The Manifesto to the Crocodile of Ch’ao Chou

By Han Yü



Han Yu (768–824) was famous poet, essayist, and philosopher during Tang dynasty. In official life, he got himself into trouble by his outspoken attacks upon Buddhism, at that time very fashionable at Court, and was banished to the then barbarous south, as Governor of Ch’ao-chou. It was there that he issued his famous manifesto to the crocodile; this diatribe has reference to the alleged expulsion of a crocodile which had been devastating the water-courses round Ch’ao-chou. The writer’s general character and high literary attainments forbid us to believe that he believed himself, we might well smile that to the author superstition was simply an instrument of political power.

On a certain date, I, Han Yu, Governor of Ch’ao-chou, gave orders that a goat and a pig should be thrown into the river as prey for the crocodile, together with the following notification: — “In days of yore, when our ancient rulers first undertook the administration of the empire, they cleared away the jungle by fire, and drove forth with net and spear such denizens of the marsh as were obnoxious to the prosperity of the human race, away beyond the boundaries of the Four Seas. But as years went on, the light of Imperial virtue began to pale ; the circle of the empire was narrowed; and lands once subject to the divine sway passed under barbarian rule. Hence, the region of Ch’ao-chou, distant many hundred miles from the capital, was then a fitting spot for thee, crocodile, in which to bask, and breed, and rear thy young. But now again the times are changed. We live under the auspices of an enligtened prince, who seeks to bring within the Imperial fold all, even to the uttermost limits of sea and sky. Moreover, this is soil once trodden by the feet of the Great Yu himself; soil for which I, an officer of the State, am bound to make due return, in order to support the established worship of Heaven and Earth, in order to the maintenance of the Imperial shrines and temples of the Gods of our land.

“Crocodile! thou and I cannot rest together here. The Son of Heaven has confided this district and this people to my charge; and thou, goggle-eyed, by disturbing the peace of this river and devouring the people and their domestic animals, the bears, the boars, and deer of the neighbourhood, in order to batten thyself and reproduce thy kind, — thou art challenging me to a struggle of life and death. And I, though of weakly frame, am I to bow the knee and yield before a crocodile? No! I am the lawful guardian of this place, and I would scorn to decline thy challenge, even were it to cost me my life.

“Still, in virtue of my commission from the Son of Heaven, I am bound to give fair warning; and thou, crocodile, if thou art wise, will pay due heed to my words. There before thee lies the broad ocean, the domain alike of the whale and the shrimp. Go thither, and live in peace. It is but the journey of a day.

“And now I bid thee begone, thou and thy foul brood, within the space of three days, from the presence of the servant of the Son of Heaven. If not within three days, then within five; if not within five, then within seven. But if not within seven, then it is that thou wilt not go, but art ready for the fight. Or, may be, that thou hast not wit to seize the purport of my words; though whether it be wilful disobedience or stupid misapprehension, the punishment in each case is death. I will arm some cunning archer with trusty bow and poisoned arrow, and try the issue with thee, until thou and all thy likes have perished. Repent not then, for it will be too late.”