Fan Yuanyan grew up in a poor family in the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 AD – 589 AD). He made a living by growing vegetables.
One day, when he was heading out the door, he spotted someone stealing vegetables from his field. He went back into the house and told his mother at once. When she asked him who the thief was he said, “I do not wish to run into him out of concern that I might hurt his feelings. If I tell you his name, please do not tell anyone else.”
Together they decided to keep the thief’s identity a secret.
The next week, someone trudged across a deep ditch to steal bamboo shoots from his property. Fan decided to cut down a tree and build a simple bridge to make it easier for the thief to cross the ditch to his bamboo grove. The thieves were greatly moved by his consideration and kindness. It made them feel ashamed of their conduct and so they decided to quit stealing forever. From that day forward, there were no thefts throughout the entire village.
Liu Huan, a scholar of the Kingdom of Pei, in today’s Anhui Province, documented Fan’s virtuous deeds out of respect for him and his actions. Subsequently, during the reigns of both Emperor Ming of Qi and Emperor Wu of Liang, he was twice invited to serve in the imperial court. But Fan, content with a simple life and not interested in fame or fortune, declined both offers.
In ancient times, moral standards were high and deeply valued. Thieves would feel ashamed of their actions when confronted with kindness and generosity. There was almost no need for law enforcement at all.
Source: The Book of Liang, Volume 51, Biography of Well Known Figures No. 45; Minghui