How Ancient Chinese Officials Tackled Disasters with Virtue
(Minghui.org) Ancient Chinese believe that disasters that befell the human world were brought about by the divine and had to do with the interactions between heaven and mankind.
The concept was well documented in a number of ancient Chinese classics, such as Guoyu· Zhouyu, The Spring and Autumn Chronicles and Chunqiu Fanlu. That is, going against the way of heaven in the human world would precipitate disasters. If emperors and officials deviated from the law of heaven in their governance, the divine would visit disasters upon the human world, and if they still failed to repent, the divine would bring about even greater disasters to mankind and unusual phenomena would appear. Therefore, ancient officials always put morality as the top priority in their governance, especially when disasters struck.
How Liu Huan Helped People Survive Natural Disasters
During the reign of Emperor Yingzong of Song (1063 - 1067), there was famine in Hebei, followed by a major earthquake. People were starving, and many had to sell their cattle in exchange for a bit of grain to survive.
When Liu Huan, the prefect of Chanzhou, was made aware of the situation, he ordered his subordinates to use all the money in the treasury to buy back the cattle. The next year, when the effects of the earthquake had quieted down and people returned to work in the fields, they found that the price of cattle had risen ten times. Liu Huan told his subordinates to sell the cattle they had purchased earlier at the original price. That year, Chanzhou was the only prefecture in the whole of Hebei where people didn’t become destitute and homeless thanks to the kind help from the local government headed by Liu Huan.
Zhao Qingxian Managed to Keep Rice at a Fair Price
During the reign of Emperor Shenzong of the Song Dynasty (1067 - 1085), there were droughts and locust infestations in the Zhejiang region, devastating the crops. There was famine everywhere, and the price of rice soared. People who could not afford to buy rice starved to death. Local officials in all the prefectures put up notices on the main roads offering a reward to anyone who reported rice price gougers and serving notice that the culprits, once caught, would be dealt with severely.
Magistrate Zhao Qingxian in Yuezhou Prefecture posted a different notice. It informed those who had stocked up on rice that his government would pay top price for their rice. Consequently, rice merchants from all over came to Yuezhou to sell their crop, and because rice then became so readily available, the price soon fell to normal. The local people were very grateful to their magistrate for his kind wisdom.
Zhu Xi Helped People Survive Famine by Setting Up Local Grain Storehouses
In the fourth year of the Qiandao era (1168) under the reign of Emperor Xiaozong of Song, there was a food shortage. Zhu Xi, a famous scholar, asked to borrow 600 dans (a dan equals 60 kilos) of rice from the prefecture government for emergency relief. People who ran short of grain could borrow relief rice in the summer and pay it back, with interest, in the winter after the autumn harvest. If yields were poor in a particular year, the interest would be cut in half. If there was famine, no interest would be charged.
Fourteen years later, Zhu Xi was not only able to pay back the rice he’d borrowed from the prefecture government, but he also stored 3100 dans of rice in local grain storehouses and no longer charged people interest if they needed to borrow rice. With so much rice in storage, the local people did not need to worry about running out of food even when they had poor yields or there was a famine.
Impressed by his success, Emperor Xiaozong of Song issued a decree to establish such local grain storehouses throughout the country.
How Chen Jiyan Helped People during a Famine
A major flood occurred during the Wanli era under the reign of Emperor Shenzong of Ming (1572 - 1620). Chen Jiyan was serving as governor of Kaizhou at the time. He consulted with his officials about relief measures and suggested that one dan (60 kilos) of grain be offered to the poorest people and 50 kilos to the less desperate, so that everyone in Kaizhou would get some relief during the difficult time.
He then ordered his subordinates to assign a number to each person and asked people to line up to get the grain. Chen sat under a small shed at the entrance of the storehouse, helping with the relief work in person. He looked at each person carefully and made judgement by their appearance and the clothes they were wearing. He took special note of those who seemed most desperate. Things went smoothly. Even though more than ten thousand people lined up for relief grain, there were no troubles or hassles.
The following spring, an official document was passed down to offer another round of relief to those who were most destitute, and local officials were told to find out who was eligible. Chen told his subordinates not to bother looking for those in need of help, as he had already made note of them earlier. The villagers were really surprised at how Chen had such an accurate picture of their situations.
As it turned out, when the first round of relief was offered, the notice was made public at the last minute, so nobody had time to change clothes or alter their appearance. As a result, Chen was able to tell each one’s situation by looking at their appearance and their clothes.
At the end of the Wanli era, the granary in Kaizhou ran out of grain. Chen then ordered each prefecture and county to buy grain with funds in their local treasury. The price of grain had increased quite a bit by then, and it cost more than 600 copper coins for a dan of grain. The central government required rich households to sell their stored grain at 500 copper coins per dan. With the additional cost of transportation, that meant that the wealthy households would lose around 200 copper coins per dan of grain.
Knowing that the wealthy households had also suffered losses during the hard time and that their ability to cope with the situation was also limited, Chen decided to reduce the amount of grain they were required to sell to the government at the lower price. In the end, his government purchased a total of 4000 dans of grain. That meant the households could sell their remaining grain elsewhere at a higher price.
In the autumn of Gengwu year, Kaizhou had a good harvest, and grain was being sold at a little more than more than 300 copper coins per dan. Chen reported to his superiors that he would use two thousand taels of silver from the treasury to purchase grain for storage. The quoted price was 300 copper coins cash per dan. However, by the time he went to buy the grain, the price had fallen to 250 copper coins per dan.
Grateful to Chen for not forcing them to sell more grain earlier, the wealthy households offered to sell their grain at the reduced price this time. Chen appreciated their kind offer, but still paid for the grain at the quoted price of 300 copper coins per dan. In the end, Kaizhou not only fulfilled the required purchase quota that year, but also acquired over 700 dans of extra of grain, which Chen distributed to the poor villagers who had returned home to work the farms.
Due to successive floods earlier, the city wall around Kaizhou collapsed in more than a dozen places, and the government decided to have it repaired. Some officials suggested recruiting local people to do the work, but Chen disagreed, saying it would cause too much trouble for the people and waste money. He ordered his subordinates to post notices around the city gates, calling villagers who had moved elsewhere during the famine to return home to work in the fields. As an incentive, they would be exempted from land tax, and the government would also offer some grain relief. The news spread quickly by word of mouth, and many refugees returned.
When they came with their bags for the relief grain, Chen told his men to put up the following notice: “If you are here for grain relief, fill up your bags with soil and fill the collapsed parts of the city wall first. Officers in charge will then stamp your bags, which will verify your eligibility for the grain.” By the time the relief grain was given out, the wall was repaired, with little damage to the government treasury.
The Story of “Su Causeway”
When Su Shi was serving as governor of Hangzhou during the Song Dynasty, the local area suffered a severe drought, coupled with a prevalent infectious disease. Su Shi asked the imperial court to exempt one-third of the rice purchase quota. With more stores to sell in the market, the price of rice fell accordingly. In the spring the next year, Su Shi sold the rice in the official storehouse to the local people at a low price to help them survive the famine.
Earlier in the Tang Dynasty, water in the West Lake was channeled into a canal, which was then used to irrigate over 1,000 hectares of farmland. However, due to the buildup of silt and waterweed, the lake needed to be dredged every year, which became a major problem for the local people.
Su Shi decided to solve the problem once and for all, so he petitioned to clear away the silt and weed, and dredged the nearby Maoshan canal and Yanqiao River. He also built a water gate to control the water flow and erected a causeway across the lake with the excavated silt to maintain adequate water in the lake for fishing, drinking, irrigation, and transport.
The causeway, lined up with beautiful roses and willows, also served as a convenient and attractive footpath for pedestrians, and a large stretch of reclaimed land around the lake was used to grow wheat, which generated enough to maintain the lake. People in Hangzhou called the causeway “Su Causeway” in appreciation of Su Shi’s sound governance and his concern for the general public.
The virtuous governance of ancient peoples are a sharp contrast to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s corrupt and tyrannical conduct. People in China today have no idea just how much national wealth has gone into the pockets of corrupt CCP officials.
In the face of the current pandemic, floods, and earthquakes this year, instead of offering concrete assistance or relief, the CCP still boasts about its “great success” in economic development and continues to ask people to donate money to the regime.