Teacher Tang Yuling will accompany you to read The Analects
40.Book 2 Wei Zheng (Of Governance), Chapter 23
Zi Zhang asked whether the affairs of ten ages after could be known. Confucius said, “The Yin dynasty followed the regulations of the Xia; wherein it took from or added to them may be known. The Zhou dynasty has followed the regulations of Yin; wherein it took from or added to them may be known. Some other may follow the Zhou, but though it should be at the distance of a hundred ages, its affairs may be known.”
Highlights of this lecture include:
1. How do we know what would happen a hundred dynasties later?
According to what were stated in ancient archives related to the dynasties of Xia, Shang and Zhou, the ten “epochal periods世” which Zi Zhang asked means ten “dynasties” . Confucius replied that it is “knowable” not only after next ten dynasties, but also a hundred dynasties hence. The changeable and unchangeable aspects of rites was the focus of their discussion.
2. The practice of rites updates with times changed
As is known, the practice of rites changed in many ways during the dynastic transfers of Xia-Shang-Zhou. The practice of rites adjusted to new needs, new practices were added due to new context, and those lost vitality were deleted. The previous dynasty is referred to for the next to change. But the basic rationale of the rites remains intact. To feel the pulse and vigor of times in updating the practice of rites is a must to befit modern needs.
3. What is knowable is the unchanged spirit of the nation
Confucius said, “What continues from the dynasty of Zhou, even if 100 dynasties hence, is knowable.” But what is knowable? The practice of rites can be known by inference. Dynasty might alternate and be replaced and a lot of things change. But no matter how it changed, the spirit of the nation stay last. The “five cardinal human relationships” or “5-lun倫” are principles where Chinese spirit to rest on. The “5-lun” are original to Chinese cultural tradition which most Chinese embraced. They are the source for Chinese literati life-long pursuit of the ideal of “inner sagehood and outer kingliness.” As the fundamentals remain the same, although the dynasty will rise and fall, the nation will never die.