Good Stories from China: Fear Not That Others Know But That I Know

May 17, 2006 Updated: May 17, 2006

During the Yongzheng era (1723-1735) of the Qing Dynasty, there was a principled and unselfish official named Ye Cunren who served as a government administrator for over thirty years.

After Ye decided to leave his post, his subordinates planned to see him off by a boat. Ye waited patiently, but the boat did not show up until late at night when the moon had already risen. It turned out that his subordinates had prepared parting gifts for him, so they intentionally delayed their arrival till dark lest people would see them.

Ye refused to accept the gifts but wrote a poem for his friends:

Bright moon, crisp wind, deep into the night
The farewell boat comes, but intentionally late
Grateful for your affection, but your gifts I must return
Fear not that others may know, but that I myself know

In traditional Chinese culture, people stress “being prudent when being alone” and “not to cheat in a private room.” Morality is about the heart, and the sages adhere to moral principles even when nobody would know about their conduct. With a traditional respect for heaven, the Chinese people also believe that their every thought and action are being watched.

Source: Xianning County Gazetteer