Gems of Chinese Literature/Prince of Chung-shan-Music

For works with similar titles, see Music.

THE PRINCE OF CHUNG-SHAN.

About 110 b.c.

[An Emperor of the Han dynasty was feasting several of his vassal princes who had come to pay their respects at Court, when it was observed that one of them shed tears at the sound of the music.[1] His Majesty enquired the cause of his distress, and the following was the prince’s reply. He had been a terrified witness of the unexpected fall of a number of his colleagues, apparently without other reason than the caprice of their Imperial master excited by the voice of secret slander, and was evidently afraid that his own turn might be at hand.]

MAY it please your Majesty!

There are moments when those who sorrow must weep, when those who are pensive cannot restrain their sighs. And so, when Kao Chien-li struck his lute, Ching K‘o bowed his head and forgot to eat; when Yung Mên-tzŭ vented his sorrow in song, Mêng Ch'ang-chün uttered a responsive cry. Now, mine has been a grief pent up for many a day; and whenever music's plaintive strains reach my ear, I know not how it is, my tears begin to flow.

Enough spittle will float a mountain; enough mosquitoes will cause a roar like thunder; a band of confederates will catch a tiger; ten men will break an iron bar. Combination has ever prevailed even against the greatest of the great.

And I,―I live afar off. I have but few friends, and none to intercede on my behalf. Against enough calumny, the purest purity and the ties of kindred cannot prevail. Light things may be piled on a cart until the axle snaps: it is by abundance of feathers that birds can raise their bodies in the air. And when I see so many of my colleagues tangled in the meshes of treason, my tears are beyond control.

When the sun is glowing brightly in the sky, the darkest corners are illumined by its light. Beneath the beams of the clear moon, the eye discerns the insect on the wing. But when dark clouds hide the sky behind their murky veil; when storms of dust thicken the surrounding air;―then even mighty mountains are lost to sight behind the screen of intervening things.

Thus I am beyond the pale, while the lying tongues of courtiers chatter behind my back. The way is long, and none will speak on my behalf. Therefore I weep.

Rats are not flooded out of shrines: mice are not smoked out of a house, lest the buildings suffer withal. Now, I am but distantly related to your Majesty: still we are as the calyx and the fruit of the persimmon. My rank may be low: still I address your Majesty as my elder brother. But the courtiers round the Throne: their claims to relationship are thin as the pellicle of the rush, light as the down of the wild goose. Yet they combine, and each supports the other. They bring about separations in the Imperial family, until the ties of blood vanish like melting ice. It was this that drove Poh Ch'i into exile: it was this that hurried Pi Kan to his grave.

It is said in the Odes, “Sorrow stabs my heart, and I am overwhelmed with sad thoughts. Vainly trying to sleep, I do naught but sigh. My grief is aging me. My heart throbs with it, like a throbbing head.” And such, may it please your Majesty, is my case now.

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