Tales from 5000 Years of Chinese History II

Tales from 5000 Years of Chinese History II

By Lin Handa and Cao Yuzhang
From Better Link Press (2007)

I guess I understood more about certain ancient chinese well known characters in history from this book. There is both chinese and english version written side by side. It will be easier for those learning chinese to read this book. But from what I see, you need at least an intermediate or advanced level of chinese lanaguage understanding to be able to understand the meaning of the chinese characters written.

After the unification of China, questions arose as how to govern a country of such immense size. The imperial audience all suggested the old way of creating fiefs and having princes to them. (Fief : a territory held in fee)

There was an outstanding official Li Si who objected to this old way of creating fiefs. He argued, “When King Wu of Zhou founded his dynastry, he created feudal lords, who soon become bitter enemies, vowing each other’s destruction. Not even the King of Zhou could dissuade them from this path of mutual ruin. Clearly, creating fiefs is a bad idea. A better approach would be to create a nation-wide system of prefectures and counties. Hence Emperor Qin Shihuang divided the empire into 37 prefectures, each subdivided into a number of counties. The governors of the prefectures were directly appointed by the imperial court.

Li Si also said that laws and decrees need to have a unified source. There are some intelletuals who would like to imitate antiquity instead of grappling with the present. They make ill-considered, irresponsible comments about the affairs of state, causing confusion among the public. Such a state of affairs, if allowed to go on unchecked, would undercut the authority of the imperial court. This resulted in the historically infamous fen shu keng ru (burning of books and burying of Confuncian scholars) incident.

Though Emperor Qin Shihuang is so clever, I think he never expected that the enunch Zhao Gao and his son Hu Hai to falsify his last will. I guess when one is sick and vulnerable, such evil and ambitious people like Zhao Gao will take advantage of it. Hence, it is important to have one’s family and reliable friends around at one’s death bed.

In 99 BC, Sima Qian became embroiled in the Li Ling affair, where Li Ling and Li Guangli (???), two military officers who led a campaign against the Xiongnu in the north, were defeated and taken captive. Emperor Han Wudi attributed the defeat to Li Ling, with all government officials subsequently condemning him for it. Sima was the only person to defend Li Ling, who had never been his friend but whom he respected. Due to this defend, the emperor castrated him as a punishment. This shows that if all the rest of the people are unreasonable or stubborn in their thoughts, do not put fro your thoughts so fast.

Overwhelmed by the stigma and shame of castration, Sima Qian was tempted to commit suicide. But he has a great ambition to write the book “Shi Ji”, Historical Records of the Grand Scibe. Hence, he preserved to complete the book. Shi Ji comprised of 130 chapters and 520,000 words and covers China’s history from the Yellow Emperor of legend down to the second year of the Taishi Era, during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han. In his Shi Ji, Sima Qian gave detailed accounts of the lives and deeds of famous personalities in China’s history and texts into easier to understand contemporary expressions.

Traditionally, when a marriage was proposed between the Xiongnu and the Han, the bride had to be a princess or a daughter in the imperial clan. This is to bring peace between the two countries. This time, Emperor Yuan of Han decided to give Xiongnu a palace lady-in-waiting. He had word circulated in the imperial harem. “Whoever volunteers to be married off to the Xiongnu court will be treated by his Majestry like a princess.” Wang Zhaojun volunteered to be married off to the land of the Xiongnu.

Wang Zhaojun was a very beautiful lady. The Chanyu Huhanye of Xiongnu was elated and grateful at the prospect of having such a beautiful young woman for wife. However, when the Chanyu Huhanye and Wang Zhaojun went before Emperor Yuan to give their thanks, the Emperor was dazzled by Wang Zhaojun’s beauty and grace. He was a little reluctant to let her go and soon had thoughts of keeping her for himself, but it was too late.

Legend has it that when Emperor Yuan returned to his quarters, he had Wang Zhaojun’s portrait brought to him from the collection of portraits of the ladies in the harem. He found that although the portrait bore some resemblance to Wang Zhaojun, it failed miserably to do justice to her exquisite beauty. In truth, the ladies-in-waiting were not normally interviewed by the Emperor in person. Instead, their likenesses were painted by court painters , and presented to the Emperor.

One court painter, Mao Yanshou, would paint more flattering portraits of the ladies in return for favors or gifts. Since Wang Zhaojun had no wish to give Mao Yanshou a present, he had chosen not to do full justice to her true beauty. Well… taking about bribery…. it sure started a long way in history. When Emperor Yuan saw the painting, in fury he had Mao Yanshou executed.








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