Advise Frankly and Preserve Moral Integrity
(Clearwisdom.net) Ji Ying (? - 112 B.C.), also called Chang Ru, lived in Puyang County during the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 9 A.D.). He admired the principles taught by Huang Di and Lao Zi, and he was an upright and straightforward man. Every generation in his family was granted a ministerial job. As an official, he always put the welfare of his country and people first, didn't worry about his personal safety, and advised the Emperor frankly. He became famous for his selfless behavior.
During the time of Emperor Han Wu Di, a large fire occurred in Henei County and over one thousand houses were destroyed. The emperor sent Ji Ying to investigate the cause of the blaze. Ji Ying discovered that the fire was the least of the people's problems, as there were over 10,000 families suffering because of a severe drought. The people were starving and had eaten the bodies of the deceased to survive. Ji Ying made the people's needs his priority and took action to ameliorate the situation. By showing a Fu Xin (a document from the emperor), he got the local officials in Henei County to distribute food stored in a government granary to the poor people who were suffering. When he returned to the royal court, Ji Ying returned the Fu Xin and told the Emperor that he had used it in order to help the starving people. Emperor Han Wu Di realized that although Ji had used the document different than how it was intended, he had acted kindly and so the Emperor did not punish him.
Once, while selecting Confucian scholars, the emperor kept talking about his plans. Ji Ying said, "Your Majesty, although you superficially appear to be executing justice and humanity, there are many desires in your heart. How can you compare with the rule of Tang Yu?" (Tang Yu refers to two Confucian sages Tang Yao and Yu Shun. In ancient times, Tang Yu referred to the ideal time when regulations were clear and people were wealthy and happy.) The emperor became very angry and red in the face and immediately dismissed everyone. Many officials were afraid that Ji Ying had gone too far. Some of them said that Ji Ying was wrong for speaking out. Ji Ying said, "The emperor sent for high ranking officials to assist him. How could they flatter and please him, which could allow the emperor to do wrong things? Moreover, I am already a high ranking official, even though I cherish my body, how could I damage the empire just to keep my rank and save my own skin?"
The great general Wei Qing was promoted again and again. His older sister even became the queen. The officials were afraid that they would lose favor if they did not show Wei enough respect. However, Ji Ying still treated Wei as an equal. Some people told him that he was wrong to be this way. Ji Ying said, "I let the great general have a guest with whom he can feel equal, isn't this respecting him?" After Wei Qing heard this, he was even more convinced that Ji Ying was a very kind-hearted person and he could see that Ji was not a sycophant. He sought advice from Ji Ying many times when deciding policies and treated him even better.
When Liu An, the Huainan King, rebelled, he was afraid of Ji Ying. He said, "This person likes to advise frankly and preserve moral integrity. He would sacrifice his life to maintain justice. However, to manipulate Prime Minister Gongsun Hong would be as easy as instructing a child."
Ji Ying could always point out shortcomings in the empire or crafty officials who were self-serving and not really looking after the country. It seemed nothing could affect his moral integrity. The emperor praised him as an official who could go through the hard times with his country and respected him so much that when Ji Ying came for a visit, the emperor dared not to meet him unless he was dressed appropriately. Even when the great general Wei Qing entered the palace, the emperor would meet with him in the bathroom; and when Prime Minister Gongsun Hong came to discuss routine issues, the emperor sometimes did not wear his imperial hat.
Although Ji Ying had too much pride, liked to criticize others openly, and was intolerant of other people's mistakes, when there were big issues that affected the country and people, he could ignore his own safety and still advise the Emperor frankly. In this way he preserved his moral integrity, which was very rare even in ancient times. Because of this, he was famous throughout the empire and the country.