Soul of China

Honest and clean

In this issue, we have two stories of honesty and cleanliness in two high-ranking officials during the Han Dynasty (221 BC-220 AD). Both of them are surnamed Wang (王).

The first is Wang Jie (王吉) of first century BC. When he was still young, he lived in Chang’an (長安), the capital then, to study. The neighbor on the east side had a big jujube tree with exuberant foliage that extended to Wang Jie’s courtyard.

Wang Jie’s wife often picked the dates from the tree and gave them to Wang Jie to eat. Eventually, Wang Jie realized she was gathering the dates without their neighbor’s permission. He was so mad that he cast off his wife and sent her home.

Upon learning of what happened to Wang Jie’s wife, the neighbor felt so apologetic that he wanted to cut down the tree. Other neighbors dissuaded the owner of the tree from chopping it down and persuaded Wang Jie to let his wife come back.

The incident ended happily.

A mural showing chariots and cavalry, from the Dahuting Tomb (打虎亭漢墓,) of the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD), located in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China

A ballad praising Wang Jie’s good moral character was composed and circulated:

A tree at the eastern neighbor,
Gone the wife of Wang Jie;
With the end of the dates,
The banished wife came back.

Wang Liang (王良) was also known for his honesty, cleanliness and thriftiness. When Wang Liang went to the capital to assume the position of prime minister, he left his wife and children in his hometown in Dong Hai (東海) prefecture.

One time, Bao Hui (包灰), a messenger of Wang Liang, went to Dong Hai for official business. He dropped by the prime minister’s house.

Just then, a woman had returned from the field. She was in an ordinary dress, barefoot and carrying a bundle of firewood on her shoulder.

Bao Hui told the woman, “I am the messenger of Wang Liang, I came here to ask Madame Wang if she has any letter to bring to him. I want to meet the Madame Minister.”

The woman said, “I am the one. Thank you for taking the trouble to come here. I don’t have any letter for him.”

Upon realizing that he was already addressing Madame Wang, Bao Hui prostrated himself before her to pay respect and then left with a deep sigh.

“What a wife Minister Wang has! How honest and clean and thrifty is Wang Liang.” — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 1-2 (June 16-July 6, 2015): 5.