Stories from Ancient China: The Death of Ji Kong

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Ji Kong was one of the famous “Seven Worthy Men of the Bamboo Woods” at the end of the Wei Dynasty. Many people at that time admired him. Ji Kong was said to be very tall and handsome and so people used “Jade Mountain” to describe Ji Kong’s elegant air. Today, the term “Jade Mountain” is still used to describe a handsome man. People also use “falling off a Jade Mountain” or “Jade Mountain collapse” to describe the drunken Li Bai, a famous Tang Dynasty poet. He wrote a poem called “Song of Xiang Yang.” It was written in the poem: “Clear wind and bright moon don’t need money to buy; in all likelihood, Jade Mountain collapsing isn’t due to other people’s push.” One of the traditional Chinese idioms to describe being happy and excited also has something to do with Ji Kong. In Liu Xie’s “Wen Xin Diao Long” it reads, “Suye (Ji Kong) was like a handsome, heroic person,” thus he was excited and happy with high spirits.

Ji Kong was killed because Zhong Hui denounced him to the acting ruler of the country, Sima Zhao. Zhong Hui was a renowned young gentleman whose outstanding abilities had endeared him to the government. Zhong Hui had wanted for a long time to get to know the famous Ji Kong. Once he called together a group of “well-known” and “highly capable” people who were active in politics. They stopped by Ji Kong’s place unannnounced. Ji Kong was a proud person who chose his friends carefully. When the group showed up at his house, he was working on working a piece of iron. He had a furnace set up and was pounding iron under a tree. When he saw the group, he acted as if he hadn’t seen them and kept pounding the iron for a long time, without saying a single word. Zhong Hui was very embarrassed and disappointed and turned to leave. Ji Kong asked him just before he left: “What is it that you came here to hear and what have you seen that is making you leave?” Zhong Hui responded quickly and said: “I heard what I wanted to hear when I came and I saw what I was supposed to see before I am to leave.” This exchange of questions and answers is a famous anecdote in Chinese literary history.

This event also induced Zhong Hui’s jealousy and hatred. He wrote to Sima Zhao: “Kong doesn’t respect the emperor and doesn’t serve kings and noblemen. He dislikes the current policies and is insolent toward ordinary people. He is totally useless and doesn’t benefit current society. If we don’t kill Kong, we can’t keep the government’s rules as powerful as we want.” At the time, Sima Zhao was despised by many because he had turned the emperor into a virtual prisoner and was ruling the country instead. Sima Zhao was already angry at Ji Kong and other famous people like him for refusing to serve him. After reading Zhong Hui’s letter, Sima Zhao decided to sentence Ji Kong to death.

The moment just before Ji Kang went to the place of execution he was very relaxed. Facing his students and other people who were watching the event, he asked for an ancient string instrument and played a piece called “Guang Ling Shan.” “Guang Ling Shan” is one of the top ten most renowned musical pieces in the history of Chinese music. After he finished he said, “In the past, Yuan Xiaoni often wanted to learn this piece and each time I refused him. From now on, this piece of music will disappear and this is the first and last time it will ever be played on earth!”

It is said that not so long after Ji Kang was executed, Sima Zhao felt remorse for what he had done. Ji Kong’s death at the age of 39 made him even better known and respected and his reputation spread further and further. People admired how calmly he acted before his death and considered the courage he displayed a sign of the high realm he had reached.

Many believe that a person’s spirit never dies. One’s spirit survives generation after generation and greatly exceeds the realm of the physical body and has a longer existence. In fact, if one isn’t afraid of anything when s/he faces death, s/he has already exceeded the limitations of the physical body and entered into a different state of existence. An everlasting spirit existing demonstrates that life flourishes on another plane. If this were not so, how could certain people manage to influence others hundreds or thousands years after their death? Although we can’t see them with our eyes and we can’t touch them with our hands, we do sense them and feel their presence for sure. Such a person’s life is actually one that has been elevated and exists on a higher level.

Let’s take a well-known example here. History tells us that Cao Cao was an ugly-looking person who disliked his humble, homely appearance and considered himself not elegant enough to appear in front of other country’s visiting messengers. Hence, he asked the most handsome and elegant person called Cui Yan to act as Cao Cao, the king of Wei country. He would stand on the sidelines holding a big knife. This is where the idiom called “holding a knife” comes from, which refers to writing an article for other people. After finishing the meeting with a visitor, Cao Cao sent a spy to the visitor and asked, “What do you think about the King of Wei?” The visitor said, “The king conducted himself elegantly. But the person who stood with a knife on the sidelines is the true hero!”

We can therefore conclude that it is the human spirit that governs a person, not simply ones appearance. Cao Cao didn’t say a single word. Why is it called the “Best Spirit”? Everyone has a spirit. “Best Spirit” is the most excellent part of one’s spirit. If one loses his/her spirit, his/her physical body will be considered dead . If one loses one’s moral standards, one will be called an animal. When a person dies, s/he isn’t truly dead, like an extinguished light. His/her spirit will leave its body and carry on the six-fold path of reincarnation.

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