Respecting teachers and their wise teachings is ingrained in traditional Chinese culture. According to The Book of Rites, “Respecting teachers makes one value knowledge; valuing knowledge helps promote learning.”
Standard of Conduct: Confucius’ Teachings
Confucius is one of the most acclaimed sages in ancient China. It is said that he taught about 3,000 students. Only one, Zi You, came from Southern China.
At the age of 22, Zi You traveled hundreds of miles to attend lectures by Confucius, who was 67. He was a conscientious student, who used The Book of Songs (Shi Jing) to guide his speech and The Book of Rites (Li Ji) to guide his behavior.
Both books were classic works by Confucius. The Book of Rites discussed social forms, as well as administrative and ceremonial rules, as practiced during the Warring States and the early Han periods. The Book of Songs is the oldest collection of poetry in world and touches on issues of the human mind and heart.
Given his exceptional study habits, Zi You absorbed all that he learned and put his knowledge into action. He is considered to be one of the 10 most learned disciples of Confucius.
“I am fortunate to have Zi You as my student,” said Confucius. “And I know that he could spread my teachings to Southern China.”
After being appointed head of Wucheng, Zi You managed the city with kindheartedness – a key element of Confucius’ teachings. He was well liked by the citizens of Wucheng.
When Confucius visited Wucheng he noticed that people behaved in a very civilized way. Thus, he praised Zi You for promoting good manners and virtue through education and music.
After Confucius passed away, Zi You, amongst other disciples of Confucius, compiled The Analects to record Confucius’ words.
Valuing Integrity: Emperor Guangwu and Huan Rong
When Guangwu, the first emperor of Eastern Han, was searching for a teacher for his son, Prince Liu Zhuang, his security chief He Tang recommended his former teacher Huan Rong.
Because of his vast knowledge and upright behavior, Huan was well respected as a man of integrity. Nonetheless, He Tang felt the need to remind him of what was expected of him.
“An intellectual may focus on principles and pay attention to details,” He Tang told Huan. “However being a government official requires one to be flexible. Please do not be too hard on the emperor or the prince.”
Huan responded, “I was your teacher and you know me well. I cherish virtue and had no intention of being a government official. Since His Majesty is intelligent and needs people of integrity, I accepted the assignment. How could you become so cunning and tell me to treat the emperor with leniency?”
On the basis of this, Huan attempted to submit his resignation, which was rejected by the emperor. Emperor Guangwu and Huan discussed the reason for his resignation in great detail. In the end, the Emperor agreed with Huan’s point of view and thanked him for not changing his code of behavior.
So, Huan agreed to teach the prince, but on his terms. The prince learned Shang Shu and other classical teachings from Huan, and respected him greatly. Nine years later, the prince was counted among the greatest intellects of his time. As the prince would succeed his father on the throne, Huan repeatedly asked to resign his post, insistent that he had no interest in fame.
After ascending the throne, the prince, now Emperor of Mingdi, showed his respect for Huan Rong in different ways and never stopped visiting him to further his education.