The ancient Chinese paid high importance to their reputation and moral conduct. As a famous Chinese saying goes, “A gentleman upholds his honor as upright as bamboo,” and he never bends even in the face of death.
Here is the story of one such gentleman.
Zhang Pan was the governor of Jiaozhi, a region in the northern part of Vietnam today, who lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25–220). Zhang was unjustly imprisoned after being framed by Governor Du Shang of Jingzhou, a region in southern China.
Zhang appealed his sentence, but before his appeal process could play out, the emperor granted a general amnesty and Zhang was released along with all of the other prisoners.
The other prisoners all left, one after another, except for Zhang Pan. Zhang held onto his chains, with no intention of leaving.
The prison warden said to him: “Governor Zhang, the amnesty also applies to you. You are free to go.”
However, Zhang Pan would not budge.
The judge came to visit him to urge him to have his chains unlocked, but Zhang refused.
The judge asked: “The grace of the emperor is immense, and everyone should benefit from it. Why do you refuse?”
Zhang said: “I am innocent and will not leave until my reputation is restored and justice is served.”
With that, he explained to the judge the circumstances around his imprisonment.
“Thieves from Jingzhou were spreading havoc across Jiaozhi, and when I took charge to eliminate them, by killing their leader, they dispersed and returned to Jingzhou. Du Shang, the governor of Jingzhou, was afraid that I would report the case to the emperor and cause him to be reprimanded, so he framed me,” Zhang said.
“I was wronged by Du Shang and imprisoned. There is truth to be clarified, and justice to be done. I did nothing wrong, thus I have no need to be pardoned. If I accept a pardon, I would bear this humiliation for the rest of my life, as a bad governor when alive and an evil spirit after death,” Zhang continued.
Zhang requested that the judge summon Du Shang to face the facts and to set the record straight. “Unless my name is cleared, I would rather be buried here than go free,” Zhang said with determination.
The judge reported the case to the emperor, who ordered Du Shang to appear in court. There, Du Shang admitted his guilt. However, in the end, he was pardoned due to his former merits.
As for Zhang Pan, who was adamant that he would not compromise, he finally walked out of jail with his head held high.