One day in February of 444 A.D., during the Northern Wei (北魏) Dynasty, Minister Gu Bi (古弼) went to pay respects to the emperor and suggest to him that part of the garden park in Shang Gu (上谷) be distributed to the landless peasants.
At the time, the emperor was playing weiqi (圍棋) or Go game with one of his officials, Liu Shu (劉樹). Gu Bi had no chance to talk with him.
After waiting on the sidelines too long, Gu Bi suddenly stood up, pulled Liu Shu down from his seat and beat him, saying, “Our country is not well governed, and it’s all your fault!”
The emperor, Wei Tai Wu Di (魏太武帝) Tuo Ba Dao (拓跋燾), was flabbergasted. He pushed away the board game and said, “Not giving you an audience right away is my fault. Don’t blame Liu Shu. Let him go!”
Gu Bi then told the emperor his suggestion, which the latter adopted. He also apologized to the emperor: “I broke etiquette a while ago. Please punish me.”
But the emperor countered, “What you did is for the country. What offense then have you committed?
Henceforth, as long as what you will say or do benefits the country and the people, go ahead with it without any hesitation. Don’t worry.”
On Aug. 31 that year, the emperor went hunting and made Gu Bi caretaker of the capital. He ordered Gu Bi to allot fat horses from the stable for his hunting followers.
But the horses Gu Bi assigned to the emperor were all thin and weak. The emperor was so enraged he pronounced he would kill Gu Bi when he returned to the capital. How dare Gu Bi restrict his use of horses.
Gu Bi’s subordinates were worried that they too would incur the emperor’s ire. Nevertheless, Gu Bi explained to them, “Our neighboring state, Rou Ran (柔然), is very strong, and the Song (宋) state in the south has not been annihilated. So I sent fat horses to the battling army and those thin and weak ones for the emperor to use in hunting.”
He added, “I am thinking of the future of our country, even on pain of being executed. I feel no qualms doing what I should for my country. Don’t worry. I acted alone. You had nothing to do with it. I take full responsibility.”
Gu Bi’s words reached the ears of Emperor Tai Wu. He was so moved and said with a sigh, “Such minister is indeed a treasure of the state.” He rewarded Gu Bi with a set of clothes, two horses and 10 deer.
After a few days, the emperor went hunting again and was able to catch thousands of deer. He ordered Gu Bi to send 500 carts to the hunting ground to bring the game back to the capital.
After issuing the order, Emperor Tai Wu told his retinue, “Gu Bi definitely will not send carts for me. Use the horses to bring these deer back.”
On his way back, the emperor received a report from Gu Bi that as it was harvest time, he could not stop the people from harvesting just so the emperor could use the carts to transport deer.
Emperor Tai Wu concluded, “Gu Bi is really the pillar of the country.” — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 29, no. 6 (August 23-September 5, 2016): 5.