CHAPTER XLV. CONFUCIUS AND LAO-TSZ

Apart from the fact that reverence for rulers was the pivot of the Chou religious system, or, what was then the same thing, administrative system; official historiographers, who were mere servants of the executive, had to be careful how they offended the executive power in those capricious days; all the more had a private author and a retired official like Confucius carefully to mind the conventions. For instance, two historians had been put to death by a king-maker in Ts'i for recording the murder by him of a Ts'i reigning prince; and Ts'i was but next door to Lu. Hence we find the leading feature of his work is that he hints rather than criticizes, suggests rather than condemns, conceals rather than exposes, when it is a question of class honour or divine right; just as, with us, the Church prefers to hush up rather than to publish any unfortunate internal episode that would redound to its discredit. So shocked was he at the assassination of the ruler of Ts'i by an usurping family in 481, that, even at his venerable age, he unsuccessfully counselled instant war against Ts'i. His motive was perhaps doubtful, for the next year we find a pupil of his, then in office, going as a member of the mission to the same usurper in order to try and obtain a cession of territory improperly held. This pupil was one of the friends who assisted at the arrangement made in Wei in 492. Confucius' failings - for after all he was only a man, and never pretended to be a genius - in no way affect the truth of his writings, for they were detected almost from the very beginning, and have never been in the least concealed. Notable instances are the mission from Lu to Ts'u in 634; Confucius conceals the fact that, not courtesy to barbarian Ts'u, but a desire to obtain vengeance against orthodox Ts'i was the true motive. Again, in 632, when the faineant Emperor was "sent for" by the Second Protector to preside at a durbar; Confucius prefers to say: "His Majesty went to inspect his fiefs north of the river," thus even avoiding so much as to name the exact place, not to say describe the circumstances. He punishes the Emperor for an act of impropriety in 693 by recording him as "the King," instead of "the Heavenly King." On the other hand, in 598, even the barbarian King of Ts'u was "a sage," because, having conquered the orthodox state of Ch'en, he magnanimously renounced his conquest. In 529 the infamous ruler of the orthodox state of Ts'ai is recorded as being "solemnly buried"; but the rule was that no "solemn funeral" should be accorded to (1) barbarians, (2) rulers who lose their crown, (3) murderers. Now, this ruler was a murderer; but it was a barbarian state (Ts'u) that killed him, which insult to civilization must be punished by making two blacks one white, i.e. by giving the murdered murderer an orthodox funeral. Again, in 522, a high officer was "killed by robbers"; it is explained that there were no robbers at all, in fact, but that the mere killing of an officer by a common person needs the assumption of robbery. It is like the legal fiction of lunacy in modern Chinese law to account for the heinous crime of parricide, and thus save the city from being razed to the ground. Once more, at the Peace Conference of 546, Ts'u undoubtedly "bluffed" Tsin out of her rightful precedence; but, Tsin being an orthodox state, Confucius makes Tsin the diplomatic victor. We have already seen that he once deliberately broke his plighted word, meanly attacked the men who spared him; and, out of servility, visited a woman of noble rank who was "no better than she ought to have been." There is another little female indiscretion recorded against him. When, in 482, the Lu ruler's concubine, a Wu princess (imperial clan name), died, Confucius obsequiously went into mourning for an "incestuous" woman; but, seeing immediately afterwards that the powerful family then at the helm did not condescend to do so, he somewhat ignominiously took off his mourning in a hurry. All these, and numerous similar petty instances of timorousness, may appear to us at a remote distance trifling and pusillanimous, as do also many of the model personal characteristics and goody-goody private actions of the sage; but if we make due allowance for the difficulty of translating strange notions into a strange tongue, and for the natural absence of sympathy in trying to enter into foreign feelings, we may concede that these petty details, quite incidentally related, need in no way destroy the main features of a great picture. Few heroes look the character except in their native clothes and surroundings; and, as Carlyle said, a naked House of Lords would look much less dignified than a naked negro conference.