News of an Official's Virtuous Rule Travels Far and Wide
(Clearwisdom.net) Zhang Fangping was a man from Nanjing who lived during the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 A.D.). Zhang Fangping was known to be generous, forgiving, and loyal to his friends. Maintaining a lofty character and faith in Buddhism, Zhang Fangping was a noble and highly respectful gentleman.
In the autumn of 1054 A.D., the first year of the Zhihe Era during Emperor Renzong's reign, a rumor came from Sichuan Province, that a neighboring enemy state was about to invade. The rumor caused the army stationed in Sichuan to wake up in the middle of the night in a panic. People living in Sichuan all started to flee. Bandits began to roam the region. Sichuan entered into a state of chaos.
When the news traveled to the capital city of Kaifeng, it shocked the entire royal court. Emperor Renzong decided to send the appropriate officials to Sichuan to end the crisis. He declared to the royal court, "Do not cause a disaster. Do not make things worse than they are already. Despite this talk of an imminent invasion, I have already made up my mind how to respond to the rumor. The enemy state may or may not invade Sichuan, but a disaster will surely rise from within if we are not careful. This issue requires both diplomatic and military skills to solve the problem. I need one or two officials to end the crisis appropriately. I shall appoint whoever is capable of pacifying the army and the people in Sichuan."
The entire royal court of officials recommended Zhang Fangping. The emperor agreed and sent Zhang to Sichuan. Thus Zhang left the capital city and arrived in Sichuan in November.
Zhang Fangping did not seek to raise funds for the war or supplies, and neither did he bring more regiments to Sichuan like other government officials might have done. On the very day of his arrival, Zhang ordered the regiments that had caused quite a commotion among the civilians to return to their respective bases. In addition, he ordered the removal of the defense structure and sent the patrol back to its quarters.
Zhang told the government officials and the local residents, "I will be responsible for facing the enemy in case of any attack. It's not for you to worry." He told everyone to return to their normal lives and regular business. He promised that there was no need to panic. Every day, Zhang governed the region diligently and enabled the people and the stationed regiments to relax.
Soon peace was restored in Yizhou--the capital city of Sichuan at the time--and people resumed their normal and peaceful lives. On the first day of the Chinese New Year the following year, people in Sichuan celebrated the holiday as usual. Everything went well. The following year the people in Sichuan began to talk about having Zhang Fangping's portrait placed in a Buddhist temple to express their gratitude to him. They went ahead and did it despite Zhang's protests.
Su Xun, one of the most famous literati in Chinese history, told the people in Yizhou, "It is easy to govern a region before a disaster. It is also easy to govern a region after a disaster has happened. The most difficult challenge is to put a stop to a disaster when it is about to break out. One must not do anything rash or cast a blind eye when it is on the verge of a disaster. The rumor of an invasion in the first year of the Zhihe Era can be compared to a lopsided object waiting to collapse. Your revered Zhang Fangping is the only man that is able to sit confidently next to a looming disaster or a lopsided object and rectify it slowly. Once he had done his job, he returned to his seat calmly without any air of hubris. Your revered Zhang Fangping is the kind of government official that governs the people on behalf of the emperor diligently. Zhang Fangping has saved your lives. In a sense, he is now like a father figure to you all. There is one more thing I should tell you about him. Zhang Fangping once said to me, 'There is no subject that cannot be improved upon. It all depends on how they are treated. There are those that say the people in Sichuan are more likely to start a rebellion than the people in other regions. Hence, government officials tend to treat people in Sichuan as though they were incorrigible bandits. They tend to apply harsh criminal laws to prevent people in Sichuan from committing crimes. People living in this bordering state of Sichuan are already living in fear and worry about possible invasions. The harsh laws will only drive people to throw away everything and join the bandits and thieves. This is the reason why there have been so many rebellions in Sichuan. If government officials would only treat people in Sichuan with respect and reason and govern them with reasonable laws, Sichuan would become the easiest state to rule. If you make their lives difficult, they will be driven to start a rebellion. In fact, even people living in states near the nation's capital will be driven to rebel if you treat them like bandits and thieves. When I treat people in Sichuan in the same respectful and trusting way that people in the capital city are treated, they will behave exactly like people living in the capital city. I will never treat people with disrespect or force them to behave by keeping them on a tight leash.' There had never been an official that cherished and respected people in Sichuan before Zhang Fangping!"
Everyone bowed when they heard Su Xun's comment on Zhang Fangping. They kept nodding and said, "That's exactly the kind of man Zhang Fangping is."
Shortly before Zhang Fangping returned to Kaifeng, people in Yizhou had a portrait of him made and hung it in a Buddhist temple to show Zhang their respect and adoration for him. Eventually Zhang Fangping's virtuous rule in Sichuan spread all over China. People often commented, "Zhang Fangping is the man to trust when it comes to solving national emergencies."
In short, Zhang Fangping ended the chaos in Sichuan that began one autumn by calming and trusting the people. He did not treat people in Sichuan like bandits or thieves. Instead, he treated them with respect and trust. As a result, peace and order was restored by January of the following year.
This story prompted me to think about whether I have pushed people who have erred and strayed from the righteous path to the wrong side by being judgmental and cruel. When people need help the most, have I ever relinquished my responsibility as a fellow human being because it would cost me a lot of time and effort? Have I treated people in need of help with affection and tolerance? If I can treat people straying from the righteous path with kindness, I believe that all problems will cease to exist.