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Mencius. Book V: Wan Chang. Part II. Chapter IV.

Legge's summary: How Mencius defended the accepting presents from the princes, oppressors of the people.

1. Wan Chang asked Mencius, saying, 'I venture to ask what feeling of the mind is expressed in the presents of friendship?' Mencius replied, 'The feeling of respect.'

2. 'How is it,' pursued Chang, 'that the declining a present is accounted disrespectful?' The answer was, 'When one of honourable rank presents a gift, to say in the mind, "Was the way in which he got this righteous or not? I must know this before I can receive it;"-- this is deemed disrespectful, and therefore presents are not declined.'

3. Wan Chang asked again, 'When one does not take on him in so many express words to refuse the gift, but having declined it in his heart, saying, "It was taken by him unrighteously from the people," and then assigns some other reason for not receiving it;-- is not this a proper course?' Mencius said, 'When the donor offers it on a ground of reason, and his manner of doing so is according to propriety;-- in such a case Confucius would have received it.'

4. Wan Chang said, 'Here now is one who stops and robs people outside the gates of the city. He offers his gift on a ground of reason, and does so in a manner according to propriety;-- would the reception of it so acquired by robbery be proper?' Mencius replied, 'It would not be proper. in "The Announcement to Kang" it is said, "When men kill others, and roll over their bodies to take their property, being reckless and fearless of death, among all the people there are none but detest them:"-- thus, such characters are to be put to death, without waiting to give them warning. Yin received this rule from Hsiâ and Châu received it from Yin. It cannot be questioned, and to the present day is clearly acknowledged. How can the grift of a robber be received?'

5. Chang said, 'The princes of the present day take from their people just as a robber despoils his victim. Yet if they put a good face of propriety on their gifts, then the superior man receives them. I venture to ask how you explain this.' Mencius answered, 'Do you think that, if there should arise a truly royal sovereign, he would collect the princes of the present day, and put them all to death? Or would he admonish them, and then, on their not changing their ways, put them to death? Indeed, to call every one who takes what does not properly belong to him a robber, is pushing a point of resemblance to the utmost, and insisting on the most refined idea of righteousness. When Confucius was in office in Lû, the people struggled together for the game taken in hunting, and he also did the same. If that struggling for the captured game was proper, how much more may the gifts of the princes be received!'

6. Chang urged, 'Then are we to suppose that when Confucius held office, it was not with the view to carry his doctrines into practice?' 'It was with that view,' Mencius replied, and Chang rejoined, 'If the practice of his doctrines was his business, what had he to do with that struggling for the captured game?' Mencius said, 'Confucius first rectified his vessels of sacrifice according to the registers, and did not fill them so rectified with food gathered from every quarter.' 'But why did he not go away?' He wished to make a trial of carrying his doctrines into practice. When that trial was sufficient to show that they could be practised and they were still not practised, then he went away, and thus it was that he never completed in any State a residence of three years.

7. 'Confucius took office when he saw that the practice of his doctrines was likely; he took office when his reception was proper; he took office when he was supported by the State. In the case of his relation to Chî Hwan, he took office, seeing that the practice of his doctrines was likely. With the duke Ling of Wei he took office, because his reception was proper. With the duke Hsiâo of Wei he took office, because he was maintained by the State.'


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Translated by James Legge, published in 1861 and revised for publication in 1895. Prepared as etext by Stephen R. McIntyre. Noded by schist. Please msg schist if you have suggestions for useful hard-links.

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