The virtue of repaying kindness has been passed down through the ages. Generations upon generations have been educated about the value of this timeless principle. Untold stories have been told of people who engaged in repaying the kindness extended to them. Such is the story of Confucius and his disciples’ acts of kindness being rewarded in kind.
In the third year of Duke Ai of Lu (492 B.C.), Confucius and his disciples traveled to Song, hoping to persuade the rulers of various states. On this journey, they came across a military officer wielding a whip to drive laborers transporting stones to build a tomb for the Grand Marshal of Song. An older man, nearing his seventies, collapsed and fainted from exhaustion. As he fell to the ground, the military officer began cruelly beating the man.
Confucius couldn’t bear to see this harsh treatment and sent his disciple Zilu to dissuade the officer. The brutal officer raised his whip to strike Zilu, who drew his sword and cut the lash in half. Fearing that the situation might escalate, Confucius quickly approached the duo and paid money to appease the officer. He then instructed his disciples to help the barely alive older man onto a carriage and sent him forward for medical treatment. As Confucius and his disciples departed, the laborers were moved to tears — kneeling to bid them farewell.
Confucius and his disciples saved by guesthouse owner
Confucius and his disciples proceeded on their journey to Song. As they prepared to visit the state’s ruler, Duke Jing of Song, the group stayed at a guesthouse owned by Shi Tou in the capital city of Shangqiu. Unexpectedly, after dinner, Shi visited the group and said to them: “The military officer has just visited the inn and learned that you are staying here. Tonight, the Grand Marshal will send soldiers to come and kill you!”
Confucius was greatly alarmed and wanted to lead his disciples to safety and escape the forewarned event. Shi dressed them in merchant attire and escorted them out of the city to the border.
Before parting, Confucius asked Shi: “We are strangers; why would you risk your life to save us? Shi replied” “The old man you saved is my father. How can I not repay your great act of kindness and virtue?” Confucius was profoundly grateful. However, he feared that the Grand Marshal would harm Shi if he returned, so he wrote a letter of introduction for Shi to go to the state of Wei to find his friend Qubo Yu, asking him to arrange a job for the lifesaver.
Several years passed before Confucius arrived in the state of Wei. One day, while teaching his disciples, Sima Niu ran to him in tears and said: “Shi Tou has passed away!” Upon hearing this, Confucius immediately took his disciples to attend the funeral. They saw Shi lying on a wooden board, dressed in tattered clothes and barefoot, covered with a worn-out mat. Confucius wept silently and said: “Oh, benefactor! How did you come to such a plight?”
Confucius sells his horse
Sima explained: “While Qu Boyu was alive, Shi lived well, but after Boyu’s death, he couldn’t even make a living.” Confucius knelt and paid his respects to his benefactor. Then he turned and told Yan Hui: “Go and sell my horse, which is my means of transportation. I want to give a generous burial to my benefactor!”
Yan felt very conflicted about selling his teacher’s mode of transportation. Confucius remained firm in his decision and said: “If it weren’t for the benefactor risking his life to save us in the past, we would have long become ghosts under the blade of the Grand Marshal. How could we have survived to this day?” He sold the horse and held a grand funeral for his lifesaver Shi Tou.
This virtue of repaying kindness has been passed down to this day, educating future generations.
Translated by Joseph Wu and edited by Maria