Sima Guang Smashes a Jar to Save his Friend

Sima Guang, of the Xia Prefecture of Shanzhou (present-day Shanxi) was one of the most well-known and prestigious chancellors of the Northern Song period. By the time he was a child, his reputation had already become very widespread. It is said that in his seventh year he had already begun focusing on his studies. Regardless of the torrid summer heat or the most bitter cold of mid-winter, he would always grasp his books firmly with both hands, never setting them down, and occasionally even forgetting to eat and drink.

Not only was he very studious, but he was also a very clever young boy. Once, he and a group of young friends were playing in the back courtyard. In the courtyard there was a large water jar. One of the small children climbed on to the top of the water jar, and being careless, he fell straight inside the jar. The water of the jar was deep and one could see that the child was about to drown. As soon as the other children had realized that what had happened, they began crying and shouting in fright. They rushed out of the courtyard and went searching for an adult to come and help. Sima Guang, calm and composed, picked up a large piece of rock from the ground, focused his strength and flung the rock towards the water jar to smash it apart. “Whaam!” was the sound the stone made as it broke apart the water jar, shattering it to pieces. The water from inside the jar sprayed out, and the submerged child was saved. This fortuitous event introduced the young Sima Guang into the public eye. From Tokyo to Luoyang, people have depicted these events in painting, spreading the legend even further.

Original English translation by Patrick Nowlin, copyright 2012.