[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.