Chinese people in ancient times paid much importance to their reputations and morality; there is a famous Chinese saying; “A gentleman upholds his honor as upright as bamboo” and should never bend even in the face of death.
During the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25-220), Zhang Pan, the Governor of Jiaozhi (the northern part of Vietnam today), was framed by Governor Du Shang of Jingzhou (a large part of southern China today) and was imprisoned.
Before Zhang finished his appeal against his imprisonment, the Emperor granted a general amnesty, releasing all prisoners. The prisoners in custody all left one after another except for Zhang Pan, who still held onto his chains, with no intention of leaving. The prison warden called him: “Your Highness Mr Zhang, the amnesty also applies to you. Please leave.” Zhang Pan did not move.
The Judge came to visit him to encourage him to unlock his chains, but Zhang refused. The Judge asked: “The grace of the Emperor is so immense that everyone should benefit from it. Why do you refuse?”
Zhang then explained: “In the past, thieves from Jingzhou caused havoc, and their accomplices spread across Jiaozhi. I took the risk and took charge to eliminate them; killed their leader and they all dispersed and returned to Jingzhou. Du Shang was afraid that I would report the case and he would be remanded, so he framed me and sent me to court.
I was wronged by Du Shang and imprisoned. There is truth to be clarified, justice to be made. I did nothing wrong, thus I am not to be pardoned. If I accepted this, I would bear this humiliation for life, as a bad governor when alive, an evil spirit after death. I request that Du Shang be summoned here to face the facts and to set the record straight, clarify the truth. If Du Shang is not summoned, I would rather be buried here, without leaving, till my name is cleared.”
The Judge reported the case to the Emperor. The Emperor then decreed that Du Shang should appear in court. Du Shang couldn’t give an explanation and admitted his guilt, but in the end, Du was pardoned because of his former merits.
Zhang Pan was adamant that he would not compromise. He finally walked out of jail with his head held high.