Sunday, April 13, 2008

The money-makers

Thus it is said,

“When the granaries are full, men learn propriety. When food and clothing are enough, men have a sense of honour and shame. Ceremony is born of sufficiency and disappears in time of want.”

That is why when a gentleman is rich he delights in cultivating virtue, but when an inferior man is rich he will display his power. Just as fish multiply in deep lakes and wild beasts flock to deep mountains, humanity and justice follow riches. A wealthy man’s influence is greater while he has power, but once he loses power his protégés have nowhere to go and there is an end of pleasure. This is even more true of the barbarians.

As the proverb justly says, “A man with a thousand pieces of gold will not die in the market-place.”
So it is said,

How quickly after gain
The whole world races!
How madly after gain
The whole world chases!

Even the king of a land with a thousand chariots, a marquis with a fief of ten thousand households, or a lord with a hundred households dreads poverty, much more so, then, the common citizens on the state register.

A reflection by Sima Qian on the money-makers, much of what he contemplated more than two thousand years ago, remains relevant today. In case, readers did not spot it, he showed a deep understanding of human nature learned from the ancients.

How many scholars of current times can be said to truly understand ancient doctrines?

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