Ancient Ways of Conduct: Pei Xingjian, a General Not After Profit

Hong Ming

PureInsight | September 8, 2003

[] Pei Xingjian was a government official during the Tang Dynasty in China (618 – 907 AD). Pei's ancestors had always been officials as well. Su Dingfang, a famous general at the time, was extremely confident in Pei's abilities. One day he told Pei, "No one else but you is worthy of learning my war strategies and tactics." So, Su taught Pei everything he knew, and Pei later became a great general.

During the early years of Emperor Diaolu's reign, the Tujue people (an early nomadic Turkish tribe) were rebelling against the Tang Dynasty, and Pei was ordered to suppress them. When Pei was informed that the Tujue had raided the Tang army's food supply on the transportation route and caused the starvation of many soldiers, he ordered a few hundred weak and old soldiers to transport 300 more wagons filled with food to replenish the supply. Each carriage had five well-equipped soldiers hidden inside, and Pei positioned many well-trained soldiers in various strategic locations along the transport route as well. When the Tujue raided the carriages, the weak and elderly soldiers fled on sight, and the Tujue took the carriages to the riverside to have a feast. At the moment when they took off their armor and were getting ready to cook and eat, the hidden soldiers jumped out of the carriages and the soldiers that had been placed along the transport route came charging in. Very quickly, nearly the entire gang of Tujue food raiders was wiped out. From that day on, they never again dared to raid the food wagons.

One night when his troops had just finished setting up camp, Pei suddenly ordered everyone to re-locate camp up in the mountains. No one was pleased with his decision because they were all tired and had just settled down to rest. But Pei refused to listen, and ordered everyone to pack up their gear quickly and move out. Shortly after they were finished, a severe rainstorm came and flooded the old camp site with 10 feet of water. When the soldiers saw this they were shocked and asked Pei how he knew it was going to rain and flood the old camp-site. He said, "From now on just listen to me. You don't need to know how I knew this was going to happen."

General Pei was very generous and never pursued profit. We can see this from the historical record:

One time Pei sent a servant to buy some rhino bones and musk, which were pricey ingredients for a certain Chinese medicine. On his way back, the servant inadvertently lost what he had bought. He was afraid of the punishment he thought he'd receive so he ran away. On another occasion shortly after, the Emperor rewarded Pei for his outstanding service with a horse and a saddle. When a servant went out to test ride the horse for Pei , he accidentally damaged the saddle. He also ran away out of fear of punishment. Pei ordered people to go out and find both of the servants and bring them back to him. When they were found, he told them, "You are mistaken about being punished; why would you think so low of me?" He didn't punish the servants at all.

After Pei settled the rebellions of the Duzhi and Zhefu clans, his soldiers wanted to take a look at the treasures that were given to him from the Emperor as rewards. So Pei displayed the treasures at a dinner party one night. Among them was a beautiful red jade plate that measured two feet in diameter. When one of the soldiers was carrying the plate up the stairs, he tripped on his cloths and fell, and the plate was smashed to pieces. The solider was scared out of his wits and began kowtowing to Pei until his forehead bled. Pei laughed and said, "This is not your fault! Please stop kowtowing." He didn't show a bit of regret for the broken plate. Even though the Emperor rewarded him with a lot of treasures, Pei distributed them to his family members, friends and subordinates in just a few days.

According to the historical texts, Pei had the ability of clairvoyance. Every time he went to war, he was able to predict the date of his victory. He also had the ability to select the best people for a job. Yang Jiong, Wang Bo, Lu Zhaolin and Luo Binwang were famous scholars of his time. But Pei said after meeting them, "Although they are gifted, they do not have the destiny to enjoy a nobleman's life. Yang Jiong has the most virtue among them, and he'll be a low-level commander, but the others won't enjoy a successful life." His prediction came true. Wang Bo drowned when he was only 27 years old. Lu Zhaolin struggled with poverty and illnesses all his life. Luo Binwang joined the rebellion against the female Empress Wu Zetian. The rebellion was soon put down, and nobody knew what happened to Luo. Yan Jiong was the only person out of the four who had a smooth albeit unremarkable life just like General Pei had predicted.

Su Weidao and Wang Ju were both important officials during the Tang Dynasty. Before they rose to prominence, Pei employed them right after he met them. He told them, "You two will be very important officials in the Emperor's court." Later on, their lives did indeed turn out the way Pei had prophesied.

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