A Lesson in Kindness and Grace: From a Low-Ranking Official to Prime Minister
(Minghui.org) Zhou Bida, also known as Zhou Zichong and Zhou Hongdao, served as prime minister during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). While still a very low-ranking official, he took the blame for one of his subordinates responsible for a severe fire loss. Afterward, he was rewarded for his kindness, getting promoted and eventually becoming the prime minister of the royal court.
Zhou Bida’s grandfather, Zhou Mingxian, was a resident of Guancheng, Zhengzhou City, Henan Province. After he passed away, his whole family moved back to Luling and settled down there. His son, Zhou Lijian, once served as a royal scholar.
Zhou Lijian passed away when his son, Zhou Bida, was only 3 years old, and his wife died when the boy was just 11. Zhou Bida was thus raised by his uncle, who was an official. After he grew up, he married the daughter of Wang Bo, another official.
In 1151, during the Shaoxing Era (1131-1162) of Emperor Gaozong's reign, Zhou Bida passed the highest imperial examination at the age of 26. He became a county-level official the next year. Three years later, he was promoted to the position of Bureau Director.
A Noble Act of Kindness
One day, a huge fire broke out and burned down about 10 civilian houses nearby.
When higher-ups came to investigate, Zhou Bida asked, “What would the penalty be if my subordinate were responsible for the fire?” Official Feng Shunshao replied, “He’d be executed.” Zhou Bida asked again, “What if I were to blame for the accident?” Feng answered, “Then you’d be removed from your post.”
Without any hesitation, Zhou Bida took the blame and was subsequently fired from his job. Through his act of kindness, his subordinate escaped the death sentence.
After he lost his job, Zhou Bida brought his wife and newborn son to live with his father-in-law. When they arrived, it was snowing hard—everything was covered in white. A servant was sweeping the snow in the courtyard.
The night before, his father-in-law, Wang Bo, had dreamt of welcoming the prime minister. He sighed when he realized the guest was just his son-in-law: “We swept the snow to welcome our revered guest, only to discover the visitor is my son-in-law, an official who just got fired.”
Passing the Test
Zhou Bida studied hard for the imperial exam and went to the capital to take the test again three years later. A high-ranking official serving in the royal court offered him a place to stay during the exam period.
The official happened to have a history book that Zhou Bida was very interested in, so he borrowed it to read. During the test, Zhou Bida was surprised to discover that the essay topic related to that history book, which he had just read. (The official he stayed with was not involved in test writing.)
As fate would have it, he passed the test with flying colors and was named a royal scholar.
Before the test results were revealed, Zhou Bida dreamed of visiting hell. He saw an official there scolding a ghost: “That man has a lot of virtue and is destined to become a prime minister. Why did you make him so ugly? How are you going to fix that?”
The ghost offered to plant a mustache and a beard on the man’s face and began to massage his chin. Zhou Bida had a vague idea that they were talking about him. When he woke up, his chin hurt.
Tolerance and Grace
Zhou Bida eventually became the prime minister during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong. Later, he was temporarily forced out during in-fighting among different factions.
One day, he met someone outside his home who asked to see the prime minister. Zhou Bida bowed and said, “The one standing right in front of you is the prime minister.”
The visitor was not convinced: “How could the prime minister be so ugly? Are you kidding me?” Zhou Bida was not annoyed and invited him in.
The visitor asked again to see the prime minister. Zhou Bida repeated, “The person you see right before your eyes is the prime minister.” The visitor lifted Zhou Bida's long beard and realized that he was indeed the prime minister.
This incident reminded Zhou Bida of the dream he once had.
Zhou Anshi (no relation), a lay Buddhist in the Qing Dynasty, showed great admiration for Zhou Bida in his book Complete Collection of Anshi : “Normally an offender would try everything possible to shift the responsibility, yet Zhou Bida shouldered the responsibility so as to save his subordinate. Where in history can you find such a noble person? His capacity, tolerance. and grace are beyond measure.”
Complete Collection of Anshi by Zhou Anshi Moral Lessons Learned from History by Shi Yucheng from the Qing Dynasty History of Song – Zhou Bida