Reflections on History: Virtuous Cheng Tang Prayed in the Mulberry Grove and Brought Rain That Ended Drought for Seven Years

Li Demin

PureInsight | June 2, 2003

[] Throughout the history of China, whenever calamities like locust plagues, droughts, and meteor impacts occurred, the ancient monarchs considered these occurrences to be heavenly signs, warning and urging the monarchs to improve their administrations. Ancient Chinese monarchs believed that the root cause of natural calamities was that "the monarch's virtue was not fit for his position." They believed that monarchs must wear "white robes" (for mourning), "keep away from the palace" (refrain from comfortable living), "abstain from entertainment," "partake in fasting," as well as many other measures to help them engage in self-reflection and "cultivate virtue." Some ancient Chinese monarchs would even "consider themselves responsible for all human crimes," that might have brought the calamities. The monarchs would beg the nation to forgive them for their "unfit administration." Virtuous ancient Chinese monarchs' reactions to natural calamities were in compliance with ancient rules for government and administration such as "taking the heavenly law as the guiding principle, and virtue as the foundation of administration," as well as "a monarch's morality must comply with Heaven's requirement of him."

As a monarch genuinely prays for his subjects, his virtuous conduct will move heaven and Earth, and he will leave a good example for future generations. Cheng Tang [1], the founder of the Shang Dynasty (16th to 11th century B.C.), was a benevolent and virtuous king. In The Biographies of Emperors (or Di Wang Shi Ji in Chinese), Cheng was described as a man "nine feet in height, with the virtue of a saint." During the Xia Dynasty (21st to 16th century BC), when Cheng was still a feudal lord, he went on a tour and saw a hunter spreading nets in all four directions while praying to heaven, "May all the birds in the sky, and all the beasts on earth in all four directions be trapped in my nets."

When Cheng Tang witnessed this scene, he sighed and said, "Such cruel acts as spreading the nets in all four directions to catch all living birds and beasts are the very acts of the tyrant Jie of the Xia Dynasty." Cheng Tang ordered the hunter to remove the nets in three of the directions, leaving one net in one direction. The hunter changed his prayer to, "May all the wild creatures on the left escape further to the left. May all the wild creatures on the right escape further to the right. May all the wild creatures flying in the air soar higher. May all the wild creatures escaping toward the earth make a quick escape downward. Let only those wild creatures who are destined to die enter my nets." When the feudal lords in the Han Nan area heard this story, they complimented Cheng Tang's virtuous deed, "Cheng Tang is so virtuous that he was compassionate toward even the wild birds and beasts. It is not only men that will receive the benevolence of the king!" Soon a total of 36 feudal lords pledged their allegiance to him. This is the origin of a famous Chinese idiom: "Spread only one side of the net," which now means, "giving the wrongdoer a way out for a second chance."

According to the Book of Zhou (or Zhou Shu in Chinese), after Cheng Tang completed an honorable crusade that ended the reign of Jie, a tyrant of the Xia Dynasty, "3,000 feudal lords gathered to determine the new ruler of China. Cheng Tang presented the imperial seal that he acquired from Jie, placed it on the left of the Chinese emperor's empty seat, and bowed repeatedly to the seal. Upon completing paying respect to the imperial seal, Cheng Tang took his seat as a feudal lord, and said, "This throne belongs to a man of virtue, for China is a property of any family. Only a virtuous man should rule China. Only a man with principles (Tao) can govern the world because only a man with principles (Tao) knows how to govern the country properly." Of all 3,000 feudal lords, no one dared to claim the throne. Cheng Tang modestly declined the unanimous vote of all feudal lords three times before he finally took the imperial seat graciously.

After Cheng Tang established the Shang Dynasty, the serious drought that had started during the reign of Jie of the Xia Dynasty continued to plague China. The drought, which lasted for seven years, caused all the rivers and wells to dry up, killed all the grass and trees, and stopped the crops from germinating, thus denying the people any crop harvests. From the beginning of the drought, Cheng Tang had set up an altar in the suburbs, and prayed earnestly to Heaven to end the drought with rain. Seven years had passed, but the drought persisted. Cheng Tang ordered the royal astronomer to seek a solution via divination. After the divination, the astronomer said, "We must use sacrifice a man to God to end the drought." Cheng Tang thought for a while and said, "I am praying for rain for the sake of my subjects. If we have to sacrifice a man to heaven, I will volunteer to be the sacrifice." Next Cheng Tang took a bath, abstained from meat in his diet, trimmed his hair and nails, and drove a white horse carriage, wearing a white coarse linen robe with a white belt to the alter at the mulberry grove. Cheng Tang said his prayer to heaven, "The fault is mine and mine alone. Please do not punish my subjects. If my subjects had done anything wrong that might contribute to the drought, I must be the root cause for their wrongdoings. Heaven and ghost spirits, please do not hurt my subjects because I failed to guide them properly due to my insufficient capability."

Next Cheng Tang rebuked himself for six matters and said, "Was the drought caused by any lack of law and order in my administration? Was it because I had been oblivious to my subjects' hardships and because I failed to fulfill their expectations? Was the drought caused by any corruption of the government officials that I was not aware of? Did I waste any money or manpower building an imperial palace on a large scale? Did I allow the queen to interfere with politics? Did I employ corrupt and malicious government officials and take their bad advice?" By the time Cheng Tang finished his self-reflection, it began to pour within several thousand li's [a unit of linear measurement equal to about one third of a mile]. The story about Cheng Tang's volunteerong to be the live sacrifice to Heaven was recorded in The Historic Records by Luu (or Luu Shi Chun Qiu in Chinese), The Works of Mocius [2] (or Mo Zi in Chinese), The Works of Xun Zi [3] (or Xun Zi in Chinese), The History of the Zhou, Lu, Qi, Jin, Zhen, Chu, Wu, Yue Dynasties (or Guo Yu in Chinese), Shuo Yuan (written by Liu Xiang) as well as many other historic books. The story of Cheng Tang was consistently recorded in those books.

Cheng Tang ruled the nation with his virtue, and "governed his subjects with immense tolerance," which promoted the strength and prosperity of the Shang Dynasty. The Odes to Shang says, "Since Cheng Tang established the Shang Dynasty, all neighboring nations came to pledge their allegiance to Cheng, and gave him royal respect." The poem reflected the prosperity of the Shang Dynasty at that time. Cao Zhi, the feudal lord of Weichen, as well as a famous poet, also recorded Cheng Tang's virtue in "Ode to Cheng Tang," "Cheng Tang led the charge in a crusade against the Xia Dynasty, and all other feudal lords admired the just cause. Cheng Tang fought with Jie and sent him to exile in Mingtiao. Cheng Tang rose up to the throne, prayed at a mulberry grove for his subjects and ended the drought. Cheng Tang took Yin Yi as the prime minister, who became a virtuous and talented prime minister." The "Ode to Cheng Tang Who Prayed in Mulberry Grove says," "In the Shang Dynasty, there was a severe drought that lasted seven years. Cheng Tang prayed at a mulberry grove to heaven for rain. He cut his hair and nails short, and volunteered to sacrifice his own life for people that touched the Heavens, which bestowed rain." Zhou Yuxin's "Ode to Cheng Tang Who Undid the Net" says, "Signs of good fortune emerged one after another, such as pearls floating up in a river, pieces of jade being found in the earth, trees of good fortune growing healthy, and mulberry trees forming mulberry groves. Cheng Tang undid nets on three sides, and left only one side open to leave most of the wild creatures unharmed. Cheng Tang governed the nation with virtue and a kind heart. Cheng Tang reigned for thirteen years, and died at the age of one hundred."

With several thousand years of history as our lessons, modern times should be better than before. However, today's China, under the reign of Jiang Zemin for twelve years, especially in past four years, Falun Gong practitioners who conduct themselves with the principles of "Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance" have been brutally persecuted by the evil head, Jiang Zemin, driven by his mad jealousy of the popularity of Falun Gong. Eventually, his tyrannical nature provoked the wrath of God and the anger of man. SARS is now prevalent all over China, accompanied by earthquakes, droughts, and plagues of locusts, which have been getting worse every year. When man stops committing this evil crime which causes heavenly rage, man will be conforming to the righteous principles of Heaven.

[1] Cheng Tang was also known as Prince Tang, or Feudal Lord Tang, who overthrew the tyrant Jieh of the Xia Dynasty and established the Shang Dynasty in 1766 B.C.

[2] Mocius, or Mo Ti, was one of the great philosophers of the Epoch of Warring States, who preached love without distinction, or compassion.

[3] Xun Zi, or Xun Kuang, was known for his doctrine of man's natural wickedness.

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