Dizi Gui (弟子规) (Standards for Being a Good Student and Child) is an ancient Chinese text for children that teaches moral values and etiquette. It was written during the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (康熙帝) (1661-1722) by Li Yuxiu.
Beneath the conservative, “old-school” verbose of this ancient classic, one can still find gems of wisdom that remain surprisingly relevant to our modern society. A new lesson is covered in each issue.
This issue, we start a new chapter of Dizi Gui, “Be Close to and Learn from People of Virtue and Compassion”.
The sixth chapter of this classic is short, but teaches valuable lessons on how we can improve ourselves by following others’ example.
According to Dizi Gui (弟子规), “We are all human, but we are not the same. Most of us are ordinary, whereas the truly virtuous are rare. A truly virtuous person is respected and feared by others. He is not afraid to speak the truth, and does not fawn over others. ”
“We are all human, but we are not the same. Most of us are ordinary, whereas the truly virtuous are rare.” [Dizi Gui] People of great virtue and moral character are gems. They not only earn respect, but they also set standards for us to emulate and strive towards.
A Doctor Makes a Choice
This story appears in a historical account of Chinese medicine. There was once a doctor who had exceptional medical skills and a strong sense of morality.
Throughout his career, he saved numerous patients with serious illnesses, and was loved and respected by the local people.
One day, a man from out of town came to ask the doctor for help. The man’s relative was seriously ill and needed immediate medical attention. Without further questions, the doctor immediately got ready to leave.
Just then, he received the bad news that his son had been kidnapped by a group of bandits. The bandit chief demanded a ransom right away, or his son would be killed.
This placed the doctor in a dilemma. In the limited time he had, he had to choose between saving a stranger’s life versus raising the ransom money to save his son’s life. He could only choose one.
After thinking for a moment, the doctor decided that it was his professional duty to save the stranger. He immediately set off to treat the patient without looking back.
The doctor eventually managed to save the patient’s life. He returned home that night, exhausted both physically and mentally from worrying about his son. But when he stepped into the house, he was stupefied to find his son playing in the living room as if nothing had happened.
Upon further questioning, the doctor learned that when the bandits didn’t receive the ransom money, they came to investigate and found out that the doctor had gone to treat a patient who was seriously ill. So the bandits released his son.
“A truly virtuous person is respected and feared by others.” The doctor’s selfless actions earned the bandits’ respect, moving them to return his son. Good people inspire others to do good as well, as illustrated by this story.
The Outspoken ‘Servant of the People’
A truly virtuous person is also “not afraid to speak the truth, and does not fawn over others” [Dizi Gui].
There are many historic examples of brave people who dared to speak up against authority, one of whom is Fan Zhongyan(范仲淹), a famous politician and writer during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD).
Fan was the author of the historic Chinese quote, “Be the first to worry about the world’s troubles and the last to enjoy its pleasures.” He was considered throughout ancient Chinese history as a role model for public service.
Fan was particularly remembered for his integrity and fearlessness to speak the truth. He was exiled several times for speaking up for justice, which inspired the anecdote “leaving the capital three times”.
The first exile was for a letter that Fan wrote as Imperial Editor, criticising the empress dowager’s extravagance and wastefulness.
The second exile was three years later, for Fan’s insistence on seeking justice for others.
The third exile occured two years later, when Fan was Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Rites. By this time, Fan’s outspoken reputation was already well known.
Then-Premier Lu Yijan was afraid that Fan would point out Lu’s mistakes and hinder his control over state affairs. So Lu asked the Emperor to send Fan away to govern a remote prefecture. Lu also sent people to warn Fan, “You are no longer a censor, so stop commenting on state affairs.”
But Fan remained concerned about his country’s welfare. Despite being far away from the Emperor, he continued speaking up for the people and was never afraid of the rich and powerful. “I maintain a strong confidence in my beliefs and don’t regret being exiled three times,” he once said.
One example of Fan’s fearless integrity was a 10,000-word letter he wrote to the Emperor, titled “About Administration”.
In the letter, he suggested many approaches to improve governance, such as “selecting good governors, eradicating laziness and arrogance, exercising caution during elections, focusing on education, keeping honest officials who dare to speak out, and identifying corrupt officials”.
Another example took place during Fan’s term as Deputy Imperial Censor, when the area east of the capital was hit by severe drought and locusts.
Fan asked Emperor Renzong of Song to send aid to the area, but Emperor Renzong did not pay much attention. Fan then asked Emperor Renzong, “If the palace had no food, would your Majesty react in the same way?” The emperor turned red with embarrassment, and sent Fan to manage the relief work.
While there, Fan opened a shelter for the poor. He also advocated having taxes waived for the people in the affected area. Fan also brought some Wuwei grass—a wild grass that people had been eating because there was nothing else to eat—back to the capital city. In a daring move, he asked Emperor Renzong to show it to all the officials and people in the palace, so that they would remember the hardships that the people were enduring and henceforward be less extravagant and wasteful.
Fan was not one to curry favour or lie to others. He held himself to the principle of “no cheating”.
“No cheating” meant being open, upright, and honourable; it meant that one should never cheat the Emperor, the public, or one’s own conscience. Fan strictly followed this principle his entire life, applying it to his official duties, personal business, and his family.
He is thus remembered for being one of ancient China’s greatest role models of integrity.