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Mencius (Penguin Classics) Revised ed. Edition
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Mencius, who lived in the 4th century B.C., is second only to Confucius in importance in the Confucian tradition. The Mencius consists of sayings of Mencius and conversations he had with his contemporaries. When read side by side with the Analects, the Mencius throws a great deal of light on the teachings of Confucius.
Mencius developed many of the ideas of Confucius and at the same time discussed problems not touched upon by Confucius. He drew out the implications of Confucius' moral principles and reinterpreted them for the conditions of his time. As the fullest of the four great Confucian texts, the Mencius has been the required reading amongst Chinese scholars for two thousand years, and it still throws considerable light on the character of the Chinese people. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Chinese --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Benevolence in a ruler is to be commended. Nevertheless, it is not enough. Mencius seems to have overestimated the power of benevolence. He wrote, “If its ruler will put in practice a benevolent government, no power will be able to prevent his becoming sovereign,” and “Benevolence subdues its opposite just as water subdues fire.”
Evil men can usually only be subdued with power. A benevolent ruler who lacks military skills and the ability to detect and thwart palace uprisings is likely to be replaced by a ruler who is less benevolent or not benevolent at all.
In the thirteenth century the Mongolians conquered much of the known world. Their conquests included China, whose rulers studied Mencius, and much of the Islamic world at a time when Islam was as militant as it is now. The Mongolians did not do this by being benevolent, but by being militarily proficient, and by being so horrible that nations they conquered were afraid to revolt.
Much of Mencius’ philosophy captures our sympathy, not so much because it is obviously true, but because we wish it was true. He argues that humans are innately good. He seems to attribute human wickedness to bad leadership. In this he anticipates Jean Jacques Rousseau, although there is little reason to believe that Rousseau was directly influenced.
Mencius' assertion of innate human benevolence is based on the tendency many adults have to prevent a child from falling into a well. That is not very convincing. What about bully behavior among teenage boys? The most accomplished bullies are often the most popular boys in school. Their hapless victims are shunned, simply because they lack the ability to fight back and win.
What about atrocities in war? Think of the cruelties committed in the name of religion. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Nevertheless some Christians have enjoyed torturing those who did not share their doctrines. The Koran does not condone the cruelties committed by ISIS. Members of ISIS behave the way they do because they enjoy it.
Some humans are naturally kind. Others are naturally cruel. Some humans are kind or cruel, depending on the circumstances. Human nature is more complex than Mencius acknowledges.
Mencius said, “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and grain are the next; the sovereign is the lightest.”
Nevertheless, he stopped short of being an egalitarian. He believed that the ruler should have an income several hundred times that of a peasant, and that that those who work with their minds should have authority over those who work with their muscles.
The writing of Mencius was one of the Four Books. Together with the Five Classics these comprised the Confucian canon. For two thousand years the Imperial Exams tested Chinese young men on their knowledge of these. Those who passed the exams entered the Scholar Gentry. This was the civil service of the various Chinese dynasties. Members of the Scholar Gentry had more prestige and usually better incomes than members of other classes in China.
Members of the Scholar Gentry were expected to have more than one wife, and many children. Although the sons of members of the Scholar Gentry could usually receive a better education in the Four Books and the Five Classics, in every generation about thirty percent of those who passed the Imperial Exams were the sons of peasants. Thus, for two thousand years China had more social mobility than any other nation; upward mobility was based on intelligence; it was rewarded with prolificacy.
This can explain why Chinese Americans tend to perform well on mental aptitude tests, in the class room, and on the job.
I found the translation with the picture of old books on the cover to be more readable than that of James Legge. Although James Legge was the first to translate the Four Books and the Five Classics into English, I recommend another translation of any of these if you have access to one.
Unfortunately, the translation with the old books on the cover lacks information about the publisher and the translator. This may come later. My copy has the date “15 August 2015” on the last page. It is August 30, 2015 as I write.