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One Third of Our Lifetime

What is the significance of life? Is there any gauge to measure it? It would be very difficult, of course, trying to advance an absolute standard. However, the significance of one’s existence can more or less be evaluated by examining his attitude toward life and work.

Since ancient times all people of accomplishment are serious about their lives. While they are alive, even if there is only one day left to live, they try to work as hard as they can and learn as much as possible, never letting a single day slip by without any gain. This is true of the working people as well as of the great statesmen and great thinkers in our history. 
In the chapter “Foods and Goods” of The Chronicles of Han Dynasty, the great historian Ban Gu says: “In winter people stay indoors. Women get together to spin hemp threads at night. They manage to work forty-five days a month.” It sounds strange. How come there are forty-five days in a month? Let us look at its annotations given by Yan Shigu: “ They gain half a day’s time every night and, therefore, they have forty-five days in a month.” Now it’s clear. Our ancestors had learned, earlier than the Westerners, how to calculate workdays accurately and reasonably. They had also learned how to calculate day shift and night shift as well.
It is common knowledge that there are only thirty days in a month. Counting the time of one night for half a day, our forefathers managed to extend the month by fifteen days. In this sense the night time gained amounts to one third of our lives, doesn’t it?  
This one third of life is not only treasured by the working people but also by the great statesmen in our history. In the chapter “ Criminal Law” of The Chronicles of the Han Dynasty, Ban Gu also states:

“The First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty set a good example in being industrious, disposing of lawsuits during the day and reading at night.” This is about how he tried to find time to read at night. To some people the First Emperor of Qin isn’t a pleasant name to hear but there is no denying that he was a great figure in the history of China. Even Ban Gu has an impartial comment to make on him.

Liu Xiang, the great scholar of the Han Dynasty, cites in his Historical Anecdotesmany princes of the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period who paid great attention to learning. For example: “Duke Ping of the State of Jin asked Shi Kuang: ‘ I am already seventy years old. Isn’t it too late for me to learn?’ Shi Kuang suggested: ‘ Why not make use of your night time?’ ” Here Shi Kuang encouraged the seventy-year-old Duke Ping to read at night, making up for the one third of the lifetime. Oh, what great spirit!

“ Life of Lv Sili” of The History of the Four Northern Dynasties, in stating what a diligent learner this great statesman was, says: “ Though he took responsibilities for both administrative and military affairs, he was never seen without a book in his hands. He tended state affairs during the day and read at night with a servant holding a wood torch for him. At the end of each session you would find so much ash to fill several sheng ( an old-fashioned grain measure).” By the amount of ashes we can imagine how avidly he read at night. There are more examples of this kind in the book.

Why did the people in the past set such great store by the night time? I think this is positive proof of their attitude toward the one third of their lives. This is exactly what we should learn from them. My intention is to call all ones’ attention to the one third of his lifetime so that, after working for a whole day, he can sit relaxed at home, browsing through and appreciating the useful knowledge of the past and of the present.
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