Chapter XIII. 1. Wang-sun Chia asked, saying, “What is the meaning of the saying, ‘It is better to pay court to the furnace than to the south-west corner?'”
2. The Master said, “Not so. He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.”
Commentary: THAT THERE IS NO RESOURCE AGAINST THE CONSEQUENCES OF VILATING THE RIGHT. Kea is the great officer of Wei, and having the power of the state in his hands, insinuated Confucius that it would be for his advantage to pay court to him. The southwest corner was from the structure of ancient houses the cosiest nook, and the place of honour.
Choo He explains the proverb by reference to the customs of sacrifice.
The furnace was comparatively a mean place, but when the spirit of the furnace was sacrificed to, then the rank of the two places was changed for the time, and the proverb quoted was in vogue. But there does not seem much force in this explanation. The door, or well, or any other of the five things in the regular sacrifices, might take the place of the furnace.
2 Confucius’ reply was in a high tone. Choo He says, “Heaven means principle” But why should Heaven mean principle, if there were not in such a use of the term an instinctive recognition of a supreme government of intelligence and righteousness We find the term explained by “The lofty one who is on high”.
3.13 Wangsun Jia asked, “What is the sense of that saying: ‘Better to appeal to the kitchen god than the god of the dark corner?’” The Master said, “Not so! If one offends against Tian, one will have no place at which to pray.”
Commentary: 3.13 After failing to succeed in reforming the politics of his home state of Lu, Confucius journeyed from state to state in search of a worthy ruler. Here he is in the state of Wei, and the powerful minister of war is suggesting, by means of analogy with customary ideas of household gods, that he, rather than the duke of Wei, is the key to political access in Wei. (See 6.28.)
D.C. Lau’s translation:
Wang-sun Chia said, “Better to be obsequious to the kitchen stove Than to the south-west corner of the house.* What does that mean?”
The Master said, “The saying has got it wrong. When you have offended against Heaven, there is nowhere you can turn to in your prayers.”
*By ‘the south-west corner of the house’ which is the place of honour Wang-sun Chia, being a minister of Wei, presumably meant to refer to the lord of Wei and by ‘the kitchen stove’ to himself.