THE POWER OF YI
During the Warring States period, there was a man by the name of
Feng Xuan who lived in the Qi Kingdom. He was poor and had no viable
prospects, so he went to the palace of the wealthy duke, Lord Mengchang.
One of his friends worked there, so he was hoping to use that connection to
find employment for himself.
His friend mentioned him to the duke, and the duke asked, “What is he
Feng Xuan’s friend replied candidly, “He’s not particularly good at
The duke still wanted to find a reason to hire him. “Does he have any
Again his friend was candid: “No particular skills either.”
The duke found the brutal honesty refreshing. He laughed, “Very well!
Give him a place to sleep and something to eat.”
Thus, Feng Xuan became one of the duke’s “guests” – several
thousand men who served the duke without clearly defined duties. His
peers, seeing that the duke did not hold him in high regard, tended to look
down on him. However, the duke treated him well. He got decent food,
authorisation to use one of the duke’s chariots, and a small stipend to
support his elderly mother.
One day, the duke posted a sign for all to see, asking for a volunteer.
There was a remote region in the duke’s territory called Xue. The people of
Xue were in debt to the duke from years ago. The duke wanted someone
who could keep track of numbers accurately to go there and collect the
debts. Feng Xuan stepped forward and volunteered.
The duke, in his usual courteous manner, said to Feng Xuan: “I have
been so busy with the exhausting and confusing affairs of the state that I
haven’t had the time to work on this. Would you mind travelling to the Xue
region as my representative, and collect the loan payments on my behalf?”
Feng Xuan accepted the task and began to prepare for the trip. He
needed to take the loan documents as well as a few guards with him. When
he was done with his preparations, he reported back to the duke. “Your
Grace,” he bowed, “after I collect the money on your behalf, what would you
like me to purchase and bring back to you?”
The duke could not think of anything, so he said, “Take a look around
the palace. Whatever you see I need but do not have, that is what you
should get for me.”
After a long trip, Feng Xuan arrived at the Xue region. He had the
guards round up the villagers to go over the loan documents one by one.
The villagers were quite poor, but they all knew the payments were long
overdue, so they had no choice. Feng Xuan could tell it was difficult for
them. He looked at them and saw anxious and worried expressions. Most
of them had very little, and some had nothing at all.
Feng Xuan collected what he could and checked against the ledger.
Then, he stood up and announced: “By order of the duke, I am authorised to
return the loan payments back to you effective immediately.
The villagers were stunned as Feng Xuan gave them back the money
that was paid only a moment ago. None of them had ever seen or heard of
anything like this.
Then, they were even more surprised. Feng Xuan gathered up all the
loan documents and set them on fire. This was better than the duke
granting them an extension to pay back the load, The burning pile meant
the duke was actually writing off the loans, thus clearing the debts. They
cheered loudly. As the fire burned, they chanted. “Long live the duke! Long
live the duke!”
Feng Xuan returned to the palace and reported to the duke. The duke
was a bit surprised and asked him: “Why are you back so soon? Were you
able to collet on all the loans?”
“Your Grace, I was able to collect some of the money owed to you.”
“Good! What did you purchase for me?”
Feng Xuan said, “Your Grace, you asked me to look around and buy
whatever you needed, and I did, I saw your palace full of precious treasures,
your stables full of strong horses, and your harem full of beautiful
concubines. They only thing you really needed was Yi, so I purchased that
“What do you mean….by purchasing Yi?” The duke knew Yi meant
righteousness, but he could not see how such an intangible concept could
be bought like some sort of goods.
Feng Xuan explained: “Your Grace, you are the lord of the small Xue
region. Instead of treating the people there as a father would his children,
you wanted to extract money from them. I saw how they struggled with
extreme poverty, so I falsely claimed that I acted under your orders to return
the money to them, and also burn up the loan documents. In response,
they cheered and chanted your name. That is how I purchased Yi for you.”
The duke was not happy to hear this. Although he was very wealthy
and did not really need the money, he was expecting to get something, but
now he had nothing. Greatly annoyed, he waved Feng Xuan away: “Fine!
Let us speak no more of this matter.”
A year later, the duke encountered great misfortune. The power
struggle that was always present in the royal court of Qi went badly against
him, and King Qi indicated he would withdraw his support for the duke. This
meant the duke’s enemies were now free to attack him unopposed.
Suddenly, his entire family was in peril.
Knowing the situation was grave, Feng Xuan once again stepped
forward to volunteer. Having no idea how to save his family, the duke was
only too glad to let him take charge of the situation. Feng Xuan organised a
small group of trusted guards, and made the appropriate arrangements. In
secrecy, he escorted the duke and his family out of the palace, and they
traveled toward the remote Xue region together. He sent a scout ahead, to
let the villagers know they were coming.
A surprising sight greeted the duke when they were still many miles
from Xue. The villagers all came out to welcome him. Men, women, the
elderly, the young – there were hundreds of them. They lined the path to Xue
and they all cheered the duke’s arrival.
As he moved through the welcoming crowds, the duke suddenly
realised this was a safe haven. The villagers had already set up a secure
place where he and his family could stay. He knew they would protect him
by not revealing his whereabouts to anyone – especially the spies of his
enemies. Finally, after days of facing what he thought was certain doom, he
could now breathe a sigh of relief.
He turned to Fen Xuan and said, “Sir, this Yi that you purchased for me
– today I see it with my own eyes.”
The Universal Storyteller www.facebook/thedivineatplay