Stories from Ancient China: Taking Bribes and Perverting the Law Ruined a Promising Future

In ancient times, there lived a man surnamed Xu from Quzhou County. He held the position of assistant magistrate in Xinyu County . His superior ordered him to go to Luling County to try a case. It was nightfall when he arrived at a place about ten miles away from Jian County. As he was preparing to stay the night at a nearby inn, a wealthy elderly man who happened to have the same surname of Xu, invited him to his house. The traveller received an abundance of hospitality from the man, who cooked mutton and served wine graciously. The assistant magistrate thought that the old man's enthusiastic kindness towards him was because they shared the same surname and common ancestry.

As the evening wore on, the old man told him quietly, "Since coming here to live I have never associated with the local authorities. Last night I saw in a dream that a high ranking official passed by my door. The man who was clearing the way for the official held up a banner with the characters "Xu Shilang" (a person of official rank at the level of deputy minister) on it. Today here you are and your surname is Xu. You will undoubtedly be promoted to Shilang in the future and come to possess wealth and a high rank. I hope to someday commit my descendants to your care."

Assistant Magistrate Xu had passed the imperial examination at a young age. He was self-assured with outstanding talent and had many official prospects. After the old man expressed his request, Xu gladly agreed to do what the man requested. He also made an appointment to call on the old man after he finished his official duties in Luling County. The next day he set out on his travels.

One month later, he finished his duties in Luling County. On his way home he went directly to the old man's house. Old man Xu still welcomed him but the courtesy and respect he had shown before was missing. Just before the assistant left, the old man said very seriously, "Is it possible that you did something wrong when you were in Luling County? The day before yesterday I had a dream in which a golden man told me that you took the bribe of 500 thousand silver coins, broke the law and then fabricated a lie to frame someone. As a result of this, your rank will be cut and your life-span will not be long. Why didn't you conduct yourself with dignity. Why didn't you live up to my expectation?"

Hearing this, Assistant Magistrate Xu was apprehensive and too ashamed to say anything. After he returned home, he was notified to go to Lin'an County to take a position there. Not long after took his new position, he died at an inn while travelling.

Xu's father was a broker of rice dealers. He followed his son to wherever he was stationed and often taught his son to commit unrighteous acts. The case in Luling County involved a rich man who killed another man. Xu took a bribe from the rich man and framed his servant to be charged for the crime. The servant was not only wronged but was killed for a crime he did not commit. Xu was therefore punished by the king of hell. Xu's father was still living when Xu died. Xu's father's ill-gotten wealth quickly disappeared, and he became as poor as he was in his early years. He was also despised by everyone. [This story was based on the sixth volume of Yijianzhi, a book from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).]

Officials should be honest and upright. The ancients said, "One would be better off to be fair as an official and honest in matters of money." [from the book Shuo Yuan, by Liu Xiang, author in Han Dynasty - B.C.207-25] Lu Zuqian (philosopher and writer in the Southern Song Dynasty) said, "Officials should be honest, cautious and diligent. With these three characteristics, there is no need to worry about achievements." Yue Fei (famous general in the Southern Song Dynasty) said, "If civil officials would not covet wealth, and military officers refrained from killing, then the world would be a place of peace and tranquillity." These are famous statements. Assistant Magistrate Xu took a bribe and an innocent person was killed. His father taught him to commit evil deeds. Both of them ended up with bad fates. The heavenly principles are obvious; it is hard to evade one's responsibility for an offence. Sooner or later a person who commits an evil act will receive retribution.

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