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The Book of Simplicity

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The Book of Simplicity

By Huang Shih Kung 黄石公

Translated by Frederic Henry Balfour


Author's Introduction

It is related that one day, during the reign of Chuang Hsiang, third King of the Ts'in dynasty (B.C. 247-244), a youth named Chang Tsz-fang, afterwards Marquis of Lin, was wandering alone upon a river-bank. Suddenly his attention was attracted by a strange-looking old man, who was standing upon a bridge that spanned the stream. While he was wondering what sort of a person this could be – for there was something remarkable about the grey-beard's appearance – the object of his contemplation deliberately kicked off his sandal, and then called to Tsz-fang to fish it out of the water for him. The youth complied. No sooner, however, had the old man put it on again, than he as deliberately kicked off the other, motioning to Tsz-fang to go in search of it once more. His shoe having been restored to him a second time, he let it fall into the water again; and the pious boy, respecting the eccentricities of age, plunged a third time from the bridge in search of it, and then, reverently kneeling, placed it on the mysterions being's foot himself. "Good!" said the ancient man; "you will do. Meet me here in five days' time, in the morning early." So Chang Tsz-fang, whose curiosity was now on the alert, hastened to the rendezvous at the appointed time; but alas! the old man was there before him, and, reproving the youth for his want of respect in keeping him waiting, told him to come again next day. But the old man was again before him, and the promised revelation was again postponed in consequence. The third time, however, Chang took the precaution of sleeping on the bridge all night; and ere dawn of day had the satisfaction of seeing his venerable friend approach. "Now," said the latter, "you shall have the reward due to you. Take this book," he continued, drawing a manuscript from his capacious sleeve; "he who studies the precepts herein contained may become the preceptor of a King! I now leave you; but if you will repair thirteen years from now, to Ku Ch'êng, you will see a yellow stone; that will be I, in metamorphosis." Thereupon the being disappeared, leaving in the hands of the astonished youth the tract we now give below. It is popularly ascribed to Huang Shih Kung, or his lordship Yellow-Stone.

(Balfour, 1894: 95)


The title of the book here translated, therefore, means, in full, 'Book of the Doctrines professed by the Su Wang,' – the Pure or Simple Prince, or, to use the longer phrase, Exalted Emperor of Sublime Simplicity. Who this person was I do not know; but the title certainly does not belong specially to Confucius. Neither can I guess what Mr. Wylie means by describing the 'Su Shu' as a military treatise; seeing that war is scarcely so much as referred to in it. It is simply an application of the Taoist doctrines of purity and simplicity to political, social, and individual life, and a remarkably beautiful book it is, from the standpoint of high morals. Mr. Wylie attributes it to Chang Shang-ying of the Sung dynasty.

(Balfour, 1894: 102)


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The Book of Plain Words



夫道 徳仁義 禮五者一也

Now Tao, Virtue, Benevolence, Rectitude and Decorum – these five things are all one Principle.

道者 人之所蹈 使所使萬物不知其所由

As regards the Way of Tao, it is the Way that all men should walk in; making use of all things, they yet know not the source from which they spring.

徳者 人之所得 使萬物各得其所欲

Virtue is what all men should obtain; then everyone will have what he naturally needs.

仁者 人之所親 有慈惠惻隱之心 以遂其生成

The Benevolent are such as all men love; for where there is a merciful, liberal, sympathetic disposition, there will be a systematic compliance with the mutual wants of others.

義者 人之所宜 賞善罰惡 以立功立事

The Right-minded are those who act properly and justly towards their fellows, rewarding the good and punishing the wicked; by virtue of which they establish their own merit and give equitable decisions on the affairs that are brought before them.

禮者 人之所履 夙興夜寐 以成人倫之序

Decorum is what all men should observe, both in rising in the morning and retiring to rest at night; then the duties connected with human relationships will be performed in their due order.

夫欲爲人之 本不可無一焉

Now it is necessary to observe these five courses of action if one wishes to fulfil the proper functions of a man; there is not one which may be omitted.

賢人君子 明乎盛衰之道

The Sage and the superior man understand the law which governs prosperity and decay;

通乎成敗之數 審乎治亂之勢 友乎去就之理

they are well versed in the calculation of failure and success, they can discern between the conditions of orderly government and of anarchy, and know when to accept and when to decline appointments.

故潛居抱道 以待其時 若時至而行

Thus, abiding in retirement and holding fast their principles, they wait for seasonable opportunities; and if a proper time arrives, they act.

則能極人臣之位 得機而動 則能絶代之功 如其不遇

By this policy they are able to gain the highest offices in the State; and when the occasion presents itself, they strike out in some decisive action by which they achieve merit such as never had been achieved before.

沒身而已 是以其道足高 而名垂於后代

But if the opportunity does not offer, they just die when their time comes, and there is an end of it; so that the principles they hold are exalted in the extreme, and their fame descends to generations yet unborn.



徳足以懷遠 信足以一異

He whose virtue is all-sufficient to gain the affectionate esteem of those most distant from him, whose good-faith is all sufficient to mould confidence of the people,

義足以得衆 才足以鑒古 明足以照下

whose ability is all-sufficient to reflect the example of the ancients as in a mirror, and whose perspicacity in all sufficient to superintend his subordinates:


such a man is distinguished above all others.

行足以爲儀表 智足以決嫌疑

He whose conduct suffices as an example for others to imitate, whose wisdom is great enough to enable him to decide equitably in cases of enmity and mutual suspicion,

信可以使守約 廉可以使分財

whose good-faith causes others to keep their promises, and whose incorruptibility ensures a fair allotment of whatever there may be to divide:


such a man is eminent above all others.

守識而不廢 處義而不回

He who, in an official position, does not fail in the performance of his duties, abides steadfast in his rectitude without swerving,

見嫌而不苛免 見利而不苛得

incurs hatred or suspicion yet does not desert his post, and never illicitly avails himself of any opportunity of selfadvantage which may come in this way:


such a man is a hero.



絶噬柰慾 所以除累

By abandoning the appetites and restraining the passions, you may escape trouble and anxiety.

抑非損惡 所以讓過

By suppressing wrong and renouncing evil, you may ward off calamities.

貶酒闕色 所以無污

By avoiding over-indulgence in wine and curbing the carnal desires, you may escape defilement.

避嫌遠疑 所以不誤

By keeping clear of calumny and beyond the reach of suspicion, you may avoid hindrance to your affairs.

博學切問 所以廣知

By extensive study and eager questionings you may greatly enlarge your knowledge.

高行微言 所以修身

By a high course of conduct and a reserve in conversation, you may cultivate the person.

恭儉謙約 所以自守

By courtesy, frugality, modesty, and moderation, you may preserve your possessions from diminution.

深計遠慮 所以不窮

By deep calculations and taking thoughts for the distant future, you may avoid poverty.

親仁友直 所以扶順

By consulting with the benevolent and making friends of the outspoken and blunt, you may receive support in seasons of adversity.

近恕篤行 所以接人

By doing to others as you would wish to be done by, and being sincere and honest in all your dealings, you may attract all men to become your friends.

任材施能 所以濟務

By committing responsibilities to able men, and making special use of their special faculties, you may materially further the business of the State.

癉惡斥讒 所以止亂

By abhorring the wicked and expelling slanderers from your presence, you may put a stop to disorder.

推古驗今 所以不惑

By testing the practices of to-day by investigating those of ancient times, you may avoid blunders.

先揆后度 所以應卒

By first estimating [the pros and cons of an affair] and then calculating [what ought to be done under the

circumstances] you will be prepared to meet the most unexpected emergencies.

設變致權 所以解結

By providing against disaffection and knowing how to use your power, you will be able to unravel complications.

括囊順會 所以無咎

By keeping your knowledge to yourself and only acting as opportunity occurs, you avoid getting into trouble [by failing

in what you professed yourself able to perform].

橛橛梗梗 所以立功

By firmness and stability of purpose, you will establish merit.

孜孜淑淑 所以保終

By unwearying efforts and impregnable virtue, you will be able to preserve yourself securely until death.



夫志心篤行之術 長莫長於博謀

As regards the methods employed for forming deliberate intentions and doing straightforward actions, there is none that

will enable you to continue longer in the course you desire to pursue than that of ample deliberation;


and none that will enable you to pursue that course in greater peace than the patient bearing of insult.

先莫先於修徳 樂莫樂於好善

There is nothing more important than the cultivation of virtue; there is no greater cause of joy than the love of


神莫神於至 明莫明於體物

there is nothing that will give you deeper insight into hidden things than perfect sincerity in word and deed; there is nothing that will make you clearer-sighted than understanding the nature of all created beings;

吉莫吉於自足 若莫若於多願

there is nothing more felicitous than contentment, nothing bitterer than covetousness,

悲莫悲於精散 病莫病於無常

nothing more sorrowful than the dispersion (or loss) of animal vigour, no greater sickness than that which results fromthe vicissitudes of life,

短莫短苟得 幽莫幽於貪鄙

nothing shorter than a career of unlawful gain, nothing that tends more to secrecy (or stealthiness) than avarice,

孤於孤於自恃 危莫危於任疑

nothing that isolates a man more than trusting to himself alone, nothing more dangerous than employing those whom you have reason to suspect,


and nothing more certain to bring ruin to you than unfairness or partiality.




Those who proclaim their own cleverness to their inferiors are themselves ignorant.


Those who are unconscious of their own faults are blinded.


Those who are so fascinated by anything as to be unable to turn away from its pursuit, are deluded.


Those who provoke animosity by [irritating] words, will incur disaster.


Those whose commands are at variance with their consciences will meet with failure.


Those who mislead people by countermanding the orders they have previously given, will bring ruin upon the affairs they have in hand.


If a man is angry without inspiring awe, the delinquency will be repeated.


A man who acquires a false reputation for honesty and brings shame on others, will meet with retribution.


It is dangerous, first to treat a man with contumely and afterwards entrust him with responsibility.


It is inauspicious to treat the honourable with negligence or disrespect.


A man who hides an alienated heart under a friendly face will be shunned.


If [a sovereign] loves flatterers and keeps aloof from the honest and true, his kingdom will soon fall.


He who consorts much with beautiful women, and avoids the society of the virtuous, is deluded.


If women are openly allowed to have audiences of the sovereign, internal disorder will ensue.


If the monarch gives office to his private friends and minions, the emoluments of the State will be squandered in vain.


He who oppresses his subjects and gets the better of them by main force, is a usurper.


He whose reputation is greater than his actual abilities, is obliged to exert himself to the utmost to keep up that reputation – and without result.


To make little of one's own faults and be severe to others', is not the way to govern.


He who is generous as regards himself and niggardly in dealing with his fellows, will be abandoned.


He who ignores merit on account of some trifling lapse, will suffer injury himself.


He who estranges the people from him will be ruined without hope.


He who employs people irrespective of their peculiar capabilities will incur the evil results of his laxity.


He who bestows rewards with a grudging face will receive a grudging service.


He who promises much and gives little will be murmured at.


He who makes advances to another and then suddenly breaks off intercourse with him, will meet with unexpected opposition.


He who is niggardly in bestowal and yet looks for a large return, will get no return at all.


He who in a position of honour forgets the humble – or, the friends of humbler days – will not enjoy his honours long.


To harbour old grievances in one's memory and ignore present merit, is inauspicious.


Not to select upright men when employing people, is dangerous.


He who employs others by main force will have nobody to obey him.


To appoint officials in deference to requests made by the friends of the candidates for office, will result in disorder.


He who loses that in which consists his power, will become weak.


He who devises plans for the benefit of the inhuman – or, he who allows the inhuman to form plans for him – will be placed in jeopardy.


If secret counsels be bruited abroad, defeat will be the result.


He who hoards much and gives out grudgingly, will find his substance diminishing.

戰士貧 游士富者衰

Where the military leaders are in penury and fashionable idlers wealthy, the State will fall.


A man who openly accepts bribes, is self-deceived – or, does so against his own conscience.

聞善忽略 記過不忘者暴

He who, hearing of virtuous deeds, makes no account of them, but never forgets a fault, is tyrannical.

所任不可信 所信不可任濁

He who commits responsibilities to the untrustworthy, and none to those who may be confided in, is muddle-headed, or stupid.

牧人以徳者集 繩人以刑者散

If a man nourishes the people according to virtue, all will come flocking to him; but if he holds them in restraint by means of punishments, they will disperse.

小功不賞則大聞功不立 少過不赦則大怨悲必生

If small merit be not rewarded, great merit will not be performed; if petty injuries be not forgiven, serious animosities will arise.

賞不服人 罰不甘心者叛

If rewards be bestowed upon the undeserving, and punishments on the unwilling – i.e., on those who know they have not incurred any penalty – the people will revolt.

賞及無功 罰及無罪者酷

To reward those who have no merit and punish those who have committed no fault, is truculent.

聽讒而美 聞諫而仇者亡

Listening with delight to flattery and with disgust to candid expostulation, will bring about the ruin of the State.

能有其有者安 貪人之有者殘

To be content with one's own will result in a nation's tranquillity; but to covet what belongs to another leads to oppression and wrong-doing.



怨在不舍小過 患在不預定謀

Enmities result from not abandoning little faults; misfortunes arise from not making decided plans beforehand.

福在積善 禍在積惡

Happiness results from the accumulation of good deeds; misery, from the accumulation of wicked ones.

饑在賤農 寒在惰織

Famines come about from depreciating agriculture; cold results from the neglect of weaving.

安在得人 危在失事

Tranquillity results from securing the services of suitable men; danger from losing men of ability.

富在迎來 貧在卉時

Wealth results from meeting [opportunities] half-way – or, taking advantage of whatever may turn up; penury, from rejecting such opportunities.

上無常躁 下多疑心

If those in authority are not perpetually vacillating, their subordinates will not be a prey to perplexity.

輕上生罪 侮下無親

Those who despise their superiors should not be held guiltless; while those who oppress their inferiors show by so doing their want of affection for them.

近臣不重 遠臣輕之

If ministers of the Presence do not receive proper consideration from the sovereign, he will be lightly esteemed by those of his ministers who are at a distance.

自疑不信人 自信不疑人

If you are naturally suspicious, you cannot have confidence in others; but if you are of a confiding nature, you will not suspect people.

枉士無直友 曲上無直下

The depraved have no true friends. A perverted sovereign will have no upright ministers.

危國無賢人 亂政無善人

A State in danger has no virtuous man to the front; there are no good men under a disorderly government.

愛人深者 求賢急 樂得賢者 養人厚

Those who sincerely love others will search eagerly for men of virtue; and those who take pleasure in virtuous men will nourish the people generously.

國將霸者士者歸 邦將亡者賢先避

Where there is a State whose power has been established by sheer force of merit, all able men will resort to it; but virtuous men will retire from a State that is on the verge of ruin.

地薄者大物不産 水淺者大魚不游

Where the soil is thin, large things will not grow; where water is shallow, large fishes will not disport themselves;

樹禿者大禽不棲 林疏者大獸不居

if a tree is leafless, no large bird will rest upon it; if a forest is sparse, no large animal will take up his abode in it.

山峭者崩 澤淺者溢

If a mountain is high and steep, it will easily fall; if a pool is full of water, it will overflow.

卉玉取石者盲 羊質虎皮者辱

Those who throw away jade and cling to a common stone, are blind. Those who cover up a sheep in a tiger's skin will incur ridicule.


If you don't hold a coot by the collar, you will put it on upside down.


If you don't look at the ground as you walk, you will fall.

柱弱者屋壞 輔弱者國傾

If the posts of a house are weak, the rooms will come to grief; and if the supports of a Government are feeble, the State will be ruined.

足寒傷心 人怨傷國

If the foot is cold, the heart will be injured; and if the populace are angered, the State will suffer.

山將崩者 下先隳 國將衰者 人先弊

Before the mountain falls, the base is undermined; and before the State falls, the people are in extremity.

根枯枝朽 人困國殘

If the root of a tree is rotten, the leaves will decay; if the people are worn out, the State will be annihilated.

與覆車同軌者 與亡同事者滅

If you drive a carriage in the ruts made by another carriage that has been overturned, you will meet the same disaster; and if you follow the example set by a State that is already lost, yours will be lost too.

見將生者慎將生 惡其述者須避之

Having already seen, therefore, the bad results which will accrue from a given line of conduct, take care not to give rise to them again; if you dread such consequences, make provision against them beforehand.

畏危者安 畏亡者存

To have a proper dread of danger is the way to ensure safety; to have a proper dread of the extermination [of one's State] is the way to preserve it.

夫人之所行 有道則吉 無道則凶

So, as regards the conduct of a man: if it be in accordance with right principle, it will be auspicious; if not, it will be the reverse.

吉則百福所歸 凶者百禍所攻 非其神聖 自然所鐘

It is not the spirits or holy ones who will give one happiness; one must be endowed with it naturally.

務善業策者無惡事 無遠慮者有近憂

If a man discharges his functions on virtuous plans, no evil will ensue; but if he does not take forethought for what is yet far off, sorrow will come speedily upon him.

同志相得 同仁相愛

When [two or more] persons have one object in view, they will achieve it; when they are benevolent, they will share each other's disappointments.

同惡相黨 同愛相求

The wicked all consort one with another.


Those who are equally beautiful are jealous to each other.


Those whose shrewdness is equally great will scheme one against the other.


Those whose positions are equally high will injure each other.


Those who are competing for gain will be envious of one another.


Those whose voices are the same will respond to one another.


Those who are subject to similar influences will be similarly affected. Those who belong to the same category conform to each other's habits.


Those who are righteous will love each other.


Those who are in the same difficulty will assist each other.


Those who are guided by the same principle of right will arrive at completion together – or, will [aid in] completing each other.


Those who possees the same skill will check each other's performances.


Those who have the same adroitness will compete with each other.

此數之所得 不可與理違

The above embody an unvarying principle in each case, and the principle cannot be successfully opposed by anybody.

釋已而教人者逆 正已而化人者順

To give free rein to oneself and prescribe laws for others, will lead to disobedience; but if a man who attempts to reform his fellows is upright himself, all will follow his example.

逆者難從 順者易行

If a monarch runs counter to his people, he will have great difficulty in enforcing obedience; but if he guides himself by his people's wishes, affairs will go on easily.

難從刖亂 易行則理

In the former case, disorder will ensue; in the latter, the government will be tranquilly accomplished.

如此理身 理家 理國可也

It is in this way that a man may achieve the proper regulation of himself, his household, and his State.




Balfour, Fredrick. Taoist Texts: Ethical, Political and Speculative. London/Shanghai: Trübner and Co./Kelly and

Walsh, 1894: 95-102.

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IMO, this is an amazing opening line... that takes a lot of philosophical guts and certitude for an intro...


夫道 徳仁義 禮五者一也
Now Tao, Virtue, Benevolence, Rectitude and Decorum – these five things are all one Principle.
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IMO, this is an amazing opening line... that takes a lot of philosophical guts and certitude for an intro...


夫道 徳仁義 禮五者一也
Now Tao, Virtue, Benevolence, Rectitude and Decorum – these five things are all one Principle.

Agree, but then, that is the simplicity of the doctrine.

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" 悲莫悲於精散" : To any guy , " Nothing is more sorrowful than the depletion of jing " , which is also the most famous phase from  this Book ;

Provide you with delicious roasted steak , pretty ladies , magnificent mansion overlooking sea...,without jing to sustain your body , hardly can you enjoy them .

Edited by exorcist_1699
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