Reflections on Life: A Gentleman Compares Virtue to Jade

By Guan Ming

PureInsight | August 4, 2008

[] In ancient
China, scholars called the plum flower, the orchid, bamboo, and the
chrysanthemum the "four gentlemen." Indeed, these four gentlemen have
their own unique characteristics: the plum flower--braving snow and
frost with nobility and faith; the orchid--magnificence and splendor
with delicate fragrance; bamboo--persistence, politeness, and modesty;
the chrysanthemum--a pure and defiant recluse. Hence, they earned the
lofty title "gentlemen." At the high level of Chinese traditional
culture, there is a statement "a flower is given to a beauty, and a
jade is bestowed on a gentleman," and this statement is used to
describe the noble characteristics of a person. In his book Rites and Betroths,
Confucius said, "A gentleman compares virtue to jade, as it is gentle
and beneficent, which shows that a gentleman is the model for
appreciating human character." So even at Confucius's level, he
compared the characteristics of a gentleman to that of jade.

"The disposition of a prudent gentleman is as graceful as the luster of
jade," said Confucius. Jade is different from other materials.
Originally, it is just a stone among mountains and nobody knows about
it. Without careful cutting and polishing, it is worthless. However,
after being carved carefully, it will emanate brilliance and draw the
world's attention. Unlike diamond, gold, and silver with their dazzling
brightness, nor like transparent crystal and glass which lack essence,
jade is modest and leads to meaningful afterthoughts with the passage
of time. The temperament of jade is like a scholarly gentleman in
seclusion, so it is very fitting to compare jade to a gentleman.

In the human world, an upright gentleman is likened to jade and this
endows a more sublime connotation on the title "gentleman." In the
ancient book Guan Zi Shui Di,
it is written, "The reason why jade is precious is because it has nine
kinds of virtue: brilliant luster is its benevolence; limpid line is
its wisdom; rigidity is its righteousness; uprightness is its
integrity; clearness and brightness are its purity; being broken off
without being daunted is its courage; showing both merits and demerits
is its honesty; magnificence and luster permeating together without
mutual infringement is its tolerance; clear, pure sound when being
tapped is its orderliness; hardness without hurting people is its
nobility." This is the value of jade and also the virtue of a gentleman.

Chinese culture, ancient and profound, was imparted by the Divine, and
it manifests the harmony between man and nature and the integrity of
the cosmos, life, and virtue. Comparing the character of jade to the
virtue of a gentleman, the Confucian school endows the connotation of
virtue to jade and gives a detailed explanation. It thinks that people
should improve themselves by reflecting on and following the attributes
of jade. In the Confucian school, jade is the symbol of inborn
perfection. Confucius said, "A gentleman likens virtue to jade; he
would carry a jade forever. According to the attributes of the jade, a
gentleman can discipline his thinking." The Tao school says, "The Sage
wears simple clothing, but carries jade underneath his dress," which
implies that people don't lose their inborn nature. However, ordinary
people like to wear gold and silver, instead of carrying jade.

Because jade is an emblem of virtue, ancient people loved jade not for
its external beauty but rather its internal meaning. Therefore, by
carrying a jade, people reminded themselves to exercise self-restraint.

The Book of Songs by Wei Feng
says, "The refined gentleman is just like the well-cut, polished,
carved, and ground jade." This also delineates that the elegance of a
gentleman can be reached by cultivating one's self and by enduring a
difficult process of refinement. Hence, the grinding and polishing of
jade is similar to the cultivation of the human character. A gentleman
is as graceful as the luster of a jade, but a jade also has its own
principle and character. Therefore, a gentleman is modest and amiable,
but he is also openhearted and upright. He takes personal interest and
gain lightly and thinks of others first, but he is not weak and easily

The brilliance of jade is kept inside, and the talent of a gentleman is
not revealed all the time. However, like a sharp sword is drawn from
its sheath, this talent can't be restrained by any force when it is
needed. Modest, upright, and openhearted people who care less about
small interests and think of others first can be called genuine
gentleman and can match the attributes of jade.

Noble character is the manifestation of the Tao and can bring genuine
benefit to the people. "If jade stays in a deep pool, the water becomes
enchanted; if jade stays on a mountain, the grass becomes flourishing."
The environment can be corrected due to its upright force no matter
where the jade is located, which is just like the virtue of a gentleman
with magnanimity and benevolence.

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