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In Chinese History, losers are more venerated than those who made it. Let’s count them according to the chronological order:

(1) Confucius – Typical loser. His convoy made extensive journey in so many countries for so many years but ended up no rulers listened to his tone. Only until about 300 years later that Han Dynasty start to adopt his idea.

(2) Qu Yuan – He implied himself as a deserted wife in the court in his poem. He could do nothing when his country was invaded. Qu adopted the most passive way to protest by drowning himself. Judged by any modern day standard Qu was a typical loser. But now we honor him in the Dragon Boat Festival every year.

(3) Xiang Yu – the most romantic hero in Chinese history. Xiang was brilliantly courageous but also very passionately devoted to his lover. In his last act, Xiang offered his head to someone in the enemy he knew for reward. Very overwhelming.

(4) Su Wu – He herded sheep under the extreme coldness at Baikal Sea for 19 years. We admired him for not losing the “dignity” of Han Dynasty.

(5) Zhuge Liang – He most likely should have an IQ score of close to 200. Also by modern standard, he was super-dumb in doing a mission impossible. If he were not that dumb, he should work for Wei Kingdom and mimicked his archrival Sima Yi in establishing his own dynasty. But nowadays everybody remembers Zhuge but not Sima.

(6) Yue Fei – General Yue took his job too seriously. If he really kicked out the Jurchen (looked most likely judged by the success of his last military campaigns) and escorted back the two Song Emperors, where would his boss go? No wonder he met death as his fate.

(7) Wen Tianxiang – Rejected ultra-good offer from Kublai Khan and steadfastly held on to principle till execution as he wished. By modern standard Wen was a complete idiot.

(8 ) Koxinga – another loser. See my other posts.

(9) Sun Yat Sen – another loser too. See my other posts.

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hmm, interesting and true...

The one who still puzzles me the most is Confucius. If he indeed was such a loser, why did he become a venerated figure after his death?

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They failed because usually they did what was not possible, inappropriate or unimaginable at their times (不合時宜、不識時務). But they did not waver. And they are remembered usually because of this.

Personally I don't appreciate 屈原 (nor anyone who committed suicide generally). Those who failed but did not give up were still fighters and could be considered heros. Those who gave up were not.

Losers are sometimes charming people.

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Some figures might be losers in their lifetime but big winners in the future generations.

Confucius and even Jesus Christ belonged to this category.

From a historical perspective, the question of "who are real winners and who are real losers" cannot be judged by their contemporaries.

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I suppose failures have an advantage over winners - they do not have the chance to put their ideas into practice and make a mess of things.

Once the idealist deals with the realities of power, sometimes they have to compromise their ideals.

Perhaps if Confucius had been given a senior role in some government he would have found it difficult to rule by virtuous example all the time. In the same way young Mao would be an attractive romantic failure, but his success makes it harder to romanticise him today - we have to deal with the less attractive elements of a 27 year rule, and its consequences.

I guess this is one reason why you see more posters of Che Guevara than Castro.

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I guess why most people are more impressed by these losers instead of winners is because these losers have certain kind of quality that most people don't have.

Frankly, most people are either docile or opportunistic when they face enormous external pressure. But these losers could risk either their reputation or even their life to hold heretic thought or defiant action persistently till the end.

That is why they were admired.

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  • 6 months later...

Here are other distinguished individuals in Chinese history who would be qualified as losers:

1) Han Fei - Although he was a 法家, he was not as extreme as other 法家 like Shang Yang or Li Si. Qin's Legalism bore heavy influence from those two, while the Han was an integration of Confucianism and Han Fei-style Legalism. If you look at the esteemed, classical philosophical works, people remember the 春秋, 論語, 孟子, 道德經, 莊子, 墨子, and 韓非子.

He died when he was only 32, apparently poisoned in jail by his former classmate Li Si. Qin Shi Huang regretted throwing him in jail, and hurried back to court to release him, but it was too late. History has vindicated Han Fei and people today think much more highly of him than other 法家.

2) Lin Zexu - When he died in 1850, many Chinese probably didn't think too highly of him. Today he is a martyr with an entire museum in Macau dedicated to him. A man of principle, he had the courage to dump some 20,000 chests of opium into the harbor at Guangzhou. He paid for his action and later demoted before passing from the scene. But he is seen as a hero today by most Chinese.

3) Song Jiaoren - Who knows what might have happened to the direction of the KMT had Yuan Shikai not ordered his assassination. Too bad he died at such a young age.

I was discussing Chinese history with an owner of a dumplings restaurant in LA, and we were talking about the Young Marshal. I asked her "How come Chiang didn't kill him upon arrival in Nanjing?" She said a dead hero at the height of his popularity is more dangerous than a live person. "You can eliminate him, but people will always remember him forever."

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