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posted 21 Mar 2013, 04:12 by Jim Sheng

[365-427 A.D. Chiefly remarkable for having thrown up a good official appointment, because as he said his salary did not repay him for being obliged to "crook the pregnant hinges of the knee." In private life, he amused himself with authorship and rearing chrysanthemums. ] 


HOMEWARDS I bend my steps. My fields, my gardens, are choked with weeds: should I not go? My soul has led a bondsman's life: why should I remain to pine? But I will waste no grief upon the past: I will devote my energies to the future. I have not wandered far astray. I feel that I am on the right track once again. 

Lightly, lightly, speeds my boat along, my garments fluttering to the gentle breeze. I enquire my route as I go. I grudge the slowness of the dawning day. From afar I descry my old home, and joyfully press onwards in my haste. The servants rush forth to meet me: my children cluster at the gate. The place is a wilderness; but there is the old pine-tree and my chrysanthemums. I take the little ones by the hand, and pass in. Wine is brought in full bottles, and I pour out in brimming cups. I gaze out at my favourite branches. I loll against the window in my new-found freedom. I look at the sweet children on my knee. 

And now I take my pleasure in my garden. There is a gate, but it is rarely opened. I lean on my staff as I wander about or sit down to rest. I raise my head and contemplate the lovely scene. Clouds rise, unwilling, from the bottom of the hills: the weary bird seeks its nest again. Shadows vanish, but still I linger round my lonely pine. Home once more! I'll have no friendships to distract me hence. The times are out of joint for me; and what have I to seek from men? In the pure enjoyment of the family circle I will pass my days, cheering my idle hours with lute and book. My husbandmen will tell me when spring-time is nigh, and when there will be work in the furrowed fields. Thither I shall repair by cart or by boat, through the deep gorge, over the dizzy cliff, trees bursting merrily into leaf, the streamlet swelling from its tiny source. Glad is this renewal of life in due season: but for me, I rejoice that my journey is over. Ah, how short a time it is that we are here! Why then not set our hearts at rest, ceasing to trouble whether we remain or go? What boots it to wear out the soul with anxious thoughts? I want not wealth: I want not power: heaven is beyond my hopes. Then let me stroll through the bright hours as they pass, in my garden among my flowers; or I will mount the hill and sing my song, or weave my verse beside the limpid brook: Thus will I work out my allotted span, content with the appointments of Fate, my spirit free from care. 


Towards the close of the fourth century A.D., a certain fisherman of Wu-ling, who had followed up one of the river branches without taking note whither he was going, came suddenly upon a grove of peach-trees in full bloom, extending some distance on each bank, with not a tree of any other kind in sight. The beauty of the scene and the exquisite perfume of the flowers filled the heart of the fisherman with surprise, as he proceeded onwards, anxious to reach the limit of this lovely grove. He found that the peach trees ended where the water began, at the foot of a hill; and there he espied what seemed to be a cave with light issuing from it. So he made fast his boat, and crept in through a narrow entrance, which shortly ushered him into a new world of level country, of fine houses, of rich fields, of fine pools, and of luxuriance, of mulberry and bamboo. Highways of traffic ran north and south; sounds of crowing cocks and barking dogs were heard around; the dress of the people who passed along or were at work in the fields was of a strange cut; while young and old alike appeared to be contented and happy. 

One of the inhabitants, catching sight of the fisherman, was greatly astonished; but, after learning whence he came, insisted on carrying him home, and killed a chicken and placed some wine before him. Before long, all the people of the place had turned out to see the visitor, and they informed him that their ancestors had sought refuge here, with their wives and families, from the troublous times of the House of Ch'in, adding that they had thus become finally cut off from the rest of the human race. They then enquired about the politics of the day, ignorant of the establishment of the Han dynasty, and of course of the later dynasties which had succeeded it. And when the fisherman told them the story, they grieved over the vicissitudes of human affairs. 

Each in turn invited the fisherman to his home and entertained him hospitably, until at length the latter prepared to take his leave. "It will not be worth while to talk about what you have seen to the outside world," said the people of the place to the fisherman, as he bade them farewell and returned to his boat, making mental notes of his route as he proceeded on his homeward voyage. 

When he reached home, he at once went and reported what he had seen to the Governor of the district, and the Governor sent off men with him to seek, by the aid of the fisherman's notes, to discover this unknown region. But he was never able to find it again. Subsequently, another desperate attempt was made by a famous adventurer to pierce the mystery; but he also failed, and died soon afterwards of chagrin, from which time forth no further attempts were made. 


posted 21 Mar 2013, 04:11 by Jim Sheng

[3rd Century a.d. One of seven hard-drinking poets of the day who formed themselves into a club, known as the Bamboo Grove. He was always accompanied by a servant carrying a wineflask; and he gave orders that if he fell dead in his cups he should be buried where he lay. In this respect, he was perhaps out-Heroded by another famous tippler, who left instructions that he should be buried in a potter's field, so that, "when time into clay might resolve him again," he would have a chance of re-appearing among men under the form of a wine-jug.] 


AN old gentleman, a friend of mine, regards eternity as but a single day, and whole centuries as but an instant of time. The sun and moon are the windows of his house; the cardinal points are the boundaries of his domain. He wanders unrestrained and free; he dwells within no walls. The canopy of Heaven is his roof; his resting-place is the lap of Earth. He follows his fancy in all things. He is never for a moment without a wine-flask in one hand, a goblet in the other. His only thought is wine: he knows of naught beyond. 

Two respectable philanthropists, hearing of my friend's weakness, proceeded to tax him on the subject; and with many gestures of disapprobation, fierce scowls, and gnashing of teeth, preached him quite a sermon on the rules of propriety, and sent his faults buzzing round his head like a swarm of bees. 

When they began, the old gentleman filled himself another bumper; and sitting down, quietly stroked his beard and sipped his wine by turns, until at length he lapsed into a semi-inebriate state of placid enjoyment, varied by intervals of absolute unconsciousness or of partial return to mental lucidity. His ears were beyond the reach of thunder; he could not have seen a mountain. Heat and cold existed for him no more. He knew not even the workings of his own mind. To him, the affairs of this world appeared but as so much duckweed on a river; while the two philanthropists at his side looked like two wasps trying to convert a caterpillar (into a wasp, as the Chinese believe is done). 


posted 21 Mar 2013, 04:10 by Jim Sheng

[Died a.d. 256. A very distinguished scholar who wrote and published many volumes of classical commentaries. He is said to have found, in the house of a descendant of the Sage, the text of "The Family Sayings of Confucius," and to have published it in a.d. 240; but the generally received opinion is that he wrote the work himself, based no doubt upon tradition. Specimens are given below.] 


A disciple asked Confucius, saying, "Why, sir, does the superior man value jade much more highly than serpentine? Is it because jade is scarce and serpentine is abundant?" "It is not," replied Confucius; "but it is because the superior men of olden days regarded it as a symbol of the virtues. Its gentle, smooth, glossy appearance suggests charity of heart; its fine close texture and hardness suggest wisdom; it is firm and yet does not wound, suggesting duty to one's neighbour; it hangs down as though sinking, suggesting ceremony; struck, it gives a clear note, long drawn out, dying gradually away and suggesting music; its flaws do not hide its excellences, nor do its excellences hide its flaws, suggesting loyalty; it gains our confidence, suggesting truth; its spirituality is like the bright rainbow, suggesting the heavens above; its energy is manifested in hill and stream, suggesting the earth below; as articles of regalia it suggests the exemplification of that than which there is nothing in the world of equal value, and thereby is  TAO itself. We read in the Odes  

When I think of my husband,

As gentle as jade.

In his hutment of planking. 

My heart is afraid . 


Confucius noticed in the ancestral temple of Duke Huan of the Lu State certain vessels which stood awry, and enquired of the verger what these vessels were; to which the verger replied that they were goblets for use at banquets. "I have been told," said Confucius, "that when these goblets are empty they stand awry, that when they are half full they stand up straight, and that when filled up they topple right over. A wise ruler would use them as a warning, and see that such were always placed alongside of his guests." Then turning to his disciples, the Sage said, "Let us try them with water;" and accordingly water was poured in until the goblets were half full, when they stood up straight. They were then filled up, and at once toppled over. "Alas!" cried Confucius, heaving a deep sigh, "there are men who are full of wickedness, but they do not topple over." 


A man of the Lu State lived alone in a cottage, and a neighbour, who was a widow, lived alone in another. One night, there was a terrific storm of wind and rain; the widow's cottage was destroyed, and she herself ran across to the man and asked to be taken in. The man, however, bolted his door and refused to admit her; whereupon the widow called to him, saying, "Where, sir, is your charity of heart, that you do not let me in?" "I have heard," replied he, "that until a man is sixty, he may not share a house with a woman. Now, you are young, and I too am young; so that I dare not receive you." "Sir," said the widow, "why not play the part of Liu-hsia Hui? Besides, I am an old dame, and not a damsel of doubtful reputation; there would be no scandal talked about us." "Liu-hsia Hui," answered the man, "might act as you say, but I am unable to do so. I will follow my own inability in striving to imitate the ability of Liu-hsia Hui." When Confucius heard this, he said, "Good indeed ! There has never been any one who has better imitated Liu-hsia Hui. Can a desire to be good, without the attempt to succeed, be accounted wisdom?" 


The Prince of the Ch'u State having invited Confucius to visit him, the Master proceeded thither to pay his respects. His way lay through Ch'en and Ts'ai; and the high officials of those States consulted together, saying, "Confucius is an inspired and good man; his counsels will consist of attacks upon the vices of us nobles; and if that should be the case, our States would be in danger." 

Accordingly, they arranged for a number of armed men to obstruct the Sage's way and to prevent him from continuing his journey. 

His party were cut off from supplies for seven days, nothing being allowed to reach them. Broth made from leaves was not sufficient, and all fell ill except Confucius himself, whose spirits rose higher than usual, as he lectured, recited, played, and sang without giving way. He called Tzu-lu to him and said, " We read in the Odes,

We are neither wild cattle nor tigers, 

That we should be kept in these desolate wilds 

Has my doctrine of Eternal Right been a failure? How have I come to this pass?" To this, Tzu-lu angrily replied, "The superior man can suffer no restrictions. To think that you, Sir, have ever failed in charity of heart is what I cannot believe; to think that you have ever acted unwisely towards others has not come within my experience. Besides, Sir, in other times I have heard you say that God will reward with happiness those who do good, and will punish with misfortunes those who do evil; and now for a long time you have been accumulating a splendid record of virtues and of duty towards your neighbour. How then should you be reduced to this extremity?" "My son," said the Master, "you have not understood me. I will tell you. If all depended on charity of heart, loyalty, and giving good counsel, many great heroes would have escaped suffering and death. But success and failure are matters of opportunity; the worthy and the worthless are distinguished by their talents. Superior men of wide learning and wise schemes, who have failed from want of opportunity, are many indeed; why should I be the only one? The epidendrum grows in the depth of the forest, but it is not wanting in fragrance because there is no one there to smell it; the superior man cultivates the doctrine of Eternal Right and exemplifies it in practice; but he does not give up his principles because he is reduced to extremities. The man acts; the result, whether life or death, belongs to the will of God." 


posted 21 Mar 2013, 04:09 by Jim Sheng

[Reigned 227 - 239 a.d. An intelligent and kindly monarch, whose beard, when he stood up, is said to have touched the ground. Under his reign women were for the first time admitted into official life, and several actually rose to high office. No women officials however have been known since the eighth century.] 


WE have heard that if a sovereign is remiss in government, God terrifies him by calamities and strange portents. These are divine reprimands sent to recall him to a sense of duty. Thus, partial eclipses of the sun and moon are manifest warnings that the rod of empire is not wielded aright. 

Ever since We ascended the throne, Our inability to continue the glorious traditions of Our departed ancestors and carry on the great work of civilisation, has now culminated in a warning message from on high. It therefore behoves US to issue commands for personal reformation, in order to avert the impending calamity. But the relations of God with Man are those of a father and son; and a father about to chastise his son, would not be deterred were the latter to present him with a dish of meat. We do not therefore consider it part of Our duty to act in accordance with certain memorials advising that the Grand Astrologer be instructed to offer up sacrifices on this occasion. Do ye governors of districts and other high officers of State, seek rather to rectify your own hearts; and if any one can devise means to make up for Our shortcomings, let him submit his proposals to the Throne. 


posted 21 Mar 2013, 04:08 by Jim Sheng

[1st Century a.d. A brilliant exponent of China's "higher school of criticism." Born a.d. 27, in poverty, he managed to pick up a good education and entered official life. After a short spell he retired dissatisfied to his home, and there composed his great work, the Lun Heng or "Animadversions," in which he criticizes freely the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, and tilts generally against the errors and superstitions of his day. His subsequent writings were chiefly of a reforming character. He memorialized the throne on the prevailing vice and extravagance; and in the days of a drunken China, he pleaded for the prohibition of alcohol.] 


THE Confucianists of the present day have great faith in their Master and accept antiquity as the standard of right. They strain every nerve to explain and practise the words which are attributed to their sages and inspired men. The writings, however, of these sages and inspired men, over which much thought and research have been spent, cannot be said to be infallibly true; how much less, then, can their casual utterances be so? But although their utterances are not true, people generally do not know how to convict them; and even if their utterances were true, because of the difficulty of grasping abstruse ideas, people generally would not know how to criticize them. I find that the words of these sages and inspired men are often contradictory, the value of one passage being frequently destroyed by the language of a later passage; but the scholars of our day do not see this. It is invariably said that the seventy disciples of Confucius were superior in talent to the Confucian scholars of to-day; but this is nonsense. According to that view, Confucius was a Master, and the inspired men who preached his doctrines must have been exceptionally gifted, and therefore different (from our scholars). The fact is that there is no difference. Those whom we now call men of genius, the ancients called inspired or divine beings; and therefore it has been said that men like the seventy disciples have rarely been heard of since that time. 


There are but few good men in the empire, and many bad ones. The good follow right principles, and the bad defy the will of God. Yet the lives of bad men are not therefore shortened, nor the lives of good men prolonged. How is it that God does not arrange that the virtuous shall always enjoy a hundred years of life, and that the wicked shall die young, as punishment for their guilt? 


Look at the hair and feathers of animals and birds, with their various colourings; can these have all been made? At that rate, animals and birds would never be finished. In spring we see plants growing, and in autumn we see them full-grown. Can God and Mother Earth have done this, or do things grow of themselves? If we say that God and Mother Earth have done it, they must have used hands for the purpose. Do God and Mother Earth possess many thousands or many myriads of hands, so that they can produce many thousands and many myriads of things, all at the same time? 


All creatures are to God like children, and the kindness and love of father and mother are the same to all their children. 


The dead do not become disembodied spirits; neither have they consciousness, nor do they injure anybody. Animals do not become spirits after death; why should man alone undergo this change? That which informs man at his birth is a vital fluid, or soul, and at death this vitality is extinguished, the body decays and becomes dust. How can it become a spirit? Vitality becomes humanity, just as water becomes ice. The ice melts and is water again; man dies and reverts to the condition of the vital fluid. Death is like the extinction of fire. When a fire is extinguished, its light does not shine any more; and when a man dies, his intellect does not perceive any more. The nature of both is the same. If people, nevertheless, pretend that the dead have knowledge, they are mistaken. The spirits which people see are invariably in the form of human beings, and that very fact is enough of itself to prove that these apparitions cannot be the souls of dead men. If a sack is filled with grain, it will stand up, and is obviously a sack of grain; but if the sack is burst and the grain falls out, then it collapses and disappears from view. Now, man's soul is enfolded in his body as grain in a sack. When the man dies, his body decays and his vitality is dissipated. When the grain is taken away, the sack loses its form; why then, when vitality is gone, should the body obtain a new shape in which to appear again in the world? 

The number of persons who have died since the world began, old, middle-aged, and young, must run into thousands of millions, far exceeding the number of persons alive at the present day. If every one of these has become a disembodied spirit, there must be at least one to every yard as we walk along the road; and those who die now must suddenly find themselves face to face with vast crowds of spirits, filling every house and street. If these spirits are the souls of dead men, they should always appear naked; for surely it is not contended that clothes have souls as well as men. It can further be shown not only that dead men never become spirits, but also that they are without consciousness, by the simple fact that before birth they are without consciousness. Before birth man rests in God; when he dies he goes back to God. God is vague and without form, and man's soul is there in a state of unconsciousness. The universe is, indeed, full of disembodied spirits, but these are not the souls of dead men. They are beings only of the mind, conjured up for the most part in sickness, when the patient is especially subject to fear. For sickness induces fear of spirits; fear of spirits causes the mind to dwell upon them; and thus apparitions are produced. Even if disembodied spirits did exist, they could not be either pleased or angry with a sacrifice, for the following reason. We must admit that spirits do not require man for their maintenance; for if they did, they would hardly be spirits. If we believe that spirits only smell the sacrifices, which sacrifices are supposed to bring either happiness or misfortune, how do we picture to ourselves the habitations of these spirits? Have they their own provisions stored up, or must they use the food of man to appease their hunger? Should they possess stores of their own, these would assuredly be other than human, and they would not have to eat human food. If they have no provisions of their own, then we should have to make offerings to them every morning and evening; and according as we sacrificed to them or did not sacrifice, they would be satiated or hungry, pleased or angry, respectively. 


The people of to-day rely on sacrifice. They do not improve their morals, but multiply their prayers; they do not honour their superiors, but are afraid of spirits. When they die, or when misfortune befalls them, these things are ascribed to noxious influences which have not been properly dealt with. When they have been properly dealt with, and offerings have been prepared, and yet misfortunes continue to be as numerous as before, they attribute it all to the sacrifices, declaring that they have not been performed with sufficient reverence. Exorcism is of no use; sacrifices are of no avail. Wizards and priests have no power, for it is plain that all depends on man, and not on disembodied spirits; on his morality, and not on his sacrifices. 


posted 21 Mar 2013, 01:37 by Jim Sheng   [ updated 21 Mar 2013, 01:41 ]

[简体: 马援. 繁体: 馬援. Died a.d. 49. Popularly known as the "Wave-quelling General." A famous commander, who crushed a dangerous rebellion in Tonquin, organised by a native Joan of Arc with a view to shake off the suzerainty of China. Was also successfully employed against the Huns and other border tribes.] 


MY younger brother used often to find fault with my indomitable ambition. He would say, "The man of letters requires food and clothing only. A modest carriage and a humble hack; some small official post in a quiet place, where he may win golden opinions from the surrounding villagers  that should suffice. Why toil and strive for more? " 

Later on, when away in the far barbarian south, before the rebellion was stamped out  a bog beneath my feet, a fog above my head, so that I have even seen kites drop dead in the water, killed by the poisonous vapours of the place  then I used to lie and muse upon the other view of life which my brother had set before my eyes. 

And now that, thanks to you my brave comrades, my efforts have been crowned with success, and I have preceded you on the path to glory and honour  I have cause both for joy and for shame. 


posted 21 Mar 2013, 01:37 by Jim Sheng   [ updated 21 Mar 2013, 01:44 ]

[谷永. 1st Century B.C. A distinguished scholar who by 36 B.C. had risen to be a Censor. In 34 B.C. there was an eclipse of the sun, accompanied by a severe earthquake, which he attributed to the favours shown to the Empress and the ladies of the seraglio. For this he suffered no penalty, but ultimately died in high office. The following memorial refers to the reception of a Hun refugee, named Issimoyen, who was seeking to become a naturalised subject of China.] 


AT the rise of the Han dynasty, the Huns were a frontier curse. Accordingly, presents and honours were heaped upon them, in the hope that they would be led to join the Empire. And now that the Hun Captain has tendered his allegiance and become an officer of this government, his territory being enrolled among the Tributary States of the north,  he can entertain but one feeling towards us, and it behoves us to treat him in a manner different from that of past years. But if with one hand we receive his tribute, while with the other we welcome his fugitive servant,  is not this to clutch with greedy grasp at a single individual and sacrifice the trust and confidence of a nation; to clasp to our bosom a defaulting officer and cast from us the honourable friendship of a prince? 

Possibly the Hun Captain has sent his man here to test our good faith, and the request to be naturalised is but a specious plea. In this case, to receive him would be a breach of duty, and would cause the Hun Captain to separate from us altogether. 

Or it may be the Hun Captain's wish to bring about a separation in this way; and then we should but play into his hands, and enable him to quote his own loyalty against our disloyalty. 

These are the beginnings of frontier troubles, of recourse to arms, and of military expeditions. Let us rather refuse to receive this man. Let us lay bare the integrity of our own hearts, and prevent the operation of any possible ruse by adhering closely to the principles of honest friendship. 


posted 21 Mar 2013, 01:36 by Jim Sheng   [ updated 21 Mar 2013, 01:46 ]

[简体: 蔬广; 繁体: 蔬廣. 1st Century b.c. The following is the reply of an aged statesman to his friends and kinsmen, on being urged by them to invest a sum of money, granted to him by the Emperor on his retirement from office, in landed property for his descendants. He began life as a teacher, and his success was so great that pupils flocked to him from a distance. In 67 B.C. he was appointed Tutor to the Heir Apparent.] 


HOW should I be so infatuated in my old age as to make no provision for my children? There is the family estate. Let them work hard upon it, and that toil will find them in clothes and food, like other people. To add anything, and so create a superfluity, would be to hold up a premium for sloth. The genius of men who possess is stunted by possession. Wealth only aggravates the natural imbecility of fools. Besides, a rich man is an eyesore to all. I may not be able to do much to improve my children; at least, I will not stimulate their vices and cause them to be objects of hate. 

Then again, this money was graciously bestowed upon me by His Majesty, as pension for the old age of a servant. Therefore I rejoice to spend it freely among my clansmen and my fellow-villagers, as I pass to my appointed rest. Am I not right? 


posted 21 Mar 2013, 01:34 by Jim Sheng

[1st Century b.c. He taught himself to read and write while working as a shepherd, and soon attracted attention. Graduating as what was in his day the equivalent of B.A., he rose to some distinction in official life. The Memorial given below was presented in 67 B.C.] 


As it please your Majesty, 

Of the ten great follies of our predecessors, one still survives in the maladministration of justice which prevails. 

Under the Ch'ins, learning was at a discount: brute force carried everything before it. Those who cultivated a spirit of charity and duty towards their neighbour were despised. Judicial appointments were the prizes coveted by all. He who spoke out the truth was stigmatised as a slanderer, and he who strove to expose abuses was set down as a pestilent fellow. Consequently, all who acted up to the precepts of our ancient code, found themselves out of place in their generation; and loyal words of good advice to the sovereign remained locked up within their bosoms, while hollow notes of obsequious flattery soothed the monarch's ear and lulled his heart with false images, to the exclusion of disagreeable realities. And so the rod of empire fell from their grasp for ever. 

At the present moment, the State rests upon the immeasurable bounty and goodness of your Majesty. We are free from the horrors of war, from the calamities of hunger and cold. Father and son, husband and wife, are united in their happy homes. Nothing is wanting to make this a golden age, save only reform in the administration of justice. 

Of all trusts, this is the greatest and most sacred. The dead man can never come back to life: that which is once cut off cannot be joined again. "Rather than slay an innocent man, it were better that the guilty escape." Such, however, is not the view of our judicial authorities of to-day. With them, oppression and severity are reckoned to be signs of magisterial acumen, and lead on to fortune; whereas leniency entails naught but trouble. Therefore, their chief aim is to compass the death of their victims; not that they entertain any grudge against humanity in general, but simply that this is the shortest cut to their own personal advantage. Thus, our market-places run with blood, our criminals throng the gaols, and many thousands annually suffer death. These things are injurious to public morals, and hinder the advent of a truly golden age. 

Man enjoys life only when his mind is at peace; when he is in distress, his thoughts turn towards death. Beneath the scourge, what is there that cannot be wrung from the lips of the sufferer? His agony is over-whelming, and he seeks to escape by speaking falsely. The officials profit by the opportunity, and cause him to say what will best confirm his guilt. And then, fearing lest the conviction be quashed by higher courts, they dress the victim's deposition so to suit the circumstances of the case, so that, when the record is complete, even were Kao Yao himself to rise from the dead, he would declare that death still left a margin of unexpiated crime. This, because of the refining process adopted to ensure the establishment of guilt. 

Our magistrates indeed think of nothing else. They are the bane of the people. They keep in view their own ends, and care not for the welfare of the State. Truly they are the worst criminals of the age. Hence the saying now runs, "Chalk out a prison on the ground, and no one would remain within. Set up a gaoler of wood, and he will be found standing there alone." Imprisonment has become the greatest of all misfortunes; while among those who break the law, who violate family ties, who choke the truth,  there are none to be compared in iniquity with the officers of justice themselves. 

Where you let the kite rear its young undisturbed, there will the phoenix come and build its nest. Do not punish for misguided advice, and by-and-by valuable suggestions will flow in. The men of old said, "Hills and jungles shelter many noxious things: rivers and marshes receive much filth: even the finest gems are not wholly without flaw. Surely then the ruler of an empire should put up with a little abuse." But I would have your Majesty exempt from vituperation, and open to the advice of all who have aught to say. I would have freedom of speech in the advisers of the Throne. I would sweep away the errors which brought about the downfall of our predecessors. I would have reverence for the virtues of our ancient kings, and reform in the administration of justice, to the utter confusion of those who now pervert its course. Then, indeed, would the golden age be renewed over the face of the glad earth, and the people would move ever onwards in peace and happiness boundless as the sky itself. 


posted 21 Mar 2013, 01:32 by Jim Sheng

1st and 2nd Centuries b.c. 

[Su Wu, the friend to whom this letter was addressed, had been sent 100 B.C. on a special mission to the court of the Huns, where, because he would not renounce his allegiance, he was thrown into prison and remained in captivity for nineteen years. He subsequently effected an escape, and returned to China, whence he wrote to Li Ling (who had meanwhile surrendered to the Huns) in a sense that will be gathered from a perusal of the latter's reply.] 


O TZU-CH'ING, O my friend, happy in the enjoyment of a glorious reputation, happy in the prospect of an imperishable name,  there is no misery like exile in a far-off foreign land, the heart brimful of longing thoughts of home! I have thy kindly letter, bidding me be of good cheer, kinder than a brother's words; for which my soul thanks thee. 

Ever since the hour of my surrender until now, destitute of all resource, I have sat alone with the bitterness of my grief. All day long I see none but barbarians around me. Skins and felt protect me from wind and rain. With mutton and whey I satisfy my hunger and slake my thirst. Companions with whom to while time away, I have none. The whole country is stiff with black ice. I hear naught but the moaning of the bitter autumn blast, beneath which all vegetation has disappeared. I cannot sleep at night. I turn and listen to the distant sound of Tartar pipes, to the whinnying of Tartar steeds. In the morning I sit up and listen still, while tears course down my cheeks. Tzu-ch'ing, of what stuff am I, that I should do aught but grieve? The day of thy departure left me disconsolate indeed. I thought of my aged mother butchered upon the threshold of the grave. I thought of my innocent wife and child, condemned to the same cruel fate. Deserving as I might have been of Imperial censure, I am now an object of pity to all. Thy return was to honour and renown, while I remained behind with infamy and disgrace. Such is the divergence of man's destiny. 

Born within the domain of refinement and justice, I passed into an environment of vulgar ignorance. I left behind me obligations to sovereign and family for life amid barbarian hordes; and now barbarian children will carry on the line of my forefathers. And yet my merit was great, my guilt of small account. I had no fair hearing; and when I pause to think of these things, I ask to what end I have lived. With a thrust I could have cleared myself of all blame: my severed throat would have borne witness to my resolution; and between me and my country all would have been over for aye. But to kill myself would have been of no avail: I should only have added to my shame. I therefore steeled myself to obloquy and to life. There were not wanting those who mistook my attitude for compliance, and urged me to a nobler course; ignorant that the joys of a foreign land are sources only of a keener grief. 

Tzu-ch'ing, my friend, I will complete the half-told record of my former tale. His late Majesty commissioned me, with five thousand infantry under my command, to carry on operations in a distant country. Five brother generals missed their way: I alone reached the theatre of war. With rations for a long march, leading on my men, I passed beyond the limits of the Celestial Land, and entered the territory of the fierce Huns. With five thousand men I stood opposed to a hundred thousand : mine jaded foot soldiers, theirs horsemen fresh from the stable. Yet we slew their leaders, and captured their standards, and drove them back in confusion towards the north. We obliterated their very traces: we swept them away like dust: we beheaded their general. A martial spirit spread abroad among my men. With them, to die in battle was to return to their homes; while I venture to think that I had already accomplished something. 

This victory was speedily followed by a general rising of the Huns. New levies were trained to the use of arms, and at length another hundred thousand barbarians were arrayed against me. The Hun chieftain himself appeared, and with his army surrounded my little band, so unequal in strength,  foot-soldiers opposed to horse. Still my tired veterans fought, each man worth a thousand of the foe, as, covered with wounds, one and all struggled bravely to the fore. The plain was strewed with the dying and the dead: barely a hundred men were left, and these too weak to hold a spear and shield. Yet, when I waved my hand and shouted to them, the sick and wounded arose. Brandishing their blades, and pointing towards the foe, they dismissed the Tartar cavalry like a rabble rout. And even when their arms were gone, their arrows spent, without a foot of steel in their hands, they still rushed, yelling, onward, each eager to lead the way. The very heavens and the earth seemed to gather round me, while my warriors drank tears of blood. Then the Hunnish chieftain, thinking that we should not yield, would have drawn off his forces. But a false traitor told him all: the battle was renewed, and we were lost. 

The Emperor Kao Ti, with 300,000 men at his back, was shut up in P'ing-ch'eng. Generals he had, like clouds; counsellors, like drops of rain. Yet he remained seven days without food, and then barely escaped with life. How much more then I, now blamed on all sides that I did not die? This was my crime. But, Tzu-ch'ing, canst thou say that I would live from craven fear of death? Am I one to turn my back on my country and all those dear to me, allured by sordid thoughts of gain? It was not indeed without cause that I did not elect to die. I longed, as explained in my former letter, to prove my loyalty to my prince. Rather than die to no purpose, I chose to live and to establish my good name. It was better to achieve something than to perish. Of old. Fan Li did not slay himself after the battle of Hui-chi; neither did Ts'ao Mo die after the ignominy of three defeats. Revenge came at last; and thus I too had hoped to prevail. Why then was I overtaken with punishment before the plan was matured? Why were my own flesh and blood condemned before the design could be carried out? It is for this that I raise my face to Heaven, and beating my breast, shed tears of blood. 

My friend, thou sayest that the house of Han never fails to reward a deserving servant. But thou art thyself a servant of the house, and it would ill beseem thee to say other words than these. Yet Hsiao and Fan were bound in chains; Han and P'eng were sliced to death. Ch'ao Ts'o was beheaded, Chou Po was disgraced, and Tou Ying paid the penalty with his life. Others too, great in their generation, have also succumbed to the intrigues of base men, and have been overwhelmed beneath a weight of shame from which they were unable to emerge. And now, the misfortunes of Fan Li and Ts'ao Mo command the sympathies of all. 

My grandfather filled heaven and earth with the fame of his exploits  the bravest of the brave. Yet, fearing the animosity of an Imperial favourite, he slew himself in a distant land, his death being followed by the secession, in disgust, of many a brother-hero. Can this be the reward of which thou speakest? 

Thou too, my friend, an envoy with a slender equipage, sent on that mission to the robber race, when fortune failed thee even to the last resource of the dagger. Then years of miserable captivity, all but ended by death among the wilds of the far north. Thou left us full of young life, to return a gray-beard; thy old mother dead, thy wife gone from thee to another. Seldom has the like of this been known. Even the savage barbarian respected thy loyal spirit: how much more the lord of all under the canopy of the sky? A many-acred barony should have been thine, the ruler of a thousand-charioted fief! Nevertheless, they tell me 'twas but two paltry millions, and the chancellorship of the Tributary States. Not a foot of soil repaid thee for the past, while some cringing courtier gets the marquisate of ten thousand families, and each greedy parasite of the Imperial house is gratified by the choicest offices of the State. If then thou farest thus, what could I expect? I have been heavily repaid for that I did not die. Thou hast been meanly rewarded for thy unswerving devotion to thy prince. This is barely that which should attract the absent servant back to his fatherland. 

And So it is that I do not now regret the past. Wanting though I may have been in my duty to the State, the State was wanting also in gratitude towards me. It was said of old, "A loyal subject, though not a hero, will rejoice to die for his country." I would die joyfully even now; but the stain of my prince's ingratitude can never be wiped away. Indeed, if the brave man is not to be allowed to achieve a name, but to die like a dog in a barbarian land, who will be found to crook the back and bow the knee before an Imperial throne, where the bitter pens of courtiers tell their lying tales? 

My friend, look for me no more. Tzu-ch'ing, what shall I say? A thousand leagues lie between us, and separate us for ever. I shall live out my life as it were in another sphere: my spirit will find its home among a strange people. Accept my last adieu. Speak for me to my old acquaintances, and bid them serve their sovereign well. my friend, be happy in the bosom of thy family, and think of me no more. Strive to take all care of thyself; and when time and opportunity are thine, write me once again in reply. 

Li Ling salutes thee ! 

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