Teachers

Han Yu, “On Teachers”

Scholars in ancient times always had teachers. A teacher is someone who imparts the right way to do something, administers your studies, and dispels your confusion. People aren’t born already knowing things. Who can be without confusion? If you’re confused and don’t find a teacher, how will your confusion ever be dispelled?

People born before me will of course understand how to do things better than me, so I take them as my teacher. But if someone born after me also understands how to do things better than me, then I’ll also take them as my teacher. My teacher is just the right way to do something. Who can tell whether the person who understands the right way to do something will be older or younger than me? So it’s not a matter of being noble or lowly, old or young. Wherever the right way to do something is, that’s where my teacher is.

Oh! It’s been a long time that no one’s imparted the way of teachers! It’s difficult for people to not be confused! The ancient sages were far superior to regular people, and they still sought teachers when they had a question. Most people today are far inferior to the ancient sages, yet they feel shame at studying with a teacher. This is why the sages became more and more sagely, and stupid people are becoming more and more stupid. Isn’t this what makes sages sages, and stupid people stupid?

People hire teachers to teach their children because they love their children, but when it comes to themselves, they feel shame at taking a teacher. This is confusion! And the teachers of their children just teach how to write and parse sentences while reading—that’s not what I call imparting the way and dispelling confusion. Say one person doesn’t know how to parse sentences and the other is confused with no way to dispel it. One takes a teacher and the other doesn’t. Studying the minor and neglecting the major—I’ve never seen that lead to understanding.

Healers, musicians, and artisans feel no shame at taking one another as teachers. But when it comes to the gentry, then as soon as someone mentions the word “teacher” or “student” everyone makes fun of them. If you ask why, they’ll say: “They’re both about the same age, they should be equally adept!” For them, studying with someone of lowly position is a source of shame, and studying from someone of high official rank verges on flattery. Oh! No one can ever again understand the way of teachers! Healers, musicians, and artisans aren’t the social equals of gentlemen, but nowadays gentlemen can’t reach their level of wisdom. Isn’t that strange?

The sages had no fixed teacher: Confucius studied with Tanzi, Chang Hong, Shi Xiang, and Laozi. None of these people were as worthy as Confucius, but Confucius said: “If I see three people walking down the street, there must be one among them who might serve as my teacher.” So students are not necessarily inferior to their teachers, and teachers are not necessarily more worthy than their students. Some people learn how to do things before others do, and different people specialize in different fields of study, that’s all.

Pan of the Li family is seventeen years of age, loves ancient writings, and is thoroughly versed in the six arts, classics, and commentaries. Not allowing current fashions to constrain him, he asked to study with me. I admired his ability to put the ancient way into practice, and wrote “On Teachers” as a gift to him.

古之學者必有師。師者,所以傳道、受業、解惑也。人非生而知之者,孰能無惑?惑而不從師,其為惑也終不解矣。

生乎吾前,其聞道也,固先乎吾,吾從而師之;生乎吾後,其聞道也,亦先乎吾,吾從而師之。吾師道也,夫庸知其年之先後生於吾乎?是故無貴、無賤、無長、無少,道之所存,師之所存也。

嗟乎!師道之不傳也久矣!欲人之無惑也難矣!古之聖人,其出人也遠矣,猶且從師而問焉;今之眾人,其下聖人也亦遠矣,而恥學於師;是故聖益聖,愚益愚,聖人之所以為聖,愚人之所以為愚,其皆出於此乎?

愛其子,擇師而教之,於其身也則恥師焉,惑矣!彼童子之師,授之書而習其句讀者也,非吾所謂傳其道、解其惑者也。句讀之不知,惑之不解,或師焉,或不焉,小學而大遺,吾未見其明也。

巫醫、樂師、百工之人,不恥相師;士大夫之族,曰師、曰弟子云者,則群聚而笑之。問之,則曰:「彼與彼年相若也,道相似也。位卑則足羞,官盛則近諛。」嗚呼!師道之不復可知矣。巫醫、樂師、百工之人,君子不齒,今其智乃反不能及,其可怪也歟!

聖人無常師:孔子師郯子、萇宏、師襄、老聃。郯子之徒,其賢不及孔子。孔子曰:「三人行,則必有我師。」是故弟子不必不如師,師不必賢於弟子,聞道有先後,術業有專攻,如是而已。

李氏子蟠,年十七,好古文,六藝經傳,皆通習之,不拘於時,學於余。余嘉其能行古道,作《師說》以貽之。

Resilience in a Cold Season

Sima Qian, “Biography of Bo Yi”

Although scholars’ books are extremely numerous, we can still check their veracity with the Six Classics. Although the Odes and Documents are incomplete, we can know the writings of Yu and Xia. When Yao was planning to abdicate, he gave his throne to Yu Shun. With Shun and Yu, all of the court and provincial officials first recommended them, then they took on trial positions, and then, after handling official business for a few decades and putting together some achievements, they received the reins of government. This shows that the realm [literally “all under heaven“] is a precious treasure, that the ruler is the great unifier, and that transferring control of the realm is extremely difficult. But some people say that when Yao offered the realm to Xu You, Xu You would not accept it, felt ashamed, and fled into seclusion. Then during the time of Xia there were Bian Sui and Wu Guang [who refused the throne and then drowned themselves]. How are we able to say all this? The Grand Historian says: I climbed up Winnow Basket Mountain, and on top of it there was what was said to be Xu You’s tomb. When Confucius listed humane people, sages, and worthies from antiquity, he was detailed in his discussion of Taibo of Wu and Bo Yi’s class. According to what I heard about Xu You and Wu Guang, they were supremely righteous, but we know little of their writings. Why is that?

Confucius said: “Bo Yi and Shu Qi did not keep the former wickednesses of men in mind, and so had little use for resentment.” He also said: “They sought to act virtuously, and they did so; what was there for them to feel resentment about?” I felt sorry for Bo Yi’s desire, and when I read the poems he left behind I found them exceptional. His biography is as follows:

Bo Yi and Shu Qi were sons of the Lord of Guzhu. The father wanted Shu Qi to succeed him as lord, but when the father died, Shu Qi offered the throne to Bo Yi. Bo Yi said: “It was father’s will [that you take the throne],” and fled. Shu Qi, unwilling to ascend the throne, also fled. The people of the kingdom offered the throne to another son. When Bo Yi and Shu Qi heard that Xibo Chang was good at taking care of the elderly, they returned together. When they got back, they found that Xibo had already died, that his son King Wu had mounted a wooden spirit tablet designating him as King Wen, and had gone east to attack King Zhou of Shang. Bo Yi and Shu Qi stopped his horse and remonstrated, saying: “Your dead father has yet to be interred, yet you take up arms. Can this be called filial? Can a minister assassinating his lord be called humane?” The people with King Wu wanted to slay them, but he said: “These are righteous men,” and allowed them to depart. Even after King Wu had pacified the disorder of Shang and all the realm accepted the authority of Zhou, still Bo Yi and Shu Qi felt shame, and for the sake of righteousness would not eat the grain of Zhou. They hid themselves on Shouyang Mountain, and lived on ferns. Eventually they starved to death, and before dying they made a song. Its words go: “We climb the western mountain and pick its ferns. Atrocity upon atrocity, do they not know their wrong? Shennong, Yu, and Xia have left, where shall we go? Oh death, life has been hard!” Then they starved to death on Shouyang Mountain. Considering all this, did they feel resentment? Or no?

Someone said: “The way of heaven shows no partiality; it always follows good people.” Can we call Bo Yi and Shu Qi good people? They always behaved humanely and purely, yet starved to death like this. Moreover, among his seventy disciples, Confucius honored Yan Hui alone as someone who “loves to learn.” Hui was “always poor,” and didn’t mind eating the husks of grain, yet died young. Is this how heaven repays good people? The bandit Zhi killed innocents everyday, thought human flesh a delicacy, gave free rein to his viciousness, and assembled a gang of several thousand to run roughshod over the realm. His behavior knew no check, and he intentionally violated all prohibitions. Yet all his life he lived in comfort and pleasure, and the wealth he accumulated lasted generation after generation. And those who never make a single step without examining the ground before them, who never speak a single word without considering the situation at hand, who always keep to the beaten path and never strive for anything unless it’s right and proper, yet meet with disaster—they are too many to count. I am very confused at this. If there is a so-called way of heaven, is it fair? Or not?

Confucius said: “Those who follow different paths cannot make plans together,” they simply follow their own aspirations. Thus he said: “If it is right to seek fame and fortune, then even if I must be a groom with whip in hand to get them, I will do so. If it is not right to seek fame and fortune, then I will follow after that which I love.” “Only when the season grows cold do we know that the pine and cypress are the last to wither.” Only when all the world is filthy do the pure become visible. Isn’t it because they care much for that, and little for this?

“The gentleman dislikes the thought of dying without leaving behind a good name.” Jia Yi said: “Greedy people seek after wealth; heroic people seek after fame; self-important people die for power; regular people just want to stay alive.” “Lights reflecting brighten one another, and things of the same kind seek one another.” “Clouds follow the dragon, and winds follow the tiger. The sage appears and all look to him.” Although Bo Yi and Shu Qi were worthy, their names did not become well known until Confucius. Although Yan Hui earnestly studied, his comportment did not become illustrious until he joined a great master. The scholars hiding in the cliffs and caves are employed and abandoned depending on the times in such a way, and the greater part of their names have vanished from people’s lips. Isn’t it sad! With regular people in the alleys and streets, even if they want to polish their behavior and establish a name for themselves, if they don’t have an eminent scholar to follow, how can they leave a legacy to later generations?

司馬遷《伯夷列傳》

夫學者載籍極博,猶考信於六藝。詩書雖缺,然虞夏之文可知也。堯將遜位,讓於虞舜,舜禹之閒,岳牧咸薦,乃試之於位,典職數十年,功用既興,然後授政。示天下重器,王者大統,傳天下若斯之難也。而說者曰堯讓天下於許由,許由不受,恥之逃隱。及夏之時,有卞隨、務光者。此何以稱焉?太史公曰:余登箕山,其上蓋有許由冢云。孔子序列古之仁聖賢人,如吳太伯、伯夷之倫詳矣。余以所聞由、光義至高,其文辭不少概見,何哉?

孔子曰:「伯夷、叔齊,不念舊惡,怨是用希。」「求仁得仁,又何怨乎?」余悲伯夷之意,睹軼詩可異焉。其傳曰:

伯夷、叔齊,孤竹君之二子也。父欲立叔齊,及父卒,叔齊讓伯夷。伯夷曰:「父命也。」遂逃去。叔齊亦不肯立而逃之。國人立其中子。於是伯夷、叔齊聞西伯昌善養老,盍往歸焉。及至,西伯卒,武王載木主,號為文王,東伐紂。伯夷、叔齊叩馬而諫曰:「父死不葬,爰及干戈,可謂孝乎?以臣弒君,可謂仁乎?」左右欲兵之。太公曰:「此義人也。」扶而去之。武王已平殷亂,天下宗周,而伯夷、叔齊恥之,義不食周粟,隱於首陽山,采薇而食之。及餓且死,作歌。其辭曰:「登彼西山兮,采其薇矣。以暴易暴兮,不知其非矣。神農、虞、夏忽焉沒兮,我安適歸矣?于嗟徂兮,命之衰矣!」遂餓死於首陽山。由此觀之,怨邪非邪?

或曰:「天道無親,常與善人。」若伯夷、叔齊,可謂善人者非邪?積仁絜行如此而餓死!且七十子之徒,仲尼獨薦顏淵為好學。然回也屢空,糟糠不厭,而卒蚤夭。天之報施善人,其何如哉?盜蹠日殺不辜,肝人之肉,暴戾恣睢,聚黨數千人橫行天下,竟以壽終。是遵何德哉?此其尤大彰明較著者也。若至近世,操行不軌,專犯忌諱,而終身逸樂,富厚累世不絕。或擇地而蹈之,時然後出言,行不由徑,非公正不發憤,而遇禍災者,不可勝數也。余甚惑焉,儻所謂天道,是邪非邪?

子曰「道不同不相為謀」,亦各從其志也。故曰「富貴如可求,雖執鞭之士,吾亦為之。如不可求,從吾所好」。「歲寒,然後知松柏之後凋」。舉世混濁,清士乃見。豈以其重若彼,其輕若此哉?

「君子疾沒世而名不稱焉。」賈子曰:「貪夫徇財,烈士徇名,夸者死權,眾庶馮生。」「同明相照,同類相求。」雲從龍,風從虎,聖人作而萬物睹。」伯夷、叔齊雖賢,得夫子而名益彰。顏淵雖篤學,附驥尾而行益顯。巖穴之士,趣舍有時若此,類名堙滅而不稱,悲夫!閭巷之人,欲砥行立名者,非附青雲之士,惡能施于後世哉?

From Shiji 史記 (Records of the Grand Historian), Liezhuan 列傳.

Note: For a previous post on the author Sima Qian, see Traveling and writing.

Snow on the Lake

Zhang Dai (1597-1689), “Watching the Snow from the Mid-Lake Pavilion”

In the twelfth month of the fifth year of the Chongzhen reign [1632 CE], I was living at West Lake. It heavily snowed for three days, and on the lake the sounds of men and birds all disappeared.

This day, after the first watch I pulled out a small boat, and clad in a fur coat with a small stove, I set out alone for the pavilion in the middle of the lake to watch the snow. In the veil of fog and icy mist, the sky and the clouds and the mountains and the water above and below, all was white. The only shadows in the lake were a line for the long dike, a dot for the pavilion in the middle of the lake, a blade of grass for my boat, and two or three specks for the people on the boat.

When we got to the pavilion, two people had laid out blankets and were sitting facing each other. A boy was warming wine and the stove was just starting to boil. When they saw me they were very happy, and said: “How’s there another one like this on the lake?” They pulled me over to drink together. I was forced to drink three big cups and then took my leave. I asked their names. They were visiting here from Nanjing. When we got off the boat, the boatman muttered, “Don’t say that this gentleman is crazy; there are others just as crazy as him.”

张岱《湖心亭看雪》

崇禎五年十二月,余住西湖。大雪三日,湖中人鳥聲俱絕。

是日更定矣,余拏一小舟,擁毳衣爐火,獨往湖心亭看雪。霧淞沆碭,天與雲、與山、與水,上下一白。湖上影子,惟長堤一痕、湖心亭一點、與余舟一芥、舟中人兩三粒而已。

到亭上,有兩人鋪氈對坐,一童子燒酒,爐正沸。見余大驚喜,曰:「湖中焉得更有此人!」拉余同飲。余強飲三大白而別。問其姓氏,是金陵人,客此。及下船,舟子喃喃曰:「莫說相公癡,更有癡似相公者。」

From Tao’an mengyi 陶庵夢憶, juan 3.

Cf. the translation in Yang Ye, Vignettes from the Late Ming: A Hsiao-p’in Anthology (University of Washington Press, 1999), page 90.

Study hard! part 3

Sima Guang (1019-1086), “Exhortation to Study”

To raise a son without teaching him is the father’s mistake.
To instruct students without being strict is the teacher’s laziness.
When the father teaches and the teacher is strict,
Then not succeeding at learning is the son’s own fault.
Dressing warmly and eating well, you should also understand human relations.
When you just stare back at me smiling, you’re no different from a clump of mud.
If you can’t ascend the heights, you’ll fall into the lower ranks.
And if you have the chance to meet with a worthy, talented man, you won’t be able to respond to him.
I encourage you young ones, energetically seek an instructor.
Entrust yourselves to an enlightened teacher, and you won’t confuse yourselves.
One morning you’ll ascend to the clouds
And announce your name and fame to your ancestors.
In your chamber, if you have not yet tied the knot,
Beauties will come to seek your hand.
Work hard all of you! And start studying early,
Don’t wait for old age to come, and then vainly regret it.

司馬光《勸學歌》
養子不教父之過。
訓導不嚴師之惰。
父教師嚴兩無外。
學問無成子之罪。
煖衣飽食居人倫。
視我笑談如土塊。
攀高不及下品流。
稍遇賢才無與對。
勉後生,力求誨。
投明師,莫自昧。
一朝雲路果然登。
姓名亞等呼先輩。
室中若未結親姻。
自有佳人求匹配。
勉旃汝等各早修。
莫待老來徒自悔。

From Guwen zhenbao 古文真寶 (True Treasures of Ancient Writing), juan 1.

Study hard! part 2

Emperor Renzong of Song (1010-1063), “Exhortation to Study”

When I look upon someone without learning, there is nothing with which to compare him.
We might compare him to plants and trees, but among plants there’s the numinous fungi, and among trees there’s the fragrant mahogany.
We might compare him to birds and beasts, but among birds there’s the phoenix, and among beasts there’s the unicorn.
We might compare him to manure and dirt, but manure feeds the five grains, and dirt nourishes the common people.
Among the limitless variety of things in the universe, there’s nothing that compares to someone without learning.

宋仁宗《勸學文》
朕觀無學人,無物堪比論。
若比於草木,草有靈芝,木有椿。
若比於禽獸,禽有鸞鳳,獸有麟。
若比於糞土,糞滋五穀,土養民。
世間無限物,無比無學人。

From Guwen zhenbao 古文真寶 (True Treasures of Ancient Writing), juan 1.

Study hard!

Emperor Zhenzong of Song (968-1022), “Exhortation to Study”

To enrich your family you needn’t buy fertile fields,
Books yield grain a thousand fold.
To make your house comfortable you needn’t build great chambers,
Within books are rooms of gold.
To take a wife don’t worry that you lack a good matchmaker,
Within books are beauties like jade to behold.
To make your way in the world don’t worry that no one will follow you,
Within books are horses and carts manifold.
A man must diligently study the Six Classics before the window
If he desires to achieve his life’s goal.

宋真宗《勸學文》
富家不用買良田,書中自有千鍾粟。
安居不用架高堂,書中自有黃金屋。
娶妻莫愁無良媒,書中自有顏如玉。
出門莫愁無人隨,書中車馬多如簇。
男兒欲遂平生志,六經勤向窗前讀。

From Guwen zhenbao 古文真寶 (True Treasures of Ancient Writing), juan 1.

Women’s voices, past and present

Lu Qingzi (1522 ~ 1572), “Preface to Xiang Lanzhen’s Draft Writings Trimmed from the Clouds

The task of preparing food and drink has long been our duty as women. When we are sick and prohibited from attending to these things, we write poetry emulating the styles and voices left behind by past women. Poetry has never been the occupation of great men; actually, it’s something that belongs to us. It’s a pity that I lack the belletristic skill to transmit the aspirations of my models. I truly felt ashamed of myself for this, but then I obtained a rich harvest from Mrs. Huang. A rare beauty in a famed boudoir, she sends her writings out from her distinguished gate. Erudition has been transmitted down through her family, and now she adorns the achievements of her ancestors. Dipping her brush, she spontaneously composes, and with every flourish and application she creates a certain mood. Elegant and enchanting, her writing furnishes every possible wonder. It dazzles viewers’ eyes and startles their hearts. This is something that would be difficult even for a great litterateur, but to you it will appear as easy as pulling a pearl out of a sack. If she was not a great literary talent in a former life, how could she be capable of this?

Women of our kind have gradually diminished in number, and the few works that survive are wrongly transcribed by those who affect sympathy with us. Their stupidity makes these works seem like worthless chaff in a year of famine. If, in the future, some are moved and stirred to action by Mrs. Huang’s writing, could they not surpass their predecessors? Thus, if you know the sound of jade striking gold, I expect that you will surely achieve your dream of becoming a great writer in our glorious era. I encourage you with these words because you are my friend; please don’t refuse them. Read Draft Writings Trimmed from the Clouds once, and everything around you will become jade ornaments glittering in the mountains. Truly, the people there will not lack for anything! I add these few words, dedicating them to the Snow-Praising Studio [Xiang Lanzhen’s studio].

Note: Lu Qingzi was a famous writer and recluse. Many of her writings celebrate female friendship. This preface, written for a book by her friend Xiang Lanzhen, is notable for redefining poetry as a female activity. For a biography of Lu Qingzi, see Lily Xiao Hong Lee, Sue Wiles, eds., Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Tang Through Ming, 618-1644.

See also Grace Fong’s translation of the same piece in Kang-i Sun ChangHaun SaussyCharles Yim-tze Kwong, eds., Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism (Stanford University Press, 1999), 267-273.

陸卿子《題項淑裁雲草序》

我輩酒漿烹飪是務,固其職也。病且戒無所事,則效往古女流遺風剩響而爲詩。詩固非大丈夫職業,實我輩分内物也。惜無嫻詞以傳其志,方切自慚。而得嘉禾項淑黃夫人者,名閨奇媛,出字高門,經史傳家,雕龍世業,染翰濡毫,不思而搆,每一摛藻,落筆成風,雅逸鮮妍,備遵衆妙,觀者目眩心驚。即子墨客卿所不能得,而君得之若探囊取珠,非宿世才情,何以有此。

我輩垂垂衰落,記述幾何而謬爲見諒者妄錄,其愚矣,庶幾比之饑年糠秕乎。他時感夫人而興起者,何限後生可畏?故知玉振金聲,君其作明時大家,可望而至,因君謬爲見知,以此相勖,當必無讓。讀裁雲草一過,四山盡作玉佩,琳琅山中,人誠不貧矣。卿題數語,歸之詠雪齋。

In Gujin nüshi 古今女史 (Lady scholars, past and present), juan 3.