The Teachings of a Great Sage
Tzu-kung once asked:
"Is there one word that would cover the whole duty of man?"
To which Confucius replied:
"Fellow-feeling, perhaps, is that word. Do not do unto others what thou wouldst not they should do unto you."
FOUNDED: 6th Century B.C.
FOUNDER: Ch'iu K'ung, later known as K'ung Fu-tze (K'ung the Philosopher) and called Confucius, 551-479 B.C.. (Exact dates are uncertain.)
SACRED BOOKS: Analects and the Five K'ing (or Ching) contain the basic teachings of Confucian ethics. Confucius was not a religious teacher, and his teachings were concerned only with the proper way to live. The quintessence of his teachings were: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.
NUMBER OF ADHERENTS: Figures vary from 300,000,000 to 400,000,000 because Confucians are also Buddhists or Taoists, and it is difficult to estimate their number without duplications. (circa 1958)
CONFUCIANS IN THE UNITED STATES: About 165,000
SECTS: There are no sects in Confucianism, for the followers are free to join any other faith. There are millions of Confucians who are also, and at the same time, Buddhists, Taoists, or Christians.
1. HOW THE WORLD WAS CREATED
Long, long ago, long before the world was created, so the Chinese believe, there was Nothing.
That lasted for a long time. Then Something appeared. And out of Something P'an Ku was created.
How long P'an Ku lived we are not told. But that he was very big and very strong, that we are told. For when P'an Ku died his last groan became the thunder; and his last breath became the wind. His left eye became the sun; and his right eye, the moon. The blood of his veins became the rivers; his hair became the forests, and his flesh became the earth. So big and strong was P'an Ku.
And that was how, so the Chinese believe, our world was created.
After that there were people.
Like most people of long ago, the Chinese, of several thousand years ago, were Nature-Worshippers. They believed that the Sun and the Moon and the Wind, the Fire and the Thunder and the Lightning, and the Mountains and the Rivers all had spirits that should be worshipped.
Over these spirits, as well as over all the people, there was One Supreme Ruler, called Shang Ti. Shang Ti was very just. So just was he that no matter how much the wicked prayed to him, he would do nothing for them.
But Shang Ti was not the highest god. The highest and greatest god, so the Chinese believed, was the God of Gods, called T'ien, and he lived in Heaven.
The way the Chinese found out where T'ien, God of Gods, lived was really very simple:
The rain they needed so badly for their rice-fields came from the sky above.
The clouds that carried the rain they needed so badly for their rice fields were also above in the sky.
The wind that brought the clouds that carried the rain they needed so badly for their rice-fields came also from the sky above.
The thunder and lightning that opened the clouds the wind had brought and that poured down the rain they needed so badly for their rice-fields were also above in the sky.
And even the rainbow after the rain that all could see but no one could touch, that, too, was in the sky.
Then surely T'ien, the God of Gods, must live above in Heaven! And so the Chinese of long ago worshipped the God of Gods, and the Supreme Ruler who was so very Just, and the Spirits of the Sun, the Moon, the Rain, Fire, Thunder, the Mountains, and the Rivers.
They also worshipped the spirits of their ancestors.
When a man died his sons worshipped his spirit. His grandsons, too, worshipped him. And even his great-grandsons, and his great-great-grandsons worshipped his memory. Not only did people worship the spirits of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, but they also worshipped the spirits of all the great sages, and National Heroes of China. They especially worshipped their Emperors, who were considered very holy.
This worship of the spirits of their ancestors is called ANCESTOR-WORSHIP.
Nearly five thousand years ago the Yellow Emperor of the Flowery Kingdom built the first temple to the spirit of the Mountains and the Rivers. After that many other temples were built in China to many other spirits. Later one Emperor told his people to have music in the temples because, he said, the gods must love music.
And so for many, many years the people of the Flowery Kingdom worshipped their ancestors, sang songs and played lutes in their temples, and offered up sacrifices to all the spirits of nature.
2. SHUHLIANG HEIH THE VALIANT
In the Province of Lu, in the District of Tsow, not far from the River Hwang-ho in China, there lived, over 2500 years ago, a man named Shuh liang Heih, whose family name was K'ung.
Shuh-liang Heih was a big man, over seven feet in height, and broad across the shoulders like a quiet river. About his strength and about his valor many stories were told amongst his people. And these stories travelled from district to district until they were known all over Lu. And even in Ch'i, and even in Ts'in the valor of Shuhliang Heih was known and admired.
Shuh-liang Heih was of royal descent, and he was in command over the district of Tsow near the Yellow River, not far from the Yellow Sea.
Once, it is told, Shuh-liang Heih was leading an army and besieged the fortress of an enemy of Tsow. The entrance of the fortress was left open, and many of Heih's men rushed into it. When they were inside, the enemy at once began to lower the gates to trap the soldiers of Tsow. Just then Shuh-liang Heih the Valiant rushed up to the immense gates, raised them with his hands, and held them there until all his men passed through and escaped.
Such a strong man was greatly admired in those days in China. For the Chinese Empire was then divided into little states, each ruled by a Duke or a Prince, and each one looking out for his own interests. Those were bad days in China, and a strong and valiant man who could help his Prince was much sought after and admired.
Shuh-liang Heih ought to have been a very happy man. But he was not. Heih the Valiant was married and had nine children, but they were all girls. And in China girls counted for little. Because girls grew up and got married. And then, according to custom, they worshipped the spirits of their husbands' ancestors. And Heih, like the rest of his people, wanted a son to worship his spirit after his death. So Shuh liang Heih was not happy.
But when he was seventy years old his wife, Ching-Tsai, gave birth to a son. And they named him Ch'iu.
That was in 551 B.C., or 2480 years ago.
When young Ch'iu was only three years old, his father, Shuh-liang Heih, died.
And so little Ch'iu K'ung was left fatherless at the age of three, in the District of Tsow, in the Province of Lu, which is now Shantung by the Yellow Sea.
3. WHEN CH'IU K'UNG WAS STILL YOUNG
Though Shuh-liang Heih was Governor of Tsow before he died, he left his wife very poor. Yet she managed to give her only son a good education. And she was very happy when little Ch'iu was praised by his teachers for his interest in studies and his understanding of things that even grown people had difficulty in understanding.
As Ch'iu K'ung grew up, his great learning and wisdom became known all over the district he lived in. And many people came to tank with him and to listen to what he had to say.
When he was nineteen years old he married and set up a home of his own. It was then, too, that he was given the position of Keeper of Granaries.
Though he was still so very young when he became Keeper of Granaries, he made so many improvements, that the Minister of Tsow promoted him to the position of Superintendent of Fields of their District.
That was a very important position for a young man only twenty years old, yet K'ung wished he could give it all up to devote himself to the study of poetry and music. But his wife gave birth to a boy, and he had to keep his position to support his family.
Though his daily duties as Superintendent of Fields kept K'ung very busy, he spent many hours of his leisure studying history, music, and poetry. His knowledge increased daily. And the reputation of his learning was carried over the length and breadth of Tsow.
His home became the meeting place of all the learned men of his District. Almost every evening men of all ages came to K'ung to ask him questions and to be taught how to know what was right and what was wrong. And young Ch'iu was always glad to teach whatever he knew to those who were willing to learn.
Many of the people who came to the house of the young Superintendent of Fields called him K'ang-fu-tze, which means: K'ung the Philosopher. We pronounce it Confucius.
All went well with the wise Confucius until he was twenty-three years old. But at that time Ching-Tsai, his mother, died.
4. THE GROWING FAME OF A GREAT TEACHER
When his mother died, Confucius resigned from his position as Superintendent of Fields to mourn her death for three years.
Such was, and still is, the custom in China: when either a father or a mother dies, the son goes into mourning for twenty-seven months, or for three years.
The three years of mourning Confucius devoted to the study of the history of his people and their poetry and philosophy.
When the days of his mourning were over, Confucius did not return to his government position, but went on with his studies. And to earn a livelihood for himself and his family he began to teach.
His fame as a teacher became so great that students flocked to him from all over the Province of Lu, and froTn Provinces beyond Lu. The number of his students grew from day to day. When he was thirty-four years old Confucius had over 3,000 pupils and followers.
Just then the Chief Minister of the Province of Lu became very ill, and knew that he would soon die. He called his only son to his bedside and said to him:
"My son, in my young days I studied little, and all my life I was sorry for it. I want you to study hard and become well educated."
"Yes, father!" his son replied.
"I have heard of Confucius whose wisdom has no equal in our land. Go to him, my son, and study with him!"
"I will!" the son promised.
When the Chief Minister of Lu died, his son kept his promise to his father and went to study with Confucius. Through the son of the Chief Minister, the Duke of Lu became a friend of Confucius, and that helped spread the fame of the young philosopher.
Once a civil war broke out in the Province of Lu, and the Duke had to run away from home for his life. Confucius, who was a close friend of the Duke, also ran away to the neighboring Province of Ts'i. But Confucius did not like to live away from home. As soon as the war was over, he returned to Lu and continued teaching and studying.
By this time Confucius' son, Le. had grown up, but he proved a disappointment to his famous father.
Once we are told, Le came across his father in a hall where Confucius was alone.
"Le. do you study poetry?" Confucius asked him.
"No," Le replied shamefacedly.
"He who does not study poetry," his father said sternly, "is like a man with his face turned to the wall. Does a man with his face turned to the wall ever see anything beautiful?"
Confucius then turned away from his son, greatly grieved.
But if Confucius was disappointed in his own son, he had several young pupils whom he loved dearly, and for whom he predicted great futures. These pupils he taught, and with these he studied untiringly.
5. WHEN THE PRISONS WERE EMPTY IN LU
When Confucius was fifty-two years old, the people of the town of Chung tu came to him and said: "We have heard of your great wisdom, Confucius, and we want you to come and be the Chief-Magistrate in our town."
Being Chief-Magistrate was something like being a Mayor.
After Confucius thought it over, he accepted their offer and became the Chief-Magistrate of Chung-tu.
Before a year was over the town Chung-tu became famous all over the Province of Lu.
"Since Confucius became its Chief-Magistrate," it was said, "it would be hard to find people happier and more loyal than the people of Chung tu."
When the Duke of Lu heard about it, he sent for Confucius.
"Confucius," said the Duke, "I have been told that since you became Chief-Magistrate of Chung-tu, you have made many changes in the city government."
"You have been correctly informed, Honored Duke!" Confucius replied.
"I have been told that since you have been in office the people of your city have been happy and most loyal. How did you manage to do it in so short a time?"
"I rewarded those who were good, and I punished those who were bad. The people saw that it was good to be good and bad to be bad, and they became good. And good people are loyal to each other and to the government."
"But how did you manage to make them happy?"
"I chose wise people to teach them and to take care of them as if they were their children. Though people cannot always be made to understand, they can always be made to follow. And when they follow the good and wise, they are happy."
"Can one rule an entire Province the same way as you rule your city?" the Duke asked.
"Even an Empire, Honored Duke!" Confucius replied.
When the Duke heard that, he asked Confucius to become Minister of Crime for the entire Province of Lu.
As soon as Confucius became Minister of Crime he began to study the prisons in the Province of Lu, and the kind of people that filled them all over the land.
After a long time of studying and investigating, Confucius called together the judges, and the lawyers, and the wardens who worked under him, and said to them:
"I have made a study of our prisons, and I have discovered that almost all of the prisoners are poor people, or children of the poor. I also discovered that almost all the prisoners are ignorant, or the children of the ignorant. It seems to me then that poverty and ignorance make people commit crimes and break our laws. If we could do away with poverty and ignorance then we would have no more crime in our land."
"But how are we to do away with poverty and ignorance?" one of the Judges asked.
"The way to do away with ignorance," Confucius replied, "is through education. If we educate all the people in our Province, then we will do away with ignorance. And we can do away with poverty by teaching the people useful trades and occupations so that they can always earn an honest living."
"How shall we begin to make these changes?" another of the Judges asked.
"You are their rulers," Confucius replied. "It is your duty to be good. People need rulers whom they can follow. If the rulers are corrupt, the people also will be corrupt. But if the rulers are good, the people will follow their example and also be good. And the first rule for being good is: Do not do anything to others that you would not want them to do to you."
After two years of Confucius' rule as Minister of Crime, all the prisons and the courts of the Province of Lu were empty and deserted.
The Judges had nothing to do.
The Lawyers had nothing to do.
And the wardens of the prisons had nothing to do.
For there were no longer any criminals in Lu.
At that time the new Duke of Lu was a young man named Ting. Ting saw what a wise man Confucius was, and he began to consult him on all matters of government, and to follow the philosopher's advice. The Province of Lu soon became rich and powerful.
That, of course, made the Dukes and Ministers of the other Provinces in China very jealous. So they said to each other:
"With Confucius at the head of its government, Lu will soon become the richest and strongest Province in the entire Empire. What can we do to stop it?"
One Minister said:
"If we could only keep the young Duke Ting from listening to the advice of Confucius, his Province would soon become as poor and as bad as it was before."
"But how are we to stop Ting from listening to Confucius?" another Minister wanted to know.
They thought, and thought, and thought, and finally decided to send Duke Ting gifts of dancing girls and racehorses.
After Duke Ting received these gifts he spent all his time on the race tracks. Confucius realized that the government was neglected. But each time he came to the Palace to remind the Duke of things that ought to be done, the Duke was away, or he would not want to see.
In a short time the prosperous Lu became poor, and the prisons filled with criminals.
Confucius, who was greatly grieved to see all his good work undone, decided to leave his native Province.
"If I could get a ruler who would listen to me for one year," he said to his followers, "my dream of a state where all the people are good and happy would soon come true!"
6. THE MASTER AND THE HERMIT
With a number of his followers Confucius started out in search of a just ruler who wished to learn how to make his people good and happy.
On their travels Confucius and his followers once came to a river they wanted to cross. But it had no bridge.
"Tzu-lu," said Confucius to one of his followers, "go over to that man working in the field and ask him where we can get a ferry to cross this river. He may know."
When Tzu-lu came near the man, he saw that it was Chang-chu, a hermit. There were many hermits in China then. Many people were infuriated by the selfishness of the Duke and the Ministers, and left the towns and villages to go and live all by themselves. Chang-chu was one such hermit.
When Tzu-lu came near, Chang-chu asked him:
"Who are you, sir?"
"I am Tzu-lu."
"Are you the follower of K'ung-fu-tze?"
"The same," Tzu-lu replied.
"Would it not be better if you were to become a hermit, rather than follow a master who runs around from one Province to another?"
Then the hermit went on with his work in the field and would not tell Tzu-lu where they could get a ferry to cross the river.
Tzu-lu returned to Confucius and told him what Chang-chu had said.
"Chang-chu is wrong," said Confucius. "By running away from evil one does not change it for the better. If all the people were good and happy there would be no need for me to try to set them straight. It is the duty of every man not to run away when there is trouble. To see what is right and not to do it, that is cowardice"
The followers of Confucius realized how much wiser was their Master's way than that of the hermit.
Later that day Confucius said to his followers:
"Good is no hermit. It has many neighbors."
And they all smiled.
7. A HEART SET ON LOVE CAN DO NO WRONG
For fifteen years Confucius and his followers wandered in search of a wise ruler, and found none. While he was away in foreign Provinces, Confucius' wife died. And by the time he returned to Lu he was already growing old.
The Duke of Lu asked Confucius to become his Chief Adviser. But Confucius decided to spend the remainder of his life in writing a history of Lu, and in gathering a collection of Old Chinese poetry.
Through his books Confucius hoped that his ideas would be carried all over China. And his pupils and followers, he hoped, would help spread his teachings. Amongst his followers were a number of famous scholars, and with them he spent many hours in discussion.
What Confucius particularly liked to discuss was the importance of Education. Knowledge, he believed, was the greatest good in the world.
"Is education good for all people?" one of his followers once asked him.
"A man who studied for three years and did not derive any good from it would be hard to find," Confucius replied.
"And is it good to study at all times?" another follower asked.
"It is good to study at all times, but it is better if people become educated when they are still young."
"Would it be right if a man were liked by all his neighbors?" one of his students wanted to know.
"No," said Confucius.
"Then would it be right if a man were hated by all his neighbors?"
"No," said Confucius. "It would be better if the good men in the neighborhood liked him and the bad men in the neighborhood hated him."
"Would it be right to repay good for evil?" another student wanted to know.
"No," Confucius replied. "For how then would you repay good? Repay good with good, and evil with justice."
Confucius was always ready to answer questions about how people ought to live, what they are to learn, and how one can become a Good Man. But he refused to answer questions about any god, or heaven, or life after death.
When asked whether he thought that there was a life after death, he replied:
"Not knowing about life, how can we know about death?"
And he would say no more.
But just as there were some things he would not talk about, there were many things he particularly loved to discuss. He enjoyed talking about the ways of the Good Man, about poetry and music, and, above all, he loved to talk about love.
"What is love?" one of his followers asked him
"To love mankind, that is love," he replied.
"But what is it?"
"To hold dear the effort more than the prize may be called love. The joy of doing something not for the prize one would get in the end, but for the joy itself, that may be called love. To do good not because you are going to be rewarded for it in this life or in a life to come, but to do good because you enjoy doing good, that is to love good. Love is its own reward. Love makes all things look beautiful. Love offers peace. When love is at stake, my children, yield not to an army!"
He thought for a while, then added:
"A heart set on love can do no wrong!"
8. THE LAST DAYS OF THE GREAT SAGE
Confucius was growing old. Although he worked hard on the books he was gathering and writing, the thought of the poverty and misery all over China saddened him.
Then one of his beloved pupils died. And when Confucius reached his seventieth birthday his son, Le, died.
But Le left a son behind him, named Keigh, who was very much like his grandfather, Confucius. Keigh lived with his grandfather, studied with him, and was a great joy to the old philosopher.
Confucius was alone in his room one day, working on his book of history which he called Autumn and Spring when Keigh came into the room quietly so as not to disturb his grandfather. Confucius worked on for some time, then he stopped writing and sighed.
"Grandpa," Keigh asked softly, "Grandpa, why do you sigh? Is it because you think your descendants will be unworthy of you? Or is it that in your admiration of the great sages who came before you, you fear that you fall short of them?"
Confucius rose from his seat and came over to his grandson.
"Child," he asked as he put his hand on the boy's shoulder, "how is it that you know my thoughts?"
"Well, I have often heard you say that when the father has gathered and prepared the wood, if the son cannot carry the bundle he is to be called unworthy. This thought often comes to my mind and it fills me with fear that I may be unworthy to carry on your work."
Confucius was delighted with his grandson's reply. He smiled happily, and exclaimed:
"Now shall I be without worry! My teachings will not be wasted. They will be carried on and flourish!"
Then he seated himself again, and said:
"Come, child, sit down beside me."
And when Keigh sat down near him, Confucius said:
"There are men in every town who have as much understanding as I have. But when I am asked about something I try to sift it to the bottom until I understand it. There are many men as wise as I am, but few who are as fond of learning."
"When can it be said of a man that he has learning?" Keigh asked.
"When can it be said of a man that he is good in archery?" Confucius answered the question with a question, as he often did.
"When he can hit the mark," Keigh replied.
"That also is true of learning," said Confucius. "To pierce through the target does not score in archery. It is hitting the mark that counts. It is the man who hits the mark of good behavior and understanding who might be said to have learning. And he who has learning keeps away from extremes of any kind. Not going far enough is bad, and going too far is not any better. The man who knows how to keep to the middle between extremes has understanding."
"And how is one to know whether he is going far enough, yet not too far? How is one to lead the good life?" Keigh asked.
"Will the right, hold to good won, rest in love, and move in art," said Confucius. "These are the ways of leading the good life."
Though Keigh had studied much, he found difficulty in understanding immediately what his grandfather told him, and he repeated slowly, trying to understand each:
"Will the right, hold to good won, rest in love, and move in art."
"Yes, think of these, my son. But now I must get back to my work."
Confucius went on with his work. But not for very long.
For in 478 B.C., Confucius died.
When the news became known, his death was mourned all over the Chinese Empire. Even the rulers, who had neglected him during his life, paid homage to his memory.
Many of his pupils and followers mourned his death for three years as if he had been their own father. A number of them even built small shelters near Confucius' grave and remained there all the days of their mourning, studying his teachings.
9. CLOSE TO THE TREE FALLS ITS FRUIT
When Confucius died, Keigh set to work to collect the sayings and lessons he had learned from his grandfather.
Keigh was a poor man, but he gave all his time to the book, which was on THE DOCTRINE OF THE MIDDLE-PATH as taught by Confucius
To support himself whilst working on the book, Keigh taught pupils who came to him.
"Look, teacher," his pupils would sometimes say to him, "your coat is old and going to pieces, and you have so little to eat!"
"The Master said," Keigh would reply, always calling Confucius 'The Master' and never 'My Grandfather,' "the Master said that a scholar in search of the truth who is ashamed of poor clothes and poor food is not worth talking to."
Sometimes Keigh did not have enough to eat, and then his friends would send him food. Such food as he needed to keep soul and body together he thankfully accepted. But wine and luxuries of dried meat he refused to take. Even the rice and vegetables that he accepted he tools only from people whom he respected.
Once a rich man, who heard that Confucius' grandson was in need, sent him food and clothing. Having been told how careful Keigh was in accepting gifts, he sent a servant along with the gifts to give Keigh this message:
"When I borrow from a man, I forget it; when I give a thing, I part with it as freely as if I threw it away."
The servant returned with the gifts saying that Keigh would not accept them.
"Did he give you any reasons?" the rich man asked.
"No," the servant replied.
The rich man then went to Keigh and asked him:
"I have plenty, and you have not. Why will you not accept my gifts?"
"You give away your things as if you were throwing them into a ditch," Keigh replied. "Poor as I am, I cannot think of my body as a ditch. That is why I cannot accept your gifts."
In that way the grandson of Confucius taught the Chinese that they who give charity should have sympathy, and they who take charity should have self-respect.
Keigh went on with his work, happy to see the fame of his grandfather's teachings travelling all over China.
10. MANG-KITZE, CALLED MENCIUS
A little over a hundred years after the death of Confucius a child was born in Lu, and he was named Mang.
The many rulers of China were still selfish and unjust as in the days of Confucius, and when Mang grew up, he began to teach against the Princes and Ministers who thought only of their own good and not of the good of the people they were ruling.
Mang gathered about him many pupils and taught them the wisdom of Confucius, which we call Confucianism.
His pupils called Mang, Mang-tze, meaning: Mang the Philosopher. We call him Mencius.
Mencius went to the ruler of Lu and asked him to rule the land according to the teachings of Confucius. But the Duke of Lu refused to listen to him. So Mencius gathered a number of his followers and started out over the Empire in search of a ruler who would be willing to govern his people as Confucius taught.
Wherever Mencius came he was received with great respect, for his fame as a philosopher was known all over the land.
"What is this Just and Wise rule you are teaching?" the Dukes would ask him.
"What I teach is nothing new. The Master Confucius taught it before me. A just ruler governs his people according to the Five Constant Virtues as taught by the Master."
"And what are the Five Constant Virtues?"
"The Five Constant Virtues are:
BENEVOLENCE - to desire to work for the good of the people;
RIGHTEOUSNES - not to do unto others what you would not they should do unto you;
PROPRIETY - to always behave with courtesy toward the people you rule;
WISDOM - to let knowledge and understanding be your guides;
SINCERITY - to have sincerity in all you do, for without sincerity, according to the Master, the world cannot exist.
"These are the Five Constant Virtues a ruler ought to follow!"
The Dukes and Princes listened to what Mencius had to say, but none took his advice. And Mencius moved on to other Provinces.
For twenty years he travelled about in that way. And though he failed to find one Prince or Duke who would follow his advice, he succeeded in spreading the teachings of Confucius. And each place he left, he left it with a greater love for the wisdom of the Master.
The growing love and understanding of Confucius amongst the people encouraged Mencius to go on with his work of spreading Confucianism. Mencius died at the age of eighty-three, nearly 2300 years ago. But his memory is worshipped by millions of people to this day.
The Chinese call Confucius: The First Sage of China. And Mencius is remembered as: The Second Sage of China.
11. THE CRIMINAL OF TEN THOUSAND GENERATIONS
The injustice and selfishness of all the Dukes and Princes and their Ministers all over China became worse and worse as time went on.
Until, about two hundred and fifty years after Confucius died, a new Emperor came to the Throne of China who decided to make a complete change in the government. This Emperor was named Ts'in Shih Hwang-ti. Though he was only a young boy when he came to the throne, he made up his mind to take over the power of the entire country into his own hands.
Of course the Dukes in all the Provinces did not like that. But Ts'in went out north and south and conquered all the people that opposed him. After he had gathered all the power of China into his own hands, he proclaimed himself as The First Emperor.
There had been many, many Emperors in China before him, but Ts'in called himself the First Emperor to show the people that he wished them to forget all the old rulers that had come before him.
It was as if the people had played a game on a blackboard until the slate was all marked up and the players began to cheat badly. Then the boy Emperor Ts'in came along, wiped the board clean, and told the people to begin playing from the beginning and he would watch to see that there was no cheating going on.
When his victories over those who rebelled against him were complete, the Emperor ordered a great celebration to be made in the Palace, and all the Ministers and the Great Men of the land to be invited.
At the celebration the guests, as was the custom, made speeches, praising the Emperor and wishing him a long life.
The Superintendent of Sports arose and said:
"Happy is the Kingdom of China under Your Majesty, Great Emperor Ts'in Shih Hwang-ti! Before you the Empire was broken and weak, but by your strength and wisdom you have united the Empire and made it strong. Before you our Empire was small. Now, through your wisdom, it is so great that wherever the sun and moon shine, there people bow to your authority. This happy Empire that Your Majesty organized will last in happiness for ten thousand generations! From the oldest days there has been no Emperor so great as Your Majesty!"
This speech pleased the Emperor. But then the great scholar Shun-yu Yue arose and said:
"The Superintendent of Sports shows himself a flatterer and therefore he is not a loyal Minister. In order to please Your Majesty, he has slandered the memory of our Great Ancestors, the Emperors of the past."
Everybody around the tables began to murmur about the daring words of the scholar.
One Minister arose and said:
"What you did, Your Majesty is indeed more than a mere scholar can understand. These scholars do not understand what we are doing today. They only study what people did in the past and long ago. Now that Your Majesty has made our Empire great, these scholars teach amongst the people what is against your wish.
"The best way to keep these scholars from doing Your Majesty any harm is to burn their books and the books written by the scholars of old. And all the scholars who teach them against your will should be put to death."
The young Emperor Ts'in liked the Minister's proposal. He sent out officers all over the land to gather the books of the Great Masters, especially the works of Confucius, his grandson Keigh, and his follower Mencius, and to have them all burned so that the memory of those scholars would be forgotten by the people.
Books in China, in those days, were not written on paper as they are today. They were written on slips of bamboo about one inch wide and two feet long, and the writing was done with a sort of varnish. These slips of bamboo were bound together by punching holes in the corners and fastening them with cords of silk or leather, very much in the same way that we keep loose-leaf books today. Naturally those books were very big and very heavy. A book like the one you are now reading would weigh about one hundred pounds in bamboo slips.
All these heavy books from the Royal Libraries and the private homes began to be gathered not far from the Palace of the Emperor to be burned.
That year, 212 B.C., was a sad year in China. Some of the officers and some of the scholars who loved the Great Works of their Masters, stole copies of the books and walled them into buildings where they could not be found.
But most of the books were burned.
For three whole months the fires blazed not far from the Royal Palace. Day and night the flames were fed with bamboo books, and people from all parts of the country gathered near the great fire, watching the flames throw huge shadows upon the Royal Palace.
After the books were burned, the Emperor ordered that the old scholars who had memorized the books and were teaching them should be put to death. About five hundred scholars were killed, and hundreds of others were either driven out of the country, or put to work on the Great Wall of China that was then being built.
Several years later, when Emperor Ts'in died, the people took out the books that had been hidden in the walls and made a great holiday to celebrate the memory of Confucius and his followers, and the books that had been saved.
The name of Confucius, which Emperor Ts'in wanted the people to forget, had become dearer than ever to them. And the memory of Ts'in was hated.
Emperor Ts'in, after whose name we call his land China (Ts'in-a), wanted to be remembered by his people as the best Emperor in ten thousand generations. But instead the people of China remember him as:
The Criminal of Ten Thousand Generations.