Mencius | Meng Zi  



Mencius had an audience with King Hui of Liang.
The king said, "Sir, you did not consider a thousand li too far to come You must have some ideas about how to benefit my state."

Mencius replied,
"Why must Your Majesty use the word 'benefit''?
All I am concerned with are the benevolent and the right.
If Your Majesty says, 'How can I benefit my state?'
your officials will say, 'How can I benefit my family,'
and officers and common people will say, 'How can I benefit myself.'
Once superiors and inferiors are cornpeting for benefit, the state will be in danger.

When the head of a state of ten thousand chariots is murdered, the assassin is invariably a noble with a fief of a thousand chariots,
When the head of a fief of a thousand chariots is murdered, the assassin is invariably head of a subfief of a hundred chariots.
Those with a thousand out of ten thousand, or a hundred out of a thousand, had quite a bit. But when benefit is put before what is right, they are not satisfied without wanting it all.

By contrast there has never been a benevolent person who neglected his parents or a righteous person who put his lord last.

Your Majesty perhaps will now also say, 'All I am concerned with are the benevolent and the right. Why mention 'benefit?' ''

Mencius with King Hui of Liang

On Human Nature

Mencius said, ''Everyone has a heart that is sensitive to the sufferings of others. The great kings of the past had this sort of sensitive heart and thus adopted compassionate policies. Bringing order to the realm is as easy as moving an object in your palm when you have a sensitive heart and put into practice compassionate policies. Let me give an example of what I mean when I say everyone has a heart that is sensitive to the sufferings of others. Anyone today who suddenly saw a baby about to fall into a well would feel alarmed and concerned. It would not be because he wanted to improve his relations with the child's parents, nor because he wanted a good reputation among his friends and neighbors, nor because he disliked hearing the child cry. From this it follows that anyone who lacks feelings of commiseration, shame, and courtesy or a sense of right and wrong is not a human being. From the feeling of commiseration benevolence grows; from the feeling of shame righteousness grows; from the feeling of courtesy ritual grows; from a sense of right and wrong wisdom grows. People have these four germs, just as they have four limbs For someone with these four potentials to claim incompetence is to cripple himself; to say his ruler is incapable of them is to cripple his ruler. Those who know how to develop the four potentials within themselves will take off like a fire or burst forth like a spring. Those who can fully develop them can protect the entire land while those unable to develop them cannot even take care of their parents.

Gaozi said, ' 'Human nature is like whirling water. When an outlet is opened to the east, it flows east; when an outlet is opened to the west, it flows west. Human nature is no more inclined to good or bad nor water is inclined to east or west'. Mencius responded, Water, it is true, is not inclined to either east or west, but does it have no preference for high or low? Goodness is to human nature like flowing downward is to water. There are no people who are not good and no water that does not flow downward. Still, water if splashed can go higher than your head; if forced, it can be brought up a hill. This isn't the nature of water; it is the specific circumstances. Although people can be made to go bad, their natures are not changed

From Patricia Ebrey, Chinese Civilization : A Sourcebook, 2d ed. (New York: Free Press, 1993), pp. 22-24

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