Monday, November 15, 2021


Lord Bao (包公 'baau gung', actual name 包拯 'baau ching'; 999 to 1062 common era) was a famous magistrate and administrator during the Song dynasty (宋朝 'sung chiu'; 960 to 1279) known for his honesty, probity, and uncompromising ethics. In the centuries since then he has been the hero of operas and tales of valour.

So much so that the Bao of fiction dwarfs the Bao of fact.

What probably is true is that he stopped the practise of collecting extra tribute inkstones in the second district to which he was appointed (天長 'tin cheung' in Anhui 安徽 'ngon fai' ), was a key mover in the impeachment of Zhang Yaozuo (張堯佐 'cheung yiu jor'), who was an uncle of the favourite imperial concubine, and straightened out the civil administration of Kaifeng (開封 'hoi fung'), which had been corrupted by local gentry to a rare-thee-well.
In stage performances he is usually played with a dark face and a swirly pale birthmark on his forehead. This is partly so the people in the penny seats can spot him from their great distance, partly because he was an ugly man.

While in Duanzhou ( 端州 'duen jau') he wrote the following poem:

清心為治本 'Ching sam wai chi pun',
直道是身謀 'Jik tou si san mau';
秀幹終成棟 'Sau gon jung sing tung',
精剛不作鉤 'Jing gong pat jok gau'.
倉充鼠雀喜 'Chong chung syu jeuk hei',
草盡兔狐愁 'Jou jeun tou wu sau';
史冊有遺訓 'Si chaak yau wai fan',
勿貽來者羞 'Mat yi loi je sau'.

[Mandarin:Qīng xīn wèi zhì běn, zhí dào shì shēn móu; xiù gàn zhōng chéng dòng, jīng gāng bù zuò gōu. Cāng chōng shǔ què xǐ,cǎo jǐn tù hú chóu; shǐ cè yǒu yí xùn, wú yí lái zhě xiū.]

Honesty is a requirement for firm action,
The straight path is a life-long plan;
An elegant tree trunk becomes a pillar,
Refined steel is not used for mere hooks.
Mice and sparrows rejoice when the granaries are filled,
When the grasslands wither rabbits and foxes grieve;
The annals contain guidance from the past,
Do not leave shame for your descendants.

I was revisiting some old stuff this morning, hence this post.

Tribute ink stones: Stone dishes or slabs, often carved elegantly, are used for rubbing out sticks of ink with water for writing. Some types of stone are especially prized for their texture, and exceptionally fine specimens were sent to the court regularly as a form of tax from certain districts. In Tian Zhang local administrators collected far more of these than were required to use as gifts to officials whose good favour they desired. This was, of course, more than just petty corruption.

Note: the name of this essay is more or less a translation of Judge Bao's name. Bao (包 'baau') means wrap up, bundle, bag, packet, and bun. Zheng (拯 'ching') means raise, uplift, aid, assist, save. To a food conscious man, "bun raise" naturally springs to mind.
I apologize, no disrespect was intended.

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