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I have been reading much about Chinese history and philosophy recently and seem to be discovering all those nasty bits of ancient events that seems to lurk in all ancient history. At present, I am curious about the personal aspect of the death of 方孝孺 Fang Xiaoru and how this was viewed by his subsequent admirers.

In some descriptions of his unfortunate death, he is described as refusing to submit to the wishes of a usurper and thereby tolerating the death of almost 900 of his family, friends, and students. In the following link, the deaths seem attibutable to the pure vindictiveness of the emperor. Does history or folk culture have any consensus as to what happened?


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well, only to this event, I think most people havesympathy for Fang

Xiaoru, and condemn Zhu Di. Zhu Di shouldn't be so brutal to one

who were loyal to the former emperor. Ironically, when Ming Dynasty

were overthrown by rebellion peasants in 1644, no one showed loyalty

to the last emperor except one little eunuch. While not long after Fang's

death, there were some voice about "Is it worthy of Fang to die this

way? Just as Zhu Di said, it's matter of the royal's family, not as

Mongolian conquered china. Fang wanted to fulfil the Confucian idealism,

when Zhu di threatened to kill all his family members, friends, neighbours, even students, he shouldn't put them into danger." Although

it's a good subterfuge for those hypocritical confucians, their mouth

always were full of loyalty, but you couldn't find them when facing

danger, are there better choices or methods to avoid such big cost?

If Fang was wrong, then how about those soldiers protecting Nanjing in

1937? If they surrendered, the Japs army wouldn't be so angry, so Nanjing massarcre would be avoided. :shock: If he was right, the road

for chasing righteousness were saturated with blood.

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If Fang was wrong, then how about those soldiers protecting Nanjing in

1937? If they surrendered, the Japs army wouldn't be so angry, so Nanjing massarcre would be avoided. If he was right, the road

for chasing righteousness were saturated with blood.

Wow, this is an interesting viewpoint. I, myself, would not have faulted the Chinese defenders of Nanjing for three reasons:

1. Defeat was not certain.

2. Humane treatment was not guaranteed by surrender.

3. Inhumane treatment was not inevitable.

I am not sure that I find it my heart to blame Fang for his decision, but I cannot praise him either. In fact, I find all aspects of this case shocking and horrific.

I have a similar reaction to the story of Job in the Bible. Satan persuades God to test Job's faith/loyalty. One of the means he uses is to kill Job's children. The idea is to see whether Job will curse God or whether he will continue to submit to God's authority even in adversity. I not only have difficulty relating to the morality of this test, but I find it even harder to relate to the fact that ancient authorities did not see the slightest problem with portraying God in this fashion.

I have a similar reaction to the story about Fang. The fate of his 800-900 relatives, friends, and students seems to be only a footnote to the question of Fang's individual moral purity.

Perhaps, I am too involved with modern individualism, but I find the slaughter of the uninvolved innocents to be more important an issue than the moral choices of the main protagonists.

Does this seem unreasonable?

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Interesting topic...

I don't really criticise history... because there is no use.

History is just there... some recorded, some not... that's it. Learning from it, analysing from it, criticising from it, it's all done from a modern perspective.

Our modern worldview, perspective, and morals of right and wrong are all temporary. A few hundred years from now, morals would have changed, and maybe what is thought of as right would be wrong in the future... Moral changes with time, like Cicero said, and how events in history are viewed would change with time.

Zhu Di is the evil emperor in this event, the "antagonist" is it?

He had power (to order and kill), and he abused his power. I think most people would agree on this, in whatever age it is. Therefore, facing this abuse of power(threat to kill him and his relatives), he stood up to it, he challenged it (he challenged the abuse-of-power, the wrongs of a powerful figure). From this fundamental view, crossing whatever morals, whatever ages, he did the right thing, and he did it with courage.

Fang is the victiim here, to blame him for taking it(loyalty) too far as to bring about the death of hundreds of innocent relatives, is blaming the victim. Just as today we have victims walking out alone at night into a violent district of the town and getting shot at or raped.. we cannot blame the victim, sure, the victim is responsible, but the main reason is in the doer.

Fang stood up to an ideal, maintained his loyalty, and I think when he made this decision, he knew that it was not going to end happy, and he would probably wanted this to be recorded into history, and teach future generations that he stood courageously up to an ideal. This is what will transcend time. Even now few know grasp/agree with the Confucian system, the Confucian ideas. In a few hundred years probably none would even know about it.

As for how God is portrayed in Christianity, Japanese attack in Nanking... those are too sensitive for me to comment about, in a "time-transcending moral-crossingly" way...

-Shibo 8)

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  • 1 year later...

I recently read about Fang Xiaoru in "Imperial China 900-1800" by F.W. Mote (an excellent book by the way, much better than Ray Huang's China: A Macrohistory). Even though he was steadfastly righteous in his loyalty to his emperor, his stubbornness should not be a valid reason for blaming him for his own death.

Although many people here may disagree with me, one should not sacrifice their principles just to stay alive. I rather die upholding my principles than live shamelessly by sacrificing those principles just to appease others.

In Fang Xiaoru's case, he died because he refused to write the law legitimizing Zhu Di's succession to the throne. Zhu Di was the usurper and wanted Fang to do something that ran contrary to Fang's own principles. There is a psychological tendency to blame the victim for something that could have been avoided. However the culprit here is Zhu Di, not Fang. Fang stood up for what he believed in, and died doing so.

Zhu Di's act contrasted sharply with what Tang Taizong did regarding 魏徵. 魏徵 refused to bow down before 李世民 after 玄武門之變, and even advised the Crown Prince 李建成 to do away with 李世民. But did Taizong execute 魏徵? The fact that Taizong allowed 魏徵 to live despite the latter's refusal to accept the new emperor was extraordinary. Taizong's magnanimity made Zhu Di look bad in comparison.

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