In the classic Chinese texts the “sage” 聖人was the highest category of human excellence. The sages were the legendary past rulers and founders (e.g. Wen Wang or the Duke of Zhou) together with hoped-for future saviors of equal merit. Both Confucius and Mencius demurred on their disciples’ suggestions that they were Sages, though Mencius did declare that Confucius was indeed a sage. The translation “sage” is not va very good one: the English word “sage” normally refers to a wise elder, but the Chinese sages were not only wise, but also holy and powerful, the founders or rulers of states, and their sageliness was apparent while they were still in their prime.
The Sage in Confucius and Mencius
The Sage is seen 26 times in the text of Laozi, but 18 or 19 of those appearences are within the phrase “Therefore the sage….” which is generally thought to be an editorial or authorial formula used to construct chapters by adding endings to them. The Sage is seen outside this formula in chapter 5, 19, 28, 49, 60, 66, 71, and 81, and of these appearances the ones in chapters 5, 28, 49, 60, 66, and 81 are most useful. (For Chapter 19, see Appendix I). (more…)