Soul of China

The value of li

During the reign of Ming Emperor Long Qing (1567-1573), a mayor of Guang Nan (廣南) in Yunnan province, Liu Rong (劉容), was known for staying away from women. His friends, who suspected his behavior toward women was merely a pretense, thought of a way to test him. They arranged for the presence of a young beautiful lady at a mansion in a suburb, then invited Liu Rong to go there for a drinking spree.
They drank until midnight and decided to spend the night at the mansion. Since Liu Rong was fond of peace and quiet, they used that as an excuse to assign each one a room. They put him in the same room as the lady and locked all the windows and doors.
When Liu Rong entered the room, the lady went to the bed right away and tried every means to seduce him. But Liu Rong was calm and unperturbed. He sat on a chair like a stone. It was winter at the time, with the northwest wind blowing harshly that night. Unable to stand the cold, the lady shivered and cried uncontrollably. Out of pity, Liu Rong gave her a fur coat but never touched her. In the morning, Liu Rong’s friends praised him again and again.
Another time, Liu Rong went on a tour and checked into a hostel owned by a beautiful young widow whose husband had just passed away. That night, the widow went to Liu Rong’s bedroom, showing off and subtly flirting with him in every possible way in the hope of hooking him. Liu Rong resisted, but the widow, hell-bent on captivating the mayor, stayed put.
Liu Rong got mad at all the pestering. He had an idea and devised a ruse. He pretended to be gravely ill, summoned his servant to the room then asked the servant to call a doctor. This forced the widow to retreat. At dawn, Liu Rong hurriedly left the hostel on his horse.
Traditionally, moral character plays a tremendous role in China’s society. To a certain degree, China was ruled by virtue rather than law, as exemplified by Liu Rong fighting temptations.
Li or 禮 (meaning rite, etiquette, manners, courtesy) is the core value of Confucianism, which emphasizes every behavior every man should follow in accordance with li.
A famous Confucian saying goes, “非禮勿視,非禮勿聽,非禮勿言,非禮勿動.” It means don’t look (視) at, don’t listen (聽) to, don’t talk (言) about, don’t touch (動) things that are not (非) in accordance with li (禮).
The story of Liu Rong is a good example of how a true gentleman should behave.