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Xiang-ru Si-ma Warned Emperor Wu-di about the Danger of Hunting

Si-ma, Xiang-ru (ca. 179-127 BCE)

   Xiang-ru Si-ma followed Emperor Wu-di to Chang-yang Palace to hunt. While hunting, the emperor loved to throw a javelin at bears and boar, and chase animals himself. Just when he was about to throw a javelin, Si-ma stopped the emperor and warned him about the dangers of hunting. "I have heard, 'Living beings of the same species may have quite different abilities.' For wrestling, Wu-huo is best. For racing, Qing-ji is best. For an extremely difficult task, we can expect no one else but brave Ben-yu to accomplish it. In my opinion, although the above examples are limited to humans, these amazing abilities can be applied to animals as well. Now Your Majesty loves to climb dangerous cliffs and shoot ferocious beasts alone. It is quite possible that you will suddenly meet a beast with tremendous strength. Then you will get shocked without warning, and the horses of your carriage will run wild. At that moment, your carriage may not have time to turn its wheels. Your entourage may not have time to offer you needed assistance. Thus even your best archer will not be able to defend you. In such chaos, even fallen trees and withered branches strewn along the hunting path may all become troublesome obstacles. Thus, such a situation would be like an enemy suddenly appearing behind your back or your carriage suddenly suffering an ambush. Is this not dangerous? Even if we take all possible preventive measures to make a hunting trip safe, risking such dangers is not something that an emperor is supposed to do.

   "Even if your carriage has guards in front to clear the path and cavalry to protect you along the sides, an accident can still occur. The reins of the horses may break, or the axle may separate from the wheels. Not to mention what might happen when wading through deep weeds or galloping on a big mountain. There are great games in front of your carriage to entice you, but you have not contemplated even the slightest preparation for an accident. Under such conditions, anyone can imagine your vulnerability.

   "If you fail to recognize your importance, fail to consider safety as happiness, and instead, are greatly amused by risking the dangers of hunting, then, in my opinion, this amusement is not a worthwhile pursuit. A careful person can detect a hidden danger before it actually happens. A wise man can avoid an accident before it actually develops. Of course, an accident often hides in a place that may not arouse your suspicion, and frequently occurs right at the moment when you are vulnerable. Therefore, there is a saying, 'Even if there is a large sum of money in your house, don't sit in the doorway because a ceramic shingle may fall and cause an accident.' Although this saying refers to small things, it means a great deal. I hope you will now understand the importance of preventing accidents and be careful."