As Mount Tai - Sima Qian

Jen Finelli

Joined August 2014

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Artist's Description

My favorite Chinese historian was a man named Sima Qian. One day, he angered the emperor, and so he was sentenced to be castrated. According to Chinese belief at that time, the most awful thing that you could do was dishonor your parents by not having children, so a sentence to be castrated was a death sentence: everyone would automatically protect their honor by committing suicide.

So it was expected that Sima Qian would commit suicide rather than undergo the shame, dishonor, and pain of castration.

However, Sima Qian was working on his major historical account of all of China, and he was not finished.

So he made perhaps the most difficult decision a man can be faced with, and he decided to live.

“A man’s death can be as heavy as Mount Tai or as light as a feather,” he said, and he chose not to have a light death. He did not want to waste his death on something, to him, as silly as falling out of favor with an emperor. He wanted to use his life and his death to the utmost.

So he accepted castration rather than suicide, and now the major history that he wrote of ancient China has been used by modern historians for centuries. It is a huge help to our historical understanding of China, and lives on as a valuable record for all peoples everywhere.

Sima Qian inspires me not to commit suicide, because there is still much work to be done, and because I want a heavy death—not a meaningless death. I want to die for a cause, with purpose. This would be a great shirt for suicide awareness week.

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