Bing Ji: An Altruistic Chancellor in the Han Dynasty
(Minghui.org) Generosity and modesty are two virtues highly appreciated in the traditional Chinese culture. According to Confucian Analects, Confucius once asked two of his renowned disciples, Zhong You (also known as Zilu) and Yan Hui, about their ambitions.
“I would share my property and belongings with my friends,” replied Zhong, “I will not complain even if they wear them out.”
“I won’t boast about my strength or show off my accomplishments,” answered Yan.
With higher moral standards, many people in ancient China acted like Yan. One example is Bing Ji, a chancellor of the West Han Dynasty who always remained low key despite his great contribution.
Helping an Emperor’s Descendant in Difficult Times
Bing was born in the land of Lu (current Shandong Province). He managed the prisons at Lu well and was promoted to the Chancellor of Justice. When Emperor Wudi (literally meaning Martial Emperor, in reign 141-87 B.C.) was in his later years, one of his sons was wrongly accused and died. The dead son’s grandson Liu Xun, only several months old, was kept in prison at the capital city of Chang’an.
Knowing the grandfather had been wronged and sympathetic to the grandson, Bing asked female inmates Hu Zu and Guo Zhengqing to take good care of the child. In spite of an order from Emperor Wudi not to give good food to the child, Bing bought food and clothes with his own money for the child. When Bing was sick himself, he sent a staff member to visit the child, checking if bedding was warm and dry to avoid sickness. He also asked the two caregivers not to slack on their duties. When their prison terms expired, he paid them with his own money to continue looking after Liu Xun.
In the second year of Houyuan Period (87 B.C), a fortune teller claimed that there was a future emperor in the prison. Emperor Wudi sent an officer named Guo Rang to arrest the future emperor. Bing closed the gate tightly and responded, “The great grandson of the Emperor is here. He is the Emperor’s own blood.” Guo took this opportunity to impeach Bing. Emperor Wudi dismissed it and said, “This could be a hint from the heaven—and things are meant to be that way.” He thus proclaimed a general amnesty. Many inmates, including 5-year old Liu Xun, were released.
Because Liu Xun was often sick, Bing always asked the caretakers to bring doctors to treat him. Liu Xun’s original name was Liu Bingyi. Given by Bing, it literally meant illness had gone. This name was changed to Liu Xun 9 years after Liu Bingyi became the emperor.
Doing Good Deeds without Seeking Reward
Emperor Zhaodi ruled the country for 13 years (87-74 B.C.) after Emperor Wudi. With no direct descent, senior officials Huo Guang and Bing helped Liu He, another member of the imperial family, to become the emperor. With 27 days, Liu He committed over 1,000 wrongdoings, so he was dethroned. Bing then recommended Liu Xun to Huo as the next emperor, saying he was “knowledgeable, capable, prudent, and courteous.” He also suggested astrological verification, which confirmed Liu Xun’s heirship.
Liu Xun thus became Emperor Xuandi, but he did not know Bing had saved him when he was little and raised him. Bing did not mention this to anyone either.
During the third year of Dijie Period (67 BC, 7 years after Liu Xun became emperor), one former imperial court maid submitted a letter to the Emperor, claiming that she had protected and cared for the emperor at a young age. The letter said that Bing knew the details.
Bing saw the maid and said, “You were whipped for not caring for the young emperor diligently back then. How could you claim your reward? Only those two caregivers, Hu Zu and Guo Zhengqing, should be rewarded.”
Emperor Xuandi nonetheless awarded the maid. He also searched for those two caregivers, but both of them had already died. He thus gave a hefty reward to their descendants.
Appreciating Bing wholeheartedly, the Emperor decided to bestow the royal title Marquis of Boyang to him with ownership of 1,300 families.
Bing became sick shortly before the ceremony to confer him the royal title. Emperor Xuandi worried that the illness might be severe. Xiahou Sheng, teacher of the crown prince said, “He [Bing] will be just fine. I heard that anyone who accumulated great virtues would receive blessings, which could also pass down to his descendants. Bing has not received rewards to his virtues yet. Although he has a severe illness, it won’t be fatal.”
Bing later recovered as predicted.
Forgiving Mistakes of Others
Bing started from a lower official in charge of the prison. Later on he studied Confucian books such as Shi Jing (The Book of Songs) and Li Ji (The Book of Rites). Upon becoming a chancellor, he was very generous and polite. When officials committed wrongdoings or were incompetent, he gave them a long vacation for them to resign themselves, instead of punishing them.
One of his chauffeurs was drunk and vomited on Bing's carriage. An officer suggested to let the chauffeur go, but Bing stopped him. “If we let him go just for throwing up on my carriage, how could he survive afterwards? Please just forgive him. After all, he only ruined a piece of rug,” explained Bing.
The chauffeur was from a bordering region and he was familiar with procedures for reporting a foreign invasion. Once he saw a messenger on a horse carrying a red and white striped message bag, which was exclusively used to report an enemy invasion. He followed the messenger to the offices and learned that the northern tribes were invading two counties. The chauffeur informed Bing immediately and suggested that he identify the officials in those areas who were too old or sick for war. Bing agreed and asked his staff to follow up.
Soon after that, Emperor Xuandi met with Bing and another chancellor, asking them about officials in the counties facing invasion. Bing answered in detail, but the other chancellor could hardly respond. The emperor praised Bing and criticized the other chancellor. Bing later told others that he was grateful that he didn't fire the chauffeur who in turn took the initiative to keep him informed of the invasion.
When Bing was in serious sickness, Emperor Xuandi visited him at home. “If you unfortunately passed away, who can take your position?” The Emperor asked.
Mr. Bing recommended three people, “Du Yannian, the governor of Xihe, had served previously in the central government and also managed Xihe well; Yu Dingguo, high-level officer for justice, knows laws well and applies them fairly; Logistics officer Chen Wannian has taken good care of his stepmother, and handles things both impartially and impeccably. They can be my successors.”
The Emperor promoted these three officers and they all did very well. The Emperor was thankful for Bing's honesty and insight.