《中国积弱溯源论》 is a text by Liang Qichao, wherein he laments the social structure in China. After a couple of paragraphs, he makes the point that the perception of each social stratum’s duty is still described by a dictum of Han Yu (its gist being that, once commoners don’t serve and provide for their superiors, commoners deserve to be executed).

Now, Liang, using the example of servants in 20th Century China, arrives at the conclusion that Han Yu‘s dictum still holds.

My translation

He presents the following conjecture (if my reading is correct):


Suppose, there is today a servant of a powerful family, who does as follows: he takes away his master’s property to have it for himself and says: „If what the master provides is somewhat lacking, I shall forthwith go, lacerate and slay him!” There is no one, not even a small child, who would not regard this a great example of rebellion and immorality. What is the difference between today and Han Yu‘s words?

I made the following interpretations:

使= 假使

於此= 如此


Is my interpretation correct that 五尺童子 is part of all those who 指? It seems unrealistic — but conducive to Liang’s point — for 五尺童子 to have been so thoroughly indoctrinated. But even more unrealistic, if 五尺童子 does the killing and lacerating.

It seems to me, my interpretation should be correct. But at the same time, the servant’s reaction (killing for being slightly underpaid and even announcing it) seems too extreme for being the recipient of our compassion.

Edit: I strike my silly point below. As the oldest answer observes, I need to read the preceding sentences and Liang‘s analogical reasoning immediately becomes clear.

Also, if I translate right, Liang‘s argument seems specious, as condemning vindictive murder by servants is not the same as advocating authoritarian murder by superiors.

1 Answer 1


五尺童子 just means children. 五尺 refers to his/her height, and emphasizes that he/her is very young. The point is that, even people as naive as a child would condemn this behavior.

虽五尺童子,未有不指为大逆不道者 = Even (虽) a child (五尺童子) would (未有不, double negation makes a positive) find this situation (指为) a great violation of social norms ("大逆不道").

而 is just "and" here. 鞭挞而屠戮之 = 鞭挞之 + 屠戮之.

Regarding your idea that Liang's argument is faulty:

If you read the entire paragraph carefully: 国家之主人为谁?即一国之民是也。……君也,官也,国民之公奴仆也。

Liang and Han had fundamentally different ideas of social structure. According to Liang, the emperor should be a servant to the people. Hence 豪 refers to the people, 豪奴 is the emperor, and "夺其主人之财产为己有,而曰主人供亿若稍不周,行将鞭挞而屠戮之" is Liang's characterization of how the Chinese emperors had treated their people in the past. He basically says, "look, if we interpret the emperor as servant of the people, then what he did in the past was basically killing his owner for being underpaid, which is unacceptable."

  • The point about Liang’s argument is very well taken. Thank you!
    – Ludi
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 19:11

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