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For the book with the same name, see Mencius (book).

Mencius, from Myths and Legends of China, 1922 by E. T. C. Werner
Full name Mencius
Born 372 BC
Died 289 BC (aged 83)
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Chinese philosophy
School Confucianism
Main interests Ethics, Social philosophy, Political philosophy
Notable ideas Confucianism
Ancestral name (姓): Ji (Chinese: ; Pinyin: Jī)
Clan name (氏): Meng (Ch: 孟; Py: Mèng)[1]
Given name (名): Ke (Ch: 軻; Py: Kē)
Courtesy name (字): Unknown[2]
Posthumous name (謚): Master Meng the Second Sage[3] (Ch: 亞聖孟子; Py: Yàshèng Mèngzǐ)
Styled: Master Meng[4] (Ch: ; Py: Mèngzǐ)

Mencius (Chinese: ; Zhuyin/Bopomofo: ㄇㄥˋ ㄗ˙pinyin: Mèng Wade-Giles: Meng Tzu), most accepted dates: 372 – 289 BCE; other possible dates: 385 – 303/302 BCE) was a Chinese philosopher who was arguably the most famous Confucian after Confucius himself.



Mencius, also known by his birth name Meng Ke or Ko, was born in the State of Zou (simp.:; trad.: ; pinyin: zōu guó; Wade-Giles: tsou1 kuo2), now forming the territory of the county-level city of Zoucheng (; originally Zouxian), Shandong province, only thirty kilometres (eighteen miles) south of Qufu, Confucius' birthplace.

He was an itinerant Chinese philosopher and sage, and one of the principal interpreters of Confucianism. Supposedly, he was a pupil of Confucius' grandson, Zisi. Like Confucius, according to legend, he travelled China for forty years to offer advice to rulers for reform.[5] During the Warring States Period (403–221 BCE), Mencius served as an official and scholar at the Jixia Academy in the State of Qi (; pinyin: qí; 1046 BC to 221 BC) from 319 to 312 BCE. He expressed his filial devotion when he took an absence of three years from his official duties for Qi to mourn his mother's death. Disappointed at his failure to effect changes in his contemporary world, he retired from public life.


Mencius' mother

One of the most famous traditional Chinese four-character idioms is (pinyin:mèng mǔ sān qiān; Zhuyin/Bopomofo: ㄇㄥˋ ㄇㄨˇ ㄙㄢ ㄑ一ㄢ; Hangeul/Korean: 맹모삼천; Kana: もうぼさんせん; Romaji: mou bo san sen; literal translation: "Mencius' mother, three moves").

This saying refers to the legend that Mencius' mother moved house three times before finding a location that she felt was suitable for the child's upbringing. As an expression, the idiom refers to the importance of finding the proper environment for raising children.

Mencius's father died when he was very young. His mother Zhang (仉) raised her son alone. They were very poor. At first they lived by a cemetery, where the mother found her son imitating the paid mourners in funeral processions. Therefore the mother decided to move. The next house was near a market in the town. There the boy began to imitate the cries of merchants (merchants were despised in early China). So the mother moved to a house next to a school. Inspired by the scholars and students, Mencius began to study. His mother decided to remain, and Mencius became a scholar.


Mencius' interpretation of Confucianism has generally been considered the orthodox version by subsequent Chinese philosophers, especially by the Neo-Confucians of the Song dynasty. Mencius' disciples included a large number of feudal lords, and he was actually more influential than Confucius had been.[6] The Mencius (also spelled Mengzi or Meng-tzu), a book of his conversations with kings of the time, is one of the Four Books that Zhu Xi grouped as the core of orthodox Neo-Confucian thought. In contrast to the sayings of Confucius, which are short and self-contained, the Mencius consists of long dialogues, including arguments, with extensive prose.

View on human nature

While Confucius himself did not explicitly focus on the subject of human nature, Mencius asserted the innate goodness of the individual, believing that it was society's influence – its lack of a positive cultivating influence – that caused bad moral character. "He who exerts his mind to the utmost knows his nature"[7] and "the way of learning is none other than finding the lost mind".[8]

His translator James Legge finds a close similarity between Mencius' views on human nature and those in Bishop Butler's Sermons on Human Nature.

The Four Beginnings

To show innate goodness, Mencius used the example of a child falling down a well. Witnesses of this event immediately feel

alarm and distress, not to gain friendship with the child's parents, nor to seek the praise of their neighbors and friends, nor because they dislike the reputation [of lack of humanity if they did not rescue the child]...

The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity; the feeling of shame and dislike is the beginning of righteousness; the feeling of deference and compliance is the beginning of propriety; and the feeling of right or wrong is the beginning of wisdom.

Men have these Four Beginnings just as they have their four limbs. Having these Four Beginnings, but saying that they cannot develop them is to destroy themselves.[9]

Human nature is innately good because moral rightness cannot be instructed down to the last detail. This is why merely external controls always fail in improving society. True improvement results from educational cultivation in favorable environments. Likewise, bad environments tend to corrupt the human will. This, however, is not proof of innate evil because a clear thinking person would avoid causing harm to others. The object of education is the cultivation of benevolence.


According to Mencius, education must awaken the innate abilities of the human mind. He denounced memorization and advocated active interrogation of the text, saying, "One who believes all of a book would be better off without books." One should check for internal consistency by comparing sections and debate the probability of factual accounts by comparing them with experience.[citation needed]


Mencius also believed in the power of Destiny in shaping the roles of human beings in society. What is destined cannot be contrived by the human intellect or foreseen. Destiny is shown when a path arises that is both unforeseen and constructive. Destiny should not be confused with Fate. Mencius denied that Heaven would protect a person regardless of his actions, saying, "One who understands Destiny will not stand beneath a tottering wall". The proper path is one which is natural and unforced. This path must also be maintained because, "Unused pathways are covered with weeds." One who follows Destiny will live a long and successful life. One who rebels against Destiny will die before his time.

View on politics

"The Life of Mencius" pictures Mencius walking with the King of Teng, discussing his philosophy that all men have innate benevolence.

Mencius emphasized the significance of the common citizens in the state. While Confucianism generally regards rulers highly, he argued that it is acceptable for the subjects to overthrow or even kill a ruler who ignores the people's needs and rules harshly. This is because a ruler who does not rule justly is no longer a true ruler. Speaking of the overthrow of the wicked King Zhou of Shang, Mencius said, "I have merely heard of killing a villain Zhou, but I have not heard of murdering [him as] the ruler."[10].

This saying should not be taken as an instigation to violence against authorities but as an application of Confucian philosophy to society. Confucianism requires a clarification of what may be reasonably expected in any given relationship. All relationships should be beneficial, but each has its own principle or inner logic. A Ruler must justify his position by acting benevolently before he can expect reciprocation from the people. In this view, a King is like a steward. Although Confucius admired Kings of great accomplishment, Mencius is clarifying the proper hierarchy of human society. Although a King has presumably higher status than a commoner, he is actually subordinate to the masses of people and the resources of society. Otherwise, there would be an implied disregard of the potential of human society heading into the future. One is significant only for what one gives, not for what one takes.

Comparisons to contemporaries

His alleged years make him contemporary with Xun Zi, Zhuangzi, Gaozi, and Plato.

Xun Zi

Xun Zi was a Confucian who believed that human nature is originally evil, and the purpose of moral cultivation is to develop our nature into goodness. Obviously, Mencius was at odds with him. His views were declared as unorthodox by Zhu Xi, and Mencius as orthodox.


Mencius' argument that unjust rulers may be overthrown is reminiscent of Socrates' argument in Book I of Plato's Republic.

Notes and references

  1. ^ The original clan name was Mengsun (孟孫), and was shortened into Meng (孟). It is unknown whether this occurred before or after Mencius's death.
  2. ^ Traditionally, his courtesy name was assumed to be Ziche (子車), sometimes incorrectly written as Ziyu (子輿) or Ziju (子居), but recent scholarly works show that these courtesy names appeared in the 3rd century CE and apply to another historical figure named Meng Ke who also lived in Chinese antiquity and was mistaken for Mencius.
  3. ^ That is, the second sage after Confucius. Name given in 1530 by Emperor Jiajing. In the two centuries before 1530, the posthumous name was "The Second Sage Duke of Zou" (鄒國亞聖公) which is still the name that can be seen carved in the Mencius ancestral temple in Zoucheng.
  4. ^ Romanized as Mencius.
  5. ^ Chan 1963: 49.
  6. ^ Charles O. Hucker, China to 1850: A Short History, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1978, p. 45
  7. ^ The Mencius 7:A1 in Chan 1963: 78.
  8. ^ The Mencius 6:A11 in Chan 1963: 58.
  9. ^ The Mencius 2A:6 in Chan 1963: 65. Formatting has been applied to ease readability.
  10. ^ The Mencius 1B:8 in Chan 1963: 62.
  • Chan, Wing-tsit (translated and compiled). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.
  • Graham, A.C., Disputers of the TAO: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Open Court 1993). ISBN 0-8126-9087-7

External links

This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by Mencius, translated by James Legge
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7
  • Chapter 8
  • Chapter 9
  • Chapter 10
  • Chapter 11
  • Chapter 12
  • Chapter 13
  • Chapter 14
  • Chapter 15
  • Chapter 16
  • Chapter 17
  • Chapter 18
  • Chapter 19
  • Chapter 20
  • Chapter 21
  • Chapter 22
  • Chapter 23
  • Chapter 24
  • Chapter 25
  • Chapter 26
  • Chapter 27
  • Chapter 28

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MENCIUS, the latinized form of Mang-tsze, "Mr Mang," or "Mang the philosopher," a Chinese moral teacher whose name stands second only to that of Confucius. His statue or spirittablet (as the case may be) has occupied, in the temples of the sage, since our 11th century, a place among "the four assessors," and since A.D. 1530 his title has been "the philosopher Mang, sage of the second degree." The Mángs or Mang-suns had been in the time of Confucius one of the three great clans of Lit (all descended from the marquis Hwan, 711-694 B.C.), which he had endeavoured to curb. Their power had subsequently been broken, and the branch to which Mencius belonged had settled in Tsau, a small adjacent principality, the name of which remains in Tsau hsien, a district of Yenchau Shan-tung. A magnificent temple to Mencius is the chief attraction of the district city. The large marble statue of Mencius in the courtyard shows much artistic skill, and gives the impression of a man strong in body and mind, thoughtful and fearless. His lineal representative lives in the city, and thousands of Mangs are to be found in the neighbourhood.

Mencius, who died in the year 289 B.C., had lived to a great age - some say to his eighty-fourth year, placing his birth in 37 2 B.C., and others to his ninety-seventh, placing it in 385. All that we are told of his father is that he died in the third year of the child, who was thus left to the care of his mother. Her virtues and dealings with her son were celebrated by a great writer in the 1st century before our era, and for two thousand years she has been the model mother of China.

Mencius is more than forty years old when he comes before us as a public character. He must have spent much time in study, investigating questions as to the fundamental principles of morals and society, and brooding over the condition of the country. The history, the poetry, the institutions and the great men of the past had received his attention. He intimates that he had been in communication with men who had been disciples of Confucius. That sage had become to him the chief of mortal men, the object of his untiring admiration; and in the doctrines which he had taught Mencius recognized the truth for want of an appreciation of which the bonds of order all roundjhim were being relaxed, and the kingdom hastening to anarchy.

When he first comes forth from Tsau, he is accompanied by several eminent disciples. He had probably imitated Confucius in becoming the master of a school, and encouraging the resort to it of inquiring minds that he might resolve their doubts and unfold to them the right methods of government. One of his sayings is that it would be a greater delight to the superior man to get the youth of brightest promise around him and to teach and train them than to enjoy the revenues of the kingdom. His intercourse with his followers was not so intimate as that of Confucius had been with the members of his selected circle; and, while he maintained his dignity among them, he was not able to secure from them the same homage and reverent admiration.

More than a century had elapsed since the death of Confucius, and during that period the feudal kingdom of Chau had been showing more and more of the signs of dissolution, and portentous errors that threatened to upset all social order were widely disseminated. The sentiment of loyalty to the dynasty had disappeared. Several of the marquesses and other feudal princes of earlier times had usurped the title of king. The smaller fiefs had been absorbed by the larger ones, or reduced to helpless dependence on them. Tsin, after greatly extending its territory, had broken up into three powerful kingdoms, each about as large as England. Mencius found the nation nominally one, and with the traditions of two thousand years affirming its essential unity, but actually divided into seven monarchies, each seeking to subdue the others under itself. The consequences were constant warfare and chronic misery.

In Confucius's time we meet with recluses who had withdrawn in disgust from the world and its turmoil; but these had now given place to a class of men who came forth from their retirements provided with arts of war or schemes of policy which they recommended to the contending chiefs, ever ready to change their allegiance as they were moved by whim or interest. Mencius was once asked about two of them, "Are they not really great men? Let them be angry, and all the princes are afraid. Let them live quietly, and the flames of trouble are everywhere extinguished." He looked on them as little men, and delighted to proclaim his idea of the great man in such language as the following: "To dwell in love, the wide house of the world, to stand in propriety, the correct seat of the world, and to walk in righteousness, the great path of the world; when he obtains his desire for office, to practise his principles for the good of the people, and when that desire is disappointed, to practise them alone; to be above the power of riches and honours to make dissipated, of poverty and mean condition to make swerve from the right, and of power and force to make bend - these characteristics constitute the great man." Most vivid are the pictures which Mencius gives of the condition of the people in consequence of the wars of the states. "The royal ordinances were violated; the multitudes were oppressed; the supplies of food and drink flowed away like water." It is not wonderful that, when the foundations of government were thus overthrown, speculations should have arisen that threatened to overthrow what he considered to be the foundations of truth and all social order. "A shrill-tongued barbarian from the south," as Mencius called him, proclaimed the dissolution of ranks, and advocated a return to primitive simplicity. He and his followers maintained that learning was quackery, and statesmanship craft and oppression, that prince and peasant should be on the same level, and every man do everything for himself. Another, called Yang-chu, denied the difference between virtue and vice, glory and shame. It was the same with all at death. The conclusion therefore was: "Let us eat and drink; let us gratify the ears and eyes, get servants and maidens, beauty, music, wine; when the day is insufficient, carry it on through the night. Each one for himself." Against a third heresiarch, of a very different stamp, Mencius felt no less indignation. This was Mo Ti, who found the source of all the evils of the time and of all time in the want of mutual love. He taught, therefore, that men should love others as themselves; princes, the states of other princes as much as their own; children, the parents of others as much as their own. Mo, in his gropings, had got hold of a noble principle, but he did not apprehend it distinctly nor set it forth with discrimination. To our philosopher the doctrine appeared contrary to the Confucian orthodoxy about the five relations of society; and he attacked it without mercy and with an equal confusion of thought. "Yang's principle," he said, "is `each one for himself,' which does not acknowledge the claims of the sovereign. Mo's is ` to love all equally,' which does not acknowledge the peculiar affection due to a father. But to acknowledge neither king nor father is to be in the state of a beast. The way of benevolence and righteousness is stopped up," On this ocean of lawlessness, wickedness, heresies and misery Mencius looked out from the quiet of his school, and his spirit was stirred to attempt the rescue of the people from misrule and error. "If Heaven," he said, "wishes that the kingdom should enjoy tranquillity and good order, who is there besides me to bring it about?" He formed his plan, and proceeded to put it in execution. He would go about among the different kings till he should find one among them who would follow his counsels and commit to him the entire administration of his government. That obtained, he did not doubt that in a few years there would be a kingdom so strong and so good that all rulers would acknowledge its superiority, and the people hasten from all quarters to crown its sovereign as monarch of the whole of China. This plan was much the same as that of Confucius had been; but, with the bolder character that belonged to him, Mencius took in one respect a position from which "the master" would have shrunk. The former was always loyal to Chau, and thought he could save the country by a reformation; the latter saw the day of Chau was past,, and the time was come for a revolution. Mencius's view was the more correct, but he was not wiser than the sage in forecasting for the future. They could think only of a reformed dynasty or of a changed dynasty, ruling according to the mode/. principles of a feudal constitution, which they described in glowing language. They desired a repetition of the golden, age in the remote past; but soon after Mencius disappeared' from the stage of life there came the sovereign of Ch'in, and solved the question with fire and sword, introducing the despotic empire which has since prevailed.

The question may be asked, "How, in the execution of his plan, was Mencius, a scholar, without wealth or station, to find admission to the courts of lawless and unprincipled kings, and acquire the influence over them which he expected?" The answer can only be found by bearing in mind the position accorded from the earliest times in China to men of virtue and ability. The same written character denotes both scholars, and officers. They are at the top of the social scale - the first of the four classes into which the population has always. been divided. This appreciation of learning or culture has. exercised a powerful influence over the government under both conditions of its existence; and out of it grew the system of making literary merit the passport to official employment. The ancient doctrine was that the scholar's privilege was from Heaven as much as the sovereign's right; the modern system is a device of the despotic rule to put itself in Heaven's place, and have the making of the scholar in its own hands. The feeling and conviction out of which the system grew prevailed in the time of Mencius. The dynasties that had successively ruled over the kingdom had owed their establishment not more to the military genius of their founders than to the wisdom and organizing ability of the learned men, the statesmen, who were their bosom friends and trusted counsellors. Why should not he become to one of the princes of his day what I Yin had been to Thang, and Thai-kung Wang to King Wan, and the duke of Chau to WA and Ch'ang? But, though Mencius might be the equal of any of those worthies, he knew of no prince like Thang and the others, of noble aim and soul, who would adopt his lessons. In his eagerness he overlooked this condition of success for his enterprise. He might meet with such a ruler as he looked for, or he might reform a bad one, and make him the coadjutor that he required. On the strength of these peradventures, and attended by several of his disciples, Mencius went for more than twenty years from one court to another, always baffled, and always ready to try again. He was received with great respect by kings and princes. He would not enter into the service of any of them, but he occasionally accepted honorary offices of distinction; and he did not scruple to receive large gifts which enabled him to live and move about as a man of wealth. In delivering his message he was as fearless and outspoken as John Knox. He lectured great men, and ridiculed them. He unfolded the ways of the old sage kings, and pointed out the path to universal sway; but it was all in vain. He could not stir any one to honourable action. He confronted heresy with strong arguments and exposed it with withering sarcasm; but he could work no deliverance in the earth. The last court at which we find him was that of LA, probably in 310 B.C. The marquis of that state had given office to Yo-chang, one of Mencius's disciples, and he hoped that this might be the means of a favourable hearing for himself. So it had nearly happened. On the suggestion of Yo-chang the marquis had ordered his carriage to be yoked, and was about to step into it and proceed to bring Mencius to his palace, when an unworthy favourite stepped in and diverted him from his purpose. The disciple told his master what had occurred, reproaching the favourite for his ill-timed intervention; Mencius, however, said to him,"A man's advancement or the arresting of it may seem to be effected by others, but is really beyond their power. My not finding in the marquis of LA a ruler who would confide in me and put my lessons in practice is from Heaven." Mencius accepted this incident as a final intimation to him of the will of Heaven. He had striven long against adverse circumstances, but now he bowed in submission. He withdrew from courts and the public arena. According to tradition he passed the last twenty years of his life in the society of his disciples, discoursing to them, and giving the finishing touches to the record of his conversations and opinions, which were afterwards edited by them, and constitute his works. Mencius was not so oracular, nor so self-contained, as Confucius; but his teachings have a vivacity and sparkle all their own.

Mencius held with Confucius - and it was a doctrine which had descended to them both from the remotest antiquity - that royal government is an institution of God. An ancient sovereign had said that "Heaven, having produced the people, appointed for them rulers, and appointed for them teachers, who should be assisting to God." Our philosopher, adopting this doctrine, was led by the manifest incompetency of all the rulers of his time to ask how it could be known on what individual the appointment of Heaven had fallen or ought to fall, and he concluded that this could be ascertained only from his personal character and his conduct of affairs. The people must find out the will of Heaven as to who should be their ruler for themselves. There was another old saying which delighted Mencius - "Heaven sees as the people see; Heaven hears as the people hear." He taught accordingly that, while government is from God, the governors are from the people ; - vox populi vox Dei. No claim then of a "divine right" should be allowed to a sovereign if he were not exercising a rule for the good of the people. "The people are the most important element in a nation; the altars to the spirits of the land and grain are the second; the sovereign is the lightest." Mencius was not afraid to follow this utterance to its consequences. The monarch whose rule is injurious to the people, and who is deaf to remonstrance and counsel, should be dethroned. In such a case "killing is no murder." But who is to remove the sovereign that thus ought to be removed ? Mencius had three answers to this difficult question. First, he would hove the members of the royal house perform the task. Let them disown their unworthy head, and appoint some better individual of their number in his room. If they could not or would not do this, he thought, secondly, that any high minister, though not allied to the royal house, might take summary measures with the sovereign, assuming that he acted purely with a view to the public weal. His third and grand device was what he called "the minister of Heaven." When the sovereign had become a pest instead of a blessing, he believed that Heaven would raise up some one for the help of the people, some one who should so conduct himself in his original subordinate position as to draw all eyes and hearts to himself. Let him then raise the standard not of rebellion but of righteousness, and he could not help attaining to the highest dignity. Mencius hoped to find one among the rulers of his day who might be made into such a minister, and he counselled one and another to adopt measures with that object. It was in fact counselling rebellion, but he held that the house of Chau had forfeited its title to the throne.

A good government according to his ideal must be animated by a spirit of benevolence, and ever pursue a policy of righteousness. Its aims must be, first, to make the people well off, and next, to educate them. No one was fit to occupy the throne who could be happy while any of the people were miserable, who delighted in war, who could indulge in palaces and parks which the poorest did not in a measure share with him. Game laws received his empha,ic condemnation. Taxes should be light, and all the regulations for agriculture and commerce of a character to promote and encourage them. The rules which he suggested to secure those objects had reference to the existing condition of his country, but they are susceptible of wide application. They carry in them schemes of drainage and irrigation for land, and of free trade for commerce. But it must be, he contended, that a sufficient and certain livelihood be secured for all the people. Without this their minds would be unsettled, and they would proceed to every form of wild licence. They would break the laws, and the ruler would punish them - punish those whom his neglect of his own duties had plunged into poverty, of which crime was the consequence. He would be, not their ruler, but their "trapper." Supposing the people to be 'made well off, Mencius taught that education should be provided for them all. He gave the marquis of Thang a programme of four kinds of educational institutions, which he wished him to establish in his state - in the villages and the towns, for the poor as well as the rich, so that none might be ignorant of his duties in the various relations of society. But after all, unless the people could get food and clothing by their labour, he had not much faith in the power of education to make them virtuous. Give him, however, a government fulfilling the conditions that he laid down, and he was confident there would soon be a people, all contented, all virtuous. And he saw nothing to prevent the realization of such a government. Any ruler might become, if he would, " the minister of Heaven," who was his ideal, and the influence of his example and administration would be allpowerful. The people would flock to him as their parent, and help him to do justice on the foes of truth and happiness. Pulse and grain would be abundant as water and fire, and the multitudes, well clothed, and well principled, would sit under the shade of their mulberry trees, and hail the ruler "king by the grace of Heaven." Opinions were much divided among his contemporaries on the subject of human nature. Some held that the nature of man is neither good nor bad; he may be made to do good and also to do evil. Others held that the nature of some men is good, and that of others bad; thus it is that the best of men sometimes have bad sons, and the worst of men good sons. It was also maintained that the nature of man is evil, and whatever good appears in it is the result of cultivation. In opposition to all these views Mencius contended that the nature of man is good. "Water," he said, "will flow indifferently to the east or west; but will it flow indifferently up or down ? The tendency of man's nature to goodness is like the tendency of water to flow downwards. By striking water you may make it leap over your forehead; and by damming and leading it you may make it go up a hill. But such movements are not according to the nature of water; it is the force applied which causes them. When men do what is not good, their nature has been dealt with in this way." With various, but equally felicitous, illustration he replied to his different opponents. Sometimes he may seem to express himself too strongly, but an attentive study of his writings shows that he is speaking of our nature in its ideal, and not as it actually is - as we may ascertain, by an analysis of it, that it was intended to be, and not as it has been made to become.

Mencius insists on the constituents of human nature, dwelling especially on the principles of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom or knowledge, the last including the judgment of conscience. "These," said he, "are not infused into us from without. Men have these four principles just as they have their four limbs." But man has also instincts and appetites which seek their own gratification without reference to righteousness or any other control. He met this difficulty by contending that human nature is a constitution, in which the higher principles are designed to rule the lower. "Some constituents of it are noble and some ignoble, some great and some small. The great must not be injured for the small, nor the noble for the ignoble." One of his most vigorous vindications of his doctrine is the following: "For the mouth to desire flavours, the eye colours, the ear sounds, and the four limbs ease and rest belong to man's nature. An individual's lot may restrict him from the gratification of them; and in such a case the superior man will not say, ` My nature demands that pleasure, and I will get it.' On the other hand, there are love between father and son, righteousness between ruler and minister, the rules of ceremony between host and guest, and knowledge seen in recognizing the able and virtuous, and in the sage's fulfilling the heavenly course; - these are appointed (by Heaven). But they also belong to our nature, and the superior man will not say, ` The circumstances of my lot relieve me from them.'" When he proceeded from his ideal of human nature to account for the actual phenomena of conduct, he was necessarily less successful. "There is nothing good," he said, "that a man cannot do; he only does not do it." But why does he not do it ? Against the stubborn fact Mencius beats his wings and shatters his weapons - all in vain. He mentions a few ancient .worthies who, he conceived, had always been, or who had become, perfectly virtuous. Above them all he extols Confucius, taking no notice of that sage's confession that he had not attained to conformity to his own rule of doing to others as he would have them do to him. No such acknowledgment about himself ever came from Mencius. Therein he was inferior to his predecessor: he had a subtler faculty of thought, and a much more vivid imagination; but he did not know himself nor his special subject of human nature so well.

A few passages illustrative of his style and general teachings will complete all that can be said of him here. His thoughts, indeed, were seldom condensed like those of "the master" into aphorisms, and should be read in their connexion; but we have from him many words of wisdom that have been as goads to millions for more than two thousand years. For instance: "Though a man may be wicked, yet, if he adjust his thoughts, fast, and bathe, he may sacrifice to God." "When Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, subjects him to extreme poverty, and confounds his undertakings. In all these ways it stimulates his mind, strengthens his nature, and supplies his incompetencies." "The great man is he who does not lose his child-heart." "The sense of shame is to a man of great importance. When one is ashamed of having been without shame, he will afterwards not have occasion for shame." "To nourish the heart there is nothing better than to keep the desires few. Here is a man whose desires are few; in some things he may not be able to keep his heart, but they will be few. Here is a man whose desires are many; in some things he may be able to keep his heart, but they will be few." "Benevolence is the distinguishing characteristic of man. As embodied in his conduct, it may be called the path of duty." "There is an ordination for everything; and a man should receive submissively what may be correctly ascribed thereto. He who has the correct idea of what Heaven's ordination is will not stand beneath a tottering wall. Death sustained in the discharge of one's duties may be correctly ascribed to Heaven. Death under handcuffs and fetters cannot be correctly so ascribed." "When one by force subdues men, they do not submit to him in heart. When he subdues them by virtue, in their hearts' core they are pleased, and sincerely submit." Two translations of the works of Mencius are within the reach of European readers: that by Stanislaus Julien, in Latin (Paris, 1824-1829) and that forming the second volume of Legge's Chinese Classics (Hong-Kong, 1862). The latter has been published at London (1875) without the Chinese text. See also E. Faber, The Mind of Mencius, or Political Economy founded on Moral Philosophy, translated from the German by A. B. Hutchinson (London, 1882). (J. LE.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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Proper noun




  1. Western name of 孟子 Meng Zi or Meng Tzu, also known as Meng Ko or Meng Ke, (dates uncertain, ?372 - 289 BCE or perhaps 385 - 303/302 BCE), Chinese philosopher, follower of Confucius.


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