(Clearwisdom.net) Zhang Zhan, also called Zixiao, was from Pingling in Fufeng (which is on the west side of the current Xianyang City in Shaanxi Province) in the West Han Dynasty (206 BC - 23 AD). He was very upright, serious and courteous and advocated that people follow social etiquette. The local people all considered him a role model. In the 20th year of the Jianwu Period during Emperor Liu Xiu's reign in the East Han Dynasty (25 - 220 AD), he was appointed to be a prime minister and held the position of Dasitu.

Zhang Zhan always followed certain rules in his words and actions. He behaved in accordance with social etiquette even when he was at home. He also dressed himself properly and paid attention to his appearance. Even in meeting with his wife and children, he took his role seriously. In front of the local residents, he spoke prudently and looked attentive. Someone said that he was hypocritical and unnatural. Upon hearing this, Zhang smiled, "It is true that I am unnatural. When others are unnatural it is so they can do bad things. My being unnatuaral is for doing good things."

Zhang Zhan had worked as a Taishou [commander], Duwei [captain], and Zuofengyi [regional commissioner]. When he was in office, he used social etiquette to educate people and made both the officials and regular people understand and follow social etiquette. In this way, he was able to successfully carry out his political aspirations.

Once Zhang Zhan took a leave and returned to Pingling. When he passed by the county government building, he got off his horse and started to walk. Zhubu, an official, said to him, "You are a high-ranking official and highly respected. You should not demean yourself." Zhang Zhan said, "Lijin [The Classics of Rites] mentions, 'Getting off the horse in front of the government building, and slowing down the chariot.' Even Confucius was always very polite and obedient in front of the local people. In my hometown, I should follow social etiquette. How could this be interpreted as demeaning myself?"

Our divinely-imparted Chinese culture teaches people to follow social etiquette and stress virtue, so China was called the "Nation of Rites" in ancient times. Social protocols, which can also be called manners, are the rules and requirements that "social etiquette" has required people to follow in treating others and dealing with matters. The Classics of Rites includes the saying, "Social protocols are the manifestation of virtue." That is to say, advocating and following social protocols is a superficial quality that a virtuous person needs to have.

What is the essence of "etiquette?" It is the standard that the heavens have stipulated for mankind to follow in their actions and morality. That is, etiquette tells people what they should do and what they should not do. Whether a person follows the rules of etiquette or not is considered the criteria by which one can differentiate a human from an animal.

The Classics of Rites says, "Although a parrot can talk, it is still a bird. Although a gorilla can talk, it is still an animal. If a person does not know etiquette, even though he can talk, how is he different from a bird or an animal? The sages have created etiquette to let people understand and follow social protocols, allowing them to know that they are different from birds and animals."

A person should adhere to mankind's rules of morality, restrain his or herself, and return to propriety in his or her mind. When a person manifests this quality on the surface, he or she is a modest person who honors and follows social etiquette. This is the state that mankind should aspire to.