Shì Yí, appellation Zǐyǔ, was a Běihǎi Yínglíng man. He was originally surnamed Shì 氏. He began as a county clerk, and later became a prefecture official. The Prefectural Chancellor Kǒng Róng ridiculed Yí, saying the word “Shì 氏” was people 民 without a head, and should be changed to Shì 是, and so he indeed changed his surname. (1)
- (1) Xú Zhòng comments: When the ancients created surnames, either they were by how they were born, or by their formal office title, or by an ancestor’s name. All these were a good system, and provided information on one’s ancestry and clan. Therefore it was said that blessings were given by earth and fate was given by clan name. This was the standard of the ancient kings, so that brilliant origins and powerful beginnings and clear and manifest achievements and virtues, would not be forgotten by descendants. Now to abandon a word and change a character is an unparalleled prohibition, and to formally change one’s surname is to forget one’s origins and betray one’s ancestors, and moreover is a deception! In telling a person to change his surname and so betraying his clan, Róng did wrong, while Yí did something that cannot be allowed.
Later he joined Liú Yáo and fled the chaos to take refuge east of the Jiāng. [Liú] Yáo’s army was defeated, and Yí moved to Kuàijī.
When Sūn Quán began his great enterprise, he sent a well composed letter to invite Yí. After meeting, he was appointed to the personal staff, to handle classified documents, and appointed Cavalry Commandant.
When Lǚ Méng planned to attack Guān Yǔ, Quán consulted Yí, and Yí agreed with the plan, and advised Quán to listen to it. He followed in the attack on Yǔ, was appointed Loyal Righteousness Colonel. Yí declined, so Quán wrote an order: “Though I am no Zhào Jiǎnzǐ, why must you wrong yourself as a Zhōu Shè?”
After Jīngzhōu was settled, the capital was moved to Wǔchāng, and he was appointed Assistant-General, later given fief as Marquis of a capital precinct, and made an Internal Attendant. [Sūn Quán] wished to have him command troops, but Yí stated he did not have the ability and so refused to accept.
During Huángwǔ [222-229], Yí was sent to Wǎn to join Liú Shào to assist in baiting Cáo Xiū. [Cáo] Xiū came and was greatly defeated, and he was promoted to Supporting-General, joined the court to manage the Secretariat’s affairs, judge the various outer officials, while also managing court cases. He was also ordered to instruct [Sūn Quán’s] various sons in literature and studies.
When the Imperial Chariot moved east , the Heir-Apparent [Sūn] Dēng remained to defend Wǔchāng, and Yí was tasked with assisting the Heir-Apparent. The Heir-Apparent respected him, and consulted him first in all affairs and afterward acted. His fief was advanced to Marquis of a capital village. Later he followed the Heir-Apparent back to Jiànyè , and was appointed Attendant Internal and Internal Law Enforcer, to judge the affairs of officials and manage court cases as before.
Censor Official Lǚ Yī falsely accused former Administrator of Jiāngxià Diāo Jiā of slandering and mocking the state government. Quán was furious, arrested and imprisoned Jiā, and ordered a complete investigation. At the time everyone else was terrified of [Lǚ] Yī and all said they had heard him. Only [Shì] Yí alone said he had never heard this. Therefore he was then investigated for many days. An Imperial Order demanded a severe investigation, and so all the officials were afraid for him. Yí said: “Now that the blade is already at my neck, would I dare hide the truth for the sake of Jiā, and so bring about clan extermination and become a disloyal villain? I have only said what I have heard and know from the beginning to end.” He only answered with facts, and did not change them. Quán therefore ended the investigation, and Jiā was also spared. (1)
- (1) Xú Zhòng comments: Shì Yí went as a traveler in an uncommon direction, becoming a guest and official of the Wú court. While on duty he was faced with lies and slander and extermination, but remained his firm and resolute authority. He commanded the county like a water-clock, and even in a dangerous and desperate crisis, he did not join the others in harming another. He was not lax in avoiding actions against justice, and can be said to be a loyal and valiant and just gentleman. Though Qí Xī left Shūxiàng, we celebrate the departure of Zhū Yún. Why is this? Loyalty is not flattering the ruler. Bravery is not fearing to stand up. Generosity is not selfish hoarding. Righteousness is not following the crowd’s wrongs. With these four virtues, he added literary quickness, esteeming modesty and following obedience, remained as Tutor for the two palaces, protected himself and cared for his reputation, was that not also suitable?
When the Shǔ Chancellor Zhūgě Liàng died , Quán was concerned of the state of the western province, and sent Yí as envoy to Shǔ to reaffirm the alliance and friendship. As envoy he served satisfactorily, and was afterward appointed Secretariat Deputy-Director.
When the South [Heir-Apparent’s] and Lǔ two palaces were first established , Yí was initially Tutor to the King of Lǔ. Yí disliked that the two palaces were so similar and close, and so presented a memorial: “I privately believe the King of Lǔ is naturally upright and admirably moral, skilled in both civil and military affairs, and the present arrangements are suitable to prepare him to defend the four corners of the realm, and serve as the state’s protector. I proclaim his virtue and quality, announce his prestige, so that he is the state’s great guide, and what the land within the sea hopes for. But as a servant my words are wild and coarse, and cannot convey my feelings. I believe the two palaces should be abolished, to clearly distinguish an order of precedence, and settle the basic matter.” The letter was submitted [and refused] three to four times. As Tutor he was loyal to the end, frequently gave counsel and warning. In managing affairs he was diligent and to people he was respectful.
He did not manage much property, and did not accept charity, and his residence did not hoard riches. Next to his house was a neighbor who raised a large mansion. Quán went out and saw this, and asked who lived in the large mansion. His attendants said: “It appears to be Shì Yí’s house.” Quán said: “Yí is frugal. It is certainly not.“ He asked, and was told it was indeed another house. [Shì Yí] was known and trusted like this.
His clothes were not fine quality, and he did not eat large meals. He gave to the poor, and his home did not raise livestock. Quán heard of this, visited Yí’s residence, and asked to try the vegetarian food. After personally tasting it, he sighed, and increased [Shì Yí’s] salary and bestowed fields and houses. Yí repeatedly refused, and others were moved by his generosity.
He frequently made recommendations for office, and never spoke of the shortcomings of others. Quán once reproached him for not reporting affairs and determining right and wrong. Yí replied: “With an enlightened ruler above, the servants below are dutiful, and fear they will not be successful. I honestly do not dare with my limited viewpoint offer comment, to disturb the Superior’s perspective.”
He managed state affairs for several decades, and never once committed a wrong. Lǚ Yī repeatedly spoke ill of the officers and ministers and great officials, and one was accused of committing a crime four times, but he never once accused [Shì] Yí. Quán sighed and said: “If men could all be like [Shì] Yí, then what use would there be for laws?”
When he was lying gravely ill, his final will was for a plain coffin and only a seasonal shroud, and his funeral to be conservative. At age eighty-one years he died.