Most people do not cheat others deliberately. However, when a situation turns against one’s personal interests, some may not regard integrity and honesty as their highest priority. In ancient China, a vow was made with honor and keeping a vow, regardless of any change of circumstances, was seen as a virtue.
Integrity and honesty were very important part of traditional Chinese culture. However, in modern-day China these virtues are often lost. Nowadays, contaminated food, fake goods, dangerous products flood the markets. Corruption and dishonesty seem to be endemic. These phenomena raise important questions about China’s role in the global world. Does the 21st century really belong to China?
Modern China is built on political force and purely monetary factors. Without the true intrinsic values and essence of its traditional culture, it is unlikely to earn genuine respect from other countries, however much this is sought.
The book ‘Records of the Grand Historian(91BC) told a special story which illustrated these cultural values. In the spring and autumn period (771BC-476BC)’, Ji Zha, son of the governor of State Wu stopped in State Xu to visit the governor of State Xu, when en route to State Jin. The governor of Xu admired Ji Zha’s sword. Ji Zha needed to carry the sword on his journey to visit State Jin, but he decided in his mind that he would give the sword to the governor of Xu on his return. He didn’t tell anyone of this intention. However, when Ji Zha returned the governor of Xu had passed away. Ji Zha hung his sword on a tree branch next to the governor’s tomb, in order to fulfill his promise. One may ask , “why is he so determined to keep his promise?” Ji Zha said: “I promised him in my mind, how could I change my mind because of his death?” Now thousands of years have passed and no one quite knows the value of the sword, however Ji Zha has been remembered and admired as a noble gentleman throughout Chinese history because of this simple and pure gesture.
Zhuge Liang was the general commander of State Shu of the Three-Kingdom period (220-280 A.D.). He deployed soldiers to Qishan Mountain to defend the border. To preserve soldiers’ strength, Zhuge Liang split the troupe of two hundred thousand into two groups, with each group taking turns to be on active duty. They changed shift every 100 days. Their enemies threatened to attack when the two groups were about to change shift. Some suggested holding onto the soldiers who were about to finish their shift and let them stay and fight. General Zhuge said: “No, I command my troop based on trust, my order was already given, my soldiers are planning to go home, their parents and wives are waiting for them at home. I would not ask them to stay even if I were fighting a war today.” The soldiers were deeply moved and wanted to stay to fight the enemies.
Ji Zha hung his sword on the tree branch as he viewed honesty as more valuable than his priceless sword. Zhuge Liang kept his promise when facing imminent war, as he regarded honesty was more important than gain or loss of a fight. From these stories we can see how much ancient people treasured the value of honesty and keeping their vows.
Zisi, the grandson of Confucius, once said: “With integrity, everything will come together; nothing will become of a man who does not have integrity”. Confucianism viewed honesty as a tangible and enduring feature of time and space, just like the Sun and the Moon’s continuous rotation. Everything exists because of it. If one loses honesty, one will not be in harmony with the universe and will therefore be beset with all sorts of problems. One may have trouble in business or with reputation, for example. A dishonest person will also end up losing trust in relationships and will eventually lose his family and friends. An honest person will always treat others kindly and be considered a valuable member of society. Thus, honesty or integrity is a fundamental characteristic that a person, a nation and the world should live up to.
Would love within a marriage be true and pure if it was based on certain conditions, or if promises depended on circumstances? How could it be everlasting? If everyone, from family members to the society at large, put their personal interests first, nobody would be trusted; how lonely we would all feel!
As ancient Chinese people saw it, a promise should be made sincerely and could not be changed by any circumstances. When Ji Zha hung his sword next to the governor Xu’s tomb, he chose to honor his promise. The essence of 5000 years of Chinese civilization is marked by pursuing truthfulness as in Taoism, and by following Confucius’s code of ethics: benevolence, justice, propriety, wisdom, and integrity. By following these simple rules in life, one can live a joyful and tranquil life.
However, honesty and keeping promises are not always easy to do. Those who make promises too easily, often don’t gain trust from others. One has to think carefully and be responsible to one’s promise and actions. In our daily life, we can constantly ask ourselves, “What should I do? Could I shoulder this responsibility?” Those who are truly honest are clearheaded and choose wisely. In the practice of keeping promises and being honest, one constantly tempers one’s heart and isn’t deterred by tribulations. It could be called a way of life. With this characteristic, one can face the challenging world with peace and ease.