When a ruler is concerned that his measures should be in accordance with law, and seeks for the (assistance of the) good and upright, this is sufficient to secure him a considerable reputation, but not to move the multitudes. When he cultivates the society of the worthy, and tries to embody the views of those who are remote (from the court), this is sufficient to move the multitudes, but not to transform the people. If he wish to transform the people and to perfect their manners and customs, must he not start from the lessons of the school?
The jade uncut will not form a vessel for use; and if men do not learn, they do not know the way (in which they should go). On this account the ancient kings, when establishing states and governing the people, made instruction and schools a primary object; as it is said in the Charge to Yue, 'The thoughts from first to last should be fixed on learning.'
However fine the viands be, if one do not eat, he does not know their taste; however perfect the course may be, if one do not learn it, be does not know its goodness. Therefore when he learns, one knows his own deficiencies; when he teaches, he knows the difficulties of learning. After he knows his deficiencies, one is able to turn round and examine himself; after he knows the difficulties, he is able to stimulate himself to effort. Hence it is said, 'Teaching and learning help each other;' as it is said in the Charge to Yueh, 'Teaching is the half of learning.'
According to the system of ancient teaching, for the families of (a hamlet) there was the village school; for a neighbourhood there was the xiang; for the larger districts there was the xu; and in the capitals there was the college. Every year some entered the college, and every second year there was a comparative examination. In the first year it was seen whether they could read the texts intelligently, and what was the meaning of each; in the third year, whether they were reverently attentive to their work, and what companionship was most pleasant to them; in the fifth year, how they extended their studies and sought the company of their teachers; in the seventh year, how they could discuss the subjects of their studies and select their friends. They were now said to have made some small attainments. In the ninth year, when they knew the different classes of subjects and had gained a general intelligence, were firmly established and would not fall back, they were said to have made grand attainments. After this the training was sufficient to transform the people, and to change (anything bad in) manners and customs. Those who lived near at hand submitted with delight, and those who were far off thought (of the teaching) with longing desire. Such was the method of the Great learning; as is said in the Record, 'The little ant continually exercises the art (of amassing).'
At the commencement of the teaching in the Great college, (the masters) in their skin caps presented the offerings of vegetables (to the ancient sages), to show their pupils the principle of reverence for them; and made them sing (at the same time) the (first) three pieces of the Minor Odes of the Kingdom, as their first lesson in the duties of officers. When they entered the college, the drum was beaten and the satchels were produced, that they might begin their work reverently. The cane and the thorns were there to secure in them a proper awe. It was not till the time for the summer sacrifice was divined for, that the testing examination was held;--to give composure to their minds. They were continually under inspection, but not spoken to,--to keep their minds undisturbed. They listened, but they did not ask questions; and they could not transgress the order of study (imposed on them). These seven things were the chief regulations in the teaching. As it is expressed in the Record, 'In all learning, for him who would in be an officer the first thing is (the knowledge of) business; for scholars the first thing is the directing of the mind.'
In the system of teaching at the Great college, every season had its appropriate subject; and when the pupils withdrew, and gave up their lessons (for the day), they were required to continue their study at home. If a student do not learn (at college) to play in tune, he cannot quietly enjoy his lutes; if he do not learn extensively the figures of poetry, he cannot quietly enjoy the odes; if he do not learn the varieties of dress, he cannot quietly take part in the different ceremonies; if he do not acquire the various accomplishments, he cannot take delight in learning. Therefore a student of talents and virtue pursues his studies, withdrawn in college from all besides, and devoted to their cultivation, or occupied with them when retired from it, and enjoying himself. Having attained to this, he rests quietly in his studies and seeks the company of his teachers; he finds pleasure in his friends, and has all confidence in their course. Although he should be separated from his teachers and helpers, he will not act contrary to the course; as it is said in the Charge to Yueh, 'Maintain a reverent humility, and strive to be constantly earnest. In such a case the cultivation will surely come.'
According to the system of teaching now-a-days, (the masters) hum over the tablets which they see before them, multiplying their questions. They speak of the learners' making rapid advances, and pay no regard to their reposing (in what they have acquired). In what they lay on their learners they are not sincere, nor do they put forth all their ability in teaching them. What they inculcate is contrary to what is right, and the learners are disappointed in what they seek for. In such a case, the latter are distressed by their studies and hate their masters; they are embittered by the difficulties, and do not find any advantage from their (labour). They may seem to finish their work, but they quickly give up its lessons. That no results are seen from their instructions:-is it not owing to these defects?
The rules aimed at in the Great college were the prevention of evil before it was manifested; the timeliness of instruction just when it was required; the suitability of the lessons in adaptation to circumstances; and the good influence of example to parties observing one another. It was from these four things that the teaching was so effectual and flourishing. Prohibition of evil after it has been manifested meets with opposition, and is not successful. Instruction given after the time for it is past is done with toil, and carried out with difficulty. The communication of lessons in an undiscriminating manner and without suitability produces injury and disorder, and fails in its object. Learning alone and without friends makes one feel solitary and uncultivated, with but little information. Friendships of festivity lead to opposition to one's master. Friendships with the dissolute lead to the neglect of one's learning. These six things all tend to make teaching vain.
When a superior man knows the causes which make instruction successful, and those which make it of no effect, he can become a teacher of others. Thus in his teaching, he leads and does not drag; he strengthens and does not discourage; he opens the way but does not conduct to the end (without the learner's own efforts). Leading and not dragging produces harmony. Strengthening and not discouraging makes attainment easy. Opening the way and not conducting to the end makes (the learner) thoughtful. He who produces such harmony, easy attainment, and thoughtfulness may be pronounced a skilful teacher.
Among learners there are four defects with which the teacher must make himself acquainted. Some err in the multitude of their studies; some, in their fewness; some, in the feeling of ease (with which they proceed); and some, in the readiness with which they stop. These four defects arise from the difference of their minds. When a teacher knows the character of his mind, he can save the learner from the defect to which he is liable. Teaching should be directed to develop that in which the pupil excels, and correct the defects to which he is prone. The good singer makes men (able) to continue his notes, and (so) the good teacher makes them able to carry out his ideas. His words are brief, but far-reaching; unpretentious, but deep; with few illustrations, but instructive. In this way he may be said to perpetuate his ideas.
When a man of talents and virtue knows the difficulty (on the one hand) and the facility (on the other) in the attainment of learning, and knows (also) the good and the bad qualities (of his pupils), he can vary his methods of teaching. When he can vary his methods of teaching, he can be a master indeed. When he can be a teacher indeed, he can be the Head (of an official department). When he can be such a Head, he can be the Ruler (of a state). Hence it is from the teacher indeed, that one learns to be a ruler, and the choice of a teacher demands the greatest care; as it is said in the Record, 'The three kings and the four dynasties were what they were by their teachers.'
In pursuing the course of learning, the difficulty is in securing the proper reverence for the master. When that is done, the course (which he inculcates) is regarded with honour. When that is done, the people know how to respect learning. Thus it is that there are two among his subjects whom the ruler does not treat as subjects. When one is personating (his ancestor), he does not treat him as such, nor does he treat his master as such. According to the rules of the Great college, the master, though communicating anything to the son of Heaven, did not stand with his face to the north. This was the way in which honour was done to him.
The skilful learner, while the master seems indifferent, yet makes double the attainments of another, and in the sequel ascribes the merit (to the master). The unskilful learner, while the master is diligent with him, yet makes (only) half the attainments (of the former), and in the sequel is dissatisfied with the master. The skilful questioner is like a workman addressing himself to deal with a hard tree. First he attacks the easy parts, and then the knotty. After a long time, the pupil and master talk together, and the subject is explained. The unskilful questioner takes the opposite course. The master who skilfully waits to be questioned, may be compared to a bell when it is struck. Struck with a small hammer, it gives a small sound. Struck with a great one, it gives a great sound. But let it be struck leisurely and properly, and it gives out all the sound of which it is capable. He who is not skilful in replying to questions is the opposite of this. This all describes the method of making progress in learning.
He who gives (only) the learning supplied by his memory in conversations is not fit to be a master. Is it not necessary that he should hear the questions (of his pupils)? Yes, but if they are not able to put questions, he should put subjects before them. If he do so, and then they do not show any knowledge of the subjects, he may let them alone.
The son of a good founder is sure to learn how to make a fur-robe. The son of a good maker of bows is sure to learn how to make a sieve. Those who first yoke a (young) horse place it behind, with the carriage going on in front of it. The superior man who examines these cases can by them instruct himself in (the method of) learning.
The ancients in prosecuting their learning compared different' things and traced the analogies between them. The drum has no special relation to any of the musical notes; but without it they cannot be harmonised. Water has no particular relation to any of the five colours; but without it they cannot be displayed. Learning has no particular relation to any of the five senses; but without it they cannot be regulated. A teacher has no special relation to the five degrees of mourning; but without his help they cannot be worn as they ought to be.
A wise man has said, 'The Great virtue need not be confined to one office; Great power of method need not be restricted to the production of one article; Great truth need not be limited to the confirmation of oaths; Great seasonableness accomplishes all things, and each in its proper time.' By examining these four cases, we are taught to direct our aims to what is fundamental.
Source: Chinese Text Project http://ctext.org/liji. English translation "Sacred Books of the East, volume 28, part 4: The Li Ki", James Legge, 1885