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In Lu there was a dispute at law between father and son

There is the following traditional story: In Lu there was a dispute at law between father and son. K’ang-tzŭ wished to have them put to death, but Confucius said, "It would not be right to put them to death. Now the people have long been ignorant that lawsuits between father and son are improper. This case is the result of those in responsible positions neglecting true principles. If superiors were possessed of the proper principles, such people as these would not be."

The litigants, hearing of this remark, asked that the case be dropped. K’ang-tzŭ said, "The people are governed through filial piety. Surely it would be proper to put to death one who behaves thus unfittingly as a censure for the unfilial?"

Confucius said, "Not at all. Having left them without instruction, to judge their suits is to put to death the guiltless. Though the armies of a great state suffer a severe defeat, they should not be punished. If lawsuits and judgments are not supervised, it is not right to inflict punishments. If superiors, having made manifest their teachings, themselves submit to them first, then the people will readily fall into line. Only if they conduct themselves improperly and are not obedient are they punished, since then the people will recognize their guilt. Now take a wall eight feet high—the people cannot cross over it. But a mountain eight hundred feet high—small boys climb and play on it. It is because of the gradual decline. Jên and i have long been in a decline— can we say the people do not cross them? The Ode says,

So as to preserve the people from going astray.

The superior men of antiquity taught the people and did not lead them astray. Thus authority was strict but not made use of, and punishments were set up but not employed. In this way they embodied jên and i and took pains in teaching the True Way. They caused the people to see it clearly with their eyes and to hear it clearly with their ears and to know it clearly with their minds. As a result, since the True Way was not obscured, the aims of the people were not confused. The Ode says,

"Truly, unless the True Way and i are made simple, the people will not follow them; unless rites (li) and music are made clear, the people will not perceive them. The Ode says,

The Way of Chou was like a whetstone,
And straight as an arrow.

This says how simple it was.

So the officers trod it,
And the common people looked on it.

This says how clear it was.

When I look back and think of it,
My tears run down in streams.

He is sorrowing because he did not pay attention to instruction in rites (li) and so is suffering punishment. Now having dispensed with this fundamental instruction, to visit them with punishment is like breaking down the pen and shooting at the cattle with poisoned arrows. It is not indeed reason for grief? That is why I said it would not be right to put them to death.

"The former kings' use of rites (li) in employing the people in olden times may be compared to driving a chariot. Punishments were the whip and stick. At the present day it is like driving with whip and stick, but without having reins and bit. When you wish the horse to advance, you beat him behind; when you wish him to retreat, you beat him in front. The driver has much trouble doing it, and the horse in turn suffers greatly. So it is today. Superiors are anxious and put to trouble, while the people are greatly grieved and suffer punishment. The Ode says,

If a man observes no rites (li),
Why does he not quickly die?

For one in a superior position who does not observe the rites (li), misfortune is inevitable. For one in an inferior position who does not observe the rites (li), punishment is inevitable. If superior and inferior alike do not observe the rites (li), ‘why do they not quickly die?' "

K’ang-tzŭ withdrew from the mat, bowed twice and said, "Although I am not intelligent, I wish to receive these words."

When Confucius withdrew from court, his disciple Tzŭ-lu objected saying, "A lawsuit between father and son, is it in accordance with the True Way?"

Confucius said, "It is not."

Tzŭ-lu said, "In that case, how could you, Master, as a superior man, excuse it?"

Confucius said, "Without warning, to hold the people responsible for the completion of a task is injurious. To insist on a definite period for the execution of offhand orders is oppressive. To inflict punishment without having instructed them is harmful. A superior man in governing avoids these three evils. Moreover the Ode says,

Blandly he looks and smiles,
Without any impatience he delivers his instruction.

传曰:鲁有父子讼者、康子欲杀。孔子曰:“未可杀也。夫民父子讼之为不义久矣,是则上失其道,上有道,是人亡矣。”讼者闻之,请无讼。康子曰:“治民以孝,杀一不义,以僇不孝,不亦可乎?”孔子曰:“否。不教而听其狱,杀不辜也;三军大败,不可诛也;狱谳不治,不可刑也。上陈之教,而先服之,则百姓从风矣;邪行不从,然后俟之以刑,则民知罪矣。夫一仞之墙,民不能逾,百仞之山,童子登游焉,凌迟故也。今其仁义之陵迟久矣,能谓民无逾乎?《诗》曰:‘俾民不迷。’昔之君子道其百姓不使迷,是以威厉而刑措不用也。故形其仁义,谨其教道,使民目晰焉而见之,使民耳晰焉而闻之,使民心晰焉而知之,则道不迷,而民志不惑矣。《诗》曰:‘示我显德行。’故道义不易,民不由也;礼乐不明,民不见也。《诗》曰:‘周道如砥,其直如矢。’言其易也。‘君子所履,小人所视。’言其明也。‘睠言顾之,潸焉出涕。’哀其不闻礼教而就刑诛也。夫散其本教,而施之刑辟,犹决其牢,而发以毒矢也,不亦哀乎!故曰:未可杀也。昔者、先王使民以礼,譬之如御也,刑者,鞭策也,今犹无辔衔而鞭策以御也,欲马之进,则策其后,欲马之退,则策其前,御者以劳,而马亦多伤矣。今犹此也,上忧劳而民多罹刑。《诗》曰:‘人而无礼,胡不遄死!’为上无礼,则不免乎患;为下无礼,则不免乎刑;上下无礼,胡不遄死!”康子避席再拜曰:“仆虽不敏,请承此语矣。”孔子退朝,门人子路难曰:“父子讼、道邪?”孔子曰:“非也。”子路曰:“然则夫子胡为君子而免之也?”孔子曰:“不戒责成,害也,慢令致期,暴也,不教而诛、贼也。君子为政,避此三者。且《诗》曰:‘载色载笑,匪怒伊教。’”

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