Confucius was once a SiKou (司寇), similar to a Minister of Justice. On the seventh day in this post, he punished a local Shaozeng (an official title) Mao (少正卯) with the death penalty. Some considered the punishment to be too severe and too soon. After all, Confucius was very new to this position.
However, Confucius explained his reason for the punishment: “He who harbors any one of the five bad-deeds should be punished, yet, theft is not among them.” He said: “He who indulges in wicked and insidious mind-games, he who engages in an evil and cruel activity, he who deceives with false eloquence, he who is obsessed with hideous matters, and he who whitewashes unrighteousness should be punished.” Shaozeng was believed to have committed all five of these. Thus, the punishment was well-served.
Being a great teacher, Confucius showed his determination and awareness of what education can bring about, how a genuine and great mind can be cultivated, and where to draw the line for proper manners. Confucius believed that a scholar has a destined social responsibility. Rather than making good use of his talents to bring welfare to the people, Shaozeng’s conduct would have a negative impact on society, including generations to come.
In ancient Chinese culture, the righteous spirit has been inherited from dynasty to dynasty, since the time of the Yellow Emperor, and from saint to saint. The great minds of each dynasty were born to carry on this sacred mission.
In this series, I’d like to share with you what traditional Chinese culture has taught me and how my decision and life experience have evolved through the innate inheritance of the spirit. As a scholar myself, I especially take Confucius’ teaching about the destined responsibility of a scholar wholeheartedly. Hopefully, I will not fail the great expectation of Confucius to be a conscientious scholar.
Written by Mary Bright