5 Lesson 4- 仁義

仁義  (《列子》)

rén yì (liè zǐ )

昔有昆弟三人。游齊魯之間。同師而學,盡仁義之道而歸。其父曰: “仁義之道若何?” 伯曰: “仁義使我愛身而後名。” 仲曰: “仁義使我殺身以成名。” 叔曰: “仁義使我身名並全。” 彼三術相反,而同出於儒,孰是孰非邪?

昔有昆弟三人。游齐鲁之间。同师而学,尽仁义之道而归。其父曰: “仁义之道若何?” 伯曰: “仁义使我爱身而后名。” 仲曰: “仁义使我杀身以成名。”  叔曰:  “仁义使我身名并全。”  彼三术相反,而同出于儒,孰是孰非邪?


Lesson 4 Vocabulary

kūn elder brother
younger brother
昆弟 kūn dì brothers
yóu to travel
魯(鲁) (name of a state)
間 (间) jiān between
tóng to share, similarly
師 (师) shī teacher
學 (学) xué to study
盡(尽) jìn to exhaust
rén humaneness, benevolence, kindness
義 (义) right conduct, righteousness
dào way, doctrine, philosophy
歸 (归) guī to return home
ruò to be like
eldest (son)
使 shǐ to cause
愛 (爱) ài to cherish
shēn body
後 (後) hòu behind; to put behind
míng name, reputation
zhòng second (son)
殺 (杀) shā to kill
in order to
chéng to achieve
shū youngest (son)
並 (并) bìng equally
quán to be preserved, to maintain
that, those
xiāng mutually, each other
fǎn to oppose; contradictory
chū to come out, derive
in, at, from, to
出於 chū yú to derive from
scholar, Confucian, Confucians
shú who? which? what?
shì to be right
fēi is not; to be wrong
[interrogative particle]


Commentary on lesson 4:

1.1: 昔有 is the Chinese equivalent of “once upon a time.”

昆弟: Classical Chinese often combines two opposites or related terms to indicate totalities. Here the words for “older brother” and “younger brother” combine to form a two-character compound meaning “brothers.” Often the number of an entity follows it along with a measure word. Literally, the sentence昔有昆弟三人 reads “In the past there were brothers – three men.” You can just translate it as “three brothers.”

The states of 齊 and 魯 were the cradle of Confucian studies (Confucius himself came from魯). Since Confucians emphasized the qualities of 仁and 義, 仁義之道 is a term for Confucianism.

1.2:以 functions here as a connective meaning “in order to” or “for the purpose of.”

1.3:於 is an extremely vague preposition that can stand in for “of,” “to,” “at” or (in this case) “from”. It can also be used for comparisons; in such cases, be careful to translate the adjective in the comparative degree. For example, 昆仁於弟 “the older brother is kinder than the younger brother.”

是 hardly ever means “to be” as it does in modern Chinese. Rather it either means “this” or “to be right,” “to be correct.” Its opposite is 非, which means “not this” or “to be wrong.” Chinese exams still retain this usage on sections that are (是/非).

邪 is a question particle that ends a sentence. We will discuss question particles at greater length below.


Grammar Note 3

昆弟三人 kūn dì sān rén     In English (as in Mandarin) we count things with cardinal numbers used as modifier: 12 eggs. But in English (as in Mandarin) there exists an additional pattern used for inventories: eggs, one dozen. Classical Chinese usually enumerates in this “inventory” pattern.

相  xiāng     When two or more members of a plural subject do something to each other, it is said in Classical Chinese that they mutually do it, using adverb 相xiāng “mutually”. A plural object of the action (expressed in English as each other) is implied but unstated. However, as we will see later, sometimes 相 xiāng has to be read as “together”.

而 ér and 以 yǐ    In lesson 2 and attached grammar note we saw而 ér as a conjunction that joins two verbs or verbal constructions to each other, with the meaning “and” or “and thus”. The empty word 以 yǐ can also serve as a conjunction joining verbs or verbal constructions, but with the distinctive meaning “in order to”. Where shì lěi ér shǒu zhū 釋耒而守株 meant “abandon the plow and guard the stump”, 釋耒以守株 shì lěi yǐ shǒu zhū would have the slightly different sense “abandon the plow in order to guard the stump.” In Mandarin, where one verbal construction follows another the second may express the purpose of the action named in the first: 到城裡去買東西 dào chéng lǐ qù mǎi dōngxi “go downtown to buy things.” Classical Chinese often inserts 以 yǐ between constructions thus related. Obviously this usage of 以 yǐ, which precedes the second of two verbal constructions, differs from 以 yǐ used in lesson 1 as itself the verb in the first of two verbal constructions.

是 shì, 非 fēi  as stative or adjective verbs.  In Western languages nouns are modified by adjectives, which are in themselves often noun-like. In some languages adjectives are inflected like nouns and agree with them in number and gender. They form a predicate with the verb “to be” just as nouns do. In Classical Chinese (and Mandarin) words which translate English adjectives are not noun-like, but rather a kind of verb, that is the stative (or adjectival) verb. Thus 黃huáng (lesson 12) means “to be brown or yellow” and 正zhèng (lesson 14) means “to be upright, proper”. Since these monosyllabics are themselves verbs, including a sense element which we would render “to be”, no additional verb “to be” is required (or allowable) in order to form a predicate. Thus, Analects 12. 17L 孰敢不正 shú gǎn bú zhèng “who would dare to be not upright” (Note that 正zhèng is modified by 不 bù; the adverb which negates verbs). In lesson 4 是 shì means “to be right”, 非 fēi “to be wrong”. 全 quán can be either a stative verb “to be [something] complete” or a transitive verb “to preserve completes”. In lesson 4 it can be read either as the stative verb (predicate), or as the transitive verb without object and thus passive.

於yú  焉 yān     於yú as A.C. Graham defines it is a “pre-nominal preposition, variously translatable: ‘to, in, from’ (according to direction implicit in the verb), ‘by’ (before agent), ‘than’ (in comparison).”1 In this use it introduces a noun complement following the verb: 徙於齊 xǐ yú Qí “move to Qi”, 死於宋 sǐ yú Sòng, “die in Song”   梟大於鳩 xiāo dà yú jiū “the owl is bigger than the dove.”  焉yān at the end of a sentence (lesson 3) is a contraction of 於 yú followed by some unknown word pronounced “ān” and meaning 之 zhī, “him, her it, them” – thus “in it, there”, or in other contexts “to her,” “from him”, “than it” etc. Note that this expression completely supplants 於之 yú zhī, which never occurs.

1 “Being in Classical Chinese,” in John W. M. Verhaar, ed., The verb ‘Be’ and its Synonyms: Philosophical and Grammatical Studies, Vol. 1 (Dordrecht 1967), p.39.



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Introduction to Classical Chinese by Patrick Hanan; David Lattimore; Judith Zeitlin; Margaret Baptist Wan; Anthony George; Xiaofei Tian; Regina Llamas; Hu Hsiao-chen; Liu Lening; Paul Rouzer; Shang Wei; Andrew Schonebaum; and Kong Mei is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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