An Incorruptible Father and A Corruptible Son

Yangshe Zhi (羊舌职) was the minister of the Jin (晋) State in the Spring-Autumn Period. He was an upstanding and forthright man who offended many ministers. Due to his issues with other ministers he recommended himself to become a regional official. The monarch consented and gave Yangshe Zhi a post in a small city. The local people respected Yangshe Zhi as a man of integrity. They wanted to present some gifts to him, but they were very poor. They decided to steal several goats and visited Yangshe Zhi, who refused to accept the goats assuming they were bribes. Shu Ji (叔姬), the wife of Yangshe Zhi, said to her husband, “When you were in the capital, you couldn’t get along with other ministers. Now you have been to this small city; if you can’t get along with the local people, they will say that you are an unaccommodating man. So it is better that you accept a goat.” So, at his wife’s behest, Yangshe Zhi accepted one of the goats.

Yangshe Zhi had two sons, Xi (肸)and Fu (鲋). Yangshe Zhi was incorruptible, and his family was not rich. Now that he had a goat he decided to let his sons have a good meal. Yangshe Zhi said to his wife Shu Ji, “Please kill the goat and cook a good meal for Xi and Fu.” Shu Ji said, “No, we can’t. Our sons Xi and Fu are young boys, and they are imitating your behaviors. We can’t let our sons eat the meat, because the goat is a bribe.” Yangshe Zhi asked, “What can we do?” Shu Ji replied, “We can kill the goat and bury it. This shows we are not willing to accept the gift.” They then killed the goat and put it into a large earthen jar, and buried it.

Two years later, someone prosecuted Yangshe Zhi for accepting a bribe which was a stolen goat. Judicial officials went to his home to inquire. Yangshe Zhi said, “I accepted a goat, but I didn’t dare to eat it.” He told the officials what he did. The officials dug up the earthen jar, and found the intact skeleton of a goat in the large jar. It meant that Yangshe Zhi didn’t eat the goat and showed he wasn’t willing to accept the gift. The judicial officials knew then that Yangshe Zhi was innocent. They praised Yangshe Zhi saying “You are really a person of integrity.”

Yangshe Zhi was an incorruptible person. However, many years later, his son Fu lost all standing and reputation because of bribe-taking. Yangshe Fu was a judge. Xing Hou (邢侯) and Yongzi (雍子) disputed some land for a long time without coming to an agreement. Han Qi (韩起), who was one of ministers in power, ordered Yangshe Fu to judge this case. Yongzi was in the wrong and should have been held culpable. However, in order to receive a favorable judgment, Yongzi let his daughter marry Yangshe Fu. Yangshe Fu was very delighted, and pronounced Yongzi not guilty. Xing Hou felt this unfair and became very angry. At that time, all men had the right to bare arms. Xing Hou lost his mind and killed Yangshe Fu and Yongzi with his sword in the tribunal. Of course, Xing Hou was arrested. Han Qi asked Yangshe Xi about the crime of Xing Hou. Yangshe Xi thought the crimes of Yangshe Fu, Yongzi and Xing Hou were equal. This was because Yongzi offered a bribe for winning the lawsuit, Yangshe Fu perverted the law for personal gain, and Xing Hou killed the two men without scruple. He decided the three men should be put to death. Xing Hou was then executed in public, while the bodies of Yangshe Fu and Yongzi were shown to the public in order to deter further bribes.

In the Pre-Qin Era bribe-taking was a dangerous thing. The law would punish corrupt officials with severity, and people could also punish corrupt officials by their swords even if the cost was their lives. In fact, at that time, if the public were to go against a noble, no matter whether he was a minister or a monarch, he would come to no good end, and the people wouldn’t be punished or suppressed. So at that time, even a prime minister didn’t dare to accept a fish. If the common people are brave enough to show their will and strive for it, many vile social evils will disappear. The tragedy of Xing Hou was not because he killed an official, but because he ignored the law and the two men should not be punished to death by him.

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