Once when Emperor Yu*, the founding Emperor of the Xia Dynasty, went out to inspect his kingdom, he saw a criminal being escorted to be punished. He ordered his carriage to stop and asked, “What crime did he commit?”
The guards said, “He stole wheat and rice from other people and got caught. We are taking him to the site for punishment.”
Yu stepped out of his carriage. He came to the criminal and asked, “Why did you steal?”
The criminal faced a very important official and was so scared that he lowered his head and said nothing.
Yu did not get angry but continued to advise him while shedding tears. The officials around Emperor Yu could not understand and one of them asked, “This person stole from
others and should be punished. Why is Your Majesty suffering so much and shedding tears?”
Yu said, “I am not crying for him but for myself. When Yao and Shun were Emperors, all the citizens followed their hearts and moral standards. Now I am the Emperor, but my people are not following my moral standards and commit a crime like this to hurt other people. Therefore, I feel quite miserable!”
Emperor Yu asked someone to bring a plate and wrote “When citizens commit a crime, it is my fault.” He then ordered the guards to release the criminal.
*Emperor Yu was one of the legendary emperors in Chinese history. His most remarkable feat was bringing the monstrous flood under control.