Mencius. Book III: T'ang Wan Kung. Part II. Chapter III.

Legge's summary: Office is to be eagerly desired, and yet it may not be sought but by its proper path.

1. Châu Hsiâo asked Mencius, saying, 'Did superior men of old time take office?' Mencius replied, 'They did. The Record says, "If Confucius was three months without being employed by some ruler, he looked anxious and unhappy. When he passed from the boundary of a State, he was sure to carry with him his proper gift of introduction." Kung-ming Î said, "Among the ancients, if an officer was three months unemployed by a ruler, he was condoled with."'

2. Hsiâo said, 'Did not this condoling, on being three months unemployed by a ruler, show a too great urgency?'

3. Mencius answered, 'The loss of his place to an officer is like the loss of his State to a prince. It is said in the Book of Rites, "A prince ploughs himself, and is assisted by the people, to supply the millet for sacrifice. His wife keeps silkworms, and unwinds their cocoons, to make the garments for sacrifice." If the victims be not perfect, the millet not pure, and the dress not complete, he does not presume to sacrifice. "And the scholar who, out of office, has no holy field, in the same way, does not sacrifice. The victims for slaughter, the vessels, and the garments, not being all complete, he does not presume to sacrifice, and then neither may he dare to feel happy." Is there not here sufficient ground also for condolence?'

4. Hsiâo again asked, 'What was the meaning of Confucius's always carrying his proper gift of introduction with him, when he passed over the boundaries of the State where he had been?'

5. 'An officer's being in office,' was the reply, 'is like the ploughing of a husbandman. Does a husbandman part with his plough, because he goes from one State to another?'

6. Hsiâo pursued, 'The kingdom of Tsin is one, as well as others, of official employments, but I have not heard of anyone being thus earnest about being in office. If there should be this urge why does a superior man make any difficulty about taking it?' Mencius answered, 'When a son is born, what is desired for him is that he may have a wife; when a daughter is born, what is desired for her is that she may have a husband. This feeling of the parents is possessed by all men. If the young people, without waiting for the orders of their parents, and the arrangements of the go-betweens, shall bore holes to steal a sight of each other, or get over the wall to be with each other, then their parents and all other people will despise them. The ancients did indeed always desire to be in office, but they also hated being so by any improper way. To seek office by an improper way is of a class with young people's boring holes.'


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Translated by James Legge, published in 1861 and revised for publication in 1895. Prepared as etext by Stephen R. McIntyre. Noded by schist. Please msg schist if you have suggestions for useful hard-links.

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