Traditional Chinese Culture: Courtesy (Part 3)

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By Minghui.org

(Continued from Part 2)

Confucian classic The Book of Rites outlines the expectations for human relations: a man should live with dignity, the older generations should protect and care for younger ones, while the younger ones should respect and follow the wishes of the elders.

In addition, a king should be generous while an official should be loyal to the king.

Below are several examples of these traditional relationships.

Wisdom, Courage, and Caliber

Lu Zhonglian, an ancient scholar and sage of the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC), was well known for his legacy.

After a three-year major battle between the kingdoms of Qin and Zhao, Zhao was defeated and over 400,000 soldiers were lost. Qin’s troops then surrounded Handan (in today’s Hebei Province), which was the capital of Zhao, in 260 BC. The king of Wei, who was intent on rescuing the situation, held his troops back but sent Xin Yuanyan to convince the king of Zhao and Lord Pingyuan to surrender to Qin; they were hesitant about what to do.

Lu Zhonglian was in Zhao at the time and he asked Lord Pingyuan to arrange a meeting with Xin Yuanyan.

At the meeting, Lu explained that the kingdom of Qin had abandoned courtesy and made other kingdoms yield using military force. Qin also seduced intellectuals with power and enslaved ordinary people. If the king of Qin defeated more kingdoms, Wei and the other kingdoms would become vassals and everyone would suffer, including Xin.

Xin was convinced and stopped encouraging Zhao to capitulate. Qin’s troops heard about this and backed off 50 li (25 kilometers). At the same time, Wei’s troops came to help, prompting Qin’s troops to retreat.

Lord Pingyuan thanked Lu and sought to express his gratitude by hosting a celebration ceremony and offering him a prize of 1,000 gold pieces. Lu declined the money, saying that the most important thing for a scholar was helping others in need. “If one takes money for doing that, he is no different from a merchant,” he said as he smiled and left.

A similar thing happened again later on. Yue Yi, a prominent general from the kingdom of Yan, invaded Qi and conquered the majority of the kingdom. General Tian Dan of Qi fought back and reclaimed several cities. General Liaocheng from the kingdom of Yan (in today’s Shandong Province), however, was tasked with defending the city and fought back skillfully.

Lu suggested to General Tian that he stop attacking the city to avoid more causalities. In the meantime, he wrote a letter to the general from Yan, saying that it was pointless to put all their efforts into defending a city so far from his home kingdom, with no allies or backup troops and harming innocent lives.

After reading the letter, the general cried for three days and then committed suicide. General Tian of Qi thus reclaimed the city. The king of Qi planned to confer titles on Lu to honor him, but Lu just thanked him and walked away.

Two Pears for Over 1,000 People

Zheng Lian in the Ming dynasty had a big family. After more than 300 years, his family had grown to over 1,000 members, and the governor honored him with a “Best Family in the World” medal.

One time, Emperor Taizu asked Zheng how to manage a large family so that everyone treated each other well. “We obey our forefather’s teachings and do not listen to women,” Zheng replied. The emperor was impressed and gave Zheng two pears. He then secretly sent someone to follow Zheng to see how he dealt with these two pears.

After returning home, Zheng called all his family members together, and over 1,000 of them stood on both sides in the yard. After they thanked the emperor for his gratitude, Zheng asked for two large vats of water. He then smashed the two pears and placed one in each vat. Everyone was then given a bowl of pear water to drink.

Surprised and happy to hear this, the emperor offered Zheng an official title. But Zheng declined, citing his advanced age.

Taking Care of the Elderly

In Xiao Jing (The Classic of Filial Piety) it says that one’s body comes from one’s parents and that one should not damage it casually. But when it comes to helping one’s parents, one should do it without hesitation.

Ji Yang was an official in Xiangzhou during the Northern and Southern dynasties period (420-589). When he was 15, his father was unjustly framed and arrested. Too ashamed to be interrogated, his father admitted to the false charges and thus faced execution.

Although young, Ji went to the officials and asked if he could be executed in place of his father.

Surprised, Emperor Wu of Liang asked official Cai Fadu to appear stern to the boy.

“The emperor has approved your request to die in place of your father. But this is not a joke, so please take it seriously. If this is someone else’s idea, let me know and we will consider that,” Cai said.

“I have several siblings, all of them are younger than me,” the boy said. “I don’t want my father to die, leaving us on our own. That is why I came up with this idea and have made up my mind.”

Considering the boy’s age, Cai went easy on the torture until Ji insisted on being treated like other death row prisoners.

Moved by Ji’s filial piety, the emperor later pardoned the father and son. Wang Zhi, an official in Danyang, heard about this and several years later decided to recommend Ji for an official position. Ji declined, saying that it was only common sense to die for one’s own parents. Doing that for fame and taking advantage of it was not something befitting a man of the nobility.

Generosity from King

Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty, one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history, reigned for 54 years and left an extraordinary legacy.

In 89 BC, two years before his death, high official Sang Hongyang proposed establishing a garrison in remote Luntai (in today’s Xinjiang Province) to reinforce the border. At that time, Han had been fighting with the Huns for over 40 years and the country was weak. Emperor Wu rejected Sang’s suggestion and instead focused on economic recovery.

In the same year, the emperor also issued the Repenting Edict of Luntai, the first edict of its kind in Chinese history, to officially apologize to the public. He then withdrew his troops and ceased whatever measures consumed public resources and thereby hurt his citizens.

Ban Gu, an author of the Book of Han, had high praise for Emperor Wu for doing this. He wrote that only a great emperor and sage could have abandoned Luntai and issued such a painful edict.

Loyal Officials

King Zhou of the Shang dynasty was a corrupt and ruthless ruler, which made Bi Gan one of the best known loyal officials in history.

At that time, King Zhou led a life of endless debauchery. He also invented cruel means to torture people, prompting many of his officials, including his brother Wei Zi, to flee. One of his uncles, Ji Zi, pretended to be insane to avoid trouble, but another uncle, Bi Gan, continued to advise the king to stop doing evil.

“As a higher official, we should advise the king even if it means sacrificing our own lives,” he said. When he corrected King Zhou, the angry king not only killed him, but he also ripped out his heart.

In later dynasties, Bi was well respected for his loyalty and courage.

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