part of it. The king saw him, and asked 'Where is the ox going?' The man replied, 'We are going to consecrate a bell with his blood.' The king said, 'Let it go. I cannot bear its frightened appearance, as if it were an innocent person going to the place of death.' The man answered, 'Shall we then omit the consecration of the bell?' The king said, 'How can that be omitted? Change it for a sheep.'"

孟子曰:「人皆有不忍人之心。先王有不忍人之心,斯有不忍人之政矣。以不忍人之心,行不忍人 之政,治天下可運之掌上。所以謂人皆有不忍人之心者,今人乍見孺子將入於井,皆有怵惕惻隱之心; 非所以內交於孺子之父母也,非所以要譽於鄉黨朋友也,非惡其聲而然也。由是觀之,無惻隱之心 非人也,無羞惡之心非人也,無辭讓之心非人也,無是非之心非人也。
Gongsun Chou A
Mengzi said: "All men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others. The ancient kings had this commiserating mind, and they, as a matter of course, had likewise a commiserating government. When with a commiserating mind was practiced a commiserating government, to rule the kingdom was as easy a matter as to make anything go round in the palm. When I say that all men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others, my meaning may be illustrated thus: even nowadays, if men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress. They will feel so, not as a ground on which they may gain the favour of the child's parents, nor as a ground on which they may seek the praise of their neighbours and friends, nor a dislike to the reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing. this case we may perceive that the feeling of commiseration is essential to man, that the feeling of shame and dislike is essential to man, that the feeling of modesty and complaisance is essential to man, and that the feeling of approving and disapproving is essential to man. [bottom][top]

陳相見孟子,道許行之言曰:「滕君則誠賢君也;雖然,未聞道也。賢者與民並耕而食,饔飧而治。 今也滕有倉廩府庫,則是厲民而以自養也,惡得賢﹖」孟子曰:「許子必種粟而後食乎﹖」曰: 「然。」「許子必織布而後衣乎﹖」曰:「否,許子衣褐。」「許子冠乎﹖」曰:「冠。」曰: 「奚冠﹖」曰:「冠素。」曰:「自織之與﹖」曰:「否,以粟易之。」曰:「許子奚為不自織﹖」 曰:「害於耕。」曰:「許子以釜甑爨、以鐵耕乎﹖」曰:「然。」「自為之與﹖」曰:「否, 以粟易之。」「以粟易械器者,不為厲陶冶;陶冶亦以械器易粟者,豈為厲農夫哉﹖且許子何不為陶冶, 舍皆取諸其宮中而用之﹖何為紛紛然與百工交易﹖何許子之不憚煩﹖」曰:「百工之事,固不可耕且 為也。」「然則治天下獨可耕且為與﹖有大人之事,有小人之事。」
King Wen of Teng A
When Chen Xiang saw Xu Xing, he was greatly pleased with him, and, abandoning entirely whatever he had learned, became his disciple. Having an interview with Mengzi, he related to him with approbation the words of Xu Xing to the following effect: "The prince of Teng is indeed a worthy prince. He has not yet heard, however, the real doctrines of antiquity. Now, wise and able princes should cultivate the ground equally and along with their people, and eat the fruit of their labour. They should prepare their own meals, morning and evening, while at the same time they carry on their government. But now, the prince of Teng has his granaries, treasuries, and arsenals, which is an oppressing of the people to nourish himself. How can he be deemed a real worthy prince?"
Mengzi said: "I suppose that Xu Xing sows grain and eats the produce. Is it not so?" - "It is so", was the answer. - "I suppose also he weaves cloth, and wears his own manufacture. Is it not so?" - "No. Xu wears clothes of haircloth." - "Does he wear a cap?" - "Yes." - "What kind of cap?" - "A plain cap." - "Is it woven by himself?" - "No. He gets it in exchange for grain." - "Why does Xu not weave himself?" - "That would injure his husbandry." - "Does Xu cook his food in boilers and eartenware pans, and does he plough with an iron share?" - "Yes." - "Does he make those articles himself?" - "No. He gets them in exchange for grain." - "The getting those various articles", said Mengzi, "in exchange for grain, is not oppressive to the potter and the founder, and the potter and the founder in their turn, in exchanging their various articles for grain, are not oppressive to the husbandman. How should such a thing be supposed? And moreover, why does not Xu act the potter and founder, supplying himself with the articles which he uses solely his own establishment? Why does he go confusedly dealing and exchanging with the handicraftsmen? Why does he not spare himself so much trouble?" - "The business of the handicraftsmen", Chen Xiang replied, "can by no means be carried on along with the business of husbandry." - Mencius resumed: "Then, it is the government of the kingdom which alone can be carried on along with the practice of husbandry? Great man have their proper business, and little men have their proper business."

孟子曰:「規矩,方員之至也。聖人,人倫之至也。欲為君,盡君道;欲為臣,盡臣道,二者皆法堯舜 而已矣。不以舜之所以事堯事君,不敬其君者也;不以堯之所以治民治民,賊其民者也。孔子曰: 『道二,仁與不仁而已矣。』暴其民甚,則身弒國亡,不甚,則身危國削,名之曰『幽』、『厲』, 雖孝子慈孫,百世不能改也。《詩》云:『殷鑒不遠,在夏后之世。』[3.3.1.(255)蕩] 此之謂也。」
Li Lou A
Mengzi said: "The compass and square produce perfect circles and squares. By the sages, the human relations are perfectly exhibited. He who as a sovereign would perfectly discharge the duties of a sovereign, and he who as a minister would perfectly discharge the duties of a minister, have only to imitate - the one Yao, and the other Shun. He who does not serve his sovereign as Shun served Yao, does not respect his sovereign; and he who does not rule his people as Yao ruled his, injures the people. Confucius said, 'There are but two courses, which can be pursued, that of virtue and its opposite." A ruler who carries the oppression of his people to the highest pitch, will himself be slain, and his kingdom will perish. If one stop short of the highest pitch, his life will notwithstanding be in danger, and his kingdom will be weakened. He will be called 'The Dark' or 'The Cruel' [like the two bad kings of Zhou], and though he may have filial sons and affectionate grandsons, they will not be able in a hundred generations to change the designation. This is what is intended in the words of the Book of Poetry, 'The beacon of Yin is not remote, it is in the time of the last sovereign of Xia.'"

公都子曰:「匡章,通國皆稱不孝焉。夫子與之遊,又從而禮貌之,敢問何也 ﹖」孟子曰:「世俗所謂不孝者五:惰其四支,不顧父母之養,一不孝也;博弈、好飲酒, 不顧父母之養,二不孝也;好貨財、私妻子,不顧父母之養,三不孝也;從耳目之欲, 以為父母戮,四不孝也;好勇鬥狠,以危父母,五不孝也。章子有一於是乎﹖夫章子, 子父責善而不相遇也。責善,朋友之道也。父子責善,賊恩之大者。夫章子豈不欲有夫妻子母之屬哉﹖ 停是罪於父,不得近;出妻屏子,終身不養焉。其設心以為不若是,是則罪之大者。是則章子已矣。」
Li Lou B
The disciple Gongdu said: "Throughout the whole kingdom everybody pronounces Kuang Zang unfilial. But you, Master, keep company with him, and moreover treat him with politeness. I venture you to ask why you do so."
Mengzi replied: "There are five things which are pronounced in the common usage of the age to be unfilial. The first is laziness in the use of one's four limbs, without attending to the nourishment of his parents. The second is gambling and chess-playing, and being fond of wine, without attending to the nourishment of his parents. The third is being fond of good and money, and selfishly attached to his wife and children, without attending to the nourishment of his parents. The fourth is following the desires of one's ears and eyes, so as to bring his parents to disgrace. The fifth is being fond of bravery, fighting and quarreling so as to endanger his parents. Is Zhang guilty of any one of these things? Now between Zhang and his father there arose disagreement, he, the son, reproving his father, to urge him to what is good. To urge another to what is good by reproofs is the way of friends. But such urging between father and son is the greatest injury to the kindness, which should prevail between them. Moreover did not Zhang wish to have in his family the relationships of husband and wife, child and mother? But because he had offended his father, and was not permitted to approach him, he sent away his wife, and drove forth his son, and all his life receives no cherishing attentionfor them. He settled it in his mind that if he did not act in this way, his would be one of the greatest of crimes. Such and nothing more is the case of Zhang."

Translated by James Legge