Soul of China

Yao Tan and Yi Wang

In 983 A.D., Yao Tan (姚担) was appointed by Emperor Song Tai Zong (宋太宗, 976-998) as a palace official to tutor the crown prince, Yi Wang (益王).

Yi Wang was known to be spendthrift, outspoken and unbending. Earlier, he had spent millions to build a rockery (artificial hill) in his palace. Upon completion, he hosted a banquet for palace officials and staff to view and appreciate the landscape.

Yao Tan was the only one who refused to view it, bowing his head and looking downward.

This angered Yi Wang who forced Yao Tan to view the rockery. But Yao Tan replied, “I only saw bloody rocks, no rockery.”

He then told Yi Wang that when he was occupying a local position before, he observed that municipal officials forced people to pay tributes, arrested those who could not pay, and whipped the poor until their bodies bled. Thus, those rockeries were built with tributes from the common people.

“Were they not bloody hills?” Yao Tan asked Yi Wang.

Contemporary painting of Emperor Taizong of the Song Dynasty (太宗).

At the time, Emperor Song Tai Zong was also building a rockery. He ordered it destroyed upon hearing Yao Tan’s comment about bloody hills.

Yao Tan would live up to his duties as tutor. Whenever Yi Wang committed mistakes, he would not hesitate to criticize the crown prince’s failures. When he noticed that Yi Wang was resentful of his criticisms, Yao Tan talked about Yi Wang’s mistakes everywhere in a bid to pressure him to address the mistakes.

This made Song Tai Zong and Yi Wang mad. The emperor once sent people to grab Yao Tan and drag him to the garden at the back of the palace where he was flogged.

But Yao Tan was unrepentant, forcing Song Tai Zong to admit that it was rare to find some as loyal to his responsibility as Yao Tan. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 6 (August 18-September 7, 2015): 5-6.