Be an Official for the People, Noble and Pure in Character
(Clearwisdom.net) His name was Zheng Banqiao, also known as Zheng Xie. He was from Xinghua in Jiangsu Province. He was a Jinshi, a successful candidate of the highest imperial examination in the Qian Long Era during the Qing Dynasty. He lived in Yangzhou then and was well-known for his poetry, writings, and painting, the country's "three specialties."
Zheng Banqiao had been the Shandong Province county magistrate in Fan County and Wei County for over ten years. In order not to disturb the common people, he avoided showing off and always traveled in a simple manner. Sometimes he even wore plain clothes and straw shoes to visit common people. When he saw poor people who needed help, he always opened his purse.
Jinshi candidate Han Mengzhou was originally very poor. One night as he diligently read in a hut, Zheng Banqiao saw him. Zheng took pity on him and supported him financially so that he could take part in the imperial civil service examination. Han then achieved the rank of Jinshi. Zheng Banqiao helped orphans even more. When children could not go home after school due to rain, Zheng sent people to bring them meals and shoes. Zheng did not even treat servants differently from other people. To absolve them from their shame, he burned the servants' slave contracts. He also often taught his son and other family members that they should not castigate servants. These examples demonstrate Zheng's uprightness, kindness, and compassionate mindset toward the common people.
One year, as recorded in poems that have been passed down, Wei County endured severe natural disasters. "A child sold every ten days, a wife sold every five days" from "Escape from Famine" and "Killing animals for their meat, death is also upon the men when animals are all gone" from "A Trip Wanting to Return" are two such examples. Zheng Banqiao donated his own salary and opened the granary to provide relief to disaster victims. His subordinate advised him not to act without authorization in order to avoid punishment from high officials. But Zheng knew the common people's lives were in great danger. He would assume all responsibility for anything his superiors wanted to blame him for. He also carved a stamp with the words "A wish that one could cancel all the hunger debt in the world" to show his determination.
Corrupt officials envied Zheng Banqiao because he fought for relief for the common people. He was eventually dismissed on false accusations. When he left office, the common people gathered to see him off. He did not have a grand parade of a carriage and horses, but hired only three donkeys. He rode one donkey himself, another carried his books and musical instrument, and his servant rode the third one. He was a kind and "light-wind-in-both-sleeves" official of high moral standards. (Explanation: In ancient China, people used their sleeves to carry things, which could accommodate a lot more things than the pockets of modern times. "Light-wind-in-both-sleeves" is a Chinese phrase used to describe honest officials that only have light wind in their sleeves, meaning they have remained uncorrupted.)
After his return to Yangzhou, Zheng made a living selling his paintings. He concentrated on the arts of poetry, writing and painting. As a common person or an official, Zheng Banqiao valued moral integrity. He assimilated those moral values into his art. He liked to draw bamboo, orchids, and rock formations. Some of his best paintings were those of bamboo. Bamboo symbolizes loftiness, straightforwardness, and character; orchids symbolize not drifting with the current, of living a simple life; and stones and rocks symbolize strength and durability. Because his writings and paintings display not only technical ability but also moral values and principles, generation after generation of Chinese have venerated his arts. People of our present generation still cherish them.