Liu Zhuang (28-75 AD), the second emperor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, became known after his demise as Emperor Ming of Han. “Ming” means “understanding” and “bright” in Chinese.
It was during his reign (57-75 AD) that Buddhism began to spread into China. The following stories reveal his respectfulness and willingness to listen to advisers.
Honoring his teacher
Liu Zhuang learned Confucian classics from a young age, and he studied the Classic of History, also known as the Shangshu, under the teacher Huan Rong. After Liu Zhuang became the emperor, he continued to show respect towards his teacher.
The emperor often invited Huan home to teach. Huan would be given a premium seat, and Emperor Ming would personally bring the book to his teacher.
When other students asked questions, Huan stood up as a sign of respect to the emperor.
Emperor Ming quickly stopped Huan and said, “We are all students here, and you need not stand on ceremony.”
China’s first Buddhist temple
One day Emperor Ming dreamed that a tall golden man with a glow around his head came to the centre of the palace. Emperor Ming was just about to talk to him when the golden man suddenly rose up and flew off to the West.
The next day, Emperor Ming told his advisers about his vision. One adviser said that in the West there is a god called Buddha, and his body is the colour of gold.
Emperor Ming sent envoys to Tianzhu (Northwest India) to search for Buddhist information in 64 AD. They later met two Indian Buddhist monks in Afghanistan and persuaded them to come to China, bringing their Buddhist scriptures, relics, and Buddha statues with them on two white horses.
To welcome the Buddhist scriptures and monks, Emperor Ming built the first Buddhist temple in China in 68 AD near the capital city of Luoyang. It was called the White Horse Temple.
The monks resided at the temple and translated the Buddhist scriptures into Chinese.
Stopping palace construction for drought
Emperor Ming was preparing to order the construction of the North Palace for his enjoyment.
It was a year of drought. A minister sent a letter to Emperor Ming, stating, “Currently, farmers are suffering from the drought, but you plan to construct the North Palace. If that is the case, irrigation matters will be put aside, and how will the people survive? Monarchs in the past were not concerned if their own living environment was cramped; rather, their attention was on the people’s livelihood. Your Majesty, what do you think?”
Emperor Ming immediately stopped the construction plan and expressed his apologies to the minister.
Two days later, there was heavy rain, and the drought ended.
The people said, “The emperor accepted the adviser’s suggestion and moved the heavens.”
Translated by Benjamin Ng. Edited by Sally Appert.