Wên is on High"
The following poem is from the Shih
Ching. It is the the 243rd poem appearing in commentator
Mao's ordering of the Shih Ching, but is often numbered
241st in English versions of that anthology. The poem recounts
the passing of old dynasties and their replacement with new
ones, and offers didactic advice to Zhou rulers regarding appropriate
behavior. Compare it with "Mighty
is God on High," which deals with similar concerns
and uses similar wording.
Wên is on High; 1
He shines in Heaven! 2
is an old people,
its mandate is new. 3
land of Zhou became illustrious, 4
by Heaven's Mandate.
Wên ascends and descends
God's left hand, on His right.
diligent was King Wên,
high fame does not cease;
spread his bounties in Zhou,
now his grandsons and sons,
his grandsons and sons
stem has branched
all the knights of Chou
glorious in their generation.
in their generation,
their counsels well pondered.
were the many knights
brought this kingdom to its birth.
kingdom well they bore;
were the prop of Zhou.
were those many knights
gave comfort to King Wên.
is Wên the king;
to be reverenced in his glittering light!
the mandate that Heaven gave him.
grandsons and sons of the Shang,
grandsons and sons,
hosts were innumerable.
God on high gave His command,
by Zhou they were subdued.
Zhou they were subdued;
charge is not forever.
knights of Yin, big and little,
libations and offerings at the capitol
they did was tomake libations
in skirted robe and close cap.
chosen servants of the king,
you never thus shame your ancestors!
you never shame your ancestors,
rather tend their inward power, 5
for ever you may be linked to Heaven's charge
bring to yourselves many blessings.
Yin lost its army
was well-linked to Heaven above.
Yin you should see as in a mirror
Heaven's high mandate is hard to keep.
mandate is not easy to keep.
not bring ruin on yourselves.
forth everywhere the light of your good fame;
what Heaven did to the Yin.
Heaven does its business
sound, without smell.
King Wên your example,
whom all the peoples put their trust.
The word Wên is not a common name in Mandarin.
We do not know precisely what it means, but it may be related
to a similar pictographic symbol which can represent "culture"
and "pen," and it is used as an antonym for wu
(war). It may be, as Waley suggests in Appendix IV of The
Book of Songs, that it represents refinement and book-learning,
as opposed to battle-prowess. Thus, the poem may speak of
"King Culture." The name Wên, though
not in common use, does appear hundreds of times in inscriptions
and monuments as a stock epithet for ancestors. It may not
be significant, but when the symbol for wên is
placed on top of the symbol for "heart," it creates
the word "strong." Likewise, when the symbol for
wên is placed on bottom of the word "day,"
creates the a symbol used as a synonym for "heaven."
See Arthur Waley, The Book of Songs: The Ancient Chinese
Classic of Poetry, Appendix IV, note number 1.
The word translated here as "Heaven" is tian
in Mandarin Chinese. The written symbol for tian
literally means "The highest," and can refer to
both "the sky" and "the gods." The written
ideograph shows an inverted V shape with two horizontal lines
crossing the top, the highest of which holds blank space,
indicating that there is nothing above this highest point.
The word I translate here as "mandate," and which
Waley translates as "charge," is Ming. Tian
Ming ("the mandate of heaven") represents the
divine right to rule the Chinese people, a right that could
be revoked at any time. A ruler earns the mandate of heaven
by being an ethical, fair, and just ruler. As long as he behaves
in that manner, it is a sinful, evil act for the people to
disobey him. However, as soon as the rulers stop being ethical,
fair, and just, the wicked rulers lose the mandate of heaven.
Zhou is more frequently transliterated as Chou in
The word translated as "virtue" here is Tê,
which does not mean virtue in the English sense of ethics,
but rather "virtue" in the same sense as when we
speak of the "virtue" or potency of a drug. It implies
mana, power, force, the inner power that excludes physical
strength. This tê may or may not be ethical in
nature. See Arthur Waley, The Book of Songs: The Ancient
Chinese Classic of Poetry, Appendix IV, note number 2.