China / Society

Building trust using a wooden pole

( Updated: 2015-10-12 11:23

Editor's note: As cases of dishonesty rise, it seems the world's second-largest economy is facing a moral decline. But as a civilization with more than 3,000 years of history, honesty runs deep in Chinese blood. We will carry series of stories in coming weeks on how honesty shaped ancient China. Here is the first part.

Building trust using a wooden pole

During the Warring States Period (475-221BC) in China, there lived a very talented and innovative man. His name was Shang Yang and he was from the state of Wei. But his political career blossomed in the state of Qin instead when he was recruited by the Duke Xiao of Qin to strengthen his then weak homeland. Shang Yang was an advocate in the Legalist tradition and successfully led Qin with a series of reforms.

However, these reforms were not so easily executed in the beginning. Only the duke and a few other men appreciated Shang Yang’s talent. The people of Qin had little trust or confidence in him. After all, he was a stranger from a foreign state.

To resolve this predicament, Shang Yang came up with a plan. He ordered some soldiers to erect a thin wooden pole at the south gate of the Qin capital. This attracted the curiosity of the townsmen.

Then, in front of a crowd, he declared loudly, "People of Qin, here is my offer. Whoever takes this pole to the north gate shall receive a reward of ten gold pieces."

It was a simple errand and the reward was substantial. But though some time passed, no one stepped forward. They all believed that Shang Yang was joking.

Seeing no response, Shang Yang stepped forward and said, "People of Qin, I will increase the reward. Whoever now takes this pole to the north gate shall receive fifty gold pieces."

Now the townsmen found the offer to be even more unbelievable. Again for some time, no one stepped up.

Finally, a man from the crowd came forward to answer the easy challenge. He shouldered the pole and walked to the north gate. True to his words, Shang Yang paid the man fifty gold pieces.

Words of this incident spread. Soon, the people of Qin said that Shang Yang was a man of his word and of sincerity. When Shang Yang began promoting his reforms, the people followed him and did not doubt him.

Qin grew strong and eventually unified all the states of China, becoming its first empire.

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