In ancient China there was a saying "Whether rich or poor, do not be moved by self interest or gain, nor yield to power and force." During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD), besides Wen Tianxiang (a scholar and general in the late stages of the Song Dynasty who fought against the invasion of the Mongolians), there was another man who was known to have the same courage and righteousness as Su Wu (an official in the Han Dynasty often regarded as the epitome of faithful service). His name was Hong Hao.
Hong Hao (1088 – 1155 AD), courtesy name Hong Guangbi, was born in Poyang (currently Boyang in Jiangxi Province). He was righteous and showed ambition from a young age. He once served as a diplomat to the country of Jin, but he was exiled for 15 years at Mount Leng and suffered tremendous hardships. He was, however, unmoved by adversity and loved his people selflessly. As a result, he was much well-respected by the people.
In 1115, Hong Hao placed in the top three of the national level imperial examination. Between 1119 to 1125 AD, Hong Hao was an official in Xiuzhou City. There was a disastrous flood that year and many people were left homeless. Hong Hao volunteered to take charge of the task of saving people from this disaster. He distributed food from the granary at low prices to the victims, for which the people were very grateful. At that time, rice destined for the capital from east of Zhejiang Province was passing through the city. Hong Hao asked the commander to keep the food for the hungry locals. The commander did not agree. Hong Hao said, "I am willing to exchange my life for ten thousand lives." People were deeply moved and called him "Buddha Hong." Later when the Xiuzhou army rebelled and pillaged recklessly, none of the rebels dared to pillage Hong Hao's house. They said that it was the home of “Buddha Hong.”
In 1129, Hong Hao was sent as a diplomat to the Jin nation. The Jin general, Wanyan Zonghan, tried to force Hong Hao against his will to be an official for Liu Yu, a traitor of the Song Dynasty. Hong Hao sternly refused, saying that he would rather die. Wanyan Zonghan was furious and wanted to kill him. Another official praised Hong Hao for having true loyalty and knelt in front of Wanyan Zonghan to beg him to spare Hong Hao's life. Hong Hao consequently survived, but was exiled to the Mount Leng area (currently north of Nong’an County in Jilin Province).
It was very cold in Mount Leng. Grass grew in April and snow began in August. Hong Hao lived in a cave. Once he didn’t receive any food for two years. In the hot summer he still wore thick clothes. He once used up all his wood during a snowstorm and had to burn horse dung to cook noodles. During that time, the Jin frequently sent people to try to persuade him to give in. But Hong Hao was never tempted. Later, after hearing about his reputation, the emperor of the Jin nation wanted to appoint him as a top official. Hong Hao once again refused strongly. Although he was in a very difficult situation, he still tried his best to get information for the Song Dynasty and help any Song royalty that happened to be in captivity in that area.
In 1142, Jin and Song negotiated peace. The Jin emperor gave amnesty to all prisoners on the occasion of the birth of his first son. As a result, Hong Hao could go home. When he saw the Song emperor, he asked to go back to his hometown to take care of his mother. The emperor said, "You have been so loyal to my nation. Your reputation surpasses Su Wu. How can you leave me?"
Hong Hao was exiled for 15 years. Among the 13 people who originally went on the diplomatic mission, only three came back alive. Hong Hao was the only one who was renowned for being loyal.
During his time in the Jin nation, although his situation was very difficult, Hong Hao was righteous and courageous. Even the Jin people admired him. They printed and circulated the poems written by Hong Hao. After he returned home, whenever Jin's messengers visited the Song Dynasty, they would always ask about Hong Hao’s situation.
Hong Hao once told Qin Hui (the official who framed and killed Yue Fei, the national hero in the Song Dynasty) that he cannot be satisfied with the sorry state of things for the Song Dynasty and must take back the land in the north. As a result, Qin Hui was jealous of him. Qin Hui repeatedly framed him and caused Hong Hao to be exiled again for over ten years. Hong Hao died in Nanxiong City at the age of 68. The day after he passed away, Qin Hui also died. When the emperor heard about the death of Hong Hao, he was sad and honored him with an advancement of his official rank by four grades. Hong Hao was also given the posthumous title “Zhongxuan” (proclamation of loyalty).
Because of his righteousness, Hong Hao has lived on in people's hearts throughout history. Meanwhile, those people who abandoned their conscience for personal gain and self-interest have always been shamed and reviled upon.