(Clearwisdom.net) During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799 A.D.) in the Qing Dynasty, the county magistrate of Chongde County (called Shimen County in ancient times) in Zhejiang Province was named Zhang Qing. He had a scholarly background and was very knowledgeable. Being a just and upright official, his reputation was excellent. He put the county in good order in only a few years after he arrived, and people in the county possessed a high moral standard and no family had the need to bolt their doors at night.

At the time, burglaries occurred frequently in the adjacent county, and people were panicked about it. Zhang Qing was transferred to the adjacent county as the new magistrate to handle the situation. Zhang Qing went by himself. There is a saying, "A new broom sweeps clean," and Zhang Qing applied strict measures. Strangely enough, as soon as Zhang Qing assumed office, the burglars disappeared. No burglaries ever happened again and the entire county became peaceful and harmonious.

A few months later, Zhang Qing had his family moved to live with him. After the three-year term was concluded, Zhang Qing chartered a boat and was going to return to his hometown with his family. The people gathered at the wharf to see him off. After saying goodbye to the crowd, suddenly, Zhang Qing felt someone passing in front of him and his glasses immediately disappeared. Zhang Qing was startled and almost fell into the river, but was saved by the boatman who was fast enough to grab him in time. Zhang Qing was very puzzled by the disappearance of his glasses. They were worth nothing if they were stolen, but if they had fallen into the river, how could he not feel anything? He shook his head and pondered. Luckily he had another spare pair of glasses in his luggage, so he waved goodbye and told the boatman to take off.

That night, his boat docked in a township that bordered the adjacent county. The next morning, Zhang Qing found that his ten big wooden cases in the boat had all disappeared. These were Zhang Qing's entire assets. He was astonished and thought, "What bold thieves would come while I'm not even away and steal from me. How hateful! This shows they stole my pair of glasses yesterday as well."

What to do? Zhang Qing pondered for a while. "The thieves must have run away. Where can I ever find them? Alas, let me admit bad luck." He sighed with deep regret, and ordered the boatman to take off.

Three days later, the boat had taken Zhang Qing to his hometown safely. Looking afar, Zhang Qing saw ten familiar big wooden boxes lined up neatly on the wharf. He felt very strange and jumped onto the shore quickly. He went over to check it out. They were his cases indeed, what good luck! A letter was placed on top of one of the cases, and the weight on the letter was the lost pair of glasses.

Zhang Qing was pleasantly surprised. He opened the letter immediately and read,

Honorable Mr. Zhang:

"We are a group of thieves. During your term in office, we admired your reputation of being just and upright so we have never committed burglary in your county. However, after seeing you take ten big heavy wooden cases with you when you left, we couldn't help being suspicious about your uprightness. Therefore we decided to steal your glasses before stealing your wooden cases so as to give you a warning. However, we have gone through all your wooden cases but all we could find were books, which were worth less than 30 silver coins. There is a saying, 'After a term of magistrate, even an upright official will make 10,000 silver.' But you're still penniless after being a county magistrate for many years. This shows you are indeed an upright official and people have not thought you were dishonest. We apologize for our affronts. Hereby we return all the stolen goods to you and beg your forgiveness."

Zhang Qing sighed emotionally and couldn't help speaking, "Alas! Indeed, even thieves have principles to follow!"

Ancient people had high moral standards. The universal values of believing in heaven and god as well as distinguishing good from evil existed in people's hearts. Bad people even had standards and a conscience while doing wrong deeds. For a great benevolent person or an upright official, even burglars dared not offend them.

May 23, 2007