1902 Encyclopedia > China > Chinese Literature (cont.) - The Four Books

(Part 46)


The Four Books

Having thus reviewed the Fire Classics, we will now briefly consider the Four Books which, together with those just mentioned, make up the full complement of the Nine Classics. The first three of them—the Ta-heo or Great Learning, the Chung-yung or the Doctrine of the Mean, and Lun-yu or Confucian Analects—are all by the pupils and followers of the sage; while the fourth, the Mang-tsze, or the Works of Mencius, is by a disciple of that philosopher. All these, therefore, represent the views of Confucius, and if we ask what those views point to, we find that they may be summed up in the admonition : "Walk in the trodden paths." For as Confucius said of himself, he came not to originate but to fulfil, and the primary object of his supposed purity, of former generations ; to quote against the roués of his day the examples of the ancients, whom he believed to have been scrupulous in fulfilling the universal obligations existing between sovereign and minister, between father and friend. He taught that man was a microcosm, and that by striving to improve himself by acquiring knowledge, by purifying his thoughts, by rectifying his heart, and by cultivating his person, he would then be albe to regulate his family. When he could regulate his family, he might then be able to govern a state ; and when he could govern a state, he might then be trusted to rule an empire. The empire was as one family ; and as it was the part of the emperor to cherish and guard his people as a father does a child, so it was the duty of the people to render willing and submissive obedience to their sovereign.

It is due to these political opinions that Confucius has become such an object of respect to both rulers the ruled. The former see in his teaching a ready argument for the maintenance of their authority, and the people, believing that heaven has constituted for them rulers and teachers, whose duty it is to extend favour and maintain tranquillity throughout the empire, have at the same time learnt to hold that when the ruler ceases to be a minister of God for good, he forfeits the title y which he holds the throne. Confucius was ambitious, and was a courtier as well as philosopher, and beyond this point he avoided in any shape or way indicating the manner in which an oppressive ruler should be induced to abdicate. No such consideration influenced his disciple Mencius, who, being superior to the ordinary ambitions of man, was superior also the their common timidities, and who with much boldness of utterance freely taught that the people were the most important element in a nation, and the sovereign was the lightest ; and he did not scruple to admit the conclusion that an iniquitous ruler should be dethroned, and, if circumstances required it, that he should be put to death.

The Confucian Analects and the Works of Mencius differ in their construction from the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean, both of which are continuous treatises by individual authors ; whereas the two first named are records of the sayings and doings of the two sages, compiled from memory by their faithful disciples, and somewhat resemble in construction, but at a vast interval, the plan of the Gospel narrative.

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