Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Han Gaozu

From Sima Qian's Shiji (史記, 109-91 BCE):


Gaozu as precinct chief escorted a group of convict-labourers to Mount Li on behalf of the county, but many of the convicts fled along the way. He estimated that by the time they arrived, he would have lost them all, so when they reached the middle of a swamp west of Feng, he stopped to let them drink. When night fell he untied and set free all the convicts he was escorting. He said, "Gentlemen, you should all depart! I will also be on the run from now on."


Among the convicts were a dozen or so stalwart fellows who asked to follow him. Gaozu, beginning to feel his wine, followed the paths that night into the marsh, ordering one man to go ahead. The one who had gone ahead returned and reported, "Ahead there is a great snake blocking the path. I would hope you might turn back!"


Gaozu drunkenly said, "When stalwart fellows are on the move, what is there to dread?" Going ahead, he drew his sword, struck and severed the snake. The snake having been cut in two, the path was cleared. He moved on for several li, became very drunk, and then lay down. When the men from behind came to the place where the snake was, there was an old crone crying in the night. A man asked her what she was crying for and the crone said, "Someone killed my son; for this reason I am crying for him." The man said, Why was your son killed?" The crone said, "My son was the son of the White Emperor. He had changed into a snake and was blocking the way. Now he has been cut in half by the son of the Red Emperor. For this reason I cry." The man did not consider the crone to be truthful and was about to report her, when the crone accordingly suddenly disappeared. When the men from behind reached him, Gaozu woke up. The men from behind reported to Gaozu and Gaozu was secretly pleased and thought highly of himself. All of his followers were daily more in awe of him.


The Grand Scribe's Records: The basic annals of Han China, By Qian Sima, Ssu-Ma Ch'ien, William H. Nienhauser, Tsai Fa Cheng trans.,
Indiana University Press (2002), pp. 15-17.

I've changed the Wade-Giles transliteration to pinyin.