Sacred Texts  Confucianism  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 449




Meaning of the character Hsiâo.

1. The Chinese character pronounced Hsiâo, which we translate by 'Filial Piety,' and which may also perform the part of an adjective, 'filial,' of a verb, 'to be filial,' or of an adverb, 'filially,' is one of the composite characters whose meaning is suggested by the meanings of their constituent parts combined together. It is made up of two others,--One signifying 'an old man' or 'old age,' and beneath it the character signifying 'a son.' It thus, according to the Shwo Wăn, the oldest Chinese dictionary (A.D. 100), presents to the eye 'a son bearing up an old man,' that is, a child supporting his parent. Hsiâo also enters as their phonetical element into at least twenty other characters, so that it must be put down as of very early formation. The character King has been explained in the Introduction to the Shû King, p. 2; and the title, Hsiâo King, means 'the Classic of Filial Piety.'

Was the treatise called the Hsiâo King by Confucius?

2. Many Chinese critics contend that this brief treatise was thus designated by Confucius himself, and that it received the distinction of being styled a King before

p. 450

any of the older and more important classics. For the preservation of the text as we now have it, we are indebted to Hsüan Ȝung (A.D. 713-755), one of the emperors of the Thang dynasty. In the preface to his commentary on it there occurs this sentence:--'The Master said, "My aim is seen in the Khun Khiû; my (rule of) conduct is in the Hsiâo King."' The imperial author quotes the saying, as if it were universally acknowledged to have come from the sage. It is found at a much earlier date in the preface of Ho Hsiû (A.D. 129-182) to his commentary on the Khun Khiû as transmitted and annotated by Kung-yang. The industry of scholars has traced it still farther back, and in a more extended form, to a work called Hsiâo King Kü-ming Küeh,--a production, probably, of the first century of our era, or of the century before it. It was one of a class of writings on the classical books, full of mysterious and useless speculations, that never took rank among the acknowledged expositions. Most of them soon disappeared, but this subsisted down to the Sui dynasty (A.D. 581-618), for there was a copy of it then in the Imperial Library. It is now lost, but a few passages of it have been collected from quotations in the Han writers. Among them is this: 'Confucius said, "If you wish to see my aim in dispensing praise or blame to the feudal lords, it is to be found in the Khun Khiû; the courses by which I would exalt the social relations are in the Hsiâo King."' The words thus ascribed to Confucius were condensed, it is supposed, into the form in which we have them,--first from Ho Hsiû, and afterwards from the emperor Hsüan Ȝung. Whether they were really used by the sage or not, they were attributed to him as early as the beginning of our Christian era, and it was then believed that he had given to our classic the honourable name of a King.

The Hsiâo King existed before the Han dynasty.

3. But the existence of the Hsiâo King can be traced several hundred years farther back;--to within less than a century after the death of Confucius. Sze-mâ Khien, in his history of the House of Wei, one of the three marquisates into which the

p. 451

great state of Kin was broken up in the fifth century B. C., tells us that the marquis Wan received, in B. C. 407, the classical books from Pû Ȝze-hsiâ, and mentions the names of two other disciples of Confucius, with whom he was on intimate terms of friendship, There remains the title of a commentary on the Hsiâo King by this marquis Wan; and the book was existing in the time of Ȝhâi Yung (A.D. 133-192), who gives a short extract from it in one of his treatises.

The contents of the classic, and by whom it was written.

4. The recovery of our classic after the fires of Khin will be related in the next chapter. Assuming here that it was recovered, we look into it, and find a conversation, or memoranda, perhaps, of several conversations, between Confucius and his disciple Ȝang-ȝze. The latter, however, is little more than a listener, to whom the sage delivers his views on Filial Piety in its various relations. There are two recensions of the text;--one in eighteen chapters., and the other in twenty-two. As edited in eighteen chapters, each of them has a very brief descriptive beading. I have given this in the subjoined translation, but the headings cannot be traced back beyond the commentary of the emperor Hsüan.

The saying attributed by Ho Hsiû and others to Confucius would seem to indicate that he had himself composed the work, but the reader of it sees at once that it could not have proceeded from him. Nor do the style and method of the treatise suggest a view which has bad many advocates,--that it was written by Ȝang-ȝze, under the direction of the master. There is no reason, however, why we should not accept the still more common account,--that the Hsiâo came from the school of Ȝang-ȝze. To use the words of Hû Yin, an author of the first half of our twelfth century:--'The Classic of Filial Piety was not made by Ȝang-ȝze himself. When he retired from his conversation (or conversations) with .Kung-nî on the subject of Filial Piety, be repeated to the disciples of his own school what (the master) had said, and they classified the sayings, and formed the treatise.'

Next: Chapter II