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Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries

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Bryan Van Norden's new translation of the Mengzi (Mencius) is accurate, philosophically nuanced, and fluent. Accompanied by selected passages from the classic commentary of Zhu Xi - one of the most influential and insightful interpreters of Confucianism - this edition provides readers with a parallel to the Chinese practice of reading a classic text alongside traditional commentaries. Also included are an Introduction that situates Mengzi and Zhu Xi in their intellectual and social contexts; a glossary of names, places and important terms; a selected bibliography; and an index.

207 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 301

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Mencius (Chinese: 孟子; pinyin: Mèng Zǐ; Wade–Giles: Meng Tzu; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄇㄥˋ ㄗˇ, most accepted dates: 372 – 289 BCE; other possible dates: 385 – 303/302 BCE) was a Chinese philosopher who was arguably the most famous Confucian after Confucius himself.

Also known by his birth name Meng Ke or Ko, Mencius was born in the State of Zou, now forming the territory of the county-level city of Zoucheng (originally Zouxian), Shandong province, only thirty kilometres (eighteen miles) south of Qufu, Confucius' birthplace.

He was an itinerant Chinese philosopher and sage, and one of the principal interpreters of Confucianism. Supposedly, he was a pupil of Confucius' grandson, Zisi. Like Confucius, according to legend, he travelled China for forty years to offer advice to rulers for reform. During the Warring States Period (403–221 BCE), Mencius served as an official and scholar at the Jixia Academy in the State of Qi (1046 BCE to 221 BCE) from 319 to 312 BCE. He expressed his filial devotion when he took an absence of three years from his official duties for Qi to mourn his mother's death. Disappointed at his failure to effect changes in his contemporary world, he retired from public life.

Mencius is buried in the "Mencius Cemetery" (孟子林, Mengzi Lin, also known as 亚圣林, Yasheng Lin), which is located 12 km to the northeast of Zoucheng's central urban area. A stele carried by a giant stone tortoise and crowned with dragons stands in front of his grave.

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Profile Image for Jonathan O'Neill.
160 reviews323 followers
May 2, 2022
3 ⭐

I’ll try to keep this brief; Mencius in a nutshell:
Mencius in a nutshell 2 good
”Heeelp, I’m in a nutshell!!” - Mencius

No, but really, I wasn’t exactly expecting Mencius (aka Mèng Kē aka Lil Baby Confucius) to kindle the flames of deep introspection, after being slightly underwhelmed by Confucius’ ‘Analects’, and he didn’t (or rather, did) disappoint in that sense.

The primary purpose of Chinese Philosophy, in its time, is far removed from its application nowadays. We look to these works in the hope of finding useful kernels of ancient wisdom that we might apply on an individual level, or perhaps with the broader intention of attempting to understand modern Chinese thought through the study of the minds that shaped it. 2000 years ago, many of the popular texts were predominantly a Manual-for-Kings written by “sages” with aspirations of becoming advisors to their rulers. Given this, I’m not so much rating Mencius’ work 3 stars, that would be rather bold of me, just my personal experience with it and how worthwhile I feel it was to read. The Taoists are not immune to this but they usually only go so far as to suggest rulers should not “over-govern” their subjects and should be wary of corruption. Additionally, it’s never so explicitly obvious that the lessons are addressed to rulers as with the Confucianists, and Taoist teachings being a great deal more ambiguous and indirect actually gives them the benefit of being further separable from leadership instruction and more applicable on a personal level; One feels, when reading the ‘Tao Te Ching’ or ‘Book of Chuang Tzu’, that the author is speaking to them and not a 2,000-year-dead Emperor. I can’t say the same about Mencius.

This difficulty, or lack of opportunity, for personal application in Mencius’ work is a grievance that’s secondary only to my distaste in the Confucianist’s apparent belief that it is their duty to “put others right”, as Mencius says:

”If one does not put others right, one cannot hold the Way up for everyone to see. I shall put him right. I have heard that Yi Tzu is a Mohist.”

It is not that Confucian ideology is not worthy of spreading; in fact, in Mencius’ treaty the key traits that one should pursue are rightness and benevolence, filial piety, adherence to the rites and retention of one’s heart (moral fibre). Mencius, contrary to the Legalist’s view that man is purely egoistic and motivated solely by reward and punishment, believed that all men had the “germ of morality” and were innately good. Given this, it is purely external factors that influence whether we stray from the path (The Way) and this can be avoided by practicing ritual propriety and adhering to the rites. Mencius finds these ideals in the practices of ancient sages such as Po Yi, Yi Yin and Liu Hsia, and Kings, illustrated in the many references to King Wen. However, above all he finds inspiration in his predecessor Confucius’ who he can be found frequently fanboying over.

So, as I was saying, it’s not the nature of Mencius’ ideology, largely good-natured, that is off-putting but the obviously narrow-minded, one-eyed lack of respect for anyone else’s beliefs and the dangerously autocratic rhetoric when addressing them:

”If the way of Yang and Mo does not subside and the way of Confucius does not shine forth, the people will be deceived by heresies and the path of morality will be blocked… I wish to safeguard the way of the former sages against the onslaught of Yang and Mo and to banish excessive views

So, at the end of the day, Mencius’ message is a positive one but, to me, comes off as preachy and unaccepting of competing views or interpretations of the ancient rites. His views on moral rightness and benevolence may well have been ground-breaking and much-needed in the “Warring-States period”, but the modern reader is unlikely to find anything truly thought-provoking.

If you do plan to read ‘Mencius’, I did very much enjoy the typically excellent introduction by D.C.Lau in this edition, which gives some contextual background to the work and really sets the scene for the reader. There are also extensive notes in the appendices of the book covering how the events of Mencius’ life have been dated, further notes on the text, Ancient Chinese History through the eyes of Mencius and an analysis of his use of analogy.

”My reason for saying that no man is devoid of a heart sensitive to the suffering of others is this. Suppose a man were, all of a sudden, to see a young child on the verge of falling into a well. He would certainly be moved to compassion, not because he wanted to get in the good graces of the parents, nor because he wished to win the praise of his fellow villagers or friends, nor yet because he disliked the cry of the child. From this it can be seen that whoever is devoid of the heart of compassion is not human, whoever is devoid of the heart of shame is not human, whoever is devoid of the heart of courtesy and modesty is not human, and whoever is devoid of the heart of right and wrong is not human. The heart of compassion is the germ of benevolence; the heart of shame, of dutifulness; the heart of courtesy and modesty, of observance of the rites; the heart of right and wrong, of wisdom. Man has these four germs just as he has four limbs.” - Mencius
Profile Image for Paul Haspel.
543 reviews66 followers
November 13, 2021
Men and women go through their lives asking themselves “What is the right thing to do?”, and trying to live good lives. And some of the very best answers to those questions of how to live a good life and do the right thing come from a Chinese philosopher who lived 2400 years ago. Many people in the West do not know Mencius and his work, but everyone everywhere should.

Mencius, Meng Ke, 孟子, lived about a century after Confucius, and his work is unquestionably part of the intellectual and philosophical legacy of Confucianism. Mencius’ declaration that “Holding on to the middle is closer to being right, but to do this without the proper measure is no different from holding to one extreme” (VII.A. 26, p. 151) sounds very Confucian, and recalls the inscription above the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi: μηδὲν ἄγαν, meden agan, nothing in excess. At the same time, however, Mencius offers something new and different from the work of Confucius. And it is in that difference that Mencius’ work – known simply as The Mencius – becomes wonderfully modern.

For all the profundity of Confucius’ Analects, there sometimes seems to be something a bit self-interested about it all. Confucius calls upon his disciples to practice benevolence, to be sure; but to what end? Some readers of The Analects may feel that Confucius overemphasizes benevolence as a path toward being a gentleman rather than a “small man,” and gentlemanly status as the means by which one can secure an Imperial post equal to one’s talents. Is the whole point of benevolence that it helps one get a really good job? Such would be a gross oversimplification of The Analects, in my opinion, but The Mencius does not leave itself open to such charges. Mencius, rather, engages in some fruitful speculations on the source of human benevolence itself.

In Mencius’ view, all people come into this world with what he calls “the germ of benevolence,” a predisposition to do good on behalf of others for others’ sake, with no self-interest involved. Mencius explains this concept in one of the most famous passages from The Mencius:

"Suppose a man were, all of a sudden, to see a young child on the verge of falling into a well. He would certainly be moved to compassion, not because he wanted to get in the good graces of the parents, nor yet because he disliked the cry of the child. From this it can be seen that whoever is devoid of the heart of compassion is not human….The heart of compassion is the germ of benevolence" (II.A.6, p. 38).

That impulse toward compassion, Mencius argues, is natural to us; it is a predisposition. “Human nature is good just as water seeks low ground. There is no man who is not good; there is no water that does not flow downwards” (VI.A.2, pp. 122). Yet if all people come into the world with that predisposition toward empathy for all living things, how is it that people are able to behave cruelly? In Mencius’ view, the human tendency toward compassion is something that must be exercised and nurtured, because otherwise it can be lost. If one develops those innate qualities of compassion and ethical awareness, then “When these are fully developed, he can tend the whole realm within the Four Seas; but if he fails to develop them, he will not be able even to serve his parents” (II.A.6, pp. 38-39).

The system of morality that Mencius sets forth is eminently practical and sensible. When one of his disciples suggests that an unjust tax cannot be abolished immediately, Mencius compares that to a man making a “reduction” from stealing his neighbor’s chickens daily to stealing them only once a month and adds, “When one realizes that something is morally wrong, one should stop it as soon as possible. Why wait for next year?” (III.B.8, p. 71).

In this time of wars that seem to go on without end, there is something only too modern in Mencius’ declaration that there are “no just wars. There are only cases of one war not being quite as bad as another” (VII.B.2, p. 157). And an observer of the contemporary political scene might shake his or her head in rueful agreement with Mencius’ observation that “A good and wise man helps others to understand by his own clear understanding. Nowadays, men try to help others understand by their own benighted ignorance” (VII.B.20, p. 161).

A helpful introduction by scholar D.C. Lau of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (who also translated Penguin Books editions of the Tao Te Ching and The Analects) situates The Mencius in its social and historical context. Along with a glossary of personal and place names, Lau also includes four appendices: one on events in the life of Mencius, a second that examines early traditions about the philosopher, a third on the text of The Mencius, a fourth that focuses on Mencius’ understanding of ancient history, and a fifth on Mencius’ use of analogy in argument. It is like taking a seminar in Chinese history and philosophy, all in the course of a 246-page book.

I read The Mencius while my wife and I were on a trip to Shanghai. Not far from the towering skyscrapers of the Pudong and the neon-lit commercialism of the Nanjing Road shopping district, one can walk quietly in Old Shanghai, amidst the serenity of the 16th-century Yu Garden. It is easy to imagine people of earlier times walking among the rockeries and pavilions of Yu Garden, and then sitting down by a pond to read from The Mencius. Walking in Old Shanghai, experiencing the friendly smiles and the quiet courtesy of the Shanghainese people, even amidst the modern busy-ness of one of the world’s largest cities, I could not help thinking that the compassionate and benevolent spirit of Mencius lives on in the land of his birth.
Profile Image for Yann.
1,407 reviews334 followers
November 4, 2014

Mencius est un sage chinois du quatrième siècle avant Jésus-Christ, soit deux siècle après Confucius. A cette époque, la Chine est divisée en "royaumes combattants" qui rivalisent pour l'hégémonie. Cet ouvrage relate des anecdotes relatifs aux messages édifiants que Mencius a voulu faire passer à ceux de ses contemporains qui étaient aux affaires afin qu'ils améliorent leur pratique du gouvernement. Elles consistent le plus souvent à être attentif au bien-être et à la prospérité du peuple, à ne pas l'accabler inconsidérément au risque de le faire dépérir, à le traiter avec justice et humanité. Pour cela, Mencius part des goûts des souverains, de leurs préoccupations, de leurs plaisirs, pour les amener adroitement là où il veut les rendre conscients du point qui le préoccupe.

Cet ouvrage, quoique court et petit, m'a impressionné par la très grande qualité de son appareil critique: le moindre terme chinois est longuement et savamment exposé, le contexte politique, philosophique et intellectuel et patiemment et clairement expliqué, et pour celui qui est un peu initié à la langue et la civilisation chinoise, ce qui n'est malheureusement pas mon cas, il y a de quoi profiter d'une telle abondance d'érudition. L'éditeur est très favorablement disposé à l'égard de Mencius, poussant même l'enthousiasme jusqu'à en faire l'un des précurseurs des idéaux démocratiques. Un bon livre de sagesse et de politique pratique exempt de toute spiritualité intempestive.
Profile Image for Brit Cheung.
51 reviews122 followers
January 4, 2016
Not quite into confucious though as a icon of the Chinese culture by the government propaganda and though there are many Confucious Institutes in varied countries. It was once deemed as some sort of the obsolescent thoughts to be deprecated in the New Cultural Movement . Even till this day , a word was linked to it with exceedingly passive connotation as “cynicism” (犬儒主义). Compared to its official background, Mencius is more lovable and accessible and more inspiring.

The following are some excerpt from his thoughts that were still instrutive after millenniums. We were educated to absorb some of this ancient philosopher's views since a juvenile.

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, harden 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 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 abroard 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.


If the seasons of husbandry be not interfered with,the grain will be more than can be eaten. If close nets are not allowed to enter the pools and ponds ,the fishes and turtles will be more than can be cinsumed. If the axes and bills enter the hills and forests only at the proper time, the wood will be more than can be used.

When the grain and fish and turtles ate more than can be eaten ,and there is more wood than can be used , this enables the people to nourish their living and mourn for their dead,without any feeling against any. This condition, in which the people nourish their living and bury their dead without any feeling against any, is the first step of royal government.

He who seeks to be rich will not be benevolent.

To be above the power of riches and honors to make dissipated, of poverty and mean condition to make swerve from principle, and of power and force to make bend:-these characteristics constitute the great man.

Opportunities of time vouchsafed by heaven are not equal to advantages of situation afforded by the Earth , and advantages of situation afforded by the Earth are not equal to the union arising from the accord of Men.

He who finds the proper course has many to assist him.
He who loses the proper course has few to assis him.
When this,--the being assisted by few , reaches its extreme point, his own relations revolt from the prince.
When the being assisted by many reached its highest point, the whole kingdom become obedient to the prince.

When one to whom the whole kingdom is prepared to be obedient,attacks those from whom their own relations revolt, what must be the result?
Therefore, the true ruler will prefer not to fight; but if he Di fight, he must overcome.

…… ……

Well , this is the last day of the year 2015, and this is the last book review of the year. What a new year will unfold and manifest itself tomorrow?
Who the hell knows…

Just make progress and be Happy:)

Profile Image for Matt.
84 reviews10 followers
December 31, 2016
The Mencius, one of the Four Books of the neo-Confucian canon, has gotten a new English translation from three mainland Chinese authors. And as translations go, this one definitely has a strong leg up on the standard, free-to-read-online James Legge version with which I've had a love-hate relationship for a long time now.

On the one hand, I appreciate very much the fact that this is a trilingual (classical Chinese / vernacular modern Chinese / English) edition, and that really, really helps. Seriously - as far as study guides go, this is a truly indispensable tool. Also, the English is clear, concise and straightforward. Thankfully, Mencius no longer sounds like a prolix and stuffy Victorian (which is a good thing given that Mencius tends to hate long-windedness!).

There are only a few minor gripes with the English translation; most of these have to do with the usage of colloquialisms that are out of date, or constructions which, though grammatically correct, partially obscure a more commonsense reading. Already, though, this is a great feat of translation work, and I applaud Messrs. Zhao, Zhang and Zhou.

As for the Mencius itself, the text stands on its own quite well. The thought of Mencius contains a number of insights which, in application either to modern China or to a foreign reader, will come across as quite radical - the most basic of which is, that rulers should consider benevolent behaviour first, before any cost-benefit considerations or considerations of power. To the rulers of large states and small states, his advice is the same; and this volume shows clearly that he isn't afraid to step on toes or shock his listeners by giving blunt (and bluntly counter-intuitive) advice!

I would still recommend the Legge translation if accompanied by the original classical Chinese; personally I highly prefer this one, though.
Profile Image for Meem Arafat Manab.
371 reviews154 followers
September 26, 2018
কিছু ভালো ভালো দুই লাইনের কবিতা-কবিতা-বিষয় থাকলেও শেষমেষ ফসলের উপর কর কমানোর প্রেস্ক্রিপশন আর বাবা-মা মরলে কয় বছর মুখ কালো করে রাখতে হবে এই দুই আলাপে বই নুয়ে গেছে। ভাগ্যিস চৈনিক পড়তে পারি না, তাই শুধু ইংরেজি অনুবাদগুলি পড়ে গেছি।
অবশ্য অনুবাদ হিসেবে সেইটা খুব একটা জাতের হইছে বলে মনে হইলো না। সরকারী ফরেন প্রেস যা করে দেশে দেশে, এক প্রগতি ছাড়া, অনেকটা সেই মানেরই। ডিউক শব্দটারে টানা কয়েক জায়গায় পাতিহাঁস করে দিছে দেখলাম।
আবার হয়তো একদিন অন্য মলাটে, অন্য স্বরে, পড়া হবে এই বই।

(অবশ্য না পড়াই ভালো। এদের সব কিছুর নাম একই। ঝাউ নামে এক রাজারে হারায়া আরেক বংশ আসলো ক্ষমতায়, সেই বংশের নামও ঝাউ)
Profile Image for Philip of Macedon.
259 reviews60 followers
August 3, 2021
Mencius carries on and extends the philosophical work of Confucius, conveying this philosophy in much the same way Confucius did: through dialogue with students and rulers and other philosophers. This work of Mencius is divided into seven ‘books’, or chapters, each in two parts. There doesn’t seem to be a common theme to the sections, and many statements or phrases are repeated across these chapters. In addition to these conversations between Mencius and other individuals, frequent references are made to the Odes, the Book of History, and the Analects of Confucius.

The book and the Confucian philosophy are certainly products of their time. Much of the philosophy seems designed around the needs of the people in ancient China, and this can be seen in many of the dialogues and examples which refer to customs and social institutions which no longer exist. And almost every page is filled with reference to multiple ancient emperors or commanders or figures of importance who readers like myself will have no familiarity with. This is kind of cool, because this lends historical veracity to many of the stories Mencius tells, and the examples he uses to make his points are many times situated in real historical events, not only hypothetical scenarios.

Despite the obvious practicality of these teachings, they are not stuck in the past and relevant only to a specific time and place. Many of these ideas can be generalized and applied to anyone, anywhere.

The philosophy here is not very different from what one reads in Confucius. Mencius encourages the cultivation of good character, virtue, benevolence, a disciplined pursuit of ambition, integrity, trueness to oneself, minimization of the desires, a harmonious existence that is pleasing to the world one inhabits, and he offers various discussions on the duties of children to their parents, of the youth to elders, of rulers to their people, how best to govern, how best to teach, how to follow the Way and to develop rightness in oneself, the improvement of one’s moral character, and understanding human nature for the greater good of all.

Mencius’s arguments are not always logical, and an essay in one of the appendices analyzes his argumentation-by-analogy method, which is not necessarily an effective or convincing method, but it is one that illustrates his philosophy clearly. The essay is, however, very good. And so are the essays that comprise the other appendices and the introduction, discussing Mencius’s philosophy in an accessible way, his life, and the ancient history of China as Mencius understood it.
Profile Image for Shyam.
226 reviews158 followers
July 4, 2021
That scholar, whose goodness is most outstanding in the village, will become a friend to all the good scholars of the village. That scholar, whose goodness is most outstanding in the state, will become a friend to all the good scholars of the state. That scholars whose goodness is the most outstanding in the world, will become a friend to all the good scholars of the world. When he feels that being a friend of all the good scholars of the world is not enough, he will go back in time to consider the people of antiquity, repeating their poems and reading their books. Not knowing what they were like as persons, he considers what they were like in their own time. This is to go back in time and make friends. (5B8)

Now, chess is one of the minor arts, but without concentrating one’s mind and applying one’s will, one cannot succeed in it. Chess Qui is the finest chess player anywhere in the state; suppose that Che Qiu is teaching two people to play chess. One of them concentrates his mind and applies his will, listening only to Chess Qiu. The other, while listening to him, is actually occupying his whole mind with a swan that he believes is approaching. He thinks about bending his bow, fitting his arrow, and shooting the swan. While he is learning alongside the other man, he does not compare with him. Is this because his intelligence is not comparable? I would say that this is not so. (6A9)

Besides, when the noble persons of antiquity made mistakes, they corrected them, hears the noble persons of today persist in their errors. The mistakes of the noble persons of antiquity were like the eclipses of the sun and moon. The people could all see them. Once they had corrected these mistakes, the people all looked up to them. And do the noble persons of today only persist in their mistakes? No, they also go on to make excuses for them. (2B9)

He turns within and seeks within himself (2A7)

On the roads there are people dying of starvation, and he does not know enough to distribute the good. People die, and he says, "It was not I; it was the year.’ How is this different from killing a person by stabbing him and then saying, ‘It was not I; it was the weapon’? (1A3)

Mencius replied, saying “Is there anything difference between killing a man with a stick or killing him with a blade?”
[King Hui of Liang] said, ”There is no difference.”
“And if it were done with a blade or through government, would there be any difference?”
He said, “There is no difference.” (1A4)

Eyes averted, complaining to one another, the people turn to evil. (1B4)

When it comes to achieving success—that is determined by Heaven. What can you do about Qi? Devote all your strength to being good, that is all. (1B14)

The people of Qi have a saying: though you are intelligent, it is better to take advantage of circumstances. (2A1)

If, on looking inward, I find that I am not upright, I must be in fear of even a poor fellow in coarse clothing. If, on looking inward, I find that I am upright, I may proceed against thousands and tens of thousands. (2A2)

He emerges from among his kind and rises to a higher level. (2A2)

They take the occasion to abandon themselves to pleasure and indulge in idleness, thus seeking calamities for themselves. (2A4)

Whether calamities or happiness—these are always the result of one’s own seeking. (2A4)

One who lacks a mind that feels pity and compassion would not be human; one who lacks a mind that feels shame and aversion would not be human; one who lacks a mind that feels modesty and compliance would not be human; and one who lacks a mind that knows right and wrong would not be human.
The mind’s feeling of pity and compassion is the sprout of humaneness [ren]; the mind’s feeling of shame and aversion is the sprout of rightness [yi]; the mind’s feeling of modesty and compliance is the sprout of propriety [li]; and the mind’s sense of right and wrong is the sprout of wisdom [zhi].
Human beings have these four sprouts just as they have four limbs. For one to have these four sprouts and yet to say of oneself that one is unable to fulfil them is to injure oneself. (2A6)

Do you doubt my words? The way is one and one only. (3A1)

You must practice these things with all your strength. (3A3)

No one has ever been able to straighten others by bending himself. (3B1)

Here is a man who each day steals one of his neighbour’s chickens. Someone says to him, ’This is not the Way of a noble person.’ He replies, ‘If it please you, I shall cut back and steal only one chicken a month until next year, when I will stop.’ If you know that this is not righteous, then just stop it. Why should you wait until next year? (3B8)

How can they become good?
They only lead one another toward drowning. —Ode 257, 4:519-527) (4A9)

Heaven, in giving birth to this people, causes those who are first to know to awaken those who are later to knowing causes those who are first to be awakened to awaken those whoa re later to be awakened. I am one of Heaven’s people who has awakened first; I will take this Way and use it to awaken this people. (5B1)

In friendship one should not presume upon one’s own seniority, high rank, or the prestige of one’s family connections. To befriend someone is to befriend his Virtue, which allows for no such presumption. (5B3)

Human nature is like swirling water. Open a passage for it in the east, and it will flow east; open a passage for it in the west, and it will flow west. Human nature does not distinguish between good and not-good any more than water distinguishes between east and west. (6A2)

That some differ from others by as much as twice, or five times, or an incalculable order of magnitude is because there are those who are unable to fully develop their capacities. (6A6)

When it comes to our minds, could they alone have nothing in common? And what is it that our minds have in common? It is order and rightness. (6A7)

If one lets go of the innate good mind, this is like taking an ax to a tree being cut down day after day, can [one’s mind] remain beautiful? (6A8)

Thus, given nourishment, there is nothing that will not grow; lacking nourishment, there is nothing that will not be destroyed. (6A8)

Anyone who wants to grow a tung tree, or a catalpa, which can be grasped with the hands will know enough to nourish it. But when it comes to one’s person, one does not know how to nourish it. (6A13)

Some parts of the body are superior and others inferior; some are small and others are great. One should not harm the great for the sake of the small, nor should one harm the superior for the sake of the inferior. One who nurtures the smaller part of oneself becomes a small person, while one who nurtures the grater part of oneself becomes a great person. (6A14)

Gongduzi asked, “All are equally persons, and yet some are great persons and others are small persons—why is this?”
Mencius said, “Those who follow the part of themselves that is great become great persons, while those who follow the p[art that is small become small persons.”
Gongduzi said, “Since all are equally persons, why is it that some follow the part of themselves that is great, while others follow the part that is small?
Mencius said, “The faculties of hearing and sight do not thinking are obscured by things. When one thing comes into contact with another, it is led astray. The faculty of the mind is to think. By thinking, it apprehends ; by not thinking, it fails to apprehend. This is what Heaven has given to us. If we first establish the greater part of ourselves, then the smaller part is unable to steal it away. It is simply this that makes the great person (6A15)

Humaneness overcomes inhumanness just as water overcomes fire. Those today who practice humaneness do it as if they were using a cup of water to put out the fire consuming a cartload of firewood, and then, when the flames are not extinguished, they say that water does not overcome fire. This is to make an enormous concession to what is not humane, and in the end it. Must inevitably result in the destruction of humaneness. (6A18)
18 reviews
June 5, 2009
The wisest Sage to have ever lived. He said, "The principle of self-cultivation consists in nothing but trying to find the lost heart." Within these words lies the secret solution to life's difficulties.
216 reviews5 followers
April 2, 2020
Deze man is de Bernie Sanders van het klassieke China, zoveel ageert hij tegen de heersende klasse. Hij zegt gewoon in het gezicht van een koning dat hij verdient omgebracht te worden omdat hij zijn volk niet goed dient.

Mencius is interessant omdat, ondanks dat hij minder dan een eeuw later leefde, zijn leer als aanvulling op die van Confucius veel herkenbaarder is voor de moderne, westerse mens. Het is een uitermate praktisch politiek geschrift, met als leidraad het volk, wiens goedkeuring de legitimiteit is voor een heerser. Hemel en volk worden vereenzelvigd, in een soort socio-economisch populisme (het goed soort populisme, zoals de VVD zou zeggen?) Het idealisme betreffende de menselijke natuur herinnert aan humanistische stromingen in het Westen. Enkel uit het oog springende citaten kan je ook verbinden met het Christendom (de noodzaak van het lied, dienstbaarheid tegenover alle medemensen).

Begrijp me niet verkeerd, dit werk is ook het lezen waard als je het niet vergelijkt met andere culturen, maar interculturele dialoog is simpelweg het onderwerp van mijn scriptie, vandaar de opmerkingen. Ik denk dat, veel meer dan de Analecten, de Mengzi een werk is dat breed gewaardeerd kan worden, omdat het zich minder richt op riten en manieren, maar meer op rechtvaardigheid en medemenselijkheid, thema's met een meer ""universele"" toepasbaarheid.

Om te eindigen met een even provocatieve claim als waarmee ik begon: artikel 1 en 29.1 uit de Universele Verklaring van de Rechten van de Mens zijn bijna geplagieerd uit dit boek...
Profile Image for BookWaffle :3.
123 reviews
September 21, 2022
”My reason for saying that no man is devoid of a heart sensitive to the suffering of others is this. Suppose a man were, all of a sudden, to see a young child on the verge of falling into a well. He would certainly be moved to compassion, not because he wanted to get in the good graces of the parents, nor because he wished to win the praise of his fellow villagers or friends, nor yet because he disliked the cry of the child. From this it can be seen that whoever is devoid of the heart of compassion is not human, whoever is devoid of the heart of shame is not human, whoever is devoid of the heart of courtesy and modesty is not human, and whoever is devoid of the heart of right and wrong is not human. The heart of compassion is the germ of benevolence; the heart of shame, of dutifulness; the heart of courtesy and modesty, of observance of the rites; the heart of right and wrong, of wisdom. Man has these four germs just as he has four limbs.” - Mencius

(personally do not agree with most of what Menicus said here, but oh well)
Profile Image for Melissa.
37 reviews
January 12, 2014
I only wish that I could read Chinese in order to understand Mencius' linguistic subtleties. Plenty of these, including plays on cognitive Chinese words, are pointed out in the footnotes of the Penguin Classics version. In his last book, Mencius explains that benevolence means man, which is perhaps a tenant of his entire philosophy. According to the footnotes, in some dialect of the Chinese language, these two words are literally the same. Mencius taught that humans were inherently good, and strove towards the good the way that water naturally flows downward. He also taught hat culture, education, and government, were tools to enhance this natural path.

Although the books don't seem to be organized in any particular way, Mencius' philosophy is not extremely difficult to understand. Taught about the ways of Confucianism since I was young, I remember the five relationships, the way that Confucius believed that family life was a small example of the way that an empire should behave: with mutual respect and solid placement. Confucius also believed in the Mandate of Heaven, which explained whenever a government was replaced with another, or some king lost power by the wish of the people.

Mencius was Confucius' student. While I am no authority on the subtle differences between their individual philosophies, I would like to assume, having read both this and the Analects, that they are generally the same. Having said that, I would recommend reading Mencius rather than the Analects. It is a much more organized version, and although it mostly concentrates on Mencius himself, the philosopher does not shy away from using Confucius as a solid example in certain philosophical debates.

As for the philosophy itself, I cannot say that I agree. Of course, coming into this with a western and feminist mindset, I never expected to love what Confucius says. His ideas of knowing one's place and respecting one's elders in all situations slightly irked me. Of course, the idea of this being a reciprocal relationship helped slightly. I liked the idea that the ruler was not all powerful. In order to deserve and keep his place, he had to act benevolently towards his people. The idea of sexism in Confucius is a whole nother ball game which I can't intelligently bring up without being anachronistic. Feminism did not exist at the time, so I will have to live with the fact that wives are seen as the lower subject in relation to the husband, similar to the way that a servant is to a ruler. This, as always with ancient literature, is a product of the time and culture and I can't criticize the book simply because I do not agree.

As for the reading experience, I found it very interesting and worthwhile. I would recommend it to anyone interested in Chinese philosophy, or philosophy in general for that matter. There are some very beautiful and well thought out ideas, and the book leaves you thinking about whether or not Mencius' idealistic view of humanity can actually lead to peace and benevolence. If rulers and subjects truly treat each other with reciprocal respect, perhaps peace is possible. Then again, this is provided the assumption that humans are naturally good.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,165 reviews709 followers
December 7, 2022

June 30, 2020
While I liked the reflections about human nature, the state and the importance of moral self-cultivation, there is a high presupposition of familiarity with ancient Chinese historical figures which made the text somewhat inaccessible for me. Also, I found somewhat annoying the constant references to filial piety (this is just a cultural thing I imagine).

The general analogies and parables were illuminating but the references to old emperors, princes and noblemen are lost to an uninformed reader such as myself. Luckily this edition has appendices about historical figures that are cited by Mencius. Overall, there were a few insights that were interesting to me but perhaps it might be best to look at secondary literature as it is quite a dated text (at least for me).

As usual, a quote or two that I liked:

“What can one do about those who bend the Way in order to please others? You are further mistaken. There has never been a man who could straighten others by bending himself” (3B1)

“When his chickens and dogs stray, he has sense enough to go after them, but not when what strays is his hearts.” (6A11)
Profile Image for Federico Arcuri.
54 reviews3 followers
August 22, 2022
"Suppose a man were, all of a sudden, to see a young child on the verge of falling into a well. He would certainly be moved to compassion, not because he wanted to get in the good graces of his fellow villagers or friends, nor yet because he disliked the cry of the child"

" a great man is one who retains the heart of a child"
Profile Image for Barack Liu.
470 reviews16 followers
September 2, 2020

2017/07/ 29
2020/05/2 2

—— To gain ambition, benefit the people; if not ambition, self-cultivation can be seen in the world. Being poor is good for one's own body alone, while being good is good for the world.

"Mencius" was created from 250 BC to 150 BC. Philosophy books. It belongs to the collection of quotations style prose. It is a Confucian classic and was listed as one of the "Four Books" by Zhu Xi in the Southern Song Dynasty. The other three are "The Daxue", "The Doctrine of the Mean", and "The Analects". Seven chapters and fourteen volumes exist. It records the political, educational, philosophy, ethical and other ideological views and political activities of Mencius and his disciples.

Mencius was born in Zou State (now Zoucheng, Shandong) in about 372 BC and died in 289 BC. He is one of the representatives of the Confucian school, and he is called "Confucius and Mencius" together with Confucius. Mencius preached "benevolent governance" and first proposed the idea of "the people are noble and the emperor is light", and was listed by Han Yu as a figure who inherited Confucius' "Orthodox" by Confucianism in the pre-Qin Dynasty. Representative works: "Mencius" and so on.

Part of the catalog
1. King Liang Hui
2. Under King Liang Hui
3. Gongsun Chou Shang
4. Gongsun Chouxia
5. Teng Wen Gong
6. Under Teng Wen Gong
7. Leaving Lou Shang
8. From Louxia
9. Ten thousand chapters
10. Ten thousand chapters

One of the prominent thoughts in "Mencius" is the people-oriented thinking, and the people are the most important and the second is the king. This kind of political concept goes further than the ideas in The Analects. Even today, this political goal is difficult to achieve. Like "The Analects", in addition to political ideas, "Mencius" also involves personal cultivation, and the language of "Mencius" is more condensed and magnificent, and many chapters can be described as literal. "Mencius" also further developed the concept of "benevolence" in "The Analects" to the concept of "benevolent government".

I don’t know if the person who first translated "college" into "university" did it because he thought of "University". If so, then "University" should be the first lesson that every freshman should study. Nowadays, the most basic starting point for college students to go to "university" is to learn professional knowledge and technology, and obtain diplomas and certificates. The "University" mainly discusses why the purpose and program of the "University", rather than how to do it.

"University" has formulated a stepped purpose for senior intellectuals from the inside out, self-cultivation and family management, from the most basic self-cultivation to the sacred and lofty feelings of the family and the world. In contrast, in the current "university" education, there is more talk about how to do things, but less about how to behave.

Confucianism not only has an important influence on Chinese intellectuals, but also has a great influence on the ideology of the entire Chinese society. But many people are only affected by the dross, but they don't know or ignore the essence. It is really a pity.

" Handing over the benefits from the top to the bottom and the country is in danger. The country of ten thousand multipliers, who kills its king, must be the home of one thousand multipliers; , Not for not too much. Gou first benefits for the latter's righteousness, does not seize the unsatisfactory. There is no benevolence but his relatives are left, and there is no righteousness and then the monarch. Wang Yi said benevolence and righteousness, why bother? "

Confucianism has caused a big obstacle to China's modernization process because it is unwilling to use economic interests as one of the means to maintain order. For a small number of elites , the material benefits they get are enough to allow them to live a material life beyond many ordinary people. The marginal effect of material benefits on them has been greatly reduced, and if they are encouraged to pursue benefits, it will trigger vicious competition and greed. Therefore, for those in high positions, it is okay to use honor and morality instead of profit as the main means of encouragement .

But for ordinary people in the next bit concerned , they can not even protect their own basic living of the material conditions are difficult to get, how can want everyone to "virtue" to act without the "benefit" to act in it? This utopian vision is divorced from actual reality. Trying to distort reality with spirit, is it possible to fill your stomach just by knowing "benevolence, justice and morality"? Isn't it ridiculous? "Guan Zi" wrote, " Canglin knows the etiquette, but the food and clothing know honor and disgrace . " In my opinion, Guan Zhong is a very pragmatic person. If all officials are like this, the world can be peaceful. However, both Confucius and Mencius seemed to be quite despised of Guan Zhong's interest-based approach .

In the process of managing the people, benevolence and interests should be used at the same time, with different emphasis on different people. For ordinary people in the lower position, interests should be the main priority , with benevolence and justice as the supplement. For those in high positions, the education of benevolence and justice should be given priority, and the temptation of benefit should be supplemented.

"The king of Wen regards the power of the people as a marsh, and the people are happy, and the marsh is called the ling marsh, and the marsh is called the ling marsh, and there are elk and fish. The ancient people and the people have fun, so noh can be enjoyed. Tang swears :'Times are mourned, and both the girl and the girl perish.' The people want to die with it. Even though there are birds and beasts in Taiwan, how can they be happy alone? "

If the leader is willing to every part of the benefits they have gained in both to take out and share followers , so his followers would want them to have the better leader. Conversely , if the leader is too stingy with those who follow him, then those who follow him will not get any benefits and will naturally feel resentment.

"A dog can eat food without knowing it, and if it is painted with hungry but not knowing the hair; when a person dies, it is said:'It is not me, it is old.' What is different from killing a person by stabbing it, saying:'It is not me. Soldiers. "The king is not guilty, and the people of the world are the best. "

One of the most important tasks of a leader is to assume responsibility. Because he has the final decision of the people , who appointment , how to mobilize resources , by what he says goes . If there is a problem, all the blame is transferred to the subordinates. Complain about insufficient resources. So who else is willing to contribute to him in the future?

" There are fat meat in the stalls, fat horses in the stables, the people are hungry and lust, and the wild has hungry men. This rate the beasts and cannibals. The beasts feed on each other, and the people are evil; for the parents of the people, the administration is unavoidable to rate the beasts and cannibals. . The evil lies in being the parents of the people? "

Mencius’ thoughts are in the same line as Confucius, and both advocate that leaders should cherish the people. In other words, those in higher positions should be friendly to those in lower positions who follow them. Let them benefit, and their rule will be more consolidated.

" When he wins his people, useless Gengnou to keep their parents Donge parents, brothers and wife. Sub discrete He led astray his people, and the king to sign it, and the husband who twenty years before the king's enemies:? 'Benevolent invincible.' "

The basic idea of defeating the enemy is to unite within oneself, and then wait for contradictions within the enemy. However, Confucianism puts too much emphasis on morality and neglects objective technology either intentionally or unintentionally. Such as military methods and other systems. Purely want to realize a country that depends on morality. I suspect that such a utopian society is almost impossible to achieve.

The so-called people win the world. If you are willing to allow others to add their own , so their competitiveness will be greatly enhanced. Everyone in the world is willing to live in America, so America can be strong. People from all over the country are willing to flock to a few cities in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, so these cities flourish.

" Relying too over the North Sea to the mountains, words were said, 'I can not' is not honest also. Elderly broken branches, words were said, 'I can not' is not itself, not can not be. " " Right, then Know the severity; degree, and then know the length. Everything is true, but the heart is the most. "

"If there is no permanent property but perseverance, only the scholar is capable. If the people are the people, there is no permanent property, because there is no perseverance. If there is no perseverance, it is all about warding off evil and extravagant. If you are caught in a crime, and then tortured, it is not the people. If there are benevolent people in power, but the people can do it? It is the property of the Ming monarch to rule the people. It must be enough to serve his parents, be down to be enough to be a beast wife, be happy for life, and be free from death in bad years; and then drive good, so The people's obedience is also light. "

" Yes: "To be happy alone, happy with others, which one is happy? "Said: "Don't talk to people. "Said: "Which one is happy with the less, happy with the crowd?" "Said: "It's not like others." " "

Mencius is also a good teacher, no matter what topic he talks about , he can steer the topic in the direction he wants. The so-called micro-speech can also be extended to a lesson when discussing music .

" Music Man of the musicians, the people also happy their music; concern for the people were in fear, people also worry about their worries music to the world, to worry about the world, but not the king, not of a well.. "

It is easy to raise demands on others. However, it is not possible for everyone to raise the requirements of oneself. Being strict with yourself and being lenient to others may be a more appropriate way to behave. It is very difficult to force others to change themselves. You can only educate others by improving yourself first and subtlying others. When we look at the cases of education failure, it is often that the parents themselves cannot meet certain standards, but they ask their children to do it. Isn’t that ridiculous?

"The left and the right are all called sages, but it is not possible; all the doctors are called sages, and they are not okay; the people of the country call the sages, and then check them; see the sages, and then use them. , Don’t listen; people say “no”, then check it; see “no yan”, then go. Both left and right say you can kill, don’t listen; all doctors say you can kill, don’t listen; people say you can kill, then check it, You can kill you when you see it, and then kill it. Therefore, the people of the country can kill it. If so, then you can be the parents of the people. "

" Although there is wisdom, it is better to take advantage of the situation; although there is a foundation, it is better to wait for the time ." " Gongsun Chou asked: "The master can add Qi to the Qing Dynasty, so he can do the right way, although this overlord is the same. So, is it tempting? Mencius said: "No, I am not tempted for forty." " "

" Reflexive but not shrinking, although brown and broad, I am not afraid; self-reflexive shrinking, although tens of thousands of people, I will go. " "The husband's will, the air is handsome; the air, the body is full. The husband's will is the best. , Qi Ciyan; therefore:'Hold your ambition without violent qi.' " " Aspiration will move the qi, and the qi will move the ambition. The one who flies in the present is the qi, but the heart is reactionary. "

" "Dare to ask Master how evil is long?" "I said: "I know what I say, I am good at nurturing my awe-inspiring spirit." " Dare to ask what is awe-inspiring?" "Said: "It's hard to say. It is qi, the most powerful, it can be raised directly and harmlessly, and it is stuffed between heaven and earth. It is qi, righteousness and Tao; nothing is discouraged. It is the one born of Ji Yi, and it is taken by non-righteous attack. If you don't linger in your heart, you will be discouraged. "

" What is knowing words?" said: "You know what is hidden by verbal words, you know where you are trapped by lewd words, you know where you leave with evil words, and where you are poor if you escape words. Born in their heart, they harm their politics; Politics hurts its affairs. The resurrection of the saint must follow my words." "

" Blessings and misfortunes are all those who ask for themselves. The Poetry says:'Forever speak worthy of fate, and ask for more blessings.' "Taijia" said:'Heaven does evil, you can still violate it; if you do evil, you cannot live.' This means that Also. "

"Everyone has a heart that cannot bear people. The first king has a heart that cannot bear people, and there is a policy of intolerance. With a heart that cannot bear people, the government of intolerance can govern the world with the palm of luck. So everyone has a heart that cannot bear people. Those who have the heart, now that people first see that the ru child will enter the well, they all have a sense of compassion. It is not because of the parent of the ru child, it is not because of the reputation of the friends of the town party, it is not because of the evil voice. In view of it, the heart without compassion is not human; the heart without shame is not human; the heart without excuses is not human; the heart without right and wrong is not human. "

"The benevolent is like shooting: the shooter corrects himself and sends it later; if the shooter fails, he does not blame himself for victory, but only seeks himself. "

"Zilu, if people tell you that you have had a past, you will be happy. When Yu hears good words, he will worship. Da Shun has great Yan, goodness is with others, sacrifices himself and obeys others, is happy to be good, and cultivates, pottery, and To be the emperor of fisherman is nothing more than the one who takes it from others. To take others as good is also to be good with others. Therefore, a gentleman is more than good to others."

Profile Image for Jericho Shin.
123 reviews31 followers
May 3, 2023
No entendí todos los conceptos y no estuve de acuerdo con todo lo que leí, pero sí que aprecié algunas de las ideas aquí expuestas.
Profile Image for Bob Nichols.
889 reviews292 followers
January 27, 2017
Mencius (372-289 B.C.) articulated (and extended?) the philosophy of Confucius (551-479 B.C.).

Mencius said that animals are driven by appetite and desire whereas the gentleman governs by the “heart,” the function of which is “to think” about and to be guided by moral tendencies. These are benevolence, compassion, respect for social order, having a sense of right and wrong, and shame when we do wrong. While their germ is inside of us, these tendencies must be developed and nurtured. This reflects the human position as being half way between earth and heaven. The earth represents our senses (appetites and desires) and heaven represents our higher nature (the moral law, The Way). Our energy (ch’i) reflects both poles of who we are. We are more than selfish desires. We should aspire to our higher self and the virtue of such aspiration provides its own reward. (1)

The ruler’s duty is to fulfill Heaven’s mandate (2), which is to promote the “good of the people” (the harmony of the whole; the middle path of the Way that avoids the extremes of too much self-assertion and the severe reactions such assertions engender). (3) Such rule is said to be “benevolent government.”

Mencius’ vision for a good person and a good society has obvious appeal, but it need not be premised on a Heavenly mandate. Though Mencius is overly optimistic about human nature (4), the benevolence, shame, respect, and duty components of the “heart” are part of human nature, and can be seen as reflecting our tribal nature as formed by Darwinian evolution. In some instances, this tendency transcends tribalism by expressing a benevolent feeling for all humankind (and life itself?). And even for those who seek to satisfy their desires and appetites, a moral, deductive logic requires them to respect the freedom of others to do the same. “The Way” (harmonious social order) need not come from Heaven. The Golden Rule formulation is a biological imperative as the consequence of not respecting others is, as Hobbes articulated, disorder, which threatens and disrupts the well-being of everyone.

(1) D.C. Lau’s introduction refers to these as “incipient moral tendencies” and writes: “As it is Heaven which is responsible for making morality the unique distinguishing feature of man, his moral nature is that which links him with Heaven. The flood-like ch’i which is a manifestation of this nature, when developed to the utmost, fills the space between Heaven and Earth, and when that happens Man is the same stream as Heaven and Earth. Thus the barrier between the decree of Heaven and the Nature of Man which some saw as insuperable was shown by Mencius to be non-existent, and there is no obstacle in man’s path to a perfect moral character except his own failure to make the effort.” Toward the end of his introduction, Lau also writes that not only does Mencius “believe that a man can attain oneness with the universe by perfecting his own moral nature, but he has absolute faith in the moral purpose of the universe.”

(2) In his introduction, Lau refers to “something behind the universe” that is causal that issues “the Mandate or Decree of Heaven.”

(3) To be “true to myself,” Mencius states, “Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.” This formula applies to the common man, to the gentleman, and to the ruler.

(4) While other Chinese philosophers (e.g., Hsun Tzu and Kao Tzu) saw a bad human nature, it’s more realistic to say (reflecting Darwinian variation) that human nature is not a single nature. Rather, it is one has two poles (egocentrism, other-regarding), with most people falling somewhere along the continuum. Both of these poles of behavior have survival value.
Profile Image for Nemanja.
216 reviews7 followers
February 15, 2022
Mencius, considered one of the best students of Confucius and one of the greatest Chinese philosophers in general. As many great philosophers Mencius came to prominence during the Warring States period, with his main ideas being that the humans are good-natured, with the necessary moral self-cultivation, and servitude of the rulers to their people.

The book consist of 7 chapters divided in two parts, comprised of the dialogues that Mencius had with the state rulers who he consulted, military generals, his students who collected his thoughts and common folk. Chapters are divided based on the topics that were discussed in them; as a representative of Confucian philosophy it is apparent that Mencius defended and expended Confucius’ thoughts. Main topics in those chapters are righteousness, filial piety, ritual propriety, self-cultivation, humaneness, wisdom, self-cultivation, among others. Mencius' stories rely heavy on Chinese history and culture, that he often references in his speeches. Mencius is also responsible for a large amount of proverbs in Chinese language that are still being used to this day.

Proverbs: “climbing a tree in search of a fish” (缘木求鱼 yuán mù qiú yú ) is used to describe actions that are hopeless and wrongheaded;
“pulling at the sprouts to help them grow” (揠苗助长 yà miáo zhù zhǎnɡ) describes actions that foolishly aim to rush a natural process and as a result harm the cause one seeks to advance.
Quotes: 4B28 “Mencius said, That whereby the noble person differs from others is that he preserves his mind. The noble person preserves his mind through humaneness, preserves his mind through courtesy. One who is humane loves other people; one who possesses courtesy respects other people. One who loves others always is loved by them; one who respects others is always respected by them.”
6A11 “Mencius said, Humaneness is the human mind. Rightness is the human path. To quit the path and not follow it, to abandon this mind and not know enough to seek it, is indeed lamentable. If a man has chickens and dogs that become lost, he knows enough to seek them. But when he has lost his mind, he does not know enough to seek it. The way of learning is none other than this: to seek for the lost mind.”
7A40 “Mencius said, There are five ways in which the noble person teaches others. One is by exerting a transforming influence, like a timely rain. One is by causing their Virtue to be fulfilled; one is by furthering their talents; one is by answering questions; another is by enabling them to cultivate and correct themselves on their own. These five are the ways in which the noble person teaches.”
7A42 “Mencius said, When the Way exists in the world, the Way must follow one’s person. When the Way does not exist in the world, one’s person must follow the Way. I have never heard of the Way following other people.”
Profile Image for Choonghwan.
124 reviews6 followers
March 23, 2017

This book is one of the cornerstones of East Asian civilization.

It is supposed that once there had been harmonious times and benevolent rulers in antiquity before we lost touch of them. Mencius argues that we can regain those goodness and righteousness not because of help of gods but by means of cultivating our innermost nature of compassion, uprightness, kindness and justice. Then a realm should be entrusted to those rulers and gentlemen of high moral caliber who must govern adhering to the voice of people which represents heaven’s mandate on earth. If they fail to adhere, people are free to replace them.

"The people are of supreme importance; the altars to the gods of earth and grain comes next; last comes the ruler. .... when floods and droughts come, then the altars should be replaced."
Profile Image for Helen  Luo.
44 reviews30 followers
March 13, 2022
I found this Confucian classic more difficult to digest than the Analects, despite its more digestible prose form. The 'Mengzi', like its predecessor, advocates for a wuwei philosophy of action, of governance, of self-cultivation, that surpasses the Analects in its psychological richness - but it is also cluttered with passages that have very little philosophical depth (such as those addressing the appropriate method of tithe-based taxation), as well as long-winded narrative sections that involve enough inter-dialogue to make Gossip Girl jealous. To put it sacrilegiously - the Mengzi needs an editor. In my mind, for those moderately enthused about Confucian study, simply reading select passages, a majority of which are found in Book 6, will suffice for general study.
Profile Image for Thomas.
487 reviews85 followers
January 31, 2008
Mencius' logic is a little hard to grasp at times, but the basic principles of his thought become clear through repetition. It was helpful to read this as an elucidation of Confucius -- the core ideas are the same, but Mencius draws them out a bit more, and deals a little more explicitly with the concept of "human nature." But I have to admit that the Analects is a much more interesting book to read.
Profile Image for Patrick.
422 reviews
January 14, 2020
This is definitely the definitive version of the Mengzi text to read in English. The introduction and commentaries are perfect. I’ll recommend this book to anyone interested in Chinese history and philosophy.
33 reviews2 followers
October 4, 2014
#Mencius Review

"Now is the time when one can, with half the effort, achieve twice as much as the ancients"

Mencius is the second of the four books that form the Chinese Confucian canon along with: The Analects of Confucius), Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning. These four books combined with the five classics were the backbone of the imperial examinations in China for over a thousand years. After having now read the two works it is not difficult to see why they were instrumental to Chinese philosophy and politics for such a long time.

#Style and Substance
I actually much preferred Mencius to the Analects. The Analects at points were esoteric and paradoxical in ways that were more confusing then enlightening. By comparison I found Mencius to have more approachable arguments. However, the thing that stuck out the most was that it had a clearer train of thought. In the works of Confucius piecing together the different trains of philosophy covering political theory, morality and living the good life was arduous and it was difficult to form any kind of coherent philosophy.

Mencius solves this problem by maintaining the same basic structure but expanding on the writing style employed in the Analects (It is worth noting that it is also likely a compilation of the sages sayings that were put together by his pupils posthumously). The work contains 7 'books' each of which have a number of 'chapters' or bullet points each with a unique point to be made. The difference comes in the contents of the chapters. Mencius uses much longer stories and makes longer arguments in each chapter. This means that instead of piecing together disparate points from across the whole work they can be taken entirely on their own to form a coherent stance on a particular problem. In these the text makes use of a number of good techniques to bring across its arguments. Most notable is the use of analogy which is handled with skill and wit. A perfect example of this improved chapter style (and also one of the most commonly quoted passages from the book) is on the basis of human morality. Instead of trying to further explain the style I will instead transcribe the entire chapter below so that you can read it for yourself, as well as get a good introduction into the philosophy of the man:

"Suppose a man were, all of a sudden, to see a young child on the verge of falling into a well. He would certainly be moved to compassion, not because he wanted to get in the good graces of the parents, nor because he wished to win the praise of his fellow villagers or friends, nor yet because he disliked the cry of the child. From this it can be seen that whoever is devoid of the heart of compassion is not human, and whoever is devoid of the heart of shame is not human, whoever is devoid of the heart of courtesy and modesty is not human, and whoever is devoid of the heart of right and wrong is not human. The heart of compassion is the germ of benevolence; the heart of shame, of dutifulness; the heart of courtesy and modesty, of observance of the rites; the heart of right and wrong, of wisdom"

[It is potentially worth noting at this point that what Mencius calls the heart might be more similar to what we would now call the mind rather then a traditional view of the 'soul']

Reading this you can get a good idea of Mencius style but you can also see some of how he differs from Confucius in thought. While Confucius dealt with problems that were oftentimes to do with large topics such as morality or wisdom he rarely gave a specific framework or premise. Mencius on the other hand will regularly use an analogy, a factual statement or a set of definitions to produce a cogent argument.

Because of this difference in style, although potentially not as filled with Eastern wisdom through I found Mencius a much more engaging reading and was able to draw many more effective pieces of advice as well as observations from it.

#The Philosophy of Mencius
The Analects are a perfect primer for the philosophy but it is in Mencius that Confucianism really finds its feet.

In Mencius there are many problems that are dealt with: Destiny, morality, the nature of the universe and political theory to name a few. Each of these topics unearthed some interesting observations and powerful points. His biggest focus was on the running of government and the book actual contained many chapters that dealt with specific forms of taxation and feudal organization. For me however, there were three sections that stood out and I want to examine these quickly. I will not try to replace an actual reading of the book, as to do so would be presumptuous. I will try to show what I personally have gained most from this book. Those three sections concern: the family, pragmatism and Mencius' expansion of the Confucian gentleman.

"What is the most important duty? One's duty towards one's parents. What is the most important thing to watch over? One's own character."

In the West it seems that Confucianism is strongly associated with the duty that one should have towards ones family. Although there is some mention of filial piety in The Analects, and they do offer a starting point for the family as a central unit in the development of Benevolence I think that this association really comes from Mencius and the importance of family is present in every book.

"A son of supreme dutifulness yearns for his parents all his life"

The love that one feels for ones family Mencius sees as a completely natural emotion, and assumes that in all people this emotion will be present. Even if a child learns to hate their parents over time, the 'germ' of that emotion is still there. This love is one of the most basic human emotions and is the most expressed form of love. One of the points that is regularly brought up is that it is through this filial love someone can learn to love the entire human race. Although you will naturally feel a stronger love for your family, if you cultivate this emotion you will be able to extend that love to all people at varying degrees. In a similar way the filial piety that one expresses towards one's parents can be extended to express piety towards your government and your 'lord'.

"No benevolent man ever abandons his parents, and no dutiful man ever puts his prince last."

From this emotional beginning Mencius argues that one is best able to serve his innate human purpose through the respect one shows for ones family. It is this aspect of his philosophy that has since been translated into the notion of filial piety that dominates discussions of Confucianism today, at least in the west.


One of the things that came across in Analects was that Confucius was a very practical philosopher. Unlike most philosophers, particularly the more recent ones, he would give advice and admonishments but always try to stay away from absolutes. He would always argue for the golden mean over the development of some kind of perfect stance or activity. However, this particular aspect of his philosophy was never central to the book, in Mencius it is much more pronounced and seems to hold a central position in his views on human action and rightness as well as part of his views on how best to govern.

"A great man need not keep his word nor does he necessarily see his action through to the end. He only aims at what is right"

##A Gentleman
"Tseng Tzu said: 'It is more fatiguing to shrug one's shoulders and smile ingratiatingly than to work on a vegetable plot in the summer'"

As I talked about in my review of The Analects my biggest take away from the book was Confucius's admonishment that “The gentleman desires to be halting in speech but quick in action”. Although he never states it explicitly it is obvious that Mencius also took this as one of the central tenants of Confucius's teachings, however he seems to have adapted it to his more pragmatic way of life as well as adding some other key points.

"There has never been a man totally true to himself who fails to move others. On the other hand, there has never been one not true to himself who is capable of doing so."

One of my favorite passages regards Mencius's own views of how men of antiquity handled themselves. He moves beyond Confucius's own views on truthfulness to make the subtle but important point that a man should be open with his mistakes and try to correct himself.

"When he made a mistake, the gentleman of antiquity would make amends, while the gentleman of today persists in his mistakes. When the gentleman of antiquity made a mistake it was there to be seen by all the people, like the eclipse of the sun and the moon; and when he made amends the people looked up to him. The gentleman of today not only persists in his mistakes but tries to gloss over them."

Although this point actually seems almost built in to Confucius original statement but I think it bears saying and I will definitely be thinking about it as I continue to try and bring this point in to my daily interactions.

Mencius mentions a number of other important aspects to do with the confucian gentleman however his most powerful and one that can potentially be seen even today in China is his view that:

"A gentleman differs from other men in that he retains the heart of a new-born babe"

This is a great statement and seems to get to the essence of why great men are often said to be childlike in their imagination or some other qualities. Mencius, is mainly focused on the way that a new born babe is the when any man is the most moral before being corrupted by the world. That being said I think that the idea can be extended to many other aspects of the way that men operate. As an extension of this Mencius writes that:

"Only a Gentleman can have constant heart in spite of a lack of constant means of support."

Although in a loving environment with good parents and an abundant life most people will be able to remain very moral after birth, Mencius feels that the mark of a true Gentleman is that even in hard circumstances when one is tempted to break from their original morals they are able to maintain their heart.

The last point that I wish to put up here from Mencius is a simple quote that is incredibly powerful and is worth quite a lot of thought. I do not yet have any concrete ideas related to this and it is difficult for me to add anything to it so I will simply write it up.

"Only when there are things a man will not do is he capable of doing great things"

These three areas that Mencius touches upon among many many others are very powerful and I hope to be able to think about them at length and incorporate some of what he talks about into my daily life. Although these are the bits of his philosophy that I feel will have the most impact on my life there is one other thing that I wanted to touch upon.

#Mencius, the first free market economist?
"Benevolent government must begin with land demarcation"

"Once the boundaries are correctly fixed, there will be no difficulty in settling the distribution of land and the settling of emolument."

One of my favorite passages in Mencius is chapter 4 of book three. It is one of the longest chapters in the book and stretches across five pages. In it he ostensibly talks about forms of government and what it means to be a good ruler, however as someone reading it now I would say that it concerns economics. Specifically I would argue that in it he presents the first argument(that I know of) for free market capitalism, while dealing with many of the common arguments against this system.

Mencius is presented by the thought that a "good and wise ruler shares the work of tilling the land with his people. He rules while cooking his own meals." Mencius's response is two part, first he takes the philosopher and asks him what he wears and how he was able to get it. Eliciting the response that he wears a silk cap and he traded grain for it. Mencius then says:

"That things are unequal is part of their nature. Some are worth twice or five times, ten or a hundred times, even a thousand and ten thousand times, more than others. If you reduce them to the same level, it will only bring confusion to the Empire. If a roughly finished shoe sells at the same price as a finely finished one, who would make the latter? If we follow the way of Hsu Tzu, we will be showing one another the way to being deceitful. How can one govern a state in this way?"

From these views it would appear that Mencius is one of the worlds earliest economists and a free-market Capitalist at that. However, that is not the whole story. Later on he writes that:

"In antiquity, the market was for the exchange of what one had for what one lacked. The authorities merely supervised it. There was, however, a despicable fellow who always looked for a vantage point and going up on it, gazed into the distance to the left and to the right in order to secure for himself all the profit that there was in the market. The people all though him despicable, and as a result, they taxed him. The taxing of traders began with this despicable fellow"

To sum up Mencius' position it seems to me that he is an idealist, however unlike a Communist view point he sees the best outcome as one where free-markets reign but each of the individuals acts in a benevolent manner. Although each man should aim to live in abundance and it is the aim of a good householder, lord or prince to make sure that this is the case for all of those below him this in itself is an ideal that is only worth pursuing if one first acts in a benevolent way.


I thought that Mencius was, taken in total, a much better book then the Analects(LINK) however it is also clear that it would not have been possible without the first book. Mencius regularly quotes from the analects and Having now read the first two books from the canon, I feel compelled to read the other two and thus complete the rites of passage that millions of Chinese have experienced in the past, and some still experience today.

If you want to read more reviews I've done or see some more writing check it out at www.tataofei.com

Profile Image for Jared Tobin.
59 reviews1 follower
January 14, 2018
The Mencius relays the philosophy of Mengzi or Mencius as he travels around ancient China, visiting with kings and lesser nobility and discussing human nature, how a man ought live, the 'Mandate of Heaven', and 'the Way'. It is one of the canonical 'Four Books' of classical Chinese thought -- supposedly it is well-read along side of Confucius's Analects, though I can't yet comment on how true that is.

There is enormous wisdom in this book, and I recommend it highly. I take Mencius's philosophy to be his perspective on what could be called the (unknowable) truth or order of the world: Laozi's 'Tao', the Stoics' 'Nature', some (perhaps Carlylean) interpretation of the Judeo-Christian 'God', and so forth. I can't say for sure what of Mencius's thought could be considered particularly noteworthy, given the context of the others, but it is always useful to see things stated in different words, or using different ideas. When Mencius accomplishes this, he is as good as anyone.

(NB: I take that back -- at least the concept of the Mandate of Heaven as mutable is unique to Mencius, as far as I can tell, and is surely correct.)

The above is hardly a criticism of Mencius, of course -- he predates e.g. the Stoics and the Christians by hundreds of years! But what he does say is perhaps said somewhat better by Laozi, or Marcus Aurelius, or Carlyle, or Christ. If one has read them, then one may not discover anything particularly new in the Mencius. Mencius is perhaps -- like Seneca, I contend -- best considered an accessory to a school of thought better exposited by Laozi or (I assume) Confucius (who I have not yet read). I use that word lightly, though -- if Seneca or Mencius could ever truly be considered accessories, then they could only be so in the weakest sense of the word.

In particular, I found some latter parts of the Mencius -- books V and VI, if I recall correctly -- to have a somewhat annoying style of presentation. Choppy and disjointed, sort of detached from any particular context (unlike the earlier books, or most of book VII). It eventually felt like I was hunting for pieces of wisdom amongst a lot of miscellanea. What one finds is worth it, however. Mencius is at his best when he discusses the natures of man and 'Heaven' (e.g. its 'Mandate' or 'Decree'); he is at his worst when he is overly elliptical or dualistic, giving strange excuses for why he won't respond to this or that noble, or when he is beating up on poor 'Philosopher Kao'. Nonetheless, the Mencius places high on my recommendation list. I'd give it 3.75/5 stars if I could.
141 reviews2 followers
March 26, 2023
The Audible audiobook was narrated by the author which is always great!

The Mengzi was my first exploration of Chinese philosophy. I previously read another book by the author bemoaning the lack of teaching and integrating non-Western philosophy in university programs. I especially enjoyed the foreword and the author's commentaries in this book! They helped to understand the historic circumstances and environment of the author at the time of writing the book. Furthermore, the commentaries made the text understandable by providing additional context, especially w.r.t. historical figures and events.

Mengzi is a collection of books with short dialogs. Most of these dialogs are between Mencius and his disciples, rulers of states, and/or government ministers, advisers, etc. The reader can expect a chorus of advise for leading a righteous life and for benevolent leadership.

A (paraphrased) dialog would go like this: "Mencius, is it ok for country A to annex country B?" "Country B is lead by a tyrant. If the people in country B will welcome the leader of country A as their benevolent leader, yes. Otherwise, no. People in country B will not accept leadership from country A if ordinary people are murdered or plundered in the process." And Mencius notes repeatedly that "profit" is a dirty word and motivation. This is very interesting since present day China is still steeped in Confucian tradition and thinking.

The Mengzi somewhat focuses on leaders of a state or country. It even provides recommendations on taxation and salaries for government workers. Following Mencius recommendations, the ruler of a state should receive a salary no more than 160 times that of an "ordinary peasant." What a concept for our present-day "benevolent leaders of capitalism!"

Highly recommended book, especially when not well versed in Chinese philosophy.
Profile Image for Alina.
71 reviews1 follower
June 15, 2022
In the Ancient Agora of Athens there has been, since last year (2021), a life-sized bronze sculpture of Socrates and Confucius, titled ‘An Encounter’. The parent of Western philosophy and the sage who laid the basis of East Asian culture and society are in a deep discussion. But it’s thanks to Plato and Mencius that we can actually imagine their conversation. In the same way that Plato adopted Socrates’ teachings and detailed them in his writings, Mencius followed the path opened by Confucius and made it known to the future generations. The written words of Plato and Mencius are the ones that gave shape to the Socratic philosophy and Confucianism, respectively.
If these wise men were to meet, they would surely choose to talk about two things: morality and the ideal state. It would be a great exercise to compare the ideas from Plato’s 'Republic' with the ones from 'Mencius', to find out the similar characteristics of the Chinese and the Greek moral philosophies, and why the East and West reached essentially the same conclusions. These two books should always stay on the same shelf in the World Library of Thoughts.
211 reviews1 follower
May 6, 2021
Having read the Essential Analects of Confucius prior to Mencius, it was interesting to see how the two paralleled and diverged from one another. For me, Mencius is the political applications supplement to the Analects, as it recounts Mencius' travels trying to elucidate the feudal lords in China to the Way. As such, it reads less like a philosophical work and more like a hands-on guide for rulers; while many of the lessons can apply to the common man's daily life, a larger portion seem specifically tailored to positions of power.
All this aside, it's still an interesting (not to mention historically significant) read. Mencius only knew Confucius through his teachings, but his interpretations made such a huge impact on the diffusion of Confucianism, so it's important to understand why, as well as to compare their similarities and differences. Granted, one cannot fully grasp the influences of the time period on the doctrine or its historical impact simply by reading this one book, but it's certainly a start.
47 reviews1 follower
September 21, 2022
Mengzi was a Confucian Chinese philosopher that lived over 2000 years ago and is best known for his belief in the inherent goodness of man.

Reading this collection from an Abrahamic lens made it all the more interesting, as there are a considerable number of teachings from Mengzi that overlap with the beliefs of Christianity and Islam despite Mengzi preceding the founding of those beliefs by hundreds of years in a completely different part of the world.

While this book is more comparable to a collection of teachings rather than a written book, it still makes for a compelling read. While Mengzi in this collection focuses mainly on how a leader can improve and maintain his rule through benevolence, there are many teachings that can be picked up and applied by the common man regarding self-introspection and propriety.

It’s naturally been translated from ancient Chinese to English which necessitates a more meticulous form of reading at times. However, the modern commentary that comes with this book makes it so that the context of Mengzi’s teachings is much easier to follow.

While the commentary is useful, at times it can be quite bothersome as it does the interpretation FOR the reader.

Overall, this is a wonderful (and at times a little too optimistic) book about human nature which I deem useful in helping one shape his/her worldview.
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