Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China

By A. C. Graham | Go to book overview

former kings". He also expands the first test ("the practice of the sage kings') to 'the intent of Heaven and the ghosts and the practice of the sage kings". To elevate the will of Heaven and the spirits from the tested to one of the tests seems to imply independent access to it, possibly through the shamans so influential in the culture of Ch'u.33

We can well understand why the Mohist sects disputed so fiercely. It would seem to the Purist that out of eagerness for political power the true teaching of Mo-tzu had been shamefully diluted by the Compromiser and utterly betrayed by the Reactionary.


3. RETREAT TO PRIVATE LIFE: THE YANGISTS

The Analects has several stories of Confucius meeting hermits who refuse to contribute to good government by taking office. These may be later dramatisations of an issue which had not yet arisen in Confucius' time, but a shirking of what for Confucians, Mohists, and later for Legalists is the responsibility of all who are of the knightly class is increasingly common from at latest the 4th century B.C. Two tendencies to withdrawal from politics to private life are discernible throughout the age of the philosophers. On the one hand we have the moralistic hermit who retires to plough his own fields in protest against the corruption of the times, and clings to his principles even if the price is starvation or suicide. On the other we have the man who simply prefers the comforts of private life to the burdens and perils of the increasingly murderous struggle for power and possessions. A syncretistic writer in Chuang-tzu classifying five ways of life damaging to good government sharply distinguishes the two types, as his second and fourth categories.

"To have finicky ideas and superior conduct, to be estranged from the age and different from the vulgar, to discourse loftily and criticise vindictively, interested only in being high-minded--such are the tastes of the hermits of mountain and valley, the condemners of the age, who wither away or drown themselves. . . .

"To head for the woods and moors, settle in an untroubled wilderness, angle for fish and live untroubled, interested only in doing nothing--such are the tastes of the recluses of the riverside and seaside, the shunners of the age, the untroubled idlers."1

The image of an untroubled idler fishing in the river rather suggests Chuang-tzu himself. But before the rise of Taoism, and to some extent right down to 200 B.C., the name associated with the second tendency is

-53-

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