CHAPTER XXX. LITERARY RELATIONS

It is instructive to inquire what were the literary relations between the distinguished statesmen and active princes who moved about quite freely within the limited area so frequently alluded to in foregoing pages as being sacrosanct to civilization and the rites. There seems good reason to suppose that the literary activity which so disgusted the destroyer of the books in 213 B.C. did not really begin until after Confucius' death in 479; moreover, that the avalanche of philosophical works which drenched the royal courts of the Six Kingdoms was in part the consequence of Confucius' own efforts in the literary line. In the pre- Confucian days there is little evidence of the existence of any literature at all beyond the Odes, the Changes, the Book, and the Rites, which, after a lapse of 2500 years or more, are still the "Bible" of China. The Odes, of which 3000 were popularly known previous to Confucius' recension, seem to have been originally composed here and there, and passed from mouth to mouth, by the people of each orthodox state under impulse of strong passion, feeling, or suffering; or some of them may even have been committed to writing by learned folk in touch with the people. Naturally, those songs which specially treated of local matters would be locally popular; but it would seem that a large number of them must have been generally known by heart by the whole educated body all over orthodox China, It will be remembered that in the year 1900, an enterprising American newspaper correspondent took advantage of President Kruger's penchant for quoting Scripture, and telegraphed to him daily texts, selected as applicable to the event, for which the replies to be sent were always prepaid. For instance, on news of a British victory, the American would telegraph: "Victory stayeth not always with the righteous"; on which President Kruger would promptly rejoin: "Yet shall I smite him, even unto the end." This was the plan followed by Chinese envoys, statesmen, and princes in their intercourse with each other: no matter what event transpired, Ki-chah, or Tsz-ch'an, or Shuh Hiang would illustrate it with an ode, or with a reference to the "Book" (of history), or by an appeal to the Rites of Chou, or to some obscure astrological or cosmogonical development extracted from the mystic diagrams of "The Changes." As often as not, the quotations given from the Odes and Book no longer exist in the editions of those two classics which have come down to us. This fact is interesting as proving that the Tso Chwan - or Commentary of Confucius' pupil Tso K'iu-ming on Confucius' own bare notes of history - must have been written before Confucius' expurgated Book of Odes reduced and fixed the number of selected songs; or, at all events, the records from which Tso K'iu-ming took his quotations must have existed before either he or Confucius composed their respective annals and comments. In the times when a book the size of a three-volume novel of to-day would mean a mule-load of bamboo splinters or wooden tablets, it is absurd to suppose that generals in the field, or envoys on the march, could carry their Odes bodily about with them: it is even probable that the four "scriptural" books in question were exclusively committed to memory by the general public, and that not more than half a dozen varnish-written copies existed in any state; possibly not more than one copy. In fact, the only available literary exhilaration then open to cultured friends was to check the memory on visiting strange lands by comparing the texts of Odes, Changes, or Book. A knowledge of the Rites would perhaps be confined to the ruling classes almost entirely, for with them it lay to pronounce the religious, the ritual, the social, or the administrative sanction applicable to each contested set of circumstances. It is very much as though, - as was indeed the case in Johnsonian times, - the French, English, and German wits of the day, and occasionally distinguished literary specimens of even more "barbarous" countries, should at a literary conference indulge in quotations from Horace or Juvenal by way of passing the time: they would not select the Twelve Tables or the Laws of the Pr'tors as matter for the testing of learning.

To take a few instances. In 559 the ruler of Wei had severely beaten his court music-master for failing to teach a concubine how to play the lute. One day the prince invited to dinner some statesmen, the father of one of whom had taken offence at the prince's rudeness; and he ordered the same musician to strike up the last stanza of a certain ode hinting at treason, which the malicious performer did in such a way as to give further offence to the father through his son, and to bring about the dethronement of the indiscreet prince. It gives us confidence in the truth of these anecdotes when we find that K'ue-peh-yueh was consulted by the offended father as to what course he ought to pursue. This Wei statesman, who has already been twice mentioned in connection with other matters, met Ki-chah of Wu when the latter visited that state in 544, and he was also an admired senior acquaintance of Confucius himself, whom he twice lodged at his house for many months. Three chapters of the "Book" still remain, after Confucius' manipulations of it, to prove how Wei was first enfeoffed by the Duke of Chou, and one of the Odes actually sings the praises of a Ts'i princess who married the prince of Wei in 753 B.C. Thus we see that the ancient classics are intertwined and mutually corroborative.