Bao Zheng (包拯; 11 April 999 – 20 May 1062), commonly known as Bao Gong (包公, “Lord Bao”), was a government officer during the reign of Emperor Renzong in China’s Song Dynasty. During his twenty five years in civil service, Bao consistently demonstrated extreme honesty and uprightness, with actions such as sentencing his own uncle, impeaching an uncle of Emperor Renzong’s favourite concubine and punishing powerful families. His appointment from 1057 to 1058 as the prefect of Song’s capital Kaifeng, where he initiated a number of changes to better hear the grievances of the people, made him a legendary figure. During his years in office, he gained the honorific title Justice Bao (包青天) due to his ability to help peasants overcome corruption.
After his parents’ demise, Bao Zheng, then 39, was appointed magistrate of Tianchang County not far from his hometown. It was here that Bao first established his reputation as an astute judge. According to an anecdote, a man once reported that his ox’s tongue had been sliced out. Bao told him to return and slaughter the ox for sale. Soon another man arrived in court and accused the first man of privately slaughtering a “beast of burden”, an offense punishable by a year of penal servitude. Bao bellowed: “Why did you cut his ox’s tongue and then accuse him?” In shock, the culprit had to confess.
In 1040, Bao Zheng was promoted to the prefect of Duanzhou (modern Zhaoqing) in the south, a prefecture famous for its high-quality inkstones, a certain number of which were presented annually to the imperial court. However, Bao discovered that previous prefects had collected far more inkstones from manufacturers than the required tribute — several dozens of times more — in order to bribe influential ministers with the extras. Bao abolished the practice by telling manufacturers to fill only the required quota.
When his tenure was up in 1043, Bao left without a single inkstone in his possession. It was in Duanzhou that he wrote this poem:
|清心為治本 (qīng xīn wèi zhì běn)||The essence of governing is to have a cleansed heart,|
|直道是身謀 (zhí dào shì shēn móu)||The strategy of life is to follow upright ways.|
|秀幹終成棟 (xiù gàn zhōng chéng dòng)||An elegant stem will eventually turn into a pillar,|
|精剛不作鉤 (jīng gāng bù zuò gōu)||Refined steel cannot be bent into a hook.|
|倉充鼠雀喜 (cāng chōng shǔ què xǐ)||Rats and sparrows overjoy when the granary is full,|
|草盡兔狐愁 (cǎo jǐn hú tù chóu)||Rabbits and foxes worry when the grassland dies.|
|史冊有遺訓 (shǐ cè yǒu yí xùn)||History books contain teachings by those deceased:|
|勿貽來者羞 (wú yí lái zhě xiū)||Don’t leave your descendants with only embarrassment!|
Bao Zheng returned to the capital and was named an investigating censor in 1044. For the next 2 years in this position, Bao submitted at least 13 memoranda to Emperor Renzong of Song on military, taxation, the examination system, and governmental dishonesty and incompetence.
In 1057, Bao was appointed the magistrate of the capital city of Bian (now Kaifeng). Bao held the position for a mere period of one year, but he initiated several material administrative reforms, including allowing the citizens to directly lodge complaints with the city administrators, thereby bypassing the city clerks who were believed to be corrupt and in the pay of local powerful families.
Due to his fame and the strength of his reputation, Bao’s name became synonymous with the idealized “honest and upright official” (清官), and quickly became a popular subject of early vernacular drama and literature.
Bao died in the Capital City of Bian. It was recorded that he left the following warning for his family: “Any of my descendants who commits bribery as an official shall not be allowed back home nor buried in the family burial site. He who shares not my values is not my descendant.”