The Memorial of a Fearless Confucian Scholar

In 78 BC, there were several weird things in the Western Han Dynasty. People heard a great sound from the south of the Tai Mountain (泰山). They found that, a big stone stood up by itself, and thousands of white crows gathered round. In the Changyi (昌邑) State, a withered tree revived. In the Shanglin Garden (上林苑), a big wizened willow became renascent, too. People found this tree had an extraordinary leaf which was moth-eaten and the holes formed several characters “Gongsun (公孙) Bingyi (病已) will ascend the throne.” At that time, people believed in mysterious phenomena, so they thought there would be a momentous event.

Confucian scholars heard these unusual things, and they thought it was a good chance to show their demand. In the later days of Han Wu Emperor (汉武帝) who ruled China from 140 BC to 87 BC, Confucian scholars were disappointed in the old emperor, because Han Wu Emperor regarded Confucianism as one tool of his ruling, and he didn’t want to realize the people-based ideals of Confucians. Dong Zhongshu (董仲舒) was a very famous Confucian scholar. He once persuaded the emperor to regard Confucianism as the dominant doctrine, but he left the emperor at last. He had many students, and he wanted them to realize his ideal. Sui Hong (眭弘) was the senior student of Dong Zhongshu, and he became a famous scholar at that time. He thought that, the stone and the trees signified the common people, and the Tai Mountain was a place where new rulers showed his power to the Heaven. He told his students that the Heaven wanted a man among the common people to be the ruler of the nation, and his name was Gongsun Bingyi. He thought it was a good chance to demand the emperor of the Han Empire to abdicate the throne.

Sui Hong wrote a memorial to Han Zhao Emperor (汉昭帝). The memorial explained the mysterious phenomena and said, “The emperor of Han should seek a person of virtue and give the throne to him. The emperor of Han will keep a fief as the offspring of the royal families of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, because he must obey the Heaven.” Sui Hong let his good friend Ci (赐), an official (內官长) of managing the affairs of the royal family, submitted the memorial to the emperor. Han Zhao Emperor was very young, and the power was held by Huo Guang (霍光) whose title was the Great General (大将军). Huo Guang didn’t believe the words of Sui Hong, and he instigated the judicatory minister (廷尉) to accuse Sui Hong and Ci of spreading fallacies to deceive people and conspiring to rebel. Sui Hong and Ci were killed.

At that time, the ruling of Han Empire was like the sun at high noon. As the leader of the Confucian school, Sui Hong was brave to demand the emperor of Han Emperor to abdicate the throne. It showed the Confucian school was a progressive and fearless group at that time. According to the classic Confucian works, a Confucian should have the courage of being against all rulers.

In 73 BC, Han Xuan-Emperor (汉宣帝) ascended the throne. Han Xuan-Emperor was the great-grandson of Han Wu-Emperor. His grandfather Liu Ju (刘据) was the heir of Han Wu-Emperor, but he involved into a rebellion. At last Liu Ju and his son killed themselves. The daughter-in-law of Liu Ju bore a son in prison and she was killed later. The little baby was sent to the parents of this woman. The old couples named the baby “Bingyi” (病已) and fostered him. After the death of Han Zhao Emperor, the king of Changyi State was supported to ascend the throne. But this young man was very licentious, and he was dethroned by Huo Guang. Then Bingyi was found in common people and he was supported to ascend the throne. This emperor was Han Xuan-Emperor. He remembered the words of Sui Hong, and thought Sui Hong was a wise man. The emperor let the son of Sui Hong be an official.

Confucian followers didn’t give up their struggle for their ideals. In the last days of the Western Han Dynasty, Wang Mang (王莽), who behaved as a faithful Confucian follower in his early life, was supported to take the place of the emperor of Han. However, Wang Mang implemented Confucian ideals on the surface, and he actually lost himself in totalitarian domination. His unrealistic pursuit of quick results caused his failure and death. In the early life of Wang Mang, was he really a faithful Confucian follower? But we are sure, the absolute power only destroys Confucian ideals.

Yike Jiang avatar