Gems of Chinese Literature/Ma Yüan-Ambition

Gems of Chinese Literature  (1922)  translated by Herbert Allen Giles
Ambition by Ma Yüan


Died a.d. 49.

[Popularly known as the “Wave-quelling General.” A famous commander, who crushed a dangerous rebellion in Tonquin, organised by a native Joan of Arc with a view to shake off the suzerainty of China. Was also successfully employed against the Huns and other border tribes.]

MY younger brother used often to find fault with my indomitable ambition. He would say, “The man of letters requires food and clothing only. A modest carriage and a humble hack; some small official post in a quiet place, where he may win golden opinions from the surrounding villagers―that should suffice. Why toil and strive for more?”

Later on, when away in the far barbarian south, before the rebellion was stamped out―a bog beneath my feet, a fog above my head, so that I have even seen kites drop dead in the water, killed by the poisonous vapours of the place―then I used to lie and muse upon the other view of life which my brother had set before my eyes.

And now that, thanks to you my brave comrades, my efforts have been crowned with success, and I have preceded you on the path to glory and honour―I have cause both for joy and for shame.[1]

  1. Implying that his success had been due to good luck.