Ancient Stories about Being a Good Neighbor
Living in society, one needs to interact with others. Traditional Chinese culture places an emphasis on virtue and ethics when dealing with others in interpersonal relationships, including the relationship between neighbors. As the ancient saying goes: "One of the great treasures of a country is that it has people with virtue that are kind to their neighbors." Another ancient saying is: "It is an act of following the Tao to help those who are suffering difficulties and to have sympathy for neighbors. Those who follow the Tao will have good fortune."
Ancient Chinese people believed that being kind to others is a basic principle in societal life, and that those who often do good deeds will truly have good fortune. There are many stories about noble people being kind and tolerant towards others and helping those in trouble. Here are several such stories.
Tao Yuanming Chose to Live in the South Village
Tao Yuanming (365 – 427 AD) was a renowned poet in the Jin Dynasty. He wrote in a poem: "I had thought of moving into the South Village but not because I liked the houses there. It was because I heard there were many simple-hearted people [there], and I would love to spend days and nights with them." He chose to move to the South Village because he liked the simple-minded and pure-hearted villagers there.
Tao Yuanming was a simple-hearted person himself. He farmed the land every day and wrote poems to express his aspirations. He was content with a simple and frugal lifestyle, and he enjoyed living according to the Tao.
He further described his friendship with his neighbors in a poem. "We often get together, and each of us expresses our views openly and frankly. When one has obtained a wonderful article, we read it together; when someone has questions or confusions, we discuss them together." The neighbors helped each other and enjoyed a harmonious relationship, which formed a beneficial environment that helped everyone further strengthen his moral values.
Sima Hui Gave Away His Pig
Sima Hui (? – 208 AD) of the Eastern Han Dynasty was a well-known scholar. He was very good at identifying virtuous and talented people. One day, a neighbor lost a pig. It so happened that Sima Hui's pig looked very similar to the neighbor's lost pig. The neighbor mistakenly thought that Sima Hui's pig was his lost pig. Sima Hui did not argue with him; instead, he said: "If it is yours, then take it." The neighbor took the pig home right away.
A few days later, this neighbor found his lost pig elsewhere. He felt very ashamed and returned the pig to Sima Hui. Sima Hui comforted him, saying that it was not unusual to make such mistakes between neighbors. In addition, Sima Hui praised him for being understanding and willing to correct his mistakes. The neighbor was very moved. Later, people called Sima Hui "Sir Water Mirror." It was a compliment for his pure and upright character.
Zi Rudao Was Charitable to Neighbors
Zi Rudao of the Yuan Dynasty lived in the Qihe region of Dezhou City in Shandong Province. He was always happy to do good things, and he was well known in his hometown for his kindness. A fellow in Qihe, Liu Xian, and several other villagers were too poor to make a living. Zi Rudao gave them each a piece of farmland, so that they could lease the land to farmers to earn some money. Zi Rudao claimed back the land when these people passed away. One year, when a plague was spreading, it was said that a certain kind of melon would cure the illness by helping people sweat profusely. Zi Rudao bought many such melons, as well as other food, and risked contracting the plague himself to deliver the food door-to-door to people in the plagued region. He thus saved many people.
Sometimes, he gave his wheat and husked kaoliang (Chinese sorghum) to those in need in the spring. He allowed them to return payment after the harvest season without asking for any interest. If there was a poor harvest that year and people did not have enough harvested crop to pay him back, Zi Rudao would burn the note and tell them to forget about it. He often told his family: "To accumulate grain is to get prepared for famine to begin with. Therefore, if we encounter a bad harvest year, we must help our less fortunate neighbors."
Yang Zhu Sold His Donkey
Yang Zhu (1368 – 1644 AD) of the Ming Dynasty was the head of the Ministry of Rites. He usually rode his donkey to the royal court or wherever he had to go. He liked his donkey very much. Every day after he came back from the royal court, he personally fed the donkey and took good care of it.
Yang Zhu's neighbor was an elderly man. He and his wife had a son when he was almost 60 years old. Naturally, the couple was very happy as they did not have a son until they were already getting old. However, the baby would cry unceasingly every time he heard the donkey braying, which was quite disturbing for the entire family. The neighbor did not dare to bring it up to Yang Zhu, because Yang Zhu was a high-ranking official. Nonetheless, because the child was so disturbed by the donkey and could not eat much as a result, the couple told Yang Zhu about it. Yang Zhu quickly sold the donkey without hesitation. From then on, when he went to the royal court or other places, he simply walked.
The ancient sayings have it that, "A person is genuinely beautiful only if his mind is benevolent," "Have a harmonious relationship with the neighbors," and that "A person is kind and virtuous if his every word and act are intended to be beneficial to others." These sayings tell us that we should use the Tao and a sense of uprightness as the criteria to judge things. We must be strict with ourselves and tolerant towards others. We must have a heart of benevolence and sympathy and be willing to care about others, offer help to others, and be considerate of others as if we ourselves were in the same situation as the person we are trying to help.
This is cultivation of an individual's moral values, as well as the means to influence others to be good. By doing so, our society will be harmonious, filled with friendly inter-personal relationships, which is a foundation for social justice.