This is one of a series of pages discussing Classical Chinese philosophy during the period from before Confucius (ca 650 B.C.) to the early Han dynasty (ca 200 B.C.). This page provides summary of the views of the late 4th century Jixia philosopher Song Xing, also known as Sung Hsing.
Bronze Head of Warrior dating from the Qin dynasty. Xianyang, China.
Song Xing, also known as Song Keng and Song Yong, was among the many philosophers, the "Hundred Schools," active at the Jixia Academy in Qi at the end of the 4th century B.C. He was regarded as a thinker akin to the Mohist school by Xun Kuang, and in later times was counted among them. In the literature, he is also is usually associated with Yin Wen, who may have been his student. A younger contemporary of Mencius, who criticizes him, Song was a pacifist who once set out for Chu to dissuade its king from making war by showing him that it was unprofitable to do so. Mencius was horrified that Song did not tell the king that it was immoral. Song taught that there was no need to fight as it was no disgrace to suffer insult, that war and aggression are wrong and unprofitable (he urged instead disarmament), and that one must hold fast to an inner ideal, unaffected by popular fashions. He believed that the essential human desires were few and that if men could be shown this, conflict would disappear. He stressed tolerance, equality, affection, the need for peace, and the preservation of life. He held that one should seek only what is needed to keep one alive and ask for no more. Song "traveled about the whole world, persuading the upper classes and preaching to the lower." He "energetically and noisily pressed his views, never relenting." His influence was sufficient to cause Xun Kuang, early in his career, to think it necessary to make a careful refutation of Song's doctrines. It is unfortunate that we know so little of his views and that what we do know is from unsympathetic sources. It is said that he "discussed the states of the mind which were called the 'behavior of the mind.'" If this was a psychological examination of the mind, it would be unique, for we do not find any other until the coming of Buddhism. The works of Song Xing were not part of the Imperial Library in the Han Dynasty, and the work contained in one silk scroll mentioned in the Tang dynasty commentary to the Zhuangzi has long been lost, but the "World of Thought" of the Zhuangzi and the "Rectifying Theses" of the Xunzi discuss his views. Zhuang Zhou admires Song Xing because he "settled the distinction between internal and external qualities, and explained the true boundary between honor and disgrace," whereas Xun Kuang repeatedly criticizes him for exactly those same positions.
Song Xing treated of the problem of removing what beclouds the judgment as part of a comprehensive theory of the mind, its states and operations. He analyzed the problem in terms of "eliminating partiality" rather than the "discovering delusions" of Confucius (LY, 12.10, 12.21) or the "removing blindness" of Xun Kuang. Song refers particularly to things we seize on as true and that then hinder our understanding of the larger view. When we are bedazzled and beguiled by something, we fail to grasp the full facts. Song Xing prized "eliminating partiality" just as Mo Di prized "universality" and Confucius "impartiality." A discussion of the concept of "eliminating obsessions" in Lüshi chunqiu, 17/7 "Quyou" (16.17a), "Getting Rid of Partiality," is probably an epitome of Song's views:
When men are partial to a particular view, it is inherent in the problem that they will deem daylight to be darkness, white to be black, and Yao to be Jie. The damage caused by such partiality is extremely great. Has not each and every ruler of a ruined country had his own extraordinary obsessions? Thus, as a general rule it is necessary for men to eliminate such partiality before they can know. If they eliminate such partiality, they will be able to make whole their natural endowments.
The problem is discussed in slightly different language in another part of the Lüshi chunqiu, 13/3 "Quyou" (13.5b), "Getting Rid of Bias," which may also reflect Song's position:
Those who judge in our age frequently have biases. If one is frequently biased, then his judgments are certain to be fallacious. Although the reasons for bias have many causes, the most important certainly have their grounds in what men like and in what they dislike. Just as those who face east do not perceive the western wall and those who view things to the south do not observe the northern direction, so too ideas are dependent on the location.
According to the "World of Thought," Song Xing's view that men would not fight with each other if they understood that it was no disgrace to suffer insult was the "external" doctrine of Song Xing. Song was motivated by pacifism and directly opposed to the school of Ru scholar-knights founded by Qidiao Qi. These scholar-knights were probably among those whom Xunzi condemned for their bellicosity. The broader context of Song Xing's argument is provided by Han Fei, who notes, in contrast to the Qidiao school, Song Xing's pacifist view that "a man should not engage in warfare and fighting, should refuse to take part in acts of vengeance, should not be ashamed to be cast into prison, and should not consider it a disgrace to suffer insult." But Xun Kuang observes that Song Xing wrongly believed that men fight because they consider that insults bring disgrace. It thus followed, Song thought, that if they could be convinced that insults cannot bring disgrace, then they would cease fighting. Xun replies that men fight not because they feel disgraced, but because they hate, an emotion rooted in their essential nature. If men did not hate disgrace, then, even though they considered that to suffer insult was a disgrace, they would not fight. Since the essential nature of men cannot be changed, by his argument Song Xing cannot persuade men not to fight.
Song's position that it is no disgrace to suffer insult was admired by the author of "World," an indication that his argument was persuasive to his age. The "Baixin," an important essay written by a contemporaneous philosopher in the Jixia Academy, which may here reflect Song Xing's view, notes that perfect achievements bring ruin and a perfect reputation is brought down. From the fragments of his philosophy that remain, it seems probable that Song drew a distinction between the external circumstances which may result in insult, and internal conditions, which alone produce disgrace. In arguing against this thesis, Xun Kuang distinguishes disgrace caused by force of circumstances, in which Song's argument might be granted, from that caused by immoral conduct, in which case it is false. By failing to understand this difference, Song has contrived a very faulty and dangerous thesis.
Song's view that the desires belonging to man's essential nature are few was, according to the author of the "World," the core or "internal" doctrine of Song Xing's philosophy. A few spoonfuls of rice was sufficient to provide for the nourishment of a man, and nothing more was required by his essential desires. Anything else he desired derived from other considerations. Xun Kuang very strenuously argues against this view. His confrontation with Song Xing's disciples first establishes that they concede, as was generally conceded by third century philosophers, that the desires of the ear for sound, the eye for color, and the mouth for flavors were essential. He then notes that, having granted this point, the position of their master is demonstrably factually wrong.
This material is abridged from John Knoblock, Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works. 3 vols. Stanford, 1988-1994. Please do not reproduce without permission.
For the English Translation of the Fragments, click button .
For the Chinese Text of the Fragments, click button .
For the Classical Chinese Philosophy page, click button .
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