Self-preface to the Depository of Writings in the Peacock Hall (Group Translation)
Literature is only a way through which we describe our intentions, and that is all there is. You’re faced with a topic to write about then grab a brush. Suddenly, you think of ancient words, forcing yourself to look for meanings from classics. You intentionally pretend to be somber. Pursuing characters carefully and solemnly can be compared to calling an artist to draw a portrait, yet your appearance has been changed and presented. Your gaze is not turned away and pleads on your clothes are as if they are straightened out. It loses its natural state. Even a capable painter official will hardly get the reality. How could writing literature be any different from this? Words do not necessarily have to be grand. The Way split into smallest pieces is still called a Way. How could you discard even a piece of a tile? Evil beast Taowu<1> was taken to name the history of Chu. (Sima) Qian and (Ban) Gu both wrote about beating someone to death<2> and horrible thieves<3>. Writing literature is only for reality and that is all.
If you look at it like this, gaining and losing is with me. Defamation and praise is in others. It can be compared to ear ringing and snoring. A little child plays in a courtyard. His ears suddenly start ringing. Then he becomes happily surprised. Covertly he says to the neighborhood child, “Did you hear this sound? I hear this ringing sound. It beats like a drum and blows a reed pipe. And it is round like a star.” The neighborhood child brings his ear closer. Yet there is no sound. Frustrated, the child screams, hating the fact that others do not know. One day I slept over the night with a fellow villager. He snored. It sounded like someone vomiting, like someone whistling, like someone sighing, or like someone hissing. It was like someone blowing on a flame, like a boiling pot, like an empty cart on an uneven road. When he breathed in it sounded like a saw. When he breathed out it was like a squealing pig. He was woken up by others. Abruptly he arose and said angrily: “I have done no such things!.” Alas! With that which I only know myself, I am constantly concerned about other people not knowing. For I myself not realized yet, I hate others who realize this first. How could only nose and ear have such diseases? There are worse cases in literature as well. Ear ringing is a disease. He worries of others not understanding him, even more so, something that is not a disease. Snoring is not a disease. I am angry for being awakened by others, even more so, something that is a disease. Therefore if one who sees at this book does not discard the fragments of a tile, then from the ink and wash of the painter, one will indeed find the whiskers of a brutal thief. Moreover if you do not hear my ear ringing but recognize my snoring, then you can grasp the meaning of what I say.
<1> 《孟子 - 離婁下》孟子曰：「王者之迹熄而詩亡，詩亡然後春秋作。晉之乘，楚之檮杌，魯之春秋，一也。Mencius said, 'The traces of sovereign rule were extinguished, and the royal odes ceased to be made. When those odes ceased to be made, then the Chun Qiu was produced. The Sheng of Jin, the Tao Wu of Chu, and the Chun Qiu of Lu were books of the same character. (tr. James Legge)
《张萱 - 疑耀 - 檮杌》 檮杌, 惡獸, 楚 以名史, 主於懲惡。The Taowu was an evil beast. The history of Chu took it to name its history, finding it important to punish evil.
<2> 《司馬遷 - 史記 - 酷吏列傳》 少時椎埋為姦。已而試補縣亭長，數廢。
<3> 《班固 - 漢書 - 薛宣朱博傳》縣有劇賊及它非常，博輒移書以詭責之。