Stories of the Ancients Honoring Their Teachers
The Chinese people always used to honor and respect their teachers, as it was a traditional value that formed a binding relationship between teacher and student. In teaching his students, the teacher was expected to impart virtue, his scholarly knowledge and wisdom regarding how one should behave in society. His duty was to bring life-long, valuable wisdom to his students, and for this reason, the ancient people of China had the saying, "A teacher for one day should be respected like a father for life." People paid a lot attention to their conduct and behavior, as they wanted to learn the correct moral principles that a human should possess. This would enable them to develop virtue, and because of this, they were thankful for their teacher's benevolence.
Below are three stories about teachers and students from ancient China.
King Wen and King Wu Respected Jiang Ziya as a Teacher
During the waning years of the Shan Dynasty (1571 – 1046 BC), King Wen of the Zhou region governed the western lands. He governed his people with benevolence. He understood that in order to develop a nation and to make progress, he needed people around him that exhibited virtuous behavior. He had heard that Jiang Ziya was a scholar with high moral standards, and so wanted to invite Jiang to join him. He decided on an auspicious date, took a vegetarian diet and cleansed himself, then took his followers to the city of Boxi to meet with Jiang. While talking to Jiang, King Wen saw that Jiang was indeed a very talented individual, with a magnanimous heart, high moral standards, and with a desire to bring peace to the people. King Wen said happily, "Before my grandfather passed away, he told me that one day someone of great talent would come to help me and bring prosperity to the Zhou region. You must be the one." King Wen invited him to return to the palace together in the carriage. Jiang joined King Wen's government as the prime minister and King’s Wen teacher. King Wen learned strategies to govern a nation from Jiang Ziya. As a result, the Zhou region became increasingly prosperous.
When King Wen was dying, he asked his son King Wu to treat Jiang like a father and also as a teacher. Later, Jiang Ziya helped King Wu to defeat the last king of the Shan Dynasty, and established King Wu as the King of the Zhou Dynasty.
Zigong Defended his Teacher’s Dignity
Zigong was a student of Confucius during the Spring-Autumn Period. He was bright, strict with himself and respected his teacher in every way. Zigong was not only a communicator of Confucianism, he was also a staunch defender. He took his teacher’s goals as his own, spread the ideals of virtue and benevolent governance and defended Confucius’ dignity and reputation.
When a person named Chen Ziqin asked Zigong, “What is the source of Confucius’ knowledge? He travels to different states to understand the affairs of each state. Does he ask others for information or do others tell him proactively?” Zigong replied, “The benevolent ways of King Wen and King Wu of Zhou are known throughout the world. People with virtue comprehend its deeper meaning, those without virtue can only understand the surface. Virtue and axiom exist everywhere, therefore the source of my teacher’s knowledge comes from everywhere. The way my teacher gathers information is different from ordinary means. He receives information due to his gentle, kind, respectful, frugal and humble virtue.”
When King Jinggong of the Qi State asked Zigong to give examples of Confucius’ virtue, Zigong replied immediately, “My teacher is a sage. He has more than virtue.”
When Shusun Wushu, an official in the State of Lu, attempted to slander Confucius, Zigong said solemnly, “This is futile. My teacher cannot be slandered. Others may have virtue comparable to hills that can be transcended. My teacher’s virtue is like the sun and moon, it is impossible to surpass. Even though some people claim to not rely on the sun and moon, this posts no harm to the sun and moon. This only shows the pettiness of the one making the claim!”
Zigong acted this way out of his respect for Confucius as well as his deep understanding of Confucius’ teachings. He realizes that defending truth and virtue are righteous acts.
Yue Fei Commemorated the Benevolence of his Teacher
Yue Fei (1103 – 1142 AD) was a hero from the Song Dynasty. He was born into a poor family, and his father died when he was young. As a child, he could not afford to go to school, but he had a great desire to learn, and often stood outside the school looking through the window, trying to listen to the teacher’s lectures. As he could not afford brush and paper, he just wrote on the ground using a broken twig. Teacher Zhou Tong often saw Yue Fei and realized that he was anxious to learn, so Zhou Tong offered him free schooling. Yue Fei was taught how to be an upright individual, love his countrymen fight for his country and establish lofty goals. On days that fell on odd numbers, Yue Fei would study literature, and on even-numbered days, he would learn martial arts. He was taught a special technique to shoot arrows from both sides. With great devotion to his studies, he finally became a master in both the martial arts and literature. Yue Fei later became a general that had resounding achievements on the battlefield. He led forces to reclaim lost territories and became the most feared man in the enemy Jin camp.
When Zhou Tong died, Yue Fei buried him as if he were his father. On the first and the fifteenth day of each month, Yue Fei would pay homage to Zhou Tong regardless of whether he was at home or on the frontlines. After shedding tears, he would take out the bow given to him by Zhou Tong and fire three arrows into the sky. Yue Fei said, "My teacher has taught me how to be a man and to love my country. He taught me the martial arts and marksmanship that he perfected throughout his life. I cannot forget what he did for me."
People in ancient China had a saying, "The sages in Taoism, Buddhism or Confucianism had their teachers. All ancient emperors had their teachers." People who do not respect their teachers are devoid of gratitude and will not become enlightened. All sages in history showed respect for their teachers and are role models for later generations.