Stories from Ancient China: Righteous Historiographers Would Rather Die Than Distort the Truth

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The moral character of the Chinese people has been passed down through hundreds of generations. The brilliance of their grand moral integrity shines through the five thousand years of history. This is part of the Chinese divine culture. In China today, people have become indifferent to moral integrity due to the Chinese Communist Party's devastation. A famous poem, "Song of Righteousness," by Mr. Wen Tianxiang (1236-1283, a prime minister of the Song Dynasty and one of the most famous patriotic heroes in Chinese history) mentions a story about a historiographer's family. I'd like to share this story here.

Cui Zhu, an officer of the Qi Dynasty, murdered Emperor Qi Zhuanggong in 548 B.C. Cui Zhu supported the former emperor's brother Chujiu as the new emperor Qi Jinggong. After Qi Jinggong became the new emperor, he appointed Cui Zhu as the prime minister. To cover up the truth, Cui Zhu ordered the historiographer (the officer who recorded royal activities into historic chronicles) to record the cause of Qi Zhuanggong's death as malaria. The historiographer, in compliance with traditional professional ethics of "recording history in a straightforward and factual manner," sternly refused. He seriously carved on the bamboo slip that Cui Zhu murdered his emperor on the specific day. (Paper had not yet been invented at that time so characters were engraved on bamboo slips.) Cui Zhu was furious, and he killed the historiographer and destroyed that piece of bamboo slip.

The historiographer's younger brother was filled with indignation after hearing of his elder brother's death. According to law, he succeeded his elder brother as historiographer. He also recorded history according to the facts. Cui Zhu took advantage of his power and killed the new historiographer.

This is not the end of the story. The historiographer had three siblings. The youngest one then succeeded his two elder brothers as the historiographer. This brother did not flinch at all, but instead followed his two brother's unfulfilled wishes and recorded the true facts on the bamboo slip.

Although Cui Zhu had power as the prime minister, he was frightened by the three brothers' great courage to uphold justice. With the newly engraved bamboo slip in hand, Cui Zhu asked the youngest brother, "Don't you treasure your life? As long as you follow what I told you to write, you will not die like your two elder brothers." The young man answered solemnly, "To record history according to the facts is the inherent responsibility of a historiographer. I cannot just treasure my life and not treasure the historical facts!"

Facing such a righteous young man who was loyal to his responsibility, Cui Zhu was fearful in his mind. He gave in and returned the bamboo slip to the young historian to be preserved in the historic collection.

In this way, justice defeated evil, the righteous defeated the villain, and truth defeated deceit.

Mr. Si Maqian (145-90 B.C.) was a historian of the Han Dynasty, and is regarded as the father of Chinese historiography. He highly admired the three brothers' heroic and dauntless deeds of recording historic facts with the integrity of their lives. He wrote their story in his famous work, Records of the Grand Historian.

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