The Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu. Chapter 29. The Robber Che

Confucius was on terms of friendship with Liu Hsia Chi, whose younger brother was known as 'Robber Che'.

Robber Che had a band of followers nine thousand strong. He ravaged the whole empire, plundering the various nobles and breaking into people's houses. He drove off oxen and horses. He stole men's wives and daughters. Family ties put no limit to his greed. He had no respect for parents nor for brothers. He neglected the worship of his ancestors. Wherever he passed, the greater States flew to arms, the smaller ones to places of safety. All the people were sore distressed.

'A father', said Confucius to Lui Hsia chi, 'should surely be able to admonish his son; an elder brother to teach his younger brother. If this be not so, there is an end of the value attached to these relationships.

'Now you, sir, are one of the scholars of the age, while your younger brother is the Robber Che, the scourge of the empire. You are unable to teach him, and I blush for you. Let me go and have a talk with him on your behalf.'

'As to what you say, Sir, about fathers and elder brothers', answered Liu Hsia Chi, 'if the son will not listen to his father, nor the younger brother to his elder brother, what becomes of your arguments then?

'Besides, Che's passions are like a bubbling spring. His thoughts are like a whirlwind. He is strong enough to defy all foes. He can argue until wrong becomes right. If you follow his inclinations, he is pleased. If you oppose them he is angry. He is free with the language of abuse. Do not go near him.'

Confucius paid no attention to this advice; but with Yen Hui as charioteer and Tzu Kung on his right, went off to see Robber Che.

The latter had just encamped to the south of T'ai-shan, and was engaged in devouring a dish of minced human liver. Confucius alighted from his chariot, and advancing addressed the doorkeeper as follows:

'I am Confucius of the Lu State. I have heard of the high character of your captain.'

He then twice respectfully saluted the doorkeeper, who went in to announce his arrival.

When Robber Che heard who it was, he was furious. His eyes glared like stars. His hair raised his cap from his head as he cried out, 'What! that crafty scoundrel Confucius of Lu? Go, tell him from me that he is a mere word-mongerer. That he talks nonsense about Wen Wang and Wu Wang. That he wears an extravagant cap, with a thong from the side of a dead ox. That what he says is mostly rhodomontade. That he consumes where he does not sow, and wears clothes he does not weave. That his lips patter and his tongue wags. That his rights and wrongs are of his own coining, whereby he throws dust in the eyes of rulers and prevents the scholars of the empire from reverting to the original source of all things. That he makes a great stir about filial piety and brotherly love, glad enough himself to secure some fat fief or post of power. Tell him that he deserves the worst, and that if he does not take himself off his liver shall be in my morning stew.'

But Confucius sent in again, saying, 'I am a friend of Liu Hsia Chi. I am anxious to set eyes upon your captain's shoestrings.'

When the doorkeeper gave this second message, Robber Che said, 'Bring him before me!' Thereupon Confucius hurried in, and avoiding the place of honour stepped back and made two obeisances.

Robber Che, flaming with anger, straddled out his two legs, and laying his hand upon his sword glared at Confucius and roaring like a tigress with young, said, 'Ch'iu! come here. If what you say suits my ideas, you will live. Otherwise you will die.'

'I have heard', replied Confucius, 'that the world contains three classes of virtue. To grow up tall, of a beauty without compare, and thus to be the idol of young and old, of noble and lowly alike, ‹ this is the highest class. To be possessed of wisdom which embraces the universe and can explain all things, ‹ this is the middle class. To be possessed of courage which will stand test and gather followers around, ‹ this is the lowest class.

'Now any man whose virtue belongs to either of these classes is fit to occupy the place and title of ruler. But you, Captain, unite all three in yourself. You are eight feet two in height. Your expression is very bright. Your lips are like vermilion. Your teeth are like a row of shells. Your voice is like a beautiful bell; ‹ yet you are known as Robber Che. Captain, I blush for you.

'Captain, if you will hearken to me I will go south for you to Wu and Yüeh, north to Ch'i and Lu, east to Sung and Wei, and west to Chin and Ch'u. I will have a great wall built for you of many li in extent, enclosing hamlets of many hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, over which State you shall be ruler. Your relations with the empire will enter upon a new phase. You will disband your men. You will gather your brothers around you. You will join in worship of your ancestors. Such is the behaviour of the true Sage and the man of parts, and such is what the world desires.'

'Ch'iu! come here', cried Robber Che in a great rage. 'Those who are squared by offers and corrected by words are the stupid vulgar masses. The height and the beauty which you praise in me are legacies from my parents. Even though you did not praise them, do you think I should be ignorant of their existence? Besides, those who flatter to the face speak evil behind the back. Now all you have been saying about the great State and its numerous population simply means squaring me by offers as though one of the common herd. And of course it would not last.

'There is no State bigger than the empire. Yao and Shun both got this, yet their descendants have not territory enough to insert an awl's point. T'ang and Wu Wang both sat upon the Imperial throne, yet their posterity has been obliterated from the face of the earth. Was not this because of the very magnitude of the prize?

'I have also heard that in olden times the birds and animals outnumbered man, and that the latter was obliged to seek his safety by building his domicile in trees. By day he picked up acorns and chestnuts. At night he slept upon a branch. Hence the name Nest-builders.

'Of old, the people did not know how to make clothes. In summer they collected quantities of fuel, and in winter warmed themselves by fire. hence the name Provident.

'In the days of Shen Nung, they lay down without caring where they were and got up without caring whither they might go. A man knew his mother but not his father. He lived among the wild deer. He tilled the ground for food. He wove cloth to cover his body. He harboured no thought of injury to others. These were the glorious results of an age of perfect virtue.

'The Yellow Emperor, however, could not attain to this virtue. He fought with Ch'ih Yu at Cho-lu and blood flowed for a hundred li. Then came Yao and Shun with their crowd of ministers. Then T'ang who deposed his sovereign, and Wu Wang who slew Chou. After which time the strong took to oppressing the weak, the many to coercing the few. In fact, ever since T'ang and Wu Wang we have had none other than disturbers of the peace.

'And now you come forward preaching the old dogmas of Wen Wang and palming off sophistries without end, in order to teach future generations. You wear patched clothes and a narrow girdle, you talk big and act falsely, in order to deceive the rulers of the land, while all the time you yourself are aiming at wealth and power! You are the biggest thief I know of; and if the world calls me Robber Che, it most certainly ought to call you Robber Ch'iu.

'By fair words you enticed Tzu Lu to follow you. You made him doff his martial cap, and ungird his long sword, and sit a disciple at your feet. And all the world cried out that Confucius could stop violence and prevent wrong-doing. By and by, when Tzu Lu wished to slay the prince of Wei, but failed, and was himself hacked to pieces and exposed over the eastern gate of Wei, that was because you had not properly instructed him.

'You call yourself a man of talent and a Sage forsooth! Twice you have been driven out of Lu. You were tabooed in Wei. You were a failure in Ch'i. You were surrounded by the Ch'ens and the Ts'ais. In fact, the empire won't have you anywhere. It was your teaching which brought Tzu Lu to his tragical end. You cannot take care, in the first place, of yourself, nor, in the second place, of others. Of what value can your doctrine be?'

'There is none to whom mankind has accorded a higher place than to the Yellow Emperor. Yet his virtue was not complete. He fought at Cho-lu, and blood ran for a hundred li. Yao was not paternal. Shun was not filial. The great Yü was deficient in one respect. T'ang deposed his sovereign. Wu Wang vanquished Chou. Wen Wang was imprisoned at Yin-li.

'Now these six worthies enjoy a high reputation among men. Yet a fuller investigation shows that in each case a desire for advantage disturbed their original purity and forced it into a contrary direction. Hence the shamelessness of their deeds.

'Among those whom the world calls virtuous were Poh I and Shu Ch'i. They declined the sovereignty of Ku-chu and died of starvation on Mount Shou-yang, their corpses deprived of burial.

'Pao Chiao made a great show of virtue and abused the world in general. He grasped a tree and died.

'Shen T'u Ti, when no heed was paid to his counsels, jumped into the river with a stone on his back and became food for fishes.

'Chieh Tzu T'ui was truly loyal. He cut a slice from his thigh to feed Wen Wang. Afterwards, when Wen Wang turned his back upon him, he retired in anger, and grasping a tree, was burnt to death.

'Wei Sheng made an assignation with a girl beneath a bridge. The girl did not come, and the water rose. But Wei Sheng would not leave. He grasped a buttress and died.

'These four differed in no way from dogs and pigs going about begging to be slaughtered. They all exaggerated reputation and disregarded death. They did not reflect upon their original nature and seek to preserve life into the old age allotted.

'Among ministers whom the world calls loyal, none can compare with Wang Tzu, Pi Kan, and Wu Tzu Hsü. The last-mentioned drowned himself. Pi Kan was disembowelled. These two worthies are what men call loyal minsters; yet, as a matter of fact, all the world laughs at them!

'Thus, from the most ancient times down to Tzu Hsü and Pi Kan, there have been none deserving of honour. And as to the sermon you, Ch'iu, propose to preach to me, if it's on ghostly subjects, I shan't understand them, and if it is on human affairs, why there is nothing more to be said. I know it all already.

'I will now tell you a few things. The lust of the eye is for beauty. The lust of the ear is for music. The lust of the palate is for flavour. The lust of ambition is for gratification. Man's greatest age is one hundred years. A medium old age is eighty years. The lowest estimate is sixty years. Take away from this the hours of sickness, disease, death, mourning, sorrow, and trouble, and there will not remain more than four or five days a month upon which a man may open his mouth to laugh. Heaven and Earth are everlasting. Sooner or later every man has to die. That which thus has a limit, as compared with that which is everlasting, is a mere flash, like the passage of some swift steed seen through a crack. And those who cannot gratify their ambition and live through their allotted span, are men who have not attained to Tao.

'Ch'iu! all your teachings are nothing to me. Begone! Go home! Say no more! Your doctrine is a random jargon, full of falsity and deceit. It can never preserve the original purity of man. Why discuss it further?'

Confucius made two obeisances and hurriedly took his leave. On mounting his chariot, he three times missed hold of the reins. His eyes were so dazed that he could see nothing. His face was ashy pale. With down-cast head he grasped the bar of his chariot, unable to find vent for his feelings.

Arriving outside the eastern gate of Lu, he met Liu Hsia Chi, who said, 'I have not seen you for some days. From the look of your equipage I should say you had been travelling. I guess now you have been to see Che.'

Confucius looked up to heaven, and replied with a sigh, 'I have'.

'And did he not rebuff you', asked Liu Hsia Chi, 'as I said he would?'

'He did', said Confucius. 'I am a man who has cauterized himself without being ill. I hurried away to smooth the tiger's head and comb out his beard. And I very nearly got into the tiger's mouth.'

Tzu Chang asked Man Kou Te, saying, 'Why do you not practise virtue? Otherwise, it is impossible to inspire confidence. And without confidence, no place. And without place, no wealth. Thus, with a view to reputation or to wealth, duty towards one's neighbour is the true key. If you were to discard all thoughts of reputation and wealth and attend to the cultivation of the heart, surely you would not pass one day without practising the higher virtues.'

'Those who have no shame', replied Man Kou Te, 'grow rich. Those who inspire confidence make themselves conspicuous. Reputation and wealth are mostly to be got out of shamelessness and confidence inspired. Thus, with a view to reputation or to wealth, the confidence of others is the true key. If you were to discard all thoughts of reputation and wealth, surely the virtuous man would then have no scope beyond himself.'

'Of old', said Tzu Chang, 'Chieh and Chou sat upon the Imperial throne, and the whole empire was theirs. Yet if you were now to tell any common thief that his moral qualities resembled theirs, he would resent it as an insult. By such miserable creatures are they despised.'

'Confucius and Mo Tzu, on the other hand, were poor and simple enough. Yet if you were to tell any Prime Minister of today that his moral qualities resembled theirs, he would flush with pride and declare you were paying him too high a compliment. So truly honourable is the man of learning.

'Thus, the power of a monarch does not necessarily make him worthy; nor do poverty and a low station necessarily make a man unworthy. The worthy and unworthy are differentiated by the worthiness and unworthiness of their acts.'

'A petty thief', replied Man Kou Te, 'is put in jail. A great brigand becomes ruler of a State. And among the retainers of the latter, men of virtue will be found.

'Of old, Duke Huan, named Hsiao Poh, slew his elder brother and took his sister-in-law to wife. Yet Kuan Chung became his minister.

'T'ien Ch'eng Tzu killed his prince and seized his kingdom. Yet Confucius accepted his pay.

'To condemn a man in words, yet actually to take service under him, ‹ does not this show us practice and precept directly opposed to one another?

'Therefore it was written, "Who is bad? Who is good? He who succeeds is the head. He who does not succeed is the tail."'

'But if you do not practise virtue', said Tzu Chang, 'and make no distinction between kith and kin, assign no duties to the worthy and to the unworthy, no precedence to young and old, how then are the Five Bonds and the Six Ranks to be distinguished?'

'Yao slew his eldest son', answered Man Kou Te. 'Shun banished his mother's brother. Was there kith and kin in that?

'T'ang deposed Chieh. Wu Wang slew Chou. Was that the duty of the worthy towards the unworthy?

'Wang Chi was the legitimate heir, but Chou Kung slew his elder brother. Was that precedence of young and old?

'The false principles of the Confucianists, the universal love of the Mihists, ‹ do these help to distinguish the Five Bonds and the Six Ranks?

'You, Sir, are all for reputation. I am all for wealth. As to which pursuit is not in accordance with principle nor in harmony with right, let us refer to the arbitration of Wu Yoh.'

'The mean man', said Wu Yoh, 'devotes himself to wealth. The superior man devotes himself to reputation. The moral results are different in each case. But if both would set aside their activities and devote themselves to doing nothing, the results would be the same.

'Wherefore it has been said, "Be not a mean man. Revert to your natural self. Be not a superior man. Abide by the laws of heaven."

'As to the straight and the crooked, view them from the standpoint of the infinite. Gaze around you on all sides, until time withdraws you from the scene.

'As to the right and the wrong, hold fast to your magic circle, and with independent mind walk ever in the way of Tao.

'Do not swerve from the path of virtue; do not bring about your own good deeds, ‹ lest your labour be lost. Do not make for wealth; do not aim at success, lest you cast away that which links you to God.

'Pi Kan was disembowelled. Tzu Hsü had his eyes gouged out.

Such was the fate of loyalty.

'Chih Kung bore witness against his father. Wei Sheng was drowned. Such are the misfortunes of the faithful.

'Pai Chiao dried up where he stood. Shen Tzu would not justify himself. Such are the evils of honesty.

'Confucius did not visit his mother. K'uang Tzu did not visit his father. Such are the trials which come upon the upright.

'The above instances have been handed down to us from antiquity and are discussed in modern times. They show that men of learning emphasized their precepts by carrying them out in practice; and that consequently they paid the penalty and fell into these calamities.'

Discontent asked Complacency, saying, 'There is really no one who does not either aim at reputation or make for wealth. If a man is rich, others flock around him. These necessarily take a subordinate position, and consequently pay him court. And it would seem that such subordination and respect constitute a royal road to long life, comfort, and general happiness. How is it then that you, Sir, have no mind for these things? Is it that you are wanting in wit? Or is that you are physically unable to compete, and therefore go in for being virtuous, though all the time unable to forget?'

'You and your friends', replied Complacency, 'regard all men as alike because they happen to be born at the same time and in the same place as yourselves. You look on us as scholars who have separated from humanity and cast off the world, and who have no guiding principle beyond poring over the records of the past and present, or indulging in the logomachy of this and that.

'Were we to lead the mundane lives you do it, it would be at the sacrifice of the very conditions of existence. And surely thus we should be wandering far from the royal road to long life, comfort, and general happiness. The discomfort of wretchedness, the comfort of well-being, you do not refer to the body. The abjectiveness of terror, the elation of joy, you do not refer to the mind itself. You know that such things are so, but you do not know how they are so. Wherefore, though equalling the Son of Heaven in power, and with all the empire as your personal property, you would not be free from care.'

'Wealth', replied Discontent, 'is of the greatest service to a man. It enables him to do good, and to exert power, to an extent which the perfect man or the true Sage could never reach. He can borrow the courage and strength of others to make himself formidable. He can employ the wisdom and counsels of others to add clearness to his own deliberations. He can avail himself of the virtue of others and cause it to appear as his own. Without being in possession of a throne, he can wield the authority of a prince.

'Besides, the pleasures of music, beauty, rich food, and power, do not require to be studied before they can be appreciated by the mind; nor does the body need the example of others before it can enjoy them. We need no teacher to tell us what to like or dislike, to follow or to avoid. Such knowledge is instinctive in man. The world may condemn this view, but which of us is free from the taint?'

'The wise man', answered Complacency, 'acts for the common weal, in pursuit of which he does not overstep due limits. Wherefore, if there is a sufficiency, he does not strive for more. He has no use for more, and accordingly does not seek it. But if there is not a sufficiency, then he seeks for more. He strives in all directions, yet does not account it greed. If there is a surplus, he declines it. Even though he refused the whole empire, he would not account it honesty. To him, honesty and greed are not conditions into which we are forced by outward circumstances, but characteristics innate in the individual. He may wield the power of the Son of Heaven, but will not employ it for the degradation of others. He may own the whole empire, yet will not use his wealth to take advantage of his fellows. But a calculation of the troubles and the anxieties inseparable therefrom, cause him to reject these as injurious to his nature, not from a desire for reputation.

'When Yao and Shun occupied the throne, there was peace. They did not try to be beneficient rulers. They did not inflict injury by doing good.

'Shan Chüan and Hsü Yu both declined the proferred throne. Theirs was no empty refusal. They would not cause injury to themselves.

'In all these cases, each individual adopted the profitable course in preference to the injurious course. And the world calls them virtuous, whereby they acquire a reputation at which they never aimed.'

'It is necessary', argued Discontent, 'to cling to reputation. If all pleasures are to be denied to the body and one's energies to be concentrated upon health with a view to the prolongation of life, such life would be itself nothing more than the prolonged illness of a confirmed invalid.'

'Happiness', said Complacency, 'is to be found in contentment. Too much is always a curse, most of all in wealth.

'The ears of the wealthy man ring with sounds of sweet music. His palate is cloyed with rich meats and wine. In the pursuit of pleasure, business is forgotten. This is confusion.

'He eats and drinks to excess, until his breathing is that of one carrying a heavy load up a hill. This is misery.

'He covets money to surround himself with comforts. He covets power to vanquish rivals. But his quiet hours are darkened by diabetes and dropsy. This is disease.

'Even when, in his desire for wealth, he has piled up an enormous fortune, he still goes on and cannot desist. This is shame.

'Having no use for the money he has collected, he still hugs it to him and cannot bear to part with it. His heart is inflamed, and he ever seeks to add more to the pile. This is unhappiness.

'At home, he dreads the pest of the pilfering thief. Abroad, the danger of bandit and highwayman. So he keeps strict guard within, while never venturing alone without. This is fear.

'These six are the greatest of the world's curses. Yet such a man never bestows a thought upon them, until the hour of misfortune is at hand. Then, with his ambitions gratified, his natural powers exhausted, and nothing but wealth remaining, he would gladly obtain one day's peace, but cannot do so.

'Wherefore, if reputation is not to be enjoyed and wealth is not to be secured, how pitiable it is that men should harass their minds and wear out their bodies in such pursuits!'

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* Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition, 1889; second edition, 1923.


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