History Lessons

Bao Zheng

The ideal official

Originally from Hefei, Bao Zheng (999-1062) served in the government of Duanzhou (today’s Zhaoqing in Guangdong) during the reign of Emperor Renzong of Song China.

At the time, the imperial court demanded that Duanzhou officials fulfill an annual quota of ink stones as tribute. The common result was the enrichment of the city’s officials. It was an open secret that most stones went into private possession.

But when Bao took up his post in Duanzhou, he would collect only the number of ink stones required for the tribute to the imperial court. He completed his term in Duanzhou without demanding a single stone for himself.

Bao was promoted to Chief Magistrate in Kaifeng – the capital of Song – where he reduced taxes and solved cases involving wrongful convictions. He punished bribe-takers severely. Despite his senior position, Bao led a simple and frugal life, refusing to use the power of his office to do favours for friends and relatives.

After his death, Bao’s name remained synonymous with the idealised “pure official”.

Folk stories about his crusades against malfeasant officials are common, and some have been adapted into operas and novels.

While these stories involve more fiction than fact, they reflect admiration (and longing) for honest and upright government.


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