3 Stories from Ancient China: The Power of Kindness

A stone with the word 'kindness' on it.

Ancient China has left us many stories full of wisdom and valuable lessons. One common theme is the importance of kindness, for within it lies the power to change the world. (Image: Allihays via Dreamstime)

Ancient China has left us many stories full of wisdom and valuable lessons. One common theme is the importance of kindness, for within it lies the power to change the world. 

Ancient Chinese stories about the power of kindness

1. A Buddhist master’s wisdom

One cool summer evening, an elderly Buddhist monk strolled outside the temple. As he meandered around the grounds, he noticed a chair in one corner of the temple walls. Upon seeing this, he realized that a monk had left the grounds at night, violating temple rules. 

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The elderly monk didn’t fuss about it, but quietly removed the chair and then squatted down in the same spot. A few minutes later, a young monk appeared out of the darkness and used the master’s back to springboard over the wall.   

As he was in mid-air, the young monk realized it was not the chair he had stepped on, but his master’s back. As this realization set in, the young monk began to panic and did not know what to do. 

To the young monk’s surprise, his master did not scold him. Instead, he simply said: “It’s cold tonight. You should go and put on some more clothes before you catch a chill.”

Hearing his master’s words, the young monk was very moved by his gesture of kindness. The elderly monk’s tolerance and patience served to educate the young monk better than any punishment ever could have. 

chair
As the monk meandered around the grounds, he noticed a chair in one corner of the temple walls. (Image: Lester69 via Dreamstime)

2. The six-foot lane

During China’s Qing Dynasty, a man named Zhang Tingyu acted as prime minister. Zhang Tinghu grew up in Tongcheng County of Anhui Province, where his family resided, and had long been next-door neighbors with the Ye family.  

Though the families usually got along quite well, one day, a dispute arose when both families wanted to build a new house on the land. Each was determined to have their way and refused to give up any of their lands to the other party. When they could not settle the issue, Zhang Tingyu’s grandmother wrote a letter to Zhang in Beijing, asking him to intervene. 

Zhang Tingyu was a sagacious person. After thinking it over, he wrote a poem to his grandmother, advising: “A thousand miles this family letter has traveled, just for a wall. Does it matter if you let go of three feet of land? The Great Wall is still there today, yet Emperor Qin, who built the wall, is no longer there.” 

Zhang’s grandmother understood the message at once, and after talking with her family, they voluntarily moved the wall back by three feet. When the Ye family saw this, they felt humiliated. So they also voluntarily moved their wall back by three feet, and as a result, a six-foot-wide lane was formed between the courtyard walls of the Zhang family and the Ye family. 

This story became the historically famous Six-Foot Lane tale. What Zhang Tingyu lost by giving up a little bit of land, he and his family gained in harmony among their neighbors and a good name in history.

When you step back in a conflict and look at the broad picture, the goodness in your heart can shine.

3. A forgiving uncle

One day, a 9-year-old boy was playing in his uncle’s study when he accidentally broke a beautiful Bodhisattva Guanyin statue made of white jade. The boy was very regretful and frightened because he knew the white jade Guanyin statue was his uncle’s favorite.

bodhisattva-guanyin-statue
One day, a 9-year-old boy was playing in his uncle’s study when he accidentally broke a beautiful Bodhisattva Guanyin statue made of white jade. (Image: Wimammoth via Dreamstime)

The boy apologized to his uncle for what he’d done and then burst into tears. His uncle reassured him, saying: “It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s just a statue. I can find a better one in the future. So do not worry, and don’t be sad.”

The little boy was relieved, and a sense of peace immediately replaced his fear. He was very grateful for his uncle’s kindness and learned about the importance of forgiveness that day, something that never left him.  

The incident made such an impression on the boy that he developed the habit of visiting antique and jade shops, where he would admire the statues of Guanyin every chance he got. Finally, when he was 39 years old, he purchased an exquisite Bodhisattva Guanyin statue as a birthday gift for his 60-year-old uncle. 

Forgiveness is an act of kindness, and kindness, in turn, creates a beautiful world.

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