Tag Archives: Mencius

Mencius III.A.5

Yi Zhi, a Mohist, sought to meet Mencius through the good offices of Xu Bi. “I wish to see him too,” said Mencius, “but at the moment I am not well. When I get better, I shall go to see him. There is no need for him to come here.”

Another day, he sought to see Mencius again. Mencius said, “Now I can see him. If one does not put others right, one cannot hold the Way up for everyone to see. I shall put him right. I have heard that Yi-zi is a Mohist. In funerals, the Mohists follow the way of frugality. Since Yi-zi wishes to convert the Empire to frugality, it must be because he thinks it is the only honorable way. But then Yi-zi gave his parents labish burials. In so doing, he treated his parents in a manner he did not esteem.”

Xu-zi reported this to Yi-zi.

“The Confucians,” said Yi-zi, “praised the ancient rulers for acting ‘as if they were tending a newborn babe.’ What does this saying mean? In my opinion, it means that there should be no gradations in love, though the practice of it begins with one’s parents.”

Xu-zi reported this to Mencius.

“Does Yi-zi truly believe,” said Mencius, “that a man loves his brother’s son no more than his neighbor’s newborn babe? He is singling out a special feature in a certain case: when the newborn babe creeps towards a well it is not its fault.* Moreover, when Heaven produces things, it gives them a single basis, yet Yi-zi tries to give them a dual one.† This accounts for his belief.

“Presumably there must have been cases in ancient times of people not burying their parents. When the parents died, they were thrown in the gullies. Then one day the sons passed the place and there lay the bodies, eaten by foxes and sucked by flies. A sweat broke out on their brows, and they could not bear to look. The sweating was not put on for others to see. It was an outward expression of their innermost heart. They went home for baskets and spades. If it was truly right for them to bury the remains of their parents, then it must also be right for all dutiful sons and benevolent men to do likewise.”

Xu-zi reported this to Yi-zi, who looked lost for quite a while and replied, “I have taken his point.”


* This seems to be a reference to the example given in II.A.6 of a newborn babe creeping towards a well. [Mencius said, “My reason for saying that no man is devoid of a heart sensitive to the suffering of others is this. Suppose a man were, all of a sudden, to see a young child on the verge of falling into a well. He would certainly be moved to compassion, not because he wanted to get in the good graces of the parents, nor because he wished to win the praise of his fellow villagers or friends, nor yet because he disliked the cry of the child.”]

† By a dual basis, Mencius is presumably referring to the incompatibility between the denial of gradations of love and the insistence on its practice beginning with one’s parents.

From the Penguin edition, with Wade-Giles converted to pinyin.