Ancient Ways of Conduct: The Altruism of Bing Ji

Hong Ming

PureInsight | July 28, 2003

Bing Ji Inquiring about the Health of a Herdsman's Cow

Painting on silk by a Song Dynasty artist
From the left: The owner of the cow, Bing Ji, and two attendants

[] During the reign of Emperor Wu in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–23 AD), the Crown Prince of that time was framed by his enemies and executed for planning to overthrow the Emperor. The Crown Prince had a grandson who was only a few months old. The baby boy lost his family in this tragedy, because they were executed along with the Crown Prince.

Bing Ji was one of the government officials investigating this case. He was a very kindhearted man and sympathized with the baby, who had lost his parents at such a young age and was left with no one to care for him. Moreover, during the investigation, Bing Ji discovered that the crown prince had been falsely charged with planning to overthrow the emperor, which made him feel all the more sad for the tragic fate and misery of this innocent child.

Bing Ji carefully chose two honest, kind and prudent female prisoners to be the nannies of the baby boy, the great grandson of the Emperor Wu. Later, someone reported to Emperor Wu that he had received an unusual celestial sign that suggested that a future emperor was now in the Chang An Prison. [Note: Chang An was the capital of the Han Dynasty. ] Emperor Wu immediately ordered the execution of all the prisoners at the Chang An prison, regardless of the severity of their crimes. When the royal messenger arrived at the prison in the middle of the night, Bing Ji shut the main gate of the prison and refused to let him in. Bing Ji declared, "The great grandson of Emperor Wu is here. An innocent civilian should not be executed for an invalid reason, let alone the great grandson of His Majesty." Bing Ji and the royal messenger both tenaciously insisted on their own viewpoints for the entire night. At dawn the royal messenger still could not enter the prison, so he had to return to Emperor Wu, reporting that Bing Ji had refused to comply with the Emperor's order. Upon receiving the report, Emperor Wu suddenly came to his senses and said, "It must be the will of heaven." Thereafter, he declared a general pardon for all prisoners in China. Thus, all the prisoners at Bing Ji's prison survived.

Then Bing Ji told the other government officials in charge of the prison that jail was not a proper place for the great grandson of Emperor Wu, so he sent the baby and his wet nurse to the mayor of the capital city. Unfortunately, the mayor refused to look after the baby and sent him back to Bing Ji. Later, when the wet nurse completed her jail term, the baby boy did not want to part with her. Bing Ji then hired her with his own money, so that she could continue to look after the boy. When the local government stopped paying for the boy's living expenses, Bing Ji started to provide for the boy as well. Because of the poor living conditions in jail, the boy nearly died of severe illnesses several times, but each time Bing Ji saved his life by calling in a doctor and prompting the wet nurse to take extra care of him.

After a very long period of time, Bing Ji finally found out from several reliable sources that the mother and brothers of the boy's grandmother were still alive. Bing Ji made great efforts to get in contact with them and successfully returned the boy to his family.

Many years later, when the boy reached the age of 18 or 19, the young Emperor who succeeded Emperor Wu suddenly passed away and did not leave any heir. Bing Ji submitted a recommendation to the higher authority of the Royal Court to install the great grandson of Emperor Wu as Emperor. The great grandson of Emperor Wu thus ascended to the throne, but he had absolutely no idea that Bing Ji had saved his life many times. He promoted Bing Ji to the position of Marquis, because Bing Ji had recommended him for the throne. Bing Ji had never told anyone about the help he had provided to the Emperor, so no one at the royal court knew.

Eight or nine years soon passed since the day of the Emperor's ascension to the throne. One day a palace maid submitted a letter to the Emperor, claiming that she had once nursed the Emperor. The Emperor ordered his officials to find out the truth, and discovered that he owed Bing Ji his life.

The Emperor was very touched by Bing Ji's altruism, so he immediately conferred the title of Marquis of Bo Yang to Bing Ji and increased his official salary. Unfortunately, Bing Ji was very ill and the Emperor was worried that Bing Ji might die before he had a chance to return his enormous favor. The teacher of the Crown Prince said to the Emperor, "Bing Ji will surely survive the illness. I have heard that highly moral people will be rewarded with good fortune. Even his descendants will be blessed with virtue. Bing Ji has accumulated an enormous amount of high virtue and has not been rewarded accordingly; therefore, he will definitely recover from the illness."

Sure enough, Bing Ji survived. He was later made Prime Minister. His descendants were all had the title of Marquis conferred on them until the decline of the Han Dynasty. The wisdom of the teacher of the Crown Prince proved to be true.

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