Two Stories of Virtue from Chinese History

Chinese culture has a long history of valuing virtuous behavior, and there are many stories and legends which illustrate the importance of virtue in people’s lives. Below are two such stories.

An Incorruptible Official

Zhen Bin, a talented and virtuous man, lived in the Southern Qi dynasty. He pawned some ramie cloth for money at a local shop. But when he went back to redeem the ramie, he found that there were seven ounces of gold wrapped in it.

He returned the gold to the shop.

The shop manager was shocked and said to him, “Someone just pawned this gold for money. I forgot where I had hastily put it away. I wouldn’t have expected you to bring the gold back.”

He then offered half of the gold as a reward to Zhen Bin, but he refused. The story became widely spread.

Later, Zhen Bin was appointed the head of Pi County. At the send-off ceremony for several government officials including Zhen, the emperor of the Southern Qi dynasty admonished all but Zhen Bin to keep their probity while on their posts.

The emperor told Zhen, “You are well known for your integrity and honesty because of your past deeds. I am confident that you don’t need any reminder from me.”

Reference: Tan Sou, by Pang Yuanying of Song dynasty

Emperor Jinggong Extends His Life

In the Spring and Autumn Period, a special astrological sign was observed when Jinggong was the emperor of the Song dynasty. Out of respect for the heavenly illumination, he summoned an astrology expert, Zi Wei, to the palace and asked, “What is the meaning of this sign?”

Zi Wei replied, “The sign is a curse from Heaven on your life. However, it can be transferred to the prime minister.”

Jinggong said, “The prime minister is a talented executive who helps me manage the country. I’d rather die myself and spare him for the sake of the country.”

“The curse can also be transferred to the common people,” said Zi Wei.

Jinggong responded, “What is the point of being an emperor if my people are dead? I’d rather sacrifice my own life.”

Zi Wei said, “It can also be transferred onto the harvest.”

Jingsong said, “If the harvest is lacking, my people will starve to death. If I kill my people in order to save my own life, what kind of emperor am I? It must be that my life is destined to end. Say no more to persuade me.”

Zi Wei knelt down and congratulated the emperor.

“Your Majesty, Heaven heard your kind words three times and will reward you three times. Tonight, the signs will change, and your life will be extended by twenty-one years.”

The sign did change as Zi Wei predicted. The emperor’s life was prolonged.

Astrological signs may give hints to the future, but one’s choices often determine one’s own fate.

Reference: Miscellany Vol. 4 of Xin Xu, by Liu Xiang of Han Dynasty