Chinese Notes
Chinese Notes

Back to collection

Book of Documents 《尚書》

商書 說命中(僞) Shang Shu - Charge to Yue II (forged)



Yue having received his charge, and taken the presidency of all the officers, he presented himself before the king, and said, 'Oh! intelligent kings act in reverent accordance with the ways of Heaven. The founding of states and the setting up of capitals, the appointing of sovereign kings, of dukes and other nobles, with their great officers and heads of departments, were not designed to minister to the idleness and pleasures (of one), but for the good government of the people. It is Heaven which is all-intelligent and observing - let the sage (king) take it as his pattern. Then his ministers will reverently accord with him, and the people consequently will be well governed.
'It is the mouth that gives occasion for shame; they are the coat of mail and helmet that give occasion to war. The upper robes and lower garments (for reward should not be lightly taken from) their chests; before spear and shield are used, one should examine himself. If your Majesty will be cautious in regard to these things, and, believing this about them, attain to the intelligent use of them, (your government) will in everything be excellent. Good government and bad depend on the various officers. Offices should not be given to men because they are favourites, but only to men of ability. Dignities should not be conferred on men of evil practices, but only on men of worth.
'Anxious thought about what will be best should precede your movements, which also should be taken at the time proper for them. Indulging the consciousness of being good is the way to lose that goodness; being vain of one's ability is the way to lose the merit it might produce.
'For all affairs let there be adequate preparation; with preparation there will be no calamitous issue. Do not open the door for favourites, from whom you will receive contempt. Do not be ashamed of mistakes, and (go on to) make them crimes. Let your mind rest in its proper objects, and the affairs of your government will be pure. Officiousness in sacrificing is called irreverence; and multiplying ceremonies leads to disorder. To serve the spirits acceptably (in this way) is difficult.'


The king said, 'Excellent! your words, O Yue, should indeed be put in practice (by me). If you were not so good in counsel, I should not have heard these rules for my conduct." Yue did obeisance with his head to the ground, and said, 'It is not the knowing that is difficult, but the doing. (But) since your Majesty truly knows this, there will not be the difficulty, and you will become really equal in complete virtue to our first king. Wherein I, Yue, refrain from speaking (what I ought to speak), the blame will rest with me.'

English translation: James Legge

Glossary and Other Vocabulary