Xunzi: The Complete Text

Translated and with an Introduction by Eric L. Hutton
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This is the first complete, one-volume English translation of the ancient Chinese textXunzi, one of the most extensive, sophisticated, and elegant works in the tradition of Confucian thought. Through essays, poetry, dialogues, and anecdotes, theXunziarticulates a Confucian perspective on ethics, politics, warfare, language, psychology, human nature, ritual, and music, among other topics. Aimed at general readers and students of Chinese thought, Eric Hutton's translation makes the full text of this important work more accessible in English than ever before.

    Named for its purported author, theXunzi(literally, "Master Xun") has long been neglected compared to works such as theAnalectsof Confucius and theMencius. Yet interest in theXunzihas grown in recent decades, and the text presents a much more systematic vision of the Confucian ideal than the fragmented sayings of Confucius and Mencius. In one famous, explicit contrast to them, theXunziargues that human nature is bad. However, it also allows that people can become good through rituals and institutions established by earlier sages. Indeed, the main purpose of theXunziis to urge people to become as good as possible, both for their own sakes and for the sake of peace and order in the world.

    In this edition, key terms are consistently translated to aid understanding and line numbers are provided for easy reference. Other features include a concise introduction, a timeline of early Chinese history, a list of important names and terms, cross-references, brief explanatory notes, a bibliography, and an index.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5255-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxx)

    Without a doubt, theXunziis one of the most philosophically interesting and sophisticated texts in the Confucian tradition. It covers a wide variety of topics—education, ritual, music, language, psychology, history, religion, ethics, politics, and warfare, to name just a few—and it provides quite thoughtful treatments of all these subjects. Indeed, despite being a very old text, many of its insights still ring true in the present. It is thus a text that amply rewards study, and not only for those seeking to understand ancient Chinese views in particular, but also for anyone reflecting on these important aspects...

  5. A Traditional Timeline of Early Chinese History
    (pp. xxxi-xxxii)
  6. CHAPTER 1 An Exhortation to Learning
    (pp. 1-8)

    The gentleman says: Learning must never stop. Blue dye derives from the indigo plant, and yet it is bluer than the plant. Ice comes from water, and yet it is colder than water. Through steaming and bending, you can make wood as straight as an ink-line¹ into a wheel. And after its curve conforms to the compass, even when parched under the sun it will not become straight again, because the steaming and bending have made it a certain way. Likewise, when wood comes under the ink-line, it becomes straight, and when metal is brought to the whetstone, it becomes...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Cultivating Oneself
    (pp. 9-15)

    When you observe goodness in others, then inspect yourself, desirous of cultivating it.aWhen you observe badness in others, then examine yourself, fearful of discovering it.¹ If you find goodness in your person, then commend yourself, desirous of holding firm to it. If you find badness in your person, then reproach yourself, regarding it as calamity. And so, he who rightly criticizes me acts as a teacher toward me,2,band he who rightly supports me acts as a friend toward me, while he who flatters and toadies to me acts as a villain toward me.³ Accordingly, the gentleman exalts those...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Nothing Improper
    (pp. 16-22)

    In matters of conduct, the gentleman does not esteem feats that are difficult but improper. In matters of argument, he does not esteem improper inquiries. In matters of reputation, he does not esteem improper fame. Only what is proper does he esteem. To cast oneself into a river while clutching a heavy stone is a difficult thing to do, but Shentu Di could do it.¹ However, the gentleman does not esteem such conduct, because it does not accord with ritual andyi. Claims such as “Mountains and valleys are level,” “Heaven and Earth lie even,” “Qi and Qin are adjacent,”²...

  9. CHAPTER 4 On Honor and Disgrace
    (pp. 23-31)

    Uncontrolled rage will cause you to perish, even though you are full of life. Jealousy will cause you to be maimed, even though you have keen intelligence. Slandering others will cause you to face impasses, even though you are broadly learned. An uncontrolled mouth will cause you to be stained all the more, even though you try to purify yourself.³ Indiscriminate associations will cause you to starve all the more, even though you try to fatten yourself. Being combative will cause you to be unpersuasive, even though you argue well. An attitude of superiority will cause you not to be...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Against Physiognomy
    (pp. 32-39)

    Physiognomizing people is something that the ancients would not embrace, something that a learned person does not take as his way.aIn ancient times there was Gubu Ziqing, and in the present age there is Tang Ju of Liang. They have physiognomized people’s outer form and facial features to know whether they would have good or ill fortune. Vulgar people praise this, but it is something that the ancients would not embrace, something that a learned person does not take as his way. Physiognomizing a person’s outer form is not as good as judging his heart, and judging his heart...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Against the Twelve Masters
    (pp. 40-46)

    In the current era, there are people who ornament perverse doctrines and embellish vile teachings, such that they disturb and disorder the whole world. Their exaggerated, twisted, and overly subtle arguments cause all under Heaven to be muddled and not know wherein right and wrong and order and disorder are contained.

    Some of these men give rein to their inborn dispositions and nature. They are at ease in license and arrogance and have the conduct of beasts. They are incapable of bringing about accordance with proper form or creating comprehensive rule. Nevertheless, they can cite evidence for maintaining their views,...

  12. CHAPTER 7 On Confucius
    (pp. 47-51)

    Among the disciples of Confucius, even the young lads considered it shameful to speak in praise of the five hegemons. How can this be the case?¹ I say: It is indeed so—to praise them is truly worthy of shame. Duke Huan of Qi was the most successful of the five hegemons, but among his early deeds he killed his elder brother and seized the state. In conducting internal family matters, there were seven of his sisters and aunts whom he did not marry off. Within his private chambers he indulged in extravagant entertainments and music. He was presented with...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The Achievements of the Ru
    (pp. 52-67)

    The achievements of a greatru: When King Wu had fallen in death and King Cheng was still a youth,¹ the Duke of Zhou put aside King Cheng and took up from King Wu in order to keep the empire subordinate, because he hated that the empire should betray the Zhou.aHe carried out the station of the Son of Heaven and heard the empire’s cases for judgment with as much ease as if he had originally possessed it, but the empire did not proclaim him greedy in this. He killed Guan Shu² and emptied out the Shang capital, but...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The Rule of a True King
    (pp. 68-82)

    Let us inquire into how to conduct the government. I say: Promote the worthy and the capable without waiting for them to rise through the ranks. Dismiss the unfit and the incapable without waiting for even a single moment. Execute those who incite others to bad deeds without waiting to teach them.¹ Transform the ordinary people without waiting for government controls. If social divisions are not yet set, then take control of illuminating the proper bonds.aEven the sons and grandsons of kings, dukes, gentry, and grand ministers, if they cannot submit to ritual andyi, should be assigned the...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Enriching the State
    (pp. 83-98)

    The myriad things share the same cosmos and have different bodies. They have no intrinsic fittingness but are useful for humans. This is simply the arrangement of the world. Various grades of people live together. They share the same pursuits but have different ways. They share the same desires but have different understandings. This is simply the way they are born. Everyone approves of something, and in this the wise and the stupid are the same. Yet, what they approve of differs, and this is what divides the wise from the stupid.¹ If people’s authority is equal but they understand...

  16. CHAPTER 11 The True King and the Hegemon
    (pp. 99-116)

    The state is the most efficacious instrument in the world, and to be ruler of men is the most efficacious power in the world. If you take the Way to hold onto these, then you will have great security and great honor—they will be a wellspring of accumulated goods. If you do not take the Way to hold onto them, then you will face great danger and great ignominy—it would be better not to have them. And in the most extreme circumstances, though you seek to finish your days as a commoner, you cannot get even that. Such...

  17. CHAPTER 12 The Way to Be a Lord
    (pp. 117-132)

    There are chaotic lords; there are no states chaotic of themselves. There are men who create order; there are no rules¹ creating order of themselves. The rules of Archer Yi have not perished, but not every age has an Archer Yi who hits the target precisely. The rules of Yu still survive, but not every age has a Xia dynasty to reign as true kings. Thus, rules cannot stand alone, and categories cannot implement themselves. If one has the right person, then they will be preserved. If one loses the right person, then they will be lost. The rules are...

  18. CHAPTER 13 The Way to Be a Minister
    (pp. 133-140)

    There are fawning ministers, usurping ministers, meritorious ministers, and sagely ministers:

    One sort of minister is such that at home, he cannot be employed to unify the people. Abroad, he cannot be employed to avert crises. The common people have no affection for him, and the feudal lords do not trust him. However, with his clever words and flattering speech, he is good at obtaining favor from his superiors. Such is the fawning minister.

    One sort of minister is such that he is not loyal to his lord above, but he is good at obtaining repute among the people below....

  19. CHAPTER 14 On Attracting Men of Worth
    (pp. 141-144)

    The gentleman does not listen to words of praise from those who form parties and cliques. He does not make use of criticisms from those who defame and vilify others. He does not become close with people who are jealous or fixated. He does not grant requests accompanied by goods, money, or gift animals. He is careful of all perverse teachings, perverse doctrines, perverse works, perverse plans, perverse praise, and perverse censure—in short, whatever is baseless or comes in an oblique manner. He listens to what he hears and with understanding decides its proper class.aWhen he has determined...

  20. CHAPTER 15 A Debate on Military Affairs
    (pp. 145-162)

    Lord Linwu and Xunzi held a debate on military affairs before King Xiaocheng of Zhao.¹ The king said, “May I ask about the crucial points in military affairs?”

    Lord Linwu said, “Above, obtain the right season from Heaven. Below, obtain beneficial terrain from Earth. Observe the enemy’s changes and movements. Wait for them to set out, but arrive at the battlefield before them. This is the crucial method in using military forces.”

    Xunzi said, “Not so! I have heard that in the way of the ancients, the fundamental task for all use of military forces and offensive warfare lies with...

  21. CHAPTER 16 The Strong State
    (pp. 163-174)

    If the mold is straight, the metal fine, the craftsmanship skilled, and the heat appropriate, then when you break open the mold you will have a Moye.¹ However, if you do not trim away the excess and sharpen it, then it could not sever even a rope. If you trim away the excess and sharpen it, then it will cut through metal plates and bowls and behead oxen and horses with a single slash. Every state is a strong state just come from the mold. However, if you do not educate and train it, if you do not adjust and...

  22. CHAPTER 17 Discourse on Heaven
    (pp. 175-182)

    If you strengthen the fundamental works² and moderate expenditures, then Heaven cannot make you poor. If your means of nurture are prepared and your actions are timely, then Heaven cannot make you ill. If you cultivate the Way and do not deviate from it, then Heaven cannot ruin you. Thus, floods and drought cannot make you go hungry or thirsty, cold and heat cannot make you sick, and aberrations and anomalies cannot make you misfortunate.

    If the fundamental works are neglected and expenditures are extravagant, then Heaven cannot make you wealthy. If your means of nurture are sparse and your...

  23. CHAPTER 18 Correct Judgments
    (pp. 183-200)

    The vulgar purveyors of doctrine say, “In the ways of a ruler, it is beneficial to be secretive.”¹ This is not so. The ruler is lead singer to his people; the superior is sundial to his subordinates.² The people listen for the lead singer and then respond; the subordinates look to the sundial and then move. If the lead singer is silent, then the people will not respond. If the sundial is hidden, then the subordinates will not move. Without response, without movement, superior and subordinates will have no hold on each other. This is the same as there being...

  24. CHAPTER 19 Discourse on Ritual
    (pp. 201-217)

    From what did ritual arise? I say: Humans are born having desires. When they have desires but do not get the objects of their desire, then they cannot but seek some means of satisfaction. If there is no measure or limit to their seeking, then they cannot help but struggle with each other. If they struggle with each other then there will be chaos, and if there is chaos then they will be impoverished. The former kings hated such chaos, and so they established rituals andyiin order to divide things among people, to nurture their desires, and to...

  25. CHAPTER 20 Discourse on Music
    (pp. 218-223)

    Music is joy, an unavoidable human disposition. So, people cannot be without music; if they feel joy, they must express it in sound and give it shape in movement. The way of human beings is such that changes in the motions of their nature are completely contained in these sounds and movements. So, people cannot be without joy, and their joy cannot be without shape, but if it takes shape and does not accord with the Way, then there will inevitably be chaos. The former kings hated such chaos, and therefore they established the sounds of theYaand the...

  26. CHAPTER 21 Undoing Fixation
    (pp. 224-235)

    In most cases, the problem for people is that they become fixated on one twist and are deluded about the greater order of things.¹ If they are brought under control, then they will return to the right standards. If they are of two minds, then they will be hesitant and confused.aThere are not two Ways for the world, and the sage is not of two minds. Nowadays the feudal lords have different governments, and the hundred schools have different teachings, so that necessarily some are right and some are wrong, and some lead to order and some lead to...

  27. CHAPTER 22 Correct Naming
    (pp. 236-247)

    In setting names for things, the later kings followed the Shang in names for punishments, followed the Zhou in names for official titles, and followed their rituals in names for cultural forms. In applying various names to the myriad things, they followed the set customs and generally agreed usage of the various Xia states.bVillages in distant places with different customs followed along with these names and so were able to communicate.

    As for the ways the various names apply to people, that by which they are as they are at birth is called “human nature.”cThe close connection of...

  28. CHAPTER 23 Human Nature Is Bad
    (pp. 248-257)

    People’s nature is bad. Their goodness is a matter of deliberate effort. Now people’s nature is such that they are born with a fondness for profit in them. If they follow along with this, then struggle and contention will arise, and yielding and deference will perish therein. They are born with feelings of hate and dislike in them. If they follow along with these, then cruelty and villainy will arise, and loyalty and trustworthiness will perish therein. They are born with desires of the eyes and ears, a fondness for beautiful sights and sounds. If they follow along with these,...

  29. CHAPTER 24 The Gentleman
    (pp. 258-261)

    The Son of Heaven has no partner.¹ That is to say, he has no equal. Within the four seas he practices no guest rituals. That is to say, there is no other home for him to visit.² His feet can walk, but he awaits his prime minister before going forward. His mouth can talk, but he awaits his officials before issuing summons. He sees things without looking upon them, and hears things keenly without listening to them. He is trusted without speaking, knows things without having to ponder them, and accomplishes things without moving. That is to say, everything is...

  30. CHAPTER 25 Working Songs
    (pp. 262-276)
  31. CHAPTER 26 Fu
    (pp. 277-287)
  32. CHAPTER 27 The Grand Digest
    (pp. 288-317)

    If the lord of men exalts ritual and honors the worthy, he will become a true king. If he relies heavily on law and has concern for the people, he will become a hegemon. If he cares only for profit and frequently engages in deception, he will be endangered.²

    If one wishes to be close to all four sides at once, no place is better than the absolute center. And so according to ritual, the true king is sure to dwell at the center of the world.

    According to ritual, the Son of Heaven sets up screens outside his gates,...

  33. CHAPTER 28 The Right-Hand Vessel
    (pp. 318-324)

    Confucius was observing things in the temple of Duke Huan of Lu. There was a tilting vessel there, and Confucius asked the keeper of the temple, “What vessel is this?”

    The keeper of the temple said, “This is the right-hand vessel.”¹

    Confucius said, “I have heard of the right-hand vessel. When empty it tilts, when halfway full it stands correctly, and when full it overturns.”² Confucius looked to a disciple and said, “Pour water in it.” The disciple drew off some water and poured it in. When halfway full the vessel stood correctly, when poured full it overturned, and when...

  34. CHAPTER 29 The Way to Be a Son
    (pp. 325-329)

    To be filial upon entering and to be a good younger brother upon going out is lesser conduct. To be compliant to one’s superiors and devoted to one’s inferiors is middle conduct. To follow the Way and not one’s lord, to followyiand not one’s father is the greatest conduct. If one’s intentions are at ease in ritual, and one’s words are put forth in accordance with the proper classes of things, then the Way of theruis complete. Even Shun could not improve on this by so much as a hair’s breadth.

    There are three cases in...

  35. CHAPTER 30 The Proper Model and Proper Conduct
    (pp. 330-332)

    Gongshu¹ could not improve on the plumb line, and none of the sages can improve on ritual. The common people take ritual as their model but do not understand it. The sage takes ritual as his model and does understand it.

    Zengzi said, “Do not distance those in your innermost circle and yet draw close to outsiders. Do not resent others while you yourself are not good. Do not cry out to Heaven when punishment has already arrived. To distance those in your innermost circle and draw close to outsiders—is this not far off the mark? To resent others...

  36. CHAPTER 31 Duke Ai
    (pp. 333-338)

    Duke Ai of Lu asked Confucius, “I desire to judge among the wellbred men of my state, so that together with them I may order the state. May I ask how to go about choosing them?”

    Confucius answered, “To live in today’s world but focus one’s intentions on the way of the ancients, to dwell in today’s customs but dress in the clothes of the ancients—those who abide by these and still do wrong are few indeed, are they not?”¹

    Duke Ai said, “If so, then is anyone who dons court robes and court shoes and tucks an official...

  37. CHAPTER 32 Yao Asked
    (pp. 339-343)

    Yao asked Shun, “I desire to make everyone under Heaven come to my side. How may I do so?”

    Shun replied, “Hold to single-mindedness without fail. Attend to what is minute without laziness. Have loyalty and faithfulness without tiring. Everyone under Heaven will then come on their own. If you hold to single-mindedness like Heaven and Earth, if you attend to what is minute like sun and moon,¹ if loyalty and integrity fill you up on the inside, pour forth on the outside, and manifest themselves to all within the four seas, then all under Heaven will be as though...

  38. APPENDIX 1: Important Terms and Names
    (pp. 344-346)
  39. APPENDIX 2: Cross-Reference List
    (pp. 347-358)
  40. Textual Notes
    (pp. 359-384)
  41. Bibliography
    (pp. 385-386)
  42. Index
    (pp. 387-398)