Wang Anshi: Reply to a Letter from Counsellor Sima Guang ~ 王安石 《答司马谏议书》 with English Translations



王安石 《答司马谏议书》




Reply to a Letter from Counsellor Sima Guang

Wang Anshi

Greetings from Wang Anshi:

Yesterday I had the honour to receive your instructions. We have long been acquainted and on a friendly footing, yet it seems to me that we usually disagree in our deliberations because the lines we take are fundamentally different. Much as I would have liked to argue my case at length, I knew you would never accept it; that is why I simply acknowledged your letter briefly instead of justifying myself point by point. In view, however, of the high regard you have shown me, I have since reflected that such a cursory reply was inappropriate. So I crave your indulgence now, sir, for explaining my views in more detail.

What scholars dispute most hotly is whether or not names accord with reality. Once the relationship between these is clear, we can grasp the principles governing all things in the universe.

However, sir, you now reproach me for causing a great uproar throughout the country by infringing on the prerogatives of officials, fomenting trouble, practicing extortion, and rejecting advice.

But I consider that when I receive orders from the Emperor to discuss certain laws and measures and have them amended at court, then passed on to the offices concerned, this cannot be called infringing on the prerogatives of officials. When I revive the policies of kings of old to benefit the country and do away with abuses, this cannot be called fomenting trouble. When I regulate the empire’s finances, this cannot be called extortion. When I refuse vicious talk and rebut sophists, this cannot be called rejecting advice.

As for the widespread uproar, this is something which I had foreseen in advance. People have been used to blundering on for some time and most of the gentry think it best to ignore affairs of state, swim with the tide and curry favour with the multitude. Now the Emperor wishes to change this and, not caring how many my opponents are, I am eager to do my utmost to help him stem the tide; so naturally this has raised a storm of protests. When Pan Geng (1) moved his capital it caused a great clamour among the whole populace, not merely among court officials. But he did not because of this outcry change his plan, for he considered it correct and, having carried it out, saw no reason to regret it.

If you censure me because in my long term of office I have failed to do much to help the Emperor benefit the people, then I must plead guilty, sir. If you urge me to do nothing now but simply abide by the old ways, this is something I cannot venture to accept.

Having no chance to meet you, I can only send you my most respectful regards.

(1)A king of the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1066 BC) who moved his capital from present-day Qufu, where it was often flooded, to Anyang further south from the Yellow River

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