The Chinese classical work commonly called the Four books; online

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University of California • Berkeley



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By the Late Rev, DAVID COLLIB,

Principal of the Anglo- Chinese College ^

"■a uiilliiioitiiiiine g-
PRINTED at the mission PRESSp



The folio win 2: Version of the Four Books was un-
dertaken, in the first instance, for the purpose of acqui-
ring some knowledge of the Chinese Language. After
the whole had been written, it occurred to the Transla-
tor, that if carefully revised and illustrated by quotations
from the most approved Comments, and by occasional
remarks on the fundamental errors in religion and morals,
which, in too many instances, the work discovers, it
might perhaps be of some use to the Chinese who study
English in the College, not only by assisting them in
acquiring the English Language, but especially in lead-
ing them to reflect seriously on some of the fatal errors
propagated by their most celebrated sages. This cir-
cumstance forms the only apology which the Translator
can offer for the frequent repetition of what must, to the
European reader, appear common place remarks, but
which it is hoped, may, by the divine blessing, prove
useful to some of the deluded heathen who read the
translation. At the time when the version was re-
written, along with the Notes and Remarks, there
was little intention of publication : for although the

'' ii. PREFACE.

Translator ])y a kind of enthusiastic, and what to
some may appear an unreasonable fondness for the Chi-
nese Language, did not feel the Four Books to he ])y
any means so dull and common place as there is reason
to fear most readers of the translation will dt'em them,
still he was not by any means so blinded by cuthusiasni
for his favorite, as to lead him to sup[)ose, that the
work could possihly be made interesting to the generali-
ty of readers, and had he not been ent'ouraged by friends
whose judgment he highly values, in all probal)ility the
present version had remained in mauus 'ript, for tlu?
sole use ot those for whom it was originally intended.
It is not meant l)y these remarks, however, to convv*y
the idea, that the Four Books are wliollv void of in-
terest to a certain class of readers. To those who are
but commencing their Chinese studies, and who may
not have the assistance of a Teacher, the })resent ver-
sion, imperfect as it confessedly is, will be, it is hoped
of considerable service. Nor will it fail to interest
those who take pleasure in tracing the operations of the
human mind undtr all the varied aspects in whicli it is
presented to our view. For, the F\)ur Books may be
considered a fair specimen of what men in the age and
circumstances in which their authors were placeil could
attain in the Science of Jleligion and Morals. What
their altainnieuts were, we shall lea^(' the reader of the
following pages to judge for himself, merely remarking,
that the Christian wlu^ peruses them Mill see abundant
reason to be grateful that he haij been taught a " More
i^xcellent way/' while the lufidcl will fiad little in support


of his favorite theory, viz. that a special Revelation of
the Divine AYill is unnecessary.

The Four Books, as the title denotes, consist of four
separate pieces, which are arranged by the Chinese in
the following order.

I. The Ta Heo which was compiled by Tsang
Tsze, a disciple of Confucius, from materials chielly
composed of the sayings of the Sage, and of quotations
from the standard works of the Ancients. The scope
of the work is to point out the truly philosophical mode
of attaining perfect, personal and social virtue, and to
trace the connection which indissolubly exists between
individual worth and the ])roper regulation of the family,
the good government of small Provinces and the virtue,
prospeiity and happiness of great Empires. It exhibits
some beautiful theories, but generally founded on false
principles. *

II. The Chung Yung, or ''Golden Medium.'' This
Tract was compiled by Kung Keih, who was a grand-
son and disciple of Confucius. Its object, as its title de-
notes, is to direct men how^ to find and maintain the due
medium in all things. It is more abstruse and mystical
than any other of the Four Books, and frequently puzzles
the reader with a number of high sounding terms to
which he cannot attach any definite idea, f

* We have seen two English Translations of the Ta Ueo,— One by Dr. Morrison, and
another published at Serampore in 1814, and ascribed to Mr. John Marshman. Son of the Rev.
Dr. Marshman, who has executed a Chinese Version of the Bible, an English tronslatien of
the Shang Lun, a Grammar of the Chinese Lan»uao-e. &c.

t M. Abel-Remusat, de I'Acadcmie rojale des Inscriptions «t Bellea-Lrettres,


III. The Lull Yu ( Dialogues), This work con-
sists of conversations between Confucius and his disciples,
which were collected and committed to writing by the
latter. It is divided into two volumes, called the Shang
Lun and flea Lun. The subjects of which it treats are
of a miscellaneous nature, relating, principally, to the du-
ties of Prince and Minister, Father and Son, Master and
Scholar. The Lun Yu abounds \\itii what some would
call truisms, and repetitions in almost the same words are
r?ither frequent. These Dialogues, however, discover
considerable skill in tiie management of human nature,
and often exhibit no small degree of adroitness on the
part of the Sage, in adai)tinii: his instructions to the pe-
culiar dispositions and talents of his disciples. *

IV. Tiie Shang Mung and Ilea Mung. This
work is the production of Mung Tsze ( Mencius ), who
flourished about 100 years after Confucius, and seems to
occupy the next j)lace to him in the estimation of his
countrymen. In this treatise we have the substance of
his political and ethical doctrines. Ilis style excels the
above-mentioned pieces in ]>oint of imagination, ^ igour
and ornament. A considerable part of his ])Ook consists
of conversations held on various occasions with the petty
Princes of the day, with whose system of Government
the Sage was far from being satisfied. 11/ made it his
constant practice to point out what he considered false
in principle, or >\ rong in practice with the utmost

Professour de Lan)(Ue el tie Iiill< ratnre rlmioiscs et larlares au ColU-^o royal de Fiance,
has translated this wdrk into French ami Latin.

* An Enjjiislj translation of the Shiin;; Lnn. i. e. lijsl \ olunu« of il>e Lun Yu, waa pub-
iiiUta al Scraiiipore iu IbO*.), l») l>i. .Maisbmaja Jiuil tledicattd to Ijoyd Mijilo.


freedom, and reproved crowned heads without the least
ceremony whenever he judged them culpable. Like
Confucius, when he confines himself to political maxims
and moral precepts, he speaks like a man of a sound and
vigorous mind, but when he launches into the depths of
metaphysical jargon, he frequently loses himself in mys-
tical speculations, which seem to answer no other end
than that of affording an additional proof, that no hu-
man intellect is of itself capable of discovering the
truth on the momentous subject of Religion,*

Before concluding this Preface, we beg to say a
few words respecting the execution of the version now
presented to our readers. But on this subject we had
better, perhaps, say litlle, for nothing we can urge will
afford any sufficient apology for the faults and defects
with which we are well aware the work abounds.
Some will say, that in many instances the rendering is
too literal and in others too free, and in many cases the
spirit and force of the original have been lost. Others
may observe so many Chinesisms and Scotticisms in
the style that they will be apt to say it does not deserve
the name of an English version. To such charges we
are ready to plead guilty; but trust that the frequent
obscurity and uniform conciseness of the original, will,
in some degree, be admitted as our apology. At least
if such considerations as those do not tend to soften the
severity of criticism, we have no other to offer, for the
translation was written with due deliberation and with

* Stanislaus Jalieu published a Latin translation of part of the first voluiae ©f Me«-
cius i> 1824.


good native assistance, and with the same assistance
every pa^^e of it has \>een ai^ain carefully compared with
the ori<:,iiuil; nor has the I'raushitor railed to avail him-
self of the aid to be (l(,Mived from the Enj^lish and Latin
Versions of part of the Four Books to which he had ac-
cess, and althoui;h he has often taken th(^ liberty to dif-
fer from his hiiihly respectable Predecessors and been
guided priucipally by native Commentators, still he has
frequently received considerable assistah je from the for-
mer. So that either the difficulty of the task, or the ig-
norance of tlie Transhitor, or both, can form tin.' only
apology for the faults of the version. For the Trans-
lator cannot accuse himself of negligence, nor can he
coiaplaiu of the want of all needful aid. In fact,
when he considers the comparatively little \ alue of the
work, and the important engagements which foiiu his
proper employment, he feels that he ought rather to
apologize i'ov having bestowed so much tim<^ u[)oii it,
tiian for not ha\ ing succeeded in giving a good and
faitlifid version.

N. B. The Notes at the foot of the page are not
a literal translation of any one Counnentator, but ra-
ther the substance of various Conmients. A small
line separates these Notes from tht* remarks of the


Anglo- Chinese College,
March \'&2H.




The Ancestors of the Sage were originally natives
of Sung, but had for six generations, held official
situations in Loo. When Confucius was born, there was
a hollow on the crown of his head, on which account he
was named Jf^ Keiv ( a hollow on the top of a hill ). His
literary name was ^^ J^ Chung Ne, and his family
name 3[j Kiing. When a child, he was fond of enqui-
ring into the nature and reasons of things, and was in
the habit of making imitations of the sacred vessels
used in the Temples, and of imitating the various cere-
monies used in the worship of the gods and of ancestors^
Being nine cubits, six inches high, people admired him
and called him the tall man.

He was endued with an intuitive knowledge of all
things, and was not under the necessity of pursuing a
regular course of study, yet from his youth he paid the
most serious attention to the doctrines of the former
Sages and embodied them in his writings.


When youn^, he was poor and in low circumstan-
ces, and consuqiKMitly (jbliged to have recourse to manu-
al labour fur his support. In consequence, however, of
his great inteliiuence, and eminent virtue, when about
twenty years of age, he was appointed by the Govern-
ment of Loo, his native Country, to be superintendent
of grain, cattl(\ Sec.

He afterwards visited the Provinces of Tse and
Wei, and returned again to his native Country. By
the permi:ssi()n of his Soverei2:n, he subsequently went
to Chow to avail himself of the instructions of ^ ^
Laou Tsze, a celebrated scholar of the day. Previous
to this he had seventy disciples, but on his return the
number of his pupils ijicreased.

About tiie 35th year of his age, in consequence
of the disorders which took place in Loo, he went to
Tse and became Steward to a Mandarin of that Coun-
trv, and was thus introduced to the Prince of Tse.
Here he conversed on the principles of music with the
master musician of tiie Court. It was there that, in
consequence of hearing the Chaou or music of the famous
Monarch Shun, during a [>L'riod of three months he
knew not the taste of flesh. *

He talked to the Prince of Tse of the reciprocal
duties of Prince and Minister and of Father and Son,
The Prince was pleased with his principles and was about
to give him an appoiutuient when one of liis CounseU
lors dissuaded him by representing the Joo sect, or
sect of the Learned, to which Confucius belonged,

* Se« SbaDg Lim Chap. vii. Sec, 12.


as a self-conceited haughty, unmanageable class of men,
and this representation induced the Prince to dismiss
the Sage. The latter being disappointed in his attempts
to establish his principles in Tse, returned once more to
his native Province. But in consequence of all the
Government Officers of Loo having assumed improper
authority, he declined being in office, and retired to
revise the collection of odes called the =^ ^g She King^
the historical work called the ^ :^g Shoo King, and
the treatise on ceremonies and forms of polite inter-
course called the |g =[^ Le Ke. He also improved
or revised the art of music. His disciples now became
very numerous and came from all quarters to receive
his instructions. After he was upwards of 50 years of
age, he was appointed by Prince Ting of Loo to be
Governor of a district. While in this office he produ-
ced a thorough renovation of manners ni all around him:
He was afterwards to be advanced to higher offices, and
for a short time acted as Prime Minister of Loo.
Whilst in this Office, the Government of Tse, a neigh-
bouring state, observing the influence which the excel-
lent politics of the Sige produced on the people of
Loo, became alarmed lest the latter should speedily become
an overmatch for Tse, and sent a band of female musi-
cians to the Court of Loo, hoping thereby to lead the
Prince and his Ministers into some gross irregularity
Avhich would induce the Sa&e to resisrn. The scheme
succeeded completely; for the Prince and his principal
Courtiers were so enchanted with the Songsters of Tse,
that for three days they entirely neg»lected the business of


the nation and forp:ot to send the sacrificial flesh to the
high Officers of State. Consequently Confucius resign-
ed and left the Court.

After this he went to the Wei Country, where he
remained ten m3nths and had some interviews with the
Prince of AVei, and then left for the Province of China.
On the way, his life was in danger from the people of
Kwang, who mistook him for a person who had excited
their rage by his tyranny. The Sage, however, confi-
ded in heaven and escaped. After this he offered his
services to the Government of Wei, but that Prince
not liking his benevolent politics, excused himself for
not employing the Sage on the ground that he was too
old to i)e guided by such a Minister; upon which Con-
fucius departed with the intention of visiting Tsin, but
in conserpience of some unlucky omens which present-
ed themselves, he returned to Wei. Some time after
this, one of the principal Officers of Lt)0 on his death
bed commanded his son and successor to employ Con-
fucius, declaring that his having so offended Confucius,
on a former occasion, as to cause him to resign, had
endangered the Country. The young Courtier, after the
death of his Father, would have called Confucius to of-
fice, but was prevented l)y a friend, who stated that in
consequence of not being able to retain the Sage in office
on a fortner occasion, they had been laughed at by the
neighbouring Princes, and that by calling him back to
office they would only in(rease their disgrace, as it was
not likely that they could so act as to keep iiim long in


any Government office. It was after this that he formed
the resolution of ceasing from his peregrinations and re-
turning to his native Province, for the purpose of fully in-
structing his disciples, so that they might hand down his
•principles to future ages; * and of revising the ancient
books called the |-g ^^ Le Ke, || |.<^ She King,
and ^ M Shoo King, and compiling the ^ -J;'j( Chun
-TseWi The latter work which is of an historical nature,
seems to have been among the last of his literary labors,
^and was intended to reprove the Princes and Ministers

-of the day. In all his writings, his grand object was to

hand down to posterity the great principles of political

-economy practised by the renowned founders of the Hea,

Shang and Chow dynasties, believing these principles

^ to be derived from heaven, and admirably calculated to
promote the happiness of man.

' Soon after the completion of the Chun Tseiv, a
period was put the labours of the Sage by death. His
ancient disciples erected a booth at his grave, and there
spent three years in mourning for their deeply lamented

'^Master; after which they returned home. TszeKung,

-however, remained at the tomb three years longer. Such
was the high esteem cherished for their leader, by the
followers of this celebrated Moralist. That he was a

^fnan of considerable abilities, and of regular moral ha-
bits, seems to be a matter of fact we see no reason to

- dispute. We also admit, that among his numerous

"isayings, there are many excellent maxims; but we really
have not been able to find any ground for the lofty epi •

* See Shang Lun, Chap. v. Sec .21.


thcts applied to him by some celebrated opponents of di*
vine truth.

In the Mhole compass of his writings, there does not
appear to us to be a single idea above the reach of any
plain man at all accustonud to reflection. As to the
all important p)iiits, for th(i certain developement of
which, Divine Revelation si^e ns to ns absoKitely neces-
sary, Co'ifucias leaves th.>iTi entirely untouched. On the
nature and Govern nent of the Supreme Being, he says
little; — of a future state, ahn )st nothing; — and on the
method by which a guilty world may be restored to the
image and favor of God, he has given us no information
which is not as much at variance with sound philoso-
phy, as it is with revelled truth. His information on
most subjects conuected with the character of Gody
and the duty of man to his Creator, seems to rank con-
siderably below that of some of tlie Grecian Sages,
especially Socrates ; a circumstance, we think, which
may be accouated for by the fiict, that the latter lived
nearer that favoured Country where the light of Revela-
tion first shone. We have no reason, however, to sup-
pose that Confucius was an Atheist; for, although he
gives us no satisfactory view of the attiibut»:s and Go-
vernment of one Supreme God, he often speaks with much
apparent reverence of some high Ruler, which he calls
5^ Te€7i; and his works aObrd sulliciLUt proof that he
believed in ''Gods many and Lords many." It is suppo-
sed, however, tliat the generality of his juctended fol'
lowers O'f the present day have sunk into absolute A-


He seems to have lived in times of great degenera-
cy, especially among the higher ranks of Society; and
it does not appear that his labours produced either a
general or very permanent reformation notwithstanding
the lofty things that are said by himself and his
admirers, as to the all-renovating influence of his
omnipotent virtue. * lie himself frequently lamented
that his doctrines were not embraced, and that
his exertions had little influence on his depraved coun-
trymen. In fact during his life, his fame does not seem
to have beeu very graat, and perhaps what has contri-
buted, more than any thing else, to his having become
an object of lasting admiration to his countrymen, is
his having collected the scattered fragments of ancient
legislators, moralists, and poets, and handed them
down to posterity. It is on this very account that he is
pronounced by some of their most respectable writers,
to have been far superior to the great Monarchs Yaou
and Shun, who are pronounced to be the patterns of all
future princjes. — These great Monarchs, say they, only
benefited one age by their wise and benevolent Govern-
ment, but Confucius, by transmitting their principles
to ten thousand t ages possesses ten thousand times thei^
merit. This circumstance has given his savings pub-
lished by his followers, and his compilations of ancient
writers, a permanent hold on the veneration of the
Chinese, and rendered them the standard classics in al*
their Seats of Learning,

* See the conolvisioa qf the Chung Yung and many other passages of the Four Book^
t Ten Thousand is a general expression for all, or a great number.


These writlnsrs, which contain mmy true and use-
ful maxims, mixed up with mmy false and dangerous
principles, may have, no doubt, a considerable influ-
ence on tfjL^ morals of the Chinese, although, like many
professin;^ Christians, while th?y pronounce the hij^hest
encomiums on their Saq^e and his doctrines, they neither
imitate liis example, nor follow his advice, when the one
or the other comes in competition \vith their sensual gra-
tifications or wordly advantai^c. Tiie induence these
writing's have had on the Ian2:ua2:e and literature of the
Chinese has been still more powerful. The circ iin-
stance of these and little else having been from time im-
memorial carefully studied or committed to memory,
not only by what are deemed the literati, but even by
the comtnon school boy, has, no doubt, contributed
most powerfully to fix their most singular language,
so that during a period in which many other languages
have undergone almost an entire change, the Chinese
has remained the sam3 with scarcely the shadow of
change. In miking this remark, however, we do not
forget that there is something \n the structure of the
language, which aflbrds a strong protection against
innovation. Tluir love of antiquity connected with
their veneration for th'Mr Sag.3, and intimate acquain-
tance with his writings has induced to allow their
thoughts to run in that channtd which he marked out
for them. So long has this Ix^en the case, that it ap-
pears to them little less than blasphemy to call in ques-
tion any of his positions, and worse than idle to think
of making out a track for themselves.


Superior learning* consists in clearly illustrating brilliant
virtue, renovating the people, and resting only in the sum-
mit of excellence. The summit of virtue once ascertained, the
mind determines to attain it — the determination once fixed, ths
mind becomes stable, being stable, it feels at ease — being at ease,
it can fully investigate — having fully investigated, it attains its
object. Things have an origin and a consummation, actions have

* " Superior learning," means the learning proper for men, in opposition to that Dfchi'dren.
"Brilliant virtue" is the pure, unclouded mind, which al) men originally receive fiom heaven,
nad Wiiich by the p')iluting, blindinor influence of extevrial objects, becomes obscure and disorder-
ed. The first object o'geaains learning, is bv a thorough sciutinv of the nature of things, to re-
store the mind to its original purity and brivrhtness. This great object will infallibly be attained
by that perfect knowledge which is the result of a complete investigation of all things. The mind
being once restored to iis pristine glory, universal happines> follows as the inseparable coa-
sequeace. But. if any one suppose that he can pi-omote the happiness of others, while he neglects
to pirify bis own mind, and adorn his own person with virtue, he acts the part of him, who
expeets abundance of good fruit from the branches, while he neglects the proper culture of
the root.

» * The above passage looks beautiful in theory, and contains some importaat truths, but
there is one grard fallacy at the foundation oflhe system, viz, that an extensive- and accurate
knowledge of things, will produce ouritv of heart, and rectitude, of conduct. We are not left
to theoretical conjecture on this all iniporcant poi it ; for the history o*" man supplies us with
numerous instances, in which mea, the most eminent for their extensive kno'.vled;-e qf natur.e,
have by no means been exemplary in their moralcoaduct. This jhe.vs that an extensive know-
ledge of things, however desirable, is sill ins'iilijient for elfec iiig the great work of moral
renovation, and strongly confirms the truth of divine revelation, which aiTirms that it is Only
the right knowledge of the Creator, and Saviour of the world and a spiritual renovation by the
power of the Divine Spirit, that can produce that purity of heart, singleness of intention
and moral rectitude of conduct, which are at once the preparation for, aad autepast of never

Online LibraryConfuciusThe Chinese classical work commonly called the Four books; → online text (page 1 of 32)