Cixi was probably the most fearless individual in all of Chinese history – - did she not say ‘Whosoever displeases me for an instant, I’ll make them unhappy their whole lives’? But even Cixi, the so-called ‘cruel, vicious, selfish, ignorant, avaricious individual who received tribute from all under heaven’, still had four fears: ‘fate’, ‘ancestors’, ‘demons’, and ‘history’! But why is history so terrifying? It is because history preserves the truth. No matter how many elegantly insincere words you say, no matter how you fool the people, no matter how you dress yourself up whilst alive, history will clearly perceive you as you really were, and show what was what. It is ‘the final judgement passed on the coffin lid’.
Take a look at how the character for history (史）is written. It is derived from the combination of ‘middle’ (中）and ‘hand’ (又，a variation of 手). What does it mean? It means that the duty of the historian is to ‘grasp the centre’, or in other words, to maintain a neutral attitude. History should be written as it happened. In the words of Sima Qian, historians should ‘neither praise false beauty, nor hide evil’.
Since time immemorial, from changes of the sun, moon and stars to internal government politics, each and every action of the emperor has been unable to escape the judgement imposed by the historian’s pen. Look at these two examples: in 606 BC, Duke Ling of the State of Jin was killed by the younger brother of his prime minister, Zhao Dun. The historian of the State of Jin was Dong Hu, who recorded this affair thus: ‘Zhao Dun killed his king.’ Zhao Dun was aghast, and came to Dong in protest: ‘Dong, sir, haven’t you got this a little bit wrong? It was quite clearly my brother who killed the king, so why have you written that it was me?’ Dong Hu replied: ‘You are a high official of the imperial household. When this all happened you were hiding away, but hadn’t left the country. When you came back, you didn’t investigate the murder. Are you still denying you were responsible? If it wasn’t you who killed the king, who was it?’ Zhao Dun couldn’t answer him and had to let Dong Hu write history thus. This example shows that from ancient times historians were not only independent, but also recorded facts as they saw them in accordance with their own opinions. Fifty-nine years later, the king of the State of Qi was murdered. The murderer was Chancellor Cui Zhu. And so the court recorder – titled as official historian (太史 taishi) – was once again summoned, and he wrote that ‘Cui Zhu killed his monarch.’
However, Cui Zhu didn’t have Zhao Dun’s good temper. He flew into a rage, and immediately had the historian killed! However, the matter did not end here. The historian’s younger brother arrived, and like his brother he wrote that ‘Cui Zhu killed his monarch.’ Cui Zhu did as before, and had him killed. However, the affair did still dragged on. Another younger brother of the historian arrived and once more wrote that ‘Cui Zhu killed his monarch.’… Finally, after he killed his fifth historian, Cui Zhu ran out of energy, despairingly admitted his defeat and allowed the historians to write as they chose.
The saying ‘Confucius wrote the ‘Spring and Autumn Annals’ and rebellious ministers and villainous sons were struck with terror’ comes from such tales. Mengzi explained the saying like this: ‘Again the world fell into decay, and principles faded away. Perverse speakings and oppressive deeds waxed rife once more. There were instances of ministers who murdered their sovereigns, and of sons who murdered their fathers. Confucius was afraid, and wrote the “Spring and Autumn Annals.” Hence, Confucius said, “Yes! It is the Spring and Autumn which will make men know me, and it is the Spring and Autumn which will make men condemn me.’ In the time of the Spring and Autumn Warring States when Confucius was writing, the self-interested, short-sighted kind of development encouraged by the rulers of each state had produced a veritable parade of evils. In order to produce a strong state, the Legalists advocated abandoning the teaching of morals in favour of a regime based purely on the rule of law. The School of Diplomacy advocated the use of crafty stratagems to achieve success. Confucius himself felt that he lived in an age of chaos, where the rites were crumbling around him. Not only was the State splintered and divided, but ritual (meaning the moral rites that Confucius saw as fundamental to good governance) was becoming increasingly separated from politics. From top to bottom, all society seemed to have lost any concern for moral theory in the remorseless pursuit of profit. Confucius’s ‘Spring and Autumn Annals’ were not simply designed to praise good and condemn evil, but also to provide a model for practitioners of statecraft. In all kinds of affairs of governance, it was to guide them in when to advance and when to fall back, when to be lenient and when to be cruel, and to determine what is and what is not just.
The later 24 dynastic histories all specialised in recounting the biographies of ‘loyal officials’, ‘ruthless officials’, ‘treacherous ministers’, ‘loyal subjects’ and ‘virtuous women’. The purpose of this was akin to that expressed above – ‘Confucius wrote the ‘Spring and Autumn Annals’ and thus rebellious ministers and villainous sons were struck with terror’. That is, they aimed to provide society with a fair appraisal of good and evil, and to establish proper ethical standards. In the 6th century AD, the Emperor Wenxuan (given name Gao Yang) of the Northern Qi dynasty said to famous historian Wei Shou: ‘My legacy lies in your hands’, and also declared, ‘Good, honest writing holds no terrors. As emperor, I have never had a historian put to death.’ Both demonstrate the respect the emperor held for historians and scribes.
However, do not think that such reverence for history was a prerogative of feudal consciousness, or that the proletariat do not also care. Liu Yuan, Liu Shaoqi’s son, in his book ‘Liu Shaoqi, Mao Zedong and the Four Clean-Ups Movement’ tells of one incident: one day in June, 1962, whilst sitting on the side of the Zhongnanhai swimming pool, Mao Zedong asked Liu Shaoqi, ‘Why didn’t you stand up to the rightist activities of Chen Yun and Deng Zihui?’ Liu was always obedient to Mao, but for once this time, ‘in an emotional tone of voice’ he dared to answer back: ‘So many have starved to death, and history will say it was all because of you and me. People eating people – they write books about that kind of thing, you know!’ Clearly, even the great proletarian revolutionary Liu Shaoqi was afraid of history, so much so that even his fear of Mao could not match his fear of history. The facts also prove the point – after ‘people eat people’, Mao and Liu began to part ways. Just before his death, Mao Zedong himself also spoke similar words: ‘I have done two things in my life. The first was seizing political power across the whole country with little dissent; the second was launching the Cultural Revolution, although only a few people supported it, and many were opposed it.’ From this, it is easy to conclude that Mao also cared about how history would judge him after he was gone. The words Liu Shaoqi spoke after his downfall spring to mind – ‘Fortunately, history is written by the people.’ The implied meaning here is as follows, ‘I, Liu Shaoqi, will not have the rightness or wrongness of my actions judged by any one man (i.e. Mao). Instead, judgement will be passed by history and by those who come after me.’ When Peng Dehuai met with injustice, he also placed his hopes in history. In his later years, he wrote letter after letter to the central committee explaining his actions, since an appeal to the central committee can also be considered an appeal to history – - after all, Peng had long before given up hope in the Central Committee, who worshipped Mao like a god. When close to death, on hearing the quiet voice of his niece telling him that his documents had been officially added to the archives he first paused in astonishment, and then laughed in happiness.
History has later vindicated his choice: in life Mao was the victor, but history shows Peng as victorious. From Peng and Mao’s clash can be seen that China’s political figures must also pass through the gates of history. They are measured in life and by history, but it is history that ultimately decides.
At the same time we should be aware that in the process of recording true history, there are unofficial histories as well as official histories. When the recording of a truthful official history is obstructed, unofficial folk histories take on the burden of recording the truth. Although emperors of the day can repeatedly threaten and suppress such accounts, they can never cure the problem entirely. ‘If you desire that no-one should know of a thing that you do, then it is best not to do it.’ Rulers cannot hide the bad things they do, no matter how much they wish to hide them; some things cannot be destroyed, no matter how much you might try. ‘Leave a good name behind?’ Or a ‘lingering stench’? History will never let them get away with anything. Even Confucius, who always advocated writing ‘honest accounts’, when he cheated someone and wrote a ‘crooked account’ of his actions, history still left a faithful account of what he did. History is not ruled by feeling, and emotional narration is not true history. History seeks only to tell the facts, to find people’s real characters and ceaselessly seeks the actual truth by any and all means possible. From time immemorial, many bad eggs have wanted to escape history, or to change history, but every single one of them has failed. History is a chatterbox, and bad eggs are afraid of people talking. Even though Sima Qian was a court historian, his ‘Records of the Grand Historian’ did not reflect the wishes of the highest ruler of the time, Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty. Sima Qian wrote honestly, ‘neither praising false beauty nor hiding evil’, and dared to critise aspects of the imperial court which Emperor Wu and the courtiers who fawned on him could not tolerate. Reportedly, after reading the Records of the Grand Historian, Emperor Wu was enraged by several pages and ordered that they be deleted. The imperial household detested the Records, but also took them extremely seriously. They were kept secret, and only a very few people from the highest ranks of the court were permitted to read them, after they had already been revised and edited. Eastern Han scholar Wei Hong in his Ceremonial Offices of the Former Han Dynasty 汉书旧仪注 said: ‘ Sima Qian’s biographical sketch of Emperor Wu spoke of the emperor’s faults. The emperor was furious, and had him castrated. Later, Sima Qian defended Li Ling after he surrendered to the Xiongnu, and was thrown in jail.司马迁作《景帝本纪》，极言其短及武帝过，武帝怒而削去之。后坐举李陵，陵降匈奴，故下蚕室，有怨言，下狱死.
However, Sima Qian’s sorry fate does raise another issue: when the history of the present dynasty and its present political issues are too intimately interconnected, evauluation of the dynasty’s history often will be involved in contemporary politics. If it isn’t handled well, then what should be a simple matter of writing history can be transformed into political conflict. Thus, successive dynasties have all chosen not to write their own history. As a result, we see that starting with Ban Gu’s ‘History of the Former Han Dynasty’, later historians write the history of the previous dynasty – - this is what is known as ‘history at a remove’. The advantage of this approach is that historians can be objective and more equitable in writing the history of earlier dynasties, and are unlikely to hold back or write recklessly for fear of threat to their lives. Of course, lapses still happen: due to the gap, it is hard to avoid overlooking many historical details, and the records of the earlier dynasty must be relied on as sources. However when those records touch on palace conspiracies, due to political danger and the personal gains and losses of court recorders, the records will often merely mention events and conspiracies without elaborating. Later generations can only attempt to use logic to patch the gaps, and ultimately have no way of verifying the truth.
Overall, as Mr Zhang Ming once said, the history of men is ‘rarely truly controlled by power. Even in the times when cultural networks have been most tightly controlled, proof of evil has always been left, and there have always been those who regardless of their own lives have been prompted by their consciences to write history. As the proverb says, evil will have its comeuppances. The longer the wait is, the higher the price will be.’ However, China today still has a few powerful men who do not understand this. Whilst they are still in power, they nevertheless itch to blow their own trumpets, or have their subordinates sing their praises. A few scholars who know their history smile bitterly at this behaviour: when it comes down to it, history is not mere family matter, and historians can’y just tidy it all up neatly! Chinese cultural scholar Qian Mu once said: the citizens of any country, especially a country that claims itself to be intellectually advanced, should know at least the outlines of their own country’s past. From this, they will feel a certain veneration and tenderness for their own history.
来源: 共识网 | 责任编辑：邵梓捷
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