Virtuous County Commissioner Who Thinks of Plight of Others First
(Minghui.org) Dong Wenbing was an official in the Yuan Dynasty (1217 – 1368 AD) who cared about people in his jurisdiction and neighboring counties.
In the seventh year of the Taizong era (1235), Dong served as the commissioner of Gaocheng County, which is today's Hebei Province. Droughts, locust plagues, on top of a tax burden brought much hardship to people in that county. Dong donated nearly half a million pounds of his own grain to the county.
The previous county commissioner borrowed from wealthy families to pay for military expenses. Those loans carried an annual interest rate of 100%. The county government planned to pay it back by collecting natural silk and crops from local residents.
After taking office as county commissioner, Dong said, “The people have a hard time making a living. As the county's highest official, I cannot, in good conscience, sit back and do nothing. It is my responsibility to pay the loans back.”
He sold some of his own farm land and houses to pay off the debt. He also let poor farmers grow crops on spare public land. People who were displaced gradually returned to Gaocheng County.
Improved Quality of Life
Within a few short years, residents in the county enjoyed a better living. The imperial court sent census officials to examine households in the county. Anyone who dared to cheat would be executed and their personal property would be confiscated.
Dong Wenbing suggested that relatives live under one roof to reduce the count of households, which in turn would reduce taxes. Other officials opposed on the grounds that if these inspectors find out, Dong, as the county commissioner, would face grave charges. Dong replied, “I wouldn't mind facing criminal punishment on behalf of the people in our county.” As a result of a reduced tax burden, the locals improved their quality of life.
Refusal to Play Political Games
Greedy prefecture functionaries demanded favors from the counties. Dong refused to play along. They tried to frame him. Dong said that he could not bribe the functionaries if it meant that he had to extort the funds from the locals, so he quit his position.
By the seventh year of the Zhiyuan era (1270 AD), Dong was put in charge of the Yi Prefecture, which today are the Shandong and Jiangsu Provinces. An imperial edict was issued to requisition grain at a fixed price. Dong ordered the recall of the edict that was dispatched to subordinating counties. His peers pointed out that this would violate the will of Kublai Khan, the Emperor. Dong remained firm and put the requisition on hold.
He immediately sent a letter to the Emperor, listing the disadvantages of this policy, “We are bordered near enemy soil. Therefore, any additional requisition would let our opponent know about our lack of food supplies. Also, residents at the border have already shouldered more military expenses than other areas, and should be spared additional burdens. Finally, if people in the frontier region cannot make a living, no one would dare to settle there.”
The Emperor saw Dong's points, and called off the requisition.
County Handed Over Without Fight
Dong was also known for his strict discipline when he commanded troops. When his troops passed by, local residents would not even take notice. Civilians caught in combats were released with no exception. Because of his esteem, opposing armies and residents of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD) would pledge allegiance upon seeing the flags of troops commanded by Dong.
One exception was the Yanguan County, a military stronghold which was only 30 miles from Lin'an (today's Hangzhou City), the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty. In the spring of the thirteenth year of the Zhiyuan era (1276 AD), Dong's troops reached Yanguan. The defending general held off surrender in the hope that troops would come to his aid.
Dong sent messengers several times to persuade the Southern Song defending troops to surrender. Yet both Yanguan soldiers and civilians repeatedly refused to comply.
Dong's generals asked for permission to wipe out the entire city, killing all soldiers and civilians. Dong said no, and told them, “This county is within 30 miles of the capital city of Lin'an. Words spreads quickly between the two. Our troops have already promised Lin'an that no one gets killed if they agree to surrender. If a single person were killed casually in Yanguan, it would hamper our grand strategy of taking over the Southern Song Dynasty. Imagine how terrible it would be if the whole county were wiped out.”
He sent the messengers again into the town to convey his sincerity. The county was eventually handed over peacefully.
Dong's troops marched on toward Fujian. He gave specific orders: All soldiers and horses keep off the farm land. He told his generals and soldiers, “We took food from warehouses. If we trample the crop fields, how could the people sustain their lives?”
Southern Song residents were grateful to Dong. Instead of resisting his troops, they came to the roadside to welcome Dong's troops. The people in Fujian felt most indebted to Dong's kindness and praised his virtue. They built a temple in his honor, while he was still alive.
Adapted from the Documents of History of Yuan Dynasty, Volume No. 156, Biography No. 43