Follow us on Facebook to receive important updates Follow us on Twitter to receive important updates Follow us on's microblogging site to receive important updates Follow us on Douban to receive important updates
Chinese Text Project
Show translation:[None] [English]
-> -> -> Fixing of Rights and Duties

《定分 - Fixing of Rights and Duties》

English translation: J. J. L. Duyvendak [?]
Books referencing 《定分》 Library Resources
1 定分:
Fixing of Rights and...:
The Duke questioned Gong-sun Yang, saying: 'Supposing that one established laws and mandates today, and wished that, tomorrow, all government servants and people, throughout the empire, should understand them clearly and apply them, so that all should be as one, and should have no selfish intentions - how can one bring this about?'

2 定分:
Fixing of Rights and...:
Gong-sun Yang replied: 'There should be instituted, for the laws, government officers who are able to understand the contents of the decrees, and who should be the regulators of the empire. Then they should memorialize the Son of Heaven, whereupon the Son of Heaven would personally preside over the law and promulgate it. All should then issue to their inferiors the mandates they have received, and the law officers should preside personally over the law and promulgate it. When people venture to neglect practising the items named in the promulgations of the officers presiding over the law, then each one is punished according to the item in the law which he has neglected. In the eventuality of these officers, who preside over the law, being transferred or dying, students should be made to read the contents of the law and a standard of knowledge should be fixed for them, so that, within a certain number of days, they should know the contents of the law, and for those students who do not reach the standard, a law is made for punishing them. Should any one dare to tamper with the text of the law, to erase or add one single character, or more, he shall be condemned to death without pardon. Whenever government officials or people have questions about the meaning of the laws or mandates, to ask of the officers presiding over the law, the officers should, in each case, answer clearly according to the laws and mandates about which it was originally desired to ask questions, and they should, in each case, prepare a tablet of the length of 1 foot 6 inches, on which should be distinctly inscribed the year, month, day and hour, as well as the items of law about which questions were asked, for the information of the government officials or of the people. Should the officers who preside over the law not give the desired information, they should be punished according to the contents of the law, that is, they should be punished according to the law about which the government officials or people have asked information. The officers, presiding over the law, should forthwith give to those government officials who ask information about the law, the left half of the document and they themselves should store carefully the wooden bindings with the right half of the document, keep them in a room and seal them with the seal of the chief of the office of laws and mandates. Later, on the death of the officer, affairs should be transacted according to these files.

3 定分:
Fixing of Rights and...:
All the laws and mandates should be put together as a set, one set being kept in the palace of the Son of Heaven. Forbidden archives should be built for the laws, which are locked with lock and key to prevent admittance, and are sealed up; herein should be stored one set of the laws and mandates. Inside the forbidden archives they should be sealed with a seal forbidding their opening. Whoever ventures unauthorisedly to break the seals of the forbidden archives, or to enter the forbidden archives, to inspect the forbidden laws and mandates, or to tamper with one or more characters of the forbidden laws, shall, in any of these cases, be guilty of death without pardon. Once a year laws and mandates shall be received for prohibitions and orders to be issued. The Son of Heaven shall set up three law officers, one in the palace, one in the office of the Yu-shi, together with a government official, and one in the chancery of the Cheng-Xiang. In the various prefectures and sub-prefectures of the feudal lords, shall be instituted one law officer, together with government officials, all of whom shall be similar to the law officers in Qin. Thus the prefectures and subprefectures and the feudal lords shall all alike receive a knowledge of the laws and mandates in the archives, and moreover the afore-mentioned government officials and people, who are desirous of knowing the law, shall all address their inquiries to these law officers. Thus there shall be no one among the government officials and people of the empire who does not know the law, and as the officials are clearly aware that the people know the laws and mandates, they dare not treat the people contrary to the law, nor dare the people transgress the law, as they would come into conflict with the law officers. If in their treatment of the people the government officials do not act according to the law, the former should inquire of the law officer, who should at once inform them of the punishment (for the illegal action in question) fixed by the law. The people should then at once inform the government officials, formally, of the law officer's statement. Thus the government officials, knowing that such is the course of events, dare not treat the people contrary to the law, nor do the people dare infringe the law. In this way, government officials and the people of the empire, however virtuous or good, however sophistical or sagacious they may be, cannot add one word to twist the law; nor, though they may have a thousand pieces of gold, can they use one twenty-fourth of an ounce of it for such a purpose. Thus the knowing and crafty ones, as well as the virtuous and capable, will all force themselves to behave well and will do their best to restrain themselves and to serve the public weal. When people are stupid, they are easy to govern. All this originates from the fact that the law is clear, easy to know, and strictly applied.

4 定分:
Fixing of Rights and...:
Law is the authoritative principle for the people, and is the basis of government; it is what shapes the people. Trying to govern while eliminating the law is like a desire not to be hungry while eliminating food, or a desire not to be cold while eliminating clothes, or a desire to go east while one moves west. It is clear enough that there is no hope of realizing it. That a hundred men will chase after a single hare that runs away, is not for the sake of the hare; for when they are sold everywhere on the market, even a thief does not dare to take one away, because their legal title is definite. Thus if the legal title is not definite, then even men like Yao, Shun, Yu or Tang would all rush to chase after it, but if the legal title is definite even a poor thief would not take it. Now if laws and mandates are not clear, nor their titles definite, the men of the empire have opportunities for discussion; in their discussions they will differ and there will be no definiteness. If above the ruler of men makes laws, but below the inferior people discuss them, the laws will not be definite and inferiors will become superiors. This may be called a condition where rights and duties are indefinite. When rights and duties are indefinite, even men like Yao and Shun will become crooked and commit acts of wickedness, how much more then the mass of the people ! This is the way in which wickedness and wrong-doing will be greatly stimulated, the ruler of men will be despoiled of his authority and power, will ruin his country and bring disaster upon the altar of the soil and grain.

5 定分:
Fixing of Rights and...:
Now the former sages made writings and transmitted them to later generations, and it is necessary to accept these as authoritative, so that one may know what is conveyed by established terminology. Should they not be accepted as authoritative and should people discuss them according to ideas of their own mind, then until their death they will not succeed in understanding the terminology and its meaning. Therefore did the sages set up officers and officials for the laws and mandates, who should be authoritative in the empire, in order to define everyone's rights and duties, so that these being definite, the very crafty would become faithful and trustworthy, and the people would all become honest and guileless, each one restraining himself. For indeed, the defining of everybody's rights and duties is the road that leads to orderly government, but the not defining of everybody's rights and duties is the road that leads to disorder. So where there is a tendency towards order, there cannot be disorder, and where there is a tendency towards disorder, there cannot be order. Indeed, where there is a tendency towards disorder and one governs it, the disorder will only increase, but where there is a tendency towards order and one governs it, there will be order. Therefore, the sage kings governed order and did not govern disorder.

6 定分:
Fixing of Rights and...:
Indeed, subtle and mysterious words, which have to be pondered over, cause difficulty even to men of superior knowledge. There may be one case in ten millions, where the directing guidance of the law is not needed and yet it is correct in everything. Therefore, a sage governs the empire for the ten million cases. For, indeed, one should not make laws so that only the intelligent can understand them, for the people are not all intelligent; and one should not make laws so that only the men of talent can understand them, for the people are not all talented. Therefore did the sages, in creating laws, make them clear and easy to understand, and the terminology correct, so that stupid and wise without exception could understand them; and by setting up law officers, and officers presiding over the law, to be authoritative in the empire, prevented the people from falling into dangerous pitfalls. So the fact that when the sages established the empire there were no victims of capital punishment, was not because capital punishment did not exist, but because the laws which were applied were clear and easy to understand. They set up law officers and government officials to be the authority, in order to guide them; and they knew that if the ten thousands of people all knew what to avoid and what to strive for, they would avoid misfortune and strive for happiness, and so restrain themselves. Therefore, an intelligent prince follows the existing conditions of order and so makes the order complete, with the result that the empire will enjoy great order.

URN: ctp:shang-jun-shu/fixing-of-rights-and-duties