Xunzi: Basic Writings

Translated by BURTON WATSON
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Xunzi asserted that the original nature of man is evil, differing on this point from Mencius, his famous predecessor in the Confucian school. In the most complete, well-ordered philosophical system of his day, Xunzi advocated the counteraction of man's evil through self-improvement, the pursuit of learning, the avoidance of obsession, and observance of ritual in life. Readers familiar with Xunzi's work will find that Burton Watson's lucid translation breathes new life into this classic. Those new to Xunzi will find his ideas on government, language, and order and safety in society surprisingly close to concerns of our own age.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52131-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    What little is known of the life of Xunzi, or Master Xun, is culled from evidence in his own writings and from the brief biography of him written by the historian Sima Qian some hundred years or so after his death, which forms part of Chapter 74 of the Shiji. His personal name was Kuang,¹ and he was a native of Zhao, a state situated in the central part of northern China. The date of his birth is unknown, but it was probably around 312 B.C., when his famous predecessor in the Confucian school, Mencius, was already well along in...

    (pp. 15-24)

    The gentleman says: Learning should never cease. Blue comes from the indigo plant but is bluer than the plant itself. Ice is made of water but is colder than water ever is. A piece of wood as straight as a plumb line may be bent into a circle as true as any drawn with a compass and, even after the wood has dried, it will not straighten out again. The bending process has made it that way. Thus, if wood is pressed against a straightening board, it can be made straight; if metal is put to the grindstone, it can...

    (pp. 25-34)

    When you see good, then diligently examine your own behavior; when you see evil, then with sorrow look into yourself. When you find good in yourself, steadfastly approve it; when you find evil in yourself, hate it as something loathsome. He who comes to you with censure is your teacher; he who comes with approbation is your friend; but he who flatters you is your enemy. Therefore the gentleman honors his teacher, draws close to his friends, but heartily hates his enemies. He loves good untiringly and can accept reprimand and take warning from it. Therefore, though he may have...

    (pp. 35-58)

    Someone asked how to govern, and I replied: In the case of worthy and able men, promote them without waiting for their turn to come up. In the case of inferior and incompetent men, dismiss them without hesitation. In the case of incorrigibly evil men, punish them without trying to reform them.¹ In the case of people of average capacity, teach them what is right without attempting to force them into goodness. Thus, even where rank has not yet been fixed, the distinction between good and bad will be as clear as that between the left and right ancestors in...

    (pp. 59-82)

    The lord of Linwu and Xunzi were debating military affairs in the presence of King Xiaocheng of Zhao.¹ “May I ask what are the most essential points to be observed in taking up arms?” inquired the king.

    The lord of Linwu replied, “Above, utilize the most seasonable times of heaven; below, take advantage of the most profitable aspects of the earth. Observe the movements of your enemy, set out after he does, but get there before him. This is the essential point in the art of using arms!”

    “Not so!” objected Xunzi. “From what I have heard of the way...

  10. A DISCUSSION OF HEAVEN (Section 17)
    (pp. 83-92)

    Heaven’s ways are constant. It does not prevail because of a sage like Yao; it does not cease to prevail because of a tyrant like Jie. Respond to it with good government, and good fortune will result; respond to it with disorder, and misfortune will result. If you encourage agriculture and are frugal in expenditures, then Heaven cannot make you poor. If you provide the people with the goods they need and demand their labor only at the proper time, then Heaven cannot afflict you with illness. If you practice the Way and are not of two minds, then Heaven...

  11. A DISCUSSION OF RITES (Section 19)
    (pp. 93-114)

    What is the origin of ritual? I reply: man is born with desires. If his desires are not satisfied for him, he cannot but seek some means to satisfy them himself. If there are no limits and degrees to his seeking, then he will inevitably fall to wrangling with other men. From wrangling comes disorder and from disorder comes exhaustion. The ancient kings hated such disorder, and therefore they established ritual principles in order to curb it, to train men’s desires and to provide for their satisfaction. They saw to it that desires did not overextend the means for their...

  12. A DISCUSSION OF MUSIC (Section 20)
    (pp. 115-124)

    Music is joy,¹ an emotion which man cannot help but feel at times. Since man cannot help feeling joy, his joy must find an outlet in voice and an expression in movement. The outcries and movements, and the inner emotional changes which occasion them, must be given full expression in accordance with the way of man. Man must have his joy, and joy must have its expression, but if that expression is not guided by the principles of the Way, then it will inevitably become disordered. The former kings hated such disorder, and therefore they created the musical forms of...

    (pp. 125-142)

    The thing that all men should fear is that they will become obsessed by a small corner of truth and fail to comprehend its overall principles. If they can correct this fault, they may return to correct standards, but if they continue to hesitate and be of two minds, then they will fall into delusion. There are not two Ways in the world; the sage is never of two minds. Nowadays the feudal lords follow different theories of government and the philosophers of the hundred schools teach different doctrines. Inevitably some teach what is right and some, what is wrong;...

  14. RECTIFYING NAMES (Section 22)
    (pp. 143-160)

    This is the way the true kings of later times fixed the names of things. In the case of legal terms, they followed the practices of the Yin dynasty; in the case of terms pertaining to ranks and titles, they followed Zhou practice; and for the names of ceremonies and ceremonial objects, they followed ritual practice. For the common names applied to all the various things of creation, they followed the established customs of China, and made certain that such names could be used in distant regions whose customs are different, so that a common means of communication could be...

  15. MAN’S NATURE IS EVIL (Section 23)
    (pp. 161-174)

    Man’s nature is evil; goodness is the result of conscious activity. The nature of man is such that he is born with a fondness for profit. If he indulges this fondness, it will lead him into wrangling and strife, and all sense of courtesy and humility will disappear. He is born with feelings of envy and hate, and if he indulges these, they will lead him into violence and crime, and all sense of loyalty and good faith will disappear. Man is born with the desires of the eyes and ears, with a fondness for beautiful sights and sounds. If...

  16. Index
    (pp. 175-180)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-190)