Huang Ba Could Die Without Regret

By Joyce Lo
Joyce Lo
Joyce Lo
April 12, 2017 Updated: April 12, 2017

Huang Ba (130–51 B.C.) lived during the Western Han Dynasty. He learned legalism (understanding and administration of the law) starting at a young age. When he faced death later in his life, the first thing that came to his mind was to learn more. He said he could die without regret once he had learned the Tao, or Way.

In the year 72 B.C., according to the “Book of Han,” Minister Xia Housheng was imprisoned because he offended Emperor Xuan. Huang, who was the chief officer to the prime minister, was also imprisoned because of his support for Xia. Both were sentenced to death.

While in prison, Huang asked Xia to teach him “Shangshu,” one of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese literature. Xia refused with the reason that they were awaiting the death penalty.

Huang quoted a saying from Analects of Confucius: “Having heard the Tao in the morning, one can die in the evening.”

Xia agreed with him and taught him Shangshu.

A year later, an earthquake shocked 49 counties in central China. There were over 6,000 casualties. Emperor Xuan took that as a warning from heaven, and he granted amnesty to all.

Both Xia and Huang were released and were reassigned by the court. Huang was appointed governor of Ying Chuan County. He was known to be compassionate and had clear insights in judgment.

A Good Judge

According to “Zheyu Guijian,” a compilation of litigations finished in the Song Dynasty, when Huang was the local governor of Ying Chuan County, there was a wealthy family with two brothers living in the same household. The wives of the two brothers were pregnant at the same time.

The elder brother’s wife’s child was stillborn, and she hid that fact and snatched the baby of her sister-in-law, saying that it was hers. The dispute carried on for three years with no solution.

Huang put the child in the court and asked the two women to snatch the child. The elder sister-in-law took him rudely by force; the younger one, in fear of hurting the child, just looked on sadly.

Seeing this, Huang scolded the elder sister-in-law: “In your greed for family fortune, you only want to snatch the child, with no consideration that you are hurting him. The matter is now clear. Return the child immediately to your sister-in-law.”

The elder sister-in-law then admitted her guilt.

Edited by Sally Appert.

Joyce Lo