The Ren Jing (Scripture of Forbearance) was written by Wu Liang during the Yuan Dynasty. The following six stories are excerpts from the book.
I. Magnanimity – Letting bygones be bygones
When Han Anguo (? – 127 BC) was a high-ranking official in the State of Liang, he was imprisoned for committing a crime. He was assaulted by the prison officer Tian Jia while in prison. Han Anguo asked Tian Jia, “For those ashes that have already turned cold, can you still re-burn them?” Tian Jia said, “For those ashes that have already turned cold, if they can re-burn, I will urinate on them to extinguish them.” Han Anguo was later released and became Liangzhou’s prefectural governor. Tian Jia heard about this, and ran away in fear.
Han Anguo told his subordinates, “By law, If Tian Jia does not come back, his entire lineage will be executed. If he comes back immediately, I will pardon his sins.”
Tian Jia heard from other people what Han Anguo had said, and immediately came back to see Han Anguo.
Han Anguo asked him, “Those cold ashes have begun burning. Why did you not extinguish them? Why did you run away instead?” Tian Jia was very afraid. Han Anguo told him, “I will not retaliate against you. Now that you have come back, I will pardon your sins.” He then arranged a low ranking official post for him.
II. Enduring insults and losing money – Maintaining a warm attitude
Zhi Buyi once lived in a hostel with other people during the Han Dynasty. One of his roommates went home and took another roommate’s gold by mistake.
The person who lost his gold suspected that Zhi Buyi had stolen it. He became furious and said many harsh words towards Zhi Buyi. Zhi apologized to the person who lost his gold, “This is really a wrong doing.” He then bought an amount of gold equal to what was lost and gave them to that person.
The other roommate later came back and returned the gold he had taken by mistake. The person who lost the gold felt very ashamed.
Others later praised Zhi Buyi as an honest person.
III. Forbearance is the first and foremost attribute in the world
Wang Shouhe was an official of the Tang Dynasty. He had never had an argument with others. He once wrote a very large character “Tolerance” on his desk, and embroidered the character “tolerance” on the drapes in his home.
Emperor Ming of Tang felt that Wang Shouhe’s name had the meaning of “not in favor of having conflict with others.” Therefore, the emperor asked Wang Shouhe to see him and said, “Your name is Wang Shouhe. I can see that you do not like to argue with others. You like to write the word ‘tolerance’. Others can clearly see your intention.”
Wang Shouhe replied, “I heard that it is easy to break hard things. Tolerance is better than anything in the world.”
Emperor Ming of Tang praised him, “Good!” The emperor then gave him some silk as commendation.
IV. Remaining calm when valuable things break
When Pei Xingjian (619 – 682 AD) conquered Duzhizhefu (a region outside China during the Tang Dynasty) he seized countless jade treasures. Generals and soldiers from the minorities all wanted to see the treasures.
Pei Xingjian hosted a banquet to display the jade treasures. Among them was a beautiful two-foot long agate plate, of brilliant pattern and color.
A soldier was holding the plate when the rare treasure accidentally fell to the floor and broke into pieces. The soldier became very afraid, knelt down, and kept kowtowing his head to the floor until it bled.
Pei Xingjian said with a smile, “You didn’t do that deliberately.” He did not show a trace of resentment for the lost treasure plate.
V. Tolerance of others – Don’t show hatred to those who insult you
Du Yan (978 – 1057 AD) said, “Nowadays those who are in power like to scold other people’s slight mistakes. This is really not being tolerant enough.”
From the time Du Yan became the governor of a state, until he was promoted to a higher position, he never scolded any official staff members. To officials who were incompetent, Du Yan arranged for them to handle some cases so they would not have time to be lazy. To the officials who were imprudent, Du Yan told them about the disasters caused by imprudence. Du Yan refrained from bringing people to justice according to the law.
Fan Zhongyan once discussed with Du Yan about the merits of some matters. Fan Zhongyan even said some critical words to hurt Du Yan. However, Du Yan did not bear grudges and still remained very respectful of Fan Zhongyan.
VI. Dissuading a thief and giving him gifts to urge him to be a good person
Chen Shi (104 – 187 AD), courtesy name Zhonggong, was a county magistrate. One day, a thief was hiding on his roof, getting ready to steal. Chen Shi saw the thief. He asked his son to come over, and said to his son in a very gentle tone, “Those people who are not welcome are not really bad in nature. It is their habit. That person on the roof is such a person.”
The thief on the roof heard that and came down voluntarily. He knelt down on the floor and pleaded his guilt. Chen Shi said, “You don’t look like a bad person. The reason you went this far is because of poverty.”
Chen Shi then gave the thief two rolls of cloth and told him to be a good person again.
The thief never stole again thereafter.