2 Chinese Rulers Who Set Examples for Future Generations

By Su Lin
Su Lin
Su Lin
June 28, 2019 Updated: August 1, 2019

King Wen of Zhou (around 1152–1056 B.C.), personal name Ji Chang, was born in present-day Qishan, Shaanxi Province. His father was a duke of the Shang Dynasty. After his father’s death, Ji Chang took over his position. He was a paragon of virtue and a model ruler.

Throughout the thousands of years of Chinese history, whenever an emperor was wimpy or the country underwent trials and tribulations, people would look back and remember the society under the reign of King Wen of Zhou, where harmony and goodwill prevailed. During that time, farmers renounced their claims to the land, officials relinquished their positions, and everybody was benevolent and observed propriety. King Wen of Zhou set an example for future generations to follow.

Giving up land for His People

King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty (not to be confused with King Wen of Zhou) invented the Cannon Burning Punishment. Prisoners were made to walk on a hollow bronze cylinder that was stuffed with burning charcoal, and they got burnt to death. His favourite concubine, Daji, enjoyed watching people being tortured like this.

The punishment filled the vassal state rulers and people with disgust, and Ji Chang offered King Zhou the land west of the Luo River in the state of Zhou in exchange for the abolishment of the Cannon Burning Punishment. King Zhou agreed, and Ji Chang won the support of the vassal states.

Resolving disputes for vassal states

According to the Records of the Great Historian—the Basic Annals of Zhou, there were disputes between the vassal states of Yu and Rui. They thought of asking Ji Chang to play mediator.

Upon reaching the state of Zhou and seeing how modest and courteous the people there were, the representatives from Yu and Rui were ashamed of themselves. “We are fighting, but the people of the state of Zhou see fighting as a disgrace. We’re humiliating ourselves.”

The men apologized to each other and left. People from the other states learned about it, and everybody came to Ji Chang to settle their disputes.

Ji Chang was only the Count of the West at that time, but during his reign, his subjects were so gentlemanly that the two vassal state representatives felt ashamed of themselves and decided to make peace. If a leader sets an example, it will be followed by his subordinates. The people of Zhou were of a kindly disposition under the influence of Ji Chang.

The incident of Ji Chang mediating indirectly was symbolic. He became a model of sanctity, a figurehead for the rest of the state kings to emulate. They looked up to him as their king and gave him the mandate to overthrow King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty.

Giving Remains a Decent Burial

When Ji Chang was the Count of the West, he gave the order to build a pavilion 30 li from present-day Hu County, Shaanxi Province. When the construction workers were digging to make a pond, many skeletal remains were uncovered.

The official in charge reported the matter to Ji Chang. Out of benevolence, Ji Chang ordered that the skeletons be buried. The official said that since the passing of time made the identification of the skeletal remains impossible, nobody was responsible for them.

Ji Chang replied: “I’m the ruler of this state, and these skeletal remains were found in my state. That makes me responsible for them.” He ordered a decent burial for the remains.

Everybody was moved by Ji Chang’s benevolence. “The Count of Zhou is virtuous! He would even give the dead his blessings and protection.” They pledged allegiance to him.

Fraternal Devotion of Emperor Taizu

Emperor Taizu (reign 960–976), personal name Zhao Kuangyin, was the founder and first emperor of the Song Dynasty. His younger brother, Emperor Taizong (reign 976–997), personal name Zhao Kuangyi, was the second emperor.

It is recorded in The History of Song—the Reign of Taizu that when Zhao Kuangyi was very sick, the emperor visited him and applied moxibustion* to him in person.

Zhao Kuangyi cried out in pain. To relieve his brother’s pain, the emperor tried moxibustion on himself and felt the pain too. Zhao Kuangyi was touched.

*Moxibustion—a traditional Chinese treatment method that uses heat generated by burning mugwort to stimulate acupoints.

Su Lin
Su Lin