Bu Shi (卜式), a shepherd, accumulated great wealth during the reign of Han Wu Di (漢武帝, 140-88 BC). At that time, the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) was battling the Xiongnu (Huns), an ancient nationality in northern China. The war had drained the empire’s coffers.
When Bu Shi learned about it, he submitted a statement to the emperor that he wished to donate half of his wealth to fortify the border against the Xiongnu.
Han Wu Di sent people to ask Bu Shi if he wanted to be an official or if he would like to appeal any injustice he had suffered. Bu Shi replied, “The emperor is leading a punitive expedition against the Xiongnu. I think persons of virtue should die for the country. Those who have wealth should donate to the country. Only through these ways can the Xiongnu be annihilated.”
Some years after, the king of Hun Xie (渾邪) surrendered to Han. The ceremony held for accepting his surrender and the subsequent resettlement of the Hun Xie people depleted the state treasury.
Two years later, when some 725,000 poor people from Guandong (關東) had to be resettled to the northwestern area and Hui Qi (會稽), the Han Court could no longer afford the cost. At this point, Bu Shi donated 200,000 cash to pay for the resettlement.
Giving donation to one’s country in time of need is not difficult. Many people could and would do that. But donating half of one’s wealth as Bu Shi did is another thing. Few can act like him, especially without asking or hoping for anything in return.
In Chinese, the term “country” is composed of two characters, 國 and 家. 國 means country or state or nation while 家 means family or home. 國 and 家 always come together closely.
As the Chinese always say, 國 is composed of 家, without the country, we will not have family (沒國就沒家). Country always comes ahead of family or always bayan muna.
Bu Shi reminds us of another famous overseas Chinese patriotic leader in Singapore during World War II. Chen Jia Geng (陳嘉庚), is popular in China and among Chinese overseas not only for his great contribution in the anti-Japanese war but also his spirit and deed to promote education (興學) in his home province Fujian.
Like Bu Shi, Chen’s act of “毁家興學” is unparalleled. In promoting education, he went to the extent of hui jia (毁家), literally ruining or bankrupting his family. Chen was the founder of Xiamen University. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 27, no. 7 (August 5-18, 2014): 5.