As a proverb goes: “No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.” Even people known for outstanding merits are not immune to making mistakes. Thus, it is perplexing if someone cannot tolerate others’ mistakes.
If a person always blames everyone else but himself whenever there is a dispute, he will make enemies. It is almost impossible to win friends if one lacks the virtues of forgiveness and generosity. And others are less likely to forgive or be generous towards you in turn.
Several notables in the Tang Dynasty of China (618 – 907 AD) resolved grudges with generosity, as in the story of Du Chuke.
Repaying Hatred with Forgiveness
Du Chuke served in Wang Shichong’s army with his uncle Du Yan. His prospects for promotion were low, as Wang, who had risen to prominence after deposing the last emperor of the Sui Dynasty (581 – 618 AD), was besieged by the Tang armies on the west.
His uncle Du Yan hated Du Chuke and his brothers. His eldest brother was killed at Wang Shichong’s order, because Du Yan hated him. Du Chuke himself was thrown into prison, where he almost starved to death. However, he did not harbor any grudge against his uncle.
After the Tang general Li Shimin (598 – 649 AD) defeated Wang Shichong, Du Yan faced execution for serving Wang Shichong.
Du Chuke’s other elder brother, Du Ruhui, was a senior adviser to Li Shimin. Du Chuke went to see his brother and begged him, with tears in his eyes, to save their uncle’s life. At first Du Ruhui refused.
“Our uncle already had our eldest brother killed,” said Du Chuke. “If you kill him, that will hasten the end of our family line. That is so sad.”
Du Ruhui was moved. He let go of his resentment and repaid their uncle’s hatred with generosity. At Du Ruhui’s request, Li Shimin spared Du Yan’s life.
Unfairly Blamed for Disharmony
After his release, Du Yan was about to join the camp of Prince Li Jiancheng, who was Li Shimin’s eldest brother and his opponent. Fang Xuanling, a top adviser to Li Shimin, worried about the threat Li Jiancheng would pose if he recruited Du Yan. Fang suggested that Li Shimin assign Du Yan to a position where his talents could be put to good use.
In the year 625, a rebellion broke out. After it was suppressed, the rebels confessed they were following orders from Prince Li Jiancheng, but they blamed Du Yan for instigating disharmony between Li Shimin and Prince Li Jiancheng. Li Shimin was aware that Du Yan was innocent and rewarded him with 300 ounces of gold.
After Li Shimin took office as Emperor Taizong of Tang in 626, he appointed Du Yan as minister in charge of the entire hierarchy of government officials. Over 40 officials were promoted to serve in the imperial court at the recommendation of Du Yan, and many of them excelled in serving the country.
A Life Spared
After saving his uncle’s life, Du Chuke lived as a hermit in the Song mountains in today’s Henan Province, hundreds of miles east of the Tang capital. He returned to serve in the imperial court in 630, where he rose to the rank of minister.
Du Chuke was caught bribing officials of the imperial court on behalf of Emperor Taizong’s fourth son, which was seen as disrupting the succession of the imperial reign that Emperor Taizong had already planned.
When Taizong learned about Du Chuke’s role, he kept it to himself. He announced Du Chuke’s involvement when the crime came to light, but he spared his life. Then he assigned Du Chuke to the position of county commissioner, so he could make up for his transgressions by serving the country.
Thus Du Chuke, who had treated his uncle fairly in the past, was in the end rewarded in kind.
This was how people of diverse backgrounds in the Tang Dynasty remedied grudges – by granting forgiveness and tolerating others’ mistakes. This is how the Tang Dynasty flourished during the reign of Emperor Taizong.
(Adapted from the Old Book of Tang, Biography Volume 16)