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November 11, 2011

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包拯 Bao Zheng (999-1062) Iconic official was incorruptible

BAO Zheng, better known for his vernacular title of "Lord Bao" or "Justice Bao," was a historical figure and government official who lived in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). However, due to his unparalleled honesty, fairness, integrity, inexorability and wisdom, Bao is remembered today mostly as the personification of justice and an icon of all honest and upright officials.

Bao was born into a scholar's family in today's Hefei, Anhui Province in eastern China. Bao was a gifted child and he studied very hard. Since his father was a close friend of the local county magistrate, the boy became interested in trying cases and showed his talent in reasoning and judgment.

In 1027, Bao passed the highest-level imperial examination and obtained the title of Jinshi or "presented scholar," which qualified him to become a government official. However, in order to take care of his aging parents, he didn't begin his career in officialdom until 10 years later, after his parents died and he had properly observed all the mourning rituals. For this, Bao earned a high reputation for his filial piety.

Bao held a number of offices in his legendary career, which was later dramatized in many novels, ballads, operas and later movies and TV dramas. Some most popular portrayals of this historical figure could be found in the detective novel "Bao Gong An," written in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the novel "Seven Heroes and Five Gallants," which was created in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Most of these stories depict Bao as honest and upright. They also focus on his determination to fight government corruption and matchless wisdom in settling complicated cases. Many happened during the time when he served as the magistrate of Kaifeng, capital of the Song Dynasty.

According to the stories, Bao was granted a golden rod and an imperial sword by the previous emperor, which gave him the authority to reprimand the incumbent emperor and execute convicted criminals without prior approval from the emperor.

He had also been given three knives from the emperor to execute criminals: one decorated with a dog's head for commoners, one with a tiger's head for government officials and one with a dragon's head for nobles.

Once, Bao used the dragon-head knife to execute a son-in-law of the emperor. The famous case was about an originally poor scholar who, after winning first place in the imperial examination, married one of the princesses by hiding the fact that he had left behind a wife and two children in his hometown. In order to prevent his secret from being disclosed, he sent someone to kill his own family.

Bao tried the case and eventually convicted and executed the scholar despite interference and pressure from the imperial family.

In another case, Bao used the dog-head knife to execute his own nephew, the only son of his elder sister-in-law, who treated him as her own son when Bao was young.

After the nephew, a county magistrate, was found taking bribes and guilty of other misconducts, Bao sentenced him to death according to the law. Then, he went to his knees in front of his sister-in-law to tearfully apologize and ask for forgiveness.

One story about Bao, which is popular among children, is his interrogation of a rock. According to the story, a young boy earned about 100 copper coins after selling his fried dough sticks in the market. Then he took a nap on a rock in the market. But when he woke up, his 100 coins were gone. The boy began to cry because the money was needed to pay for medical treatment of his sick mother.

Bao, as a local official, happened to pass through the market and after learning of the case, ordered everyone in the market to each put a coin into a basin filled with water. When a coin created an oil bloom in the water, Bao caught the man who dropped it and accused him of stealing the boy's coins. He then explained that he had found out the boy was the only one selling oily products in the market and the caught man's coin was the only one that generated an oil bloom in the basin.

Today, Bao's black face with a white crescent-shaped birthmark on his forehead is an icon loved by all common people who yearn for a clean, fair and righteous government.


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