Mencius (or Meng)
Mencius (Or Meng)
one of the two great Chinese sages (the other being Confucius), is supposed by Legge (whose statements we condense) to have been born about the year BC. 371, one hundred years after the death of Confucius, and to have been contemporary with Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, and Demosthenes. His name, like that of his great exemplar, was Latinized by the Jesuits from Meng-'tse, as that of the earlier sage was from Koong-foo- tse, to conform to which the later worthy should have been called Mezng- foo-tse, or Menfucius. The Chinese language is monosyllabic, and the original one hundred family names of the empire are all monosyllables. Inl transferring the names Koong and Meng into Latin or English, foreigners have fallen into the ludicrous mistake of confounding name and title, and making a single polysyllabic surname out of the two as if the Chinese were to make Popjohn out of pope John, or Lordbut out of lord Bute !
Men often owe their greatness to their mothers. The mother of Meng is celebrated throughout China as a model of feminine wisdom in family training. The first home of her widowhood was near a cemetery, and her little boy, with the instinctive imitativeness peculiar to children, began to practice funeral ceremonies, and to perform Liliputian burial-rites. "This will never do," said Madam Meng, "my son will grow up an undertaker," and she promptly removed to a house in the marketplace. Here the boy imitated the cries, disputes, and chafferings of the buyers and sellers. "This will not answer," said the watchful mother, " he will make only a pedler or an auctioneer," and again she removed and took up her abode in the vicinity of a school. The youth forthwith took to chanting lessons in concert with the loud chorus peculiar to the Chinese school-room. "This will do," said the prudent dame, "my son will become a scholar," and she was not disappointed in her forecasting. Nevertheless he was, like all boys, indifferent and careless, and we are told that, to quicken his zeal and give him a striking lesson, his mother one day surprised and alarmed him by suddenly cutting asunder the web she was weaving. Upon his inquiring why she did it, she replied that thus, by' his idleness, he was cutting asunder the web of opportunity, and destroying his prospects for life, just as she had destroyed the product of the loom. The boy was affected, and gave greater diligence to his studies. These are all the glimpses we have of philosopher Meng, until we meet him in public life at forty years of age. He must have spent his early years in diligent study of the classics, but how, or under what masters, we are not informed. In his writings he says, "Although I could not be a disciple of Confucius myself, I have endeavored to cultivate my character and knowledge by means of others who were." Like his master Confucius, Mencius doubtless assumed the office of a teacher-not a teacher or professor in our Western sense, but a peripatetic advocate of morals, political philosophy, and good government — one to whom youthful and perplexed inquirers resorted for counsel and encouragement. In the times of Confucius and Mencius, China was not a consolidated empire as at present, but consisted of a number of states or provinces under independent chieftains or kings. To the court of one of these Mencius resorted at about the age of forty years, and at the court of one or another of these petty rulers he lingered for nearly a quarter of a century the period which his published works cover-when he retired to obscurity, and spent the remaining twenty years of his life with his disciples in social converse, or the preparation of the seven books that constitute his writings. It was a long time before his reputation became national; but the time came at last, when a native writer says, "Since the time when Han, duke of Literature, delivered his eulogium Confucius handed the scheme of doctrine to Mencius, on whose death the line of transmission was interrupted all the scholars of the empire have associated Confucius and Mencius together." Meng lived to an advanced age, dying BC. 288. The influence of his doctrines and opinions in China is second only to that of Confucius. "Confucius," says a native writer, "spoke only of benevolence; Mencius speaks of benevolence and righteousness." " Confucius spoke only of the will or mind; Mencius enlarged on the nourishment of the passion-nature.
The pet doctrine of Mencius was the intrinsic goodness of human nature, although he admitted that by far the greater part of mankind had, through unfavorable circumstances or influences, become perverted. He says, "The way in which a man loses his natural goodness is like the way in which trees are deprived by the woodman of their branches and foliage; and, if they still send forth some buds or sprouts, then come the cattle and goats and browse upon them. As in the tree all appearance of life and beauty is destroyed, so in man, after a long exposure to evil influences, all traces of native goodness seem to be obliterated." But he maintains that " there is an original power of goodness in the race," and that "all men may, if they will, become like Yao and Shun, two of the early sages and kings, who were pre-eminent for their virtue." Mencius attributed the decline in morals to the neglect of the precepts of Confucius. He was determined, therefore, to correct the evils which had sprung up, and, by securing the attention of the people to the study of morals, to restore the virtues of the primitive ages. One well versed in Chinese scholarship says, "The great object of Mencius is to rectify men's hearts. 'If a man once rectify his heart,': says he, 'little else will remain for him to do.' In another place he says, 'The great or superior man is he who does not lose his child's heart,'" an expression which vividly recalls those beautiful lines of the great German poet
"Wohl dem der frei von Schuld und Fehle Bewahrt die kindlich reine Seele" (Schiller).
It is evident, however, that, owing to his sanguine and ardent nature, or to some other cause, Mencius did not very fully realize the exceeding difficulty of "rectifying one's heart." He did not like disputing, yet, when forced to it, showed himself master of the art. His reasonings are often marked by an enjoyable ingenuity and subtlety. "We have more sympathy with him than with Confucius. He comes closer to us; he is not so awful, but he is more admirable." The people he considered the most important element of a nation, the sovereign of the least consequence. The ground of the relation between sovereign and people is the will of God. He asserts the doctrine, Vox populi, vox Dei. "Heaven sees as the people see, Heaven hears as the people hear." The highest compliment to the Chinese sage Meng is paid: him by Dr. Iegge, who finds his views of human nature identical with those of the great author of the "Analogy," bishop Butler, whom Wardlaw, in his Christian Ethics, compares to the Greek Zeno. It would please us to quote largely from the Seven Books. as the best means of showing the real character and teachings of this teaching "celestial." His writings abound in gems of illustration. Opening them at random, we everywhere light upon striking sayings: "To dig a well, and stop without reaching the spring, is to throw away the well." "People cannot live without fire or water, yet, if you knock at a man's door and ask for water or fire, there is no man who will not give them, such is the abundance of these things: a sage king will cause pulse and grain to be as abundant as fire and water." "To the truly great man belong by nature benevolence, righteousness, prosperity, and knowledge." "Good government is feared byv the people, good instructions are loved by them: good government gets their wealth, good instructions their hearts." "Honor and virtue delight in righteousness." "Death in the discharge of duty may be ascribed to the will of Heaven." "Life springs from sorrow and calamity, death from ease and pleasure." "The value of benevolence depends on its being brought to maturity." " I like life and I like righteousness: if I cannot keep the two together, I will let the life go and choose righteousness." "The tendency of man's nature to good is like the tendency of water to flow downwards." "As you do violence to wood in order to make it into cups and bowls, so you must do violence to humanity to fashion it to benevolence and righteousness." "No man can bend himself and at the same time make others straight." Legge finds fault with Confucius and Mencius because their views were so human-both said so little of God and heaven. To these influential teachers he attributes the gross materialism of the Chinese literati to-day: We have no apology to offer for their atheism. Mencius is an object of reverence, but he does not indirectly contribute, like Confucius, to idolatry, in the sanctification of tables, altars, sacrifices, and victims to himself. Mencius is only human, Confucius is divine. The distinguished Orientalist Remusat, in drawing a comparison between Confucius and Mencius, says the former "is always grave, and even austere; he exalts men of virtue, of whom he presents an ideal portrait; he speaks of bad men only with a cool indignation. Mencius, with the same love of virtue, seems to feel for vice rather contempt than abhorrence. He assails it with the force of argument; he does not disdain even to employ against it the weapons of ridicule." Mencius combined a certain modesty with a just and manly appreciation of himself. He seemed greatly surprised when one of his disciples was disposed to rank him as a sage; yet he said on another occasion, " When sages shall rise up again, they will not change my words.' He believed that he was appointed by Heaven to uphold or restore the doctrines of the ancient sages, such as Yao, Shun, and Confucius. Han-Yu. a celebrated Chinese critic, says, "If we wish to study the doctrines of the sages, we must begin with Mencius.... It is owing to his words that learners nowadays still know how to revere Confucius, to honor benevolence and righteousness, to esteem the true sovereign, and to despise the mere pretender." See, besides the notice prefixed to the Chinese-English edition of Legge's Chinese Classics (Hong-Kong, 1861), vol. ii, Panthier's translation of Mencius's writings (Paris, 1851), and his Chine, p. 187 *sq.; Loomis, Confucius and the Chinese Classics (San Francisco, 1867, 12mo), bk. iv; Rosny, in Hoefer's Nouv. Biog. Generale, s.v.; and the excellent article in Thomas's Dict. of Biog. and Mythol. s.v. (E. W.)