Lessons from Life: Jealousy Harms Ourselves and Others

Guan Ming

PureInsight | April 18, 2005

[PureInsight.org] About 20 years ago, the Chinese government put a group of young scholars who had received government scholarships to study abroad in Japan through a special Japanese language training program at the Dalian Foreign Language College before they were to leave for Japan. I was one of the students. There were only three female students in our class. Two of them were ordinary looking, but the third one was a stunning beauty. Naturally, that young lady became the belle of the class whom every male scholar in the class tried to please. Consequently, the other two women were not getting any attention and felt neglected, and became very jealous of her.

Dalian is located in northeastern China where the winter nights are unbelievably cold. Because there was no bathroom in the students' dormitories, we had to walk a long distance in sub-zero temperatures if we needed to use the bathroom outside the dormitories at night. The three women shared a dormitory room that was further from the bathroom than the male dormitory rooms. One night, the beautiful girl had to use the bathroom in a hurry, so she hopped out of her bed in short-sleeve T-shirt and shorts and hurried to the bathroom. However, when she returned from the bathroom, she found that the door of her room had been locked from inside. She kept calling out her two roommates while standing outside in sub-zero temperature, but no one came out to open the door for her. Her calling in the middle of the night woke up many students in the male dorm rooms. Many of them got out of their beds and looked outside the window. They saw the beautiful lady trembling in the biting wind, but they couldn't figure out what was happening. Eventually, she had no choice but to smash the window on the door with a brick in order to get inside the dormitory. Even when she finally entered her room, her two roommates still pretended to be sound sleep. From then on, the beauty and the two jealous women became enemies. They exchanged fierce looks whenever they met. In fact, they never spoke a word to each other throughout the rest of the training.

The episode made a deep impression on me. It struck me as shocking that people can be consumed by their jealousy! The Chinese people have developed very introverted personalities due to the influence of Confucianism, and this introverted personality has caused us to have very strong jealousy. In Chinese history, there were several historic characters most notorious for their mad jealousy. Among them, Zhou Yu and Pang Juan were the two most jealous characters in history.

There was a famous Chinese novel called The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It is a book mixing facts with fiction about the epoch of the rival Three Kingdoms, Wei, Han and Wu. The episodes where Zhuge Liang (the greatest strategist of Han State) vexed Zhou Yu (a famous militarist and strategist of Wu State) three times in a row are probably the most famous parts of the novel. Zhou Yu was a young talented militarist and strategist. He was appointed the chief commander of the Wu army at the young age of 24. He urged his king, Sun Quan, to establish an alliance with the Han Kingdom to fight against the Wei Kingdom, which controlled all the North China Plains. Even though they were outnumbered, Wu and Han armies defeated Wei army in the decisive battle of Red Cliffs of 228 AD. Zhou Yu was only 34 at the time.

However, Zhou Yu had one tragic flaw. He was overly competitive, which caused him to become short-tempered, narrow-minded, arrogant, emotional and, worst of all, extremely jealous of people with more talent than him. He saw Zhuge Liang, the counselor to the Han Kingdom and the most famous military strategist in Chinese history, as his archenemy. Zhuge Liang, on the other hand, was known to be a generous, humble, a prudent and diligent scholar with vision. In order to defeat the strongest of the three kingdoms, Wei, Zhuge Liang was willing to work with Zhou Yu to win the Battle of the Red Cliffs together. Instead of humbly learning from Zhuge Liang, after they won the battle together, Zhou Yu always sought opportunities to defeat Zhuge Liang or have him assassinated. However, the ingenious Zhuge Liang was always one step ahead of him. He always had the perfect countermoves, which humiliated Zhou Yu even more and severely injured his hubris. After a final defeat in a battle of wits, Zhou Yu shrieked in despair and died shortly afterwards. Even before he died, he was completely consumed by his mad jealousy. Before he died, he mourned, "God, since you have created me, why did you have to create Zhuge Liang!" The fact that Zhou Yu refused to settle for second place and insisted on being in first place at all cost revealed his severe attachment to vanity and his jealousy of Zhuge Liang's talent.

Pang Juan (the general of the Wei State during the Warring States Period) was even more madly jealous than Zhou Yu. Pang Juan and Sun Bin were both students under the tutelage of an ingenious military strategist named Gui Gu Zi, a recluse who lived on a mountain. They were both very talented, but Sun Bin was the more talented of the two. Pang Juan had graduated earlier and become the general of Wei State before Sun Bin completed his studies. Pang knew Sun Bin was more talented than he was, so he was worried that King Hui of Wei might promote Sun to a position above him. So Pang devised a vicious scheme to frame Sun Bin for treachery behind his back. As a result, the King Hui found Sun guilty of treason and Pang Juan had Sun Bin's kneecaps removed and his cheeks tattooed with the word, "treachery." Sun Bin survived by pretending to be mentally deranged. To verify Sun Bin's insanity, Pang Juan even imprisoned Sun Bin in a pig pen and fed him with pig feces. The ambassador of the Kingdom of Qi rescued Sun Bin during a trip to the Wei State and brought him back to the Qi State. Once in the Qi State, Sun Bin impressed the King of Qi with his outstanding talent and wisdom as a military advisor. He won the respect and trust of the King of Qi, and was appointed chief military advisor working with a co-commander of the Qi army, Tian Ji. However, Sun Bin would hide himself in the curtained chariot to avoid alarming Pang Juan.

In 354 BC, the King of Wei had Pang Juan initiate a large-scale attack on the Kingdom of Zhao. By 353 BC, the Kingdom of Zhao was losing badly. As a result, the neighboring State of Qi decided to help Zhao. The strategy Qi used, suggested by the ingenious tactician Sun Bin, was to attack Wei's territory while the main Wei army was busy laying a siege on Zhao, forcing the Wei army to retreat. The strategy was a success. The Wei army hastily retreated, and encountered the Qi midway, culminating in the Battle of Guiling where the Wei army was decisively defeated. The event spawned the famous phrase, "Attacking Wei to save Zhao."

In 341 BC, the Kingdom of Wei attacked the Kingdom of Han, and the Kingdom of Qi tried to help Han. Pang Juan and Sun Bin met on the battlefield again. Sun Bing devised the brilliant strategy of directly attacking the capital city of Wei since the Wei army had become exhausted after having been battling with the Han for a long period of time. Again, Pang Juan had to retreat from Han to save the capital city. When Pang Juan returned to his capital, he found that the Qi army had already retreated. Outraged by the defeat in Guiling and Sun Bin's attack on Qi's capital city, Pang Juan was determined to wipe out Qi's army. He pursued Sun Bin's army for three days. Each day he saw fewer marks of campfires on the ground and delightedly thought a larger and larger number of Qi's soldiers had fled. Thus he walked into a trap that Sun Bin set up in a narrow passage in a mountain in Maling. His army was besieged in the narrow mountain passage where he had no place to hide or flee. When Pang Juan was finally cornered under a giant tree at night, he lit a torch and found a large area of the tree trunk had been peeled away and inscribed with the message, "Pang Juan died under this very tree!" This was the very moment Sun Bin was waiting for.

The torch Pang Juan lit was a signal for the Qi army to attack. When Sun Bin saw the light of the torch and saw Pang Juan had read the message on the tree, he shouted out the order, "Shoot!" The entire Qi army started shooting tens of thousands of arrows at the torch in the dark. Pang Juan collapsed with hundreds of arrows in him like a porcupine before he killed himself. Before he died, he said, "That other guy is going to be extremely famous for this battle!" Of course, "that other guy" must have referred to Sun Bin. Even in the second before he died, Pang Juan was still overcome with his jealousy of Sun Bin's superior talent.

Jealousy is a like a poisonous dagger with a blade at each end. It harms others and the holder of the dagger. Once a man develops jealousy over another, he will be possessed by his jealousy. Zhou Yu and Pang Juan were stubbornly jealous to the end of their lives.

According to modern medical experts, jealousy can cause a lot of heart-related diseases. In the western culture, the moral of the story of Snow White is that jealousy makes a person vicious and will lead him to his tragic ruin. History has taught us that people driven by their vicious jealousy to attack the subjects of their jealousy are pretty much shooting at their own feet. The jealous people will create for themselves a bad reputation that will be long remembered or they will become laughing stocks for generations to come. Everyone who resolves to be a moral person should be genuinely happy for other people's merits, talents and/or good fortune and accept other people's success with a big heart.

Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2004/11/24/30036.html

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