Read the essay prompt in the Syllabus, read the selection of Confucian writings in Fiero and here in Course Materials, come up with your own thesis in response to the prompt, write, and submitCONFUCIAN TEXTS
“Portraits” of Two Women of Ancient China
I. The Mother of Mencius
(This portrait of the mother of one of China’s greatest Confucian philosophers was part of a first century BCE book, Biographies of Admirable Women. It reveals much about what was expected of an “ideal” woman, and quite a bit about what was considered the proper role of women in family and society---but see if you can also read in this story indications of very real power possible in this seemingly powerless role.)
The mother of Mencius lived in Tsou in a house near a cemetery. When Mencius was a little boy he liked to play burial rituals in the cemetery, happily building tombs and grave mounds.
His mother said to herself, "This is no place to bring up my son."
She moved near the marketplace in town. Mencius then played merchant games of buying and selling. His mother again said, "This is no place to bring up my son."
So once again she moved, this time next to a school house…. Mencius then played games of ancestor sacrifices and practiced the common courtesies between students and teachers. His mother said, "At last, this is the right place for my son!" There they remained.
When Mencius grew up he studied the six arts of propriety, music, archery, charioteering, writing, and mathematics. Later, he became a famous Confucian scholar. Superior men commented that Mencius' mother knew the right influences for her sons. The Book of Poetry says, "That admirable lady, what will she do for them!"
When Mencius was young, he came home from school one day and found his mother was weaving at the loom. She asked him, "Is school out already?"
He replied, "I left because I felt like it."
His mother took her knife and cut the finished cloth on her loom. Mencius was startled and asked why. She replied, "Your neglecting your studies is very much like my cutting the cloth. The superior person studies to establish a reputation and gain wide knowledge. He is calm and poised and tries to do no wrong. If you do not study now, you will surely end up as a menial servant and will never be free from troubles. It would be just like a woman who supports herself by weaving to give it up. How long could such a person depend on her husband and son to stave off hunger? If a woman neglects her work or a man gives up the cultivation of his character, they may end up as common thieves if not slaves!"
Shaken, from then on Mencius studied hard from morning to night. He studied the philosophy of the Master and eventually became a famous Confucian scholar. Superior men observed that Mencius' mother understood the way of motherhood. The Book of Poetry says, "That admirable lady, what will she tell them!"
After Mencius was married, one day as he was going into his private quarters, he encountered his wife not fully dressed. Displeased, Mencius stopped going into his wife's room. She then went to his mother, begged to be sent home, and said, "I have heard that the etiquette between a man and a woman does not apply in their private room. But lately I have been too casual, and when my husband saw me improperly dressed, he was displeased. He is treating me like a stranger. It is not right for a woman to live as a guest; therefore, please send me back to my parents."
Mencius' mother called him to her and said, "It is polite to inquire before you enter a room. You should make some loud noise to warn anyone inside, and as you enter, you should keep your eyes low so that you will not embarrass anyone. Now, you have not behaved properly, yet you are quick to blame others for their impropriety. Isn't that going a little too far?"
Mencius apologized and took back his wife. Superior men said that his mother understood the way to be a mother-in-law.
When Mencius was living in Ch'i, he was feeling very depressed. His mother saw this and
asked him, "Why are you looking so low?"
"It's nothing." he replied.
On another occasion [soon after that] when Mencius was not working, he leaned against the door and signed. His mother saw him and said, "The other day I saw that you were troubled, but you answered that it was nothing. But why are you leaning against the door sighing?"
Mencius answered, "I have heard that the superior man judges his capabilities and then accepts a position. He neither seeks illicit gains nor covets glory or high salary. If the Dukes and Princes do not listen to his advice, then he does not talk to them. If they listen to him but do not use his ideas, then he no longer frequents their courts. Today my ideas are not being used in Ch'i, so I wish to go somewhere else. But I am worried because you are getting too old to travel about the country."
His mother answered, "A woman's duties are to cook the five grains, heat the wine, look after her parents-in-law, make clothes, and that is all! Therefore, she cultivates the skills required in the women's quarters and has no ambition to manage affairs outside of the house. The Book of Changes says, 'In her central place, she attends to the preparation of the food.' The Book of:Poetry says, 'It will be theirs neither to do wrong nor to do good. Only about the spirits and the food will they have to think..' This means that a woman's duty is not to control or to take charge. Instead she must follow the 'three submissions.' When she is young, she must submit to her parents. After her marriage, she must submit to her husband. When she is widowed, she must submit to her son. These are the rules of propriety. Now you are an adult and I am old; therefore, whether you go depends on what you consider right, whether I follow depends on the rules of propriety."
Superior men observed that Mencius' mother knew the proper course for women. The Book of Poetry says, "Serenely she looks and smiles. Without any impatience she delivers her instructions."
2. The Wife of Feng Yen ---as seen in a letter from Feng Yen to his Brother-in-law
(This letter, describing a real but far from ideal woman who lived sometime during the Han dynasty
, was written by a very frustrated [and surprisingly powerless] husband to his wife’s younger brother, to explain his reasons for divorcing her.)
Man is a creature of emotion. Yet it is according to reason that husband and wife are joined together or put asunder. According to the rules of propriety which have been set down by the Sage, a gentleman should have both a primary wife and concubines as well. Even men from poor and humble families long to possess concubines. I am old and approaching the end of my life, but I have never had a concubine. I will carry regret for this into my grave.
My wife is jealous and has destroyed the Way of a good family. Yet this mother of five children is still in my house. For the past five years her conduct has become worse and worse day after day. She sees white as black and wrong as right. I never err in the slightest, yet she lies about me and nags me without end. It is like falling among bandits on the road, for I constantly encounter unpredictable disasters through this woman. Those who slander us good officials seem to have no regard for the deleterious effects this has on the welfare of the country. Likewise, those who indulge their jealousy seem to have no concern for the unjust strain this puts on other people’s lives.
Since antiquity it has always been considered a great disaster to have one’s household be dominated by a woman. Now this disaster has befallen me. If I eat too much or too little or if I drink too much or too little, she jumps all over me like the tyrant Hsia Chieh. If I play some affectionate joke on her, she will gossip about it to everyone. She glowers with her eyes and clenches her fists tightly in anger over things which are purely the product of her imagination. I feel a severe pang in my heart, as though something is poisoning my five viscera. Anxiety cuts so deeply that I can hardly bear to go on living. My rage is so great that I often forget the calamities I might cause.
When she is at home, she is always lounging in bed. After she gave birth to my principal heir, she refused to have any more children. We have no female servants at our home who can do the work of weaving clothes and rugs. Our family is of modest means and we cannot afford a man-servant, so I have to work myself like a humble commoner. My old friends see my situation and feel very sorry for me, but this woman has not the slightest twinge of sympathy or pity.
Wu Ta, you have seen our one and only female servant. She has no hairpins or hair ornaments. She has no make-up on her face, looks haggard, and is in bad shape. My wife does not extend the slightest pity to her, nor does she try to understand her. The woman flies into a rage, jumps around, and yells at her. Her screaming is so shrill that even a sugar-peddler’s concubine would be ashamed to behave in such a manner.
I should have sent this woman back long ago, but I was concerned by the fact that the children were still young and that there was no one else to do the work in our house. I feared that my children, Chiang and Pao, would end up doing servants’ work. Therefore I retained her. But worry and anxiety plunge like a dagger into my heart and
cause me great pain. The woman is always screaming fiercely. One can hardly bear to listen to it.
Since the servant was so mistreated, within half a year her body was covered with scabs and scars. Ever since the servant became ill, my daughter Chiang has had to hull the grain and do the cooking, and my son Pao has had to do all sorts of dirty work. Watching my children struggle under such labor gives me distress.
Food and clothing are scattered all over the house. Winter clothes which have become frayed are not patched. Even though the rest of us are very careful to be neat, she turns the house into a mess. She does not have the manner of a good wife, nor does she possess the virtue of a good mother. I despise her overbearing aggressiveness, and I hate to see our home turned into a sty.
She relies on the power of Magistrate Cheng to get what she wants. She is always threatening people, and her barbs are numerous. It seems as if she carries a sword and lance to the door. Never will she make a concession, and it feels as if there were a hundred bows around our house. How can we ever return to a happy family life?
When the respectable members of our family try to reason with her, she flings insults at them and makes sharp retorts. She never regrets her scandalous behavior and never allows her heart to be moved. I realize that I have placed myself in a difficult position, and so I have started to plan ahead. I write you this letter lest I be remiss in keeping you informed of what is happening. I believe that I have just cause, and I am not afraid of criticism. Unless I send this wife back, my family will have no peace. Unless I send this wife back, my house will never be clean. Unless I send this wife back, good fortune will not come to my family. Unless I send this wife back, I will never again get anything accomplished. I hate myself for not having this made this decision while I was still young. The decision is now made, but I am old, humiliated, and poor. I hate myself for having allowed this ulcer to grow and spread its poison. I brought a great deal of trouble on myself.
Having suffered total ruin as the result of this family catastrophe, I am abandoning the gentry life to live as a recluse. I will sever relationships with my friends and give up my career as an official. I will stay at home all the time and concentrate on working my land to supply myself with food and clothing. How can I think of success and fame?
Translated by Lily Hwa
THE METAL BOUND BOX
Although sources are meager for the religious practices and beliefs of the common people in the Chou period, the classical texts provide abundant evidence of the rituals and beliefs of the nobility and upper class, especially those concerned with ancestor worship and divination. Already widely practiced by the Shang kings, divination gave men a means to communicate with their ancestors and discover their wishes. One common means of divination involved posing a yes-or-no question, then applying heat to a tortoise shell or shin bone to make it crack. The direction of the crack indicated the answer.
Below is an account of an incident in the early Chou in which such religious beliefs played a crucial role. The hero of the story is the Duke of Chou, brother of the founder of the Chou dynasty
, King Wu (r. 1122-1116 B.C.) When King Wu died, his son, King Ch’eng (1115-1079 B.C.) was still a child. The Duke of Chou acted as regent for seven years but never attempted to take the throne himself.
This selection is from the Book of Documents, a collection of purported speeches, pronouncements, and arguments of early kings and their advisers. The oldest of these documents date from the early days of the Chou dynasty
, although the one included here is probably of later date. This book became one of the Five Classics, held sacred by the Confucians. Whereas each document deals with a particular political situation, as a group they have been taken to provide an ideal statement of how government should be conducted.
Two years after he had conquered the Shang dynasty
, King Wu became ill and grew despondent. The two Ducal Councillors advised making a reverent divination on behalf of the King. However, the Duke of Chou said, “We must not upset our royal ancestors.”
The Duke then took the burden upon himself. He constructed three altars on a single lot of cleared ground. Then he constructed another altar to the south, facing north. Standing there, he arranged the jade disc and grasped the jade baton. Then he addressed his ancestors, King T’ai, King Chi, and King Wen. The scribe recorded his prayer. It read, “Your principal descendant, whose name I dare not utter, has contracted a terribly and cruel illness. Heaven has made you three Kings responsible for your distinguished son. Take me as a substitute for the King. I was kind and obedient to my father. I have many talents and skills, and can serve the ghosts and spirits. Your principal descendant is not as talented or skilled as I, nor can he serve the ghosts and spirits as well. Furthermore, he was given a mandate by the imperial ancestor to lend assistance to the four quarters that he might firmly establish your sons and grandsons here on the earth below. There are no people from the four quarters who do not stand in awe of him. Alas! Do not let the precious mandate which Heaven has conferred on him fail. I now seek a decree from the great Tortoise. If you grand my request, I shall take the jade disc and baton and return to await your decree.”
He divined with three tortoises, and they all indicated good fortune. He then opened the lock and looked at the writing; it too indicated good fortune. The Duke said, “The configuration shows that the King will not suffer harm, and that I, the small child, have obtained a renewed mandate from the three Kings. It is the long range that must be considered, and so I await my fate. They will take care of our King.” The Duke returned and put the scribe’s record in a metal bound box. By the next day the King had improved.
[Much later…] After King Wu died, the Duke of Chou’s older brother, Kuan Shu, along with his younger brothers, spread rumors around the country that the Duke was not benefiting the young King. The Duke of Chou informed the two Ducal Councillors, “Unless I flee from my brothers, I will not be able to report to our royal ancestors.” The Duke then lived in the east for two years, until the criminals were caught. Afterward, he composed a poem, called “The Owl,” which he presented to the young King. King Ch’eng, for his part, did not blame the Duke at all.
In the autumn when the grain was full and ripe but not yet harvested, Heaven sent down a wind accompanied by the great thunder and lightening. The grain was completely flattened. Even great trees were uprooted, and the citizens were very much afraid. King Ch’eng and his officers all put on their ceremonial caps and went to open the great writings in the metal bound box. Then they discovered the burden that the Duke of Chou had taken on himself, how he had wished to substitute himself for King Wu. The two Ducal Councillors and the King then asked the scribe and all the officers whether this had in fact happened. They replied, “It is true, but oh, the Duke commanded us not to utter a word about it.”
The King took up the writing and cried, saying, “We need not reverently divine. Formerly the Duke worked diligently for the royal family, but I was only a child and did not realize it. Now Heaven has stirred its awesome power to reveal the virtue of the Duke of Chou. I, a small child, must greet him anew, in accordance with the ritual of our state and clan.”
King Ch’eng then went out to the suburbs, and Heaven sent down rain and a wind from the opposite direction, so that all the grain stood up straight again. The two Ducal Councillors ordered the citizens to raise up and replant all of the trees which had been flattened. In that year there was a great harvest.
-Translated by James Hart
THE BATTLE OF CHIN AND CH’U
….The next day, the Ch’u supply wagons reached Pi, and so the army camped at Heng-yung. P’an Tang said to the King of Ch’u, “My Lord, we should eract a fortress and collect the bodies of the Chin soldiers in it as a war memorial. Your subject has heard that when one conquers an enemy, he should display that fact to his sons and grandsons, so they will not forget his military achievements.”
The King of Ch’u replied, “You do not understand this. In writing, the characters ‘stop’ and ‘spear’ fit together to make ‘military’. After King Wu conquered Shang, a hymn was written which says, ‘Store the shields and spears,/Encase the arrows and bows./We seek admirable virtue,/ To extend throughout this great land./ May the king genuinely preserve it.’ They also wrote the ‘Military’ Poem. Its last stanza states, ‘You have made your achievement secure.’ The third stanza says, ‘May we extend this continuously;/What we seek now is to make it secure.’ The sixth stanza says, ‘There is peace in ten thousand states,/And repeated years of plenty.’
“Military’ means to prevent violence, store weapons, preserve greatness, secure achievements, pacify the people, harmonize groups, and increase wealth. Thus King Wu wanted to make sure that his sons and grandsons did not forget these stanzas. Now I have caused the bones of the soldiers from two states to lie exposed on the battlefield; this is violence. I have made a show of weapons to coerce the feudal lords; this is not storing weapons. Since I have caused violence and have not placed the weapons in storage, how could I have preserved greatness? Furthermore, the enemy state of Chin still exists; so how could my achievement by secure? In many ways I have gone against the people’s wishes; so how could they be pacified? I have not been virtuous but have used force against the feudal lords; so how could the groups be harmonized? I have found profit in other men’s crises and peace in their disorders. This has given me glory, but how has it increased wealth? There are seven military virtues, but I have not attained a single one of them. What do I have to display to my sons and grandsons? Let us set up an altar to our Ancestral Rulers and announce to them what we have done. Then we should stop there, for what I have done is not a military achievement.
THE GREAT LEARNING
The Way of learning to be great [this can also be translated as “adult education”] consists in manifesting the clear character, loving the people, and abiding in the highest good.
Only after knowing what to abide in can one be calm. Only after having been calm can one be tranquil. Only after having achieved tranquility can one have peaceful repose. Only after having peaceful repose can one begin to deliberate. Only after deliberation can the end be attained. Things have their roots and branches. Affairs have their beginnings and their ends. To know what is first and what is last will lead one near the Way.
The ancients who wished to manifest their clear character to the world would first bring order to their states. Those who wished to bring order to their states would first regulate their families. Those who wished to regulate their families would first cultivate their personal lives. Those who wished to cultivate their personal lives would first rectify their minds. Those who wished to rectify their minds would first make their wills sincere. Those who wished to make their wills sincere would first extend their knowledge. The extension of knowledge consists in the investigation of things. When things are investigated, knowledge is extended; when knowledge is extended the will becomes sincere; when the will is sincere, the mind is rectified; when the mind is rectified, the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is cultivated, the family will be regulated; when the family is regulated, the state will be in order; and when the state is in order, there will be peace throughout the world. From the Son of Heaven down to the common people, all must regard cultivation of the personal life as the root or foundation. There is never a case when the root is in disorder and yet the branches are in order. There has never been a case when what is treated with great importance becomes a matter of slight importance or what is treated with slight importance becomes a matter of great importance.
From the Analects of Confucius
Tzu Yu inquired about filial piety. Confucius said, “Nowadays, filial piety is considered to be the ability to nourish one’s parents. But this obligation to nourish even extends down to the dogs and horses. Unless we have reverence for our parents, what makes us any different?’
Confucius said, “When your father is alive, observe his intention. When he is deceased, model yourself on the memory of his behavior. If in three years after his death you have not deviated from your father’s ways, then you may be considered a filial child.”
Confucius said, “When your father and mother are alive, do not go rambling around far away. If you must travel, make sure you have a set destination.”
Confucius said, “It is unacceptable not to be aware of your parents’ ages. Their advancing years are a cause for joy and at the same time a cause for sorrow.”
Confucius said, “You can be of service to your father and mother by remonstrating with them tactfully. If you perceive that they do not wish to follow your advice, then continue to be reverent toward them without offending or disobeying them; work hard and do not murmur against them.
The Duke of She said to Confucius, “In my land there is an upright man. His father stole a sheep, and the man turned him in to the authorities.” Confucius replied, “The upright men of my land are different. The father will shelter the son and the son will shelter the father. Righteousness lies precisely in this.”
Translated by Mark Coyle
[ Order Custom Essay ]
[ View Full Essay ]