Boundless virtue

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子曰:「大哉堯之為君也,巍巍乎,唯天為大,唯堯則之,蕩蕩乎,民無能名焉。巍巍乎,其有成功也,煥乎,其有文章。」 Confucius said: “What a great ruler Yao was! Absolutely majestic! Only Heaven is great, and only Yao was able to emulate it. His virtue was so great that the people could find no words to describe it. How stunning were his achievements, and how marvelous the culture was that he created!”

Having extolled the virtues of Shun (舜) and Yu (禹), Confucius heaps even higher levels of praise on their predecessor Yao (堯), the first of the great sage emperors of China. In addition to being renowned for his high moral virtue, Yao is credited with having laid the foundations of China’s feudal society by establishing a calendar system, making maps of the kingdom, and initiating flood control projects.

According to some accounts, Yao failed to pass his virtue on to his playboy son Danzhu (丹朱), and had to invent the game of weiqi (go) to keep him from other distractions. Unfortunately, even this ruse didn’t prove effective for very long, as the dissolute Danzhu ended up either being executed or banished from the kingdom as a result of his scandalous behavior – leaving Yao free to proclaim his protégé Shun as his successor.

At least that’s the version of the story promoted by the supporters of Shun. Other accounts, however, suggest that Shun may actually have seized power from the aging Yao and left him to die in prison before going on to defeat the exiled Danzhu.

It is of course impossible to verify which version of the story is true, but Confucius certainly didn’t have any qualms about showing which side he was on.

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