Friday, August 7, 2009

Torn between filial duty and loyalty

Dear André,

Here's the biography of Shi She in the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian, written between 109 BC to 91 BC), translated by Burton Watson:

"Shi She was prime minister under King Zhao of Chu (ca. 500 BC). He was a man of absolute honesty and integrity and never stooped to favouritism. Once when he was touring the outlying districts, he witnessed a murder on the road, but when he started to pursue the murderer, he discovered that it was his own father. He let his father go and, returning to the capital, had himself put in prison and sent a messenger to report to the king, 'I have apprehended a murderer, who turned out to be my father. Now if I administer the legal punishment to my own father, I will be acting contrary to filial piety, while if I disregard the law and pardon him, I will be disloyal. For either offence I deserve the death penalty.' The king replied, 'You pursued the murderer but you did not catch him, therefore you need not be punished. Just go about your duties as before!' But Shi She sent word again, saying, 'I would not be a filial son if I did not make an exception in the case of my own father. On the other hand, I would not be a loyal minister if I did not uphold the laws of my sovereign. Your Majesty may bestow mercy upon me by pardoning my offence, but it is still my duty as a subject to submit to punishment and die.' In the end he refused to accept the pardon but cut his throat and died."

Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty II, Burton Watson trans., Columbia University Press, 1993, p. 376.

Here's the Chinese original: