Epoch Times Staff
In Chapter 3 of Dizi Gui, we are taught how to perform certain actions in daily life. For example, “Open curtains slowly without noise, and make turns widely without hitting corners.”
We should also “hold empty containers as if they were full, and enter empty rooms as if they were occupied. “
As cryptic as this sounds, this actually teaches an important principle – that we should still conduct ourselves properly, even when no one is around to see it or when we are not being watched by others.
This virtue is embodied by the ancient Chinese scholar Yang Zhen, who refused to accept a gift of gold even though no one else was around.
Yang Zhen The Examplar of Upright and Honesty
Yang Zhen (楊驢) was a celebrated scholar of the Eastern Han Dynasty in ancient China. Yang Zhen lost his father at a young age, and grew up in poverty. But he had a passion for studying and was very diligent, accumulating a wealth of knowledge and becoming a learned scholar. In fact, there was a popular saying among the scholars at the time that ‘Yang Zhen is the Confucius of Guanxi area’.
Yang Zhen taught for over 20 years before he eventually became a government official. Because he was over fifty years old at the time, many people, including Yang Zhen himself, did not expect him to be accepted for an official position.
But Yang Zhen’s good reputation became known to General Deng Zhi, who invited him to become an official. Later, Yang Zhen became the prefect of Jingzhou County and Donglai County.
The heaven knows, the earth knows, you and I know. How can you say that no one else knows?
Though no one else is here, isn’t our conscience here?
Replied Yang Zhen, when told that no one would know if he accepted a gift of gold.
Yang Zhen was very fair and honest, and did not seek personal gain. He held himself strictly to the principle of being an ‘official with clean hands’, or one who was uncorrupted.
While serving as prefect of Jingzhou, Yang met a man Wang Mi whom he found was very talented. So under his recommendation, Wang Mi was promoted to the position of magistrate of Changyi County.
Later, Yang Zhen was promoted to the position of prefect of Donglai County. On his way to Donglai, he passed by Changyi, where he was warmly welcomed by Wang Mi.
In the evening, Wang Mi paid a visit to Yang Zhen. The two men were absorbed in pleasant conversation for many hours, until they realized how late it was.
As Wang Mi was about to leave, he took out some gold and said, “It is a rare opportunity to see you, my great mentor. I have prepared a little gift to express my gratitude for your guidance.”
Yang Zhen replied, “Because I knew of your talents, I recommended you for an official position, hoping that you could be fair and incorrupt. What you did just now was against my expectations of you. The best way you can repay me is by serving the country well, instead of giving me anything.”
However, Wang Mi insisted, “It’s the middle of night, no one else will know about this except you and me. Please accept it.”
Yang Zhen immediately became very stern and said, “What are you saying? The heaven knows, the earth knows, you and I know. How can you say that no one else knows? Though no one else is here, isn’t our conscience here?”
Upon hearing this, Wang Mi reddened with embarrassment and left hastily with his gold.
Later, Yang Zhen was transferred to Zhuo County. He was very fair and just, and his whole family lived a simple life.
His friends tried to persuade him to leave some property to his offspring, but he replied with a smile, “I am leaving my reputation of being an uncorrupted official as inheritance to my children, isn’t that riches enough?”
It is easy to obey one’s ethical principles in front of others but hard to behave consistently when one is alone. Yang Zhen’s refusal of the gift of gold demonstrates his exemplary spirit of staying upright and honest, even when he is not watched by others – a value that is worth learning from.
“Dizi Gui” (Standards for Being a Good Student and Child) is a traditional Chinese textbook for children that teaches children morals and proper etiquette.