The highly meritorious: Emperor Yao


Emperor Ku married a daughter of Chen Feng, who bore a son named ‘the Highly Meritorious’. He also married a daughter of Zhouzi, who bore a son Zhi. Emperor Ku died, and Zhi reigned in his stead. Zhi reigned badly and died, and his brothter ‘the Highly Meritorious one’ reigned under the title of Emperor Yao.

Emperor Yao was highly meritorious. His benevolence was like that of heaven, and his wisdom that of a god; when approached he was genial as the sun, and was looked out for as clouds in dry weather. He was rich without being proud, and esteemed yet not lax. He wore a yellow hat and plain silk dress, and drove a red car drawn by white horses. He was able to display his supereminent virtue, by bringing into close alliance the nine degrees of kindred, and they being rendered harmonious, he forthwith regulated the people, and his people having become enlightened, the various states were at peace.

He then commanded Xi and He in reverent accordance with their observations of the wide heavens to record in a calendar the laws affecting the sun, moon, stars, ad zodiacal spaces, and respectfully to communicate to the people the seasons (adapted for labour).

He also commanded Xi’s younger brother to reside at Yuyi, called the Bright Valley, so as to hail with respect the rising sun, and arrange the labours of the spring; and the day being of medium lenghth, and the culminating star (the central one of the) ‘Bird’ quarter of the heavens, he was to determine midspring, when the people begin to dsperse, and birds and beasts to breed and copulate.

He further commanded Xi’s third brother to reside at the southern frontier to arrange the transformations of summer, and respectfully observe the extreme limit (of shadow), and the day being at its longest, and the star in the zenith that called ‘Fire’, he was to fix the exact period of midsummer, when the people are most widely dispersed, birds moult, and beasts change their coats.

He further commanded Ho’s younger brother to reside in the west at a place called Dark Valley to respectfully convoy the setting sun, and arrange the completing labours of the autumn, and the night being of medium length, and the culminating star Xu (β in aquarius) to determine mid-autumn, when people begin to feel comfortable, and birds and beasts look smooth and glossy.

He further commanded He’s third brother to reside in the northern region in what was called the Sombre Capital (You Du), to examine the hidden things, and the day being at its shortest, and the culminating star Mao (ε in Pleiades) to determine midwinter, when people get into cosy corners, and the coats of birds and beasts are downy and thick.

The year consisted of 366 days, and intercalary month being added to adjust the four seasons.

Authentic directions were given to the various officers, and their several labours commenced.

Yao said, ‘Who can obediently manage these matters?’

Fangqi said, ‘There is your adopted son Danzhu, who is developing his intelligence’.

Yao said, ‘Oh! he is unscrupulous and wicked; I cannot employ him.’

He said again, ‘Who will do it?’

Huandou said, ‘Gonggong, the Minister of Works, who is generally popular, and has displayed merit, could be employed.’

Yao said, ‘The minister of works, is talkative; If he is employed, his depravities, although he is apparently respectful, whould overspread the heavens, he will not do.’

He said further, ‘Alas! O president of the Fur Mountains (Si Yue), the waters of the flood rise up to the heaven, and in their vast expanse encompass the mountains, and overtop the hills; the common people are troubled about it. Is there a capable man whom I could set to deal with the matter?’

They all said, ‘Gun might do it.’

Yao said, ‘Gun disobeys orders, and ruins his companions. He wil not do.’

The president said, ‘Ah! well! Try him, and if he is found useless, have done with him.’

Whereupon Yao adopting their suggestion, employed Gun for nine years, but his work was not completed.

Yao said, ‘Alas! O president of the four mountains, I have been on the throne seventy years; you are able to carry out the decrees, do you occupy my throne.’

The president replied, ‘My moral qualities are of such a low order that I should disgrace the Imperial throne.’

Yao said, ‘You must all recommend one of your esteemed relations, or even an obscure stranger.’

All the courtiers said to Yao, ‘There is an unmarried man of the lower orders called Shun of Yu.’

Yao said, ‘Yes, I have heard of him, what is he like?’
The president said, ‘He is the son of a blind man; his father was unprincipled, his mother insincere, and his brother arrogant, but he managed by his dutiful conduct to be reconciled to them, so they have gradually improved, and not been extremely wicked.’

‘Shall I try him?’ said Yao.

He then married his two daughters to Shun, and watched his behaviour towards them. Shun sent the two women down to the north of the Kuei River, and treated them with the ceremony due to them as his wives.

Yao praised Shun, and told him carefully to show the harmony of the five hunman relationships, and when they could be obeyed, they became universal among the various officials, who at the proper times arranged the visitors at the four gates in the right order, and when the visitors at the four gates were submissive, the princes and strangers from distant regions became one and all respectful.

Yao sent Shun into the hills and forests among rivers and swamps, but although fierce winds and thunderstorms prevailed, Shun did not miss his way.

Yao then taking Shun to be a holy man, called him and said, ‘For three years your words can be carried into practice. You shall ascend the Imperial throne.’

Shun yielded in favour of some one more virtuous than himself, and was unhappy, but on the first day of the first month Shun accepted Yao’s resignation in the temple of the accomplished ancestor, who was Yao’s great ancestor.

So the Emperor Yao being old ordered that Shun should be associated with him in the government of the Empire. In order to observe Heaven’s decrees, Shun thereupon examined the gem-adorned armillary sphere, and the jade transverse, so as to adjust the position of the ‘Seven Directors.’

He then offered a special sacrifice to the Supreme Ruler, sacrificed purely to the six honoured ones, looked with devotion to the hills and rivers, and worshiped with distinctive rites and hosts of spirits.

He called in the five tokens, chose a lucky month and day, gave audience to the president of the four mountains, and all the governors, returning the tokens in due course.

In the second month of every year he went eastward on a tour of inspection, and on reaching Taizong Mountain he presented a burnt offering, and sacrificed in order to the hills and rivers. He then gave audience to the chieftains of the East, putting in accord their seasons and months, and rectifying the days. He rendered uniform the standard tubes, the measures of length and capacity, and the scales; and regulated the five kinds of ceremonies. The five gems, the three kinds of silks, the two living animals, and one dead one were brought as presents to the audience, but the five implements were returned at the conclusion.

In the fifth month he went to the south, in the eighth month to the west, and in the eleventh month northward on his tours of inspection; in each case observing the same ceremonies as before, and on his return he went to the temple of the ancestral tablets,and offered up a single ox.

Every five years there was one tour of inspection, and four audiences of the princes at court when they presented a full verbal report which was intelligently tested by their works, and chariots and robes given according to their deserts.

Shun instituted the division of the Empire into twelve provinces, and deepened the rivers.

He gave delineations of the statuory punishiments, enacting banishment as a mitigation of the five chief punishments, the whip being employed for public officers, the stick in schools, and a money penalty being inflicted for redeemable crimes. Inadvertent offences, and those caused by misfortune were to be pardoned, and those who offended presumptuously or repeatedly were to be punished with death.

‘Be reverent, be reverent’ (said he), ‘and in the administration of the law be tranquil.’

Huandou approached, and spoke about Gonggong, the minister of works. ‘I cannot even give him a trial as a workman,’ said Yao, ‘for he is really profligate.’ The president of the four mountains recommended Gun as the proper person to look after the deluge. Yao regarded it as impracticable, but the president vehemently requested that he might be tried, so the trial was made, but without good results.

Of old the people had felt that it was undersirable that the three Miao tribes in the districts of Jiang huai, and Jing should so often rise in rebellion; so Shun on his return spoke to the emperor requesting that the minister of works might be banished to the Ridge of You to reform the Northern Di tribes, that Huandou might be detained on mount Cong, to reform the Southern barbarians, that the chief of the three Miao tribes might be removed to Sanwei(three cliffs) to reform the Western Rong people, and that Gun might be imprisoned for life on Mount Yu to reform the Eastern barbarians. The four criminals being thus dealt with, universal submission prevailed throughout the empire.
Yao had sat on the throne seventy years, when he secured Shun’s services for twenty years; then being old, he directed that Shun should be associated with him in the government of the empire, and presented him to Heaven.

Yao had abdicted the throne twenty-eight years when he died, and the people mouned for him as for a parent, no music being played for three years throughout the empire, for which reason he was remembered.

Yao knew that his son Danzhu was a worthless fellow, who was not fit to reign, and so the authority was conferred on Shun. As it was conferred on Shun, the empire got the advantage and Danzhu was injured. If it had been conferred on Danzhu, the empire would have injured, and Danzhu gained the advantage.

Yao said, ‘We certainly cannot cause the empire to suffer loss, and the advantage go to an individual.’

In the end the empire was given over to Shun. After the death of Yao, when the three years’ mourning was over, Shun gave way to Danzhu, and retired to the south of the southern river. When the princes went to an audience at court, they did not present themselves before Danzhu, but before Shun; litigants did not go before Danzhu, but Shun; and the singers did not sing in praise of Danzhu, but of Shun. Shun said, ‘it is from Heaven.’

Afterwards he went to the capital, sat on the Imprerial throne, and was styled Emperor Shun.

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