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Yung and the Tradition of the Shih: The Confucian Restructuring of Heroic Courage

  • Whalen Lai (a1)


Courage is a basic virtue to any heroic society. It is the defining virtue of the aristocratic warrior in the Iliad. It came with a set of other related virtues, all functioning in a social setting unique to that heroic era. However, as society evolved beyond the heroics of war to the civility of settled city–states, courage would be reviewed and redefined. In fact the whole virtue complex would undergo fundamental changes. Still later, when from out of the cities philosophers rose, they would, in their commitment to a higher justice or righteousness than what the city had to offer to date, submit courage to a third critique and transformation. We see this in Greece; we may also see it in China.



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page 181 note 1 Published by University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1981. A provocative book in itself, I would not compound its controversy by overspecific references to his reading of the Greek and the modern temper. The characterization drawn from his work is general enough to be acceptable to most scholars. Also used will be his earlier book, A Short History of Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1966).

page 181 note 2 Later Sparta would keep this prerequisite up to the extent that it would wean out those infants unfitting for such a career.

page 182 note 1 After Virtue, pp. 114–122. See1

Nietzsche, , Toward a Ceneology of Moral for his discovery of this noble (vs. the slave) morality. What was wrong as Maclntyre points out is that Nietzsche assumed it to be a function of the individual's irrational will, the will to power, when ‘individualism’ was not the assumption of pre–Enlightenment thought;After Virtue, pp. 121–2.

page 182 note 2 After Virtue, p. 116. Friendship status is extended to the spouse; the noble Penelope could hold her own and was philosto Odysseus.

page 182 note 3 Ibid.. China's Romance of the Three Kingdoms knows these too. Ts'ao Ts'ao, a sharp-witted, evil genius, was a hero (hung) no less.

page 182 note 4 After Virtue, pp. 123–5.

page 183 note 1 Ibid. the note on the Furies is my addition.

page 183 note 2 My rewording, with an eye for a Chinese parallel to come; see After Virtue, pp. 130–3.

page 183 note 3 See Shang–shu (Book of History), the ‘Book of Chou’ account; or Shih–chi (Historical Records), the ‘Original Chronicle of Chou’.

page 184 note 1 Ts'ao Ts'ao's guile is well known; Ts'ao Pei's quick wit is demonstrated in a famous case of sibling conflict. He composed a poem in record time under threat of death from Ts'ao Ts'ao.

page 184 note 2 Not slaughtering the Shang remnant but rather enfiefing them into the new ritual order, the Chou showed already this enlightened policy.

page 185 note 1 Thus the well–known formula: ‘Punishment does not reach the shih [knights; see discussion later]; rites does not touch the plebeians.’

page 185 note 2 Chun later came to be associated solely with the ruler; it is in that form that we find it listed as the first of the five human relationship. See later discussion on how loyalty (chung) in the imperial period eventually displaced the idea of mutual trust (hsin) between feudal peers.

page 186 note 1 See , , ‘Chung–kuo ka–tai chih–shih chiai–chen to hsing–ch'i yu fa–chan’ (The Rise and Development of the Intellectual Class in Ancient China), in Studies and Essays in Commemoration of the Golden jubilee of Academia Social Science and Humanities (Taipei: Academia Sinica, 19), pp. 231–89. On his amending Ku, , pp. 232–42.

page 186 note 2 Ifread literally, this would be incorrect. The knights were no robin hood knight errands. In the two–class society, the elitist ethos would not have the knights aiding the weak. Loyalty was to one's own class, not to the subjects being ruled over.

page 187 note 1 Lo, , Chung–kuo wen–hua yii chung–kuo to ping (Hong Kong: Lung–men, 1940), pp. 89. I am grateful to K. C. Liu (U. C. Davis) for referring me to both Yu Ying–shih's article and to this book by Lo.

page 187 note 2 Total war and massacre of millions, as Lo notes (pp. 10–16), came only in the Warring Period. Then the rites and game spirit of war disappeared. Before that time, war among the feudal princes was a contest, often for the purpose of redressing any temporary imbalance of power. No one thought then of becoming absolute ruler of all the domains at all cost.

page 188 note 1 Chung–yung, 20: 8.

page 188 note 2 The last line may read, ‘This is only what you (so humbly would) say.’ Analects, 14: 30.

page 189 note 1 Incidentally, the above alignment is not without problems, because logically speaking, if we follow Maclntyre's analysis of virtues, li should not be counted as a virtue, since virtue is always a specific means leading to a specific end. And indeed, in the Analects, li is not given as a virtue since it is the form to All virtues. When the later Confucians regard rites to be a virtue, they make the means into an end and this contributed to creating the kind of conservative ritual formalism or pure functionalism to emerge later.

page 189 note 2 Analects, 10: 10 and 6: 21.

page 190 note 1 Analects, 3: 24.

page 190 note 2 I am borrowing an Aristotlean framework here. All virtues, says Aristotle, astride the two extremes of vices. Courage is a balance between rashness (too much courage) and cowardice (too little).

page 190 note 3 Analects, 14: 5.

page 191 note 1 Analects, 5: 6.

page 191 note 2 s Tzu–lu was the disciple who charged Confucius with ‘selling out’ when the master, a realist seeking to improve an imperfect world, once mingled with an evil lord in hope of effecting his reform programme. Poor Confucius had to call heaven to witness his guiltlessness.

page 191 note 3 Analects, 2:24.

page 191 note 4 See Hsien–yi, Yang and Yang, Gladys trans. Selections from the Record of the Historian (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1979), pp. 429–36.

page 191 note 5 Analects, 27:8.

page 192 note 1 MacIntyre, , A Short History, p. 39.

page 192 note 2 MacIntyre, , After Virtue, p. 132.

page 192 note 3 Cited by Mencius in Mencius, 2A: 2. See full translation below.

page 192 note 4 Lai, ‘Kao–tzu and Mencius on Mind’, Philosophy East and West (1984). What does not accord with li [rites], do not speak… or see…or listen. (Analects 12:1)

What does not accord with li [rites], do not speak… or see… or listen. (Analects 12: 1)

page 194 note 1 For the basic data from which this is reconstructed, see Mencius, 6A:1–6, as analysed in my article cited.

page 194 note 2 See my article previously cited. This is based on an alternative reading of Kao–tzu's formula: ‘Do not demand of the mind what does not accord with common reasoning.’

page 195 note 1 The ‘innocence’ of the child is assumed in the parable. The leap forward is non–reflective. Had it been Robber Ch'ih under a crumbling cliff, we would have ‘second thoughts’ about saving him. Reflection came in later, as in the case of whether one should save one's sister–in–law.

page 195 note 2 Ying–shih, Yu citing Chien–kang, Ku, Yu, , op. cit. p. 243.

page 196 note 1 Some texts give ‘to block’ for ‘one’.

page 196 note 2 My translation; see Lau, D. C. trans., Mencius (Middlesex: Penguin, 1970), p. 77. Any translation of this passage cannot avoid interpretative reasoning, for the technical terms are very opaque.

page 196 note 3 Lau, ibid. p. 78. Kao-tzu's understanding often had some of the Mohist concern for their ‘objective social meaning’.

page 196 note 4 The word chihfor ‘will’ depicts precisely the ‘mind reaching out’, or, here, ‘running ahead’ of the passions that duly follow.

page 196 note 5 MacIntyre, , A Short History, p. 65.

page 197 note 1 Ch'i is also breath, vital force, élan vitale, ether.

page 198 note 1 Lau, ibid., pp. 76–7. Tseng Tzu here rewritten as Tseng–tzu.

page 199 note 1 An alternative reading for ω0 (harsh tone) would be ‘when rumours of unrighteousness reach him’. This reading makes him out to be a defender of the just.

page 199 note 2 But then Tzu–lu is also associated with introspection, which does not fit this type. Introspection is a mark of the third type; see infra.

page 200 note 1 Actually, these two attributes may contradict one another. The Timely Sage also knew when to withdraw. This notion of knowing when to withdraw (also included in sophronsune) has meant however retreatism in many a ‘courageous’ (?) literati to come.

page 200 note 2 Analects, 1:4.

page 203 note 1 The Ch'in persecuted the ju but the Han too weeded out the hsia. Despite Ssu–ma Ch'ien's praise, ‘Although these knights do not always do what is right, they are men of their words, they keep all those promises and they honour all their pledges. They hasten to help all those who are in distress regardless of personal danger.’ (Selections from Records of the Historian, pp. 429–36), the hsia suffered.

page 203 note 2 Thus Yüeh Fei in Sung, the first name to call to mind when one thinks of a men equally of the pen as well as of the sword, came down not primarily for yung though courageous he was. He was prized for his loyalty – so inscribed on his back by his mother, as the story goes. It was a loyalty to a weak throne that put him to death and ended the chance of a Chinese victory against the foreign invaders.

page 203 note 3 See Yu, op. cit.

page 203 note 4 See Lo, , op. cit. pp. 2461.


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