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Letter to a friend

The Chinese historian Sima Qian explains in a letter to a friend why he is not committing suicide after being sentenced to castration. He will accept the mutilation so that he may complete his life's work:

'A man has only one death. That death may be as weighty as Mount T'ai, or it may be as light as a goose feather. It all depends upon the way he uses it...

I have examined the deeds and events of the past and investigated the principles behind their success and failure, their rise and decay, in one hundred and thirty chapters. I wished to examine into all that concerns heaven and man, to penetrate the changes of the past and present. But before I had finished my rough manuscript, I met with this calamity. It is because I regretted that it had not been completed that I submitted to the penalty without rancour. When I have truly completed this work, I shall deposit it in the Famous Mountain archives. If it may be handed down to men who will appreciate it, and penetrate to the villages and great cities, then though I should suffer a thousand mutilations, what regret should I have.'

Quoted Bamber Gascoigne The Treasures and Dynasties of China, Cape 1973, pages 58-9


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