Ancient Ways of Conduct: Empress Yin and Her Brothers Embody Tolerance and Generosity

Hong Ming

PureInsight | July 28, 2003

[] Empress Yin was the wife of Emperor Guangwu, whose real name was Liu Xiu. He was the first emperor of the Eastern Han Dynasty.

Emperor Guangwu married Yin during the warring period leading to his rule. Yin was gentle, kindhearted and tolerant and was loved by the emperor. After becoming Emperor, Guangwu wanted to make her the Empress. But she declined the offer and suggested the emperor make Imperial Concubine Guo the Empress since the latter already had a son at that time. Yin herself remained an Imperial Concubine.

Yin's family members were also tolerant and polite. Just before the emperor came into power, the country was in turmoil. Yin's mother and younger brother were killed in a riot. This made the Emperor very upset. To compensate the family for their losses, he appointed one of Yin's brothers to be the Duke of Xuanen. He had also planned to appoint an elder brother of Yin's, Yin Xing, to be a duke as well. However, Yin Xing declined the offer and said, "I have not made any contributions in battles, and another person in my family has already been appointed Duke. People will be upset if I were to be appointed a Duke as well and this is something that I do not want to see." The Emperor was so moved that he agreed to respect Yin Xing's wishes. Yin asked her elder brother why he had done this. Yin Xin told her, "Relatives of the wives of emperors are always greedy. They want all of their daughters to marry dukes and all of their sons to marry princesses. This disturbs me. One should be content with one's lot in life. People who boast of their riches are often ridiculed." Yin could not agree more. From then on she was even stricter with herself, never asking for positions or privileges for her family members.

Many years later Empress Guo lost the favor of the emperor. She became very angry and resentful, which displeased the emperor greatly. Emperor Guangwu ended up stripping the title of Empress from her and gave it to Yin.

Empress Yin's brothers, Yin Shi and Yin Xin, were high-ranking officials in the Imperial Court. They were honest, tolerant and polite, making a clear distinction between public and private interests. Even if someone didn't have a good personal relationship with them, but was talented and capable, they would recommend that person to the emperor. For those who had good personal relationships with them, but weren't capable, the brothers would only offer them private financial support, but wouldn't recommend them to serve in official positions.

Due to Empress Yin's virtue, her son, Emperor Hanming (his name was Liu Zhuang), was one of only a few emperors in China's history who was very good to his brothers. It was Emperor Hanming who sent emissaries to India to bring back the Buddhist scriptures and ultimately founded the first Buddhist temple in China, the White Horse Temple, in the city of Luoyang.

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