Neither Lord Nor Subject
Translated by Etienne Balazs

Editor’s Introduction:

We know next to nothing about the man historian Etienne Balazs called “China’s first political anarchist.” Though we know so little about this fascinating Taoist writer, Balazs describes him as “a daring thinker who went well beyond the vague Utopianism of popular Taoism by placing his argument firmly on the political level.” As such, his sole surviving work constitutes one of the earliest and clearest expositions of “Libertarian anarchism,” (Balazs’ phrasing) in world history; a feat of especial importance in an era of Chinese history marked by rising nihilism and libertineage.

In his short treatise, Bao Jingyan begins by countering the prevailing wisdom of ancient China’s dominant “Confucian literati,” and their fundamental assumption that the heavens had condemned some to serve while elevating others to rule. In fact, he states, all such philosophies simply served the interests of those who formulated them, solidifying the Confucian monopoly of office-holding. Rejecting the natural authority of rulers, Bao Jingyan encouraged his audience to investigate the ways of nature and the history of world before the rise of the ruling classes.

Before men sought power—before they strove to conquer nature as well as each other—they enjoyed both peace and prosperity. He presents an idyllic, heavily romanticized vision of ancient life, in which humans joined in “mystic unity” with nature, did not suffer disease or privation, and recognized no social distinctions or disturbances of the peace. Grown fat and decadent, ancient man lost “The Way and Its Virtue,” providing the powerful with ample opportunities for establishing socio-political hierarchies. Gradually, but surely, the social distinction between Lord and Subject grew to include the great mass of common people ruled over by a small elite.

While hierarchy provided the basis for imperial power, it also attempted to subvert and violate The Way and Its Virtue. As such, the very existence of social distinctions provided the impetus for the uprisings and revolution that caused cyclical dynastic collapse. Bao Jingyan concluded by suggesting that no one can truly live outside the unitary system of Nature, and even apparently unnatural socio-political hierarchies inevitably served to instruct the people in the necessity of virtuously governing themselves. Hope for once again attaining the ancients’ mystical union with the natural order rested in individuals’ personal moral commitments to be “Neither Lord Nor Subject.”

Anthony Comegna, PhD Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

鮑敬言 Bao Jingyan (Bào Kính Ngôn) 300CE

Neither Lord Nor Subject

THE CONFUCIAN LITERATI SAY: “Heaven gave birth to the people and then set rulers over them.” But how can High Heaven have said this in so many words? Is it not rather that interested parties make this their pretext? The fact is that the strong oppressed the weak and the weak submitted to them; the cunning tricked the innocent and the innocent served them. It was because there was submission that the relation of lord and subject arose, and because there was servitude that the people, being powerless, could be kept under control. Thus servitude and mastery result from the struggle between the strong and the weak and the contrast between the cunning and the innocent, and Blue Heaven has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

When the world was in its original undifferentiated state, the Nameless (wu-ming, i.e., the Tao) was what was valued, and all creatures found happiness in self-fulfillment. Now when the cinnamon-tree has its bark stripped or the varnish-tree is cut, it is not done at the wish of the tree; when the pheasant’s feathers are plucked or the kingfisher’s torn out, it is not done by desire of the bird. To be bitted and bridled is not in accordance with the nature of the horse; to be put under the yoke and bear burdens does not give pleasure to the ox. Cunning has its origin in the use of force that goes against the true nature of things, and the real reason for harming creatures is to provide useless adornments. Thus catching the birds of the air in order to supply frivolous adornments, making holes in noses where no holes should be, tying beasts by the leg when nature meant them to be free, is not in accord with the destiny of the myriad creatures, all born to live out their lives unharmed. And so the people are compelled to labour so that those in office may be nourished; and while their superiors enjoy fat salaries, they are reduced to the direst poverty.

It is all very well to enjoy the infinite bliss of life after death, but it is preferable not to have died in the first place; and rather than acquire an empty reputation for integrity by resigning office and foregoing one’s salary, it is better that there should be no office to resign. Loyalty and righteousness only appear when rebellion breaks out in the empire, filial obedience and parental love are only displayed when there is discord among kindred.

In the earliest times, there was neither lord nor subjects. Wells were dug for drinking-water, the fields were plowed for food, work began at sunrise and ceased at sunset; everyone was free and at ease; neither competing with each other nor scheming against each other, and no one was either glorified or humiliated. The waste lands had no paths or roads and the waterways no boats or bridges, and because there were no means of communication by land or water, people did not appropriate each other’s property; no armies could be formed, and so people did not attack one another. Indeed since no one climbed up to seek out nests nor dived down to sift the waters of the deep, the phoenix nested under the eaves of the house and dragons disported in the garden pool. The ravening tiger could be trodden on, the poisonous snake handled. Men could wade through swamps without raising the waterfowl, and enter the woodlands without startling the fox or the hare. Since no one even began to think of gaining power or seeking profit, no dire events or rebellions occurred; and as spears and shields were not in use, moats and ramparts did not have to be built. All creatures lived together in mystic unity, all of them merged in the Way (Tao). Since they were not visited by plague or pestilence, they could live out their lives and die a natural death. Their hearts being pure, they were devoid of cunning. Enjoying plentiful supplies of food, they strolled about with full bellies. Their speech was not flowery, their behavior not ostentatious. How, then, could there have been accumulation of property such as to rob the people of their wealth, or severe punishments to trap and ensnare them? When this age entered on decadence, knowledge and cunning came into use. The Way and its Virtue (Tao te) having fallen into decay, a hierarchy was established. Customary regulations for promotion and degradation and for profit and loss proliferated, ceremonial garments such as the [gentry’s] sash and sacrificial cap and the imperial blue and yellow [robes for worshiping Heaven and Earth] were elaborated. Buildings of earth and wood were raised high into the sky, with the beams and rafters painted red and green. The heights were overturned in quest of gems, the depths dived into in search of pearls; but however vast a collection of precious stones people might have assembled, it still would not have sufficed to satisfy their whims, and a whole mountain of gold would not have been enough to meet their expenditure, so sunk were they in depravity and vice, having transgressed against the fundamental principles of the Great Beginning. Daily they became further removed from the ways of their ancestors, and turned their back more and more upon man’s original simplicity. Because they promoted the “worthy” to office, ordinary people strove for reputation, and because they prized material wealth, thieves and robbers appeared. The sight of desirable objects tempted true and honest hearts, and the display of arbitrary power and love of gain opened the road to robbery. So they made weapons with points and with sharp edges, and after that there was no end to usurpations and acts of aggression, and they were only afraid lest crossbows should not be strong enough, shields stout enough, lances sharp enough, and defences solid enough. Yet all this could have been dispensed with if there had been no oppression and violence from the start.

Therefore it has been said: “Who could make scepters without spoiling the unblemished jade? And how could altruism and righteousness (jen and i) be extolled unless the Way and its Virtue had perished?” Although tyrants such as Chieh and Chou were able to burn men to death, massacre their advisers, make mince-meat of the feudal lords, cut the barons into strips, tear out men’s hearts and break their bones, and go to the furthest extremes of tyrannical crime down to the use of torture by roasting and grilling, however cruel they may by nature have been, how could they have done such things if they had had to remain among the ranks of the common people? If they gave way to their cruelty and lust and butchered the whole empire, it was because, as rulers, they could do as they pleased. As soon as the relationship between lord and subject is established, hearts become daily more filled with evil designs, until the manacled criminals sullenly doing forced labour in the mud and the dust are full of mutinous thoughts, the Sovereign trembles with anxious fear in his ancestral temple, and the people simmer with revolt in the midst of their poverty and distress; and to try to stop them revolting by means of rules and regulations, or control them by means of penalties and punishments, is like trying to dam a river in full flood with a handful of earth, or keeping the torrents of water back with one finger.

Ni Señor ni Súbdito

El literato confuciano dice: “El Cielo le dio vida al pueblo y luego estableció gobernantes sobre ellos.” Pero ¿cómo puede el Alto Cielo haber dicho esto en tantas palabras? ¿No es acaso que las partes interesadas hacen de esto su pretexto? La verdad es que el fuerte oprimió al débil y el débil se sometió; el artero engañó al inocente y el inocente le sirvió. Fue porque hubo sumisión que surgió la relación señor-súbdito, y porque hubo servidumbre que el pueblo, siendo impotente, pudo ser puesto bajo control. Así, servidumbre y dominio resultan de la lucha entre el fuerte y el débil y del contraste entre el artero y el inocente, y el Cielo Azul nada tiene que ver con eso.
Cuando el mundo estaba en su estado original indeferenciado, lo Sin Nombre (wu ming, esto es, el Tao) era lo valorado, y todas las criaturas hallaban felicidad en la auto-plenitud. Ahora, cuando al árbol de la canela se le extrae la corteza o se corta el árbol de la laca, esto no se hace bajo el deseo del árbol; cuando las plumas del faisán son arrancadas o el martín pescador es despedazado, esto no se hace por el deseo del ave. Ser embridado y embocado no va en acuerdo con la naturaleza del caballo; ser puesto bajo el yugo y soportar cargas no le da placer al buey. Lo artero tiene su origen en el uso de la fuerza, que va contra la real naturaleza de las cosas, y la verdadera razón para dañar a las criaturas es  para proveer de inútiles adornos. Así, atrapar las aves del aire para suplir de frívolos adornos, hacer hoyos en narices donde no debiese haberlos, atar bestias por las piernas cuando la naturaleza les hizo libres, no está en acuerdo con el destino de la miríada de criaturas, todas nacidas para vivir sus vidas sin daño. Y así el pueblo es obligado a trabajar para que aquellos en el poder se nutran; y mientras sus superiores disfrutan de gordos salarios, éste es reducido a la más abyecta pobreza.

Está muy bien disfrutar de la dicha infinita de la vida después de la muerte, pero es preferible no haber muerto en primer lugar; y en vez de adquirir una reputación vacía por la integridad de renunciar a la oficialidad y privarse del salario, es mejor que no haya oficialidad a la que renunciar.
La lealtad y la rectitud solamente aparecen cuando estalla la rebelión en el imperio, la obediencia filial y el amor parental solamente se despliegan cuando hay discordia entre parientes. En los primeros tiempos, no había ni señor ni súbditos. Los pozos se cavaban para beber agua, los campos se labraban para el alimento, el trabajo comenzaba en el amanecer y cesaba en el crepúsculo; todos eran libres y estaban a gusto; ni compitiendo unos con otros ni confabulando unos contra otros, y nadie era ni glorificado ni humillado. Las tierras sobrantes no tenían ni senderos ni caminos y las vías de agua ni botes ni puentes, y dado que no habían medios de comunicación por tierra o por agua, las personas no se apropiaban de la propiedad de los demás; no se podían formar ejércitos, y así las personas no se atacaban unas a otras.
De hecho, puesto que nadie escalaba a buscar nidos ni se sumergía en lo profundo de las aguas, el fénix anidaba bajo los aleros de la casa y los dragones se entretenían en la piscina del jardín. El tigre voraz podía ser vencido, la venenosa serpiente, manejada. Los hombres podían vadear por los pantanos sin espantar a las aves acuáticas, y entrar en los bosques sin alarmar a los zorros o a las liebres. Ya que nadie comenzaba siquiera a pensar en obtener poder o buscar provecho, no ocurrían eventos terribles ni rebeliones; y como las lanzas y los escudos no estaban en uso, no había que construir fosas y muros. Todas las criaturas vivían juntas en mística unidad, todas fundidas en la Vía (Tao). Ya que no eran visitadas por plagas ni pestilencias, podían vivir sus vidas y morir una muerte natural. Sus corazones puros, desprovistos de malicia. Disfrutando de abundantes suministros de alimento, merodeaban con sus estómagos llenos. Su hablar no era florido, su conducta no era ostentosa. ¿Cómo entonces, podía haber acumulación de propiedad como para robar al pueblo su riqueza, o severos castigos para atraparles y entramparles? Cuando esta era entró en decadencia, el conocimiento y la malicia entraron en uso. Habiendo caído en descomposición la Vía y su Virtud (Tao te), se estableció una jerarquía. Proliferaron regulaciones de las costumbres por la promoción y degradación y por el lucro y la pérdida, se elaboraron adornos ceremoniales como el cinto y la corona de sacrificios [de la nobleza] y  [las túnicas para adorar al Cielo y la Tierra] azul y amarilla imperial. Se erigieron construcciones de tierra y madera hacia lo alto del cielo, con sus vigas y travesaños pintados de rojo y verde. Las alturas fueron derribadas en busca de joyas, las profundidades sondeadas en busca de perlas; pero no importa cuán vasta la colección de piedras preciosas que el pueblo haya podido reunir, aún no sería suficiente para satisfacer sus caprichos, y una montaña entera de oro no sería suficiente para cubrir sus gastos, tan hundidos estaban en su depravación y vicio,  transgrediendo así los principios fundamentales del Gran Comienzo. A diario se fueron alejando de los modos de sus ancestros, y dieron la espalda más y más a la simpleza original del hombre. Ya que promovieron como “digno” el poder, las personas comunes se esforzaron por tener reputación, y ya que elogiaron la riqueza material, aparecieron ladrones y asaltantes. La imagen de objetos deseables tentaban a los corazones verdaderos y honestos, y el despliegue del poder arbitrario y del amor por la ganancia abrieron el camino al robo. Entonces hicieron armas con puntas y afilados bordes, y tras eso no hubo fin a las usurpaciones y a los actos de agresión, y temían solamente que las ballestas no fuesen lo suficientemente fuertes, los escudos lo suficientemente robustos, las lanzas lo suficientemente  afiladas, y las defensas lo suficientemente sólidas. Y sin embargo todo esto pudo haber sido hecho a un lado si no hubiese habido opresión y violencia para empezar.
Por eso se ha dicho: “¿Quién podría hacer cetros sin arruinar el jade inmaculado? ¿Y cómo podrían ser apreciados el altruismo y la rectitud (jen e i) a menos que la Vía y su Virtud pereciesen?” Aunque tiranos como Chieh y Chou hayan podido quemar personas hasta la muerte, masacrar a sus consejeros, hacer carne picada de los señores feudales, cortar a los barones en tiras, desgarrar los corazones de los hombres y quebrar sus huesos, e ir hasta los más lejanos extremos del crimen tiránico haciendo uso de la tortura rostizante, no importa lo crueles que por naturaleza puedan haber sido, ¿podrían haber hecho tales cosas si hubiesen tenido que seguir estando al nivel de las personas comunes? Si dieron rienda suelta a su crueldad y lujuria y sacrificaron a todo el imperio, fue porque, como dominadores, podían hacer lo que quisieran. Tan pronto como se establece la relación entre señor y sometido, los corazones se llenan día a día de señales malvadas, hasta que de pronto los criminales, engrillados y haciendo trabajos forzados en el barro y el polvo, están llenos de pensamientos de motines, el soberano entonces tiembla de ansioso temor en su templo ancestral, y el pueblo estalla en revuelta en medio de su pobreza y aflicción; intentar detenerles por medio de reglas y regulaciones, o controlarles por medio de penalidades y castigos, es como intentar contener un río en pleno flujo con un puñado de tierra, o detener el torrente del agua con un dedo.