H. G. Creel. Chinese Thought, From Confucius to Mao Tsê-Tung. University of Chicago Press. 1971.
pp. 8-9, Chapter I:
To escape from the world becomes more and more difficult. Most of the Chinese have never tried to. Instead, they have looked for ways in which it is possible to dwell with other people without being irritated by them, and to live in the world without being oppressed by it. On the whole, they have been quite successful in this. It would be a mistake, of course, to expect that these Chinese solutions could be applied to our own situation without any modification; yet there is no question at all that we can learn a great deal from them. At the very least, they set our own problems in a new light and let us look at them more objectively. This is perhaps the greatest use that a knowledge of China can have for us. We are too close to ourselves; we cannot get outside our own skins and our own civilization. Do we do the things we do because they are the only sensible, the only “human” things to do? Or do we do them because centuries of social habit and the pressure of the circumstances under which we live compel us to act as we do? How can we tell?
One way to get some light on this question is to see how other peoples, who have different social habits and live under different circumstances, have solved the same problems. That is one reason why the reports of anthropologists concerning so-called “primitive” societies make such fascinating reading. Yet for this purpose relatively simple societies have one great drawback. They are too different from our own; we feel, rightly or not, that our culture is on an entirely different level and cannot really be compared with them. Chinese civilization, on the other hand, while it is very different from our own, is in many ways quite comparable with it. Certainly ours is superior to it in some ways, but there is no doubt that in some other respects the advantage has rested with the Chinese for centuries, and possibly still does. Most important of all, China’s civilization has grown up in dependently of our own. Among the several greatest cultures that humanity has produced, there is no other that has had, in its formative period, so few relationships of mutual influence with our own Western culture.* Thus we can view China as a great social laboratory, in which for three thousand years of recorded history men and women have been doing things with ideas and institutions that are often quite different from the things we do. This book proposes to take the reader on a brief visit to this laboratory, to see something of what has been going on and something of what it means. We shall consider in particular detail the thought of those periods in which Chinese civilization was most purely and simply Chinese. And, finally, we shall look at the ways in which Chinese thought has reacted to influences from India, from western Europe and America, and from Russia.
pp. 95-, Chapter VI:
There is a much more full account, supposedly quoting the words of Yang Chu himself, that appears as a chapter of the Taoist work called Lieh Tzŭ. Unfortunately, the Lieh Tzŭ is a book that is now generally recognized to be a forgery, probably perpetrated many centuries later than the time of Yang Chu, who is believed to have lived in the fourth century B.C. There are a few scholars, however, who believe that, despite the fact that the book as a whole is a forgery, the portion on Yang Chu may include genuine materials which have survived from an earlier day; they point out that it contains the kind of things we should expect Yang to have said. This is a difficult point. These passages in the Lieh Tzŭ may be nothing more than early attempts to reconstruct the kind of statements that Yang Chu might have written, and the kind of sentiments from which the beginnings of Taoist thought originated. Whatever their origins, they are interesting. The Lieh Tzŭ tells us:
Yang Chu said: “No man lives more than a hundred years, and not one in a thousand that long. And even that one spends half his life as a helpless child or a dim-witted oldster. And of the time that remains, half is spent in sleep, or wasted during the day. And in what is left he is plagued by pain, sickness, sorrow, bitterness, deaths, losses, worry, and fear. In ten years and more there is hardly an hour in which he can feel at peace with himself and the world, without being gnawed by anxiety. “What is man’s life for? What pleasure is there in it? Is it for beauty and riches? Is it for sound and color? But there comes a time when beauty and riches no longer answer the needs of the heart, and when a surfeit of sound and color becomes only a weariness to the eyes and a ringing in the ears. “Do we live for the sake of being now cowed into submission by the fear of the law and its penalties, now spurred to frenzied action by the promise of a reward or fame? We waste ourselves in a mad scramble, seeking to snatch the hollow praise of an hour, scheming to contrive that somehow some remnant of reputation shall outlast our lives. We move through the world in a narrow groove, preoccupied with the petty things we see and hear, brooding over our prejudices, passing by the joys of life without even knowing that we have missed anything. Never for a moment do we taste the heady wine of freedom. We are as truly imprisoned as if we lay at the bottom of a dungeon, heaped with chains. “The men of old knew that life comes without warning, and as suddenly goes. They denied none of their natural inclinations, and repressed none of their bodily desires. They never felt the spur of fame. They sauntered through life gathering its pleasures as the impulse moved them. Since they cared nothing for fame after death, they were beyond the law. For name and praise, sooner or later, a long life or a short one, they cared not at all.” Yang Chu said: “In life all creatures are different, but in death they are all the same. Alive they are wise or foolish, noble or base; dead, they all alike stink, putrefy, decompose and disappear. . . . Thus the myriad things are equal at birth, and again become equal in death. All are equally wise, equally foolish, equally noble, equally base. One lives ten years, another a hundred, but they all die. The benevolent sage dies just as dead as the wicked fool. Alive they were [the sagekings] Yao and Shun; dead, they are just rotten bones. Alive they were [the cruel tyrants] Chieh and Chou; dead, they are just rotten bones. And rotten bones are all alike; who can distinguish them? Then let us make the most of these moments of life that are ours. We have no time to be concerned with what comes after death.