Stories from History: Zhang Zhibai’s Simple Life

September 23, 2014 at 12:41 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Author: Zhen Yan

[] Zhang Zhibai lived an uncorrupted and simple life. When he was the prime minister for Emperor Song Ren Zhong, he lived just like an ordinary person. He was very happy and content. Many advised him to change his lifestyle and follow the trend so he would not be criticized as a hypocrite.

People around him said, “You make very good salary, but your life is so simple and frugal. Why do you do that?”

Zhang Zhibai replied,” I heard that one gets more enjoyment out of a simple life. With my salary, I can easily provide the best food and clothing for my entire family. My common sense tells me that it is easy to change from a simple lifestyle to a luxurious lifestyle. However, it is extremely hard to change back and live a simple life again. Can my salary last forever? Can my life last forever? If my family members get used to a luxurious life, once I die, how are they going to adjust to a frugal life? As it is now, whether I have my job or not and whether I am here or not won’t make any difference to my family. They live the same way.”

People admired him for his vision and understanding after hearing that.

Later, when he was seriously ill, the emperor came to visit him. His wife dressed in simple and inexpensive clothing to receive the emperor. In his bedroom, the emperor saw old worn- out curtains, quilts, and bedding. The emperor sighed and admired his character for a long while and then asked someone to immediately bring him new replacements for everything in his bedroom.

For the later generations, anyone who wanted to cultivate an uncorrupted character would take him as a model.

Translated from:


Great Wisdom

September 23, 2014 at 12:32 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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[] Han Qi, a high ranking official from the Song Dynasty, once said, “We should treat a superior man and an inferior man alike: with sincerity. If we know he is inferior, just getting acquainted with him should be enough.” Usually, when ordinary people meet an inferior person who is deceiving others, they will expose his scheme.  However, Han Qi was different. He knew clearly the bad thoughts of an inferior man, but he would tolerate it and would not show it.

Everyone likes to be with superior people and it is easy to be sincere with them. However, it is much harder to deal with inferior people. The mentality of ordinary people is that if you are nice to me, then I’ll be nice to you; if you are not nice to me, why should I be nice to you?  In that way, when we see that others are having a problem, we point it out bluntly. As a consequence, this will make the inferior man angry and look for the opportunity to hurt us.

We do not tolerate others for their mistakes or impurity because we consider ourselves clean and pure. Actually, this is due to that fact that we have not assimilated virtue deeply into our heart.  We should observe others and not expose their shortcomings.  When we disclose other’s weaknesses, we express our dislike and our contempt for others. The motive to do this comes from our indifference and resentment.  We do not have the compassion to help others. If we can maintain a calm heart and are not concerned what others may think, we will not be so concerned about the strengths and weaknesses of others.

It is the same when we are having conflicts in our official or personal interactions with others. If we cannot tolerate other’s shortcomings, we are more likely to have enemies.  Even among friends, you reject others and others reject you. Eventually you are in a hostile environment and disasters will follow.  Prime Minister Kouzhun from the Song Dynasty was a typical example. He was very straightforward and very critical of Dingwei’s fawning personality and reproached him openly in front of others.  Dinghui was very offended and he helped others to gain power and had Kouzhun banished to Aizhou.

Compassion does not mean that one cannot tell right from wrong. On the contrary, it means that I know exactly that you are deceiving me and hurting me but I am broad-minded and do not keep score. In my heart I know what happened but, on the surface, I look like that I have been fooled.  Most people cannot do that except the cultivators.

Prime Minister Koushun did just that. When he encountered an inferior person, he exposed him. As a result, they became opposing forces to each other, and the opportunity to transform Dinghui was thus
lost.  Han Qi reacted differently. When he ran into an inferior person, he treated him just the same as others. He was sincere but kept the contact on a superficial level and avoided being trapped into mind games.  Superior men know how to transform others with their virtue and will not abandon or reject others because they are inferior. Others will accept us easily only if we can be tolerant.

Translated from:

The Greatest and Strongest Moral Force

October 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Posted in Asia, Culture, Moments from History, Reflections, Relevance to Today, Stories from China | Leave a comment
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October 15, 2012

( Mencius (372 BC - 289 BC) was born in the state of Zou during the Warring States Period (475 BC – 221 BC). He wrote a book named “Book of Mencius,” and was referred to as the “Next Sage” after Confucius. Their philosophies are called the “doctrine of Confucius and Mencius.” Mencius once said to one of his disciples, “I am proficient in cultivating my noble spirit. It is the greatest and strongest force. It will fill heaven and earth with a noble mind. It must be matched with virtue and morality, otherwise it will lack force. Besides, it must be constantly reinforced with virtue and morality in order to maintain it, rather than relying on the occasional act of justice.” “Be impervious to the temptation of wealth and high position, do not be shaken by poverty, and do not be subdued by force.” Mencius advocated benevolent governance his whole life. In his dealings with feudal lords and nobility, he behaved neither submissively nor pompously. His pursuit of the truth deeply influenced later generations.

Mencius’ view of destiny was that heaven possessed the highest will. “The mandate of heaven determined the change in dynasties and emperors, rise and decline, and rich and poor. People had to follow the will of heaven and know how to dedicate, know heaven and do things for heaven. Those who submitted to heaven’s will prosper and those who defy it will die.” Mencius emphasized moral cultivation. He considered morality to be a natural gift, innate to the human mind and conscience of people. If everyone is able to maintain goodness and strive to improve in self-cultivation, people can be like Emperors Yao and Shun. Both Mencius and Confucius toured various states to promote their teachings. He spread the virtue and benevolent governance of the ancient emperors Yao, Yu Shun, and others. Lord Wei Hui treated him with a courteous reception and Lord Qi Xuan honored him as a high official. He persuaded them to apply benevolent governance that had won popular allegiance, and many times avoided war.

Mencius once traveled from Qi to Wei and was stopped by a heavy rain. People found out about it and ran around spreading the news. Many people came to visit him to ask for advice. Seeing people were so eager to learn, he thus decided to stay to lecture for several days. Mencius believed that a man of noble character must pursue morality, and persuade monarchs to establish moral supremacy, and value justice above material gain. The following are stories of his unswerving determination to urge people to do good.

Rule a Country With Justice, Why Talk About Profits?

When visiting Liang, Lord Liang Hui said to him, “You have traveled a great distance to come here. You must have some things to benefit my country?” Mencius replied, “Lord, why talk about benefits? It is sufficient to just say righteousness.” Lord Liang said, “How can it benefit my country?” Mencius said, “If people are always asking: ‘How will my family benefit from this?’ and, ‘How will I benefit from this?’ the result will be that everyone will be competing for their own benefits. Then the country will be in danger! In a country with 10,000 military vehicles, often the senior officers who own 1,000 military vehicles will kill their monarch. In a country owning 1,000 military vehicles, the monarch is often killed by the senior officers who own 100 military vehicles. You cannot say that these senior officers don’t own enough. However, those who put their own interests above righteousness will never be satisfied with what they already own and will try to seize their monarch’s position. Those who always think of benevolence will never abandon their parents and those who always think of righteousness will not abandon their monarch. Therefore, why do you only want to talk about benefits?” The prominent historian Sima Qian in the Western Han Dynasty sighed when he read this dialogue between Mencius and Lord Liang, “Personal interest is really the source of chaos!”

Being Fond of Good People is Good Enough to Rule the World

The state of Lu intended to let Le Zhengzi govern. Mencius was very glad to hear the news. His disciple Gongsun Chou asked, “Is Le Zhengzi very experienced?” Mencius said, “no.” Gongsun Chou asked, “Then why are you pleased?” Mencius said, “He likes to listen to well-intended advice and he has always fulfilled his duties.” Gongsun Chou asked again, “Are these enough?” Mencius said, “With these qualities, one can rule the world, not to mention govern the state of Lu! If one likes to listen to truthfulness, he will only be willing to meet with good people and villains would have no market. If one doesn’t like to listen to good words, then those with breadth of vision will shy away and those with vile character will come. He will be surrounded by people of vile character. How can he govern a country well? Officials must dare to uphold justice and fairness. If one cannot be diligent and responsible, why then would one want to be an official?”

Every Day I Was Hoping Lord Qi Would Change His Mind!

Mencius went to Qi twice to persuade Lord Qi to carry out a policy of benevolence, but he did not get to see the lord. When Mencius left Qi for the second time, a Qi person, Yinshi, said to Mencius’s disciple Gaozi, “It is unwise not to know that Lord Qi will never be a monarch like Emperor Shang Tang or Emperor Zhou Wuwang. If knowing that Lord Qi cannot be convinced and Mencius still comes to Qi, it looks like he was hoping to gain benefits. After traveling a long distance to see the lord, he found that he could not be persuaded and thus left. But Mencius still stayed for three nights before leaving. Why was he so reluctant to leave? I am not very appreciative of Mencius.” Gaozi told Mencius about Yinshi’s remark.

Mencius said, “How could Yinshi know my thoughts? I traveled a long way to expound the kingly way to Lord Qi and that was my wish. I remonstrated without success and left; did I wish that? I had no alternative but to leave. I stayed for three nights before leaving. I think that is too soon. I thought Lord Qi might change his mind and ask me to return. If he called me back, I would have to make good use of the opportunity. After I left, he did not send people to chase after me to ask me to return. I was thus determined to leave. Although I did, was I willing to give up on the lord? Lord Qi can govern well. If he carries out benevolent governance, not only Qi will have peace, but also the people of the whole country. Every day I hope that he will change! Do I look like a narrow minded person? I was unable to remonstrate with a monarch, got angry and left with resentment, and then travelled a whole day before stopping for a night.” Upon hearing this, Yinshi said, “I am really a lowly person.”

People Will Be Completely Won Over With One’s Virtue

Upon hearing that Lord Qi Xuan intended to use force to conquer other countries, Mencius hurried to Qi for the third time. Lord Qi Xuan asked him, “Are there principles when dealing with neighboring states?” Mencius replied, “Yes, there are. Only the benevolent monarch of a big country can serve a small country, just like Emperor Shang serving Ge. A clever monarch of a small country will serve a big country, just like Gou Jian serving Lord Wu. A monarch with great power serving a small country is obeying the destiny of heaven, while a monarch of a small country serving a big power is fearing destiny. Being willing to obey the will of heaven can bring peace and stability to the country, while fearing destiny will allow one to hold on to his country.” The “Book of Songs”(1) said: ‘by fearing the dignity of heaven, a country can maintain stability.’ “Lord Qi Xuan said, “Great! But I have a problem, as I like combat.”

Mencius said, “My lord, don’t behave with trivial courage. When you hold a sword with a fierce look, ‘Who dares to oppose me!’ This is just personal courage. What is true bravery?” The “Book of Songs” said, ‘Emperor Zhou Wenwang suddenly flared up and geared up his army to protect Ju.’ This is the courage of Emperor Zhou Wenwang. His anger stabilized people’s minds.” The “Book of Shang” (the earliest compilation of historical documents. It is one of the Confucian classics) stated, “Heaven created all the people and set up a monarch and provided teachers to assist heaven to take good care of the people and follow the code of ethics strictly. Who dares to go beyond one’s duty? When there was a person rampaging the country, Emperor Zhou Wuwang felt ashamed. This was the valor of Emperor Wuwang. His anger stabilized the country. Now if my lord can get angry and stabilize the country, people will be worried that my lord doesn’t like to be courageous!”

Mencius went on, “My lord should implement a policy of benevolence and reduce taxation so that people will learn loyalty, righteousness, etiquette, and trustworthiness in their leisure time. Then people close by will live in peace and contentment, and people from distant places will come to join you. If another monarch does injustice to his people and puts them in misery, when my lord goes to crusade against that monarch, who can then oppose my lord? People will welcome your troops with food and drink. Do they have any demands? They only want to avoid the abyss of suffering. Otherwise, people will look for someone else to rescue them. When a lord cares for people and unifies the country, no one can stop him.” Lord Qi Xuan nodded. Mencius elaborated on the kingly way with nature’s law and popular sentiment and thus ultimately made Lord Qi Xuan give up on war and implement the policy of benevolence that achieved a great order. People were very grateful for Mencius’ graciousness.

A Benevolent Monarch Is Invincible

Mencius said, “Only benevolent people can be invincible in the world and only with benevolent governance can a country be prosperous and can people live in peace. If people higher up do not follow reason and good sense to restrain themselves and people below do not use laws to bind themselves, if governments do not believe in morality and justice, officials do not abide by the law, gentlemen violate justice, villains violate the criminal law – then a country will be lucky to even survive. A state that does not have vast lands or that accumulates great wealth is not the curse. Not revering morality is the calamity for a state. Consequently, remonstrating with a monarch to cultivate virtue and carry out benevolent governance is to respect one’s monarch. Expounding to a monarch with reason to clear up his wicked ideas is being respectful to a monarch. Flattering and currying favor with a monarch is to entrap him. When a monarch himself is upright, the world will come to be in allegiance with him. The “Book of Songs” stated, ‘Cooperate with the mandate of heaven and one will have happiness.’ Living in the world’s widest residence – benevolence; standing in the most correct position – etiquette; walking on the broadest road in the world – righteousness; wealth cannot confuse one’s thoughts, rank cannot change one’s conduct, and force will not make one yield. This is what a benevolent person does.”

Mencius lived in the middle of the Warring States Period, during which time etiquette collapsed and society was in turmoil. But he did not hesitate to push forward promoting morality and justice. He believed that the difference between people was not whether one is rich or poor, but rather, having the ability to maintain noble morality and have a clear conscience. Enlightening to the good side of people’s minds and helping them follow heaven’s way is the true reason for exhorting people.

In today’s materialism and decline in moral standards, Falun Dafa helps people to have a brighter future and reminds people to follow and treasure the characteristics of the universe: Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance.

1) “The Book of Songs” is China’s first poetry collection. It brought together 305 pieces of poetry starting from the early Western Zhou Dynasty (1100 BC) to the middle of the Spring and Autumn Period (600 BC)


The Ancients on “Courage”

June 1, 2011 at 6:00 am | Posted in Culture, Discussion, Reflections | 6 Comments
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Confucius said, “A benevolent man worries not, a learned man is not perplexed, and a brave man fears not.” But “courage” does not mean being doggedly reckless or combative. Rather, “courage” is closely related to the cultivation of virtue and morality. Confucius recognized that his disciple Zilu was quite brave, but he also counseled Zilu that courage goes hand in hand with the sense of justice. Bravery without a sense of righteousness is of no value. Forgetting about righteousness at the sight of profit or taking no action when justice demands it cannot be called real “courage.” “Courage” that is in conformity with morality has always been a highly commended virtue in Chinese traditional culture.

“Shijing (The Book of Songs) – Daya (The Major Festal Odes) – Shumin (The common people) state, “Ingest not the soft, spit not the hard, bully not the weak and helpless, and fear not the powerful and despotic.” This poem was composed to extol and see off to war the famous General Zhong Shanfu from the Xizhou Dynasty. The general idea of the poem is that one should not be too easily tempted by things that are soft and tender, nor readily spit out things that are hard, bully the weak, and be intimidated by those who are powerful. The poem blessed the general, that he wouldn’t fail to carry out the imperial edict, and that he would settle the disputes of the warlords, and bring comfort to the common people. It expressed the admiration for high morality and the courage to refrain from bullying and bearing down on the meek and the weak, and to not be fearful of the tough and the powerful.

“Zuo Zhuan – Aigong Annals 16” states, “Courage is guided by righteousness.” It means that only by adhering to morality and righteousness can it be called courage. “Courage” must be based on “benevolence and righteousness.”

Confucius talked about the issue of “courage” quite often. He said, “A benevolent man worries not, a learned man is not perplexed, and a brave man fears not.” (“Lun Yu (The Analects of Confucius) – Xianwen (Constitution Questions”). According to Confucius, these are three qualities that a gentleman should possess, and it is also a perfect state of human life. A benevolent and moral person can treat others with kindness and generosity; that is why they have no worries. A learned person can distinguish right from wrong; therefore they won’t be perplexed. A courageous person will not be frightened when facing calamities, so he has nothing to fear. A person possessing just one of these three qualities is already hard to come by, and possessing all three is even harder. Confucius candidly said that he could not achieve all three either. But his disciple Zi Gong said, “Master speaks of himself,” meaning Confucius only described himself that way. In his disciples’ minds, Confucius was the embodiment of Benevolence, Wisdom and Courage. If even he did not possess the three qualities, who else did?

Confucius also said, “A benevolent person has courage for sure, but a brave person may not necessarily possess benevolence,” (“Lun Yu – Xianwen”) This statement expresses the relationship between “benevolence” and “courage.” A benevolent person will surely be brave for a just cause, sacrificing even their lives in the process, and this is real courage. Some people may appear to be very brave, but they may not be brave for the sake of justice. It could merely be an emotional outburst and not necessarily with a heart of caring and kindness.

Confucius also said, “One who does not act for a just cause when confronted, has no courage.” (“Lun Yu – Weizheng (For Government”) When a person dares not face the challenge that he should is a sign of cowardice. This statement illustrates the relationship between “righteousness” and “courage.” Taking no action for a just cause is not just cowardice, but is a very disgraceful matter. Gallantly facing the challenge for a just cause has been a highly commended moral behavior in Chinese traditional culture.

Thus, the “courage” the ancients mentioned was closely tied to morality and ethics. In his “Liu Hou Discourse,” famous author Su Shi of the Song Dynasty criticized the type of foolhardiness that got one into a brawl in a sudden rage. He praised those with visionary aspirations who could endure momentary humiliation, and believed that they had great courage. He said, “There are those with great courage, who are not frightened when facing sudden calamity and not enraged by gratuitousness.” It means that there are people with great courage in the world, and sudden calamity cannot frighten them, nor unwarranted injustice enrage them–just like Han Xin of the Han Dynasty, who endured the humiliation of crawling between a ruffian’s legs when he was young. If he could not endure such an unexpected insult and decided to kill the bully, how could he have achieved success later on? It is thus clear that when necessary, to endure is a wise choice for a courageous person.

Zhu Jia classified “courage” into “petty courage” and “great courage.” He said in his book, “Annotation on the verses of the Four Books – Annotation on Meng Zi”) “Petty courage is the consequence of hotheadedness, and great courage arises from just principles and reasoning.” It means that petty courage is impulsive, whereas great courage is based on morality and righteous principles.
Chinese version available at


The Value of Marriage in Ancient China

January 12, 2011 at 6:00 am | Posted in Asia, Children's Stories, Culture, Discussion, Life Lessons, Moments from History, Reflections, Stories from China | Leave a comment
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( This is the story of a scholar, Liu Tingshi, of the Qi Prefecture (today’s Shandong Province) in China’s Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD). After Liu passed the provincial level of the civil service examination, he was appointed as a mid-level government official in the Tong Prefecture, a rather distinguished achievement at the time. Su Dongpo (1037 – 1101 AD), one of the most famous Chinese literary giants in Chinese history, was the governor of the Tong Prefecture at the time. Su Dongpo thought highly of Liu Tingshi because of Liu’s character and gave him important assignments.

Before Liu Tingshi passed the provincial level of the civil service examination, he met a civilian lady in his town and proposed marriage to her. But the engagement was not official because Liu had not paid her parents the bridal price to make it official.

Later Liu Tingshi won the provincial level of the civil service examination, became a mid-level government official, and was highly regarded by Su Dongpo, the famous literary giant. Everyone knew Liu Tingshi was a promising young man with a lot of prospects in his career. However, the lady became seriously ill and lost her eyesight completely. The lady’s parents were poor farmers. Because they were rather poor and because their daughter had become blind, they felt she was unworthy of marrying Liu. So they didn’t dare to bring up the subject of the engagement.

A friend of Liu tried to talk him out of marrying the lady. “She is blind now. Why don’t you find someone else to marry for the sake of your career and future family life? If you must marry someone from that family, marry her younger sister.”

Liu Tingshi replied, “When I proposed to her, I had already given her my heart. She may be blind, but her heart is intact. If I could break my promise, then my heart must be warped. Besides, everyone will become old one day. When a man’s wife becomes old, he shouldn’t replace her with a younger one, should he? A man must be true to his word. I must not have a change of heart.”

Thus Liu Tingshi married the blind lady. After they got married, Liu Tingshi tried his best to take care of his blind wife. They got along very well and loved each other very much. Together they raised several children.

After Su Dongpo heard the story, he was deeply touched. He commented, “Liu Tingshi truly has a noble heart!”

Family life is the cornerstone of a nation and a society. To nurture family life is to ensure the stability, robustness, and prosperity of a nation and a society. Marriage, in turn, is the cornerstone of family life. To nurture marriage is to guarantee a harmonious, united, and healthy family. A person’s character and morality, in turn, are the cornerstone of a couple’s relationship. Both husband and wife should be honest, trustworthy, and kind, and they should respect and love each other in order to have a happy marriage. In short, it is imperative to enhance a person’s morality and to have everyone be kind, sincere, honest, and tolerant.

I would like to share the following pearls of wisdom from the East and the West:

It says in The Book of Later Han: “Do not forget the friend you made when you were in trouble or cast aside the wife who shared hard times with you.” (Note: The Book of Later Han was compiled by Fan Ye in the 5th century, using a number of earlier histories and documents as sources. It covers the history of the Eastern Han Dynasty from 25 to 220 CE)

Wei Zheng said, “Those who bestow kindness on others will receive kindness in return. Those who are charitable to others will receive charity in time of need.” (Note: Wei Zheng was one of the most admired politicians in Chinese history. He was a chancellor in the Tang Dynasty for about 13 years, during the reign of Emperor Taizong.)

Plato wrote in Symposium, “Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul, inasmuch as he is not even stable, because he loves a thing which is in itself unstable, and therefore when the bloom of youth which he was desiring is over, he takes wing and flies away, in spite of all his words and promises; whereas the love of the noble disposition is life-long, for it becomes one with the everlasting.” (Note: The Symposium is a philosophical dialog written by Plato sometime after 385 BC. It is a discussion on the nature of love, taking the form of a series of speeches, both satirical and serious, given by a group of men at a symposium or drinking party at the house of the tragedian Agathon in Athens.)

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