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Knights-errant Honor the Code of Chivalry

Chinese History by Qian Si-ma (ca. 145-86 BCE)

   Fei Han said, "Scholars may twist the truth with skillful writing. Knights may fight for a cause with force forbidden by law." Both groups can cause legal problems. Of the two, scholars are more admired by their contemporaries. As for scholars who used strategies to gain positions as high officials and helped the king to govern the country, their contributions are already recorded in history books. It is not necessary to repeat them here. Hermits Ji-ci and Yuan-xian were scholars who had very high moral standards. They could not fit into society, and their contemporaries ridiculed their impracticality. Therefore, Ji-ci and Yuan-xian lived in poverty all their lives. They lived in grass huts, wore rough clothes and often did not have enough food to eat. Four hundred years after their deaths, their disciples still admire them. Now we will discuss knights. Although their deeds do not quite agree with the principle of righteousness, they are brave, keep their promises, and never go back on their word. They will help others at their own risk. They push the society onto the right track and rescue people in danger. However, they never boast about their deeds and are reluctant to brag about their contributions. They possess qualities that we should praise.

   One confronts emergencies and difficulties frequently. Here are some examples: In the past, when Emperor Shun of the Yu dynasty dug a well, someone tried to bury him. Prime Minister Yi used to be a cook. Prime Minister Yue Fu used to be a manual laborer. Prime Minister Shang Lü used to peddle goods in a market. Yi-wu Guan had been a POW before he became the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Xi Bai-li used to feed and tend cattle. When Confucius passed by Kuang District, he was mistaken for a criminal and was almost killed. Later Confucius was appointed by the King of the State of Chu. The high officials of the States of Chen and Cai feared that Chu would be a threat to Chen and Cai if Confucius made Chu strong. Therefore, they forbade people from providing food to Confucius during his stay in Chen and Cai. These people were virtuous scholars. They still had to confront misfortunes, not to mention the difficulties common people had to face during wartime. Their sufferings would be beyond my description. There is a saying in the countryside, "We do not know virtue. Whoever provides us food and clothes is virtuous." Consequently, when King Wu-wang defeated the Tyrant, Emperor Zhou of the Shang dynasty, people welcomed him to be the new emperor. This fact would not be affected by some hermits like Bo-yi who questioned King Wu-wang's loyalty. Zhi Zhan and Jiao Zhuang, the leader of robber bands, were praised by their followers all the time. Thus Zhou Zhuang said, "A burglar may be sentenced to death, but one who steals a country becomes king. Virtue only exists with power." These are not empty words. In my opinion, a stubborn pedant is worse than the uneducated who follow the crowd to pursue fame, because the former isolates himself from reality. In contrast, knights-errant establish a reputation of being trustworthy. When they say something, they are sincere. When they make a promise, they never go back on their words. They are glad to help others despite the danger involved. Their noble deeds, praised by people everywhere, require a great deal of courage. When a person encounters difficulty, he can rely on their assistance. Who can say that knights-errant are not our heroes? If we compare them with hermits, their contribution to society is more real and practical. To meet social needs and keep promises, the noble deeds of knights-errant are indispensable.

   We seldom hear the stories of ancient knights. Modern social elites, like Sirs Yan-ling, Meng-chang, Chun Shen, Ping-yuan and Xin-ling, either had vast amounts of land or assumed powerful positions. They recruited many talented people to work for them, and thus made great contributions to society. Their wealth and power helped them succeed and heightened their reputations. As for knights in the countryside, they are always moral and just. It is their great accomplishment that people everywhere praise their chivalric deeds. However, historians all refused to record their stories. Thus, before the Qin dynasty the knights with low social rankings were completely ignored by historians. I hated this very much. As far as I know, since the beginning of the Han dynasty, there have been knights such as Jia Zhu, Zhong Tian, Meng Wang, Meng Ju and Xie Guo. Although they occasionally violated the law, their high moral standards and chivalric deeds were praised. Their reputation was based on their great deeds. People praised them for good reason. Knights are quite different from gangsters. The latter only use their money to enslave the poor, bully the misfortune, and indulge themselves in pursuing pleasure, which knights are ashamed to do. Unfortunately, past historians failed to tell the difference, carelessly classified knights with gangsters, and ridiculed them. I greatly lament the mistakes of these historians.