A model of "Comments on the Biography of Ni Kuan"
(aka "Eulogy on the Chronicle of Ni Kuan")
(臨 褚遂良書 倪寬贊)
35 X 137cm (2) in Standard Script (楷書)
The original calligraphic work written by Chu Suiliang (褚遂良 , 596-658) is considered to be one of the finest
masterpieces of Chinese Calligraphy written in standard script. The work is renowned for its elegance and its
variation of thickness within each brush stroke (1,2). The original cannot be found but a model of it,
presumably written by a Song Dynasty calligrapher, can be observed in the National Palace Museum, Taipei,
Taiwan (3). It is interesting to see that the character "弘" was intentionally removed in this museum's copy of
the work, probably due to "弘" being a taboo term (避諱) in the Song Dynasty (4). Also, it is worth to mention
that "韋玄成" was written incorrectly in this museum's copy as "韋弘成" in the 37th column starting from the right
(as suggested in the Book of Han, see below), a mistake either committed by Chu Suiliang himself or the Song
calligrapher who attempted to model Chu's work.
Note that the original text itself was not authored by Chu Suiliang but was extracted from the Book of Han (漢書),
which was compiled by Ban Gu (班固, 32–92). Mirroring Sima Qian's (司馬遷, 145-86BC) renowned historical text
Records of the Grand Historian (史記), the Book of Han documented the history of the Western Han Dynasty in the
eyes of Ban Gu, who served as an imperial court official traversing three Eastern Han Emperors, Emperor Ming of
Han (漢明帝), Emperor Zhang of Han (漢章帝) and Emperor He of Han (漢和帝) (5). The text in this work was Ban
Gu's personal comments at the very end of Biographies of Gongsun Hong, Bu Shi and Ni Kuan (公孫弘卜式兒寬傳),
which can be found in the 58th Chapter of the Book of Han (漢書 卷五十八). These comments illustrated and
compared imperial court personnel in the Emperor Wu of Han (漢武帝) administration and the Emperor Xuan of
Han(漢宣帝) administration (see below). It is certainly not an eulogy of anyone, but is sometimes incorrectly
translated into English as such.
|The Han Dynasty had been established with much prosperity for over |
sixty years; pervasive peace was observed throughout the land and
our treasury was sufficient.
|而四夷未賓，制度多闕。||Yet, neighbouring countries remained defiant to our rule, and our |
internal policies had many deficiencies.
|上方欲用文武，求之如弗及，||The Emperor (Emperor Wu of Han, 漢武帝) was hungry for talents who |
can aid in his governing, and so began to seek individuals who were
adept in civil or military duties.
|始以蒲輪迎枚生，見主父而嘆息。||He first sent a luxurious horse carriage to invite Mei Cheng, and lamented |
he did not meet Zhufu Yan sooner.
|群士慕向，異人並出。||Afterwards, many wise men approached the Emperor and talents came |
from all over the land.
|卜式拔於芻牧，弘羊擢於賈豎，||Bu Shi came forward as an adept shepherd and Sang Hongyang came as|
a wealthy merchant.
|衛青奮於奴僕，日磾出於降虜，||Wei Qing rose from the servants and Jin Midi emerged from the prisoners |
|斯亦曩時版築飯牛之朋已。||They were all from humble backgrounds (6).|
|漢之得人，於茲為盛，||This was the time when Han had the most talent to work for Her.|
|儒雅則公孫弘、董仲舒、倪寬，||During that time, within the establishment, the ones who bear exemplary |
Confucian demeanors were Gongsun Hong, Dong Zhongshu and Ni Kuan;
|篤行則石建、石慶，質直則汲黯、卜式，||the hard workers were Shi Jian and Shi Qing, and the most honest and |
direct were Ji An and Bu Shi;
talented individuals to the Emperor;
|文章則司馬遷、相如，||the proficient writers were Sima Qian and Sima Xiangru;|
|滑稽則東方朔、枚皋，||the humourous debaters were Dongfang Shuo and Mei Gao |
(Son of Mei Cheng);
|應對則嚴助、朱買臣，||the orators were Yan Zhu and Zhu Maichen;|
|協律則李延年， 運籌則桑弘羊，||Li Yannian was a master in music and rhythm while Sang Hongyang was |
a savvy planner;
|受遺則霍光、金日磾，其餘不可勝紀。||Huo Guang and Jin Midi were venerable assistants to the heir; many others|
with great abilities were also working for the government -- the number of
which was so many that it is impossible to list all their names here.
|是以興造功業，制度遺文，後世莫及。||Hence, the number of achievements accomplished and literary works |
written within that period could not be surpassed by any other later eras.
|孝宣承統，纂修洪業，亦講論六藝，||After Emperor Xuan of Han (漢宣帝) succeeded the throne, the Emperor |
continued the enterprise left by his predecessor and continued to rule with
Confucius values consistent with those in the Six Arts.
|招選茂異，而蕭望之、梁丘賀、夏侯勝、韋玄成、嚴彭祖，尹更始以儒術進，||The Dynasty continued to recruit brilliant individuals including |
Xiao Wangzhi, Liangqiu He, Xiahou Sheng, Wei Xuancheng, Yan Pengzu
and Yin Gengshi , all of whom were renowned for their studies in
|將相則張安世、趙充國、魏相、丙吉、于定國、杜延年，||while Chang An-shih, Zhao Chongguo, Wei Xiang, Bing Ji, Yu Dingguo, |
Du Yannian were all either phenomenal ministers or great generals;
and the likes were adept in managing internal civic affairs;
|皆有功跡見述於世。||all of their achievements were well documented.|
|參其名臣，亦其次也。||However, by glancing at their achievements, Emperor Xuan's officers |
were slightly inferior to those who worked under Emperor Wu.
(translated by KS Vincent Poon, March 2016)
Regrettably, the beauty of the original work by Chu Suiliang can never be fully appreciated anymore, since the
best copy of the original work stored in the Taiwanese Museum has all the character of "弘" scratched out due to
the taboo (避諱) custom observed in ancient China (6). This taboo custom usually prohibited the usage of
characters that were associated with the names of Emperors in official documents, books, other civilian publications,
and even in naming one's child. The punishment for those who violated the prohibition was severe as it usually
involved sentencing the violators (and, in some cases, their immediate family) to death.
Although some argue such a taboo custom and its punishment together represented a tradition of respect to the ruler,
in practice, it represented more of a policy of governing by fear, which is not championed in traditional Chinese
Confucianism, the main component of traditional Chinese culture (中華文化) . Effectively, this type of fear deters
questioning of authority from the public and so often leads to corruption and is generally used as a tool by tyrants.
Confucianism does not approve such an atmosphere of fear and unquestioned authority as Confucius (孔子, 551 –
479 BC) had once suggested "A ruler should employ his minister according to the rules of propriety (禮); ministers
should serve their ruler with faithfulness." (君使臣以禮，臣事君以忠。)(7); rules of propriety (禮) certainly does
not include the element of fear, and faithfulness can never be truly shown since the people are not allowed to speak
their minds and be loyal to themselves (note that "faithfulness" or "loyalty" (忠) refers to honesty to self and others
but not to unquestioned obedience to the ruler (8)). Mencius (孟子, 372 – 289 BC), the most renowned Confucian
philosopher after Confucius, went even further to suggest that an unjust ruler can be executed and overthrown:
"When the people all say, "This man deserves death," then inquire into the case, and when you see that the man
deserves death, put him to death." (國人皆曰可殺，然後察之；見可殺焉，然後殺之。)(9). Therefore, respect for a
government is earned, not bestowed or commanded, according to traditional Confucianism. Hence, this rather
crooked taboo mentality is probably a product of twisted interpretation of Confucianism, where the obligation of
the people is overemphasized while neglecting the accountability of the ruler.
It is disheartening to see this type of twisted Confucianism still exists in many Asian countries today, particularly in
Communist Mainland China. It is well documented that certain terms and topics are blacklisted or censored in
Communist Chinese search engines, newspapers, and other social media, all in the name of maintaining "social
harmony" (10,11,12,13); and those who oppose such censorship usually face severe punishments (14,15). Perhaps
Chinese Communists do not have the ability to advance China beyond the dark eras of ancient feudal totalitarianism,
and so can only rely on twisted Confucian philosophies in order to maintain its ruling power. Therefore, it is certainly
hard to imagine how Communist Mainland China today represents a country that practices authentic traditional
Confucianism, and it is even harder to imagine how she can preach or teach proper Confucius values to the world.
Indeed, since the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Communist China have long ago abandoned its traditional Chinese
cultural roots, and so if one does want to learn and observe traditional Chinese Confucius values, perhaps one should
visit other Asian places like South Korea, Japan, or democratic China in Taiwan, where people can at least freely
express their views without repercussions and so be loyal to themselves, which is in line with the "忠" ("faithfulness")
philosophy advocated in authentic Confucianism and traditional Chinese culture (16).
A nation wherein her people can only say yes to the governing party is a sad, soulless and weak nation. It is certainly
not the ideal nation proposed by Confucius.
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