Epoch Times Staff
China’s 5,000-year-old history is enriched with thousands of stories, many illustrative of the values and virtues inherent to authentic traditional Chinese culture. One of these virtues is kindness and generosity, which the ancient Chinese regarded as most important. Jealousy, in contrast, was considered a reprehensible trait.
Jealousy not only harms others but also harms oneself, and there are many historical examples to make people think twice about being jealous.
The Jealous Zhou Yu (周瑜) is Outsmarted Three Times
One of the most memorable stories in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms is that of Zhou Yu (周瑜) being outsmarted three times by the gifted martial strategist Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮).
Zhou Yu was a young, talented, and ambitious general who served Sun Quan (孙权), one of the three lords during the Three Kingdoms Period. But Zhou had a fatal weakness, and that was his jealous and petty nature. He was insanely resentful of the gifted martial strategist Zhuge Liang, who served under the rival warlord Liu Bei (刘备). Zhou Yu often sought ways to sabotage Zhuge Liang, but his plans never succeeded.
The two lords Sun Quan and Liu Bei once vied for Jing Province, a strategic piece of land occupied by Cao Cao’s (曹操) army. Confident that he could secure Jing Province, Zhou Yu boasted, “If I can’t secure the province, I’ll let Liu Bei have it.”
But during the battle for the province, Zhou Yu was injured by an arrow and eventually lost to Cao Cao’s army. Seizing the opportunity, Zhuge Liang sent Liu Bei’s general Zhang Fei (张飞) to impersonate the Cao troops and intimidate Zhou Yu, thereby securing the province for Liu Bei. When he discovered he had been tricked by Zhuge Liang, Zhou Yu had such a fit of anger that his battle wounds reopened.
The second time Zhuge Liang outsmarted Zhou Yu was when Zhou Yu set a trap to kill Liu Bei, by enticing Liu Bei to come to Jiangdong and marry Sun Quan’s sister. However, Zhuge Liang cunningly foiled Zhou Yu’s plans, and helped Liu Bei take Sun Quan’s sister with him.
Zhou Yu and his troops pursued Liu Bei, but were defeated by Liu Bei’s army. As Zhou Yu watched Liu Bei escape, Liu Bei’s soldiers taunted him for his double loss. Zhou Yu was so angry that he fainted on the spot.
In the third incident, Zhou Yu tried to recapture Jing Province so as to spite Zhuge Liang, but Zhuge Liang saw through him and even humiliated him badly. Zhou Yu was so furious that he died not long after.
Shortly before his death, Zhou Yu lamented, “Why does Zhuge Liang have to exist while I am alive?” This statement encapsulated Zhou Yu’s petty and jealous nature, where there can only be one winner in his world.
In contrast, Zhuge Liang was a modest, generous, and hardworking man with the gift of foresight. He once helped Zhou Yu to win important battles, but after Zhou Yu’s malicious attempts on him, Zhuge Liang finally gave Zhou Yu a taste of his own medicine.
Pang Juan’s Jealousy Becomes His Undoing
If you thought Zhou Yu was rather jealous, the Chinese general Pang Juan was even more so.
Pang Juan and his sworn brother Sun Bin lived during the Warring States Period. Both men trained under the hermit Guiguzi in their youth.
The elder of the two, Sun Bin was clever, honest, and diligent in studying military strategies. By contrast, Pang Juan was selfish, dishonest, and power-hungry, and was always looking for shortcuts in his studies. As such, Pang Juan was often reprimanded by Guiguzi (鬼谷子), making Pang Juan think that his teacher was biased. This made him constantly jealous of Sun Bin.
Pang Juan later became a general of the State of Wei. While revelling in his position of power, Pang Juan could not forget Sun Bin. He knew that Sun Bin was the smarter one, and he was worried that Sun Bin would eventually threaten his position. Pang Juan thus devised a plan to get rid of Sun Bin.
Pang Juan first enticed Sun Bin to the State of Wei, by promising him employment as a general. But when Sun Bin arrived, Pang Juan framed Sun Bin in front of the King of Wei, accusing him of treason. Sun Bin was condemned to face-tattooing (criminal branding) and had his kneecaps removed, becoming a cripple.
Realising that he had been sabotaged by Pang Juan, Sun Bin escaped the Wei State and returned to the State of Qi. With his intelligence and mastery of military strategy, Sun Bin rose through the ranks and became an important strategist and statesman for the State of Qi.
A struggle began between Pang Juan and Sun Bin, eventually culminating in the Battle of Maling. Pang Juan and the Wei army had attacked some of the weaker neighbouring states, which appealed to the Qi State for help.
Sun Bin first laid a trap for Pang Juan and his army in the narrow Maling valley at nightfall. He had ten thousand archers lay in ambush on both sides of the valley, and instructed them to fire at the signal of a torch.
Sun Bin then chose a tree along the valley, and carved on its trunk the words “Pang Juan shall die in Maling Pass, under this tree”. This was a prophecy the hermit Guiguzi had shared with Pang Juan and Sun Bin, while they were still training under him.
While fighting Pang Juan and the Wei army, Sun Bin ordered the Qi army to feign defeat and retreat. Pang Juan and his army chased after the Qi army into the narrow Maling valley.
Night had already descended in the valley. Pang Juan noticed the tree with the carved words, and instructed his men to light a torch so he could read the words. But before he could finish reading, the Qi archers attacked, wiping out the Wei army. Realising that he had lost, the bitter Pang Juan committed suicide under that tree.
Before taking his own life, Pang Juan moaned, “This battle has let that brat [Sun Bin] gain fame.” Even in his final moments, his narrow-mindedness and jealousy were as strong as ever.
Immortal Shen Gongbao (申公豹) Loses Thousands of Years of Cultivation Overnight
In the 16th-century Chinese novel Investiture of the Gods (Fengshen Yanyi [封神演义]), Shen Gongbao and Jiang Ziya (姜子牙) were both immortal disciples of the Primitive God of Heaven. Shen Gongbao had been cultivating Taoism for thousands of years, and thought very highly of himself.
So Shen Gongbao was extremely jealous when he discovered the Primitive God of Heaven had entrusted Jiang Ziya with conferring titles on immortals and helping King Wu establish the Zhou Dynasty. Shen Gongbao felt that as he had greater magical abilities, he should be the one to complete this important mission.
So Shen Gongbao went up to Jiang Ziya, and asked him which king he wanted to help. Jiang Ziya replied, “I will help King Wu of Zhou overthrow King Zhou of Shang, as per the will of Heaven. King Wu has all the virtues of the great emperors of antiquity. By contrast, King Zhou has fallen into debauchery.”
Shen Gongbao then said, “Since you wish to help King Wu, I will oppose you and help King Zhou instead.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Jiang Ziya. “You’ll be opposing our Master’s specific instructions. How can you go against the will of Heaven?”
Shen Gong Bao angrily replied, “I can cut off my own head, toss it in the air and reattach it to my shoulders again. You don’t even have the ability to do that. Given your limited forty years of cultivation, how can you help King Wu overthrow King Zhou?”
From then on, Shen Gongbao continued to be at odds with Jiang Ziya, creating many wars and even instigating other immortals to harm Jiang Ziya. In one case, he had the Grand Master of Heaven attack Jiang Ziya, hindering King Wu’s efforts to defeat King Zhou. His jealousy caused thousands of innocent lives to be lost.
As punishment for Shen Gongbao’s evil ways, the Primordial God of Heaven struck Shen Gongbao down and stuffed him into a hole in the Northern Sea. Shen Gongbao thus suffered for his own misdeeds.
The Investiture of the Gods illustrates how one person’s jealousy can cause the deaths of thousands of innocents, and can make immortals lose thousands of years of precious cultivation overnight.
While jealousy can drive people to gain the upper hand at first, it eventually becomes their undoing as Heaven’s retribution catches up with them.