Internet Accuracy Project

Table of Contents
Place Name Index
Biographical Index
Reference Book Errors
Commonly Confused Words
Witty Acronyms
Spell Checker Fun
Free eBooks (A - D)
Free eBooks (E - Hd)
Free eBooks (He - Hz)
Free eBooks (I - L)
Free eBooks (M - P)
Free eBooks (Q - R)
Free eBooks (S - V)
Free eBooks (W - Z)
James Whitcomb Riley Poems
Christmas Poems by Rossetti
William Cullen Bryant Poems
James Russell Lowell Poems
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Poems by Rudyard Kipling
Short Wordsworth Poems
Christina Rossetti Poetry
African-American Poetry
Easter Poems and Prose
Edgar Allan Poe Poems
Short Whitman Poems
Short Poems by Keats
Milton's Short Poems
Short Whittier Poetry
Christmas Poems
The Embargo
To Build a Fire
A White Heron
The Last Lesson
A Vision of Poets
To Repel Boarders
A New England Nun
The Hiltons' Holiday
Rhymes of Childhood
A Horseman in the Sky
The Men of Forty Mile
The Wisdom of the Trail
A Retrieved Reformation
A Romance of the Ganges
Weights and Measurements
Halloween Place Names
Valentine's Place Names
Christmas' Place Names
Unusual Town Names
Wind Chill Charts
Heat Index Charts
Roman Numerals
2012 Calendar
2013 Calendar
U.S. Postage Rates
U.S. Mail Holidays
Frequently Asked Questions
Contribute Used Books
Recent Updates
Link to Us
Contact Us
"Dialogues: The Chinese Catechism" by Voltaire

The following is the complete text of Voltaire's "The Chinese Catechism, a dialogue between Cu-su, and Prince Kou." To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Visit these other works by Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet)
An Adventure in India
Ancient Faith and Fable
Andre des Touches at Siam
The Black and the White
A Conversation with a Chinese
Dialogues: The Gardener's Catechism
Dialogues: The Japanese Catechism
Dialogues: Liberty
The Good Brahmin
Grecian Metamorphoses and Mysteries of the Egyptians
Jeannot and Colin
Memnon, the Philosopher

Of Bacchus
Of Idolatry
Of Miracles
Of Oracles
Of the Egyptian Rites
Of the Greek Sibyls
Of Zaleucus
Plato's Dream
The Study of Nature
The Travels of Scarmentado
The Two Comforters
The World As It Goes

Potential uses for the free ebooks, stories and poetry we offer
* Rediscovering an old favorite short story or book.
* Bibliophiles expanding their collection of public domain ebooks for their kids, at no cost.
* Teachers trying to locate a free online copy of a book or short story for use in the classroom.

NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"Dialogues: The Chinese Catechism" by Voltaire


Or, Dialogues between Cu-su, a Disciple of Confucius, and Prince Kou, Son of the King of Lou, tributary to the Chinese Emperor, Gnenvan, four hundred and seventeen years before the common Era.


KOU. What is meant by my duty to worship heaven? (Chang-ti?)

CU-SU. Not the material heaven, which we see; for this heaven is nothing but the air, and the air is composed of every kind of earthly exhalation. Now, what a folly it would be to worship vapors!

KOU. It is, however, what I should not much wonder at. Men, in my opinion, have gone into greater follies.

CU-SU. Very true; but you, being born to rule over others, it becomes you to be wise.

KOU. There are whole nations who worship heaven and the planets.

CU-SU. The planets are only so many earths, like ours. The moon, for instance, might as well worship our sand and dirt, as we to prostrate ourselves before the moon's dirt and sand.

KOU. What is the meaning of what we so often hear, HEAVEN AND EARTH; to go up to heaven; to be deserving of heaven?

CU-SU. It is talking very silly. There is no such thing as heaven. Every planet is environed by its atmosphere as with a shell, and rolls in space around its sun; every sun is the centre of several planets, which are continually going their rounds. There is neither high nor low, up nor down. Should the inhabitants of the moon talk of going up to the earth, of making one's self deserving of the earth, it would be talking madly; and we are little wiser in talking of deserving heaven. We might as well say, a man must make himself deserving of the air -- deserving of the constellation of the dragon -- deserving of space.

KOU. I believe I understand you. We are only to worship God, who made heaven and earth.

CU-SU. To be sure. We are only to worship God alone. But, in saying that he made heaven and earth, however devout our meaning may be, it is talking very silly; for if, by heaven, we mean the prodigious space in which God kindled so many suns, and set so many worlds in motion, it is much more ridiculous to say, "heaven and earth," than it is to say, "the mountains and a grain of sand." Our globe is infinitely less than a grain of sand, in comparison to those millions of ten thousands of millions of worlds, among the infinitude of which we are lost. All that we can do, is to join our feeble voice to that of the innumerable beings, who, throughout the abyss of expansion, ascribe homage and glory to their adorable Creator.

KOU. It was, then, a great imposition to tell us, that Fo came down among us from the fourth heaven, assuming the form of a white elephant.

CU-SU. These are tales which the bonzes tell to old women and children. The Eternal Author of all things is alone to be worshipped.

KOU. But how can one being make the other beings?

CU-SU. You see yonder star. It is fifteen hundred thousand millions of Lis from our globe, and emits rays which, on your eyes, form two angles equal at the top; and, the like angles they form on the eyes of all animals. Is not this manifest design? Is not this an admirable law? and is it not the workman who makes the work? and, who frames laws but a legislator? Therefore, there is an eternal Artist, an eternal Legislator.

KOU. But who made this Artist? and what is he like?

CU-SU. My dear Prince, as I was yesterday afternoon walking near the magnificent palace, so lately built by the king, your father, I overheard two crickets. One said to the other, "What a stupendous fabric is here!" "Yes," said the other; "and though I am not a little proud of my species, he who has made this prodigy, must be something above a cricket; but I have no idea of that being. Such a one, I see there must be; but what he is, I know not."

KOU. You are a cricket of infinitely more knowledge than I; but what I particularly like in you is, your not pretending to know, what you really do not understand.


CU-SU. You allow, then, that there is an Almighty Being, self-existent, supreme Creator and Maker of all nature.

KOU. Yes; but if he be self-existent, he is unlimited; consequently, he is everywhere. He exists throughout all matter, and in every part of myself.

CU-SU. Why not?

KOU. I should, then, be a part of the Deity.

CU-SU. Perhaps that may not be the consequence. Behold this piece of glass; you see the light penetrates it everywhere; yet, will you say it is light? It is mere sand, and nothing more. Unquestionably everything is in God; that, by which everything is animated, must be everywhere. God is not like the emperor of China, who dwells in his palace, and sends his orders by koloas. As existing, he must necessarily fill the whole of space, and all his works: and, since he is in you, this is a continual monition never to do anything to raise shame or remorse.

KOU. But, for a person serenely to consider himself before the Supreme Being, without shame or disgust, what must he do?

CU-SU. Be just.

KOU. And what further?

CU-SU. Be just.

KOU. But Laokium's sect says, "There is no such thing as just or unjust, vice or virtue."

CU-SU. And does Laokium's sect say, "There is no such thing as health or sickness?"

KOU. No, to be sure; what egregious nonsense that would be!

CU-SU. And let me tell you, that to think there is neither health nor sickness of soul, virtue, nor vice, is as egregious an error, and much more mischievous. They, who have advanced that every thing is alike, are monsters. Is it alike, to carefully bring up a son, or, at his birth, to dash him against the stones -- to relieve a mother, or to plunge a dagger into her heart?

KOU. That is horrible! I detest Laokium's sect; but just and unjust are oftentimes so interwoven, that one is at a loss. Who can be said precisely to know what is forbidden, and what is allowed? Who can safely set limits to good and evil? I wish you would give me a sure rule for this important distinction.

CU-SU. There can be no better than that of Confucius, my master: "Live as thou wouldst desire to have lived, when thou comest to die; use thy neighbor as thou wouldest have him use thee."

KOU. Those maxims, I own, should be mankind's standing law. But what am I the better for my good life, when I come to die? What great advantage shall I get for my virtue? That clock goes as well as ever clock did; but, when it comes to be worn out, or should it be destroyed by accident, will it be happy for having struck the hours regularly?

CU-SU. That clock is without thought or feeling, and incapable of remorse, which you sharply feel on the commission of any crime.

KOU. But what if, by frequent crimes, I come to be no longer sensible of remorse?

CU-SU. Then it is high time an end should be put to your being; and, take my word for it, that as men do not love to be oppressed, should you be guilty, one or another would stop you in your career, and save you from committing any more crimes.

KOU. At that rate, God, who is in them, after allowing me to be wicked, would allow them likewise to be so.

CU-SU. God has endowed you with reason; neither you nor they are to make a wrong use of it; as, otherwise, you will not only be unhappy in this life, but how do you know but that you may likewise be so in another?

KOU. And who told you there is another life?

CU-SU. The bare uncertainty of it should make you behave as if it were an undoubted certainty.

KOU. But what if I be sure there is no such thing?

CU-SU. That I defy you to make good.


KOU. You urge me home, Cu-su. My being rewarded or punished after death, requires that something, which feels and thinks in me, must continue to subsist after me. Now, as no part in me had any thought or sense before my birth, why should it possess them after my death? What can this incomprehensible part of myself be? Will the humming of that bee continue after the end of its existence? or the vegetation of this plant, when plucked up by the roots? Is not vegetation a word made use of to express the inexplicable mode appointed by the Supreme Being, for the plants imbibing the juices of the earth? So the soul is an invented word, faintly and obscurely denoting the spring of human life. All animals have a motion, and this ability to move is called active force; but this force is no distinct being whatever. We have passions, memory, and reason; but these passions, this memory, and this reason, are surely not separate things; they are not beings existing in us; they are not diminutive persons of a particular existence; they are generical words, invented to fix our ideas. Thus the soul itself, which signifies our memory, our reason, our passions, is only a bare word. Whence, then, motion in nature? from God. Whence vegetation in that plant? from God. Whence motion in animals? from God. Whence cogitation in man? from God.

Were the human soul a diminutive person, inclosed within our body, to direct its motions and ideas, would not that betray, in the eternal Maker of the world, an impotence and an artifice quite unworthy of him? He then must have been incapable of making automata, having the gift of motion and thought in themselves. When I learned Greek under you, you made me read Homer, where Vulcan appears an excellent smith, when he makes golden tripods, going of themselves to the council of the gods; but, had this same Vulcan concealed within those tripods one of his boys, to make them move without being perceived, I should consider him but a bungling cheat.

Some obscure dreamers have been charmed with the fancy of the planets being rolled along by genii, as something very grand and sublime; but God has not been reduced to such a paltry shift. In a word, wherefore put two springs to a work when one will do? That God can animate that inanimate substance called matter, you cannot deny, why then should he make use of another agent to animate it?

Further, what may that soul be, which you are pleased to give to our body? From whence did it come? When did it come? Must the Creator of the universe be continually observing human beings and animals, and providing the former with souls at birth?

This is really a strange employment for the Sovereign of the world, and it is not only on the passions of the human species that he must be intent, but must also observe the like vigilance and celerity with all animals whatever; for, like us, they have memory, ideas, and passions; and, if a soul be necessary for the formation of these sentiments, these ideas, these passions, and this memory, God must be perpetually at work about souls for elephants and flies, for fish and for bonzes.

What idea does such a notion give of the Architect of so many millions of worlds, thus obliged to be continually making invisible props for perpetuating his work?

These are some, though a very small sample, of the reasons for questioning the soul's existence.

CU-SU. You reason candidly; and such a virtuous turn of mind, even if mistaken, cannot but be agreeable to the Supreme Being. You may be in error, but as you do not endeavor to deceive yourself, your error is excusable. But consider what you have proposed to me are only doubts, and melancholy doubts. Listen to probabilities of a solacing nature. To be annihilated is dismal; hope then for life. A thought, you know, is not matter, nor has any affinity with it. Why then do you make such a difficulty of believing that God has put a divine principle into you, which, being indissoluble, cannot be subject to death? Can you say that it is impossible that you should have a soul? No, certainly; and if it be possible that you have one, is it not also very probable? How can you reject so noble a system, and so necessary to mankind? Shall a few slender objections withhold your assent?

KOU. I would embrace this system with all my heart, on its truth being proved to me. But it is not in my power to believe without evidence. I am always struck with this grand idea, that God has made everything -- that he is everywhere -- that he penetrates all things, and gives life and motion to all things; and if he be in all parts of my being, as he is in all the parts of nature, I do not see that I have any need of a soul.

Where is the use or importance of this little subaltern being to me, who am animated by God himself? Of what improvement can it be? It is not from ourselves that we derive our ideas; they generally obtrude themselves on us against our wills; we have them when locked up in sleep; everything passes in us without our intervention. What would it signify to the soul, were it to say to the blood and animal spirits, "Be so kind as to gratify me in running this way?" They will still circulate in their natural course. Let me be the machine of a God, whose existence all things proclaim aloud, rather than of a soul, whose existence, to say the least, is a very great uncertainty.

CU-SU. Well, if God himself animates you, be very careful of committing any crime, as defiling that God, who is within you; and, if he has given you a soul, never let it offend him. In both systems you have a volition, you are free; that is, you have a power of doing what you will. Make use of this power in serving that God who gave it to you. If you are a philosopher, so much the better; but it is necessary for you to be just; and you will be more so when you come to believe that you have an immortal soul. Please to answer me, Is not God sovereign and perfect justice!

KOU. Doubtless, and should he cease to be so, (which it is blasphemy to think) I would myself act equitably.

CU-SU. Will it not be your duty, when on the throne, to reward virtue and punish vice? and can you think of God's not doing what is incumbent on yourself to do? You know that there are, and ever will be, in this life, good men distressed, while bad men prosper; therefore, good and evil must be finally judged in another life. It is this, so simple, so general, and so natural an opinion, which has induced and fixed among so many nations the belief in the immortality of our souls, and of their being judged by Divine Justice, on their quitting this mortal tenement. Is there, can there be, a system more rational, more suitable to the Deity, and more beneficial to mankind?

KOU. Why, then, have so many nations rejected this system? You know that, in our province, we have about two hundred families of the old Sinous, who formerly dwelt in part of Arabia Petraea; and neither they, nor their ancestors, ever believed anything of the immortality of the soul. They have their five books, as we have our five Kings. I have read a translation of them. Their laws, which necessarily correspond with those of all other nations, enjoin them to respect their parents, not to steal nor lie, and to abstain from adultery and bloodshed; yet these laws are wholly silent, as to the rewards and punishments in another life.

CU-SU. If this truth has not as yet been made known to those poor people, unquestionably their eyes will one day be opened. But what signifies a small obscure tribe, when the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Indians, and all polished nations, have subscribed to this salutary doctrine? If you were sick, would you decline making use of a remedy, approved by all the Chinese, because some barbarous mountaineers had expressed a dislike to it? God has endowed you with reason, and this reason tells you that the soul must be immortal; therefore, it is God himself who tells you so.

KOU. But how can I be rewarded or punished, when I shall cease to be myself? -- when nothing which had constituted my person shall be remaining? It is only by my memory that I am always myself: now, my memory I lose in my last illness; so that, after my death, nothing under a miracle can restore it to me, and thus replace me in my former existence.

CU-SU. That is as much as to say, should a prince, after making his way to the throne by the murder of all his relatives, play the tyrant over his subjects, he need only say to God, "It is not I; I have totally lost my memory; you mistake, I am no longer the same person." Think you God would be pleased with such a sophism?

KOU. Well, I acquiesce. I was for living irreproachable for my own sake, now I will do so to please the Supreme Being. I thought the whole matter was for my soul to be just and virtuous in this life; but I will now hope that it will be happy in another. This opinion, I perceive, makes for the good of both subjects and sovereigns. Still, the worship of the Deity perplexes me.


CU-SU. Why, what is there that can offend you in our Chu-king, the first canonical book, and which all the Chinese emperors have so greatly respected? You plough a field with your own royal hands, by way of setting an example to the people; and the first fruits of it you offer to the Chang-ti, to the Tien, to the Supreme Being, and sacrifice to him four times every year. You are king and high-priest; you promise God to do all the good which shall be in your power. Is there anything in this which you cannot digest?

KOU. I am very far from making any exceptions. I know that God has no need either of our sacrifices or prayers, but the offering of them to him is very needful for us. His worship was not instituted for himself, but on our account. I am very much delighted with praying, and am particularly careful that there be nothing ridiculous in my prayers; for, were I to cry out till my throat was sore, "That the mountain of Chang-ti is a fat mountain, and that fat mountains are not to be looked upon;" though I should have put the sun to flight, and dried up the moon, will this rant be acceptable to the Supreme Being, or of any benefit to my subjects or myself?

Especially, I cannot bear with the silliness of the sects about us. On one side is Laotz, whom his mother conceived by the junction of heaven and earth, and was for fourscore years pregnant with him. I as little believe his doctrine of universal deprivation and annihilation, as of his being born with white hair, or of his going to promulgate his doctrine, riding on a black cow.

The god Fo I put on the same footing, notwithstanding he had a white elephant for his father, and promises immortal life. One thing, at which I cannot forbear taking great offence, is that the bonzes continually preach such chimeras, thus deceiving the people, in order the better to sway them. They gain for themselves respect by mortification, at which, indeed, nature shudders. Some deny themselves, during their whole lives, the most salutary foods, as if there were no way of pleasing God, but by a bad diet. Others carry a pillory about their necks, and sometimes they richly deserve it. They drive nails into their thighs, as into boards, and for this fanaticism, the people follow them in crowds. On the king's issuing any edict which does not suit their humor, they coolly tell their auditors, that this edict is not to be found in the commentary of the god Fo, and that god is to be obeyed in preference to men. Now, how am I to remedy this popular distemper, which is extravagant in the highest degree, and not less dangerous? Toleration, you know, is the principle of the Chinese, and, indeed, of all Asiatic governments, but such an indulgence must be owned to be highly mischievous, as exposing an empire to be overthrown on account of some fanatical notions.

CU-SU. God forbid that I should go about to extinguish in you the spirit of toleration, that quality so eminently respectable, and which, to souls, is what the permission of eating is to bodies. By the law of nature, every one may believe what he will, as well as eat what he will. A physician is not to kill his patients for not observing the diet he has prescribed to them; neither has a sovereign a right to hang his subjects for not thinking as he thinks; but he has a right to prevent disturbances, and, with prudent measures, he will very easily root out superstitions of all kinds. Do you know what happened to Daon, the sixth king of Chaldea, about four thousand years ago?

KOU. No. I pray you oblige me with an account of it.

CU-SU. The Chaldean priests had taken it into their heads to worship the pikes of the Euphrates, pretending that a famous fish called Oannes, had formerly taught them divinity; that this fish was immortal, three feet in length, and a small crescent was on the tail. In veneration to this Oannes, no pikes were to be eaten. A violent dispute arose among the divines, whether the fish Oannes had a soft or hard roe. Both parties not only fulminated excommunications, but, several times, they came to blows. To put an end to such disturbances, King Daon made use of this expedient. He ordered a strict fast for three days to both parties, and, at the expiration of it, sent for the sticklers of the hard-roed pike, who, accordingly, were present at his dinner. A pike was brought to him, three feet in length, and, on the tail, a small crescent had been put.

"Is this your God?" said he, to the doctors.

"Yes, sir," answered they; "we know him by the crescent on the tail, and make no question but he is hard-roed."

On this, the king ordered the pike to be opened. It was found to have the finest melt that could be.

"Now," said the king, "you see that this is not your god, it being soft-roed;" and the king and his nobles ate the pike.

The hard-roed divines were not a little pleased, that the god of their adversaries had been fried.

Immediately after, the doctors of the opposite side were sent for, and a pike of three feet, with a crescent on his tail, being shown to them, they, with great joy, assured his majesty, that it was the god Oannes, and that he had a soft-roe; but, behold! on being opened, it was found hard-roed. At this, the two parties, equally out of countenance, and still fasting, the good-natured king told them, that he could only give them a dinner of pikes; and they greedily fell to eating both hard and soft-roed, indiscriminately. This closed the war with great distinction for King Daon's wisdom and goodness, and since that time, the people have been allowed to eat pikes as often as they pleased.

KOU. Well done, King Daon! and I give you my word that I will follow his example on every occasion, and, as far as I can, without injuring any one, and without worshipping Fo's and pikes.

I know that in the countries of Pegu and Tonquin, there are little gods and little Tapolins, which bring down the moon, when in the wane, and clearly foretell what is to come; that is, they clearly see what is not. I will take care that the Tapolins shall not come within my reach, to make futurity present, and bring down the moon.

It is a shame that there should be sects rambling from town to town, propagating their delusions, as quacks do their medicaments. What a disgrace it is to the human mind for petty nations to think that truth belongs to them alone, and that the vast empire of China is given up to error. Is then, the Eternal Being only the god of the island of Formosa, or Borneo? Has he no concern for the other parts of the universe? My dear Cu-su, he is a father to all men; he allows every one to eat pike. The most acceptable homage, which can be paid to him, is being virtuous. The finest of all his temples, as the great emperor Hiao used to say, is a pure heart.


CU-SU. Since you love virtue, in what manner do you propose to practise it, when you come to be king?

KOU. In not being unjust to my neighbors, or my subjects.

CU-SU. To do no harm, does not come up to virtue. I hope my prince will do good; will feed the poor, by employing them in useful labor, and not endow sloth; mend and not embellish the highways, dig canals, build public edifices, encourage arts, reward merit of every kind, and pardon involuntary faults.

KOU. This I call not being unjust: those things are plain duties.

CU-SU. Your way of thinking becomes a king; but there is the king and the man -- the public life and the private life. You will be married: how many wives do you think of having?

KOU. Why, a dozen, I think will do; a greater number might prove to be a hindrance from business. I do not approve of kings, like Solomon, with three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines, and thousands of eunuchs to wait on them. This custom of having eunuchs, especially, appears to me a most execrable insult and outrage to human nature. What is the use of their being thus mutilated? It improves their voices: the Dela-i Lama has fifty of them to sing purely in his pagoda. Let him tell me whether the Chang-ti is much delighted with the clear pipes of these fifty emasculated beings.

Another most ridiculous thing is the bonzes not marrying. They boast of being wiser than the other Chinese; well, then, let them prove their wisdom by getting married, and becoming the happy fathers of intelligent children. An odd manner, indeed, of worshipping the Chang-ti, to deprive him of worshippers; and, to be sure, they must have a great affection for mankind, who lead the way to extinguish the species! The good little Lama, called Stelca Isant Erepi, used to say, "That every priest should marry, and rear as many children as possible." What this Lama taught, he practised, and was very useful in his generation. For my part, I shall marry all the Lamas and Bonzes, and Lamasses and Bonzesses, who shall appear to have a call to the holy work. Besides making them better patriots, I shall think it no small service to my dominions.

CU-SU. What an excellent prince shall we have in you! I cannot forbear weeping for joy. But you will not be satisfied with having wives and subjects, for, after all, one cannot be perpetually drawing up edicts, and caring for children; you will likewise make yourself some friends.

KOU. I am not without some already, and those good ones; putting me in mind of my faults; and I allow myself the liberty of reproving theirs. We likewise mutually comfort and encourage one another. Friendship is the balm of life. It excels that of the chemist Eruil; and even all the nostrums of the great Ranoud are not comparable to it. I think friendship should have been made a religious precept. I have a good mind to insert it in our ritual.

CU-SU. By no means. Friendship is sufficiently sacred of itself. Never enjoin it: the heart must be free; besides, were you to make a precept, a mystery, a rite, a ceremony, of friendship, it would soon become ridiculous through the fantastical preachings and writings of the bonzes. Let it not be exposed to such profanation.

But how will you deal with your enemies? Confucius, I believe, in no less than twenty places, directs us to love them. Does not this appear somewhat difficult to you?

KOU. Love one's enemies! Oh, dear, doctor! nothing is more common.

CU-SU. But what do you mean by love?

KOU. Mean by it! what it really is. I was a volunteer under the prince of Decon, against the prince of Visbrunk; when a wounded enemy fell into our hands, we took as much care of him as if he had been our brother. We have even parted with our beds to them, and we lay by them on tiger's skins, spread on the bare ground. We have tended and nursed them ourselves! Is not this loving our enemies?

CU-SU. I am greatly pleased with your discourse, and wish that all nations could have heard you, for I have been informed of some, so very ignorant and impertinent, as to assert, that we know nothing of true virtue -- that our good actions are only specious sins -- and that we stand in need of their Talapoins to instruct us in right principles! Poor creatures! A few years ago, there was no such thing as reading or writing among them; and now they are for teaching their masters!


CU-SU. I shall not repeat to you the common phrases, which, for these five or six thousand years past, have been retailed among us, relating to all the several virtues. Some there are which only concern ourselves, as prudence in the guidance of our souls; temperance in the government of our bodies; but these are rather dictates of policy, and care of health. The real virtues are those which promote the welfare of society, as fidelity, magnanimity, beneficence, toleration, etc., and, thank Heaven, these are the first things which every woman, among us, teaches her children. They are the rudiments of the rising generation, both in town and country; but I am sorry to say there is a great virtue which is sadly on the decline among us.

KOU. Quickly name it, and no endeavor of mine shall be wanting to revive it.

CU-SU. It is hospitality; for, since inns have been established among us, this so social virtue -- this sacred tie of mankind -- becomes more and more relaxed. That pernicious institution, the hotel, we have borrowed, I am told, from those western savages, who probably, have no houses to entertain travelers. My heart melts with delight, when I have the happiness of entertaining, in the vast city of Lou, in Honcham, that superb square, or my delicious seat at Ki, some generous stranger from Samarcand, to whom, from that moment, I become sacred, and who, by all laws human and divine, is bound to entertain me on any call I may have into Tartary; and to be and remain my cordial friend.

The savages I am speaking of, do not admit strangers into their huts, filthy as they are, without their paying, and dearly too, for such sordid reception; and yet these wretches, I hear, think themselves above us; and that our morality is nothing in comparison to theirs -- that their preachers excel Confucius himself. In a word, they alone know what true justice is, and as proof of their claim, they allow the sale of deleterious compounds for wine in public places, and permit their women, as if mad, to dance, and rove about the streets, whilst ours are breeding silk-worms.

KOU. I very much approve of hospitality, and the practice of it gives me pleasure; but I am afraid it will be much abused. Near Tibet dwells a people, who, besides the poverty of their habitations, being of a roving disposition, will, for any trifle, go from one end of the world to the other; and, on your visiting Tibet, so far from returning your hospitality, they have nothing to set before you, nor so much as a bed for you to lie on. This is enough to put one out of conceit with courtesy.

CU-SU. These disappointments may easily be remedied, by entertaining such persons only as come well recommended. Every virtue has its difficulties and dangers, and, without them, the practice of virtue would want much of its glory and excellence. How wise and holy is our Confucius! There is not a virtue that he does not inculcate. Every sentence is pregnant with the happiness of mankind. One, at present, recurs to me; I think it is the fifty-third: "Kindnesses acknowledge with kindness, and never revenge injuries." What a maxim! what a law! Can the western people bring any thing in competition with such exalted morality? Then, in how many places, and how strongly, does he recommend humility! Did this amiable virtue prevail among men, there would be an end to all quarrels and broils.

KOU. I have read all that Confucius, and the sages before him have said about humility; but none of them, I think, have been sufficiently accurate in their definition of it. There may, perhaps, be but little humility in presuming to censure them; but, with all due deference, I own that they are beyond my comprehension. What is your idea of humility?

CU-SU. Humility, I take to be mental modesty; for, as to external modesty, it is no more than civility. Humility cannot consist in denying to one's self that superiority which we may have acquired above another. An able physician cannot but be sensible that he is possessed of a knowledge infinitely beyond that of his delirious patient. The teacher of astronomy must necessarily think himself more learned than his scholar; but they must not pride themselves on their superior acquirements. Humility is not debasement, but a corrective of self-love, as modesty is the corrective of pride.

KOU. Well, it is in the practice of all these virtues, and the worship of one simple and universal God, that I propose to live, far from the chimeras of sophists, and the illusions of false prophets. The love of mankind shall be my virtue, and the love of God my religion.

As to the god Fo, and Lao-Tse, and Vishnu, who has so often become incarnate among the Indians; and Sammonocodom, who came down from heaven to fly a kite among the Siamese, together with the Camis, who went from the moon to visit Japan, -- I cannot endure such impious fooleries.

How weak, and, at the same time, how cruel, is it for a people to conceive that there is no God but with them alone! It is downright blasphemy. The light of the sun irradiates all nations, but the light of God shines only in a little, insignificant tribe, in a corner of this globe! It is appalling that such a thought could enter the mind of man! The Deity speaks to the heart of all men of all nations, and they should, from one end of the universe to the other, be linked together in the bonds of charity.

CU-SU. O wise Kou! you have spoken like one inspired by the great Chang-ti himself! You will make a worthy prince. From being my pupil, you have become my teacher.

If you find the above classic French literature useful, please link to this page from your webpage, blog or website. Alternatively, consider recommending us to your friends and colleagues. Thank you in advance!

Website Copyright © 2005-2012 INTERNET ACCURACY PROJECT. BY ACCESSING THIS SITE YOU ARE STATING THAT YOU AGREE TO BE BOUND BY OUR TERMS AND CONDITIONS regardless of whether you reside in the United States of America or not. Our Privacy Policy. This page was last updated January 1, 2012.