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Justice in “Letter to Ren An” by Sima Qian Essay


Introduction

The “Letter to Ren An” is a masterpiece detailing the issues that defined China in the early 90s BC. According to the letter, Si-ma Qian endured humiliation so that he can get the opportunity to finish his historical work. The author shared similar opinions with Ren An. The author also indicates that Ren An had faced comparable humiliations before1. The author also received a letter from Ren An explaining why great men should always be cautious whenever dealing with other people. Great men should also embrace their skills and work hard in an attempt to support the advancement of other men in the world. This essay therefore uses the Biography of Li Ling and Weng Tian to explain why a person should be judged by the purity of his or her intentions.

People Should Be Judged by the Purity of Their Intentions

In his letter, Si-ma Qian argues that people should always devote themselves to moral actions and trainings. Such people should also engage in pure actions and focus on the best aspects of humanity. People should also be ready to help and have a sense of duty2. As well, every action undertaken by man should be aimed at promoting the best name. During times of shame, people should be courageous and focus on their goals. These issues and principles therefore support the argument that one should be judged by the purity of his or her intentions. Such intentions should be honorable and inspirational.

Throughout the letter, the author expresses how people should focus on the best deeds in order to have better lives. People should have the best intentions and embrace the righteous. This practice will bring hope, empower societies, and make it easier for people to achieve their goals. The purity of one’s intentions is something critical whenever undertaking a specific role. This is a higher principle that defines the lives of great men. A positive intention will deliver the greatest happiness to more people3. Human beings who might not succeed while promoting the best intentions will definitely become heroes.

In this letter, Si-ma Qian gives a brief account of Li Ling’s intentions and accounts. The short biography of Li Ling shows significantly why a person should be judged by the purity of his intentions, and not whether he has succeeded. The letter explains how Li Ling’s infantry fought tirelessly in an attempt to achieve its intentions. The solders managed to fight with empty bows in order to achieve their goals. The ministers of Han were pleased by Li Ling’s ambitions and efforts4. They even raised their cups and honored the emperor for his achievements. However, the issue of defeat redefined his life.

The author was forced to explain to the court how Li Ling was a great man. The writer was ready to forget his lowly position in the society and narrate to the court how the emperor had pure intentions. According to Si-ma Qian, Li Ling was a great man who shared his ideas with every officer. The leader was also ready to empower his troops. His troops remained loyal even in the face of predictable death. These actions and intentions had never been surpassed by the other generals. The author also describes with grief how Li Ling eventually fell into captivity5. The emperor’s intention was to seek the best opportunity and be able to repay a debt to the Han6.

The life of Ling shows how he eventually found himself in a hard position. The most outstanding thing from the letter is how the author honors this emperor. He believes strongly that Ling was always guided by the best intentions and wanted to achieve his ultimate goals. By so doing, Li Ling was able to achieve the intended goal. His intention was to destroy very many enemies. His attempts and achievements are still proclaimed in every corner of the globe.

It is also notable in the letter that Si-ma Qian wanted to proclaim these intentions to the court. Unfortunately, the author was unable to express his opinion. He was eager to speak of Ling’s achievements, positive intentions, and merits. The ultimate goal was to put an end to the unrealistic and unforgiving words presented by different court officials7.

That being the case, Ling’s actions were guided by pure intentions. His ultimate goal was to destroy many enemies and repay every debt. The author found it impossible to support Ling’s intentions. Consequently, Si-ma was put into prison thus being unable to portray his loyalty. Some individuals and officials in the court even believed strongly that the author’s intention was to deceive the ruler. These events forced Qian to submit to the officials. The letter shows clearly that the author eventually faced judgment. The story also explains clearly why individuals should always focus on the best actions and intentions8. It does not matter if they emerge successful or not.

This argument can also be supported by the Biography of Meng Tian. According to Si-ma Qian, Meng Tian was a famous ruler for the Han Dynasty. As an emperor, Meng Tian is the one who pioneered the construction of the Great Wall of China. On one side, the emperor managed to open up direct roads and even hallowed out different mountains. Such actions were critical towards the success of the dynasty. However, the biographer strongly believes that the actions of Meng Tian are not justifiable. This happens to be the case because the ruler’s intentions were not pure or appropriate for the dynasty9.

Meng Tian destroyed the major feudal states of China. As well, the ruler failed to restore the hearts of the people to order10. The leadership of the emperor wounded many people in the dynasty without any form of healing. Although some historians might argue that Tian was a successful ruler, Si-ma Qian believes that he was not great at all. For instance, the famous general failed to use the opportune moment to address most of the pains affecting the people. The emperor was unable to support the needs of the old people in the society. He made it impossible for many Chinese orphans to survive.

Many people were unable to live in harmony thus affecting the greatness of his reign. Unfortunately, Weng Tian promoted unrealistic enterprises with the aim of widening his imperial ambitions. As well, the biographer indicates clearly that the ruler and his brother eventually faced the death penalty11. This portrayal shows clearly that the success of a person should not be used to determine the purity of his actions or intentions.

Weng Tian might have been a great leader who constructed the marvelous wall of China. He also managed to conquer several states and widened his territorial ambitions. Although such ambitions are valid, the agreeable fact is that the leader was not a man of honor. The biographer shows that he had negative intentions thus making it impossible for him to safeguard the needs of his people. He failed to address the needs of orphans and widows12. Many people languished in poverty during his reign. His impure intentions failed to support the welfare of the people.

Leaders can learn a lot from the story of Weng Tian. The emperor faced death because of his actions. He failed to promote the rights of the people. Instead, he focused on selfish goals thus threatening the welfare of the dynasty. Some historians have therefore argued that Tian’s intentions were not pure13. He was not ready to empower his people and instead focused on unrealistic ambitions.

Conclusion

In his work “Letter to Ren An”, Si-ma Qian shows conclusively that human beings should be judged by the purity of their intentions and not whether they become successful. This argument explains why Si-ma Qian’s work has been read widely in many societies across the globe. This masterpiece shows how real emperors promote the welfare of the greatest majority. Such leaders use sincere and pure intentions whenever executing their missions.

They consider the welfare of the people and support the needs of the poor. Such intentions should therefore be used to make the most appropriate judgments without considering whether the individuals have been successful or not. People should therefore embrace these rules in order to focus on the most appropriate actions. The ultimate goal is to empower more people and promote justice.

Bibliography

Knechtges, David. “Key Words: Authorial Intent, and Interpretation: Sima Qian’s Letter to Ren An.” CLEAR 30.1 (2008): 75-84.

Owen, Stephen. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Tschang, Yinpo. “Chaos in Heaven: On the Calendars of Pre-classical China.” Sino-platonic Papers 141 (2004): 1-30.

Footnotes

  1. Stephen Owen, An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 135.
  2. Owen, Chinese Literature, 138.
  3. Yinpo Tschang, “Chaos in Heaven: On the Calendars of Pre-classical China.” Sino-platonic Papers 141 (2004): 6.
  4. Stephen Owen, An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 142.
  5. David Knechtges, “Key Words: Authorial Intent, and Interpretation: Sima Qian’s Letter to Ren An.” CLEAR 30.1 (2008): 79.
  6. Stephen Owen, An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 144.
  7. Owen, Chinese Literature, 139.
  8. David Knechtges, “Key Words: Authorial Intent, and Interpretation: Sima Qian’s Letter to Ren An.” CLEAR 30.1 (2008): 78.
  9. Yinpo Tschang, “Chaos in Heaven: On the Calendars of Pre-classical China.” Sino-platonic Papers 141 (2004): 19.
  10. Stephen Owen, An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 147.
  11. David Knechtges, “Key Words: Authorial Intent, and Interpretation: Sima Qian’s Letter to Ren An.” CLEAR 30.1 (2008): 81.
  12. Yinpo Tschang, “Chaos in Heaven: On the Calendars of Pre-classical China.” Sino-platonic Papers 141 (2004): 13.
  13. Stephen Owen, An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 143.
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IvyPanda. "Justice in “Letter to Ren An” by Sima Qian." September 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/justice-in-letter-to-ren-an-by-sima-qian/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Justice in “Letter to Ren An” by Sima Qian." September 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/justice-in-letter-to-ren-an-by-sima-qian/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Justice in “Letter to Ren An” by Sima Qian'. 11 September.

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