Stories from Ancient China: Repaying Others Who Have Helped Us

Zhan Gu lived in the Qing Dynasty, under Emperor Qianlong. Although he was poor, he was a kind and trustworthy man.

There was a pawnshop at Chongming Island in Shanghai. The owner of the shop was an elderly man named Chen who was from Wan County, Sichuan (currently Wan County of Chongqing City). He hired Zhan Gu as a clerk to help him in the shop.

Zhan Gu was a very diligent and competent person who treated every guest with sincerity and patience. He handled every transaction clearly and correctly and as a result, the business at the pawnshop became more profitable. Trusting Zhan Gu, the owner increased his responsibilities and treated him like his family member.

The owner received a letter from his family saying that his wife was very sick and that he must return to his home immediately. Knowing Zhan Gu to be a honest man, the owner entrusted the business to Zhan Gu and went back home. Zhan Gu promised the owner that he would take care of the business in the best way possible and hoped the owner would come back as quickly as possible.

The owner was old, weak, and very anxious. The long trip was very stressful for him. Unfortunately, he got very sick after he went back home and after a short while he died.

Shanghai and Sichuan are a fair distance from each other, so it was difficult to communicate between the two places. After the owner left, Zhan Gu took care of the shop all by himself and never dared to slack off a bit. The business kept advancing smoothly and he never thought about going back home to see his parents, wife and children. Since the owner had not returned, he never really had a chance to go back home.

Ten years passed in this manner and one day, a young man came to the shop. He looked very similar to the owner. Zhan Gu asked the young man and found him to be the son of the owner. The news of the owner's death was also revealed to Zhan Gu, and tears fell from his eyes as he recalled the owner's kindness to him.

Zhan Gu immediately took out the account books from the last ten years and gave them to the owner's son. The owner's son looked at the accounts and found all the transaction to be in order. Then Zhan Gu checked the inventory with the owner's son and handed over everything to him. Deeply moved by Zhan Gu's actions the owner's son immediately paid him an amount worth ten years' of salary and also presented 400 taels (528 oz.) of silver to him as a gift.

Zhan Gu accepted the salary but he refused to accept the silver. He said, "Your father helped me ten years ago and so I should pay it back. Your father entrusted the business to me, it is my responsibility to keep the promise. I just did what I should do. Please do not thank me. My only concern is that I have been away from my home for ten years. Since you have come back, please let me return to my home and reunite with my family."

Before Zhan Gu left, he ardently explained the business procedure to the owner's son again. Then he packed some simple baggage and said goodbye to the owner's son. The owner's son was very regretful that he could not retain Zhan Gu. He sighed, "Zhan Gu is really an honourable man!"

It's a Chinese traditional virtue to return to others who have helped us and be honest and trustworthy. The owner entrusted his shop to Zhan Gu, who spent ten years to fulfil his promise. He was not selfish when confronted with the loss of wealth. He really deserved the title of an honest and trustworthy man.

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