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The last two days, major websites and social media in mainland China covered the story that the national People's Education Publishing House has replaced 斯人 with 是人 in the well known sentence 天将降大任于斯人也 for the new textbook of Chinese language for secondary schools, and that it tried to convince the large number of doubters what they remember is actually wrong and unreliable.

As far as I know, 斯人 is correct or more often seen and according to the tradition of Chinese words, 是人 might have been used. But heated arguments have been aroused and the talk about that become a hot topic.

Why is it so?

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  • Both 斯人 and 是人 are more literal than 此人. 斯人 sounds more poetic, 是人 has the potential of being taken out of context and understood as "is people". I am against the change... What's next? replace 斯人獨憔悴 with 是人獨憔悴 ?
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 2:45
  • @TangHo Those are completely different issues. In 斯人獨憔悴 it's a better fit of 平仄 but in 天将降大任于是人也 it's the choice of the time. In printed ancient versions of 孟子, it always has been 天将降大任于是人也.
    – lilysirius
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 5:52

5 Answers 5

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THIS IS NOT A CHANGE. IT'S ALWAYS 天将降大任于是人也 IN PRINTED ANCIENT MENCIUS BOOKS AND MODERN MAINSTREAM TEXTBOOKS.


As far as I know, 斯人 is correct or more often seen and according to the tradition of Chinese words, 是人 might have been used.

This is incorrect. The proximal pronoun this mainly include, 兹(both proximal and distal in oracles)、时、是、若、斯、此. They are not concurrent but from different layers of Old Chinese. And their semantics and pragmatics are not exactly the same. Scholars agree that they are phonetically related. That being said, if we are to pick two most used ones, they’re 是 for older texts and 此 for later texts. This quote is from 《孟子》. Historically the range and the frequency of the use of 斯 had already been significantly reduced in 《孟子》 and gradually disappears after that, except that the author wanted to mimic the old works.

The debate is not on the language itself. Otherwise it’s conclusive and nothing to debate; before the end of Qing, the printed version of the Mencius book all wrote 天将降大任于是人也. If we look at the text itself, I also prefer 是 to 斯.

孟子曰:“舜发于畎亩之中,傅说举于版筑之闲,胶鬲举于鱼盐之中,管夷吾举于士,孙叔敖举于海,百里奚举于市。故天将降大任于是人也,必先苦其心志,劳其筋心骨,饿其体肤,空乏其身,行拂乱其所为,所以动心忍性,曾益其所不能。”

是 is anaphoric, refers to 舜、傅说、胶鬲、管夷吾、孙叔敖、百里奚, literally referring to previous examples but practically extended to mean anyone, thus bringing the examples and the argument. 斯 is a proximal pronoun that has a weak orientation, opposed to 此.

the national People's Education Publishing House has replaced 斯人 with 是人 in the well known sentence 天将降大任于斯人也 for the new textbook of Chinese language for secondary schools

This is not true. if you really checked the textbooks, it’s almost always 是人. Some student guides and rarely certain local versions of textbooks use 斯人 mistakenly. Those are never the mainstream or authoritative.


Central to the discussion is what we actually learned in grade schools. What's particular about it is that this sentence is so famous. We are all required to recite the whole passage and 天将降大任于是人也 appears frequently in tests as filling the blanks. Yet most people pull 天将降大任于斯人也 out of memories. So they think the textbooks must be wrong and find it hard to believe that the textbooks are correct. (in rare cases textbooks are wrong about this but it does not pertain to most people)

An interesting question would be why so many Chinese are so certain that they learned 斯人 at school. Similar phenomena also appear with the pronunciation of 说服. In all the versions of the 现代汉语词典 (this is quoted not checked myself), it’s noted shuo1. The dictionary never changes it. Then why are people so sure that they learned shui4? I have no answer to this type of phenomena. And among the discussions you refer to, many of them are actually about this.

There could be many reasons why the group memory is wrong. I guess the fact that 斯人 are used widely in other texts (especially in «论语» e.g. 斯人已逝,生者如斯) and 是人 in modern Chinese means is person has contributed to the change of people's memory about 天将降大任于是人也.


Regarding the heat, here's what I think.

Topics that completely upturned our beliefs are always easier to caught the eye. The sad fact that people don't believe it even after they read the facts and see the photos of old textbooks contribute to the heat of the discussion.

On the one hand, many articles do not list concrete evidence and post photos of textbooks. Readers believe whatever their memories tell them without actually checking the books. This makes an end to the discussion more difficult. This is not the first time this topic has been heated discussed. It's been raised up again and again and again.

On the other hand, Internet discussions are anonymous. Instead of finding reasons from themselves, it's always easier and stress-relieving to attribute to others, especially the authority.

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  • Perhaps it is the revenge of the publishing house for its earlier scandal where designers and reviewers of textbook illustrations were accused of creating low quality works that came close to traitors to the motherland. Another possibility is an evil-minded test to the whole society, something like the famous short story of Mark Twain, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 9:50
  • Qing is pretty late. Any bamboo sticks, which predate printed books, that support your claim of 是人 instead of 斯人? To be more precise, how many 是人 and how many 斯人 have been found in bamboo sticks? This would be the definite answer to the question albeit such info may not be easy to find.
    – joehua
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 13:12
  • @joehua No bamboo sticks about 《孟子》have been excavated yet. Any pre-Tang printed books about it is extremely rare. The current old printed versions we see are from Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing, all wrote 是人. And their use in the book of 斯 and 是 fits the pattern of that period; it seems not an rewriting by the publishers.
    – lilysirius
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 3:26
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斯,此,是 are all cognate, there are not different meanings between 天将降大任于斯人也 and 天将降大任于是人也. And moreover, due to different versions of the text, it is likely that we can not decide which version is consistent with the original one that are surely able to have. So the argument is meaningless. People in China think that the national People's Education Publishing House has authority over the books and texts for students, but actually, it does not have. Possibly, people in China are excited to find that the text from the national People's Education Publishing House is different from what they usually have learned and think the national People's Education Publishing House is wrong.

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When used as a "pronoun", 是 and 斯 share the same meaning, so, the author can use either in the sentence. I would respect/accept the original print of this word, but it does not mean the other word is wrong, as it carries the same meaning.

<代>

(1) 此, [this]

是谓伐德。——《诗·小雅·宾之初筵》

天将降大任于是人也,必先苦其心志。——《孟子·告子下

https://www.zdic.net/hans/%E6%98%AF

<代>

(1) “斯”假借为“此”这个 [this]

斯,此也。——《尔雅·释诂》

斯言之玷。——《诗·大雅·抑》

(2) 又如: 斯世(此世,今世); 斯人(此人); 生于斯,长于斯

https://www.zdic.net/hans/%E6%96%AF

原文】 舜发于畎亩之中,傅说举于版筑之间,胶鬲举于鱼盐之中,管夷吾举于士,孙叔敖举于海,百里奚举于市。故天将降大任于是人也,必先苦其心志,劳其筋骨,饿其体肤,空乏其身,行拂乱其所为,所以动心忍性,曾益其所不能。

(9)于是人也:(把重大责任)给这个人。是,指示代词,这

Why does the choice of 斯人 vs 是人 spark so much argument?

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Someone think they learned "斯" and believe it is the textbook change not they have wrong memory.

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In the past, people can not written correctly for every character.

If you have read some old books ( e.g. written in 宋朝 ), you may find many 通假字。

e.g.

  • 两岸连山,略无阙处:〔阙(quē)〕通“缺”

so, just make it simple: 是 = 斯

enter image description here

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  • 别删评论啊, 古今字 不就是古人写的错别字吗? 大兄弟你百度一下。
    – Siwei
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 5:29
  • bad example. 说 and 悦 are 古今字 in that time period, not 通假. Grade school might teach it as 通假, but it's not correct and is a concession so not to burden students with too much concepts.
    – lilysirius
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 5:30
  • 来,百度第一条,通假字,你告诉我 用的是哪个例子。
    – Siwei
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 5:32
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    You should read from some serious source. 古今字 is the same word but written differently because of time. In this case, for the meaning happy, 悦 didn't exist at that time. It's written as 说
    – lilysirius
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 5:32
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    It's not 有人叫这个 古今字. Academically this type is unanimously called 古今字. Also this is irrelevant to the question since 斯 是 are neither 古今字 or 通假字
    – lilysirius
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 5:39

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