(Minghui.org) Virtue, righteousness, propriety, benevolence, and trustworthiness are traditional virtues in life. The following are a few exemplary stories about such virtues.
Virtue - “Commandments for Women” by Ban Zhao
Virtue signifies honorable values and kindness. According to Shuowen Jiezi (Explaining simple and analyzing compound characters) – the oldest and one of the most important character dictionaries of ancient China, the essence of virtue includes morality, kindness, elevation, and blessing.
In Zheng Yun (another ancient dictionary compiled in the Ming dynasty with characters arranged based on a rhyming system), it says that virtue is all about being kind and righteous, aboveboard and pure.
Ban Zhao was a very talented lady in the Eastern Han period (25–220 CE). She was born in a prominent Confucian family. Both her father Ban Biao and her elder brother Ban Gu were renowned scholars and historians. Ban Zhao was always the loving and caring little sister in the household. She married at the age of 14, but her husband died when she was still young. She never remarried and devoted her life to literature and the education of her son.
Her other brother Ban Chao served as an envoy to the far-away western regions for many years. When he asked the court to allow him to return in his senior years, Ban Zhao wrote to the emperor to plead for her brother’s request. Her heartfelt words made a strong impact and her brother’s wish was soon granted.
Due to the implication of an internal power struggle in the court, her brother Ban Gu was imprisoned and died before he could finish the history book Han Shu (Book of Han). The emperor then commissioned Ban Zhao to complete the remaining work, and the finished Han Shu turned out to be one of the best-known histories ever written and served as a model for the future dynastic history books in China.
Ban Zhao was extremely talented and had high morals. She was often called into the imperial palace by the emperor to tutor the empress and his concubines to enrich their knowledge and virtuous character.
In her later years, Ban Zhao wrote seven chapters of Commandments for Women to enhance women’s virtue. She believed that women should regard humbleness and self-restraint as a virtue, and they should handle well all family relationships in the husband’s household.
Ban Zhao also put forward specific requirements for women’s morality, speech, appearance, and needlework. The book became the textbook for women’s moral education in ancient China and had a profound impact on morality for women in traditional Chinese culture.
Righteousness – Diaochan’s Selfless Sacrifice in Removing Tyrant Dong Zhuo
According to the Oracle bone script, the character “yi” (righteousness) meant “good omen” for a just war, and was later extended to mean the principles of morality, ethics, and righteousness. It is said in “Rongzhai Suibi” (highly proclaimed essays by Hong Mai in the Southern Song period): Acting uprightly is righteousness, and standing out in conduct is righteousness.
The following is a brief account of how Diaochan, one of the four beauties in ancient China, helped in getting rid of the cruel despot Dong Zhuo at the end of the Eastern Han period (25-220 AD).
Dong Zhuo was a warlord and a tyrannical chancellor of the imperial court in the later Eastern Han period. He deposed Emperor Shao and replaced him with his half-brother (the puppet Emperor Xian), burned down the palace in Luoyang, and relocated the capital to Chang’an to serve his ulterior motive to keep control of the imperial court. He killed everyone who spoke up for justice against him and the Han court was in helpless chaos.
To save the Han court, high-ranking court official Wang Yun entrusted his adopted daughter Diaochan to help in a scheme to get rid of Dong Zhuo.
Diaochan was extremely beautiful and talented in singing and dancing, more importantly, she also had a righteous mind and a strong will. In order to save the Han court, she endured humiliation and self-sacrifice by showing “affection” to both Dong Zhuo and his adopted son Lü Bu to sow discord between the two. Lü Bu eventually killed Dong Zhuo, ending the dark period of his tyranny.
Diaochan has since become the embodiment of justice and wisdom, and her story is still widely known even today.
Propriety - Story of Liang Hong and His Wife Meng Guang
“Li” (propriety) originally referred to ritual sacrifice to worship gods in ancient China. Later, rites in sacrificial activities began to indicate propriety in the social hierarchy, code of conduct, and moral norms. For example, in Shiming, it defines “Li” as propriety in conduct.
“Ju An Qi Mei” (Holding the tray level with the brows) is a well-known idiom from ancient China to signify the proper mutual respect between husband and wife.
The idiom is based on a story about Liang Hong and his wife Meng Guang in the Eastern Han period (25–220 AD). Liang Hong, a well-educated scholar, and his wife Meng Guang, an unattractive plain-looking woman, were a well-known hermit couple. They held high morals and paid great attention to etiquette in their daily life.
When they were staying in a wealthy family, the couple lived a very simple life. At each meal time, Meng Guang would serve her husband by holding the tray to the level of her eyebrows to show her respect. Liang Hong would humbly take the tray with both hands to express his gratefulness to his wife before the two sat down to eat.People in that household were very impressed by their conduct. Their story was quickly spread far and wide and was recorded in the History of the Later Han (Hou Han Shu).
According to the Book of Rites, being respectful and humble is the way to go. Respect manifests propriety, which would lead to harmony.
The ancient sages understood the importance of propriety and observed it in their conduct. They regarded harmony as a top priority and believed that propriety is an important way for people to get along with each other in life.
Benevolence - Empress Zhangsun’s Boundless Benignity
Benevolence embodies kindness and consideration for others. According to Shuowen Jiezi, benevolence means to be kind to others. In the Book of Rites · Li Yun, it says that benevolence is the foundation for righteousness and the essence of being amenable. Those who observe such principles are respected.
Empress Zhangsun was born into an aristocratic family and enjoyed a traditional education in her childhood. She was known for being knowledgeable, gentle and virtuous, upright and kind. When she was very young, a fortune-teller said that she was able to bear the great weight of responsibility, had boundless virtues, and if she let things go naturally, she would enjoy incomparable esteem and honor.
At the age of 13, she married 17-year-old Li Shimin, the second son of Taiyuan governor Li Yuan. She lived by a woman’s ethics, taking great care in serving her parents-in-law, looking after her husband, and educating her children.
When Li Shimin was fighting on battlefields, Zhangsun traveled with the army everywhere to take care of her husband. After her husband assumed the throne and became an emperor, she continued to respect and diligently serve her father-in-law (the former emperor) as an ordinary filial daughter-in-law.
Empress Zhangsun lived a simple and frugal life and was very benevolent and broadminded toward others. The harmonious harem enabled the emperor to be completely focused on handling state affairs.
When the emperor asked her opinions on state affairs, she always refrained by following the traditional principle that the harem should not interfere in state affairs, and only reminded the emperor to “be prepared for danger in times of peace” and to “appoint virtuous officials and accept sound advice.” Her virtuous words and deeds won the great respect of the emperor and set an example as a good wife and a great empress.
Trustworthiness: The Story of Wang Baochuan
Trustworthiness, one of the five traditional virtues, means being truthful and honest, having faith in others, and being trustworthy.
It was defined in Shuowen Jiezi as being honest in actions and words. In Zuo Zhuan (generally regarded as “a masterpiece of grand historical narrative”), it says that acting in accordance with one’s fate as expected is considered being trustworthy.
Wang Baochuan, the daughter of a prime minister of the Tang Dynasty, chose to marry a poor man named Xue Pinggui by throwing the embroidery ball onto him on the day for her to find the bridegroom.
However, her father resented her choice and wanted to force her to change her mind. Wang Baochuan believed in the fate decreed by heaven and insisted on marrying the young man she picked for his fine character. In the end, she was kicked out of the household by her father.
Although Wang Baochuan and her chosen husband lived in a cold and shabby cave-dwelling, they loved each other and enjoyed a happy life together. To help her husband achieve his aspirations in life, Wang Baochuan encouraged him to join the army. Her husband fought in far-away battlefields and was honored with great military achievements.
For 18 years, with no news from her husband, Wang Baochuan continued to live in the same cave dwelling all by herself and endured hunger, cold, and loneliness. However, she kept her words and her love for her husband, firmly believing that one day they would be reunited.
Her unshakable faith enabled her to pull through all those lonely years and hardships. Indeed, her husband returned with honor at long last and they spent the rest of their lives together with much happiness and joy.
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Category: Traditional Culture