The Power of Kindness: Kong Yong Quells a Rebellion Without a Fight

Two bronze statues of officials of the Ming Dynasty, posed as if saluting each other in greeting.

Traditional Chinese culture has always followed the value of kindness when dealing with people and situations, emphasizing the beauty of kindness in the heart. (Image: via © Pingan Yang)

Traditional Chinese culture has always followed the values of kindness when dealing with people and situations, emphasizing the beauty of kindness in the heart. Not only is kindness admired, but the light it exudes can also lead the wicked back to their senses. If evil meets evil, disaster follows. Only kindness can truly convert and change a person. 

Kong Yong was a civil servant of the Ming Dynasty, a native of Suzhou in the south of the Yangtze River. He was the 58th generation descended from Confucius’s grandson. He was a loyal and benevolent man. He served as an official for several decades with clean hands. One of the most legendary events for Kong Yong was when he entered rebel territory and peacefully resolved the crisis without having to go to war. 

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In the first year of the Ming Dynasty (16th century A.D.), Kong Yong was appointed as a governor of Gaozhou in Guangdong. The former governor of Gaozhou had ordered the city gates to be kept closed because of a rebellion by the Yao people.

Local people couldn’t get in the city and many were killed by those who called themselves rebels. It was a very chaotic situation. When Kong Yong arrived, he ordered the city gates to be opened so the local people could enter and leave the city freely. 

City gate of Zhuge in Shaanxi, China.
When Kung Yung arrived, he ordered the city gates to be opened so the local people could enter and leave the city freely. (Image: via © Jinfeng Zhang)

At that time, two rebel groups were scattered around that area. One rebel leader, Feng Xiao, was stationed in Huazhou (under the jurisdiction of Gaozhou Prefecture) and another rebel leader, Deng Gong Chang, was stationed in Maodong.

One day, Kong Yong rode out on a horse with only two guards and headed straight for Maodong. When the rebel leader, Deng Gong Chang, learned that the new governor, Kong Yong, would soon arrive, he hastily gathered his men in armor to make a show of his power. 

Kong Yong slowly dismounted from his horse and entered the courtyard to sit down. When rebel leader Deng saw that Kong Yong had come without a sword, gun, or even any troops, he was at first at a loss for what to do, but after some thought, he ordered his men to take off their armor and bow to Kong Yong. 

Kong Yong said sternly: “You are good people who are forced to become rebels because of hunger and cold. The previous governor intended to use the army to deal with you, but I am here by order of the court and am instructed to act as your parent. You are just like my children. If you trust me, come back with me and I will give you food and clothing. If you do not trust me, kill me. Then the army will soon come and there will be no one left alive here.” 

After hearing Kong Yong’s words, Deng hesitated, but his men were moved to tears. To break the ice of this negotiation with the rebel leader, Kong Yong said: “I am hungry. You should feed me.” So Deng knelt down and offered him wine and food.  

Meatballs and broth in a silver bowl.
Rebel leader Deng offered food and wine to the governor. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

After Kong Yong finished his meal, he said: “It’s getting dark, so I should spend the night here.” 

Deng arranged accommodation for him. That night, Kong Yong slept peacefully. When the soldiers saw how well he slept and that he was not afraid of them, they were very impressed. 

Kong Yong stayed for two nights. When he left, Deng sent dozens of soldiers to escort him. When they got back to the city, Kong Yong treated those soldiers well, giving them food and clothes. He also gave them food to take back to the rebel army.  

Deng Gong Chang was moved and led his rebel army to surrender to Kong Yong and the government. 

The other rebel leader, Feng Xiao, upon hearing the story, soon led his men to surrender to Kong Yong as well. In this way, the rebellion was put to an end, not by using force, but with the power of kindness.

Translated by Eva and edited by Helen

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