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A Statement of Plaint Submitted to the Emperor

Li, Mi 1 (Li was appointed by the emperor to be a guard to the prince in 267 CE)

    Let me speak: I suffered misfortune and hardship, almost dying at an early age. When I was six months old, my father passed away. When I was four years old, my mother's brother arranged her remarriage against her will. My grandmother Liu pitied me because I was weak and helpless. She raised me by herself. During my childhood, I was frequently ill. When I was nine, I could not yet walk. I grew up friendless and wretched. My father did not have brothers; neither did I. My family was in decline and impoverished. My father had no son until he became quite old. Outside our home, we had no relatives who wore Ji or Gong mourning apparel 2 for my late father. Inside our home, there was no servant to answer the door. I was left desolate and alone. Only my shadow remained to console my body. Now my grandmother is hampered and bedridden by constant illness. I administer her medication. I have never shirked my duty or left her.

    Since Your Majesty ruled China, I have been bathed in your great teaching. At first Mayor Kui offered me a "Xiao-lian" 3 in recognition of my filial obedience. Later, Mayor Rong offered me a "Xiu-chai" 4 in recognition of my talent. I did not accept their offers, for if I had, my grandmother would have had no one to take care of her. Then Your Majesty issued a mandate to appoint me to be a court official. Before long I was reappointed to be a guard to the prince due to your favor. Low and foolish as I am, I should have been grateful to serve the prince. Even if I were to sacrifice my life for you, I could not return your favor. I declined both offers and submitted statements to explain my difficult situation. However, the edict was strict and harsh. Your messenger accused me of having disloyal intentions. The mayor urged me to assume my office. The state officials came to my house and looked most anxious. I wish I could obey your order and fulfill my duty immediately, but my grandmother's illness is becoming more critical day by day. If I desire to follow my own feelings, my request will not be allowed. I face a great dilemma in choosing whether to assume the office or to take care of my grandmother.

    I lowered my head and thought that your government was characterized by teaching people to fulfill their filial duty. You care for seniors by encouraging their children to attend to them. The hardship that my grandmother and I suffered was much worse than that suffered by other older people. Furthermore, I worked as the Secretary of State for the Kingdom of Shu-han. I aimed for wealth and power and did not care about my loyalty to Shu-han. Thus, I am your low and ignoble captive with no country to return to 5. However, I am much indebted to the promotion you gave me, and the gracious favor of your command. How could I dare to hesitate and wish for more?

    However, my grandmother is approaching her last days. Her breathing and pulse are weak. She is on the brink of death. If my grandmother had not raised me, I would not exist today. If I did not live with my grandmother, she would have no one to take care of her in her remaining years. Thus, we have relied on each other for survival. This is the reason why I cannot move far away and deprive her of my care. I am forty-four, and my grandmother is ninety-six. I will have ample time to serve Your Majesty, but have not much time left to repay her for raising me. Even a crow can show its love by feeding its aged parents. Please let me attend my grandmother in her remaining years.

    The hardships that I have endured are not only well-known by the people in Shu 6 and the two mayors 7, but also have been witnessed by Heaven and Earth. I hope that Your Majesty will be sympathetic with my foolish honesty and fulfill my small request: Let my grandmother have the fortune to live peacefully during her last days. After she passes away, I will devote my life to serve Your Majesty. Even if I die, I will tie grass 8 for you. I am fearful that my refusal of your job offer may give you the wrong impression that I am still loyal to Shu-han. Therefore, I am sending this letter to you to explain my difficult situation.


1 Ling-bo was Mi Li's alternate first name. He was a native of Wu-yang-xian City (present day Peng-shan-xian City of Sichuan Province) in Jian-wei-jun County in the Kingdom of Shu-han during the Three Kingdoms Period. His father died when he was a child. His mother, He, remarried. He was raised by his grandmother, Liu. When he grew up, he gained a good reputation for taking care of his grandmother. During the reign of the last King of Shu-han, he was once the Secretary of State. Later, he was sent on missions to the Kingdom of Eastern Wu several times. In 263, the Kingdom of Wei destroyed the Kingdom of Shu-han. In 267, Emperor Wu-di of the Jin dynasty summoned Li to be a guard of the prince. Due to his grandmother's old age and illness, Li politely declined the offer by writing this letter to the emperor. After Emperor Wu-di read this letter, he was deeply moved. He gave Li two servants and ordered the local government to provide necessities to support Li in his efforts to take care of Liu in her remaining years.

2 In ancient China, Ji mourning apparel was worn for one year. Parents, uncles and brothers of the deceased all wore Ji mourning apparel. Cousins wore Da(large)-gong mourning apparel. The descendents of cousins wore Xiao(small)-gong mourning apparel. Here the sentence in Mi Li's essay means "Outside our home, we had no close relatives to help us."

3 "Xiao" means "obedient to one's parents"; "lian" means "a clean-handed or honest gentleman". "Xiao-lian" was a position appointed by a mayor based on one's records of being honest and obedient to one's parents.

4 "Xiu-chai" means "accomplished scholar". Here "Xiu-chai" was a position appointed by a mayor based on one's academic achievements.

5 Li's father country, the Kingdom of Shu-han, was destroyed by the Kingdom of Wei in 263.

6 "Shu" was the old name and is the short name of "Sichuan Province".

7 "The two mayors" refers to Mayor Rong of Yi-zhou City and Mayor Kui of Liang-zhou City.

8 Wu-zi Wei of the State of Jin during the Spring and Autumn Period had a favorite concubine. She had no son. When Wu-zi Wei was ill, he requested his son, Ke, to find her a new husband. When Wu-zi was dying, he ordered Ke, "You must bury the concubine alive with me." Ke did not follow his father's final order because his father had given it in a state of confusion. Ke found his father's concubine a new husband. Later, Ke battled with the troops of the State of Qin at City of the Fu Clan. He saw an old man tie grass into a rope to trip Qin's Commander, Hui Du. Du fell. Thereby, Ke captured Du and won the battle. That night Ke dreamed that the old man said he was the concubine's father. See the chapter titled "The fifteenth year of King Xuan-gong's Reign" in Zuo's Extended Version of the Spring and Autumn Annals. Later generations called the act of returning a favor after death "tying grass".