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Grand 文言文 Reading Project #2: 《祭鱷魚文》 by 韓愈

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This week's Grand 文言文 Reading Project text is 《祭鱷魚文》 by 韓愈.

Again, Wikipedia pages on 韓愈 in English, Chinese, and 文言文. And special guests this week, 贛語 Gan and 吳語 Wu.

Geoff should be along with the text soon. You can find it at wikisource, but it may or may not be accurate.

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Text (with punctuation) as presented in the 古文觀止 (pp. 659-662 in my combined 三民書局 edition).

祭鱷魚文 韓愈






Edited by Humblegeoff

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Text without punctuation (but still including paragraph breaks)

祭鱷魚文 韓愈 唐 古文觀止 659-662






Edited by Humblegeoff

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A scanned copy of the Guwen put out by the Zhonghua Shuju in traditional that I got off the Internet largely agrees with Humblegeoff except for these few characters.


The first two characters above are probably a consequence of font. They probably depend on which font you have installed more than anything.

The bottom character has an "ice" radical rather than the "water" radical.


Here the bottom left character is different. And the right bottom only has one "weak" character.

And in the line "然不安谿潭,據處食民畜,熊、豕、鹿、獐麞,以肥其身,以種其子孫;與刺史抗拒,爭為長雄。", they've only "麞", the corrected character, not "獐麞", the one found at Wikisource and the correct(?) character.


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Many thanks Kobo!

You very politely avoided pointing out that the doubled characters were editor's errors, and I have corrected those. The lesson for today is absolutely do not edit text after an evening helping 美國人 celebrate the fourth of July. I will have a closer look at the other characters later this evening, and make sure full details are available here.

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As far as I know, 旣既 為 況况 are variations on the same character - I have noticed that 中華書局 tend to use 旣 rather than 既, and rather than 為 (not to mention 卽 rather than 即), but hadn't spotted the 況/况 variation.

While I have a vague preference for 旣卽 on aesthetic grounds, my 三民書局 edition of the 古文觀止 definitely uses 既為況.

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And Safari on my ipad won't even display the prettier version of 為. Ah well.

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So, those corrections:

First paragraph:

維年月日,潮州刺史韓愈,使軍事衙推秦濟,以羊一豬一,[comma reinstated] 投惡谿之潭水,

Fourth paragraph:

據處食民畜,熊、豕、鹿、麞 [獐 removed],以肥其身

刺史雖駑弱 [surplus 弱 removed],亦安肯為鱷魚低首下心。

Sorry everyone! Thanks again Kobo! Group members - I will be able to provide photocopies of the corrected corrected text.

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N. provincial/prefectural governor M: ²wèi [位] [Hucker refers to this office as Prefect]



T'ANG. Associate Judge, common duty assignment on the staffs of Prefects (tz'u-shih), Military Commissioners (chieh-tu shih), and Surveillance Commissioners (kuan-ch'a shih). Cf. t'ui-kuan (Judge). RR: juge adjoint. P52. (Hucker 7872, p. 576a)

官名。唐代節度使、觀察使、團練使、刺史等的下屬官吏。軍事衙推掌刑獄。(古文觀止 • 唐 • 韓愈 • 祭鱷魚文)

[Hucker, Charles O. (1985), A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.]


lié shān zé

"burned the brushwood on the hills and in the low levels" (Mathews 3988)

烈, 放火燒(古文觀止 • 唐 • 韓愈 • 祭鱷魚文)


wǎng shéng

Weave rope into nets. Here 罔 is the same as 網.

編繩為網。罔,同「網」。(古文觀止 • 唐 • 韓愈 • 祭鱷魚文)


chù rèn

Use a sharp knife as a 擉 chù.

擉 chù: an implement used to catch fish and soft-shelled turtles.

用利刃為擉。擉,刺取魚鼈的器具。(古文觀止 • 唐 • 韓愈 • 祭鱷魚文)

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Yǔ jì suǒ yǎn

The area traversed by the legendary emperor 禹 Yu during his great flood-management career, i.e., the 九州 nine zhou, or all of the Chinese heartland.

大禹足跡所至。禹治洪水,足跡遍及九州,故「禹跡」即指九州之地。揜,止;至。(古文觀止 • 唐 • 韓愈 • 祭鱷魚文)



P.W. royal ancestral shrine/temple M: ⁴zuò [座]


hàn rán

Descriptive of a type of stare; fierce, ferocious in appearance.

瞪眼的樣子。形容凶惡。(古文觀止 • 唐 • 韓愈 • 祭鱷魚文)


dī shǒu xià xīn

F.E. obsequiously submissive


(n) "roc" (FI)

Refers to a kūn (a "leviathan" (FI) or other huge fish). Tradition has it that this type of fish can change into a roc (huge mythical bird).

即鯤。傳說能化為大鵬的一種魚。(古文觀止 • 唐 • 韓愈 • 祭鱷魚文)


chǒu lèi

Same kind, similarity

同類。醜,相同的。(古文觀止 • 唐 • 韓愈 • 祭鱷魚文)



F.E. impenetrably thickheaded

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And the reason for Han Yu's exile to distant Chaozhou, where all he could do was yell at crocs, was his writing this rather marvellous polemic:

韓愈 Han Yu(768-824)論佛骨表 Memorial on the Bones of the Buddha



高祖始受隋禪,則議除之。當時群臣材識不遠,不能深知先王之道,古今之宜,推闡聖明,以救斯弊,其事遂止。臣常恨焉。伏惟睿聖文武皇帝陛下,神聖英武,數千百年已來,未有倫比。 即位之初,即不許度人為僧、尼、道士,又不許創立寺觀。臣常以為高祖之志,必行於陛下之手;今縱未能即行,豈可恣之轉令盛也!今聞陛下令群僧迎佛骨於鳳翔,禦樓以觀,舁入大內;又令諸寺遞迎供養。臣雖至愚,必知陛下不惑於佛,作此崇奉,以祈福祥也。直以年豐人樂,徇人之心,為京都士庶設詭異之觀、戲玩之具耳,安有聖明若此,而肯信此等事哉!然百姓愚冥,易惑難曉,苟見陛下如此,將謂真心事佛,皆云:「天子大聖,猶一心敬信,百姓何人,豈合更惜身命?」焚頂燒指,百十為群,解衣散錢,自朝至暮,轉相仿效,惟恐後時,老少奔波,棄其業次。若不即加禁遏,更曆諸寺,必有斷臂臠身以為供養者。傷風敗俗,傳笑四方,非細事也。




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And a very rough translation of the same.

韓愈 Han Yu(768-824)論佛骨表 Memorial on the Bones of the Buddha


Your humble servant submits: this practice of bowing to the Buddha is merely a philosophy of the 夷狄 Yi and the Di (i.e., races beyond the civilized realm). Introduced to China during the Later Han, it had not been present in ancient times.


Of the ancients, Huang Di was on the throne for a century, and lived to be 110; Shao Hao ruled for 80 years, dying at 100; Zhuan Xu kept his throne for 79 years, living to be 98; Di Ku ruled for 70 years and lived to 105; Di Yao had 98 years on the throne and lived to be 118; Emperors Shun and Yu both lived to be 100. At that time the world was peaceful and happy, the common people living long and joyful lives, but Buddhism had not yet reached China.


Afterwards, Tang of Yin lived to 100 too, Tang's grandson Tai Wu ruled for 75 years, Wu Ding was on the throne 59 years, and although the books of history do not give his final age, if one had to guess it would most likely not fall short of a century. Prince Wen of Zhou lived to be 97, Prince Wu lived to 93, Prince Mu ruled for 100 years: at this time too Buddhism had not yet arrived in China, and this [longevity] was not a result of serving the Buddha.


Buddhism began to arrive in China at the time of Emperor Ming of the Han, and this Ming Di only ruled for 18 years. Afterwards chaos and the fall [of dynasties] followed in quick succession, and no dynasty was fated to last. From the Song, the Qi, the Liang, the Chen, the Yuan Wei and their successors, the Buddha was served ever more sincerely, and the [lifespan of their] dynasties became [ever more] especially brief.


Only Emperor Wu of the Liang retained his throne for 48 years; he tried to offer himself to the Buddha three times in all, and cut down the offerings at the Imperial Ancestral Temple - instead of giving livestock [three times per day] this fell to once per day and even then to mere fruit and vegetables. Eventually he was forced out by rebellion and starved at Taicheng, and soon the dynasty was no more.


Serving the Buddha to seek happiness thus brings only calamity. From this one sees that Buddha is not worth serving - this can be quite clearly understood.


When [Tang] Gaozu first received the abdication of the Sui, he consulted on whether to get rid of it [buddhism]. At that time the ability and intelligence of his ministers was not sufficiently farsighted in nature; they could neither fathom the ways of the former kings, nor grasp the ideals passed from ancient times, nor understand the wisdom of the sage [emperor] in wishing to save the state from harm, and so his plans came to nothing. Your servant has always regretted this.

伏惟睿聖文武皇帝陛下,神聖英武,數千百年已來,未有倫比。 即位之初,即不許度人為僧、尼、道士,又不許創立寺觀。

Your servant has humbly thought that Your farsighted sage Majesty, the Wen Wu Emperor, perfect in holiness and valour, ruling for hundreds and thousands of years to come and quite without peer, [might now,] on ascending the throne, immediately prevent people from becoming monks, nuns, and Daoist priests, also halting the establishment of further monasteries and [Daoist] temples.


Your servant has always believed that Gaozu's will ought to be carried out by Your Majesty's hand; even if this cannot be put into practice all at once, how can this [buddhism] be allowed to flourish [against his will]?


I have heard that Your Majesty has issued an order that monks will welcome the Buddha's bones to Fengxiang, provide a building [in which they can] be viewed, and carry them into the Imperial Palace; also that all temples will receive the relics in turn to make offerings [to them].


Although your servant is extremely stupid, he of course realizes that Your Majesty does not have blind faith in this Buddha, and is taking part in this worship to seek blessings and good fortune.


Purely in order to have plentiful harvests and happy people, [Your Majesty] has heeded the suggestions [lit., pursued the hearts] of the common folk, [but as a result] the people of the city merely build strange temples and toys to play with; even in your august wisdom, could you have anticipated such a situation?!


However the common people are stupid, easily taken in and difficult to enlighten; if they see Your Majesty sincerely serving the Buddha in this way, they will all say, "Even the great sage Son of Heaven faithfully offers his whole heart; what kind of people are we? How can we hesitate to offer even more?"


[Those] "burning the scalp and singeing the fingers"* would become ever more numerous; discarding clothes and abandoning property, from dawn to dusk they would copy one another, each one afraid to fall behind the times, old and young alike rushing about and neglecting their occupations.


If this is not urgently prohibited, all our temples will be altered, and [people will] slice up their own arms to make bodily offerings.**


Customs will be harmed and conventions degraded, ridicule [of China] will spread throughout the world - this is no trifling matter.


This Buddha was originally a foreigner, unfamiliar with the language of China, with a different system of dress, a mouth unable to speak the ceremonial words of the former kings, a body unable to wear their ceremonial robes; [he would] not have understood the filial righteousness of lord and subject, the filial affection of father and son.


[Even] supposing he was still alive today, and accepting an order from his country had come to the court, Your Majesty would tolerate and accept him, showing him policy and ceremony, granting him a robe and escorting him safely to the border; [but he would] not be allowed to delude the masses. Much less so now that he is long since dead - how can the order be given for these withered bones and inauspicious remains to be introduced into the confines of the palace?


Confucius said, "Respect spirits but keep them at a distance." The ancient lords, if bringing a corpse back to their country, would first have a shaman use a peachwood broom to expel inauspicious [presences], only then bringing in the body.


Now, for no good reason, [Your Majesty is] taking this filthy thing, looking at it in person, without the preparation of a shaman, without using the peachwood, without the other ministers advising against it, without the censor highlighting the error; your servant is truly ashamed to see this [come to pass]!


[Your servant] begs that these bones be turned over to a suitable office, all washed and burned away and eternally destroyed, in order to remove doubt from the world, resolve the misgivings of later generations, and to make the people understand that the actions of the great sage [emperor] are utterly beyond the ordinary. Would this not be mighty? Would this not be decisive?


If this Buddha has power, and can call down disastrous punishment, this ought to be placed on my person; if a heavenly warning must be faced, your servant will not complain.


This memorial is solemnly presented for inspection with the utmost sincerity and gratitude. Your servant in reverence and in awe.

*This refers to the various practices of autocremation apparently once common among Chinese Buddhists, but later largely limited to moxibustion on the scalp and forearm at the ordination of monks and nuns - on these practices see Benn, James A. (1998), "Where Text Meets Flesh: Burning the Body as an Apocryphal Practice in Chinese Buddhism", History of Religions 37: 295-322.

**On self-mutilation, see Kieschnick, John (1997), The Eminent Monk: Buddhist Ideals in Medieval Chinese Hagiography, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, pp. 48-49.

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