The Virtue of Gratitude: A Meal Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold

Egg noodles and rice.

The idiom of 'a meal worth a thousand pieces of gold' is a common saying in China and dates back to Han Xin of the Han Dynasty. (Image: Mythja via Dreamstime)

The idiom of “a meal worth a thousand pieces of gold” is a common saying in China and dates back to Han Xin of the Han Dynasty. It means that one should always show gratitude for the kindness received from someone. Although the favor received may be very small, even a little help in times of trouble is valuable; so when we are able to do so, we should repay the benefactor well beyond what was received.

The story of Han Xin’s repayment of kindness

Han Xin was a very famous general in Chinese history who helped Liu Bang defeat Xiang Yu and establish the Han Dynasty. Many idioms are related to him, such as “a battle at the back of the river,” “a secret journey to Chenchang,” and “ambush from ten sides.”

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According to legend, Han Xin’s parents died when he was young. He often lived on the streets and had to go to the local pavilion chief’s house where he would be given some white rice to eat. Because the chief’s wife disliked Han Xin, he sometimes had no choice but to go fishing by the Huai River and exchange his fish for food. However, after a long day of fishing, he was sometimes unable to catch anything and went to bed hungry.

Hooking a trout while fly fishing.
Because the chief’s wife disliked Han Xin, he sometimes had no choice but to go fishing by the Huai River. (Image: Photosvit via Dreamstime)

Fortunately, in the place where he frequently fished, there were many old women who worked by the river washing clothes. One of the women took pity on Han Xin, and although she didn’t have much, she fed him meals whenever she could. 

Han Xin was very grateful for the kindness of the old woman in his time of hardship and told her that he would repay her heavily in the future. Upon hearing this, the old woman became upset, saying that she did not want Han Xin to repay her for helping him.

Later, after he’d performed many meritorious acts for the King of Han, Han Xin was crowned King of Chu. Remembering the favor he’d received from the old woman, Han Xin ordered his people to bring her wine and food. To express his gratitude, he presented her with a thousand taels of gold.

To express his gratitude, he presented her with a thousand taels of gold.
To express his gratitude, he presented her with a thousand taels of gold. (Image: Lane Erickson via Dreamstime)

Ancient Chinese culture understood the value of gratitude

As the ancients said: “There is no greater good than to know how to repay a kindness.” It is a virtuous and generous sentiment to have kindness in one’s heart, and knowing how to repay a kindness is a virtue as well. Over the thousands of years of Chinese civilization, many well-known stories of gratitude and repayment have been passed down.

Gratitude is a traditional virtue of the Chinese nation and giving and repaying kindness is a universal value that China has always honored and respected. Therefore, famous quotes and sayings that teach people to be grateful, such as “a drop of water should be repaid with a spring” have been passed down through the generations. 

There is tremendous wisdom to be found in ancient Chinese culture and keeping these stories alive is to the benefit of humankind.

Translated by Eva

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