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Continuations and variations of the Confucian system – Meng Zi


  • Yulan Fung (Youlan Feng), A history ..., i. pp.106-131
  • Kwong-loi Shun, Mencius and Early Chinese Thought, pp. 48-83, 180-231
  • Kim-Chong Chong, "Xunzi's Systematic Critique of Mencius", Philosophy East and West, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Apr., 2003), pp. 215-233

1. Ren- Ethical integrity; making xiao (孝) an absolute, inviolable virtue.

  • LY, 1.6: "Comprehensively love all living beings but closeness should be based on ethical integrity. 汎愛眾,而親仁"
  • LY, 6.30: "Being able to derive lessons from what is near and to apply them to similar situations; this can be called the method of practising ethical integrity. 能近取譬,可謂仁之方也已"

MZ, 7B:1 - Ethical integrity means to offer what one loves to those whom one does not love (仁者以其所愛及其所不愛). Lack of ethical integrity means to offer what one does not love to those whom one loves (不仁者以其所不愛及其所愛).

MZ, 7B:31 - Men all have things which one cannot tolerate. To overcome and tolerate them, that is ethical integrity (人皆有所不忍,達之於其所忍,仁也). Men all have things which one does not do. To overcome and to do them, that is righteousness (人皆有所不為,達之於其所為,義也).

MZ, 7A:46 - A man of knowledge has none that he does not know. But he rightly focuses on what requires urgent attention. A man of ethical integrity has none that he does not love. As a matter of urgency, however, he focuses on his parents and on the talented. Yao and Xun had comprehensive knowledge of all things. But they dealt with urgent matters first. Yao and Xun had ethical integrity and loved all men without taking sides. As a matter of urgency, however, they loved their parents and the talented.

MZ, 7A:35 - Tao Ying asked, "Suppose Xun was the Son of Heaven; Gao Yao, his officer. Gu Sou commits a murder. What should happen?" Meng Zi said, "He will be arrested." "You mean, Xun will not intervene?" Meng Zi said, "Even Xun would be wrong to intervene as it is about what he has received from his predecessors." "Then what should Xun do?" Meng Zi said, "Xun will regard abandoning the world as no different from abandoning a worn out pair of shoes. He will sneak in, carry his old man on his back and escape. He will go to a seaside and settle. Until his last day, he will be happy like that. In his happiness, he will forget about the world."

MZ, 5A:2 - Wan Zhang said, "Xun's parents had Xun repair a granary. Once Xun was up there, they removed the ladder. Gu Sou then set fire to the granary. They had Xun bore a well. Once Xun was inside, they blocked the well. Xiang said, 'The plot to bury him in the well is all to my credit. Xun's cattle, Xun's granary may go to my parents. But I must keep Xun's armoury, his lute and his bow. Also, his two wives must now attend my bedroom.' Xiang went to Xun's palace. Xun, however, was on his bench playing the lute. Xiang said, 'Well, er, I was thinking about you ...,' somewhat embarrassed. Xun said, 'You're always kind to the staff and to the people. Why don't you help me govern?' Is it not because Xun did not know that Xiang was trying to kill him?" Meng Zi said, "How could he not know? But when Xiang was unhappy, Xun was unhappy too. When Xiang was happy, Xun was happy too." "But was he not pretending to be happy?" said Wan Zhang. Meng Zi said, "No. Once, someone offered live fish to Zi Chan of Zheng. Zi Chan told his servant to keep it in the pond. The servant steamed it. When he was summoned back, he said, 'When I let it go, Sir, it could hardly move. A little later, it was swimming freely. Then it disappeared like that.' Zi Chan said, 'It went where it belongs! Yes, it went where it should be!' The servant came out and said, 'Who said Zi Chan was intelligent? I steamed the fish and ate it. And he said, "It went where it belongs! Yes, it went where it should be!"' Thus a noble man may be tricked by a stratagem, but he is not easily misled by wrong principles. Thinking that Xiang came to see him out of love for the elder brother, Xun was genuinely happy to see his younger brother. How could he be pretending?"

MZ, 7A:45 - Meng Zi said, "A noble man's attitude towards all things is this: he loves them. But it is a love which does not require ethical integrity. Vis-à-vis people, he loves them with ethical integrity. But it is not a love which has the closeness. Now, love your parents with closeness; love people with ethical integrity; and love all things (孟子曰:「君子之於物也,愛之而弗仁;於民也,仁之而弗親。親親而仁民,仁民而愛物。」qin qin, ren min, ai wu)." Misunderstanding 'closeness'? Moral 'black hole'? 親親(Meng Zi) v. 親仁(Confucius)

==> Duke of She (葉公) told Conficius, “In my village, there is an honest person. When his father stole a sheep, he testified against it.” Confucius said, “In my village, honesty is different. Father’s deed may be covered by the son. Son’s deed may be covered by the father. Honesty is there too!”
葉公語孔子曰:「吾黨有直躬者,其父攘羊,而子證之。」孔子曰:「吾黨之直者異於是。父為子隱,子為父隱,直在其中矣。」 (13.18)

About 'Duke' of She

The Duke of She (葉) asked Zi Lu about Confucius. Zi Lu ignored him. The Master said, "Why didn't you say that he is the kind of man who would forget about eating when he is outraged, forget his worries when he is happy and he does not know that old age will eventually get to him."
葉公問孔子於子路,子路不對。子曰:「女奚不曰,其為人也,發憤忘食,樂以忘憂,不知老之將至云爾。」 (7.19)

Duke of She (葉) asked about governing. The Master said, "If you make those near you happy, those from far away would come to you."

About the complexity of 'honesty'

直而無禮則絞 (泰伯 8.2),
好直不好學 其蔽也絞 (陽貨, 17.8)
學則不固 (學而 1.8)
惡訐以為直者 (陽貨, 17.24)

==> Si Ma Niu was unhappy and said, "Everybody has brothers. But I am all alone." Zi Xia said, "I heard thus: Life and death take their course as ordained. Wealth and poverty are made in Heaven. A noble man will tread cautiously and will not make mistakes. A noble man will respect people and abide by Li. Within the four seas, everyone is your brother. How can a noble man worry about not having a brother?" LY, 12.5
[Actually, Si Ma Niu had a brother, 桓魋 Huan Tui, who attempted to assassinate Confucius. Analect 7.23. Zuo Zhuan, Duke Ai, 14]

2. Li

  • LY, 17.11: "Li! Li! Do you think I am talking about jade and silk?"

MZ, 4A:27 - Meng Zi said, "Ethical integrity boils down to serving your parents. Rightness boils down to following your elder brothers. Wisdom boils down to knowing these two and not to abandon them. Li boils down to regulating and institutionalising (wen) these two."

MZ, 5B:4 - Wan Zhang asked, "May I venture to ask with what mind one should engage in social intercourse?" Meng Zi said, "With respectfulness 恭." Wan Zhang said, " 'To keep declining is not respectful.' What does that mean?" Meng Zi said, "Suppose your superior offers you a gift. To ask where he got it and whether the source was right or wrong and then receive it; that is not respectful. So you don't decline." Wan Zhang said, "Perhaps, one may not decline in so many words. But one may decline in one's mind? Saying, for example, 'What he obtained from the people is not right. I will offer him some other excuses and I won't receive the gift.' Is it not possible?" Meng Zi said, "If the superior socialises in accordance with the Way and receives the guest in accordance with the Li, even Confucius would receive the gift."

MZ, 4A:17 - Chun Yu Kun said, "When a man gives something to a woman, they should avoid close contact. That is Li, isn't it?" Meng Zi said, "That is Li." Chun Yu Kun asked, "If my sister-in-law is drowning, may I save her with my hand?" Meng Zi said, "Your sister-in-law is drowning and you do not save her; you are a beast. Avoiding close contact when a man gives something to a woman is a matter of Li. Saving your drowning sister-in-law with your hand is a matter of striking a balance in a case by case manner (權)"

3. Yi- "Endearing" rightness?

MZ, 6A:10 - Meng Zi said, "I want fish. I also want bear's palm. If I cannot have both, I will forgo fish and take bear's palm. Likewise, I want life. I also want rightness. If I cannot have both, I will forgo life and choose rightness ... Thus, there is something I want more than life. There is something I loathe more than death. Talented men are not the only ones who have this in mind. Men all have this. Talented men simply do not lose it.

MZ, 5B:7 - [Meng Zi said,] Jing Gong of Qi was out on the field. He summonned the hunting officer with a pennon. The officer did not come. And he was going to be put to death for this. A determined officer does not forget that he may end up dead in a ditch; a courageous officer does not forget that he may have his head chopped. What did Confucius want to illustrate with this? He wanted to show that when the summon was not properly done, one should not repond. Wan Zhang asked, "May I venture to ask how the hunting officer should have been summonned?" Meng Zi said, "With a hunting cap. A commoner should be summonned with a plain pennant; an officer, with an embroidered pennant; senior ministers, with a pennon." ... Wan Zhang said, "When Confucius was summonned by a ruler, he went without even waiting for the carriage to be harnessed. He was wrong, then?"

  • LY, 14.15: The Master said, "Duke Wen of Jin was crafty; he was not forthright. Duke Huan of Qi was forthright. He was not crafty."
  • LY, 14.16: Zi Lu said, "When Duke Huan caused his brother Jiu to be killed, Shao Hu died with his master but Guan Zhong did not die. May I not say that he was lacking ethical integrity?" The Master said, "Duke Huan assembled all the princes together without even using weapons of war and chariots - it was all through the influence of Guan Zhong. Have ethical integrity like him! Such ethical integrity as his!"
  • LY, 14.17: Zi Gong said, “Guan Zong lacked ethical integrity, did he not? When Duke Huan of Qi had his brother Jiu killed, Guan Zhong was unable to commit suicide. He instead served Duke Huan as his minister.” The Master said, "Guan Zhong acted as prime minister to the duke Huan, made him leader of all the princes, and united and rectified the whole kingdom. Down to the present day, the people enjoy the gifts which he conferred. But for Guan Zhong, we should now be wearing our hair unbound, and the lappels of our coats buttoning on the left side. Will you require from him the small fidelity of common men and common women, who would commit suicide in a stream or in a ditch, no one knowing anything about them?"
  • LY, 4.10 - The Master said, "A noble man's attitude to the world is that nothing is correct, nothing is incorrect. He abides by rightness.

MZ, 4B:11 - Meng Zi said, "A great man (大人者) need not necessarily keep his words, need not necessarily bring his action to completion. But he always abides by rightness."

  • LY, 12.3: Si Ma Niu asked about ethical integrity. The Master said, "He who has ethical integrity does not say much." Si Ma Niu said, " "Not saying much"? Is this ethical integrity?" The Master said, "To do what you say is difficult enough. Should you not be cautious in what you say?"
  • LY, 13.3: "If a noble man should name names, he must be able to defend it. If he should say things, he must be able to act on it. When it comes to speech, a noble man ought not to talk nonsense."

4. Zhi[wisdom]

MZ, 4A:27 - Meng Zi said, "Wisdom boils down to knowing [ethical integrity and rightness] and not to abandon them."

MZ, 5B:1 - Meng Zi said, "Bo Yi was holy and remained clean. Yi Yin was holy and undertook responsibilities. Liu Xia Hui was holy and achieved harmony. Confucius was holy and knew the right timing. What Confucius did was to assemble and achieve a grand ensemble. To assemble and achieve a grand ensemble is to start with the sound of bells and end with jade carillon. The sound of bells signifies the beginning of the proper arrangement; the jade carillon signifies the end of the proper arrangement. Starting the proper arrangement is a matter of wisdom. Ending the proper arrangement is a matter of holiness. Wisdom can be likened to skill. Holiness can be likened to strength. Suppose an archer launches the arrow at a distance of one hundred yards. The arrow reaching the target is a matter of strength. Hitting the target in the middle is not a matter of strength.

MZ, 7B:25 - Hao Sheng Bu Hai asked, "You know Yue Zheng Zi. What kind of man is he?" Meng Zi said, "He is a good man. He is a reliable man." "What do you mean 'good'? What do you mean 'reliable'?" Meng Zi said, "What is desirable, that is 'good'. When one speaks for oneself, that is 'reliable'. When one is replenished with these, that is 'beautiful'. When one is replenished with these and has a brilliant splendour, that is 'great'. When one is great and transforms others with his greatness, that is 'holy'. Holy and yet not knowable, that is 'divine'. Yue Zheng Zi manages to achieve the two, but he is below the remaining four attributes."

  • LY, 7.26: The Master said, "As for the Holy man, I cannot see it. But I can see whether a noble man comes close enough to be comparable to it. As for the Angelic man, I cannot see it. But I can see whether a constant man comes close enough to be comparable to it."

5. Xing[Original mind]

  • LY, 17.2: The Master said, "The original mind is more or less the same; what we acquire afterwards tends to make us different."
  • Zhong Yong, preamble: "We call 'original mind' what Heaven has ordained in us."
  • LY, 5.13: Zi Gong said, "You can hear about the Master's brilliant accomplishments, but you cannot hear him talk about man's original mind or the way of Heaven."