[Last Updated 2021 May 20]
Wéi Yào, appellation Hóngsì, was a Wú prefecture Yúnyáng man. (1) From youth he was good at his studies, able to write prose, served in the staff of the Chancellor, was appointed Magistrate of Xī’ān, returned as Secretariat Documents Cadet, and promoted to Internal Companion to the Heir-Apparent.
- Yào was originally named Zhāo. Historians because of the Jìn naming prohibition [due to Sīmǎ Zhāo] changed it.
At the time Cài Yǐng was also at the East Palace [of the Heir-Apparent], and by nature enjoyed playing games [like Encircling Chess]. The Heir-Apparent [Sūn] Hé believed this had no benefit, and ordered Yào to write a discussion on it. The text said:
“One always hears that when the superior gentleman is disgraced in later years and his achievements are not established, he hates that he will leave the world with his reputation not praised. Therefore it is said that when studies are not done promptly it is as losing opportunity. That is why ambitious servicemen of the past grieved as time passed and feared their achievement and reputation could not be established, and so they did their utmost, rising early and sleeping late, with no time for recreation, and bitterly toiled for many years and moons in daily exertion, just like the diligence of Níng Yuè and the studiousness of Master Dǒng [Zhòngshū], immersing themselves in the pools of virtue and justice and traveling to the lands of principle and skill. Moreover, even the saintliness of Xī-Bó [Zhōu Wén-wáng] and the ability of Lord Jì [Zhōu-gōng] yet required continuous toil all day, and this was able to raise up and flourish the Way of Zhōu, to be passed down through countless ages. So all the more for common subjects; how can they stop? Looking at records of masters with achievement and reputation from ancient times to now, all had accumulated special legacies, labored bitterly hard, thought diligently and broadly, in easy situations did not abandon their work and in hard times did not change their mission, and thus Bǔ Shì had ambitions even as he plowed and herded, while Huáng Bà learned the Way in prison, and in the end they received the good fortune of honor and fame and so obtained an immortal name. Therefore [Zhòng] Shānfǔ worked hard morning and night, while Wú Hàn would not leave public gates. How can they have had lazy wanderings?
“Of the people of the present many do not attend to the classics and arts, and instead enjoy playing games, abandoning affairs and discarding work, neglecting sleep and food, using up the light of day and continuing by candle light. When they overlook the game board and battle, victory and defeat yet undecided, they focus all their greatest attention, laboring their minds and exhausting their bodies, personal affairs are neglected and not fixed, visitors travel and arrive but have no one to receive them, and even if there is the greatest food delicacies or the most pleasant music, they are too busy to appreciate it. It has reached the point that some gamble even their clothes, and move their residence in order to play more easily. Their understanding of honor and shame slackens, while they show appearances of anger and ruthlessness, even though their ambition does not exceed above a single game and their pursuits do not leave the squares of the board, victories over enemies have no rewards, and capturing of territory [on the board] have no real territorial gains. This skill [of board games] is not one of the Six Arts, and has no use in governing the state. Those to be enthroned do not ascend using its techniques, and selection and recruitment is not done using that its ways. If seeking to learn of the battlefield, it is not the same as learning from Sūn [Wǔ] and Wú [Qǐ]. If examining morality and skill, it is not the Kǒng family [school of thought]. It teaches to seek opportunity to exploit and cheat, and is not a loyal and sincere matter. It gives reputation to robbing and killing, and is not the thinking of the benevolent. Further it is empty waste of sunlight and abandons work, and in the end has no benefit. How is it any different from setting up a wood pole and hitting it, or putting up a stone target and throwing at it? Moreover a superior gentlemen in his residence must work hard personally to support [his parents], in Court must exhaustively devote his life to loyal service [to his ruler], so when overlooking affairs must postpone eating, so how can they have the ability to indulge in games? Therefore, if filial and friendly behavior is established, it manifests chaste and pure reputation.
“Now though our Great Wú has received the Mandate, Within the Seas is not yet pacified, our Court must ever strive, and work to win over the people, and so warriors with valor and cunning should then receive bear and tiger [military] appointment, and scholars with classical refinement should then receive dragon and phoenix [civil] office, with all working together, both civil and military striving on, extensively seeking out the talented, honoring out the heroic, establish examination systems, set up bestowal of rewards, that would truly be a auspicious occasion out of a thousand records and a great opportunity out of a hundred generations. The scholars of the present age should make an effort to think of reaching the way, love achievement and treasure ability, and thus assist [in creating] an enlightened time and cause their name to be written in historical records, honored in all government offices. This is the greatest affair of the superior gentleman, and at present is of the most urgency.
“How can a wooden game board compare with a state fief? How can three hundred withered game pieces compare with command of ten thousand men? Imperial Dragon robes and the music of metal and stone are sufficient to match the enjoyment of games. If the present people moved their energy from games and instead employed them [to studying] the Shī and Shū, then there would be the ambition of Yán [Huí] and Mǐn [Sǔn]. If they employed it to intelligence and planning then there would be the thinking of [Zhāng] Liáng and [Chén] Píng. If they employed it to resources, then there would be the wealthy of Yīdùn. If they employed it to shooting and riding, then there would be the preparations of military commanders. In this way, achievement and fame could be established while the lowly and despicable would be distant.”
After [Sūn] Hé was deposed, he became Yellow Gate Attendant-Cadet. When Sūn Liàng ascended, Zhūgě Kè assisted the government, and memorialized Yào to be Director of Scribes and compile a Wúshū “History of Wú,” with Huà Hé, Xuē Yíng, and others all assisting together. When Sūn Xiū ascended, he became Palace Librarian Official and Academician Libationer. [Sūn Xiū] ordered Yào to follow the example of Liú Xiàng and proofread and correct all the books, and also wished to have Yào be an Attendant Conversationalist. However, General of the Left Zhāng Bù was close [to Sūn Xiū] and commonly received favor, but in his affairs had many faults, and feared Yào becoming Attendant Conversationalist and Classicist Scholar and also that he was also by nature was shrewd and precise. [Zhāng Bù] feared that he would use ancient and present examples to warn Xiū, and so firmly argued it could not be permitted. Xiū deeply resented Bù, as told in Xiū’s biography [SGZ 48]. However Yào indeed was stopped and did not enter [Court].
When Sūn Hào ascended, he was given fief as Marquis of Gāolíng, promoted to Internal Documents Deputy Director with previous duties, became Attendant Internal and always held office as Left State Historian.
At the time there were frequent reports of good omens in answer [to the ascension]. Hào asked Yào about these, and Yào answered: “These are only commonplace things men [report to receive favor] and that is all.” Hào also wished that [the history chapter on] his father Hé be made an Annals, but Yào argued that because Hé had never ascended the Imperial Throne [the chapter] should be called a Biography. These were not isolated incidents, and gradually he met blame and anger [from Sūn Hào].
Yào was increasingly anxious, and so on the grounds of his great age asked to resign his two posts as Attendant and Historian, begging to complete his own books to pass down to others. Hào to the end would not agree. At the time he was ill, and received medical care and urgent treatments.
Every time Hào held a banquet, there were none that did not last all day, and all those seated [in attendance] none were permitted not to drink less than seven shēng [~1.4L of alcohol] as a limit. Even those who could not drink anymore had it forced down. Yào could not drink more than two shēng [~0.4L]. Previously, he received special favor for a time, and was always allowed to drink less, or else secretly bestowed with tea in place of alcohol, but when his favor declined, he was forced [to drink] and at once received punishment [for being unable to drink].
Also, after drinking, [Sūn Hào] sent Attendants to insult the Excellencies and Ministers in order to mock them, and had them expose each others’ private faults for fun. At the time if there was a transgression or violation of Hào’s taboos [lèse-majesté], then at once they were bound and put to death.
Yào believed that if outside the ministers all harmed [each other] then inside they would be very resentful, causing everyone to not be supportive of each other, and that this was not good. Therefore he only scolded by asking difficult questions about meanings and opinions on the classics and nothing more. Hào believed this was not in obedience to Imperial Order and not earnestly loyal, and therefore this combined with all his previous resentment and anger, and he had Yào arrested and sent to prison. That year was Fènghuáng second year .
Yào had the jailer send up his message: “I the imprisoned received favor and met compassion that none could compare with, but had no grain or yak to repay Your Highness with, and so I dishonored your special favor, and brought upon myself the worst crime. Now I am about to become ash, forever discarded to the Yellow Underworld, and I am miserable and mournful, and harbor a regret, and so wish to send a message to Your Highness. I the imprisoned in the past observed that in present times there many notes to ancient records, of which much that is written down is false, and much of what is in books and works are also mistaken and erroneous. I checked the records and examined the similarities and discrepancies, selected out relevant information, to compile a Dòngjì ‘Thorough Annals,’ from Páoxī [Fúxī] to Qín and Hàn, altogether three volumes. From Huángwǔ [222-229] to now, I am composing a separate volume, but this matter is not yet complete. Also I have read Liú Xī‘s compiled Shìmíng “Interpreting Names” [a dictionary], and though it has many fine aspects, yet its topics are varied and numerous, so rarely is it comprehensive and thorough, and therefore at times there are errors, such as with the matter of noble title, there are mistakes. I believe that titles and honors are now an urgent affair, and should have mistakes. I the imprisoned, neglecting my own lowliness, also Guānzhíxùn ‘Instructions on Bureaucratic Office’ and Biàn Shìmíng ‘Discussed Interpreting Names,’ each one volume, and wish to memorialize them up to Your Highness. They were newly written and just completed, when due to my rudeness I was imprisoned to await judgment and vanished from the sun. I regret not presenting these up, and so sincerely as I face death I beg to send up word to the sacred office, to let them go out and collect my works, and present them inside to inform you. Recalling [my work] and fearing that it is shallow and inferior, and not in keeping with your Heavenly expectations, I hold myself in terror with short breaths, and beg to receive pity and be spared.”
Yào hoped to with this escape, but Hào was instead bewildered by the letter’s dirtiness and because of this again interrogated Yào. Yào answered: “When I the imprisoned compiled this letter, I truly wished to memorialize to Your Highness, but was afraid there were errors, and repeatedly reread it, and without realizing dirtied it. To be asked about this I tremble [in fear] and breath rapidly and stammer. I sincerely give apologies and bow my head five hundred times with my own two hands beat myself.”
Also Huà Hé continuously sent up memorials pleading for Yào:
“Yào is one seen by good fortune in a thousand ages, specially received [Imperial] compassion and appreciation, and for his classicist learning was appointed as historian, wore diāo chán “sable cicada [insignia]” as an inner attendant, served in answer to Heavenly [Imperial] questions and to the Court with benevolence and sincerity, carefully grieved for the departed, and at the time of welcoming spirits, [the Emperor] shed tears and appointed Yào. Yào was ignorant and confused, and could not proclaim Your Majesty’s greatness of the sort as Dà-Shùn, instead rigidly constraining himself to the restraints of his office as historian, so that your sacred orders could not be narrated, your conduct could not be manifest, and so truly Yào for his ignorance committed an capital offense. However, I your servant very humbly observe Yào from youth was diligent in studies, and even in old age he is untiring, delving into the ancient books and cannons, recalling the past to understand the future, so that in understanding the classics and records from ancient times to now, among the outer officials few can surpass Yào.
“In the past Lǐ Líng was a Hàn General. When his army was defeated he did not return but surrendered to the Xiōngnú. Sīmǎ Qiān did not join denouncing [Lǐ Líng], and plead on [Lǐ] Líng’s behalf. Hàn Wǔdì [-114-87], because Qiān had the ability of a great historian, wished to allow him to complete his compilation, and restrained [his anger] and did not execute him, so the book was completed, and passed down without end. Now Yào is at Wú, just like Hàn had [Sīmǎ] Qiān as its historian.
“Looking from beginning to end for auspicious signs and omens, directions of spirits and answers from heaven, repeatedly they appear, signifying that the time of reunification is no longer too far away. After the matter of pacification, it will be time to establish regulations. The Three Imperials did not copy each others ceremonies, and the Five Emperors did not copy each others traditions and music. Each culture had their own unique aspects, with good and bad and difference in form, so it is suitable to have the sort of people as Yào to understand ancient principles for correction and establishment. When Hàn succeeded Qín, it then had Shūsūn Tōng formulate a [new] system of ceremonies for the whole dynasty. Yào’s ability and learning is also of the sort as Hàn’s [Shūsūn] Tōng.
“Also, though the Wúshū ‘History of Wú’ already has its basic outline, its narration and interpretation is not yet finished. In the past Bān Gù compiled the Hànshū ‘History of Hàn,’ and its language was refined. Later Liú Zhēn, Liú Yì, and others compiled the Hànjì “Annals of Hàn,” and it was far off from matching [Bān] Gù, and its narration of traditions was exceedingly inferior. Now Wúshū is about to be passed down through a thousand ages, it will be handed down by all historians, and later talented scholars will discuss its merits and faults, so it cannot be without the sort of great talent as Yào’s, or else it will truly be unable to be an immortal book. A servant who is foolish and ignorant, that is not this man.
“Yào is already seventy and has few years remaining, so we beg to reduce his punishment by one grade to spend the rest of his life in exile, so that he could complete his writings, and let it be ever passed down through a hundred generations. I earnestly send up this memorial, and bow my head a hundred times.”
Hào would not permit this, and so executed Yào, and exiled his family to Línglíng. [Yào’s] son Lóng also had literary learning.