Selected Passages from "Yuan’s Model Conduct in Society " 《袁氏世范》选译
Selected Passages from "Yuan’s Model Conduct in Society "
Yuan Cai, courtesy name Yuan Junzai (1140 – 1190 AD), was born in Xinan (now Changshan City, Zhejiang Province) in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD). He was third place in the civil service examination in Longxing Year One (1163 AD), and served as high as the Prosecutor. He once served as the mayor of Leqing County, and was known for his integrity and straightforwardness. To educate the local citizens and improve the moral standards of the general public, he wrote Suxun (meaning "lessons for the general public") in the 5th year of Emperor Song Xiaozhong (1127 – 1194 AD, ruling from 1162 – 1189 AD), to teach people how to behave in society. Later the book was renamed Shifan (meaning "model conduct in society") and was also called Yuan’s Shifan. It was widely circulated and had a profound impact. It became the first book to read for many private schools. Scholars throughout history have thought highly of the book.
The following are a few passages from the book to give readers a flavor of the divine culture of China, in which people respect heaven and comply with their fate, and emphasize respect and morality. This way we can understand the moral standard that ancient people have lived by.
1) One should treat others with respect whether they are rich or poor, noble or common
There are some narrow-minded people in this world who cannot treat everyone with equal respect and hospitality. They treat people according to their wealth and status and divide them into classes. When they see a rich or noble person they will be very polite. The wealthier and the higher-ranking the person is, the more humble they will be toward him. When they meet their fellow townsman who is poor and of lower status, they will be arrogant and look down upon him. They seldom help or take care of the lower class people. We should know that other people's wealth cannot add to our own glory, and other people's poverty cannot add to our shame either. Why change our attitude according to others' financial or social status? A person with high moral character and wisdom would never act this way.
2) Being noble or common is all predestined
One's moral character is entirely independent of one's career position. A person with higher moral character is not necessarily rich or noble; and a person with poor moral character does not always have a bad fate either. If that were the case, people such as Confucius and Yan Hui (a favorite student of Confucius) ought to have been prime ministers, and none of the prime ministers in the past history could have been corrupt. To cultivate our moral character is what we need to do; it is not for achieving any particular goal of profit or self-interest. Otherwise, one would relax his cultivation once the goal is not attained. He may then change his earlier principles and turn into a bad person.
Nowadays there are many ignorant people in this world who are rich, and also many that are intelligent but very poor. These are all pre-determined by the heaven, and we do not need to search for a reason for it. Knowing this principle and accepting it peacefully can save one much anxiety.