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Week 2 Reading Material


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Read the following short passages, slow down and read several times, think and wrestle with them, ask yourself the following questions while you are reading each passage: (1) What is its point/purpose? (2) What could be its assumption, implication, or consequence? (3) How can it relate to other ideas I know? (4) Do I agree with it, why or why not? (5) What does it mean to me, personally?—Can it change my way of seeing and doing things?


Regarding each passage below, you can write down notes of what you think on one or two of these questions listed above, as preparation for Major Project No.1 (the commentary part).


Passages are number with [A], [B], [C], …. so it is easier for you to refer to them when you write your commentary.


Theme: From instincts to ritual-rule-law based life.



Mengzi (Mencius 372–289 BC)


When a child is about to fall into a well

The reason why I say that all humans have hearts that are not unfeeling toward others is this. Suppose someone suddenly saw a child about to fall into a well: anyone in such a situation would have a feeling of alarm and compassion—not because one sought to get in good with the child’s parents, not because one wanted fame among one’s neighbors and friends, and not because one would dislike the sound of the child’s cries.” (2A6, Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries, Bryan W. Van Norden (translator), published by Hackett Pub Co, 2008)




Xunzi (316- c. 238 BCE)


A DISCUSSION OF RITES (Section 19) What is the origin of ritual? I reply: man is born with desires. If his desires are not satisfied for him, he cannot but seek some means to satisfy them himself. If there are no limits and degrees to his seeking, then he will inevitably fall to wrangling with other men.  From wrangling comes disorder and from disorder comes exhaustion. The ancient kings hated such disorder, and therefore they established ritual principles in order to curb it, to train men’s desires and to provide for their satisfaction.  They saw to it that desires did not overextend the means for their satisfaction, and material goods did not fall short of what was desired. Thus both desires and goods were looked after and satisfied. This is the origin of rites. Rites are a means of satisfaction. Grain-fed and grass-fed animals, millet and wheat, properly blended with the five flavors—these are what satisfy the mouth.  The odors of pepper, orchid, and other sweet-smelling plants—these are what satisfy the nose.  The beauties of carving and inlay, embroidery and pattern—these are what satisfy the eye. Bells and drums, strings and woodwinds—these are what satisfy the ear. Spacious rooms and secluded halls, soft mats, couches, benches, armrests and cushions—these are what satisfy the body. Therefore I say that rites are a means of providing satisfaction. The gentleman, having provided a means for the satisfaction of desires, is also careful about the distinctions to be observed. What do I mean by distinctions? Eminent and humble have their respective stations, elder and younger their degrees, and rich and poor, important and unimportant, their different places in society. Thus the Son of Heaven has his great carriage spread with soft mats to satisfy his body. By his side are placed fragrant herbs to satisfy his nose, and before him the carved carriage decorations to satisfy his eye. The sound of carriage bells and the Wu and Xiang music when he is proceeding slowly, the Shao and Hu music when he is proceeding rapidly, give satisfaction to his ear. Nine dragon banners fly to satisfy his desire for a symbol of trust. Paintings of a recumbent rhinoceros and a solitary tiger, horse girths of water-dragon pattern, fine woven spreads, and dragon-head ornaments satisfy his desire for awesome spectacle. And the horses which draw his great carriage must be of the utmost reliability and highly trained before he will 1 consent to ride. In this way he satisfies his desire for safety. [As for the  king’s  officials]  let them  understand  clearly that to  advance  in the face  of death and to value honor is the way to satisfy their desire for life; to spend and to supply what goods are needed is the way to satisfy their desire for wealth; to conduct themselves with  respect  and  humility  is the  way to  satisfy their  desire for  safety;  and to  obey  ritual principles and good order in all things is the way to satisfy their emotions. He who seeks only to preserve his life at all cost will surely suffer death. He who strives only for profit at all cost will surely suffer loss. He who thinks that safety lies in indolence and idleness alone will surely face danger. He who thinks that happiness lies only in gratifying the emotions will surely face destruction. (The Xunzi)

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