Stories From Ancient China: Keeping One’s Promises

December 5, 2008 Updated: December 5, 2008

Zhuo Shu was well known during the time of the Three Empires (the kingdoms of Wei 220-265, Shu 221-263 and Wu 222-280). He was known for his honesty, and always kept his promises.

One day Zhuo Shu visited his friend, the General Zhuge Ke, to say goodbye to him before traveling from Jianye (today’s Nanjing) to his hometown Huiji (today’s Shaoxing in Zhejiang province). Zhuge Ke asked him when he would return from his hometown and Zhuo Shu told him the time and day.

On the day when Zhuo Shu was supposed to return, Zhuge Ke invited several guests. He asked his guests not to start eating yet. He said: “Let us wait a little while for Zhuo Shu, he will certainly come, I know him well.” The guests were stunned and said: “Huiji is one thousand miles from here, and besides, there are many rivers and lakes which separate Huiji and Jianye. How can you be so sure that he will return today?” While the guests asked this question, Zhuo Shu arrived as planned. The guests were very surprised.

Zhuge Ke said casually: “Neither a contract nor a person will restrict him, thus far Zhuo Shu always held his word and fulfilled his promise, because he truly lives ‘to be true to one’s word.’ It was just like Yuan Fu from the Song Dynasty taught in his book about family discipline. Everything that was promised had to be fulfilled.  One had to abide by the agreed upon time. That is called belief.”