WHAT THE GREAT LEARNING teaches, is to illustrate
illustrious virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the
highest excellence. The point where to rest being known, the
object of pursuit is then determined; and, that being determined,
a calm unperturbedness maybe attained to. To that calmness there
will succeed a tranquil repose. In that repose there may be
careful deliberation, and that deliberation will be followed by
the attainment of the desired end.
Things have their root and their branches. Affairs have their
end and their beginning. To know what is first and what is last
will lead near to what is taught in the Great Learning.
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue
throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states.
Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their
families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first
cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons,
they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their
hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.
Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to
the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in
the investigation of things.
Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their
knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their
thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their
hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their
persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their
families being regulated, their states were rightly governed.
Their states being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made
tranquil and happy.
From the Son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all
must consider the cultivation of the person the root of
It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should
spring from it will be well ordered. It never has been the case
that what was of great importance has been slightly cared for,
and, at the same time, that what was of slight importance has
been greatly cared for.
COMMENTARY OF THE PHILOSOPHER TSANG
In the Announcement to K'ang, it is said, "He was able to
make his virtue illustrious." In the Tai Chia, it is said,
"He contemplated and studied the illustrious decrees of
In the Canon of the emperor (Yao), it is said, "He was
able to make illustrious his lofty virtue."
These passages all show how those sovereigns made themselves
On the bathing tub of T'ang, the following words were engraved:
"If you can one day renovate yourself, do so from day to day.
Yea, let there be daily renovation."
In the Announcement to K'ang, it is said, "To stir up the
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Although Chau was an
ancient state the ordinance which lighted on it was new."
Therefore, the superior man in everything uses his utmost
endeavors. In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "The royal
domain of a thousand li is where the people rest."
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "The twittering yellow
bird rests on a corner of the mound." The Master said,
"When it rests, it knows where to rest. Is it possible that
a man should not be equal to this bird?"
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Profound was King Wan.
With how bright and unceasing a feeling of reverence did he
regard his resting places!" As a sovereign, he rested in
benevolence. As a minister, he rested in reverence. As a son, he
rested in filial piety. As a father, he rested in kindness. In
communication with his subjects, he rested in good faith.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Look at that winding
course of the Ch'i, with the green bamboos so luxuriant! Here is
our elegant and accomplished prince! As we cut and then file; as
we chisel and then grind: so has he cultivated himself. How grave
is he and dignified! How majestic and distinguished! Our elegant
and accomplished prince never can be forgotten." That
expression—"As we cut and then file," the work of
learning. "As we chisel and then grind," indicates that
of self-culture. "How grave is he and dignified!"
indicates the feeling of cautious reverence. "How commanding
and distinguished! indicates an awe-inspiring deportment. "Our
elegant and accomplished prince never can be forgotten,"
indicates how, when virtue is complete and excellence extreme,
the people cannot forget them.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Ah! the former kings
are not forgotten." Future princes deem worthy what they
deemed worthy, and love what they loved. The common people
delight in what delighted them, and are benefited by their
beneficial arrangements. It is on this account that the former
kings, after they have quitted the world, are not forgotten.
The Master said, "In hearing litigations, I am like any
other body. What is necessary is to cause the people to have no
litigations." So, those who are devoid of principle find it
impossible to carry out their speeches, and a great awe would be
struck into men's minds;—this is called knowing the root.
This is called knowing the root. This is called the perfecting
What is meant by "making the thoughts sincere." is
the allowing no self-deception, as when we hate a bad smell, and
as when we love what is beautiful. This is called self-enjoyment.
Therefore, the superior man must be watchful over himself when he
There is no evil to which the mean man, dwelling retired, will
not proceed, but when he sees a superior man, he instantly tries
to disguise himself, concealing his evil, and displaying what is
good. The other beholds him, as if he saw his heart and reins;—of
what use is his disguise? This is an instance of the saying—"What
truly is within will be manifested without." Therefore, the
superior man must be watchful over himself when he is alone.
The disciple Tsang said, "What ten eyes behold, what ten
hands point to, is to be regarded with reverence!" Riches
adorn a house, and virtue adorns the person. The mind is
expanded, and the body is at ease. Therefore, the superior man
must make his thoughts sincere. What is meant by, "The
cultivation of the person depends on rectifying the mind may be
thus illustrated:—If a man be under the influence of passion he
will be incorrect in his conduct. He will be the same, if he is
under the influence of terror, or under the influence of fond
regard, or under that of sorrow and distress.
When the mind is not present, we look and do not see; we hear
and do not understand; we eat and do not know the taste of what
This is what is meant by saying that the cultivation of the
person depends on the rectifying of the mind.
What is meant by "The regulation of one's family depends
on the cultivation of his person is this:—men are partial where
they feel affection and love; partial where they despise and
dislike; partial where they stand in awe and reverence; partial
where they feel sorrow and compassion; partial where they are
arrogant and rude. Thus it is that there are few men in the world
who love and at the same time know the bad qualities of the
object of their love, or who hate and yet know the excellences of
the object of their hatred.
Hence it is said, in the common adage,"A man does not
know the wickedness of his son; he does not know the richness of
his growing corn." This is what is meant by saying that if
the person be not cultivated, a man cannot regulate his family.
What is meant by "In order rightly to govern the state,
it is necessary first to regulate the family," is this:—It
is not possible for one to teach others, while he cannot teach
his own family. Therefore, the ruler, without going beyond his
family, completes the lessons for the state. There is filial
piety:—therewith the. sovereign should be served. There is
fraternal submission:—therewith elders and superiors should be
served. There is kindness:—therewith the multitude should be
In the Announcement to K'ang, it is said, "Act as if you
were watching over an infant." If a mother is really anxious
about it, though she may not hit exactly the wants of her infant,
she will not be far from doing so. There never has been a girl
who learned to bring up a child, that she might afterwards marry.
From the loving example of one family a whole state becomes
loving, and from its courtesies the whole state becomes courteous
while, from the ambition and perverseness of the One man, the
whole state may be led to rebellious disorder;—such is the
nature of the influence. This verifies the saying, "Affairs
may be ruined by a single sentence; a kingdom may be settled by
its One man."
Yao and Shun led on the kingdom with benevolence and the
people followed them. Chieh and Chau led on the kingdom with
violence, and people followed them. The orders which these issued
were contrary to the practices which they loved, and so the
people did not follow them. On this account, the ruler must
himself be possessed of the good qualities, and then he may
require them in the people. He must not have the bad qualities in
himself, and then he may require that they shall not be in the
people. Never has there been a man, who, not having reference to
his own character and wishes in dealing with others, was able
effectually to instruct them.
Thus we see how the government of the state depends on the
regulation of the family.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "That peach tree, so
delicate and elegant! How luxuriant is its foliage! This girl is
going to her husband's house. She will rightly order her
household." Let the household be rightly ordered, and then
the people of the state may be taught.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "They can discharge
their duties to their elder brothers. They can discharge their
duties to their younger brothers." Let the ruler discharge
his duties to his elder and younger brothers, and then he may
teach the people of the state.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "In his deportment
there is nothing wrong; he rectifies all the people of the state."
Yes; when the ruler, as a father, a son, and a brother, is a
model, then the people imitate him.
This is what is meant by saying, "The government of his
kingdom depends on his regulation of the family."
What is meant by "The making the whole kingdom peaceful
and happy depends on the government of his state," this:—When
the sovereign behaves to his aged, as the aged should be behaved
to, the people become final; when the sovereign behaves to his
elders, as the elders should be behaved to, the people learn
brotherly submission; when the sovereign treats compassionately
the young and helpless, the people do the same. Thus the ruler
has a principle with which, as with a measuring square, he may
regulate his conduct.
What a man dislikes in his superiors, let him not display in
the treatment of his inferiors; what he dislikes in inferiors,
let him not display in the service of his superiors; what he
hates in those who are before him, let him not therewith precede
those who are behind him; what he hates in those who are behind
him, let him not bestow on the left; what he hates to receive on
the left, let him not bestow on the right:—this is what is
called "The principle with which, as with a measuring
square, to regulate one's conduct."
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "How much to be
rejoiced in are these princes, the parents of the people!"
When a prince loves what the people love, and hates what the
people hate, then is he what is called the parent of the people.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Lofty is that
southern hill, with its rugged masses of rocks! Greatly
distinguished are you, O grand-teacher Yin, the people all look
up to you. "Rulers of states may not neglect to be careful.
If they deviate to a mean selfishness, they will be a disgrace in
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Before the sovereigns
of the Yin dynasty had lost the hearts of the people, they could
appear before God. Take warning from the house of Yin. The great
decree is not easily preserved." This shows that, by gaining
the people, the kingdom is gained, and, by losing the people, the
kingdom is lost.
On this account, the ruler will first take pains about his own
virtue. Possessing virtue will give him the people. Possessing
the people will give the territory. Possessing the territory will
give him its wealth. Possessing the wealth, he will have
resources for expenditure.
Virtue is the root; wealth is the result.
If he make the root his secondary object, and the result his
primary, he will only wrangle with his people, and teach them
Hence, the accumulation of wealth is the way to scatter the
people; and the letting it be scattered among them is the way to
collect the people.
And hence, the ruler's words going forth contrary to right,
will come back to him in the same way, and wealth, gotten by
improper ways, will take its departure by the same.
In the Announcement to K'ang, it is said, "The decree
indeed may not always rest on us"; that is, goodness obtains
the decree, and the want of goodness loses it.
In the Book of Ch'u, it is said, "The kingdom of Ch'u
does not consider that to be valuable. It values, instead, its
Duke Wan's uncle, Fan, said, "Our fugitive does not
account that to be precious. What he considers precious is the
affection due to his parent."
In the Declaration of the Duke of Ch'in, it is said, "Let
me have but one minister, plain and sincere, not pretending to
other abilities, but with a simple, upright, mind; and possessed
of generosity, regarding the talents of others as though he
himself possessed them, and, where he finds accomplished and
perspicacious men, loving them in his heart more than his mouth
expresses, and really showing himself able to bear them and
employ them:—such a minister will be able to preserve my sons
and grandsons and black-haired people, and benefits likewise to
the kingdom may well be looked for from him. But if it be his
character, when he finds men of ability, to be jealous and hate
them; and, when he finds accomplished and perspicacious men, to
oppose them and not allow their advancement, showing himself
really not able to bear them: such a minister will not be able to
protect my sons and grandsons and people; and may he not also be
pronounced dangerous to the state?"
It is only the truly virtuous man who can send away such a man
and banish him, driving him out among the barbarous tribes
around, determined not to dwell along with him in the Auddle
Kingdom. This is in accordance with the saying, "It is only
the truly virtuous man who can love or who can hate others."
To see men of worth and not be able to raise them to office;
to raise them to office, but not to do so quickly:—this is
disrespectful. To see bad men and not be able to remove them; to
remove them, but not to do so to a distance:—this is weakness.
To love those whom men hate, and to hate those whom men love;—this
is to outrage the natural feeling of men. Calamities cannot fail
to come down on him who does so.
Thus we see that the sovereign has a great course to pursue.
He must show entire self-devotion and sincerity to attain it, and
by pride and extravagance he will fail of it.
There is a great course also for the production of wealth. Let
the producers be many and the consumers few. Let there be
activity in the production, and economy in the expenditure. Then
the wealth will always be sufficient. The virtuous ruler, by
means of his wealth, makes himself more distinguished. The
vicious ruler accumulates wealth, at the expense of his life.
Never has there been a case of the sovereign loving
benevolence, and the people not loving righteousness. Never has
there been a case where the people have loved righteousness, and
the affairs of the sovereign have not been carried to completion.
And never has there been a case where the wealth in such a state,
collected in the treasuries and arsenals, did not continue in the
The officer Mang Hsien said, "He who keeps horses and a
carriage does not look after fowls and pigs. The family which
keeps its stores of ice does not rear cattle or sheep. So, the
house which possesses a hundred chariots should not keep a
minister to look out for imposts that he may lay them on the
people. Than to have such a minister, it were better for that
house to have one who should rob it of its revenues." This
is in accordance with the saying:—"In a state, pecuniary
gain is not to be considered to be prosperity, but its prosperity
will be found in righteousness."
When he who presides over a state or a family makes his
revenues his chief business, he must be under the influence of
some small, mean man. He may consider this man to be good; but
when such a person is employed in the administration of a state
or family, calamities from Heaven, and injuries from men, will
befall it together, and, though a good man may take his place, he
will not be able to remedy the evil. This illustrates again the
saying, "In a state, gain is not to be considered
prosperity, but its prosperity will be found in righteousness."