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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.



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