Mixing water with water

Here is a dialogue (from the Zuozhuan) I used in class this week.

The Duke declares “It is Ju alone who is in harmony with me.”

Yanzi replied, “Ju is in fact the same [as you]. How can he attain to harmony?” The ruler said, “Are harmony and identity different?”

Yanzi said, ‘They are different. Harmony is like a stew. Water, fire, jerky, mincemeat, salt, and plum [vinegar] are used to cook fish and meat; they are cooked over firewood; the master chef harmonizes them, bringing them into equality with seasonings, compensating for what is insufficient and diminishing what is too strong. The gentleman eats it and thus calms his heart. With ruler and subject it is the same. When there is something unacceptable about what the ruler considers acceptable, the subject reports the unacceptable to perfect the acceptability. When there is something acceptable about what the ruler considers unacceptable, the subject reports the acceptable in order to eliminate the unacceptable. In this way administration is calm and without interference, and the people lack the desire to struggle. Thus the Shi says:

There is a harmonious stew.

We are careful and calm.

We advance silently;

There is no struggling.’

The former kings adjusting of the five flavors and harmonizing of the five tones was for the calming of hearts and the completion of administration. Sounds are just like flavors. The single breath, the two forms, the three genres, the four materials, the five tones, the six pitches, the seven notes, the eight airs, the nine songs: these are used to complete one another. The clear and the muddy, the small and the large, the short and the long, the presto and the adagio, the somber and the joyous, the hard and the soft, the delayed and the immediate, the high and the low, the going out and coming in, the united and separate: these are used complement one another. The gentleman listens to it and thus calms his heart. “When the heart is calm, the virtue is in harmony. Thus the Shi says:

The sound of his virtue is unblemished.’

“Now Ju is not like this. What you, the ruler, consider acceptable, Ju also says is acceptable. What you consider unacceptable, Ju also says is unacceptable. If you were to complement water with water, who could eat it? If the zithers and dulcimers were to hold to a single sound, who could listen to it? This is how identity is unacceptable1)

I like this quote a lot, because it gives you a nice introduction to the world of classical Chinese thought. It is in the form of a dialogue between a ruler and a philosopher. The ostensible point is that a virtuous advisor, Yanzi, is putting down a toadying suck-up (Ju). More importantly it goes well with the common idea of resonance; that the patterns that govern the natural world are the same as those that govern the human world. Thus the sage is like a great cook or a great conductor, (or a doctor) harmonizing everything and thus bringing about tranquillity. Tranquillity of course being the goal. We have quotes from the Book of Songs, a contrast between the small man and the gentleman, the former kings, a list of examples with numbers  This is one that I like well enough that I actually print it out and give it to them.

Original text

十二月,齊侯田于沛,招虞人以弓,不進,公使執之,辭曰,昔我先君之田也,旃以招大夫,弓以招士, 皮冠以招虞人,臣不見皮冠,故不敢進,乃舍之仲尼曰,守道不如守官,君子同之,齊侯至自田,晏子侍于遄臺,子猶馳而造焉,公曰,唯據與我和夫,晏子對曰, 據亦同也,焉得為和,公曰,和與同異乎,對曰異,和如羹焉,水火醯醢鹽梅,以烹魚肉,燀之以薪,宰夫和之,齊之以味,濟其不及,以洩其過,君子食之,以平 其心,君臣亦然,君所謂可,而有否焉,臣獻其否,以成其可,君所謂否,而有可焉,臣獻其可,以去其否,是以政平而不干民無爭心,故詩曰,亦有和羹,既戒既 平,鬷假無言,時靡有爭,先王之濟五味,和五聲也,以平其心,成其政也,聲亦如味,一氣,二體,三類,四物,五聲,六律,七音,八風,九歌,以相成也,清 濁大小,長短疾徐,哀樂剛柔,遲速高下,出入周疏,以相濟也,君子聽之,以平其心,心平德和,故詩曰,德音不瑕,今據不然,君所謂可,據亦曰可,君所謂 否,據亦曰否,若以水濟水,誰能食之,若琴瑟之專壹,誰能聽之,同之不可也如是 Original here



  1. Schaberg, David. A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Asia Center, 2001. p.231 (from Zuo 

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