Dizi Gui (Standards for Being a Good Student and Child) is an ancient Chinese text for children that teaches moral values and proper etiquette. It was written during the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (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.
Gossiping is something that many of us do casually—we gleefully exchange rumours that we’ve heard about so-and-so or such-and-such. And sometimes, these rumours can spread like wildfire.
But have you ever been gossiped about, and even on things that weren’t true? Either way, it’s an unpleasant and upsetting experience.
In Chapter 4 of Dizi Gui (弟子规), we are taught that “when still unsure of what you saw, do not say it. When still unsure of what you know, don’t spread it.”
A true gentleman or lady exercises caution and responsibility in the things he or she says. Repeating rumours and half-truths can cause a lot of hurt and pain to others, especially if those said things didn’t even happen in the first place.
A true gentleman always exercises caution and responsibility in the things he says and the promises he makes.
Being careful with one’s words also extends to making promises—we should not make them lightly. As mentioned in Dizi Gui, “If asked to do something that is inappropriate or bad, I must not agree to it. If I do so, I will be wrong no matter whether I keep the promise or back out from it.”
Here are some stories from ancient China of gentlemen who were cautious in their words:
Zhi Buyi Nips a Rumour in the Bud
Zhi Buyi (直不疑), whose name literally translates as “straight (or righteous) without a doubt”, was an official of the Former Han period. He was a keen learner and an honest, loyal man, abhorring fame and greed.
Zhi Buyi was subsequently promoted by the court to the position of a high official. This made some people jealous of him, and they started spreading rumours about him: “Although Zhi Buyi is clean-looking on the outside, his conduct is actually really terrible, and he has had inappropriate relations with his brother’s wife.”
This rumour spread from one person to the next, and very soon almost everyone had heard about it.
The rumour eventually reached Zhi Buyi’s ears, who then said, “These people are full of poppycock. I don’t even have a brother in the first place!” This eventually put the rumour to rest.
This story illustrates that when we hear about a rumour and if there is no basis for it, we shouldn’t believe it too quickly or start spreading it around so glibly. Otherwise, we will be responsible for propagating a lot of damage and harm.
Being Loyal to One’s Promises
During the Han Dynasty in ancient China, there was a man named Zhao Rou (赵柔) who was famous for his extensive knowledge and high moral character.
One day, Zhao Rou and his son went to the market to sell a plow. A man expressed interest in buying it, and after some bargaining they agreed on the price of 20 rolls of silk (silk rolls were the currency used during the Han Dynasty). The man then went off to get the required payment of silk.
Moments after he had left, a merchant came along. He immediately recognised that the plow was of good quality and actually worth much more, and he offered to pay 30 rolls of silk for it.
Zhao Rou’s son wanted to sell the plow to the merchant instead, but Zhao Rou said, “When a man gives his word, he must stay true to it. How can you give up your trustworthiness in exchange for some extra profit?”
The first buyer subsequently returned, and Zhao Rou and his son sold their plow to him.
Some people would have thought that what Zhao Rou did was foolish. But Zhao Rou taught us a good lesson: a little extra profit lasts for a while, but trustworthiness lasts for a person’s lifetime.
As such, a true gentleman is always responsible and cautious about the things he says and the promises he makes.