Sima Lang Analysis

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Sima Lang Analysis

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Mon Mar 25, 2019 11:45 am

Intro: Sima Lang (Boda) was the eldest son of an ancient family, a man who had to navigate the world he knew crumbling around him and look after his many younger brothers. He gets overlooked due to his sibling Sima Yi being one of the giants of the age, Sima Fu’s loyalty and the leading role of the Sima’s to come, However Sima Lang was around in a time when the idea of the Sima’s return to rule would have seemed absurd and he had to manage his family through the crises of the land. This was a requested analysis.

Usual usual De Crespigny sources and Sima Lang’s SGZ

Thanks to Jiuyangda and Daolun for their help.


Youth and family

In the year 171, Lang was born to a Henei family, based at the hamlet of Xiaojing in Wen prefecture, called the Sima’s, Lang was the first of many sons of hermit scholar Fang. The Sima’s were of truly ancient family [1] who had once claimed descent from the Yellow Emperor via grandson Chongli but most leading houses of the Spring and Autumn Period also claimed that lineage [2]. The family name was changed to Sima (great director of horses) when, under the Zhou, Boxiufu who held noble rank of Cheng, was awarded the office of Sima in perpetuity (essentially the head of the Summer Office, unclear what that is) for conquest of some tribes by King Xuan and clan took their name from the post. The clan’s base of Henei came when the Zhou attempted a revival under King Xie and helped battle the Qin dynasty, Sima Ang was a general and when Qin fell, Sima Ang was awarded with the Kingdom on Yin with it’s capital at Zhaoge. However when Liu Bang fought Xiang Yu, Sima Ang was captured in April 205 and the kingdom dissolved, the family stayed at the new commandry of Henei though Ang died in May that year.

The Sima’s did not go onto great things under the Han in terms of official position, one ancestor Sima Jun (Shaping) rose up to be General [3] in 115 and sent against the young Qiang leader Lianchang and the forces under the command of rebel Du Jigong with 8,000 soldiers. He was meant to join with Pang Can’s main force but the main army were defeated by Du Jingong, Sima Jun was able to take the fortress of Dingxi, the headquarters of Du Jigong. However Sima Jun when sent his officers to gather supplies, they ignored orders and became too scattered, the Qiang attacked and cut them off. Angry, Sima Jun refused to leave Dingxi to reinforce his disobedient subordinates and the Han took heavy casualties. When Sima Jun withdrew, the Han was not impressed and arrested him, he committed suicide.

Despite this disgrace, the Sima’s were usually reaching ranks of Grand Administrator in the years that allowed. Lang’s grandfather Juan (Yuanyi) was said to be eight feet three inches tall with broad waist, a scholar, eloquent and the local leaders flocked to him, he became Grand Administrator of Yingchuan. Lang’s father Fang (Jiangong) was born in 149, a strict and honest man, could recite ten thousand words of the Hanshu [4]. He had a spell as a hermit scholar before taking service and in the early 170’s, rose to Prefect of Luoyang (was also the boss of a certain Cao Cao) then Intendant of Jingzhao.

So Sima Lang was born into a family that was guaranteed office for the eldest, one that might not be Kings anymore but could call upon ancient lineage and of truly being one of the Confucian gentry. Jun had shown the family could be local leaders still, Fang showed this was a clan of enough wealth to choose to be a hermit scholar and for Fang to support eight sons, they would have had a good education and connections. For Fang’s eight children though, according to Sima Biao’s Xuzhuan spoke of Fang during his retirement, “All of his sons, though they were capped and adults, if they were not ordered “go forward” they did not dare go forward, if they were not ordered “sit” they did not dare sit, and if they were not directed to be heard they did not dare speak. The solemness between father and son was like this. “

Though this was in years to come, it would suggest Sima Fang expected his sons to obey, to follow his commands, that his sense of strictness carried on into his personal life, he knew his authority as head of the household (and also shows the Sima sons in a filial light). This is clearly something Sima Biao approved of, trying to show a man whose public behaviour also carried over to personal life, and it is only a glimpse into the dynamics between father and sons. Fang may well have had high demands and sense of his place but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t kind or that there were not relaxed moments that we simply don’t see.

We have two tales of Lang’s early life in the SGZ, first at the age of nine a visitor used Fang’s style Jiangong in front of Lang. This was clearly a no no, what the visitor may have been allowed to call Fang in private was not appropriate in front of the children, and Sima Lang rebuked his adult guest “To be casual of another man’s parents is to be disrespectful to one’s own parents.” The guest apologized for the disrespect. There are questions about his tale as a similar tale is told of seven year old Chang Lin [5], also of Henei so either Henei was rampant with misuse of styles or tale got wrongly attributed to two one of the two. Accurate or not, it is meant to show Sima Lang’s intelligence, a sense of proper manners and respect from an early age, something he got from his father.

Then in 182, when twelve years old, it was time for Sima Lang to take his exams in the Classics to become a Junior Gentleman, which would have given him early entrance into probation for a post in civil administration. An intelligent and presumably well studied youth, Lang passed but compared to others his age, Lang was tall and strong. The examiner was a tad suspicious that this might be someone pretending to be young enough and talked to Lang who denied it “My [kinsmen] inside and out are all of the sort to grow large. Though I am young, I do not have the manner of relying on my height. To denigrate age in order to mature early is not my intention.”, De Crespigny in Sima Lang’s entry in his encyclopedia mentions Lang was indicating he would be ashamed to seek advantage via deception.

It is said the examiner was impressed but if he was concerned at Lang being a cheat and was then met with an impressive appeal that Lang was an honest youth, I suspect the examiner may have made further inquiries. Lang’s use of his grandfather might have helped the examiner quickly discover the truth and simply leaving it at Lang’s appeal of honesty would surely be remiss. This tale was likely meant to emphasise Sima Lang’s honest nature (though such an appeal would be a good line for the less honest) but it show us other things too: he clearly inherited his grandfather’s physique, he was intelligent to take a test for early entrance and knew the classics. He was also calm under pressure, able to deal with the stress of his exam and reacting well to sudden accusations by using family, not getting angry and giving sense of morality to try to make a good impression.

Sima Lang was made a cadet but no positing followed, it possible Sima Lang didn’t sufficiently impress (though would be surprising for the Han to snub someone of such an established family like this) or that this was just used for Sima Lang to make connections and reputation at court for the future before returning home. At some point Sima Fang was recalled to the capital to serve in the Censorate, he took his family and retainers with him. Lang had shown, in the tales of his youth, calmness under pressure, awareness of propriety and intelligence, traits that might serve well in future. After all Lang’s chance for office would come, the Han was going to live forever and the way of life was not going to change much…


Civil War

The initial events after Emperor Ling’s death may not have overly concerned the Sima’s, the dying Ling having two male heirs was an improvement on the “find an heir, any easy to control heir” of recent successions, the Sima’s don’t seem to have ever been part of the eunuch vs gentry fighting in the past and they weren’t noted as being involved in the He Jin vs eunuchs clash. Chances were, one side would win and things would continue on as before with purges of the losers and the state continuing on. However with the ominous burning of the palace providing the perfect background, the military leader Dong Zhuo arrived into the vacuum created by the deaths of the He brothers and the eunuchs. Though perhaps many didn’t know it, the rules of the game had changed completely to include control by force of arms and civil war soon erupted.

The people of Henei had little time to consider the long term implications of what had happened so quickly as Wang Kuang declared himself the administrator of the region, began gathering forces while other armies were being assembled across the land. One local notable Li Shao, former Inspector of Ji [6], was alarmed as he feared his home at Yewang, near the mountain passes, would be a prime target for fighting between Dong Zhuo and the rebels. So he planned to move his home closer to the Yellow River, in fact to the Sima home-base of Wen.

News of the plan reached the Sima’s, perhaps via retainers who noted Li Shao’s intentions or Li Shao reached out to his soon to be neighbours to ensure no ill-will. Sima Lang tried to persuade Li Shao this move was a bad idea ““Does the analogy of teeth [being cold without] lips only apply to Yú and Guó? [7] Wēn and Yěwáng are like that [teeth and lips]. Now if you leave to reside here, that is only to postpone destruction to another time and that is all. Moreover you sir are one who the people of the state look toward. Now the bandits have not yet even arrived, so [if you go] the counties about the mountains will certainly be alarmed, and this will disturb and displace the people’s hearts and open the way for traitors and rebels. I on behalf of the prefecture worry for you.”.

His argument was two fold, one that moving from the mountains of Yewang to Wen was pointless as if Yewang fell then Wen was so close as to fall shortly after so the same chaos would occur. It was also warning about the danger for the stability of the area, Li Shao was an important figure in Yewang and if he was seen fleeing, it would spread panic. Li Shao ignored Sima Lang and Yewang did suffer as, ditched by the local notable, the people took the hint: some also fled for what safety they could find, others rebelled and with such chaos, bandits moved in to help themselves. Sima Lang had been unable to persuade Li Shao but he had shown an understanding of how the populace would react to events and to their leaders far better then the more experienced Li Shao.

Meanwhile Dong Zhuo planned to move the capital away from the coalition reach and Sima Fang was one of those assigned to go with Emperor Xian to Chang’an. Sima Fang was a man who, to quote De Crespigny’s encyclopedia entry, “had a strong sense of public duty” but he was also well aware that the land had plunged into chaos. Sima Fang would not abandon his duties and his post but his family? In what must have been a painful decision, Fang decided his family should return to Henei. The SGZ says due to the chaos in the land but Henei was a potential centre of the war and not in the most stable state itself so not the safest place to ride out the chaos. I suspect Sima Fang was calculating the odds of survival for his children was better at their heartland despite that chaos then at Chang’an, amidst the chaos of such a move, under the harsh rule of Dong Zhuo.

Sima Lang had a heavy responsibility, taking his younger brothers, the woman of the household and the family retainers back to Wen. Doing so in secrecy was not easy and someone informed on them to Dong Zhuo who had Sima Lang arrested. Dong Zhuo was not going to be pleased of a group going to the province where the leader of the coalition was based with all sorts of potential information, nor the signal that such a desertion would send to everyone.

Yet when Dong Zhuo saw Sima Lang, his reaction was an emotional one “You sir and my deceased son are the same age, yet you turn your back on me!” Lang perhaps altered whatever response he had planned to suit Dong Zhuo’s mourning of his son, going for flattery rather then practicality “You wise lord rely on the virtue of high times, and when encountering many conflicts all at once, can clearly remove from the masses the lowly, and widely raise up the virtuous. This is truly to think things over thoroughly, and will lead to the restoration of order, with authority and virtue to lead to prosperity, and achievement and work to lead to renown. But the problem of soldiers daily increases, and the provinces and commanderies are in chaos. Within the suburbs and borders the people cannot peacefully work, and abandon their homes and property, and flee to hide in exile. Even though gates on all sides are shut and forbidden, and punishments are increased to executions, yet it still does not stop it. That is why I am in this city. May you wise lord clearly consider past events, slightly think things over. Then your honored name will be like the sun and moon, and Yī [Yǐn] and Zhōu[-gōng] could not compare.”

Dong Zhuo was delighted at this “I also understand this. Your words sir are meaningful.” which leads Pei Songzhi to comment that Sima Lang’s words lacked any meaning or practical help “Lǎng in this answer only praised and narrated Zhuó’s merits and virtues, and did not warn or advise and nothing more. In the end he did not explain things, and yet Zhuó so easily said “I also understand this. Your words sir are meaningful”! Such words between guest and host do not solve problems.”

Lang’s problems weren’t over, he still had to get his family to Henei, the SGZ now adds his predicting Dong Zhuo would fall, which is possible now having met the controller, while Lang was also worried he would be arrested again. With time now of the essence, Lang divided what resources he had at the capital to bribe the capital officials to allow his group to return home. It would be years till any of them saw Fang again and Lang was surely aware he might never see his father again if fates were unkind.

There is something a little odd about the whole thing. Sima Lang’s speech is, as Pei Songzhi notes, of no practical help, it was “your awesome, land is troubled, please be merciful”. De Crespigny’s encyclopedia for Lang merely mentions “Sima Lang was arrested as a potential deserter, but managed to bribe his way free” and doesn’t mention Dong Zhuo meeting (but might be seen as relatively unimportant so can be skipped over). It could be as Lang played on emotions of Dong Zhuo, was smarter then the tyrant who didn’t spot the sheer emptiness or that some of Lang’s speech got lost over time and there was an element of the practical.

Chances are there is at least some element of propaganda at play here. With Dong Zhuo being the big villain who was blamed for the civil war, there is often “wise hero foresees his evil or his doom”, shots to diminish Dong Zhuo’s abilities and it wasn’t unknown for SGZ and HHS writers to have their character be intellectually and morally superior to Dong Zhuo who gets a kicking (Sun Jian in Liang campaign most famous example[8]). There was no shame in the Sima’s role here, Sima Fang was an honourable official doing his duty and recognized as such while Lang was in no position to take action against the regime. However as the Sima’s became increasingly powerful in Wei, it might not have been the worst idea of the Wei recorders to just touch up Sima Lang’s escape from the capital, to foresee Dong Zhuo’s demise. Or even to make it so he heroically outwitted the tyrant then got them out rather then getting discovered, arrested and having to bribe way out.



When Sima Lang returned home, he spoke to the elders (and likely the other notables) of Henei to urge them to move “Dǒng Zhuó rebels, and has become the enemy of all Under Heaven. This is the time for loyal officials and righteous soldiers to rise up. This commandery borders the land of the capital, east of Luò[yáng] is Chénggāo, and the northern border is the great [Yellow] River. If the righteous troops rising up cannot advanced, then they will undoubtedly be stopped here. Therefore this is a land that will be torn apart by war, and those here will not be at peace. It is best that now while the roads are still clear to bring all our clans and go east to Líyáng. Líyáng has camps and troops. Zhào Wēisūn formerly wed into our hometown, commands a camp and leads troops and horses, and can be our leader. If later there is a change, we can still look around and it will not be too late.”

Sima Lang (with the “I was totally in favour of the coalition” clause) plan was logical: he foresaw Henei was badly placed for the civil war and that coalition army might not be able to advance beyond Henei, bringing resulting chaos. Best to flee before the coalition could get their forces fully together and make things chaotic, they could easily find a protector in Lang’s in-law Zhao Weisun [9] who may have absorbed some of the troops from the Han training camp at Liyang. They could then wait out events.

For the second time that year, Lang’s word fell on deaf ears (if only it had been Dong Zhuo) as the elders were said to be too nostalgic for their homes and only Zhao Zi [10], with his family and retainers, agreed to go with the Sima clan. The Henei clans paid a heavy price for refusing to go, Yuan Shao and Wang Kuang camped at Henei with other allies nearby in Chenliu, the infighting at Suanzao had an impact in Henei as did their increasing need to “acquire” supplies and while most of the suffering was blamed on this, the assassination of Wang Kuang did nothing to bring order to the region till eventually Zhang Yang took over. Half of Henei was said to be killed in the chaos and plundering during these turbulent times.

It is easy to bemoan the failure of the local families but people can be reluctant to leave their home towns, the memories, the friends, the connections and influence they have. They might be treated well at Liyang but they would be second to the local influential figures there, maybe the threat would never quite come or in their homebase with their resources and retainers they could see off the danger or smooth their way to safety. It would have been easy for Lang to have fallen into that trap, he was home again and among people he knew, he had done the hard bit of getting his family out of the capital. It required not only perception of danger but drive to leave behind everything he knew and throw himself under the care of another. By doing so, Lang had kept his family safe.

During their exile from home, Lang along with Yi and his distant kinsman Sima Zhi [11] met Yang Jun whose SGZ says Lang was already famous [12], Yang Jun admired all three but felt the lesser unknown Sima Zhi would prove superior. This wasn’t an insult to Lang as such, Zhi would rise to very high rank and Yang Jun was commenting on a figure who had yet to acquire reputation but who he felt would.

In 194, during the three months Cao Cao and Lu Bu were fighting at Puyang, Sima Lang judged it the right time to return home (presumably with Zhao Zi), perhaps calculating Zhang Yang had done enough to bring Henei under order. Alas when the Sima’s returned home, famine hit the area so badly that people resorted to cannibalism. Sima Lang gathered the retainers of the family and took care of them (De Crespigny notes Lang encouraged them to support themselves), oversaw the education of his eight siblings and was noted to continue in his duties despite the difficult time.


Service to Cao Cao

At the age of twenty two, Sima Lang would take official service at last as the new Excellency of Works and controller of the Han Cao Cao summoned Lang to his offices then sent him to Henan to be Magistrate of Chenggao. Lang became unwell and resigned but when better he was appointed to be Chief of Tangyang in Anping then Magistrate of Yuancheng in Wei. In an age when strictness was seen as needed to restore morality and good order after decline of moral and law that had led to Han’s fall, Sima Lang was of a gentler style of official (reaction to his father?) as he governed without resorting to cane or whip, his generosity and kindness said to have inspired others to not break the law. It was said in Tangyang that Lang was instructed to build boats and when those who had left for the capital heard of this, they feared there were not enough people left for the task so secretly returned home to help construct the boats.

At some point, though unclear when, Fang was able to join his former junior Cao Cao as well, father and son reuniting after considerable time. Fang by this point was old so Cao Cao made his old boss Commandant of Cavalry and allowed Fang to return to Wen to retire. Fang closed his doors and kept to himself, it is during this time the tale about the adult children of Fang being obedient is meant to be about.

Sima Yi meanwhile had a spell where he refused service, Lang’s willingness to serve may have allowed Sima Yi time away before Cao Cao felt need to put pressure on to hire the younger sibling. Lang befriended Cui Yan, and as Sima Yi came of age, Cui Yan remarked "Your young brother has a clear intelligence and a keen sense of justice, firm decision and exceptional bravery. You are not so good as that!" According to Cui Yan’s SGZ [13] Sima Lang did not agree which is perhaps unsurprising. This sort of thing can be foreshadowing of a man who was seen as being the founding figure for the Jin dynasty, Chinese history loves to have lots of predictions of how super awesome and ambitious such men were. It could also be true, Cui Yan was a famed judge of talent, he knew Lang well and would have had to chance to observe Lang’s next brother. While Lang was a skilled official like his father, Sima Yi would be giant of the era who was strong in many spheres and shaped China, it is not unbelievable that a judge of talent of Cui Yan’s quality would see a spark and intelligence that was a step above the potential of his friend

Sima Lang’s success in local administration saw him promoted to be Chancellor Cao Cao’s (so after 208) Registrar. With a chance to impress at the capital, have his say on central administration and impress for his future postings, Sima Lang sought to restore the pre-Qin feudal system. “The reason the realm Under Heaven collapsed was because Qín had abolished the Five Ranks [of nobility] system, and because the commanderies and states no longer made preparations for hunting and practising warfare. Now though the Five Ranks cannot yet be restored, the provinces and commanderies could be ordered to together prepare troops, outside guarding against the foreigners in the four directions, and inside establishing authority against the errant, and this plan was best.”

He also noted “It is appropriate to again use the well-field [land distribution system]. Previously the people had each accumulated estates for many generations, and it was difficult to take them away, so things reached to the present. Now after the great chaos, the people were scattered, the land and property has no owner, and all could become public fields, and so it is suitable to at this time to restore it.”

Lang failed to push through his ideas immediately (Lang seems to have not been successful at art of persuasion), his ideas were based on a mixture of an idealistic view of the past and the mystical golden age yet with with a pragmatic streak about why such things didn’t happen or couldn’t yet happen. Two of his ideas did happen but not for a time, Lang didn’t expect the old ranks to be restored at that time and it would only be in 214 Cao Cao that restored the ranks of nobility as he became Duke. It may not have been entirely appreciated such ideas being floated around before Cao Cao was ready as risked being misused by the opponents of Cao Cao having worrying ideas. The use of provincial troops to defend themselves was adopted as a later policy, it risked such troops being used against central government but having such defence forces meant they could hope to handle issues rather then rely on central government, one can see Sima Lang’s logic and why it was later used.

The farming system did not get adopted, De Crespigny notes the well-field on pre-Qin as alleged and it can be rather hard for governments to implement nostalgia ideas, let alone that may not ever have actually existed. Sima Lang had noted that such ideas had not been possible due to powerful families estates but felt war had shaken things up, Cao Cao and his ministers may have noted there were still powerful landed gentry families they needed to keep allied. As the agricultural colonies policy of Ren Jun and Zao Zhi had proved extremely successful, why make the change?

Sima Lang was promoted to Inspector of Yan and a chance to prove himself at a high level of provincial government. Sima Lang was said to be very effective and won popular support, choosing to lead his subordinate by example in wearing plain clothing and eating coarse food despite his status. Lang was noted as keen on reading old books about human relations and was perhaps seen as having influence on the Li Di incident: In 214 local Li Di had gained a reputation and would have been expected expected to get a post. However Sima Lang refused to give him office or recommend him, furthermore Lang was said to be disparaging about Li Di, later Li Di fell into disgrace (we don’t know why) and people admired Sima Lang’s foresight and judgement.

Two of the great scholars of Wei, Zhong Yao and Wang Can argued “Without sagely men there cannot be grand peace.” One of the philosophical issues of Chinese history, including during the three kingdoms, was sages and their role [14], even Sun Sheng uses commentary in Sima Lang’s SGZ to advance his own view of the matters. Sima Lang wrote a counterargument, of which only a fragment survives “Though the sort of people as Yī [Yǐn] and Yán [Yuān] [15] are not sagely men, if there are many of them working together, then grand peace can be reached.” While Sima Lang was clearly not an unknown, his argument for many good and able men working together could create such achievements, caught the eye of the heir Cao Pi who, according to the Weishu, had Lang’s work secretly recorded and De Crespigny mentions a copy was placed in the Imperial Library when Cao Pi became Emperor.

With a reputation for good governance, catching the eye of Cao Cao’s eldest son and involved in philosophical discussions with noted scholars, Lang’s future seemed bright. Perhaps Sima Lang could take the clan to heights it had not seen for generations?


The death of Sima Lang

In early 217, Wei launched a short campaign against Wu but they were unable to take Ruxu and Cao Cao withdrew but he left large armies under the command of Xiahou Dun at Juchao, pressuring Sun Quan into coming to the diplomatic table. Sima Lang, seemingly not for the first time, accompanied the army but 217 would be a year of epidemic, one hit the Wei court and many of it’s leading scholars, it also seems to have hit the army and Wang Can would also die in the 217 campaign.

Sima Lang toured the soldiers, handing out medicine to those that fell ill when he fell also was hit by the sickness. According to the Weishu, Lang instructed his followers “I the Inspector have deeply received the state’s favor and kindness. I managed [land covering] ten thousand lǐ, but though my small achievements are not yet achieved I encountered this illness, and cannot save myself, and have failed to repay the state’s kindness. After I am gone, there is to be only plain clothes and head-cloth and restriction to everyday clothes. Do not disobey my wish.”

He died aged 47, his will for plain clothes funeral was carried out, the people of Yan greatly mourned him. Sima Fang would die two years later then the son he had once relied on to keep safe those he loved, leaving Sima Yi as the leading Sima. Lang seems to have had trouble conceiving a son so at some point there was an arrangement with his younger brother Sima Fu that his second son Sima Wang [16] (yes, that one) was adopted but Lang would later have a natural son. Sima Yi, the son not the brother, would be made Marquis of Chāngwǔ by the new emperor Cao Rui around 226 which perhaps suggests Yi was not of age till near that time. When Yi died, Sima Wang’s second son Hong took over Lang’s line, he rose to Grand Administrator before being ennobled as a Sima.



It is easy to see why Lang gets overlooked, not in novel, only two mentions in the ZZTJ: one of many hired, Cui Yan’s “your brother is better then you.” The Sima’s role as a great power was still to come, Lang wasn’t around in the time when his brothers Yi and Fu plus his nephews shaped the land. Even in death, when people think of the losses of 217, it is names like Wang Can that are thought of and not Sima Lang.

It can be easy to misread how Lang was viewed in his own time due to comments from likes of Cui Yan but Lang was a man who gained a reputation early, he was friends with respected figures like Cui Yan, admired by Cao Pi and mourned when he died, Sima Lang was held in good regard. Yang Jun and Cui Yan may have seen Sima Yi (and Zhi in Yang Jun’s case) as bigger talents but that isn’t to say they thought little of Sima Lang’s ability. Sima Lang showed he was a good provincial administrator (among other talents) before he died, that is not something that would have been looked down on. His younger brother simply happened to be someone who shaped an era, there is no shame in not being as talented as someone like that.

Sima Lang inherited his grandfather’s height and strength, he carried out his own style of administration that differed from his father but like his father and brothers Lang was an intelligent man. A scholar whose work was considered worthy of the Wei’s Imperial Library, a man who even when writing of a nostalgic past had a streak of pragmatism, he knew how people would react to events as he showed when he tried to warn Li Shao. Sima Lang does however seem to have struggled to persuade people the follow his plans, often his advice was turned down or adopted far later on.

Sima Lang played a key role in keeping the Sima clan alive, he managed to smuggle his family out of Luoyang and keep them safe for years during time of civil war and famine. If Lang had taken the easy route and relaxed at Henei, safe in the knowledge they were at home, it is possible some or all of the Sima’s (bar Fang) would have been killed. Lang read the dangers, showed the drive to do the harder thing but he also ensured the education of his brothers didn’t fall behind, that they weren’t having to make up what they should have learnt in their formative years, giving them a platform to reach their potential.

As a civil administrator was seen as effective and rose through the ranks, Lang inspired others with his example, living frugally, gentle rule that was not abused, refusing popular pressure to use Li Di. When he needed help, others came back to help build boats, when he died he was mourned by the people of Yan. Is there much greater praise of his skill and character then that their passing led to the people of the province they served plunging into mourning?

It is impossible to know what Sima Lang might have done if he had survived the epidemic of 217, how far he could (or couldn’t) have got, but during his own life he had a positive impact on his family and on those whose job it was to govern. He handled circumstances he was not expected to ever face and when his time came for official service, he rose through the ranks, making an impact where he was assigned, living a humble life and with a gentle touch, winning the love of the populace. Sima Lang was a respected figure within his own time, when we talk of talented Sima’s then we should include Sima Lang in his own right rather then see him just as Sima Yi’s elder brother.


[1] From Sima Yi’s Jinshu biography

[2] From Anthony Bruce Fairbank commentary on Sima Yi’s biography and his dissertation Ssu-ma I (179-251): Wei Statesman and Chin Founder : an Historiographical Inquiry.

Using wikipedia for the Pinyin version of names, SGZ has grandfather as Juan but De Crespigny has Jun, Jiuyangda explained “Jun is the more common reading of 儁, so I would personally go with that. “

[3] Using De Crespigny’s encyclopaedia and Northern Frontier

[4] Biographies of the notable figures of the former Han

[5] Style Bouie, of poor family and keen scholar. Fled to Bing and became a leader in Shangdang during the civil war, helped Chen Yan defeat Zhang Yan before serving Cao Cao, held Ministerial Rank under Cao Pi and Cao Rui, respected by Sima Yi.

[6] Would later serve as Yuan Shao’s Administrator of Julu, planned to switch to Gongsun Zan’s advancing forces but Yuan Shao replaced him with Dong Zhao.

[7] Referring to the Kingdom of Yu, the ruler encouraged by gifts from the Duke of Jin, being persuaded to attack the Kingdom of Guo, end result was Jin conquering both.

[8] See De Crespigny’s Generals of the South for the hilarity of the efforts Wu went to distance Sun Jian from Dong Zhuo. I have also written in Huangfu Song case of his history with Dong Zhuo which also seems to have been touched up.

[9] We know nothing of Zhao Weisun beyond his having control of forces at Liyang.

[10] Style Zhihua, a student who begged bandits to leave his old mother alone and took refuge in Jing before later serving Wei. Noted for upholding law even against the powerful, rose to Minister of Finance under Cao Rui.

[11] Yang Jun’s SGZ

Style Jicai and from Henei, the student of Bian Rang managed to look after his people during exile. An honest offical with an eye for talent, he led his people to Bing then served Cao Cao but fell out with Cao Pi.

[12] Style Junchu and a fellow local, he has two lines at end of Lang’ biography as a man who journeyed with Lang, was a noted scholar and became Minister of Ceremonies. Nothing more is known of him.

[13] Cui Yan’s SGZ

[14] Daolun pointed me to Julia Ching’s The Ancient Sages (sheng): their Identity and their Place in Chinese Intellectual History

[15] Yi Yin was a minister of Shang, helping overthrow the Xia dynasty and served as regent, Yan Yuan was a discple of Confucius.

[16] Archlich wrote about Sima Fu, a conqueror of Wu (and Sima Hong)
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Re: Sima Lang Analysis

Unread postby Deej » Tue Mar 26, 2019 10:56 pm

Brilliant write up! I feel truly educated. Sima Lang is one of many casualties of the novel but I feel you may have done him justice.

I don't feel I can comment to any decent extent on him, as I was merely aware of his existence until now.

One interpretation did stick out to me though:

The SGZ says due to the chaos in the land but Henei was a potential centre of the war and not in the most stable state itself so not the safest place to ride out the chaos. I suspect Sima Fang was calculating the odds of survival for his children was better at their heartland despite that chaos then at Chang’an, amidst the chaos of such a move, under the harsh rule of Dong Zhuo.

Purely using your analysis as a base, I feel we can elaborate the interpretation you've presented further. I think maybe Fang had seen the potential of his young family. In particular Lang and didn't want them employed by Dong Zhuo as he had foreseen that Zhuo would soon be struck down. If Lang had come to serve high office for Zhuo, he would surely be caught up in the retribution!

Yet when Dong Zhuo saw Sima Lang, his reaction was an emotional one “You sir and my deceased son are the same age, yet you turn your back on me!”

This shocks me, do we have any other indications that Dong Zhuo was already familiar with Sima Lang? Was this simply Zhuo catching sight of a young official packing his bags?

Again, thanks for the write up!
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Re: Sima Lang Analysis

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:03 pm

I knew little of him till asked to do this write up, glad you enjoyed it

Purely using your analysis as a base, I feel we can elaborate the interpretation you've presented further. I think maybe Fang had seen the potential of his young family. In particular Lang and didn't want them employed by Dong Zhuo as he had foreseen that Zhuo would soon be struck down. If Lang had come to serve high office for Zhuo, he would surely be caught up in the retribution!

It was unlikely Lang would serve under Dong Zhuo till Sima Fang retired. Sima Fang may not have been certain Dong Zhuo would be struck down any time soon (he doesn't seem to have been connected to plotters)

This shocks me, do we have any other indications that Dong Zhuo was already familiar with Sima Lang? Was this simply Zhuo catching sight of a young official packing his bags?

No such indications I have seen. I think it is simply the being same age more then knowing Lang
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Re: Sima Lang Analysis

Unread postby Kongde » Mon Apr 08, 2019 5:33 pm

Before reading this all I knew of Sima Lang was little more than his name and his younger brother Sima Yi. This was a very interesting read, and it really set the scene for Sima Yi and how he ensured his family's rise to success. Lang deserves just as much love and seemed to be just as intelligent as Yi. However, by the sounds of things, he was simply slightly less charismatic than Yi (and less involved in military, but it still seemed as though he was aware of military affairs nonetheless, he had to be to some degree to be able to make the predictions he did).

All in all, great read, I learned a lot!
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Re: Sima Lang Analysis

Unread postby Sun Fin » Fri Apr 12, 2019 3:20 pm

Thanks Dong, another great read. :D
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