Tolerance and forgiveness are part of traditional Chinese virtue. They are a manifestation of compassion and help to resolve many conflicts as shown in the examples below.
No Defense When Being Wronged
As a proverb goes, injuries from weapons are relatively easy to endure, while harms caused by rumors are the most difficult to bear. How did the ancient Chinese treat people who hurt them in that way? Let’s take a look at a couple of historical figures.
Cai Xiang, a renowned official from the Northern Song Dynasty, was once out drinking with a group of friends when one of them accidentally injured a passerby while showing off his archery skills. But the culprit claimed it was Cai’s arrow that injured the person, and the rumor soon spread far and wide throughout the city.
The emperor heard about it and summoned Cai to the palace to ask if it was true. Cai just knelt down and begged for forgiveness. He did not defend himself, nor did he tell anyone he was innocent, even after returning from the palace.
In a similar situation, Gao Fang of the Eastern Jin Dynasty served as a judge under the Governor of Defense, Zhang Cong’en, in Chanzhou.
Duan Hongjin, a military officer, stole some government lumber to make furniture for himself. Zhang was enraged when he learned about the theft and wanted to have Duan executed. To protect himself, Duan claimed that Gao had told him to take the lumber. Zhang asked Gao if this was true, and Gao admitted it was his fault. Duan’s life was thus spared.
Soon afterward, Zhang paid Gao off, gave him a horse, and dismissed him from his position. Gao left quietly and never defended his innocence.
Not long after that, however, Zhang sent someone to call Gao back. A year later, one of Zhang’s trusted confidants told him that Gao had taken the blame to save a life. That surprised Zhang, and he treated Gao with even more respect after that.
Forgiveness and Generosity
Giving money away may not be very difficult, but being kind to those who steal your property is not something that ordinary people would do.
When Zhang Zhichang was studying at the Imperial College, his family asked someone to bring him 10 taels (500g) of gold. While Zhang was out, his roommate opened his suitcase and took the gold. The college officials conducted a search and found the gold. To avoid humiliating his roommate, Zhang denied the gold was his.
His roommate, who’d stolen his gold, returned it to Zhang that evening. Knowing that his roommate was from a poor family, Zhang gave him half of the gold.
Here is a story about turning a thief into a good citizen. Yu Lingyi from Caozhou was an honest man and never did anything to harm anyone for personal gain. His family became quite wealthy in Yu’s later years.
One night, someone sneaked into his house to rob him. His sons caught the intruder, who turned out to the son of his neighbor. Yu asked him, “You’ve never done anything bad in the past. Why have you turned to thievery?”
“Because we are so poor,” the thief replied. Yu then asked him what he needed. The thief said, “Ten thousand coins would be enough to buy food and clothes.” So Yu gave him the money and let him go. But he quickly called him back. The thief was worried, thinking Yu might have changed his mind and was going to report him to the authorities.
Yu said to him, “You are very poor, but now you are carrying all this money on you and it is getting late. I’m afraid that patrol officers might stop you and question you about the money.” Yu told the thief to stay overnight and go home the next day. The thief was deeply ashamed at what he had done and became a very honest person afterward. Neighbors all praised Yu for his kindness.
Yu’s family became even more prosperous in the local area. Many people attributed that to blessings he received for doing good deeds.
Generous, Not Irresponsible
Generosity is not the same as being foolhardy. When it comes to the security and prosperity of the state, one must consider those who are honest and capable.
Zhang Qixian, a well-known chancellor in the Northern Song Dynasty, was once promoted to be the transit officer south of the Yangtze River.
One day at a family feast, a servant stole several pieces of silverware and hid them in his clothing. Zhang saw what he did but did not say anything. Later, after Zhang became chancellor, he appointed many of his servants as officials, all except for the one who’d stolen the silverware.
One day, the servant knelt down before Zhang and said, “I’ve served you the longest, but those who came after me have already been already promoted. Why,” he wept, “have you forgotten me?”
Zhang replied sympathetically, “I didn’t want to say this, but I am afraid you might resent me anyway. Do you remember when we were in the south, you once stole some silverware? I have kept this a secret for nearly 30 years, and even you might not know I saw what you did. Now that I am the chancellor responsible for appointing and dismissing officials, I must promote those who are virtuous and dismiss anyone who is corrupt and greedy. How can I possibly recommend a thief to an official position?
“However, since you have worked for me for a long time, I will give you thirty thousand coins. You may leave now and choose a place to settle down. Since I have revealed that I know what happened in the past, you would be too ashamed to stay any longer.”
The servant was stunned. With tears in his eyes, he bid Zhang farewell.
Source of the stories: Ren Jing by Wu Liang in the Yuan Dynasty