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Accomplished Yet Humble

June 01, 2007 |   By Qingyang

(Clearwisdom.net) Zhang Anshi (ca. 62 B.C.), also named Ziru, was a minister in the Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C. to 8 A.D.). He was dedicated to his work and always conducted himself in a courteous and upright manner.

When he was young, Zhang served as a low ranking officer. Later, because of his upright character, the great general Huo Guang entrusted him with important responsibilities and appointed him general of the chariot division. He was prudent, trustworthy and industrious. After Huo Guang died, various ministers in the royal court submitted a memorial to the throne, recommending Zhang for meritorious counselor. The emperor also wanted to entrust him and his son with important responsibilities.

It was quite possible that Zhang was aware of the Daoists' admonition: "Knowing when enough is enough one will not end up in disgrace; knowing when to stop one will not meet with danger, and then it can last." He knew that if he indulged his desires and greed, he would sooner or later end up in disgrace and disaster. So when the emperor wanted to promote him to the rank of nobility, he was afraid to accept it and asked to see the emperor. He pleaded with the emperor that he was not qualified for such an important position and hoped that the emperor would spare his life. The emperor laughed and said: "You are too modest. If you cannot do the job, who else can?" Zhang still firmly declined, but the emperor did not accept. Several days later, Zhang was appointed general of the horse-drawn vehicles as well as head of the department in charge of official memorials to the throne. Later, the position was changed to defense general.

Zhang always dressed in thick black silk fabrics (black implies humbleness) that his wife made. He felt uneasy seeing both himself and his son serving as high officials in court and petitioned to the emperor for his son to be dispatched outside of the capital.

A person thanked Zhang after he recommended him to be appointed as official in the royal court. Zhang felt regretful because he thought that his recommendation was based purely on the person's qualifications, and there was no reason for the person to thank him, so he stopped all dealings with the person from then on.

An official came to see Zhang. The official said to him that his merits were not being duly rewarded. Zhang said: "When you have a lot of merits, your superior is bound to know. As an incumbent official, how can you blow your own horn this way?" He rejected the official's request for promotion. Shortly after, the official was promoted and transferred. Such was Zhang, shunning fame and distancing himself from the powerful and influential, separating public and private interests, and disinclined to let people know of his kindness.

His magnanimity also manifested in forgiving people for their mistakes. During his term of duty as counselor, one inebriated official urinated in the royal court. The manager of the court reported it to Zhang and planned to follow the rules and punish the official concerned. But Zhang said: "How do you know that wasn't just a drink he spilled?"

Although Zhang's position was high and powerful, he was renowned for his prudence and meticulousness. He had no omissions. He was courteous and humble all his life. Historians praised him as "full without spill." The emperor trusted and respected him. After he passed away, he was given an official seal, a carriage, and armed guards. The title "Esteemed Marquis" was conferred upon him. His sons and grandsons inherited his modest and contented qualities, and were entrusted with important responsibilities by the royal court as well.