Stories from History: Anecdotes about Sima Guang

Shang Yan

PureInsight | August 6, 2007

[] Si-ma Guang,
also known as Jun Shi, was born in Su Shui Township, Xia County, Shan
Zhou (today Shan Xi). He was also called Mr. Su Shui, after the
township of his birth. Si-ma Guang was quite accomplished. He obtained
a "Jing-Shi" degree in the second year of Bao Yuan and once was the
"Zhuo Pu She" and "Men Xia Si Lang". He was even bestowed with a title
of "Wen Zhen" by the Great Master, Wen Guo Gong.  Si-ma Guang was
also a renowned historian during the North Song dynasty and compiled
the monumental Zi Zhi Tong Jian (Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government), and the Anthology of Sima Wen Zheng.

Not only did Si-ma Guang possess great skills, he also possessed
virtue. One day Si-ma Guang contemplated his life. He realized that he
was no greater than other people and what he had was the virtue of
conscience. The civilians in Shan Zhou and Luo Yan were so moved by his
virtue that they would ask him for moral advice.

When Si-ma Guang was posted in Bing Zhou, the Xi Xia tribe often
attacked the area, which was a severe problem. Si-ma Guang suggested to
his superior, Pang Ji, that two castles be built and soldiers be
recruited to defend the area. Pang Ji took the suggestion and ordered
Guo En to execute the order. But the plan did not work because Guo En
did not follow the orders exactly. Hence, Pang Ji was stripped of his
title. Si-ma Guang took the blame and submitted his resignation to the
emperor on three occasions, but the requests were not granted. When
Pang Ji died, Si-ma Guang cared for his family. Si-ma Guang treated
Pang Ji's wife as if she was his own mother and the sons as if they
were his own brothers. The people admired Si-ma Guang for looking after
Pang Ji's family.

When Si-ma Guang was in Luo Yang, he got together with a friend, Wen
Yan Bo, who brought along geisha girls. They went to the Single
Happiness Garden. When the grounds-keeper saw Si-ma Guang, he sighed
heavily. Si-ma Guang asked the grounds-keeper what was wrong. He
replied, "The plants and flowers are growing while you spend most of
your days having fun. Not only do you waste your time, but you no
longer read a single book that would help you grow. It is such a pity
that you would let your youth slip by in an instant." Si-ma Guang felt
so ashamed that he swore not to waste his time on leisure activities.
Afterwards, he became mindful of the grounds- keeper's words and
whenever anyone asked him to go out, he always declined the offer.

Si-ma Guang also lived an honest, upright and simple life. He did not
have many material possessions and did not care much for wealth. It was
said that when Si-ma Guang's wife died, he did not have any money for
the funeral.  His son Si-ma Kang thought that the funeral should
have been a grand occasion, but Si-ma Guang disagreed. He taught his
son that a person should value a simple and non-materialistic life
without getting into debt. So Si-ma Guang had one of his properties
pawned and used that money for a simple funeral. That is where the
story "Si-ma Guang pawned his property for his wife's funeral" came

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