Category Archives: Asia

(1926- )

from Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire: In Search of the Enemy of Man


Thich Nhat Hanh, a scholar in the field of philosophy of religion and an internationally revered figure of Zen Buddhism, was born Nguyễn Xuân Bảo in Vietnam in 1926. (The word “Thich” [pronounced tick] is not a title, but a name that, for Buddhist monks and nuns, replaces the family name to which they were born.) Thich Nhat Hanh became a Zen monk at the age of 16 and was ordained in 1949. He founded the School of Youth for Social Services, a neutral relief corps, and the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Vietnam in 1957. In 1969, Nhat Hanh was the representative for the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation at the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War; when the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, he was officially denied reentry into Vietnam. He has been a student at Princeton and a professor at Columbia. Having lived in exile since 1966 (he has been allowed to visit Vietnam regularly since negotiations in 2005), he now lives in Plum Village, a Buddhist retreat center he cofounded in southwestern France, and conducts mindfulness retreats in Europe and North America.

To protest the anti-Buddhist policies of the Catholic president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, during the Vietnam War, in June 1963, an elderly Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, went to the crossroads at Phan-Dinh-Phung Street in Saigon, sat in the lotus position, poured gasoline on himself, and set himself on fire in order to call attention to the sufferings of the Vietnamese people under Diem’s oppressive regime. As he burned to death, a disciple read his last words to the press. Other Buddhist monks and nuns followed Quang Duc’s example: six burned themselves to death within a short period. Unimpressed, Madame Nhu, Diem’s sister-in-law, described these self-immolations as a “barbecue.”

It is the self-immolations of Thich Quang Duc, Thich Giac Thanh (mentioned in the selection presented here), and the other Buddhist monks and nuns that Nhat Hanh is attempting to explain to a sceptical world in the letter reprinted here. The letter is intended particularly for Westerners who see these acts as suicides, acts of self-destruction stemming from lack of courage, loss of hope, or the desire for nonexistence. . . . Although Giac Thanh was young at the time of his death, Quang Duc was over 70. Nhat Hanh had lived with the older monk for nearly a year at Long-Vinh pagoda before he set himself on fire, and describes him as “a very kind and lucid person . . . calm and in full possession of his mental faculties when he burned himself.” Nhat Hanh insists that these acts of self-immolation are not suicide, which, he says, is one of Buddhism’s “most serious crimes.” Nhat Hanh’s letter “In Search of the Enemy of Man” is addressed to Martin Luther King, who nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, foreword by Thomas Merton (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), pp. 106-108.  Quotations in introduction also from Thich Nhat Hanh, Love in Action: Writings on Nonviolent Social Change, foreword by Daniel Berrigan (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1993).



From a letter by Thich Nhat Hanh addressed to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., June 1, 1965

The self-burning of Vietnamese Buddhist monks in 1963 is somehow difficult for Western Christian conscience to understand. The press spoke then of suicide, but in the essence, it is not. It is not even a protest. What the monks said in the letters they left before burning themselves aimed only at alarming, at moving the hearts of the oppressors, and at calling the attention of the world to the suffering endured then by the Vietnamese. To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance. There is nothing more painful than burning oneself. To say something while experiencing this kind of pain is to say it with utmost courage, frankness, determination, and sincerity. During the ceremony of ordination, as practiced in the Mahayana tradition, the monk-candidate is required to burn one or more small spots on his body in taking the vow to observe the 250 rules of a bhikshu, to live the life of a monk, to attain enlightenment, and to devote his life to the salvation of all beings. One can, of course, say these things while sitting in a comfortable armchair; but when the words are uttered while kneeling before the community of sangha and experiencing this kind of pain, they will express all the seriousness of one’s heart and mind, and carry much greater weight.

The Vietnamese monk, by burning himself, says with all his strength and determination that he can endure the greatest of sufferings to protect his people. But why does he have to burn himself to death? The difference between burning oneself and burning oneself to death is only a difference in degree, not in nature. A man who burns himself too much must die. The importance is not to take one’s life, but to burn. What he really aims at is the expression of his will and determination, not death. In the Buddhist belief, life is not confined to a period of 60 or 80 or 100 years: life is eternal. Life is not confined to this body: life is universal. To express will by burning oneself, therefore, is not to commit an act of destruction but perform an act of construction, that is, to suffer and to die for the sake of one’s people. This is not suicide. Suicide is an act of self-destruction, having as causes the following: (1) lack of courage to live and to cope with difficulties; (2) defeat by life and loss of all hope; (3) desire for nonexistence (abhaya).

This self-destruction is considered by Buddhism as one of the most serious crimes. The monk who burns himself has lost neither courage nor hope; nor does he desire nonexistence. On the contrary, he is very courageous and hopeful and aspires for something good in the future. He does not think that he is destroying himself: he believes in the good fruition of his act of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Like the Buddha in one of his former lives—as told in a story of Jataka—who gave himself to a hungry lioness which was about to devour her own cubs, the monk believes he is practicing the doctrine of highest compassion by sacrificing himself in order to call the attention of, and to seek help from, the people of the world.

I believe with all my heart that the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of the oppressors but only at a change in their policy. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred, and discrimination which lie within the heart of man. I also believe with all of my being that the struggle for equality and freedom you lead in Birmingham, Alabama, is not really aimed at the whites but only at intolerance, hatred, and discrimination. These are real enemies of man—not man himself. In our unfortunate fatherland we are trying to plead desperately: do not kill man, even in man’s name. Please kill the real enemies of man which are present everywhere, in our very hearts and minds.

Now in the confrontation of the big powers occurring in our country, hundreds and perhaps thousands of Vietnamese peasants and children lose their lives every day, and our land is unmercifully and tragically torn by a war which is already twenty years old. I am sure that since you have been engaged in one of the hardest struggles for equality and human rights, you are among those who understand fully, and who share with all their heart, the indescribable suffering of the Vietnamese people. The world’s greatest humanists would not remain silent. You yourself cannot remain silent. America is said to have a strong religious foundation and spiritual leaders would not allow American political and economic doctrines to be deprived of the spiritual element. You cannot be silent since you have already been in action and you are in action because, in you, God is in action, too—to use Karl Barth’s expression. And Albert Schweitzer, with his stress on the reverence for life. And Paul Tillich with his courage to be, and thus, to love. And Niebuhr. And Mackay. And Fletcher. And Donald Harrington. All these religious humanists and many more, are not going to favor the existence of a shame such as the one mankind has to endure in Vietnam. Recently a young Buddhist monk named Thich Giac Thanh burned himself [April 20, 1965, in Saigon] to call the attention of the world to the suffering endured by the Vietnamese, the suffering caused by this unnecessary war—and you know that war is never necessary. Another young Buddhist, a nun named Hue Thien, was about to sacrifice herself in the same way and with the same intent, but her will was not fulfilled because she did not have the time to strike a match before people saw and interfered. Nobody here wants the war. What is the war for, then? And whose is the war?

Yesterday in a class meeting, a student of mine prayed: “Lord Buddha, help us to be alert to realize that we are not victims of each other. We are victims of our own ignorance and the ignorance of others. Help us to avoid engaging ourselves more in mutual slaughter because of the will of others to power and to predominance.” In writing to you, I profess my faith in Love, in Communion, and in the World’s Humanists, whose thoughts and attitude should be the guide for all humankind in finding who is the real enemy of Man.

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Filed under Asia, Buddhism, Hanh, Thich Nhat, Selections, The Modern Era

(b. 1920s, d. 1944-1945)

Kamikaze Diaries
Last Letters Home


In October 1944, toward the end of World War II, as it was becoming clear to the Japanese command that American aircraft carriers massing at the mouth of Leyte Gulf represented a serious threat, the new commander of Japanese naval air forces in the Philippines, Vice-Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi, arrived in Luzon. Knowing that the Japanese air forces in the entire Philippines area had fewer than 100 planes still in operational condition and that naval forces were not adequate to resist the invasion, Admiral Ohnishi recognized that loss to the Americans would mean loss of the Philippines altogether and with it the end of any real possibility of defending Japan. “In my opinion,” one of his senior staff officers later quoted him as saying, “there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash-drive into an enemy carrier. . . . What do you think?”

This moment saw the birth of the Japan Naval Special Attack Force, the tokkotai, known as the Thunder Gods or Kamikaze Corps. “Body-crashing” (tai-atari) tactics had been used in air-to-air combat against enemy bombers, and many pilots had urged the use of the same tactics against enemy carriers, but it was at this moment that the idea of the suicide attack, a strategy devised by Sub-lieutenant Shoichi Ota, began its official translation into reality. The idea was presented to the remaining 23 young men of the 201st Air Group, already reduced to a third of its original size, by the officer who had been their commander during training and who, it was said, “was as deeply attached to these men as a father to his children.” The young pilots embraced Admiral Ohnishi’s idea of crash-dive missions “in a frenzy of emotion and joy.” The operation, shortly to be called kamikaze or “divine wind,” began within days.

As time went on, more planes were added and more pilots trained. Training lasted seven days: two days of take-off practice, two days of formation flying, and three days of approaching and attacking a target. Morale was said to be high in the kamikaze units, and pilots were said to have prayed for a direct hit. Within half a year, kamikaze tactics had proved so effective in damaging enemy surface forces that the Japanese high command grew convinced that kamikaze strategies were the only way to halt the American advance. Midget submarines with one or two pilots were also used in kamikaze naval attacks beginning with Pearl Harbor, and kamikaze strikes eventually became the primary strategy for all the armed forces. The attacks continued even after it became evident that Japan could not win; Admiral Ohnishi insisted that his men would be doomed in conventional combat, and argued that “[i]‌t is important to a commander, as it is to his men, that death be not in vain. I believe that a broad perspective indicates the wisdom of crash-diving” and ordered the suicide operations to continue.

There was both loyal support and intense criticism of kamikaze tactics in Japan and abroad. Although it is often assumed that the pilots were willing volunteers, many critics have claimed that the young recruits were pressured into service, that they were threatened with being sent to the front if they refused, and that coercion was heightened by the use of alcohol and amphetamines. Most navy pilots were between 18 and 20 years of age and most army pilots between 18 and 24. There were about 3,000 “boy pilots”; many of these student soldiers were drawn from the cream of young intellectuals. They left diaries (an important cultural practice in Japan), essays, poems, and letters expressing their true feelings of anguish about the war and their role in it.

Some scholars of Japanese culture claim that the Bushido tradition of samurai military culture [q.v., under Daidoji Yuzan] had always stressed readiness to die at any moment, and the kamikaze strategy would not have been seen as problematic. Further, these young men had been taught to believe that if they died heroically in battle, they would become gods, joining the guardian spirits of the nation at Yasukuni Shrine on Kudan Hill. One of the few kamikaze survivors, Hatsuho Naito, rescued when his final flight ended in a forced landing in a paddy field, wrote: “I do not believe that this so-called suicide mentality is unique to the Japanese. The spirit of self-sacrifice exists in all countries among all people, particularly among the young, who are innocent and free of cynicism when they are in a wartime life-or-death situation.” Many other observers hold that the long Japanese tradition of voluntary death, an honorable act, regarded as owed to one’s lord and preferable to living in shame, was what made the kamikaze program possible.

All in all, some 3,913 Japanese pilots, including both those in kamikaze planes and their escorts, were “expended” in the various theaters of the war, including the Philippine Islands, Formosa, and Okinawa. The “Last Letters Home” presented here, collected by Ichiro Ohmi during a four-and-a-half-year trip after the war to visit the homes of the kamikaze pilots, were the last ones written by these young men, shortly before their final special-attack missions. Among many other concerns, they embody Shinto conceptions of the importance of defending ancestors and family. Ohmi explained, It must be borne in mind that for many hundreds of years while the code of the warrior (Bushido), which stressed as necessary a willingness to die at any moment, governed the conduct of the samurai, similar principles were concurrently adopted by merchants, farmers, and artisans, stressing the value of unquestioning loyalty to the Emperor, other superiors, and the people of Japan. Thus, the introduction of the kamikaze principle was not so shocking to these Japanese as it would be to their Western enemies. In addition, the belief that one continues to live, in close association with both the living and the dead, after death, generally causes their concept of death to be less final and unpleasant in its implications.”

Other observers saw the situation differently. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney assembled the diaries of tokkøtai pilots from their families after the war; she sees in these writings, far more revealing than the expected “last letters home,” evidence of the kamikaze pilots’ “desperate struggles to find meaning in a fate they could not avoid [and that] bear no resemblance to those of anyone seeking martyrdom. This is so despite the Japanese government’s sustained propaganda campaign to apotheosize those fallen soldiers into symbols of martyrdom for the imperial nation.”

The United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, on Nagasaki three days later, and Japan announced its surrender on Aug. 15. That night, Admiral Ohnishi committed hara-kiri. Alone, he disemboweled himself with a traditional Japanese sword but was unable to slit his own throat, and when he was discovered still conscious by his aide the next morning, he refused both medical aid and the second’s traditional coup de grace. Captain Inoguchi, his senior staff officer who chronicled the history of the Kamikaze Corps and Admiral Ohnishi’s role in developing it, wrote that “[i]‌t would be wrong to think that his suicide was merely an atonement for sin. I believe that his life was dedicated from the moment he organized the Kamikaze Corps. Thereupon he had resolved to take his own life, and would have carried out that resolve even if Japan had won the war. In imagination he must have ridden with every pilot of his command as each made his final special attack.”

Rikihei Inoguchi, Tadashi Nakajima, and Roger Pineau, The Divine Wind.  Japan’s Kamikaze Force in World War II (Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute, 1958; New York: Bantam Books, 1960), Chapter 21, “Last Letters Home,” pp. 175-185. Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers (University of Chicago Press, 2006), pp. xvii, 10-11, 39, 52, 65-66, 72, 78-79, 84. Quotations and paraphrase in the introductory note are also from this volume, and from Hatsuho Naito, Thunder Gods: The Kamikaze Pilots Tell Their Story (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1989), pp. 16, 21.  A slightly different account of the origins of the Special Attack Force is to be found in Ryuji Nagatsuka, I Was a Kamikaze, tr. Nin Rootes (New York: Macmillan, 1972).



The following are excerpts from the diary of Sasaki Hachiro, born in 1922, who was drafted as a student soldier from the Imperial University Tokyo in December 1943 and volunteered to be a tokkotai pilot of February 20, 1945. He died on his kamikaze mission less than three months later, April 14, 1945.

We entered Kamikochi and greeted the Hodaka mountain peaks in the morning. Leaves of larch and birch are reflecting the morning sun and it is like looking at a scroll painting. I found my absolute authority here. If man did not posses a political nature, I would not mind sacrificing my life for this absolute authority [beauty and nature]. (April 4, 1940).

I prefer to think that “inevitability” is more important than “necessity.” One must always strive for stirb und werde! [“die and become!” or growth through death]. I am truly grateful for being aliveWe cannot detach ourselves from the present condition. It is in Welt sein [the presence in the universe] of Heidegger The most important thing is the freedom of will, freedom of spirit, amidst the chaos at present Blind obedience without free will is not an answer to our chaos. Chaos is not so simple as to be resolved by a Führer. (November 1, 1940)

Zwei Seelen wohnen ach in mein[em] Herz! (Ah, two soulsreside in my heart!] After all I am just a human being. Sometimes my chest pounds with excitement when I think of the day I will fly into the sky. I trained my mind and body as hard as I could and am anxious for the day I can use them to their full capacity in fighting. I think my life and death belong to the mission. Yet, at other times, I envy those science majors who remain at home [exempt from the draft]. Or, I think of those fellows who did not pass the draft examination as “having managed cleverly.”I feel like a fool to be proud of my fitness as a pilot. Those who skillfully escaped by not qualifying in the examination and took shelter in bookkeeping, engineering, and medical tasks must be the real clever ones. One of my souls looks to heaven, while the other is attracted to the earth. I wish to enter the Navy as soon as possible so that I can devote myself to the task. I hope that the days when I am tormented by stupid thoughts will pass quickly.

* * *

Born in Tokyo in 1922, Hayashi Tadao attended the prestigious Third Higher School in Kyoto and then the Imperial University of Kyoto; he was drafted as a student soldier in 1943. He became a Navy Air Force pilot, but was shot down by an American fighter plane that took off from an aircraft carrier he had sighted, two days after the Allied Forces had delivered the Potsdam Declaration to Japan.

Death is immoral and to live is absolutely moral.

(June 2, 1944)

I feel that I have to accept the fate of my generation to fight in the war and die. I call it “fate,” since we have to go to the battlefield to die without being able to express our opinions, criticize and argue pros and cons of issues, and behave with principles, that is, after being deprived of my own agency.To die in the war, to die at the demand of the nation—I have no intention whatsoever to praise it; it is a great tragedy.

(Oct. 12, 1941)

I do not avoid sacrifice. I do not refuse the sacrifice of my self. However, I cannot tolerate the reduction of the self to nothingness in the process. I cannot approve it. Martyrdom or sacrifice must be done at the height of self-realization. Sacrifice at the end of self-annihilation, the dissolving of the self to nothingness, has no meaning whatsoever.

(Jan. 3, 1944)

* * *

From a description by Kasuga Takeo, who had been drafted and assigned to look after the meals, laundry, room cleaning, and other daily tasks for the tokkotai pilots at the Tsuchiura Naval Air Base, on the night before their final flights. He was 86 years old when he wrote this letter, fifty years after the events.

At the hall where their farewell parties were held, the young student officers drank cold sake the night before their flight. Some gulped the sake in one swallow; others kept gulping down [a large amount]. The whole place turned to mayhem. Some broke hanging light bulbs with their swords. Some lifted chairs to break the windows and tore white tablecloths. A mixture of military songs and curses filled the air. While some shouted in rage, others cried aloud. It was their last night of life. They thought of their parents, their faces and images, lovers’ faces and their smiles, a sad farewell to their fiancées—all went through their mind like a running-horse lantern [a rapidly revolving lantern with many pictures on it]. Although they were supposedly ready to sacrifice their precious youth the next morning for imperial Japan and for the emperor, they were torn beyond what words can express—some putting their heads on the table, some writing their wills, some folding their hands in meditation, some leaving the hall, and some dancing in a frenzy while breaking flower vases. They all took off wearing the rising sun headband the next morning. But this scene of utter desperation has hardly been reported. I observed it with my own eyes, as I took care of their daily life, which consisted of incredibly strenuous training, coupled with cruel and torturous corporal punishment as a daily routine.



What, then, were the thoughts and feelings of the suicide pilots themselves as they volunteered, waited their turn, and went out on their missions?

Mr. Ichiro Ohmi made a nationwide pilgrimage for four and a half years after the war to visit the homes of kamikaze pilots.  The families showed him mementoes and letters of their loved ones.  He has kindly provided the authors of the book with copies of these letters, some of which express more clearly than could any other words the thoughts and feelings of the pilots about to die.

In general, what little the enlisted pilots wrote was of a simple, straightforward nature.  Academy graduates also wrote very little—perhaps because they were thoroughly indoctrinated in the way of the warrior and thus accepted their fate matter-of-factly.  It was the reserve officers from civilian colleges and universities, who had had only a hasty military training before receiving their assignments, who wrote the most. A few typical letters serve to convey the spirit of kamikaze pilots.

The following was written by Ensign Susumu Kaijitsu of the Genzan (Wonsan) Air Group in Korea. Kaijitsu was born in 1923 at Omura City, Nagasaki Prefecture of northern Kyushu.  He had graduated from Nagoya Technical College just before entering the naval aviation school.

Dear Father, Mother, brothers Hiroshi and Takeshi, and sister Eiko:

I trust that this spring finds you all in fine health.   have never felt better and am now standing by, ready for action.

The other day I flew over our home and bade a last farewell to our neighbors and to you. Thanks to Mr. Yamakawa I had a chance recently to have a last drink with father, and there now remains nothing but to await our call to duty.

My daily activities are quite ordinary. My greatest concern is not about death, but rather of how I can be sure of sinking an enemy carrier. Ensigns Miyazaki, Tanaka, and Kimura, who will sortie as my wingmen, are calm and composed. Their behavior gives no indication that they are momentarily awaiting orders for their final crash-dive sortie. We spend our time in writing letters, playing cards, and reading.

I am confident that my comrades will lead our divine Japan to victory.

Words cannot express my gratitude to the loving parents who reared and tended me to manhood that I might in some small manner reciprocate the grace which His Imperial Majesty has bestowed upon us.

Please watch for the results of my meager effort. If they prove good, think kindly of me and consider it my good fortune to have done something that may be praiseworthy.Most important of all, do not weep for me. Though my body departs, I will return home in spirit and remain with you forever. My thoughts and best regards are with you, our friends, and neighbors.  In concluding this letter, I pray for the well-being of my dear family.

 *   *   *

Ensign Teruo Yamaguchi was born in 1923 on Goto Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, in northern Kyushu.  Brought up by a stepmother, his youth had not been a particularly happy one.  He enlisted upon graduation from Kokugakuin University in Tokyo and was assigned to the Amakusa Air Group, which was based near his home.  From there he was transferred to the 12th Air Flotilla for a suicide mission.

Dear Father:

As death approaches, my only regret is that I have never been able to do anything good for you in my life.

I was selected quite unexpectedly to be a special attack pilot and will be leaving for Okinawa today. Once the order was given for my one-way mission it became my sincere wish to achieve success in fulfilling this last duty. Even so, I cannot help feeling a strong attachment to this beautiful land of Japan. Is that a weakness on my part?

On learning that my time had come I closed my eyes and saw visions of your face, mother’s, grandmother’s, and the faces of my close friends. It was bracing and heartening to realize that each of you want me to be brave. I will do that!  I will!

My life in the service has not been filled with sweet memories. It is a life of resignation and self denial, certainly not comfortable. As a raisond’être for service life, I can see only that it gives me a chance to die for my country. If this seems bitter it probably is because I had experienced the sweetness of life before joining the service.

The other day I received Lieutenant Oixubo’s philosophy on life and death which you so kindly sent. It seems to me that while he appears to have hit on some truth, he was concerned mostly with superficial thoughts on the service. It is of no avail to express it now, but in my 23 years of life I have worked out my own philosophy.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I think of the deceits being played on innocent citizens by some of our wily politicians. But I am willing to take orders from the high command, and even from the politicians, because I believe in the polity of Japan.

The Japanese way of life is indeed beautiful, and I am proud of it, as I am of Japanese history and mythology which reflect the purity of our ancestors and their belief in the past—whether or not those beliefs are true. That way of life is the product of all the best things which our ancestors have handed down to us. And the living embodiment of all wonderful things out of our past is the Imperial Family which, too, is the crystallization of the splendor and beauty of Japan and its people. It is an honor to be able to give my life in defense of these beautiful and lofty things.

Okinawa is as much a part of Japan as Goto Island. An inner voice keeps saying that I must smite the foe who violates our homeland. My grave will be the sea around Okinawa, and I will see my mother and grandmother again. I have neither regret nor fear about death. I only pray for the happiness of you and all my fellow-countrymen.

My greatest regret in this life is the failure to call you “chichiue” (revered father). I regret not having given any demonstration of the true respect which I have always had for you. During my final plunge, though you will not hear it, you may be sure that I will be saying “chichiue” to you and thinking of all you have done for me.

I have not asked you to come to see me at the base because I know that you are comfortable at Amakusa. It is a good place to live. The mountains north of the base remind me of Sugiyama and Magarisaka on Goto Island, and I have often thought of the days when you took Akira and me on picnics to Matsuyamanear the powder magazine. I also recall riding with you to the crematorium at Magarisaka as a youngster, without clearly understanding then that mother had died.

I leave everything to you. Please take good care of my sisters.

One setback in its history does not mean the destruction of a nation. I pray that you will live long. I am confident that a new Japan will emerge. Our people must not be rash in their desire for death.

Fondest regards.

Just before departure,

Without regard for life or name, a samurai will defend his homeland.

*   *   *

The following letter is by Flying Petty Officer First Class Isao Matsuo of the 701st Air Group.  It was written just before he sortied for a kamikaze attack.  His home was in Nagasaki Prefecture.


28 October 1944

Dear Parents:

Please congratulate me. I have been given a splendid opportunity to die. This is my last day. The destiny of our homeland hinges on the decisive battle in the seas to the south where I shall fall like a blossom from a radiant cherry tree.  I shall be a shield for His Majesty and die cleanly along with my squadron leader and other friends. I wish that I could be born seven times, each time to smite the enemy.

How I appreciate this chance to die like a man! I am grateful from the depths of my heart to the parents who have reared me with their constant prayers and tender love. And I am grateful as well to my squadron leader and superior officers who have looked after me as if I were their own son and given me such careful training. Thank you, my parents, for the 23 years during which you have cared for me and inspired me. I hope that my present deed will in some small way repay what you have done for me. Think well of me and know that your Isao died for our country. This is my last wish, and there is nothing else that I desire.

I shall return in spirit and look forward to your visit at the Yasukuni Shrine.  Please take good care of yourselves.

How glorious is the Special Attack Corps’ Giretsu Unit whose Suisei bombers will attack the enemy. Movie cameramen have been here to take our pictures. It is possible that you may see us in newsreels at the theater.

We are 16 warriors manning the bombers. May our death be as sudden and clean as the shattering of crystal.

Written at Manila on the eve of our sortie.


Soaring into the sky of the southern seas, it is our glorious mission to die as the shields of His Majesty. Cherry blossoms glisten as they open and fall.

*   *   *

Cadet Jun Nomoto of the Himeji Air Group was born in 1922 in Nagasaki Prefecture. He had graduated from the University of Commerce in Tokyo just before enlisting. Apparently written in great haste, the actual letter printed below is preceded by brief notes and is concluded in a hand other than that of the original writer:

Moved forward to * * * under sudden orders. Determination for success renewed upon learning that we will sortie tomorrow.

Cadet * * * was dropped from the list of those assigned to take part in the sortie, upon my arrival. Cannot help feeling sorry for him. This is a situation of mixed emotions.

Man is only mortal. Death, like life, is a matter of chance. Yet destiny, too, plays a part. I feel confident of my ability in tomorrow’s action. Will do my utmost to dive head-on against an enemy warship to fulfill my destiny in defense of the homeland. The time has come when my friend Nakanishi and I must part. There is no remorse whatsoever. Each man is doomed to go his separate way in time.

Since our unit was organized at the end of February we have undergone the most intensive kind of training. Now, at last, our chance to sortie is at hand. In our last briefing the commanding officer cautioned us, “not to be rash to die.” It seems to me that everything is up to Heaven.

I am resolved to pursue the goal that fate has chosen for me. You have always been good to me and I am grateful. My 15 years of schooling and training are about to bear fruit. I feel great joy at having been born in our glorious country.

It is my firm belief that tomorrow will be successful. It is my hope that you will share this belief. The time for our departure was set so suddenly that I will not have a chance to write last letters to my relatives and friends. I shall appreciate it if you will write to these people on my behalf, at your convenience, and express my sentiments….

Dearest Parents:

Please excuse my dictating these last words to my friend.  There is no longer time for me to write more to you.

There is nothing special that I can say, but I want you to know that I am in the best of health at this last moment. It is my great honor to have been selected for this duty. The first planes of my group are already in the air. These words are being written by my friend as he rests the paper on the fuselage of my plane. There are no feelings of remorse or sadness here. My outlook is unchanged. I will perform my duty calmly.

Words cannot express my gratitude to you. It is my hope that this last act of striking a blow at the enemy will serve to repay in small measure the wonderful things you have done for me.

My last wish is that my brothers may have a proper education. It is certain that uneducated men have an empty life.  Please see to it that their lives are as full as possible. I know that my sister is well taken care of because you have provided for her as you did for me.  I am grateful for a wonderful father and mother.

I shall be satisfied if my final effort serves as recompense for the heritage our ancestors bequeathed.


*   *   *

Lieutenant (jg) Nobuo Ishibashi, a native of Saga City in northern Kyushu, was born in 1920. He was a member of the Tsukuba Air Group before his assignment to the Special Attack Corps.  his is his last letter home.

Dear Father:

Spring seems to come early to southernKyushu. Here the blossoms and flowers are all beautiful. There is a peace and tranquillity, and yet this place is really a battleground.

I slept well last night; didn’t even dream. Today my head is clear and I am in excellent health.

It makes me feel good to know that we are on the same island at this time. Please remember me when you go to the temple, and give my regards to all of our friends.


I think of springtime in Japan while soaring to dash against the enemy.

*   *   *

The following letter was written by Ensign Ichizo Hayashi, born in 1922, in Fukuoka Prefecture of northern Kyushu. He had been reared in the Christian faith. Upon graduation from Imperial University at Kyoto he joined the Genzan (Wonsan) Air Group, from which he was assigned to the Special Attack Corps.

Dearest Mother:

I trust that you are in good health.

I am a member of the Shichisei Unit of the Special Attack Corps. Half of our unit flew to Okinawa today to dive against enemy ships. The rest of us will sortie in two or three days. It may be that our attack will be made on 8 April, the birthday of Buddha.

We are relaxing in an officers’ billet located in a former school building near the Kanoya air base. Because there is no electricity we have built a roaring log fire and I am writing these words by its light.

Morale is high as we hear of the glorious successes achieved by our comrades who have gone before. In the evening I stroll through clover fields, recalling days of the past.

On our arrival here from the northern part of Korea we were surprised to find that cherry blossoms were falling. The warmth of this southern climate is soothing and comforting.

Please do not grieve for me, mother. It will be glorious to die in action. I am grateful to be able to die in a battle to determine the destiny of our country.

As we flew into Kyushu from Korea the route did not pass over our home, but as our planes approached the homeland I sang familiar songs and bade farewell to you. There remains nothing in particular that I wish to do or say, since Umeno will convey my last desires to you.  his writing is only to tell you of the things that occur to me here.

Please dispose of my things as you wish after my death.

My correspondence has been neglected recently so I will appreciate it if you remember me to relatives and friends. I regret having to ask this of you, but there is now so little time for me to write.

Many of our boys are taking off today on their one-way mission against the enemy. I wish that you could be here in person to see the wonderful spirit and morale at this base.

Please bum all my personal papers, including my diaries. You may read them, of course, mother, if you wish, but they should not be read by other people. So please be sure to burn them after you have looked at them.

On our last sortie we will wear regular flight uniforms and a headband bearing the rising sun. Snow-white mufflers give a certain dash to our appearance.

I will also carry the rising sun flag which you gave to me. You will remember that it bears the poem, “Even though a thousand men fall to my right and ten thousand fall to my left….”  I will keep your picture in my bosom on the sortie, mother, and also the photo of Makio-san.

I am going to score a direct hit on an enemy ship without fail. When war results are announced you may be sure that one of the successes was scored by me. I am determined to keep calm and do a perfect job to the last, knowing that you will be watching over me and praying for my success. There will be no clouds of doubt or fear when I make the final plunge.

On our last sortie we will be given a package of bean curd and rice. It is reassuring to depart with such good luncheon fare. I think I’ll also take along the charm and the dried bonito from Mr. Tateishi. The bonito will help me to rise from the ocean, mother, and swim back to you.

At our next meeting we shall have many things to talk about which are difficult to discuss in writing. But then we have lived together so congenially that many things may now be left unsaid. “I am living in a dream which will transport me from the earth tomorrow.”

Yet with these thoughts I have the feeling that those who went on their missions yesterday are still alive. They could appear again at any moment.

In my case please accept my passing for once and for all. As it is said, “Let the dead past bury its dead.” It is most important that families live for the living.

There was a movie shown recently in which I thought I saw Hakata. It gave me a great desire to see Hakata again just once before going on this last mission.

Mother, I do not want you to grieve over my death. I do not mind if you weep. Go ahead and weep. But please realize that my death is for the best, and do not feel bitter about it.

I have had a happy life, for many people have been good to me. I have often wondered why.  It is a real solace to think that I may have some merits which make me worthy of these kindnesses.  It would be difficult to die with the thought that one had not been anything in life.

From all reports it is c1ear that we have blunted the actions of the enemy.  Victory will be with us.  Our sortie will deliver a coup de grâce to the enemy.  I am very happy.

We live in the spirit of Jesus Christ, and we die in that spirit.  This thought stays with me.  It is gratifying to live in this world, but living has a spirit of futility about it now.  It is time to die.  I do not seek reasons for dying.  My only search is for an enemy target against which to dive.

You have been a wonderful mother to me.  I only fear that I have not been worthy of the affection you have lavished on me.  The circumstances of my life make me happy and proud.  I seek to maintain the reason for this pride and joy until the last moment.  If I were to be deprived of present surroundings and opportunities my life would be worth nothing. Standing alone, I was good for little.  I am grateful, therefore, for the opportunity to serve as a man.  If these thoughts sound peculiar, it is probably because I am getting sleepy.  But for my drowsiness there are many other things I should like to say.

There is nothing more for me to say, however, by way of farewell.  I will precede you now, mother, in the approach to Heaven. Please pray for my admittance. I should regret being barred from the Heaven to which you will surely be admitted.  Pray for me, mother.


(When his sortie was delayed, this flier added the following postscript to his letter.)

“Strolling between the paddy fields the night is serene as I listen to the chant of the frogs.” I could not help but think of this during my walk last evening. I lay down in a field of clover and thought of home. Upon my return to the barracks, my friends said that I smelled of clover and it brought them memories of home and mother. Several of them commented that I must have been a mamma’s boy.

This did not disturb me at all; in fact, I was pleased by the remark. It is an index that people like me. When I am disturbed it is good to think of the many people who have been so kind to me, and I am pacified. My efforts will be doubled to prove my appreciation of the kind-hearted people it has been my pleasure to know.

The cherry blossoms have already fallen. I wash my face each morning in a nearby stream. It reminds me of the blossom-filled stream that ran near our home.

It appears that we will go to make our attack tomorrow. Thus the anniversary of my death will be 10 April. If you have a service to commemorate me, I wish you to have a happy family dinner.

Now it is raining, the kind of rain we have in Japan rather than what I experienced in Korea. There is an old organ in our billet and someone is playing childhood songs, including the one about a mother coming to school with an umbrella for her child.

The departure was again postponed for this flier and he had a chance to add yet another bit to the letter, which was finally mailed after he had taken off on his final flight:

I have thought that each day would be the last, but just as with most things in life, one can never be certain. It is the evening of 11 April, and this was not my day.

Do hope that I was photogenic today, for several newsreel cameramen were here, and they singled me out for a special series of pictures. Later the Commander in Chief of Combined Fleet greeted us in our billet and said to me, “Please do your best.” It was a great honor for me that he would speak to so humble a person as myself.  He is convinced that the country’s fate rests upon our shoulders.

Today we gathered about the organ and sang hymns.

Tomorrow I will plunge against the enemy without fail.

*   *   *

Ensign Heiichi Okabe was born in 1923. His home was Fukuoka Prefecture of northern Kyushu. Before enlisting he was graduated from Taihoku Imperial University. His first duty was in the Wonsan Air Group, and he was transferred thence to Shichisei Unit No.2 of the Special Attack Corps. He kept a diary which was sent to his family after his final sortie. The following is an excerpt from one of his last entries in that diary:

22 February 1945

I am actually a member at last of the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps.

My life will be rounded out in the next thirty days.  My chance will come!  Death and I are waiting. The training and practice have been rigorous, but it is worthwhile if we can die beautifully and for a cause.

I shall die watching the pathetic struggle of our nation. My life will gallop in the next few weeks as my youth and life draw to a close….

…The sortie has been scheduled for the next ten days.

I am a human being and hope to be neither saint nor scoundrel, hero nor fool—just a human being.  As one who has spent his life in wistful longing and searching, I die resignedly in the hope that my life will serve as a “human document.”

The world in which I live was too full of discord.  As a community of rational human beings it should be better composed.  Lacking a single great conductor, everyone lets loose with his own sound, creating dissonance where there should be melody and harmony.

We shall serve the nation gladly in its present painful struggle.  We shall plunge into enemy ships cherishing the conviction that Japan has been and will be a place where only lovely homes, brave women, and beautiful friendships are allowed to exist.

What is the duty today?  It is to fight.

What is the duty tomorrow?  It is to win.

What is the daily duty?  It is to die.

We die in battle without complaint. I wonder if others, like scientists, who pursue the war effort on their own fronts, would die as we do without complaint.  Only then will the unity of Japan be such that she can have any prospect of winning the war.

If, by some strange chance,Japan should suddenly win this war it would be a fatal misfortune for the future of the nation.  It will be better for our nation and people if they are tempered through real ordeals which will serve to strengthen.

*   *   *

Like cherry blossoms

    In the spring,

       Let us fall

          Clean and radiant.

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Filed under Asia, Japanese Naval Special Attack Force, Martyrdom, Military Defeat, Success, Strategy, Selections, Shinto, The Modern Era


The Suicide of Miss Zhao


Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse-tung), the revolutionary who was to become the leading force in the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, was born to the family of a small landowner. As was the custom among the peasantry, a marriage was arranged for Mao when he was 13 or 14 to a young woman some four years older, who was to provide labor for the family until the groom was mature, but Mao refused to acknowledge the arrangement, and the marriage was never consummated.

Mao’s early education was in classical Confucian texts, but he also educated himself in Western political thought. In 1911, Mao left school to fight with the revolutionary army until 1912 when the Republic of China was formed. From 1913 to 1918, he was a student at the Hunan Provincial First Normal School at Changsha, where he increasingly rejected traditional Confucian values, such as family loyalty, and became politically active in forming radical student groups. He was at Peking University in the months leading up to the May Fourth Movement demonstrations of 1919 before returning to Changsha to teach. Committed to Marxism by early 1921, Mao played a major role in organizing the peasantry, developing guerilla tactics to resist the Guomindang (Kuomintang) and later the Japanese, promoting the methods of mass revolutionary violence, and eventually, as leader of the Chinese Communist Party, in the administration of the post-revolutionary state. In 1934–35, Mao led his followers on the Long March from Shanghai to a new base in northwest China. In 1949, Mao defeated Chinese nationalist forces under Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek). In the mid-1950s, as chairman of the People’s Republic, he instituted reforms including the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958), intended to achieve economic reform and the institution of socialist and communist agrarian collectivization, and the Cultural Revolution (1966), intended to eradicate the reactionary cultural beliefs and practices of the past in order to make movement into a fully communist society possible. Ruthless purges, repressive social policies, and mass starvation, however, were among the methods and consequences of Mao’s programs.

During his life, Mao wrote both practical and political works. These included works in the 1930s on guerilla strategy and tactics, the philosophical essay On Practice (1937), and On New Democracy (1940), contrasting China’s future form of government—which Mao saw as a “joint dictatorship” of several revolutionary classes—with the Russian Soviet’s single “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Mao’s concern with theory, as well as practice, is reflected in the excerpts presented here from 10 short newspaper articles written in Changsha in 1919. Among his earliest political writings, these articles predate Mao’s embrace of Marxism, but they clearly show elements of his social thinking and sustained critique of traditional Chinese social practices, especially “feudal” or “capitalist” marriage. His concern with “the woman question” and the reform of the marriage laws (eventually enacted in 1950 to prohibit “polygamy, concubinage, child betrothal, interference with the remarriage of widows, and the exaction of money or gifts in connection with marriage”) are clearly evident here. The articles date from the May Fourth period of 1919, a movement named after student demonstrations protesting the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference’s award of German holdings in Shandong (Shantung) province to Japan instead of returning them to China; this period’s “new thought tide” involved a rapid intellectual shift among Chinese radicals from Confucianism to Marxism/Leninism. The May Fourth period also saw a shift from classical literary diction to much more accessible, colloquial language—often based, as these articles by Mao are, on a specific case study.

The case to which Mao was responding was an incident that became a cause célébre in Changsha. Miss Zhao Wuzhen (Chao Wu-chen), a young peasant woman of Changsha, was engaged to marry the widower Wu Fenglin (Wu Feng-lin) on November 14, 1919; the marriage had been arranged by her parents and the matchmaker, as was traditional in the China of the time, occurring in some 80% of marriages. Miss Zhao had met her fiancé only in brief ritual encounters, but she did not wish to marry a widower, even a rich one, and found him old and ugly. Her parents refused to cancel the wedding or even to postpone its date. On the day of the wedding, as she was being raised in the locked and sealed bridal sedan chair to be transported to the home of the groom, Miss Zhao took out a dagger she had concealed in the chair and slit her throat.

Mao’s articles, published Nov. 16–28, 1919, in the leading Changsha daily Dagongbao (Ta Kung Pao), attempt to identify the causes of the tragedy—not an uncommon one, as suicide was often the only means of escape for women. Mao understands the suicide as the product of Miss Zhao’s untenable social circumstances in being constrained by social customs that fail to recognize the independence and value of women—customs that, in treating half of China’s population in this way, were a source of China’s weakness. Mao rejects the traditional ideal of the woman as subject to ruler, father, and husband, and of the female martyr, who would die to preserve her chastity. Indeed, for Mao, Miss Zhao’s suicide was not really a suicide—she did not wish to die, but could not live in the society she inhabited. Suicide, he holds, is in fact wrong, but this suicide in his view was much more nearly a case of murder—by society. This provided the impetus for social reform.

The incident of Miss Zhao and other suicides became a focus of the May Fourth literature, which included several hundred articles on these topics. Three months after the suicide of Miss Zhao, too late for Mao to comment on it in this series, another young woman of Changsha, Li Jicun (Miss Li Chi-ts’un), also found herself faced with an arranged marriage she loathed: instead of killing herself, Miss Li ran away to Beijing (Peking) to join the Work-Study Program and throw herself into the political struggle against opposition. This, argues Roxane Witke, is what Mao would have favored for Miss Zhao as well. Indeed, Mao himself had resisted a traditional marriage arranged for him.

Stuart R. Schram, ed., Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949. Vol. I: The Pre-Marxist Period, 1912-1920.  (Armonk, NY and London: M. E. Sharpe, Inc. 1992), pp 421-449. Quotations in introductory notes also from Arthur A. Cohen and Tilemann Grimm, entry “Mao, Maoism,” in C. D. Kernig, ed., Marxism, Communism and Western Society: A Comparative Encyclopedia,  vol. 5.   New York: Herder and Herder, 1973), pp. 288-298;  Roxane Witke,  “Mao-Tse-tung, Women and Suicide in the May Fourth Era,” The China Quarterly 131 (July-September 1967), p. 147; Theodore Hsi-en Chen, “The Marxist Remolding of Chinese Society,” American Journal of Sociology 58(4):340-346 (Jan. 1953), p. 341; Shelah Gilbert Leader, “The Emancipation of Chinese Women,” World Politics 26(1):55-79 (Oct. 1973), p. 58; Stuart Schram, The Thought of Mao Tse-tung. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 27.



Miss Zhao’s Suicide (November 16, 1919)

When something happens in society, we should not underrate its importance.  The background of any event contains the multiple causes of its occurrence.  For example, the event of a “person’s death” can be explained in two ways.  One is biological and physical, as in the case of “passing away in ripe old age.”  The other goes against biological and physical factors, as in the case of “premature death” or “unnatural death.”  The death of Miss Zhao by suicide belongs to the latter category of “unnatural death.”

A person’s suicide is determined entirely by circumstances.  Was it Miss Zhao’s original intent to seek death?  No, it was to seek life.  If, in the end, Miss Zhao chose death, it was because circumstances drove her to this.  The circumstances in which Miss Zhao found herself included: (1) Chinese society, (2) the family living in the Zhao residence on Nanyang Street in Changsha, (3) the Wu family of the Orange Garden in Changsha, the family of the husband she did not want.  These three factors constituted three iron nets, which we can imagine as a kind of triangular construction.  Within these triangular iron nets, however much Miss Zhao sought life, there was no way for her to go on living.  The opposite of life is death, and so Miss Zhao was obliged to die.

If one of these three factors had not been an iron net, or if one of the iron nets had opened, Miss Zhao would certainly not have died.  (1) If Miss Zhao’s parents had not used excessive compulsion, but had acceded to her own free will, she would certainly not have died.  (2) If, while exercising compulsion, Miss Zhao’s parents had allowed her to put her point of view to her fiancé’s family, and to explain the reasons for her refusal, and if in the end her fiancé’s family had accepted her point of view, and respected her individual freedom, Miss Zhao would certainly not have died.  (3) If, even though neither her own parents nor her husband’s family could accept her free will, there had been in society a powerful segment of public opinion to back her, and if there had been an entirely new world to which she could flee, in which her act of flight would be considered honorable and not dishonorable, Miss Zhao again would certainly not have died.  If Miss Zhao is dead today, it is because she was solidly enclosed by the three iron nets (society, her own family, her fiancé’s family); she sought life in vain, and finally was led to seek death.

Last year in Tokyo, Japan, there was the case of the double suicide of the wife of a count and a chauffer who had fallen in love.  The Tōkyō Shimbun published a special issue, following which a number of writers and scholars discussed the incident for several months straight.  Yesterday’s incident was very important.  The background to this incident is the rottenness of the marriage system, and the darkness of the social system, in which there can be no independent ideas or views, and no freedom of choice in love.  As we discuss different kinds of theories, we should discuss them in the light of real, living events.  Yesterday, Mr. Tianlai and Mr. Jiangong have already provided a short introduction.  In continuing this discussion and presenting some of my own views, I have done so with the express hope that others will earnestly discuss the case of this young woman, a martyr to freedom and to love, from many different perspectives, and will cry “Injustice!” on her behalf.  (See yesterday’s issue of this paper for details.)

The Question of Miss Zhao’s Personality (November 18, 1919)

The day before yesterday, I wrote a commentary in which I said that the cause of Miss Zhao’s death was entirely determined by her circumstances, that is, by the society in which she lived and by the two families, those of her own parents and of her fiancé.  Consequently, I would like to say a few words about the personality of Miss Zhao.

Someone asked me whether Miss Zhao had a personality or not.  I said that I had two replies, one, that Miss Zhao did not have a personality of her own, the other, that she did have a personality.

What did I mean by saying that Miss Zhao did not have a personality?  If Miss Zhao had had a personality, she would not have died.  Why not?  Having a personality requires respect from those one deals with.  Its prerequisite is freedom of the will.  Was Miss Zhao’s will free?  No, it was not free.  Why wasn’t it free?  Because Miss Zhao had parents.  In the West, the free will of children is not affected by the parents.  In the Western family organization, father and mother recognize the free will of their sons and daughters.  Not so in China.  The commands of the parent and the will of the child are not at all on an equal footing.  The parents of Miss Zhao very clearly forced her to love someone she did not want to love.  No freedom of will was recognized at all.  If you do not want to love me, but I force my love on you, that is a form of rape.  This is called “direct rape.”  Their daughter did not want to love that person, but they forced their daughter to love that person.  This, too, is a kind of rape, which is called “indirect rape.”  Chinese parents all indirectly rape their sons and daughters.  This is the conclusion which inevitably arises under the Chinese family system of “parental authority,” and the marriage system in which there is the “policy of parental arrangement.”  For Miss Zhao to have had a personality of her own she would have had to have a free will.  For her to have a free will, her parents would have had to respect her and accede to her wishes.  If Miss Zhao’s parents had respected her, had acceded to her wishes, would she have been put into that cage-like bridal sedan chair in which she finally committed suicide?  But it is now a fact that this happened.  Thus, my first reply is that Miss Zhao did not have a personality of her own.

Why do I also say that she did have a personality?  This is with reference to Miss Zhao herself.  Although Miss Zhao lived for twenty-one years (she was twenty-one sui) in a family that did not allow her to have a personality, and for twenty-one years her father and mother kept her from having a personality, in that last brief moment of her twenty-one years, her personality suddenly came forth.  Alas, alas, death is preferable to the absence of freedom.  The snow-white knife was stained with fresh red blood.  The dirt road of Orange Garden Street, splashed with blood, was transformed into a solemn highway to heaven.  And with this, Miss Zhao’s personality also gushed forth suddenly, shining bright and luminous.  Consequently, my second reply is that Miss Zhao did indeed have a personality of her own.

Thus, my conscience forces me to utter the following two sentences:

1) All parents who are like the parents of Miss Zhao should be put in prison.
2) May the cry of all humanity fill the heavens, “Long live Miss Zhao!”

The Marriage Question—An Admonition to Young Men and Women (November 19, 1919)

Three days ago, the Casual Comments section of this paper carried a piece by Mr. Jiangong, “Those Sacrificed to Reform of the Marriage System.”  Referring to the suicide of Miss Zhao, he addressed a warning to parents.  It read as follows:

…not all Chinese are deaf and blind.  Anyone with even a little tiny bit of conscience should be thoroughly awakened, and refrain from interfering in the marriages of his sons and daughters. This young woman did not die for nothing….We must not fail her, we must not allow the sacrifice of her life to have been in vain.

The words of Mr. Jiangong say half of what must be said, but he left out the other half.  Let me add the following.

Dear young men and women throughout China.  None of you are deaf and blind.  Having seen such a tragedy of “blood splattering the city of Changsha,” you must be stirred to the depths of your souls, and become thoroughly awakened. See to it that you arrange your own marriages yourselves.  The policy of letting parents arrange everything should absolutely be repudiated.  Love is sacred, and absolutely cannot be arranged by others, cannot be forced, cannot be bought.  We must not fail her, we must not allow the sacrifice of her life to have been in vain.

Readers, what are your views?

The Question of Reforming the Marriage System (November 19, 1919)

Yesterday, my piece on Mr. Jiangong’s “Those Sacrificed to Reform of the Marriage System,” and his words on which I was elaborating, offered an appropriate proposal for young men and women.  Today I would like to say that since we have already mentioned “reform of the marriage system” we should proceed to discuss “How to reform the marriage system.” I really hope that all of you young men and women will come up with solutions to this question. This newspaper would of course greatly welcome your essays on such solutions.

 “The Evils of Society” and Miss Zhao (November 21, 1919)

My friend Mr. Yinbo [Peng Huang], in his editorial comments published the day before yesterday in this paper, criticized my article, “Commentary on the Suicide of Miss Zhao,” saying that I had placed all the blame on circumstances, letting Miss Zhao off scot-free, and that this was not right.  He wrote, “The action of Miss Zhao was a weak and negative action.  Such actions must never never be advocated.”  I am basically in total agreement with this positive critique, forcefully put forward by Mr. Yinbo.  On the question of the suicide of Miss Zhao, I had originally intended to criticize her on several different small points.  Among the several small points that I was considering, one was precisely “against suicide.”  Mr. Yinbo’s view and my view are really identical.

In the end, however, I cannot let “society” off.  No matter how weak you might say Miss Zhao’s act of committing suicide was, you cannot say she “died without cause.”  And the “cause” of her death, to one degree or another, indisputably did come from outside of herself, from society.  Since society contains “causes” that could bring about Miss Zhao’s death, this society is an extremely dangerous thing.  It was able to cause the death of Miss Zhao; it could also cause the death of Miss Qian, Miss Sun, or Miss Li.  It can make “women” die; it can also make “men” die.  There are still so many of us who today have not yet died.  We must be on our guard against this dangerous thing that could find the occasion to inflict a fatal blow on us at any moment.  We must protest loudly, warn and awaken those fellow human beings who are not yet dead, and cry out: “Society is evil!”

I said that there were three factors that drove Miss Zhao to her death.  One was her parent’s family, one was her fiancé’s family, and one was society. Ultimately, both her parents’ family and her fiancé’s family are each one component of society.  We must understand that the parents’ family and the fiancé’s family are guilty of a crime, but the source of their crime lies in society.  It is true that the two families could themselves have perpetrated this crime, but a great part of their culpability was transmitted to them by society.  Moreover, if society were good, even if the families had wanted to perpetrate this crime, they would not have had the opportunity to do so.  For example, if the Zhao family had heard that Madame Wu, the prospective mother-in-law, was bad, the go-between, Fourth Madame She, would have insisted that it was not true.  If this had taken place in Western society, there would have been no system of go-betweens to force them together, and no lies to trick them.  Or again, if this had been in Western society, and Miss Zhao’s father had slapped her in the face when she refused to get into the sedan chair, she could have taken him to court and sued him, or she would have resisted in some way to protect herself.  Or yet again, when Miss Zhao wanted the Wu family to change the date, the wife of the eldest brother of the Wu family had the right simply to “refuse adamantly,” and the other side was forced to accept this “refusal,” and go ahead with the marriage.  All these are dirty tricks peculiar to the evil society of China.

Mr. Yinbo wonders why Miss Zhao didn’t just run away, and he says that it would have been possible for her actually to do this.  I say, true enough, but first let me raise a few questions, after which I shall present my view.

1) Within the city of Changsha there are more than forty peddlers of foreign goods.  Within a 30-li radius of Shaoshan Village where I live there are seven or eight peddlers of mixed foreign and domestic goods. [1]  Why is this?
2) Why is it that all the toilets in the city of Changsha are for men only, and none for women?
3) Why is it you never see women entering a barber shop?
4) Why is it single women are never seen staying at hotels?
5) Why is it you never see women going into teahouses to drink tea?
6) Why is it that the customers hastening in and talking business in such silk shops as the Taihefeng or in stores selling foreign merchandise such as Yutaihua are never women, always men?
7) Why is it that of all the carters in the city not one is a woman, they are all men?
8) Why is it that at First Normal School outside South Gate there are no women students?  And why are there no male students at Old Rice Field First Normal?

Anyone who knows the answers to these questions will understand why it was that Miss Zhao could not run away.  The answers to these questions are not difficult.  There is only one general answer, that “men and women are extremely segregated,” that women are not allowed a place in society.  In this society, in which “men and women are extremely segregated” and women are not allowed a place, even supposing Miss Zhao had wanted to run away, where would she have run to?

To those who say that there are examples in this world of those who have run away, I again reply, yes there are.  Once more, I will give you an example.  “In our village of Shaoshan, there is a young woman of eighteen named Mao who is both intelligent and good looking.  She was married to a man named Zhong who was both extremely stupid and extremely ugly.  This young woman was extremely unwilling.  Finally she threw off her husband and had an affair with the son of a neighbor named Li.  In August of this year she ran away from her home to exercise the freedom to love.

You certainly must think that this was very good.  But…

“In less than two days, she was surrounded by some other people who notified her family.  Her family then sent someone to catch her.”

Just being caught wouldn’t have been so bad.

“She was dragged home, where she was beaten very severely and locked in an inner room, where as before she was left with her stupid husband to fulfill that ‘most proper’ marital relationship.”

This still wasn’t much.

[Third Brother Zhang]

“Zhang San says.  ‘She deserved to be beaten.  She ran away.  She’s shameless.’ ”

[Fourth Brother Zhang]

“Zhang Si agrees.  ‘If you don’t beat her now, when will you!  If a family produces a girl like this, it’s really a miserable disgrace to their whole clan.’ ”

This Miss Mao should be seen as putting into practice a positive view of things.  Not afraid of danger or stopped by difficulties, she did everything possible to struggle against the evil demon.  But what was the result?  As far as I can see she got only three things: she got “caught,” she got “beaten,” and she got “cursed.”

If we look at it in this perspective, how could Miss Zhao have done anything else but commit suicide?  Alas for Miss Zhao!  Alas for the evils of society!

After I had finished writing the draft of this article, I saw the critique of Mr. Rulin. [2]  He also emphasizes the aspect of society, on which our views agree.  But from the standpoint of Miss Zhao, as to whether or not there were other means by which she could have fulfilled her free will, and what the relative value of the different means might be, I will discuss that next time.  Any further details on what Miss Zhao’s personal name was, or what school she graduated from, or whether she had bound or natural feet, would be most welcome.

 Concerning the Incident of Miss Zhao’s Suicide (November 21, 1919)

In recent days there have been many commentaries on the incident of Miss Zhao’s suicide, and I too have written a few comments on it that have been published in this city’s Dagongbao.  This is a public event that concerns all mankind, and leaving aside those who advocate extreme individualism and living alone, everyone should pay attention to it and study it.  Because for several thousand years perverse customs based on the [Confucian] rites have prevailed in China, women have had no status in any area of life.  From politics, law, and education, to business, social relations, entertainment, and personal status, women have always been treated very differently from men, and relegated to the dark corners of society.  Not only are they denied happiness, they are also subjected to many kinds of inhumane mistreatment.  That this incident of a woman being driven to suicide should occur at a time like this, when the truth is very clear and there are loud calls for the liberation of women, shows just how profound are the evils of our nations’s society.  Today we need not express more pity for the deceased, but rather we should look for a method that will thoroughly correct this problem so that from now on such a tragedy as this will never happen again.  But before we look for a method, we must first search for the controlling root causes of this domination.

Let us consider why it is that women have been bullied by men and have not been able to emancipate themselves for thousands of years.  Regarding this point, we must examine the question of what, in the last analysis, are the defects of women?  Looked at superficially, women have a lower level of knowledge than men, and are weaker willed than men.  Women have deep emotional feelings, and when the emotions well up, one’s conscious awareness recedes.  In this respect, they are psychologically not the equals of men.  Also, women are physically somewhat weaker, and to this must be added the suffering and painful difficulty of walking with bound feet.  These are the physiological defects of women.  Actually, none of these are inherent defects.  Generally speaking, the psychological processes of women are not different from those of men.  This has already been proven by the fact that the effects of education in all countries show no differences based on gender.  The last two items of physical weakness are the result of custom.  The binding of women’s feet was not practiced in antiquity and cannot be regarded as a basic biological defect.  The search for any inherent biological deficiency in women finally comes down solely to the question of childbearing.

The relationship between men and women should, according to the contemporary view, center on “love,” and apart from love, must not be governed by “economics.”  Thus the contemporary position is, “Each is economically independent, sharing the fruits of love.”  Before modern times, this was not the case.  No one knew of the principle “Love is sacred.”  In the relationship between men and women, love was considered to be only secondary, while the core relationship remained economic, and was thus controlled by capitalism.  In antiquity, eating was a simple affair.  People picked fruit and caught wild animals and fish, and were easily satisfied.  Men and women were equals, and economically women asked nothing of men and men asked nothing of women.  Men and women sought of each other only “love.”  Thus woman sometimes, on the contrary, used her physiological strengths (physiologists say that in sexual physiology women are stronger than men) to control men.  Later, as population increased, and food supplies became inadequate, the competition for survival made it necessary to emphasize work, and with this arrived the terrible age in which women became subjugated to men.

In doing physical labor, women are not inherently inferior to men, but because women cannot work during the period of childbearing, men took advantage of this weakness, exploited this single flaw, made “submission” the condition of exchange and used “food” to shut them up.  This then is the general cause that has kept women subjugated and unable to emancipate themselves.  On the one hand, what member of the human race was not born of woman?  Childbearing by women is an indispensable element in the survival of humanity.  That men should have forgotten this supreme act of benevolence, and on the contrary should have wantonly and unscrupulously oppressed them, merely for the sake of petty economic relationships, is truly a case of returning evil for good.  On the other hand, childbearing is an extremely painful event.  “The pangs of childbirth” is a term that frightens every woman who hears it.  Despite the medical discoveries that have changed the “difficulty of childbirth” into the “ease of childbirth,” we should show great reverence and compassion.  How can we instead take advantage of trivial economic benefits to press the other down?

Having presented the “reasons” above, we can now turn to the “methods.”  The methods by which women can become free and independent and never again be oppressed by men may in general be listed as follows:

1) A woman must never marry before she is physically mature.
2) Before marriage, at the bare minimum, a woman must be adequately prepared in knowledge and skills to live her own life.
3) A woman must prepare herself for living expenses after childbirth.

The above three items are the basic prerequisites for a woman’s own personal independence.  In addition, there is a further condition of “public child support,” to which society should pay close attention.  If women themselves are able to fulfill the above three conditions, and if society, for its part, provides for the public rearing of children, then marital relationships centered on love can be established.  This will depend on the efforts of all us young men and women!

Against Suicide (November 23, 1919)

I have placed the blame for Miss Zhao’s suicide on the circumstances that forced her to this.  I have said nothing so far about “suicide” itself.  On the question of suicide, scholars of ethics, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, have presented who knows how many arguments.  Whether extolling or condemning suicide, their point of departure has always been their philosophies of life, how they viewed human life.  My attitude toward suicide is to reject it, on several levels.

1) Ethics is the science of defining the objectives of human life and the methods for attaining the objectives of human life.  Aside from a small number of pessimistic moral philosophers, the majority hold that the goal of man is “life.”  Some may define that as meaning “for the public good, freely develop the individual,” and others may define it as meaning “the life and development of the individual and all mankind.”  But Paulsen says it is “developing all the human bodily and mental powers without exception to their highest, with no apologies for doing so.”  I feel that Paulsen’s words, as a concrete expression of the objective of human life, are most apt.  But this objective is definitely not attainable through suicide.  Not only is suicide not a means for “developing to their highest the powers of the human body and spirit, with no apologies for doing so,” it is ultimately the opposite of “developing to their highest the powers of the human body and spirit, with no apologies for doing so.”  This principle is very easy to understand.

2) As to what is going through the mind of the person who commits suicide, we cannot really judge, since we have not had the experience of committing suicide.  Living persons generally reject the concept of “death” and welcome the concept of “life.”  The vast majority of human beings welcome the concept of “life” and reject the concept of “death.”  Thus we have to say that those few who welcome “death” and reject “life” are exceptions to the rule.  These exceptions may be seen as persons having a kind of mental abnormality.

3) Physiologically, a person’s body is composed of cells, and the life of the person as a whole is the composite of the lives of the individual cells.  The natural condition of cellular life is to continue living until a certain age, at which time one dies of old age.  Suicide is a revolt against this natural physiological condition.  This natural physiological condition falls under the control of a kind of abnormal mentality, and is thereby terminated.  We may say that this is a kind of physiological irregularity.

4) In the world of living things, very few of them commit suicide.  Although there are tales about so-called loyal dogs of animals who have been faithful unto death, these are not common occurrences.  Ordinarily animals delight in life, are adapted to their environments, and strive in every way to seek life.

To summarize the above, suicide has no place in ethics, in psychology, in physiology, or in biology.  Thus the criminal law of many nations includes prohibitions against suicide.  Social custom, too, celebrates life and grieves at death, and both of these attitudes are rooted in the “principle of seeking life.”

Today we are concerned with why there are, after all, suicides in human society, and why they are not altogether rare, and also with the question of why we invariably express a feeling of respect for heroic suicides, and sometimes even suggest that it was “a good suicide.”  What is the reason for this?

My response to these two points is:

1) Before the idea of committing suicide develops, a person does not want to commit suicide, but rather wants to seek life.  Moreover, his hope for life is unusually strong.  Such an unusually strong hope as this can only be fulfilled under conditions which are at least adequate.  If one’s environment or poor treatment causes one’s hopes to be repeatedly frustrated and turn into disappointment and loss of hope, then one will invariably seek death.  Thus a criminal cannot be told that he has been given a death sentence very many days before the sentence is actually executed.  Therefore, we know that the motivation for a person’s suicide is absolutely not to seek death.  Not only is it not to seek death, but it is actually an urgent striving toward life.  The reason why there are suicides in human society is that society has robbed that person completely of his “hope” and has left him “in utter despair.”  When society robs someone completely of his hope, leaving him in despair, then that person will surely commit suicide.  Such was the case of Miss Zhao.  If society robs a group or clan of people completely of hope, and leaves them in utter despair, then this group of clan will inevitably commit suicide, as in the case of the 500 Tianheng martyrs who all committed suicide at the same time, [3] or of Hong and Yang’s army of 100,000 who set fire to themselves, [4] or the beginning of the Dutch war with a certain other state when they declared that if pressed too hard they would breach the sea dikes and drown themselves.  If society in a certain place leaves more people in despair, then there will be more suicides in that society.  If society in a certain place leaves fewer people in despair, then there will be fewer suicides in that society.

2) We respect the heroic suicide for the following two reasons.  First, because that person dares to do what others dare not do, we recognize that his spirit surpasses our own, and thus a feeling of respect arises unwittingly within us.  Second, because of his spirit of rebellion against oppression, we recognize that although his body is dead, his aspirations live on (they do not actually continue to exist, but his suicide makes us feel as if they do), and the powers oppressing him are thus foiled.  We derive a feeling of happiness and comfort from this, which turns into respect for the person who has committed suicide.  Consequently, we respect only heroic suicides, which represent the triumph of righteousness over treachery.

At this point, I would like to explain the topic under discussion, “against suicide.”

First, as has been proved in many ways, our goal is the search for life, so we ought not turn around and seek death.  Therefore I am “against suicide.”

Second, the condition of suicide is that society robs a person of hope.  In such circumstances, we ought to advocate struggle against society, to take back the hope that has been lost.  To die in struggle is to “be killed,” it is not “suicide.”  So I am “against suicide.”

Third, we do not feel respect for “suicide” as such, so if we respect a heroic suicide, it is because he has “performed a difficult action,” and “resisted oppression.”  If it were not for these two aspects, suicide would be easy.  Furthermore, if there were no oppression in this world, there would be no need to resist it; in that case, even though suicides might take place, how could they inspire a feeling of respect?  Since we have no feeling of respect for “suicide” as such, we ought to oppose this thing called “suicide.”  Regarding the first point, respect for a “difficult action,” we should look elsewhere for it, rather than in the callous act of suicide.  As for the second point, “resistance to oppression,” we should seek it in struggle.  Thus I am “against suicide.”

“Her suicide had only ‘relative’ value in terms of ‘preserving the personality.’”

The above article, drafted in haste, presents my own personal views.  The reader is invited to judge whether, in the last analysis, I am right or wrong.  I do find it difficult to express agreement with the view of Mr. Xinman, [5] who sees suicide as “a most happy and joyous event.”  In case of glaring errors, corrections would be extremely welcome.

 The Question of Love – Young People and Old People. Smash the Policy of Parental Agreement (November 25, 1919)

I often feel that in matters of all kinds, old people generally take a position of opposition to young people.  From such things in daily life as eating and dressing, to feelings about society and the nation, and attitudes toward mankind in the world at large, they are always drearily, rigidly, and coweringly passive.  Their views are always ingratiatingly humble.  Their position is always negative.  I think that if young and old are none the less able to live together, it is mostly because of a relationship of mutual benefit.  The old rely on the young to provide their food and clothing, while the young rely on the elderly to provide experience and wisdom.  Although you may feel that this is an “extreme” way of putting it, this very peculiar phenomenon does exist in China, thanks to an evil system and evil customs.  It is a fact that there are fundamental differences between the life of the old and that of the young.  This proposition has physiological and psychological foundations.  The reason why human life is different for the old and for the young lies in the differences between the physiology and psychology of the old and of the young.  Generally speaking, human life is the satisfaction of physiological and psychological desires.  Desires differ according to differences in sex, differences in age, differences in occupation, and differences in beliefs.  The difference in desires resulting from age differences is, however, the most pronounced.  This has already been proven by both Eastern and Western scholars.

We have many different kinds of desires, such as the desire to eat, the desire for sex, the desire to play, the desire for fame, and the desire for power and influence (also called the desire to dominate), and so on.  Of these, the desires for food and sex are fundamental, the former to maintain the “present” and the latter to open up the “future.”  Of these two desires, there is no absolute difference in the desire for food according to age.  Sexual desire does, however, differ with age.

The expression of sexual desire, generally speaking, is love.  Young people see the question of love as being very important, while old men don’t think it’s worth worrying about.  The relationship between husband and wife was originally meant to be totally centered around love, with everything else being subordinate.  Only in China is this question put to one side.  When I was young, I saw many people getting married.  I asked them what they were up to.  They all replied that a person takes a wife to have someone to make tea, cook, raise pigs, chase away the dogs, spin, and weave.  At this I asked, wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to hire a servant?  It wasn’t until later that I heard that people got married to “carry on the family line.”  This left me still perplexed.  And right down to today, when you look at what society says about marriage, you still can’t find even a hint of anything about love.  Society does not regard love as being important, and thus, except for the slave’s work of making tea, cooking, and so on, marriage is nothing but that base life of fleshly desire.  (What we call sexual desire, or love, involves not only the satisfaction of the physiological urge of fleshly desire, but the satisfaction of a higher order of desires — spiritual desires and desires for social intercourse.)  The slave’s work of making tea and cooking is a result of capitalism.  Old people pay no attention to love, only to “eating.”  Thus when their sons want to take a wife, they say they are taking a daughter-in-law.  Their goal in getting a daughter-in-law is to have the daughter-in-law do the slave’s work for them.  A passage in the Book of Rites says, “Even if a son is very pleased with his wife, if his parents are not, he repudiates her.  A son should not be pleased with his wife.”  This is firm proof of the fact that the question of love between the son and the daughter-in-law is to be put to one side, and that a wife is only doing the slavework.  When a woman is given in marriage, her parents don’t say that they have chosen a husband for their daughter, but rather that they have selected a happy son-in-law.  A “happy son-in-law” means only that this will make the parents happy.  It doesn’t matter whether their daughter will be happy or not.  And even all the dowry payments are just so that they themselves can eat well.  In short, capitalism and love are in conflict with one another.  Old men are in conflict with love.  Thus there is a tight bond between old men and capitalism, and the only good friends of love are young people.  Wouldn’t you say that old men and young people are in conflict with each other?

Observing that the Zhao family forced their daughter to commit suicide, Mr. Pingzi [6] strongly opposes parent’s controlling the marriage of their children, but he does not bring out the real reasons for this disposition.  The arguments of others like Messrs. Yunyuan, Weiwen, and Buping [7] mostly vacillate back and forth on the issue of parents interfering with the marriages of their children, and do not take a firm stand against such encroachment.  (Mr. Buping’s suggestion that parents act as participants with a strong say in the matter goes even farther.)  I have adduced physiological and psychological evidence to prove that parents absolutely cannot interfere in the marriages of their sons and daughters.  On their side, sons and daughters should absolutely refuse parental interference in their own marriages.  This must be done, for only then can capitalist marriage be abolished; only then can marriage based on love be established, so that loving and happy couples may truly appear.

Smash the Matchmaker System (November 27, 1919)

Speaking of this thing called a “matchmaker,” this is another cheap trick of Chinese society.  Chinese society contains a great many cheap tricks.  Things like those literary essays, imperial examinations, local bandits, and bureaucrats are all nothing but a bunch of tricks and games.  The same is true of things like exorcizing devils, sacrifices to appease the gods, dragon lanterns, lion dances, and even doctors treating patients, teachers teaching classes, and men and women getting married.  A society like that of China should really be called a society of cheap tricks.  This trick called marriage is connected with the problem of men and women, and also gives birth to a bunch of smaller games, such as “crawling in the dust,” “robbing the sister-in-law,” “raising the hero,” “fighting the wind,” “wearing a green bandana,” “making the genie jump,” and so on.  But as regards marriage, standing above all these little tricks, so that it may in all conscience be called the “ultimate cheap trick,” is that three-headed six-armed ubiquitous demon, the “matchmaker.”

The Chinese matchmaker has the following strange features:

the basic philosophy is “successfully dragging them together”;
each marriage is at least 80 percent lies;
the “gods” and the “eight characters” are their protecting talismans.

In China, it is always said that the major power over marriage is in the hands of the parents.  In actuality, although the parents are nominally the ones in control, they do not really make the decision.  It is in fact the matchmaker who has decision-making power.  In China anyone is qualified to be a matchmaker.  Moreover, matchmaking is recognized as a kind of duty.  As soon as someone has a son who needs a wife or a daughter who needs a husband, everybody and anybody around them, no matter who, is eligible to step in and join the search.  For this kind of matchmaker the first thing is to have the basic philosophy of “successfully dragging them together.”  Going around selling both parties on the idea that she genuinely wants the marriage to be a “success,” the matchmaker always says forcefully, you two families must make up your own minds.  In fact, however, after all her badgering, even parents with iron ears have long since become limp rags.  I have seen a lot of matchmakers, 80 or 90 percent of whom have been successful.  The matchmaker thinks that if she can’t get the couple together it is her own fault.  In the event that they do come together, and the two parties go from “unmarried” to “married,” she will have a meritorious deed to her credit.  At the bottom of such a philosophy of dragging people together, one thing is indispensable: “telling lies.”  Since the two families of the man and woman are not close to one another, there are many things that they do no know about each other, and the girl is locked away in the inner chambers, making it even more difficult to find out about her.  So the matchmaker rambles on, making up all kinds of stories, so that on hearing them, both sets of parents will be happy.  A marriage contract is written up on a sheet of paper, and thus the affair is concluded.  As a result, it is frequently the case that after the marriage, the two turn out to be completely incompatible.  This case of Fourth Madame She bringing together Miss Zhao and Fifth Son Wu is a perfect example of such lying.  Some even go so far as to substitute another bridegroom, or switch the bride.  This constitutes “a match between unmatchables,” and not just “a few little lies.”  Totally incompatible marriages in which the matchmaker has simply “dragged” the couple together and then lets out a futile fart to the heavens (country people call a lie a “futile fart”) practically fill Chinese society.  And why is it that one never hears of the man or the woman picking a quarrel with the matchmaker, or that of all the lawsuits in the courts, one rarely hears of one against the “old man of the moon”?  On the contrary, such people get off scot-free, with money in their pockets from the fee for their services.  Why is this?  Thanks to the blessings of the “gods” and the “eight characters,” the responsibility is placed on the supernatural.  Quite apart from the fact that the parents as usual do not blame the matchmaker, even the son and daughter can do no more than bemoan their sins in a previous life.  The wrong has already been cast in bronze, and all they can do is to make the best of a bad job.  This is one of the main causes preventing suitable marriages.  I have already discussed this at length in yesterday’s paper.

Since matchmakers are as bad as all this, when in the future we think about marriage reform, it is imperative that we immediately do away with the matchmaker system.  Vocabulary such as “matchmaker” and “the old man of the moon” must be expunged from dictionaries of the Chinese language.  With the establishment of a new marriage system, provided only that the man and the woman both know in their hearts that they have a deep and mutual affection for each other they should be fully able to mate freely.  If and when they want to make this clearly known to their relatives and friends, the best thing is to place a public announcement in the newspapers, declaring that the two of us want to become man and wife, and that the wedding date is set for such-and-such a month on such-and-such a day, and that’s that.  Otherwise, it should also be sufficient just to register at a public office, or in the countryside to report to the local authorities.  This thing called the matchmaker should be hurled beyond the highest heavens and forever forgotten.  If the atmosphere in the countryside is not yet receptive, so that it is difficult for the time being to abolish the system completely, the couple should at least meet face-to-face to prevent the matchmaker from lying.  And if the marriage does not work out, an inquiry can be requested in which the matchmaker cannot escape responsibility.  An examination of the origins of the matchmaker system would show that it came about because the line separating men and women is drawn too deeply.  Therefore, if we want to abolish the matchmaker system we must first thoroughly crack open the great prohibition against men and women meeting.  In the past few days Messrs. Xincheng, [8] Yuying, [9] Borong, and Xitang [10] have already discussed this in detail, so I need not go over it again here.

The Problem of Superstition in Marriage (November 28, 1919)

In studying the reasons why it is still possible to maintain the old marriage system, I frequently think that it is because of one enormous superstition.

Why do I say this?  At the center of marriage is love.  The power of the human need for love is greater than that of any other need.  Nothing except some special force can stop it.  Since love is an extremely important human need and is extremely powerful, everyone should be able to find what he’s looking for, and after marriage, the relationship between husband and wife should be full of love.  Why is it that, carrying a lantern as big as a house and searching the far corners of all of Chinese society, we find not even the faintest shadow of love?  The two phoney billboards of “the parental command” and “the matchmaker’s word” are easily capable of completely blocking even such a great power as this.  Why?

Some people reply that it is “because of China’s religion of the rites.”  But how many of our 400 million people really understand what the so-called “religion of the rites” is?  It goes without saying that all of China’s 200 million women are totally illiterate.  All of China’s peasants and all of China’s workers and merchants can recognize only a few big characters.  If we eliminate all of these, those who really understand the religion of the rites are only a small portion of those self-styled scholarly gentlemen dressed in long dark robes.  Apart from the “scholarly gentlemen,” for the vast majority of uneducated women, peasants, workers, and merchants, what controls their spiritual world, and enables the two phoney billboards of “the parental command” and “the matchmaker’s word” to block this surging tide of the need for love, is none other, I believe, than “superstition.”

The greatest superstition is the theory that “marriages are determined by destiny.”  Of an infant who has just dropped out of its mother’s belly, it is said that its marriage is already predestined.  When the child gets a little older and develops its own need to be married, it dares not propose a partner itself, but leaves it up to the parents and a matchmaker to make arrangements.  The child believes that making his own choice and leaving it up to the parental and matchmaker intermediaries amounts to the same thing, since it is already predestined and everything will be fine no matter what.  The wedding is held, and the husband and wife are united.  Except for those who have yielded to the irresistible natural force of love, people either throw out everything and start a big ruckus, turning the bedroom into a battleground of deadly mutual hostility, or find themselves another world outside the home, among the mulberry fields on the banks of the Pu River, where they carry on their secret amours.  Apart from these, those numerous husbands and wives who are called good couples with harmonious families have the words “marriage is predestined” writ large in their brains.  Thus they frequently commit to memory such maxims as, “Each generation cultivates sharing the pillow as those who cross over in the same boat have cultivated it for a hundred generations,” “The old man in the moon knots the threads,” “A match made in heaven.”  Such marriages that obey the theory of destiny probably account for 80 percent of Chinese society.  For these 80 percent of Chinese couples the flavor of love is an obscure mystery.  You might say their marriage is good, but then again, they are often known to sigh and moan.  But if you say it’s no good, they are, after all, a couple who live together in the same room, eat and sleep together, give birth to children and raise them as if their marriages really had been “made in heaven.”  Following their periodic quarrels and fights, when they have calmed down a bit, they recall that “each generation cultivates sharing the pillow” and that “matches are made in heaven,” at which point they return to their original state, and go on eating and sleeping as before.  It is because of this theory of predestination that the matchmaker is able to avoid responsibility.  Any Chinese, even the blind and deaf, is qualified to be a matchmaker.  Marital predestination is implanted in everyone’s mind, and when there is a wedding in some family, everyone, always goes along with it, whether or not the match is appropriate.  You think that if you don’t go along with it, you’re certain to be condemned by the gods.  You hear the saying everywhere “go along with marriage, don’t work against it.”  Anyone who “investigates the prospective spouse” by inquiring from the neighbors will never hear anything bad from them.  Once the bride enters the bridegroom’s house, it is considered “determined by the trigrams qian and kun,” and “celebrated with bell and drum.”  After that, no one would dare back out, no matter how bad it is.  All they can do is remember that “marriage is determined by destiny.”  It is this theory of predestination that gives rise to such extremely irrational practices as “marriages decided in the womb” and “choosing a partner in infancy.”  Everyone thinks, however, that it’s all a matter of “perfect destiny.”  No one has even considered that it might be a big mistake.  If you ask someone for a reason, the reply will be that “marriage is determined by destiny.”  Oh, how powerful you are, “marital destiny.”

The theory that “marriage is determined by fate” is an overarching superstition, to which many other small superstitions are appended:

1) “Matching the Eight Characters.”  When arranging for the marriages of their   sons and daughters, it is not that Chinese parents are utterly unselective.  On the contrary, they waste a lot of effort worrying about the selection of a mate for their sons and daughters.  Their criteria for selecting, however, are not looks or disposition or health or learning or age, but rather only whether or not the eight characters.”  There are two ways of matching the eight characters.  One is to ask a fortune-teller to match them, the other is to ask a “Buddha” to match them.  As long as the eight characters can be matched, even a demon can be dragged into becoming a husband or wife.  In society there are many cases of a young girl being mated with an elderly husband, or of a young man taking an elderly woman to wife.  In our village there is a joke, “Eighty-year-old Grandpa produced a baby, and the hundred thousand families of Changsha laughed themselves to death,”  which refers to the story of an eighteen-year-old girl, married to an eighty-year- old man, having a baby.  In addition, there are frequent instances of an ugly husband matched up with a beautiful wife, or a beautiful wife matched up with an  ugly husband, with the consolation that “happiness and wealth come to the ugly.”  None of the other factors, such as disposition or learning, are regarded as significant criteria.

2) “Registering the Dates.”  After the eight characters are matched, the second   step in the marriage procedure is “Registering the Dates,” in which the eight characters of both the man and the woman are written down in the Book of Dates   in the presence of “the illustrious spirits.”  Incense is burned and prayers are invoked that the couple may “live together to a ripe old age.”  From this stage forward, the marriage is considered an ironclad case.  Registering the Dates originally meant sealing the contract, but in the Book of Dates itself nothing is said about contracts.  The only thing that is written down is eight big characters indicating the year, month, day, and hour.  All the many really essential  conditions of marriage count for nothing.  How can this be considered anything but superstition?

3) “Selecting an Auspicious Day.”  After registering the dates, and the exchange of presents, it is necessary to select a lucky day.  It must be a day of no “evil  spirits” or “taboos.”  The almanac is commonly consulted for “suitable” and   “impropitious” days.  Next, a fortune-teller is asked to calculate the position of   the stars.  Then the Buddha’s permission is asked.  It was at this point that Miss Zhao begged her parents to change the wedding date, to which her mother replied. “The auspicious day has already been determined and is virtually impossible to   change.”  Had they agreed to change the date, and waited for her elder brother to  return home, it might not have been necessary to bury her on this “most auspicious day.”

4) “Sending the Sedan Chair.”  This is even stupider.  There is some tale to the effect that when King Zhou of the Shang dynasty was receiving his concubine, Daji, a fox-spirit changed places with her during the journey.  Ever since, whenever a bride is on the way to her groom’s house, it is feared that she might become a second Daji.  First, therefore, a heavy closed sedan chair must be used; second, its door must be locked tightly; and third, the “god of good luck” is entreated to offer proper protection.  Some say that if on this occasion Miss Zhao had been in a light open sedan chair, not tightly locked and sealed, so that she could have been seen from outside, she might not have committed suicide.

5) “Greeting the God of Good Luck.”  Seated in the dark inside a sealed sedan chair, a bride is already depressed, but when she arrives at the bridegroom’s house and the sedan chair is set down, she must also calmly greet the “god of good luck,” requesting him to “ward off unlucky influences.”  On this occasion, when Miss Zhao arrived at the Wu family home, she was already about to expire, but the Wu family was just getting ready to greet the “god of good luck,” in order to “ward off unlucky influences.”

6) “Worshiping Heaven and Earth.”  Worshiping heaven and earth means being presented to the ancestors.  It is said that when a new bride is added to a household it is necessary to ask the ancestors to protect and assist in “giving birth to many heirs,” so that “abundant descendants may glorify the ancestors.”  In the West, they do not report to their ancestors, but they do thank some God, and say that the love of the bride and groom is a gift from God, and their marriage relationship has been put together by God.

These superstitions are really just so many cheap tricks of marriage, and have no other purpose than to be the rope that tightly binds a man and woman together.  Between the matchmaking and the exchange of gifts, the bride and groom are so tightly bound by the bonds of superstition that they can’t even breathe, and afterwards, they become a stable, proper, and very harmonious good couple.  Miss Zhao’s marriage had, of course, gone through all the “big ceremonies” except that of “worshiping heaven and earth.” [11]  Her choice of death was certainly closely related to these superstitions.  As we put forward our call for the reform of the marriage system, it is first of all these superstitions about marriage that must be demolished, above all the belief that “marriages are decided by destiny.”  Once this belief has been demolished, the pretext behind which the arrangement of marriages by parents hides itself will disappear, and “incompatibility of husband and wife” will immediately start appearing in society.  As soon as incompatibility between husbands and wives manifests itself, the army of the family revolution will arise in countless numbers, and the great tide of the freedom of marriage and the freedom to love will sweep over China.  Riding the crest of this tide, new husband and wife relationships will be formed wholly on the basis of a philosophy of love.  At this point, I could not help associating this with a subject that everyone is talking about, “universal education.”

  1. The peddlers to whom Mao alludes were those who brought cotton cloth, particularly that used for women’s undergarments and for children’s clothes, to people’s homes.  The point of this reference is that, unlike the men referred to under item 6 below, who hung about silk shops, women were sequestered in their houses and could only wait for the peddlers to come to them.
  2. Mr. Rulin is believed to be Xiao Rulin (1890-1926), a native of Hunan Province.  After the 1911 revolution he became editor-in-chief of the Changsha Junguomin ribao (National Military Daily), and was deputy chief of the office of Governor Tan Yankai in 1917.  The Dagongbao published his article entitled “My Views on the Suicide of Miss Zhao” on November 19, 1919.
  3. Tianheng (?-202 b.c.) was a nobleman of the state of Qi and a supporter of the king of Qi during the war between Chu and Han.  When Liu Bang became king, Tianheng was unwilling to act as his subject, so committed suicide.  Five hundred of his followers, on hearing of this incident, also took their own lives.
  4. The “army of Hong and Yang” refers to the forces of the Taipings.  In July 1864 the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was taken by Zeng Guofan’s forces, after the campaign for which Mao earlier expressed such admiration.  On the day the city fell, the Xiang Army ravaged the city, looting shops and killing many people.  On seeing this, officers of the Taiping army gathered up all remaining valuables and set fire to the lot, including themselves.  As indicated in the note to Mao’s letter of August 23, 1917, Yang Xiuqing had, in fact, died in 1856, though the supreme leader Hong Xiuquan was still alive.
  5. Mr. Xinman’s identity is unknown.  He was one of three authors whose articles were published in the Dagongbao under the heading “Public Opinion on the Suicide of Miss Zhao” on November 20, 1919.  In his piece, he praised Miss Zhao for being a resolute person who refused to bow to circumstances, and criticized the “erroneous arguments” of Mao and others, who failed to grasp that her suicide (not suicide in general) was a “joyous event.”
  6. Mr. Pingzi is Zhang Pingzi (1885-1972).  zi Qihan, like Mao a native of Xiangtan xian.  Hunan.  A member of the Tongmenghui, he became in 1919 one of the chief editors of the Hunan Dagongbao.  His own arcticle entitled “I Do Not Approve of Parents Controlling Marriage” appeared in the November 22, 1919, issue.
  7. The identities of Yunyuan, Weiwen, and Buping are unknown.  On November 20, 1919, the Dagongbao carried an article by Weiwen, “The problem of the Reform of the Marriage System,” as well as a brief note by Buping under the heading “Public Opinion on the Suicide of Miss Zhao.”  An article signed Yunyuan, “My Views on Reform of the Marriage System,” was published the following day.
  8. Xincheng is Shu Xincheng (1893-1960), a Hunanese who was editor of Hunan Jiaoyu (Hunan Education), a monthly critical of the existing education system founded on November 1, 1919, and suppressed after its fifth issue in March 1920.  At this time he was teaching at Changsha Fuxiang Girl’s School.  The article to which Mao refers had appeared on November 23, 1919, in the Dagongbao.
  9. Yuying is Long Bojian (1879-1983), a Hunanese who had been editor-in-chief of the weekly Xin Hunan (New Hunan).  His article entitled “A Question” was published in the Dagongbao on November 22, 1919.
  10. Borong is Li Borong (1893-1972), and Xitang is Li Youlong (1881-1953), zi Xiaoshen, hao Xitang.  Their articles on the incident were published in the Dagongbao on November 22 and November 24 respectively.
  11. There is an apparent contradiction between Mao’s observation here and the statement, not only in the other sources on the suicide of Miss Zhao, but in Mao’s own article of November 18, to the effect that the victim cut her throat in the sedan chair while being carried to her future husband’s house, so that Orange Garden Street was “splashed with blood.”  The explanation apparently lies in the account published in the Dagongbao on November 16, 1919, according to which Miss Zhao was still bleeding and did not appear to be dead when the chair was opened in front of the Wu family home, and medical attention was sought.  In a macabre twist to the tale, she was taken first to the Red Cross infirmary, and then (because they had no woman doctor to treat her) to the Hunan-Yale Medical College outside the north gate, where it was too late to save her.  This version is compatible with Mao’s statement, in paragraph (5) above, that when she arrived at the Wu family home, she was already “about to expire.”  Assuming it is accurate, Miss Zhao did indeed live to complete all but the last of the marriage ceremonies.

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from Indian Home Rule
from An Autobiography: The Story of    My Experiments With Truth
from Non-Violence in Peace and War


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (often called “Mahatma,” or “great soul”), the Indian nationalist and advocate of non-violence, was born in Porbandar to the local chief minister and a mother who was an active disciple of Vaishnavism, the worship of the Hindu god Vishnu. Gandhi’s religious upbringing emphasized principles of ahimsa (non-injury to living beings), fasting, self-purification, and nonviolence; these themes would figure prominently in his political philosophy. His academic performance in Indian schools was mediocre; however, after a rebellious adolescence, Gandhi committed himself to a program of passionate self-improvement. In 1888, he sailed to England to study law at the Inner Temple, but found himself more involved in adjusting to Western culture. His vegetarianism, at first a source of embarrassment, became an opportunity to practice his social influence: he joined the London Vegetarian Society, where he was introduced to the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita.

In 1891, he returned to India to discover that, because he found himself unable to speak in the courtroom and thus was left merely to prepare legal documents, law was not a lucrative career for him in India. Subsequently, in 1893, he took a job for an Indian firm in South Africa; the prejudices against Indians he encountered there persuaded him to remain to help fight discrimination. Almost overnight he was transformed into a skilled politician. He established spiritual communities (ashrams), the Natal Indian Congress, and a weekly newspaper, the Indian Opinion. In 1906, he staged his first nonviolent resistance campaign based on his technique of satyagraha (“the Force which is born of Truth and Love, or nonviolence”), which he derived from the works of Thoreau, Tolstoy, the Hindu scriptures, and the New Testament. Gandhi and his followers in South Africa were often threatened and imprisoned.

In 1915, Gandhi returned to India, where he began to campaign and fast for Indians of the lowest castes and for “untouchables,” whom he renamed Harijan, “children of God.” Upon the passing of the Rowlatt Act in 1919, an infringement on Indian civil liberties, he planned an all-India satyagraha campaign, but the event backfired when some of the protesters resorted to violence. Another campaign in 1920 boycotted the British cloth industry; he was subsequently arrested for sedition in 1922 and spent two years in prison. (During his lifetime, he would spend a total of 2,338 days in jail.) Upon his release, he was elected president of the Indian National Congress. He led several social movements, his “constructive program,” which included women’s rights, education, industry, personal hygiene, and Hindu-Muslim unity. However, the issue of whether there should be a separate electorate for Dalits, an alternative term for “untouchables,” divided him from the activist Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar regarded as a hero of the casteless. In 1933, Gandhi fasted for 21 days over issues concerning untouchables. In 1942, he led a satyagraha to demand the withdrawal of British forces from India; the British reacted sharply and imprisoned the leadership of the Congress. On August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan were declared independent, but Gandhi was deeply disappointed by this lack of unity at the moment of freedom. Renewed riots between Hindus and Muslims led Gandhi to a final fast. In 1948, Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi by a Hindu fanatic while traveling to his evening prayer meeting.

Gandhi’s collected works—autobiography, letters, editorials, and speeches—fill 100 volumes. In his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth (1927), Gandhi recounts his consideration of suicide during his period of youthful rebellion. His writings on satyagraha often refer to conditions under which it is permissible to lay down one’s own life for a noble cause. In the pamphlet “Indian Home Rule” (1909), he uses the dialogue of a hypothetical editor and reader to explain the attitudes of a “passive resister” toward death; in rejecting the ancient tradition of self-immolation that was practiced by Buddhist monks in Vietnam (q.v., Thich Nhat Hanh) in Harijan (1940), he insists that that was mere passive resistance, not the active, engaged satyagraha that he supported. Non-Violence in Peace and War (1945) illuminates his belief in the importance of learning the “art of dying.”

Mohandas K. Gandhi, “Indian Home Rule,” in The Gandhi Reader: A Source Book of his Life and Writings, ed. Homer A. Jack (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1956; London: Dennis Dobson, 1958), pp. 112, 114-16; An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth, tr. Mahadev Desai (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), pp. 25-28; excerpts from Gandhi on Non-Violence; Selected Texts from Mohandas K. Gandhi’s Non-Violence in Peace and War, ed. Thomas Merton (New York: New Directions Books, 1964, 1965), selections from pp. 39, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 52, 55, 60, 61, 62, 64, 73, 85, 86. Material in introduction also from Christine Everaert.



EDITOR: Passive resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering; it is the reverse of resistance by arms. When I refuse to do a thing that is repugnant to my conscience, I use soul-force. For instance, the Government of the day has passed a law which is applicable to me. I do not like it. If by using violence I force the Government to repeal the law, I an employing what may be termed body-force. If I do not obey the law and accept the penalty for its breach, I use soul-force. It involves sacrifice of self.

Everybody admits that sacrifice of self is infinitely superior to sacrifice of others. Moreover, if this kind of force is used in a cause that is unjust, only the person using it suffers. He does not make others suffer for his mistakes. Men have before now done many things which were subsequently found to have been wrong. No man can claim that he is absolutely in the right or that a particular thing is wrong because he thinks so, but it is wrong for him so long as that is his deliberate judgment. It is therefore meet that he should not do that which he knows to be wrong, and suffer the consequence whatever it may be. This is the key to the use of soul-force. . .

READER: From what you say I deduce that passive resistance is a splendid weapon of the weak, but that when they are strong they may take up arms.

EDITOR: This is a gross ignorance. Passive resistance, that is, soul-force, is matchless. It is superior to the force of arms. How, then, can it be considered only a weapon of the weak? Physical-force men are strangers to the courage that is requisite in a passive resister. Do you believe that a coward can ever disobey a law that he dislikes? Extremists are considered to be advocates of brute force. Why do they, then, talk about obeying laws? I do not blame them. They can say nothing else. When they succeed in driving out the English and they themselves become governors, they will want you and me to obey their laws. And that is a fitting thing for their constitution. But a passive resister will say he will not obey a law that is against his conscience, even though he may be blown to pieces at the mouth of a cannon.

What do you think? Wherein is courage required—in blowing others to pieces from behind a cannon, or with a smiling face to approach a cannon and be blown to pieces? Who is the true warrior—he who keeps death always as a bosom-friend, or he who controls the death of others? Believe me that a man devoid of courage and manhood can never be a passive resister.

This, however, I will admit: that even a man weak in body is capable of offering this resistance. One man can offer it just as well as millions. Both men and women can indulge in it. It does not require the training of an army; it needs no jiu-jitsu. Control over the mind is alone necessary, and when that is attained, man is free like the king of the forest and his very glance withers the enemy.

Passive resistance is an all-sided sword, it can be used anyhow; it blesses him who uses it and him against whom if is used. Without drawing a drop of blood it produces far-reaching results. It never rusts and cannot be stolen. Competition between passive resisters does not exhaust. The sword of passive resistance does not require a scabbard. It is strange indeed that you should consider such a weapon to be a weapon merely of the weak. . . .

READER: From what you say, then, it would appear that it is not a small thing to become a passive resister, and, if that is so, I should like you to explain how a man may become one.

EDITOR: To become a passive resister is easy enough but it is also equally difficult. I have known a lad of fourteen years become a passive resister; I have known also sick people do likewise; and I have also known physically strong and otherwise happy people unable to take up passive resistance. After a great deal of experience it seems to me that those who want to become passive resisters for the service of the country have to observe perfect chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth, and cultivate fearlessness.

Chastity is one of the greatest disciplines without which the mind cannot attain requisite firmness. A man who is unchaste loses stamina, becomes emasculated and cowardly. He whose mind is given over to animal passions is not capable of any great effort. . . .

Just as there is necessity for chastity, so is there for poverty. Pecuniary ambition and passive resistance cannot go well together. Those who have money are not expected to throw it away, but they are expected to be indifferent about it. They must be prepared to lose every penny rather than give up passive resistance.

Passive resistance has been described in the course of our discussion as truth-force. Truth, therefore, has necessarily to be followed and that at any cost. In this connection, aca

demic questions such as whether a man may not lie in order to save a life, etc., arise, but these questions occur only to those who wish to justify lying. Those who want to follow truth every time are not placed in such a quandary; and if they are, they are still saved from a false position.

Passive resistance cannot proceed a step without fearlessness. Those alone can follow the path of passive resistance who are free from fear, whether as to their possessions, false honor, their relatives, the government, bodily injuries or death.



Stealing and Atonement

I have still to relate some of my failings during this meat-eating period and also previous to it, which date from before my marriage or soon after.

A relative and I became fond of smoking. Not that we saw any good in smoking, or were enamoured of the smell of a cigarette. We simply imagined a sort of pleasure in emitting clouds of smoke from our mouths. My uncle had the habit, and when we saw him smoking, we thought we should copy his example. But we had no money. So we began pilfering stumps of cigarettes thrown away by my uncle.

The stumps, however, were not always available, and could not emit much smoke either. So we began to steal coppers from the servant’s pocket money in order to purchase Indian cigarettes. But the question was where to keep them. We could not of course smoke in the presence of elders. We managed somehow for a few weeks on these stolen coppers. In the meantime we heard that the stalks of a certain plant were porous and could be smoked like cigarettes. We got them and began this kind of smoking.

But we were far from being satisfied with such things as these. Our want of independence began to smart. It was unbearable that we should be unable to do anything without the elders’ permission. At last, in sheer disgust, we decided to commit suicide!

But how were we to do it? From where were we to get the poison? We heard that Dhatura seeds were an effective poison. Off we went to the jungle in search of these seeds, and got them. Evening was thought to be the auspicious hour. We went to Kedarji Mandir, put ghee in the temple-lamp, had the darshan and then looked for a lonely corner. But our courage failed us. Supposing we were not instantly killed? And what was the good of killing ourselves? Why not rather put up with the lack of independence? But we swallowed two or three seeds nevertheless. We dared not take more. Both of us fought shy of death, and decided to go to Ramji Mandir to compose ourselves, and to dismiss the thought of suicide.

I realized that it was not as easy to commit suicide as to contemplate it. And since then, whenever I have heard of someone threatening to commit suicide, it has had little or no effect on me.

The thought of suicide ultimately resulted in both of us bidding good-bye to the habit of smoking stumps of cigarettes and of stealing the servant’s coppers for the purpose of smoking.



[In non-violence] the bravery consists in dying, not in killing.

Those who die unresistingly are likely to still the fury of violence by their wholly innocent sacrifice.

He who meets death without striking a blow fulfills his duty cent per cent. The result is in God’s hands.

A satyagrahi is dead to his body even before his enemy attempts to kill him, i.e., he is free from attachment to his body and only lives in the victory of his soul. Therefore when he is already thus dead, why should he yearn to kill anyone? To die in the act of killing is in essence to die defeated.

Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for non-violence.

The votary of non-violence has to cultivate his capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear. . . . He who has not overcome all fear cannot practice ahimsa to perfection. The votary of ahimsa has only one fear, that is of God. He who seeks refuge in God ought to have a glimpse of the Atman [the transcendent self] that transcends the body; and the moment one has glimpsed the imperishable Atman one sheds the love of the perishable body. . . . Violence is needed for the protection of things external; non-violence is needed for the protection of the Atman, for the protection of one’s honor.

There is a natural prejudice against fasting as part of a political struggle. . . . It is considered a vulgar interpolation in politics by the ordinary politician, though it has always been resorted to by prisoners. . . . My own fasts have always been strictly according to the laws of satyagraha. . . . I have been driven to the conclusion that fasting unto death is an integral part of the satyagraha program, and it is the greatest and most effective weapon in its armory under giver circumstances. Not everyone is qualified for undertaking it without a proper course of training.

A satyagrahi must always be ready to die with a smile on his face, without retaliation and without rancor in his heart. Some people have come to have a wrong notion that satyagraha means only jail-going, perhaps facing blows, and nothing more. Such satyagraha cannot bring independence. To win independence you have to learn the art of dying without killing.

A satyagrahi should fast only as a last resort when all other avenues of redress have been explored and have failed.

To lay down one’s life for what one considers to be right is the very core of satyagraha.

A satyagrahi may never run away from danger, irrespective of whether he is alone or in the company of many. He will have fully performed his duty if he dies fighting.

You are no satyagrahis if you remain silent or passive spectators while your enemy is being done to death. You must protect him even at the cost of your own life.

The art of dying for a satyagrahi consists in facing death cheerfully in the performance of one’s duty.

Ahimsa is one of the world’s great principles which no force on earth can wipe out. Thousands like myself may die in trying to vindicate the ideal, but ahimsa will never die. And the gospel of ahimsa can be spread only through believers dying for the cause.

Non-violence is the only thing the atom bomb cannot destroy. . . . Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.

Murder can never be avenged by either murder or taking compensation. The only way to avenge murder is to offer oneself as a willing sacrifice, with no desire for retaliation.

A non-violent man or woman will and should die without retaliation, anger or malice, in self-defense or in defending the honor of his women folk. This is the highest form of bravery. If an individual or group of people are unable or unwilling to follow this great law of life, retaliation or resistance unto death is the second best, though a long way off from the first. Cowardice is impotence worse than violence. The coward desires revenge but being afraid to die, he looks to others, maybe to the government of the day, to do the work of defense for him. A coward is less than a man. He does not deserve to be a member of a society of men and women.

[Jesus—] a man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.

No man, if he is pure, has anything more precious to give than his life.


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(c. 1889)

The Plight of Hindu Widows as Described by a Widow Herself


This anonymous selection was originally published in the Methodist Church Missionary Society’s magazine The Gospel in All Lands in April of 1889. Little is known about its author or its exact date of composition, except that the author, “a widow herself,” identifies herself as a member of the Kayastha caste, living in the Punjab. The caste is a community of scribes, highly educated and historically very influential, and of well-to-do economic status.

Sati or suttee, as the British called it, also known as widow-burning, in which the new widow immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, was practice with apparent antecedents as far back as the 5th century A.D. or even earlier [q.v., Vedas]. The practice has never been universal among Hindus, and it does not always involve fire: for instance, the Bengali Jogi weaver caste and the Jasnathi caste in Rajasthan buried the wife alive with her husband. Sati stones or grave markers often served as sites of veneration, and were known throughout India by the 10th century. Rulers during the Mughal period attempted to suppress the practice but without lasting success, and it reached the greatest rates of frequency in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1813, the British East India Company recognized the legitimacy of sati as long as it was based on the widow’s “consent,” not coercion. Between 1813 and 1828, the period during which the British collected statistics on sati, approximately 8,000 widows were burnt. The practice was banned by the Bengal presidency in 1829 and upheld by the British Privy Council in 1832; statistics were not kept after that time, though the decree affected only some areas of India and that portion of the population where British rule was in sway. In 1856, the law was also amended to allow widows to remarry, but the Social Reform Movement found that traditional custom could not be undone overnight and that opposition to the continuing practice of sati was necessary. Although it is now illegal to attempt to commit sati or to glorify or abet it, it still occasionally occurs in rural areas of India.

“The Plight of Hindu Widows” is a distinctly graphic and disturbing account arising from the body of literature written in the second half of the 19th century focusing on the issue of widow remarriage and with it the question of women’s rights in India; it is significant in that it presents a view of sati not from the vantage point of European male observers, who were almost universally unsympathetic and disapproving (though often fascinated by the beauty of the doomed wife), but from that of an Indian woman who could have undergone sati herself.

Sati is sometimes conceptualized as a form of suicide, sometimes as a form of social murder. Earlier treatments of sati in Hindu literature had sometimes romanticized it (e.g., in Bana’s Harsha-Carita [q.v.], where the queen’s death is portrayed as a devout and fully voluntary choice against the opposition of her son, a religiously inspired act of devotion to her dead husband in the expectation of reward and reunion in the afterlife, though Bana was himself opposed to the practice). In popular belief, it is claimed, sati is said to be painless and will remove the sins of seven generations in a woman’s family, and she will not be reborn as a woman. In “The Plight of Hindu Widows,” in contrast, the practice of sati is seen by its widow author as an unwelcome alternative, though still preferable to the vicious social treatment experienced by widows, a treatment that she describes as a lifelong, slow death compared to sati’s quick but cruel death. Thus a widow might knowingly, even voluntarily, choose death by sati rather than the life that would otherwise await her after the death of her husband, even though the alleged voluntariness of her choice is severely compromised by oppressive social circumstances.

Anonymous, “The Plight of Hindu Widows as Described by a Widow Herself,” Methodist Church Missionary Society, The Gospel in All Lands, 1889, pp. 160-162, tr. Maya Pandit, in Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Early Twentieth Centuryeds. Susie Tharu and K. Lalita (New York: The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1991), pp. 358–363. Material in introduction also from Lata Mani, “Cultural Theory, Colonial Texts: Reading Eyewitness Accounts of Widow Burning,” from Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, Paula A. Treichler, eds., Cultural Studies, Routledge, 1992, Ch. 22, pp. 392–408; and Christine Everaert.



There are four major castes among the Hindus and I was born into the caste known as Kayastha, which is the third in the hierarchy and most infamous for its maltreatment of widows.

Widows anywhere have to suffer, but the customs in our caste are too terrible. The people in the Punjab don’t treat their widows so strictly. But we do not belong to the Punjab. Originally we migrated from the northwest and settled there. And since ours is a well-to-do, why, even wealthy, caste, our regulations in this regard are extremely strict.

Once the husband dies, the torture of his wife begins, as if the messengers of the death god Yama themselves have come to take away her soul. None of her relatives will touch her to take her ornaments off her body. That task is assigned to three women from the barber caste. Their number varies from three to six. No sooner does the husband breathe his last than those female fiends literally jump all over her and violently tear all the ornaments from her nose, ears, etc. In that rush, the delicate bones of the nose and ears are sometimes broken. Sometimes while plucking the ornaments from her hair, tufts of hair are also plucked off. If she is wearing any gold or silver ornaments, these cruel women never have the patience to take them off one by one; they pin her hands down on the ground and try to break the bangles with a large stone. And many a time her hands are severely wounded in the process. Why, these callous women torture even a six- or seven-year-old girl, who doesn’t even know what a husband means when she becomes a widow!

At such times grief crashes down on the poor woman from all sides. On the one hand she has to endure the grief of the husband’s death, and on the other hand, no one comes near her to console her. On the contrary, those who had loved her from her childhood, and had brought her up tenderly, even they shower curses on her. In our caste, it is the custom that all the women accompany men when the corpse is carried for cremation. Everyone has to walk even though they are wealthy and have carriages. The menfolk walk in front and women follow them, clad in veils. And the poor widow follows them all. She is supported by the barber women. There has to be a distance of two hundred feet between her and the rest of the women because it is believed by our people that if her shadow falls over a married woman, she too will become a widow. It doesn’t affect the barber women, who torture her, however, in the same fashion. Because of this stupid superstition, even a relative whose heart melts at the sight of her doesn’t dare to look at her. But people are not satisfied even when they have tortured her so much. They brand her heart further as if with red-hot irons. Several men keep on shouting in that procession, asking people to stay away from her, and the barber women literally drag her along throughout the walk.

The place for cremation is usually on the bank of a river or a lake. When the procession reaches the site, the widow is pushed into the water. She has to lie there till the corpse is burned to ashes and all the people have had their bath and dried their clothes. When people are ready to go home, they pull her out of the water. Whether the water is cold as ice or the sun scorches down fiercely, she has to stay there until everyone has finished. Nobody takes pity on her. Even on the way back home, she is dragged along throughout. Because of such things, women prefer to burn themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre. If the poor woman falls ill on such occasions, nobody even thinks of giving her medicine.

Once, before I became a widow myself, I had been in one such funeral procession. The place of cremation was nearly six miles away. It was summer. It was three o’clock in the afternoon by the time we reached home after having completed all the rites. I will never forget how the scorching heat of the sun was literally burning us on our way. We used to halt at regular intervals to rest a while and drink water. But that poor widow did not dare to ask for water. Had she asked for it, she would have lost her honor. The women with her could have given her some, but they felt no pity for her. Finally she collapsed unconscious. But even then her torturers continued to drag her throughout the road. On top of it, they kept nagging at her, saying, “Are you the only widow in the world? What’s the point of weeping now! Your husband is gone forever!”

Later on, when this poor forsaken woman did not even have the strength to crawl, she was tied up into a bundle as if of rags, and then dragged off. This woman was one of our relatives; but none of us dared go anywhere near her. Had anyone done so, she would have been showered with curses. But even then, one woman somehow managed to take her water in a glass. On seeing her the widow ran to her like a wild beast. I cannot even bear to describe her behavior then. First of all, she gulped down the water, which revived her a bit. Then she fell at the feet of the woman who had given her the water and said, “Sister, I’ll never forget what you have done for me. You are like a god to me. You have given my life back to me. But please go away quickly. If anybody comes to know of what you have done, both of us will have to pay for it. I, at least, will not let this out.”

It is the custom that a widow should eat only once a day for a year after her husband’s death; apart from that, she also has to fast completely on several days. Other relatives also eat only once a day. But only for fifteen days. After returning from the cremation ground, she has to sit on the ground in a corner, without changing her clothes, whether dry or wet. Nobody, apart from the barber women, visits her. If her own relatives are poor, even they don’t come to see her. She has to sit alone. Oh, cruel corner, all of us widows know you so thoroughly well. And we never remember you unless we are grieved.

A woman whose husband is dead is like a living corpse. She has no rights in the home. In spite of her grief, her relatives brand her with frightening words and gestures. Though she is all alone there and not allowed to speak to anyone, her relatives go to her and pierce her with sharp words. Her mother says, “What a mean creature! I don’t think there is anyone more vile than she. It would have been better if she were never born!” Her mother-in-law says, “This horrible snake bit my son and killed him. He died, but why is this worthless woman still alive?” There are even other widows among the women who speak cruelly to her! They feel that if they don’t speak so, people, and God too, would think that they actually pitied her. The sister-in-law says, “I will not cast even a glance at this luckless, ill-fated creature! I will not even speak a word to her.” Those who come to console the relatives of the dead say to the mother of the dead man, “Mother, this monstrous woman has ruined your house. She must be cursed. It’s only because of her that you have been thrown into the ocean of grief!” And to the widow they say, “Now, what do you want to live for?” If she wails aloud, they say, “What a shameless woman! How callous! She cries because she wants a husband.” Thus, she has to spend those thirteen days of grief in that alcove. What an unendurable state! No one can understand how painful it is unless she experiences it.

On the eleventh day, the brahmin comes. He comes like a policeman to arrest a convict. And then he authoritatively demands money or oil and so on. The widow has to pay him even if she is very poor; if she cannot pay immediately, she has to promise him that she will pay in future. Even if the widow is exceedingly poor, she has to pay at least thirteen rupees. Other brahmins demand other things. They demand more if the family is a rich one. Sometimes the widows have to work as servants doing household jobs, to earn money to pay these brahmins their dues.

Thus, there is nothing in our fate but suffering from birth to death. When our husbands are alive, we are their slaves; when they die, our fate is even worse.

The thirteenth day is the most fateful, the worst day for the widow. Though on this day she is allowed to change the clothes she has been wearing since her husband’s death and have a bath, people continue to condemn her. Her relatives gather around her and place some money before her. This is supposed to be for her keep. They curse her a million times while doing so. If the money gathered is a large sum, one of her relatives takes it into his possession and doles it out to her in small installments.

Then the brahmin comes again to demand money. The brahmin and the barber women have to be paid again when the widow’s head is shaved. After six weeks, she is again given the very clothes she had been wearing for the first thirteen days. When she sees those clothes again, she shudders from head to toe, as if she has been widowed again. Then she is sent on a pilgrimage to the Holy Ganges, and those clothes are thrown into the river after she has taken a holy dip in it.

After one year, if the widow is staying with her parents, she may be allowed to wear some ornaments. If asked about the reason, the parents say, “How long can our daughter continue not wearing ornaments? How can we bear to see her sit like that before us, wearing none, when we ourselves wear so many?”

Those widows who have lost their parents, however, have a terrible fate. They have to remain as slaves to their brothers’ wives or even sons. People feel there is no need to employ a servant if there is a widow in the house. If the widow has a sister-in-law (her brother’s wife), she has to suffer harassment at her hands. They constantly quarrel. Her fate isn’t any different in her husband’s family. Her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law hate her and often beat her. If she decides to separate and live independently because of the frequent quarrels, her honor is maligned. If she has any children, she has to toil hard for their upkeep. And when they grow up and get married, she becomes a slave to their wives. If a widow does not have any children, her relatives make her adopt a male child. He becomes heir to her property. And when he grows up and gets married, he is ruled by his wife and provides his adopted mother only with food and clothing. The widow has no right whatsoever to any property she may have. In such a condition, it is better for her if she earns her own living by working for others as a domestic servant.

In our caste, a woman does not have a right over even a piece of her father’s property. It all goes to his relatives. Similarly, widows do not get a share in their husband’s property either. They can claim only that which someone is kind enough to offer them. If they get any cash, they know neither how to keep it safe nor how to spend it. If a woman dies when her husband is still alive, her body is decorated with ornaments and new clothes, and then cremated. But when a widow dies, her body is just wrapped up in plain white cloth and cremated. It is reasoned that if a widow goes to the other world in ornaments and new clothes, her husband will not accept her there.

Thousands of widows die after a husband’s death. But far more have to suffer worse fates throughout their life if they stay alive. Once, a widow who was a relative of mine died in front of me. She had fallen ill before her husband died. When he died, she was so weak that she could not even be dragged to her husband’s cremation. She had a burning fever. Then her mother-in-law dragged her down from the cot onto the ground and ordered the servant to pour bucketfuls of cold water over her. After some eight hours, she died. But nobody came to see how she was when she was dying of the cold. After she died, however, they started praising her, saying that she had died for the love of her husband.

Another woman jumped from the roof of her house and committed suicide when she heard that her husband had died away from home. I and many of her other friends knew that this woman had never gotten along well with her husband. They used to quarrel often. Yet people praised her for committing suicide. If all these tales are put together, it would make a large book. The British government put a ban on the custom of sati, but as a result of that several women who could have died a cruel but quick death when their husbands died now have to face an agonizingly slow death.

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from An Account of the Hara-Kiri


Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, 1st Baron of Redesdale, was the second secretary to the British Legation in Japan when he published Tales of Old Japan (1871), a collection of stories, fairy tales, accounts of superstitions, sermons, and other short pieces based on traditional Japanese culture. He had learned Japanese, and in his writings he drew from materials describing virtually all the classes in Japanese culture—except, as he acknowledged, the Emperor and his court. Mitford saw his work as an effort to depict the social and cultural life of the traditional feudal system just as it was passing away, “like a dissolving view,” during the latter years of the 19th century.

In 1868, Mitford was sent to witness an occasion of seppuku as the representative of the British Legation, one of seven foreign witnesses who were the first outsiders to witness such an execution. In his now-classic account of hara-kiri, or “cutting the belly” (q.v., under Daidoji Yuzan), Mitford describes the ceremony, which had been ordered by the Mikado himself. The self-execution was performed at night in a temple near Kobe; the condemned man was Taki Zenzaburo, a samurai officer who had given the order to fire on foreigners in the Kobe settlement.

Mitford’s direct observations are followed by an account translated from a rare Japanese manuscript that contrasts traditional and then-contemporary practices of ritual suicide. This is followed by accounts of several variants of seppuku in different capital-punishment contexts. Between its origins in the late 12th century and the 19th-century practice Mitford was describing, seppuku had evolved from being a demonstration of the extreme courage of the true samurai into a highly elaborate ceremony in which every detail was rigorously stipulated by custom and tradition. Of particular interest in Mitford’s account is his reference to the debates in the Japanese Parliament in 1869 over a proposal to abolish seppuku—a proposal that was roundly rejected. During World War II, seppuku would be performed by countless numbers of Japanese officers in the South Pacific, and immediately after Japan’s surrender to the Allies, some patriots committed seppuku on the grounds of the Imperial Palace as a way of apologizing to the Emperor for losing the war. The ritual self-disembowelment of the well-known writer and Nobel Prize nominee Yukio Mishima (1925–1970), intended as protest and admonition against the modernization of Japan, also followed these ceremonial patterns.

A. B. Mitford, “An Account of the Hara-Kiri,” in Tales of Old Japan. London: Macmillan and Co., 1883, pp. 355-363. Available online from Project Gutenberg Release # 13015.


As a corollary to the above elaborate statement of the ceremonies proper to be observed at the hara-kiri, I may here describe an instance of such an execution which I was sent officially to witness. The condemned man was Taki Zenzaburô, an officer of the Prince of Bizen, who gave the order to fire upon the foreign settlement at Hiogo in the month of February 1868,—an attack to which I have alluded in the preamble to the story of the Eta Maiden and the Hatamoto. Up to that time no foreigner had witnessed such an execution, which was rather looked upon as a traveller’s fable.

The ceremony, which was ordered by the Mikado himself, took place at 10.30 at night in the temple of Seifukuji, the headquarters of the Satsuma troops at Hiogo. A witness was sent from each of the foreign legations. We were seven foreigners in all.

We were conducted to the temple by officers of the Princes of Satsuma and Choshiu. Although the ceremony was to be [pg 282] conducted in the most private manner, the casual remarks which we overheard in the streets, and a crowd lining the principal entrance to the temple, showed that it was a matter of no little interest to the public. The courtyard of the temple presented a most picturesque sight; it was crowded with soldiers standing about in knots round large fires, which threw a dim flickering light over the heavy eaves and quaint gable-ends of the sacred buildings. We were shown into an inner room, where we were to wait until the preparation for the ceremony was completed: in the next room to us were the high Japanese officers. After a long interval, which seemed doubly long from the silence which prevailed, Itô Shunské, the provisional Governor of Hiogo, came and took down our names, and informed us that seven kenshi, sheriffs or witnesses, would attend on the part of the Japanese. He and another officer represented the Mikado; two captains of Satsuma’s infantry, and two of Choshiu’s, with a representative of the Prince of Bizen, the clan of the condemned man, completed the number, which was probably arranged in order to tally with that of the foreigners. Itô Shunské further inquired whether we wished to put any questions to the prisoner. We replied in the negative.

A further delay then ensued, after which we were invited to follow the Japanese witnesses into the hondo or main hall of the temple, where the ceremony was to be performed. It was an imposing scene. A large hall with a high roof supported by dark pillars of wood. From the ceiling hung a profusion of those huge gilt lamps and ornaments peculiar to Buddhist temples. In front of the high altar, where the floor, covered with beautiful white mats, is raised some three or four inches from the ground, was laid a rug of scarlet felt. Tall candles placed at regular intervals gave out a dim mysterious light, just sufficient to let all the proceedings be seen. The seven Japanese took their places on the left of the raised floor, the seven foreigners on the right. No other person was present.

After an interval of a few minutes of anxious suspense, Taki Zenzaburô, a stalwart man, thirty-two years of age, with a noble air, walked into the hall attired in his dress of ceremony, with the peculiar hempen-cloth wings which are worn on great occasions. He was accompanied by a kaishaku and three officers, who wore the jimbaori or war surcoat with gold-tissue facings. The word kaishaku, it should be observed, is one to which our word executioner is no equivalent term. The office is that of a gentleman: in many cases it is performed by a kinsman or friend of the condemned, and the relation between them is rather that of principal and second than that of victim and executioner. In this instance the kaishaku was a pupil of Taki Zenzaburô, and was selected by the friends of the latter from among their own number for his skill in swordsmanship.

With the kaishaku on his left hand, Taki Zenzaburô advanced slowly towards the Japanese witnesses, and the two bowed before [pg 283] them, then drawing near to the foreigners they saluted us in the same way, perhaps even with more deference: in each case the salutation was ceremoniously returned. Slowly, and with great dignity, the condemned man mounted on to the raised floor, prostrated himself before the high altar twice, and seated himself on the felt carpet with his back to the high altar, the kaishaku crouching on his left-hand side. One of the three attendant officers then came forward, bearing a stand of the kind used in temples for offerings, on which, wrapped in paper, lay the wakizashi, the short sword or dirk of the Japanese, nine inches and a half in length, with a point and an edge as sharp as a razor’s. This he handed, prostrating himself, to the condemned man, who received it reverently, raising it to his head with both hands, and placed it in front of himself.

After another profound obeisance, Taki Zenzaburô, in a voice which betrayed just so much emotion and hesitation as might be expected from a man who is making a painful confession, but with no sign of either in his face or manner, spoke as follows:—

“I, and I alone, unwarrantably gave the order to fire on the foreigners at Kôbé, and again as they tried to escape. For this crime I disembowel myself, and I beg you who are present to do me the honour of witnessing the act.”

Bowing once more, the speaker allowed his upper garments to slip down to his girdle, and remained naked to the waist. Carefully, according to custom, he tucked his sleeves under his knees to prevent himself from falling backwards; for a noble Japanese gentleman should die falling forwards. Deliberately, with a steady hand, he took the dirk that lay before him; he looked at it wistfully, almost affectionately; for a moment he seemed to collect his thoughts for the last time, and then stabbing himself deeply below the waist on the left-hand side, he drew the dirk slowly across to the right side, and, turning it in the wound, gave a slight cut upwards. During this sickeningly painful operation he never moved a muscle of his face. When he drew out the dirk, he leaned forward and stretched out his neck; an expression of pain for the first time crossed his face, but he uttered no sound. At that moment the kaishaku, who, still crouching by his side, had been keenly watching his every movement, sprang to his feet, poised his sword for a second in the air; there was a flash, a heavy, ugly thud, a crashing fall; with one blow the head had been severed from the body.

A dead silence followed, broken only by the hideous noise of the blood throbbing out of the inert heap before us, which but a moment before had been a brave and chivalrous man. It was horrible.

The kaishaku made a low bow, wiped his sword with a piece of paper which he had ready for the purpose, and retired from [pg 284] the raised floor; and the stained dirk was solemnly borne away, a bloody proof of the execution.

The two representatives of the Mikado then left their places, and, crossing over to where the foreign witnesses sat, called us to witness that the sentence of death upon Taki Zenzaburô had been faithfully carried out. The ceremony being at an end, we left the temple.

The ceremony, to which the place and the hour gave an additional solemnity, was characterized throughout by that extreme dignity and punctiliousness which are the distinctive marks of the proceedings of Japanese gentlemen of rank; and it is important to note this fact, because it carries with it the conviction that the dead man was indeed the officer who had committed the crime, and no substitute. While profoundly impressed by the terrible scene it was impossible at the same time not to be filled with admiration of the firm and manly bearing of the sufferer, and of the nerve with which the kaishaku performed his last duty to his master. Nothing could more strongly show the force of education. The Samurai, or gentleman of the military class, from his earliest years learns to look upon the hara-kiri as a ceremony in which some day he may be called upon to play a part as principal or second. In old-fashioned families, which hold to the traditions of ancient chivalry, the child is instructed in the rite and familiarized with the idea as an honourable expiation of crime or blotting out of disgrace. If the hour comes, he is prepared for it, and gravely faces an ordeal which early training has robbed of half its horrors. In what other country in the world does a man learn that the last tribute of affection which he may have to pay to his best friend may be to act as his executioner?

Since I wrote the above, we have heard that, before his entry into the fatal hall, Taki Zenzaburô called round him all those of his own clan who were present, many of whom had carried out his order to fire, and, addressing them in a short speech, acknowledged the heinousness of his crime and the justice of his sentence, and warned them solemnly to avoid any repetition of attacks upon foreigners. They were also addressed by the officers of the Mikado, who urged them to bear no ill-will against us on account of the fate of their fellow-clansman. They declared that they entertained no such feeling.

The opinion has been expressed that it would have been politic for the foreign representatives at the last moment to have interceded for the life of Taki Zenzaburô. The question is believed to have been debated among the representatives themselves. My own belief is that mercy, although it might have produced the desired effect among the more civilized clans, would have been mistaken for weakness and fear by those wilder people who have not yet a personal knowledge of foreigners. The offence—an attack upon the flags and subjects of all the Treaty Powers, which lack of skill, not of will, alone prevented from ending in a [pg 285] universal massacre—was the gravest that has been committed upon foreigners since their residence in Japan. Death was undoubtedly deserved, and the form chosen was in Japanese eyes merciful and yet judicial. The crime might have involved a war and cost hundreds of lives; it was wiped out by one death. I believe that, in the interest of Japan as well as in our own, the course pursued was wise, and it was very satisfactory to me to find that one of the ablest Japanese ministers, with whom I had a discussion upon the subject, was quite of my opinion.

The ceremonies observed at the hara-kiri appear to vary slightly in detail in different parts of Japan; but the following memorandum upon the subject of the rite, as it used to be practised at Yedo during the rule of the Tycoon, clearly establishes its judicial character. I translated it from a paper drawn up for me by a Japanese who was able to speak of what he had seen himself. Three different ceremonies are described:—

1st. Ceremonies observed at the “hara-kiri” of a Hatamoto (petty noble of the Tycoon’s court) in prison.—This is conducted with great secrecy. Six mats are spread in a large courtyard of the prison; an ometsuké (officer whose duties appear to consist in the surveillance of other officers), assisted by two other ometsukés of the second and third class, acts as kenshi (sheriff or witness), and sits in front of the mats. The condemned man, attired in his dress of ceremony, and wearing his wings of hempen cloth, sits in the centre of the mats. At each of the four corners of the mats sits a prison official. Two officers of the Governor of the city act as kaishaku (executioners or seconds), and take their place, one on the right hand and the other on the left hand of the condemned. The kaishaku on the left side, announcing his name and surname, says, bowing, “I have the honour to act as kaishaku to you; have you any last wishes to confide to me?” The condemned man thanks him and accepts the offer or not, as the case may be. He then bows to the sheriff, and a wooden dirk nine and a half inches long is placed before him at a distance of three feet, wrapped in paper, and lying on a stand such as is used for offerings in temples. As he reaches forward to take the wooden sword, and stretches out his neck, the kaifihaku on his left-hand side draws his sword and strikes off his head. The kaishaku on the right-hand side takes up the head and shows it to the sheriff. The body is given to the relations of the deceased for burial. His property is confiscated.

2nd. The ceremonies observed at the “hara-kiri” of a Daimio’s retainer.—When the retainer of a Daimio is condemned to perform the hara-kiri, four mats are placed in the yard of the yashiki or palace. The condemned man, dressed in his robes of ceremony and wearing his wings of hempen cloth, sits in the centre. An officer acts as chief witness, with a second witness under him. Two officers, who act as kaishaku, are on the right and left of the condemned man; four officers are placed at the corners of the mats. The kaishaku, as in the former case, offers to execute [pg 286] the last wishes of the condemned. A dirk nine and a half inches long is placed before him on a stand. In this case the dirk is a real dirk, which the man takes and stabs himself with on the left side, below the navel, drawing it across to the right side. At this moment, when he leans forward in pain, the kaishaku on the left-hand side cuts off the head. The kaishaku on the right-hand side takes up the head, and shows it to the sheriff. The body is given to the relations for burial. In most cases the property of the deceased is confiscated.

3rd. Self-immolation of a Daimio on account of disgrace.—When a Daimio had been guilty of treason or offended against the Tycoon, inasmuch as the family was disgraced, and an apology could neither be offered nor accepted, the offending Daimio was condemned to hara-kiri. Calling his councillors around him, he confided to them his last will and testament for transmission to the Tycoon. Then, clothing himself in his court dress, he disembowelled himself, and cut his own throat. His councillors then reported the matter to the Government, and a coroner was sent to investigate it. To him the retainers handed the last will and testament of their lord, and be took it to the Gorôjiu (first council), who transmitted it to the Tycoon. If the offence was heinous, such as would involve the ruin of the whole family, by the clemency of the Tycoon, half the property might be confiscated, and half returned to the heir; if the offence was trivial, the property was inherited intact by the heir, and the family did not suffer.

In all cases where the criminal disembowels himself of his own accord without condemnation and without investigation, inasmuch as he is no longer able to defend himself, the offence is considered as non-proven, and the property is not confiscated. In the year 1869 a motion was brought forward in the Japanese parliament by one Ono Seigorô, clerk of the house, advocating the abolition of the practice of hara-kiri. Two hundred members out of a house of 209 voted against the motion, which was supported by only three speakers, six members not voting on either side. In this debate the seppuku, or hara-kiri, was called “the very shrine of the Japanese national spirit, and the embodiment in practice of devotion to principle,” “a great ornament to the empire,” “a pillar of the constitution,” “a valuable institution, tending to the honour of the nobles, and based on a compassionate feeling towards the official caste,” “a pillar of religion and a spur to virtue.” The whole debate (which is well worth reading, and an able translation of which by Mr. Aston has appeared in a recent Blue Book) shows the affection with which the Japanese cling to the traditions of a chivalrous past. It is worthy of notice that the proposer, Ono Seigorô, who on more than one occasion rendered himself conspicuous by introducing motions based upon an admiration of our Western civilization, was murdered not long after this debate took place.

There are many stories on record of extraordinary heroism being [pg 287] displayed in the hara-kiri. The case of a young fellow, only twenty years old, of the Choshiu clan, which was told me the other day by an eye-witness, deserves mention as a marvellous instance of determination. Not content with giving himself the one necessary cut, he slashed himself thrice horizontally and twice vertically. Then he stabbed himself in the throat until the dirk protruded on the other side, with its sharp edge to the front; setting his teeth in one supreme effort, he drove the knife forward with both hands through his throat, and fell dead.

One more story and I have done. During the revolution, when the Tycoon, beaten on every side, fled ignominiously to Yedo, he is said to have determined to fight no more, but to yield everything. A member of his second council went to him and said, “Sir, the only way for you now to retrieve the honour of the family of Tokugawa is to disembowel yourself; and to prove to you that I am sincere and disinterested in what I say, I am here ready to disembowel myself with you.” The Tycoon flew into a great rage, saying that he would listen to no such nonsense, and left the room. His faithful retainer, to prove his honesty, retired to another part of the castle, and solemnly performed the hara-kiri.


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from The Love Suicides at Sonezaki


Chikamatsu Monzaemon, born Sugimori Nobumori, the second son of a minor samurai family, is recognized as the first modern Japanese dramatist. Often called “the Japanese Shakespeare,” he is widely considered the most important playwright of the Tokugawa age. As a boy, Chikamatsu served as a page to a noble family at a time when the nobility were patrons of the puppet theatre, and his earliest signed dramatic work was the puppet play The Soga Successors. Although of samurai background, he wrote for the chonin, or townspeople. Between 1684 and 1705, Chikamatsu wrote Kabuki plays, many in collaboration with the outstanding actor of the time, Sakata Tojuro. For the last 20 years of his life, Chikamatsu returned to writing for the puppet theatre—dissatisfied, some have claimed, with the liberties that temperamental actors took with his texts, and preferring the more obedient puppets.

Chikamatsu composed over 150 plays, including The Oil Hell, The Punishment of Heaven, The Battles of Coxinga, and the hugely successful puppet play from which the selection is taken, The Love Suicides at Sonezaki (1703). The plays were of two main types: jidaimono, period plays treating the heroes of the distant or recent past, and domestic dramas, sewamono, portraying the ordinary people of his own day.

The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, which determined Chikamatsu’s future career, was his first attempt to use themes from daily life. The play was inspired by a double suicide that occurred at the Sonezaki Shrine in 1703. In the play, a pair of lovers—a clerk in an oil shop, Tokubei, and a courtesan named Ohatsu—kill themselves after they are tricked out of dowry money Tokubei must return after refusing to marry the girl chosen for him by his uncle. The lovers are both in their unlucky years (in the yin-yang system, a man’s 25th, 42nd, and 60th years are dangerous; for a woman, her 19th and 33rd years), and Tokubei is now 25 and Ohatsu is 19. They see their love suicide, shinju, as their only hope of lasting union.

Shinju—meaning “sincerity of heart”—refers to double or multiple suicides, whether pairs of lovers, mothers and children, or entire families. It is sometimes called “companionate” or “companionship” suicide. Like the suicide of loyalty to one’s


from The Love Suicides at Sonezaki

Filed under Asia, Buddhism, Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Love, Selections, The Early Modern Period


from Beginner’s Book of Bushido


Daidoji Yuzan Shigesuke was born to a distinguished Japanese samurai family, said to be descended from the powerful 12th-century Taira clan, though the family name—Daidoji—had been taken several centuries later. Daidoji arrived in Edo (now Tokyo) as a young man and studied military science with two of the mid-17th century’s greatest tacticians; he was also an orthodox Confucian scholar. He later traveled around the country, teaching and testing himself; he became a prominent writer and an expert in the military arts. Daidoji lived under the rule of six different Shoguns, from Iyemitsu to Yoshimuné, and died at the age of 92.

The 17th century saw the decline of Japan’s long history of internal warfare during the Warring States period, warfare that was fought among a warrior class, the samurai or bushi, who were educated in both the martial arts and literature. The country had been unified around 1600 under the Tokugawa Shogunate, which would rule until 1868. The new peace made prosperity possible and encouraged the rise of a merchant class, but this threatened the significance and existence of the warrior class, and large numbers of samurai who had been attached to feudal lords became ronin, or masterless and unemployed. Bushido, “the Way of the Warrior,” Japan’s traditional code of military culture and chivalry, was thus under threat. It is in this climate that Daidoji’s Budoshoshinshu, or Beginner’s Book of Bushido, was written. The Beginner’s Book, a textbook for young samurai, takes the point of view of the retainer, rather than the lord; in this, it is unlike many other accounts of late 16th- and early 17th-century military culture (e.g., that of Sorai), but it does have much in common with the somewhat later, better-known Hagakure, a collection of 1,300 anecdotes and reflections dictated by a samurai who, restrained by the prohibition of junshi, had become a hermit priest after the death of his lord. Daidoji’s treatment of samurai culture is particularly concerned with the philosophical dilemma of how the warrior is to live in a time of peace.

Traditionally, Bushido had set the standard for the behavior, character, and duties of the warrior class, and included expectations concerning politeness, sincerity, self-control, honor, dignity, and absolute loyalty to one’s lord. Its roots were to be found in Confucian concepts of loyalty, as well as Buddhist ideas of the nonexistence of the self, the impermanence of life, and the importance of equanimity or preparedness of mind. From the time of the early Heian period (8th–12th centuries), the code of Bushido had taken honor as central and had held that to protect it, the samurai warrior was, among other things, to be prepared to commit suicide. Wounded or defeated warriors were expected to kill themselves; to be taken alive as a prisoner was a great dishonor. The late medieval epic Taiheiki recounts 68 separate occasions of warrior suicide involving a total of 2,140 men.

Whether on the battlefield or in court, the suicide was to take place by means of self-disembowelment, at least when advance preparation for the ritual was possible. Known in Japanese as seppuku, this practice is often termed hara-kiri, a Western construction formed from the Japanese terms for “belly” and “cut”; the practice may have evolved in the light of the traditional Japanese belief that the abdomen, hara, is the seat of the soul and the affections. The first recorded case of seppuku is said to have been the death of the archer Minamoto Tametomo in 1170. Seppuku could be an expression of loyalty on the death of one’s lord, known as junshi; it could serve to avoid capture in war; it could be used to force an errant lord to act in accord with the correct moral order; and it could be exacted as a penalty for certain transgressions, a form of capital punishment [q.v., under A. B. Mitford]. Seppuku is distinct from the other principal form of suicide recognized in traditional Japanese culture, shinju, or “love suicide” [q.v., under Chikamatsu]. Performed as an act of military honor, ritual disembowelment in seppuku was seen as a privilege reserved for samurai warriors. Commoners, women, noblemen, priests, and peasants were neither expected nor permitted to perform seppuku, though bushi women, who often followed their husbands in death, carried a knife and were instructed from girlhood in how to sever the jugular vein. Seppuku has sometimes been compared to the Roman custom in which a defeated general falls on his sword, though apparently more strongly expected and frequently practiced. One modern commentator notes that “the samurai tradition of suicide to save one’s honour may have lost Japan many fine generals who would otherwise have lived to fight another day.” Another comments on the centrality of seppuku in Japanese culture: “Western civilization gravitated around the Supreme Being; that of feudal Japan around the Supreme Act.”

By Daidoji’s time, however, the practice of ritual disembowelment was increasingly seen as a relic of times past. In 1663, when Daidoji was in his mid-20s, the Japanese government, the Tokugawa Bakufu, had prohibited the practice of junshi, committing seppuku at the death of one’s lord. In the Beginner’s Book, Daidoji struggled to show young samurai what would be required of them in this new era, committed as he was to the traditional code of Bushido, a struggle particularly evident at the end of the selection in his effort to characterize “great loyalty that surpasses junshi.”

A. L. Sadler, tr., The Beginner’s Book of Bushido. Tokyo: Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, the Society for International Cultural Relations, 1941, pp. 3-5, 50-53, 74-79.

Quotations and paraphrase in introduction from S. R. Turnbull, The Samurai: A Military History, London: George Philip, 1977, p. 286; Catharina Blomberg, The Heart of the Warrior, Sandgate, Folkestone, Kent: Japan Library, 1994, p. 79; Eiko Ikegami, The Taming of the Samurai, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, p. 105; and Maurice Pinguet, Voluntary Death in Japan, tr. Rosemary Morris. First published in French as La mort volontaire au Japon, Éditions Gallimard, 1984; in English, Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, in association with Blackwell Publishers, 1993, p. 87.


One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind, by day and by night from the morning when he takes up his chop-sticks to eat his New Year Breakfast to Old Year’s night when he pays his yearly bills, the fact that he has to die. That is his chief business. If he is always mindful of this he will be able to live in accordance with the paths of Loyalty and Filial Duty, will avoid myriads of evils and adversities, keep himself free from disease and calamity and moreover enjoy a long life. He will also be a fine personality with many admirable qualities. For existence is impermanent as the dew of evening and the hoar-frost of morning, and particularly uncertain is the life of the warrior, and if he thinks he can console himself with the idea of eternal service to his lord or unending devotion to his relatives, something may well happen to make him neglect his duty to his lord and forget what he owes to his family. But if he determines simply to live for today and take no thought for the morrow, so that when he stands before his lord to receive his commands he thinks of it as his last appearance and when he looks on the faces of his relatives he feels that he will never see them again, then will his duty and regard for both of them be completely sincere and his mind be in accord with the path of loyalty and filial duty.

But if he does not keep death in mind he will be careless and liable to be indiscreet and say things that offend others and an argument ensues, and though, if no notice taken, it may be settled, if there is a rebuke, it may end in a quarrel.  Then if he goes strolling about pleasure resorts and seeing the sights in crowded places without any proper reserve he may come up against some big fool and get into a quarrel before he knows it, and may even be killed and his lord’s name brought to it and his parents and relations exposed to reproach.

And all this misfortune springs from his not remembering to keep death always in his thoughts.  But one who does this whether he is speaking himself or answering others will carefully consider, as befits a samurai, every word he says and never launch out into useless argument.  Neither will he allow anyone to entice him into unsuitable places where he may be suddenly confronted with an awkward situation, and thus he avoids all evils and calamities.  And both high and low, if they forget about death, are very apt to take to unhealthy excess in food and wine and women so that they die unexpectedly early from diseases of the kidneys and spleen, and even while they live their illness makes them of no use to anyone.  But those who keep death always before their eyes are strong and healthy while young, and as they take care of their health and are moderate in eating and drinking and avoid the paths of women, being abstemious and moderate in all things, they remain free from disease and live a long and healthy life.

Then one who lives long in this world may develop all sorts of desires and his covetousness may increase so that he wants what belongs to others and cannot bear to part with what is his own, becoming in fact just like a mere tradesman.  But if he is always looking death in the face, a man will have little attachment to material things and will not exhibit these grasping and covetous qualities, and will become as I said before, a fine character.  And speaking of meditation on death, Yoshida Kenkô says in the Tsurezuré-Gusa of the monk Shinkai that he was wont to sit all day long pondering on his latter end; this is no doubt a very suitable attitude for a recluse but by no means so for a warrior.  For so he would have to neglect his military duties and the way of loyalty and filial piety, and he must on the contrary be constantly busy with his affairs both public and private.  But whenever he has a little spare time to himself and can be quiet he should not fail to revert to this question of death and reflect carefully on it.  Is it not recorded that Kusunoki Masashigé adjured his son Masatsura to keep death always before his eyes?  And all this is for the instruction of the youthful samurai…

The Latter End

The samurai whether great or small, high or low, has to set before all other things the consideration of how to meet his inevitable end.  However clever or capable or efficient he may have been, if he is upset and wanting in composure and so makes a poor showing when he comes to face it all, his previous good deeds will be like water and all decent people will despise him so that he will be covered with shame.

For when a samurai goes out to battle and does valiant and splendid exploits and makes a great name, it is only because he made up his mind to die.  And if unfortunately he gets the worst of it and he and his head have to part company, when his opponent asks for his name he must declare it at once loudly and clearly and yield up his head with a smile on his lips and without the slightest sign of fear.  Or should he be so badly wounded that no surgeon can do anything for him, if he is still conscious, the proper procedure for a samurai is to answer the enquiries of his superior officers and comrades and inform them of the manner of his being wounded and then to make an end without more ado.

Similarly in times of peace the steadfast samurai, particularly if he is old but no less if he is young and stricken with some serious disease, ought to show firmness and resolution and attach no importance to leaving this life.  Naturally if he is in high office, but also however low his position may be, while he can speak he should request the presence of his official superior and inform him that as he has long enjoyed his consideration and favour he has consequently wished fervently to do all in his power to carry out his duties, but unfortunately he has now been attacked by this serious disease from which it is difficult to recover, and consequently is unable to do so; and that as he is about to pass away he wishes to express his gratitude for past kindness and trusts to be remembered respectfully to the Councillors of the clan.  This done, he should say farewell to his family and friends and explain to them that it is not the business of a samurai to die of illness after being the recipient of the great favours of his lord for so many years, but unfortunately in his case it is unavoidable.  But they who are young must carry on his loyal intentions and firmly resolve to do their duty to their lord, ever increasing this loyalty so as to serve with all the vigour they possess.  Should they fail to do this or act in any disloyal or undutiful way, then even from the shadow of the grass his spirit will disown and disinherit them.  Such is the leave-taking of a true samurai.

And in the words of the Sage too it is written that when a man is about to die his words should be such as appear right.  This is what the end of a samurai should be, and how different it is from that of one who refuses to regard his complaint as incurable and is worried about dying, who rejoices if people tell him he looks better and dislikes it if they say he looks worse, the while he fusses with doctors and gets a lot of useless prayers and services said for him and is in a complete state of flurry and confusion.  As he gradually gets worse he does not say anything to anyone but ends by bungling the one death he has so that it is no better than that of a dog or cat.  This is because he does not keep death always before his eyes as I recommended him to do in my first chapter, but puts any mention of it away from him as ill-omened and seems to think he will live forever, hanging on to existence with a greedy intensity.  One who goes into battle in this cowardly spirit is not likely to die a glorious death in a halo of loyalty, so one who values the samurai ideal should see to it that he knows how to die properly of illness on the mats.

Loyal to Death

A samurai in service is under a great debt to his lord and may think that he can hardly repay it except by committing “junshi” and following him in death.  But that is not permitted by law, and just to perform the ordinary service at home on the mats is far from desirable.  What then is left?  A man may wish for an opportunity to do something more outstanding than his comrades to throw away his life and accomplish something, and if he resolutely makes up his mind to do something of this sort it is a hundred times preferable to performing junshi. For so he may become the saviour, not only of his lord but of all his fellow retainers both small and great, and thus become a personage who will be remembered to the end of time as a model samurai possessing the three qualities of loyalty, faith and valour.  Now there is always an evil spirit that haunts the family of a person of rank. And the way he curses that family is in the first place by causing the death by accident or epidemic disease of some young samurai among the hereditary councillors or elders who has the three virtues of a warrior and who promises to be of great value in the future as a support to his lord, as well as a benefit to all the clan, and whose loss is therefore a severe blow. Thus when Amari Saemon, commander of the samurai to Takeda Shingen, fell from his horse and was killed while quite young, that was the doing of the vicious spirit of Takasaki Danjô who had long haunted that house.  In the second place this evil spirit will enter into the person of one of the Councillors or Elders or samurai in attendance whom the lord most trusts and favours so that he may delude the lord’s mind and seduce him into the ways of injustice and immorality.

Now in thus leading his lord astray this samurai may do so in six different ways. First he may prevent him from seeing or hearing anything and contrive that the others in attendance cannot state their views, or, even if they can, that they are not adopted, and generally manage so that his master regards him alone as indispensable and commits everything to his keeping. Secondly if he notices that any of the samurai about the household seems promising and likely to be useful to their lord he will so work things that he is transferred somewhere else and kept away from his master, and that connexions of his own, or men who agree with him and are subservient and respectful and never oppose him are the only ones permitted to be about the lord. Thus he prevents his master from knowing anything about the extravagant and domineering way he lives.  In the third place he may persuade his lord to take a secondary consort on the plea that he has not enough descendants to ensure the succession, and procure damsels for this purpose without any enquiry into what family they come from as long as they are good to look at. And he will collect dancers and players on the biwa and samisen and assure his lord that they are essential to divert him and dispel his boredom.  And even a lord who is by nature clever and energetic is apt to be led astray by feminine fascinations, much more one who is born lacking in these qualities. And then his discrimination will depart from him and he will think only of amusement and become more and more addicted to it, so that eventually he will be entirely given up to dancing and gaiety inevitably followed by drinking parties at all times of the day and night.  So he will come to spend all of his time in the ladies’ apartments without a thought for official and administrative business, and hating even the idea of an interview with his councillors on these subjects. Therefore everything remains in the hands of the one evil councillor, and day by day his power increases, while all the others become mere nonentities with lips compressed and shrinking mien, and so the whole household goes from bad to worse. In the fourth place it follows that under these circumstances, as everything is kept secret, expenses increase and income has to be augmented so that the old regulations are done away with and new ones enacted, and a spy put in there and someone censured there and allowances cut down, so that the lower ranks are in great straits without anyone caring in the least about it, and all so that their lord may have plenty and live in the lap of luxury.  So that, though they do not say anything about it publicly, the greatest discontent is rife among all the retainers, and before long there is none who is single-heartedly loyal to his lord. In the fifth place though a daimyo is one who should never be anything but experienced in the Way of the Warrior, since the evil councillor is not likely to care anything about it in an age of peace and quiet such as this, there will be no interest at all in military matters and no inspections of the armed forces. And everyone in the household will be quite pleased to fall in with this attitude, and none will trouble about military duties or make proper provisions for weapons and supplies, and be perfectly content to let things alone and just make do for the present.  So nobody would think, seeing the condition of the house now, that their ancestors had been warriors of great renown, and should some crisis supervene and find them unprepared, there would be nothing but flurry and confusion and nobody would know what to do.  In the sixth place, when the lord is thus addicted to pleasure, drink and dalliance, he will grow more and more wayward till his health becomes affected. All his retainers will be dispirited and lacking in sincerity, merely living from one day to the next and without any guidance from above, and eventually something may happen to the lord through the influence of this evil spirit.  And this man who is at the bottom of it all, this vengeful enemy of his master and evil genius of his house will be cursed by all the clan no doubt, but even so there will be nothing for it but that some nine or ten of them concert together to accuse him and bring him to judgment by a war of argument without soiling their hands.  But in that case the affair cannot be cleared up without making it public, and the lord and his house will be brought up for examination, and then matters may become more serious and end in sentence being passed upon them by the Shogun’s government.  And in all ages when a daimyo has been unable to manage his affairs and has been disciplined by the government the result has been that his house has come to an end.  As the proverb has it, ‘when you straighten the horn you kill the ox, and when you hunt the rats you burn the shrine’, so when the lord’s house is ruined, his retainers are discharged and lose their livelihood.  Therefore it is best to seize this great rascal of a councillor who is the evil spirit of the house and either stab him through or cut off his head whichever you prefer, and so put an end to him and his corrupt practices.  And then you must straightway commit seppuku yourself.  Thus there will be no open breach or lawsuit or sentence and your lord’s person will not be attainted, so that the whole clan will continue to live in security and there will be no open trouble in the Empire.  And one who acts thus is a model samurai who does a deed a hundred-fold better than junshi, for he has the three qualities of loyalty and faith and valour, and will hand down a glorious name to posterity.

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(1633-c. 1710)

from A Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence


Huang Liuhong (Huang Liu-hung) was a district magistrate during the early Qing (Ch’ing) or Manchu dynasty (1644–1912), when Manchu values and behavior were being imposed on Han China. He was born in Xinchang (Hsin-ch’ang) at a time of civil conflict and great disorder. When he was 19 years old, Huang passed a civil service exam and earned the juren (chü-jen) degree. He was then able to travel throughout China, educating himself on the history of the provinces he visited. At the time, the ruling Manchu, after decades of violence and political strife, sought the cooperation of educated citizens in an attempt to assuage nationalist opposition. It was in these circumstances that, in 1670, Huang was made magistrate of the Tancheng (T’an-ch’eng) district. He also served as magistrate in other districts and learned enough from his experiences to write a book of guidelines for the office of magistrate. This book, A Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence, became a manual for local governors in the Qing dynasty for several centuries.

In this manual, Huang describes types of suicide that were common at the time and distinguishes among the different sorts of intentions under which a person might commit suicide. Suicides committed because of suffering or abuse are to be pitied, he asserts, while those committed for other reasons, like a trivial grudge or to injure an enemy, cannot be condoned. Huang then explains methods he used in his district to lower the number of suicides being committed. This window into the practice of suicide, as well as attitudes about self-killing in 17th century China, gives some evidence of the Chinese assumption that others may play a causal role in suicides and provides a look at one official’s efforts—apparently effective—at suicide prevention.


Huang Liu-Hung, A Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence: A Manual for Local Magistrates in Seventeenth-Century China, ed. and tr. Djang Chu. Topic 7, Administration of Justice: Chüan 14, Homicide (Part I); Chüan 15, Homicide (Part II). Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1984, pp. 319-320, 355-358.




Homicide cases are of two kinds: genuine and counterfeit.  Among the genuine homicide cases there are seven different categories: killing in a robbery (chieh-sha), killing by premeditation (mou-sha), killing by intent (ku-sha), killing in an affray (tou-sha), killing by error (wu-sha), killing in play (his-sha), and killing be accident (kuo-shih-sha).  Counterfeit homicide cases involve people who hang themselves, drown themselves, or cut their own throats—those who are mistakenly considered as homicide victims but in reality are suicides.

Among the seven categories of homicide cases—aside from killing in a robbery—only the criminals who are convicted of killing by premeditation, killing by intent, or killing in an affray are subject to the death penalty.  In each of these cases, however, the victim’s corpse must be examined to ascertain that there are death-causing wounds and the murder weapon inspected to see if the weapon tallies with the wounds.  A murderer forfeits his life only when genuine homicide is proved.  In the absence of an examination of the corpse and an inspection of the weapon, even if it is a genuine homicide case, the suspect’s life cannot be taken away arbitrarily without proof of guilt.  This provision of the law is designed to prevent false accusations and to protect the life of the innocent.

Suicides who hang themselves or kill themselves by other means are generally prompted by temporary emotional outbursts or by the intention of harming their enemies. In such cases the victims take their own lives without serious consideration, and their deaths cannot be attributed to the intentions of their enemies.  However, there are instances in which the victim commits suicide as a result of oppression and browbeating by his enemy.  Such cases must be investigated thoroughly.  On the other hand, there are also cases in which a person dies after a long illness and his relatives bring the corpse to the door of his enemy to make a false accusation of homicide with the intention of blackmailing him.  This kind of false accusation must be severely punished to suppress the evil tendency of making false charges.

The ways to differentiate the seven categories of homicide and the essentials of conducting examinations of corpses are explained below for the reference of magistrates who wish to be cautious in making decisions in order to prevent injustice and to protect the lives of innocent people.


Suicide happens to both men and women.  Among women who commit suicide, some kill themselves because of ill treatment at the hands of their parents-in-law, while others do so because of their husband’s cruelties.  These unfortunate women deserve our sympathy.  However, there are cases in which a woman, having a quarrel with her mother-in-law, having an occasional argument with her husband, or having exchanges of heated words with a sister-in-law or even a stranger, kills herself in a paroxysm of distress.  This kind of self-destruction does not constitute a case for condolence.  Often a girl commits suicide because of maltreatment by her stepmother or shame brought on her by an illicit liaison.

As to men who commit suicide, some suicides are due to dire poverty or suffering from extreme cold and hunger; others are the victims of private or official debts without means to repay.  These people are entitled to our compassionate consideration.  But there are those who sacrifice their lives because of insignificant grudges and choose to die in the homes of their enemies, their main purpose being to vent their spleen and let their relatives seize the enemies’ property on trumped-up charges.  Such acts of depravity cannot be condoned.

When a suicide case is reported, the magistrate should go to the place where it happened and examine the corpse immediately.  When real grievances of the deceased can be ascertained, the person who has caused his death should be punished with heavy blows and levied a fine to pay for the burial expenses and to pacify the spirit of the deceased.  On the other hand, if the suicide is committed without provocation or valid reason, the magistrate should order the relatives to have the corpse buried and no innocent people should be implicated in the case.  Thus the evil trend of false accusation can be suppressed and the people will know how important it is to value their own lives.

When I was the magistrate of T’an-ch’eng and later Tungkuang, there were many suicide cases, especially in T’an-ch’eng.  As the land was unproductive, the people lived in abject poverty, with few pleasures in life.  Furthermore, the social trend was toward militancy and ruthlessness; the inhabitants habitually enjoyed fighting one another and paid little attention to the maxims of etiquette and courtesy.  Not infrequently father and son living in the same household turned into enemies on the spur of the moment, and relatives and neighbors in the same village got into fist fights while entertaining and feasting.  Suicides by hanging were daily occurrences and self-destruction by cutting one’s own throat or drowning in the river were common events.

I became alarmed at the situation and said to myself, “The lack of education on the part of youthful delinquents is the fault of their parents.  Not heeding the instruction of their parents is the mistake of the youth themselves.  If I teach them first and punish them later in accordance with the provisions of the law, they cannot complain about the severity of judgments.”  Accordingly, I issued a proclamation that was written in the form of popular doggerel rhymes and ordered copies posted in all villages and city wards.  In doing so I hoped the ignorant females would understand the importance of practicing filial piety and kindness as well as the shame of being vixens and shrews; and that people in all walks of life—merchants, peasants and artisans—would be proud to be law-abiding citizens and would recognize it as disgraceful to be belligerent and quarrelsome.  The main purpose, however, was to eliminate the causes for committing suicide as well as to admonish potential suicides of the legal consequences of taking such futile action.

I said in essence, “Those males who hang themselves from rafters or drown themselves in water will become wandering ghosts, hovering under the roofs or drifting with the waves.  If the officials fail to bury their bodies, they will be infested with and consumed by flies and maggots.  Who is there to have pity on them?  Those females who hang themselves with rope or sashes will become specters haunting narrow alleys and dark rooms.  When an inquest is ordered their naked bodies will be exposed to prying eyes.  Did they not possess a sense of shame when they were living?  The human body is not only a bequest of one’s parents but also a result of countless cycles of reincarnation. That anyone can be degraded enough to destroy it with his own hands and regard it no more important than that of a pig or a dog is something I detest most vigorously.  Why should I value the body bequeathed to someone by his parents if he does not value it himself?  Why should I refrain from treating it as if it were that of a pig or a dog if he himself treats it that way?  From now on, anyone who uses a case of suicides to falsely accuse another of a crime shall be subject to the punishment the alleged crime would have merited.  Anyone who gathers a mob to rob others on the pretext of avenging a suicide shall be punished according to the law on robbery in broad daylight.  Would not this make the one who commits suicide with such a vile scheme in mind sacrifice his life in vain?  This magistrate always back up his words with deeds!  Ye multitudes, reflect on this and realize what is at stake!”

During my tenures of magistracy I strictly ordered all village headmen and local elders to report suicide cases with accurate descriptions and to designate them as such. Whenever a case was reported, I would ride to the locale immediately to examine the corpse.  If it was a genuine suicide case without any suspicious implications, I would investigate the cause of the suicide; those who were involved were punished with blows or fined for burial expenses.  If the suicide was committed without adequate reason and did not deserve sympathy, the relatives of the deceased were ordered to bury the corpse and to sign a statement acknowledging that it was a suicide.

On such occasions I would not issue warrants for arrests and would not bring a large number of runners to the examination.  No matter how far away the place was, I would bring my own ration and would not oblige the family of the deceased to furnish even a cup of tea.  I would order the clerk of the criminal section to record the appearance of the corpse and take down the testimonies of relatives.  No mat shed would be installed for this purpose.  All I needed was a stool and a mat to sit on.  Not a single cash would be spent by the family of the deceased, and they would not be required to appear at the yamen.  The case would be concluded in a day, not even postponed overnight.

If there were unruly people gathering a group of followers, armed with cudgels and weapons, to create disturbances, they would immediately be arrested and punished. The ringleaders would be brought back to the yamen and put in the cangue, then led back to the locality, under the supervision of the village elders, for public exposure.

After I had implemented this policy for half a year, the inhabitants of the district began to get my message and the number of suicide cases decreased dramatically.  After one year no more cases were reported.  Many unnecessary deaths were avoided and I was spared many unpleasant trips.  Who can say that public education and law enforcement do not produce the desired effect in an isolated district?

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from Biography of the Emperor Akbar: On Jauhar and Saka


Abu’l Fazl was born in Agra, the second son to the Indian scholar and teacher Shaikh Mubarak, who educated Abu’l Fazl from an early age in the Islamic sciences, Greek philosophy, and mysticism. At age 23, Abu’l Fazl was introduced to the court of emperor Akbar by his older brother Abu’l Faizi, the future poet laureate. A liberal thinker like his father, Abu’l Fazl quickly gained favor with the emperor and supported him in extending the religious tolerance of his empire. In 1579, together with his father, Abu’l Fazl helped to compose the decree known as the “Infallibility Decree,” which endowed the emperor Akbar with religious superiority over the orthodox authority of the ulama. In 1599, Abu’l Fazl was given his first office, at Deccan, where he was recognized for his ability as a military commander. Three years later in 1602, he was assassinated under secret orders from emperor Akbar’s eldest son, the future emperor Jahangir, whose ascendancy and 1600 rebellion against his father Abu’l Fazl had opposed.

Abu’l Fazl is best known today for his Akbarnama, a three-volume history of the life and empire of its commissioner, the emperor Akbar. It was composed in Persian between 1590 and 1596 while more than 49 different artists worked on the illustrations. The first volume details the history of Akbar’s family back to Timur, and the second volume describes Akbar’s own reign as far as 1602. The third volume of the Akbarnama, the Ain-i-Akbari, or the “Institutes of Akbar,” is the most famous. As well as containing a detailed report of Akbar’s system of government and administration, the fourth book of this volume gives a more general history of India in addition to an account of Hindu philosophy, literature, religion, and custom.

In the second volume of the Akbarnama, Abu’l Fazl describes the third siege and consequent third Jauhar [Johar] at the fort of Chittor [Chaitúr] in 1567. Jauhar and Saka, often referred to together simply as Jauhar, are the names for the two parts of a mass suicide ritual carried out by the Rájpút clans in the face of immediate and inescapable military defeat. Jauhar specifically refers to the self-immolation of the women and children in anticipation of capture and abuse. Saka is the subsequent or simultaneous march of the men to certain death at the hands of their enemies. Not an immediate witness of the Jauhar, Abu’l Fazl reports that several fires became visible in Chittor less than an hour after the governor of the fort was killed. He describes the women as unwilling participants in the Jauhar, victims of the Rájpút men, who, the next day, came out of the house of Ráná, the temple of Mahádeo, and the gate of Rámpúrah in “twos and threes” to “[throw] away” their own lives.


Abu’l Fazl Ibn Mubarak, “An Account of the Siege and Reduction of Chaitur by the Emperor Akbar,” from the Akbar-namah of Shaikh Abul-Fazl, tr. Major David Price. Miscellaneous Translations from Oriental Languages, Vol. II (London: Samuel Bentley, 1834, pp. 14-15, 31-34, 38, 40).



In the meantime, entertaining a notion that the imperial army was but inadequately provided with the means of carrying on the arduous operations of a siege, the infatuated Ráná devoted his attention to strengthen the fortifications of Chaitúr, and to furnish it with stores and provisions for many years to come. And yet, to the limited scope of human vision, the ramparts of this celebrated place seemed already beyond the reach of anything like a successful attack. He lodged in it, moreover, a garrison of five thousand Rájpúts of acknowledged bravery, and already renowned for their devotion to the paths of glory. After which, having laid waste the surrounding districts in every direction, so that there was not left a blade of grass remaining, he finally withdrew himself beyond the inaccessible passes of his mountain lands.

On due consideration, Akbar was early convinced that the success of the enterprise in which he was engaged would be but little advanced by pursuing the man whose doom was already sealed, in the heart of his mountains; and it was surely by the inspiration of his superior fortune, that he now determined to devote the whole of his energies to the sole object of making himself master of this fortress of Chaitúr, universally considered as the very foundation and resting-place of the Ráná’s power and renown. On Thursday, the 19th of the latter Rabía, accordingly, he appeared in the neighbourhood of the place, and encamped.


A. H. 975. A. D. 1568, 23d February.–The circumstances of this auspicious and splendid event may be distinctly collected from the following statement. On the night previous to the day of its capture, the place was attacked at once on every side, and the rampart having been breached in several parts, all things indicated that the conquest of Chaitúr was now at hand. Near the head of the principal sap, the imperial troops pushing forward on anticipation, succeeded in effecting a considerable breach in the strongest part of the wall, where they proceeded to exhibit the noblest proofs of devoted courage. Some time after midnight, however, the besieged brought a competent force to bear upon this breach; and on the one hand, giving themselves up to the winds of destiny, proceeded on the other to load this breach with bales of cloth and cotton, and faggots smeared with oil, for the purpose of setting on fire the moment the besiegers advanced to the assault, so that it would be impossible to effect a passage through.

At a period so critical, a person came in view of the emperor, clad in that species of armour denominated Hazár míkhí, or mail of a thousand studs, and exhibiting proofs of the highest authority, stood upon the breach, where he appeared to exert himself with signal bravery and activity. The identity of this personage who thus conspicuously distinguished himself could not however be made out by any one. Immediately seizing a favourite fusil, on which he had bestowed the name of Singrám, Akbar instantly discharged it at this person, expressing at the same time to Shujáat Khán and Rájáh Bahgwántdás, that feeling on this occasion the same exhilarating sensation as he experienced when killing game, he entertained but little doubt that his shot had taken effect on the man; on which Khán Jahán, another of the chiefs in attendance, took occasion to mention, that during the night the same personage had repeatedly appeared in the breach, exerting himself with singular diligence and activity, and that if he appeared no more, it was sufficiently evident that he must have fallen.

Not an hour afterwards, Jubbár Kulí Dívánah came and reported that not a man of the enemy was to be seen at the breach, and almost at the same instant the interior of the fort appeared on fire in several places. The attendants on the emperor were indulging in a variety of conjectures as to the meaning of this conflagration, when Rájah Bahgwántdás set the matter at rest by explaining that this was the Johar fire; adding, that in Hindustán, on the occurrence of a catastrophe such as was likely to happen on this memorable night, it was the custom to prepare a pile of sandalwood and odiferous drugs, together with dry fuel and other combustibles smothered with oil, and placing those in whom they could confide in charge of their women, with instructions to set fire to the pile and consume these unoffending and hapless females to ashes, the instant it was ascertained that the conflict had terminated fatally, and that the men were slain.

In fact, on the morning which dawned in victory to the imperial arms, it was ascertained that the shot discharged by the royal Akbar had actually taken effect on the person of Jaimal Pátá, the governor of the fort, and at once decided the fate of Chaitúr and his own. The Johar conflagration was found to ascend from the mansions of Pátá of the Seisúdíah tribe, and one of the Ráná’s most confidential ministers, of the Rahtúrs, of whom a certain Sáhib was the chief, and of Aisúrdas the leader of the Cháhúns, in which there were consumed to the number altogether of three hundred helpless females.

During the remainder of the night, although the breach had been entirely abandoned by the garrison, which had fled in dismay on the death of Jaimul, and withdrawn to various recesses of the places, the imperial troops, nevertheless, cautiously abstained from attack, with that prudent forbearance always necessary to avert unseen and sudden danger. They were at the same time held in perfect readiness to enter the place at the first dawn of daylight. Accordingly, at break of day, the troops issued at once from their trenches, and rushing into the fort at all points, proceeded immediately to the work of bondage and slaughter; while the unfortunate Rájpúts, having lost all order, were put to the sword, fighting and resisting to the very last man.


The number of Rájpúts inured to war collected on this occasion for the defence of Chaitúr, is stated at nearly eight thousand; but the inhabitants, who bore a part also in the defence of the place, amounted to more than forty thousand men. When the banners of the empire were displayed upon the works, the besieged retired partly into the pagodas; and trusting to the sanctity of those places, and the protection of their idols, awaited with fortitude the moment to lay down their lives. Others obstinately awaited their fate in their own houses; while others, with sword in hand and shortened lance, bravely faced their assailants, from whom they found the death they sought. Those who had madly taken post in the temples and dwelling-houses, when they beheld the imperial troops advancing upon them, fiercely sallied out, but were destroyed before they could come within sword-length, by the fire of their adversaries.

Thus, between early dawn and the hour of noon was the period in which these unfortunates were doomed to perish – to be consumed both body and soul by the wrath of Omnipotence; the slain on this occasion being stated at nearly thirty thousand men.


On this memorable day, although there was not in the place a house or street or passage of any kind that did not exhibit heaps of slaughtered bodies, there were three points in particular at which the number of the slain was surprisingly great; one of these was the palace of the Ráná, into which the Rájpúts had thrown themselves in considerable numbers; from whence they successively sallied upon the imperialists in small parties, of two and three together, until the whole had nobly perished sword in hand. The other was the temple of Mahádeo, their principal place of worship, where another considerable body of the besieged gave themselves up to the sword. Thirdly, was the gate of Rámpúrah, where these devoted men gave their bodies to the winds in appalling numbers.

This important conquest, which may well be considered the crowning triumph of imperial fortune, had the immediate effect of dispelling those fumes of ambition and self-importance which had distempered the brains of the haughtiest powers in Hindústán, and disposed them to assume in exchange the bonds of sincere allegiance.

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