Mencius (book)
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Mencius Book
Jiatai Era Mencius title page.jpg
Early-13th-century Mencius printing held in National Palace Museum
Publication date
c. 300 BC
Mengzi (Chinese characters).svg
"Mencius" in seal script (top) and regular (bottom) Chinese characters
Hanyu PinyinMèngz?
Literal meaning"Master Meng"

The Mencius (Chinese: ; pinyin: Mèngz?; Old Chinese: *m?ra?-s ts) is a collection of anecdotes and conversations of the Confucian thinker and philosopher Mencius on topics in moral and political philosophy, often between Mencius and the rulers of the various Warring States. Mencius was a disciple of one of the students of Zisi, a grandson of Confucius, and the Mencius records his travels and audiences with the various rulers of the Warring States period, his students, and his other contemporaries.[1][2] A number of linguistic and textual clues suggest that the text was not written by Mencius himself but by his disciples,[1] probably during the late 4th century BC.[3]


The Mencius comprises seven chapters, each divided into two halves, with alternating short sayings and extensive dialogues on specific philosophical arguments.[4] Its fundamental positions, such as Mencius' famous argument in chapter 6A that human nature is inherently good, are usually presented as conversations between Mencius and contemporaneous thinkers, while arguments on specific issues usually appear in records of his advice and counsel to various rulers.[4] His argument that inborn potential tends towards virtue contrasts with the position of contemporary figure Yang Zhu who argued that that human nature is motivated by self interest.[5]

The Mencius was one of the most important texts of early Confucianism, and represents a notable advance over the Analects of Confucius (Lunyu ) in terms of sophistication of argument.[2] Notwithstanding its early importance to Confucianism, the Mencius was not canonized as one of the Chinese Classics until over 1,000 years later in Song dynasty Neo-Confucianism.[2][6]

The famous saying "live in peril, die in comfort" comes from the following passage of Mencius:[7]

Mencius said, 'Shun rose from among the channelled fields. Fu Yue was called to office from the midst of his building frames; Jiao Ge from his fish and salt; Guan Yi Wu from the hands of his gaoler; Sun Shu Ao from his hiding by the sea-shore; and Bai Li Xi from the market-place. Thus, when Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and supplies his incompetencies. Men for the most part err, and are afterwards able to reform. They are distressed in mind and perplexed in their thoughts, and then they arise to vigorous reformation. When things have been evidenced in men's looks, and set forth in their words, then they understand them. If a prince have not about his court families attached to the laws and worthy counsellors, and if abroad there are not hostile States or other external calamities, his kingdom will generally come to ruin. From these things we see how life springs from sorrow and calamity, and death from ease and pleasure.' (?,?)

Selected translations

  • Legge, James (1861). The Works of Mencius. The Chinese Classics, vol. 2. Reprinted (1895), Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • (in French) Couvreur, Séraphin (1895). Oeuvres de Meng Tzeu (Works of Mengzi), in Les Quatres Livres. Ho Kien Fou: Mission Catholique.
  • (in German) Wilhelm, Richard (1916). Mong Dsi (Mengzi). Jena: Eugen Diderichs.
  • Lyall, Leonard A. (1932). Mencius. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
  • Ware, James R. (1960). The Sayings of Mencius. New York: Mentor Books.
  • Dobson, W. A. C. H. (1963). Mencius, A New Translation Arranged and Annotated for the General Reader. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Lau, D. C. (1970). Mencius. London: Penguin Books.
  • ——— (2003). Mencius (New Bilingual Edition). Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.
  • Van Norden, Bryan (2008). Mencius: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.
  • Bloom, Irene (2009). Mencius. New York: Columbia University Press.



  1. ^ a b Lau (1993), p. 331.
  2. ^ a b c Shih & Knechtges (2010), p. 668.
  3. ^ Kern (2010), p. 69.
  4. ^ a b Kern (2010), p. 70.
  5. ^ Denecke (2017), p. 210.
  6. ^ Fuller (2004), p. 175.
  7. ^ "? - Gaozi II?".

Works cited

  • Bloom, Irene (1999). "The Evolution of the Confucian Tradition in Antiquity -- Mencius". In de Bary, Wm. Theodore; Bloom, Irene (eds.). Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1: From Earliest Times to 1600 (2nd ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 114-34. ISBN 978-0-231-10939-0.
  • Denecke, Wiebke (2017). "Chapter 14: Masters (Zi ?)". In Denecke, Wiebke; Li, Wai-Yee; Tian, Xiaofei (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE-900CE). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 201-218.
  • Fuller, Michael A (2004). An Introduction to Literary Chinese. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Asia Center: Distributed by Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01726-9.
  • Kern, Martin (2010). "Early Chinese literature, Beginnings through Western Han". In Owen, Stephen (ed.). The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Volume I: To 1375. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1-115. ISBN 978-0-521-85558-7.
  • Lau, D. C. (1993). "Meng tzu (Mencius)". In Loewe, Michael (ed.). Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China; Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. pp. 331-335. ISBN 1-55729-043-1.
  • Shih, Hsiang-lin; Knechtges, David R. (2010). "Mengzi ". In Knechtges, David R.; Chang, Taiping (eds.). Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide, Part One. Leiden: Brill. pp. 668-671. ISBN 978-90-04-19127-3.
  • Nivison, David Shepherd (1999). "The Classical Philosophical Writings". In Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward (eds.). The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 745-812. ISBN 0-521-47030-7.

External links

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