CHAPTER XIX. CONFUCIUS AND LITERATURE

Let us return for a moment to the history of China's development. Confucius was born in the autumn of 551, B.C., and he died in 479. If we survey the condition of the empire during these seventy years, we may begin to understand better the secret of his teachings, and of his influence in later times. When he was a boy of seven or eight years, the presence in Lu of Ki-chah, the learned and virtuous brother of the barbarian King of Wu, must have opened his eyes widely to the ominous rise, of a democratic and mixed China. Lu, like Tsin, was now beginning to suffer from the "powerful family" plague; in other words, the story of King John and his barons was being rehearsed in China. Tsin and Ts'u had patched up ancient enmities at the Peace Conference; Tsin during the next twenty years administered snub after snub to the obsequious ruler of Lu, who was always turned back at the Yellow River whenever he started west to pay his respects. Lu, on the other hand, declined to attend the Ts'u durbar of 538, held by Ts'u alone only after the approval of Tsin had been obtained. In 522 the philosopher Yen-tsz, of Ts'i, accompanied his own marquess to Lu in order to study the rites there: this fact alone proves that Ts'i, though orthodox and advanced, had not the same lofty spiritual status that was the pride of Lu. In 517 the Marquess of Lu was driven from his throne, and Ts'i took the opportunity to invade Lu under pretext of assisting him; however, the fugitive preferred Tsin as a refuge, and for many years was quartered at a town near the common frontier. But the powerful families (all branches of the same family as the duke himself) proved too strong for him; they bribed the Tsin statesmen, and the Lu ruler died in exile in the year 510. In the year 500 Confucius became chief counsellor to the new marquess, and by his energetic action drove into exile in Tsin a very formidable agitator belonging to one of the powerful family cliques. In 488 the King of Wu, after marching on Ts'i, summoned Lu to furnish "one hundred sets of victims" as a mark of compliancy; the king and the marquess had an interview; the next year the king came in person, and a treaty was made with him under the very walls of K'ueh-fu, the Lu capital (this shameful fact is concealed by Confucius, who simply says: "Wu made war on us"). In 486 Lu somewhat basely joined Wu in an attack upon orthodox Ts'i. In 484-483 Confucius, who had meanwhile been travelling abroad for some years in disgust, was urgently sent for; four years later he died, a broken and disappointed man.

Now, it is one thing to be told in general terms that Confucius represented conservative forces, disapproved of the quarrelsome wars of his day, and wished in theory to restore the good old "rules of propriety"; but quite another thing to understand in a human, matter-of-fact sort of way what he really did in definite sets of circumstances, and what practical objects he had in view. The average European reader, not having specific facts and places under his eye, can only conceive from this rough generalization, and from the usual anecdotal tit-bits told about him, that Confucius was an exceedingly timid, prudent, benevolent, and obsequious old gentleman who, as indeed his rival Lao-tsz hinted to him, was something like a superior dancing-master or court usher, But when the disjointed apothegms of his "Analects" (put together, not by himself, but by his disciples) are placed alongside the real human actions baldly touched upon in his own "Springs and Autumns," and as expanded by his three commentators, one of them, at least, being a contemporary of his own, things assume quite a different complexion, Moreover, this last-mentioned or earliest in date of the expanders (see p. 91) also composed a chatty, anecdotal, and intimately descriptive account of Lu, Ts'i, Tsin, CHENG, Ts'u, Wu, and Yiieh (of no other states except quite incidentally); and we have also the Bamboo Books dug up in 281 A.D., being the Annals of Tsin and a sketch of general history down to 299 B.C. Finally, the "father of history," in about go B.C., published, or issued ready for publication, a resume of all the above (except what was in the Bamboo Books, which were then, of course, unknown to him); so that we are able to compare dates, errors, misprints, concealments, and so on; not to mention the advantage of reading all that the successive generations of commentators have had to say.