Today (May 5, celebrated by many as Cinco de Mayo) is the 1808th anniversary of the death of Sun Ce. After a few years of unofficial observance, I hereby dub this day Sun Ce Memorial Day!
Even though his life was short and he had no outstanding political achievements like his longer-lived rivals and successors, it was his work that began to change southern China from the backward frontier region it was during the Han times to the eventual cultural and economic center of China for centuries to come. Sun Ce's pacification of Jiangdong paved the way for further economic developments by Sun Quan and, eventually, the Jin Dynasty. Sun Ce's influence also touched modern-day Vietnam, where he had established trade relations with the otherwise isolated Shi clan of Jiaozhou.
In addition, despite his often combative and hot-headed portrayal - which I blame on Dynasty Warriors - Sun Ce was a easy-going and benevolent ruler (though not without his faults, of course). He didn't allow his soldiers to pillage, and he didn't allow his officers to commit crimes. He recruited the able and the worthy regardless of background - take Lu Meng, who was a common soldier, or Zhou Tai, who was a pirate - and kept them in line. His administration did not suffer from the criminal elements that Sun Quan's did - Zhu Huan's violent tendencies, Gan Ning's wasteful ways, and Pan Zhang's greed, for instance. He listened to worthy men, even if he disagreed with them, whereas disagreeing with Sun Quan often resulted in alienation (Zhang Zhao, Yu Fan, Lu Xun).
In military affairs, Sun Ce was quite capable despite not having any formal training. His father died at an age before most of his contemporaries had finished their studies. His first military campaign was when others his age were holding cushy, low-ranked civil positions. He formed his own tactics and strategies, took the input of his officers, and fought battles alongside his soldiers. Some call this arrogance, but in Sun Ce's own words, how could he hope to be a leader of men if he didn't just share in their glories, but also in their hardships and dangers?
Sun Ce is one of the few figures whose death date has been so meticulously placed by historians. Regarded as a tragic hero by modern interpretation, Sun Ce fits the bill. Even if you favor Shu or Wei, at the very least, today should be a day where you reflect upon the short life of a man who did more in 25 years than most in the era did in 70. Not bad for a boy who lost his father at the age of 17 and rose his army from scratch, right?
"There are those who try to shape the world to their own whim,
and then there are those who allow the world to shape them.
It is in the balance that greatness is achieved."