CHAPTER XLIV. CONFUCIUS

Confucius has hitherto appeared to many of us Westerners as a stiff, incomprehensible individual, resting his claim to immortality upon sententious nothingnesses directed to no obvious practical purpose; but, from the slight sketches of the manners of the times in which he lived given above, it will be apparent that he was a practical man with a definite object in view, and that both his barebones history and his jerky moral teachings were the best he could do with sorry material, and in the face of inveterate corruption and tyranny. It has been explained how the Warrior King who conquered China for the Chou family in 1122, about a dozen years later enfeoffed the elder brother of the last Shang dynasty emperor in the country of Sung, where he ruled the greater part of what was left of the late dynasty's immediateentourage, and kept up the sacrifices. This is what Confucius meant when he said: "There remain not in K'i sufficient indications of what the institutions of the Hia dynasty were; but I have studied in Sung what survives of the Shang dynasty institutions. In practice I follow the Chou dynasty institutions, as I have studied them at home in Lu." K'i was a very petty state of marquess rank situated near Lu, to which, indeed, it was subordinate; but just as Sung had, as representatives of the Shang dynasty, the privilege of carrying out certain imperial sacrifices, so had K'i, as representatives of the Hia dynasty (enfeoffed by Chou in 1122), an equal right to distinction. Confucius' ancestors were natives of Sung and scions of the ducal family reigning there; in fact, in 893 his ancestor ought to have succeeded to the Sung throne: in 710 B.C. the last of these ancestors to hold high official rank in Sung was killed, together with his princely master; and several generations after that the great-grandfather of Confucius, in order to avoid the secular spite of the powerful family who had so killed his ancestor, decided to migrate to Lu. In other words, he just crossed the modern Grand Canal (then the river Sz, which rose in Lu), and moved a few days' journey north-east to the nearest civilized state of any standing. Confucius' father is no mythical personage, but a stout, common soldier, whose doughty deeds under three successive dukes are mentioned in the Lu history quite in a casual and regular way. When still quite a child, Confucius disclosed a curious fancy for playing with sacrificial objects and practising ceremonies, just as English children in the nursery sometimes play at "being parson and sexton," and at "having feasts." When he grew up to manhood, a high officer of Lu foretold his future greatness, not only on account of his precociously grave demeanour, but also because he was in direct descent from the Shang dynasty, and because the intrigues that had taken place in Sung had deprived him of his succession rights there also. This high officer's two sons, both frequently mentioned by various contemporary authors, and one of whom subsequently went with Confucius to visit Lao-tsz at the imperial court, thereupon studied the rites under the man of whom their father had spoken so well. The only official appointment in Lu that Confucius was able to obtain at this period was that of steward to one of the "powerful families" then engaged in the task, so congenial in those times all over China, of undermining the ducal authority; this appointment was a kind of stewardship, in which his duties consisted in tallying the measures of grain and checking the heads of cattle. One of the two sons of the above-mentioned statesman who had foreseen Confucius' distinction, some time after this submitted a request to the ruler of Lu that he might proceed in company with Confucius to visit the imperial capital; and it is supposed by Sz-ma Ts'ien, the historian of 100 B.C., that this was the occasion on which took place the philosopher's famous interview with Lao-tsz. In this connection there are two or three remarks to make. In the first place, it is recorded of nearly all the vassal states that they either did pay visits to, or wished to visit, the metropolis; and that royal dukes and royal historians, either at vassal request or under imperial instruction, took part in advising vassal states. In the second place, as Confucius then held no high office, his visit, being a private affair, would not be considered worth mentioning in the Lu annals, and it would therefore almost follow as a matter of course that the young man who accompanied him, being of official status by birth, would count as the chief personage. In the third place, there is no instance in the Confucian histories of a mere archive-keeper or a mere philosopher being mentioned on account of his importance in that capacity. Such men as Tsz-ch'an, Shuh Hiang, Ki-chah, and the other distinguished "ritualists" of the time, are not mentioned so much on account of their abstract teachings as they are on account of their being able statesmen, competent to stave off the rising tide of revolutionary opinions. Even Confucius himself only appears in contemporary annals as an able administrator and diplomat; there is no particular mention of his "school," and, a fortiori, he himself does not mention Lao-tsz's "school," even if Lao-tsz had one; for he disapproved of Lao-tsz's republican and democratic way of construing the ancient tao. Finally, neither Confucius nor Lao-tsz, however great their local reputations, were yet universally "great"; they were consequently as little the objects of hero-worship as was Shakespeare when he was at the height of his activity; and of the living Shakespeare we know next to nothing.