Zhi-tui Jie Did Not Ask for a Reward

(A historical event in 636 BCE)

Zuo's Extended Version of the Spring and Autumn Annals

    King Wen-gong of the State of Jin rewarded the officials who had followed him during his exile. The officials who exaggerated their contributions all received large rewards. Zhi-tui Jie did not mention his contribution, so the king did not reward him. When the king could not find food during the exile, it was Jie who fed the king by cutting his own flesh.

    Jie said, "The father of King Wen-gong, Xian-gong, had nine sons. Only King Wen-gong survives. King Hui-gong and King Huai failed to appoint good officials, so the people inside and outside of the State of Jin disregard their authority. If the Creator chooses not to abandon the State of Jin, he will give the State of Jin a good king. Who else, except Wen-gong, deserves to be in charge of Jin's ceremony of worshipping the Creator? It was the Creator who arranged for Wen-gong to be the King of Jin. My colleagues claimed it to be their accomplishment. Was this not completely contrived? One is called a thief if he steals other people's money or possessions. To claim the Creator's work as one's own contribution is an even greater offense. The officials in the king's court regarded their crimes as noble deeds, and the king rewarded criminals. It is too difficult for me to associate with them because the king and officials deceive each other to gain false honor."

    His mother asked, "Why don't you ask for a reward as well? To whom can you complain if you don't?" Jie replied, "Imitating other people's faults is an even greater crime. Since I have complained about the king, I can by no means accept his appointment." His mother asked, "Why don't you let the king know your opinion?" Jie said, "Words are a tool to decorate oneself. Now that I have decided to seclude myself from the world, why do I need words for adornment? Furthermore, if I were to tell the king my opinion, it would show that I am looking for recognition."

    His mother said, "If you can really follow your ideals, I will retire from the world with you." From then on, Jie led a secluded life on Mian-shang Mountain until he died.

    The King of Jin tried to search for Jie on Mian-shang Mountain, but it was in vain 1. Consequently, he appropriated the income from Mian-shang Mountain to cover the expense of honoring Jie. The king said, "I use the memorials to remind me of my fault and to pay homage to a good man."


1 When the king could not find Jie on Mian-shang Mountain, someone suggested, “If you set a fire on the mountain, Jie will appear because he cares about his mother.” Consequently, the king set the fire. However, Jie and his mother never appeared.