Benevolence and Virtue Can Change People
Lu Gong, courtesy name Zhongkang, (32 – 112 AD) lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 – 220 AD). He studied the Five Classics
and Lu Poetry
when he was very young. Given his studies, he became well-known for his wealth of knowledge, etiquette and propriety. The county magistrate knew that his family was poor and therefore sent him grain every year, but Lu Gong did not accept them. The magistrate admired his noble character and wanted to give him an official title, as he was too young to be a real official. Lu Gong politely declined.
After Lu Gong came of age, he became the magistrate of Zhongmou County. At the beginning of his term, he demonstrated his great virtue and moral behavior. Lu applied virtue to change people, and instead rarely used punishment. During his time in office, the people of Zhongmou were honest and lived peacefully.
On one occasion, someone complained to Lu Gong that a neighborhood official had borrowed his ox and refused to return it. Lu Gong thus summoned the official for questioning.
Lu Gong said, "You borrowed someone's ox and you should return it after the work has been done. Now the owner has come to me to complain. You should immediately return the ox and apologize to the owner."
The official cried, “Your honor, when did I borrow his ox? That is my ox!"
The owner of the ox said, "This is not true! You borrowed my ox, but why don't you admit it?"
The official responded, "He is fabricating things! Why would I borrow an ox from him?"
Lu Gong sighed deeply, "There is no need to argue. It doesn't matter which one of you is right. I am responsible. It is my failure that I have not been able to change you into people with high morals. I believe it to be my fault." After he said that, he took off his official robes and was ready to resign.
"Please don't quit," his subordinates begged him in tears.
"Please don't leave us," cried all his citizens.
"Please don't quit. I'll give up my ox. Please don’t leave your post because of this incident," said the ox owner.
After seeing this, the neighborhood official was very embarrassed. He said,"Your honor, I am at fault. I was possessed by corrupt thoughts. I will return the ox to him. Please punish me for my crime." The official finally admitted his wrongdoing. Lu Gong asked the official to return the ox and did not punish him. All the citizens were impressed by the way Lu Gong handled the situation.
One time, locusts invaded all the counties, with the exception of Zhongmou County. The Intendant of Henan, Yuan An, heard about it and did not quite believe it. He sent Fei Qin, an official, to investigate. Lu Gong accompanied Fei Qin to inspect the fields. Fei Qin sat under a mulberry tree and saw a pheasant fall down and a child nearby.
"Why don't you catch the bird?" asked Fei Qin.
"She is hatching the little pheasants and I feel sorry for her."
Fei Qin got up immediately after hearing that and went back to report to Yuan An.
"There are three unusual things in Zhongmou County. First, the locusts will not invade that county. Second, even the birds and animals are immersed in compassion. Third, even a little child has compassion in his heart. If I had stayed there any longer, I would only have disturbed the goodness that permeated that county."
Thus, Intendant Yuan An reported Lu Gong's virtue to the imperial court.
After Lu Gong finished his term in Zhongmou County, he was transferred directly to the imperial court due to his outstanding performance, and promoted to a high-ranking official. Not long after Emperor He of the Han Dynasty (ruling from 88 – 105 AD) ascended to power, he desired to attack the nomadic tribes of the west. Many officials wrote memorials advising against the war but the emperor was steadfast. Lu Gong was resolute as well, and wrote, “For many years, the people have lived in hardship and the treasury is vacuous. At the height of spring, starting a war would only create turbulence for all, and is really not a favor to the nation. The Heavens gave life to all the people and the Heavens care for its creations. If one also cares for the people, the Heavens will reward accordingly. Those who are victorious using virtue will remain alive while those who are victorious using force will perish. Today there are natural disasters and a great drought. This is the result of actions against Heaven’s will. Officials and the common people alike oppose a war, yet Your Majesty still wishes to follow your own plan. I hope that Your Majesty can observe the Heavens, examine the people’s aspirations, and follow the Heaven’s will!”
Lu Gong was a good official who cared for the people and stressed the importance of moral behavior. The people loved him because he was tolerant and benevolent. Stories about the way he applied virtue to change people were told for generations.