An Opportunity at Nobility… at the Cost of Loyalty

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In the Han Dynasty, Emperor Guangwu (汉光武) had a cabinet minister named Song Hong (宋弘). Song held the important position of Minister of Civil Engineering, and he was extremely honest and responsible in all matters.

When the Emperor’s elder sister became widowed after her husband died, the Emperor discussed with her sister about finding a new husband. He asked her if there was anyone among his cabinet ministers that she liked. His sister immediate replied, “Song Hong has a special air about him; extremely virtuous.”

The Emperor understood right away, and so he asked Song to meet with him. He thought that perhaps Song would be interested at the opportunity to go from a common citizen to nobility through marrying his sister. After all, it’s an opportunity that most people dream about.

When he met with Song, the Emperor told him, “When a man gets rich, it’s common for him to change friends. When a man gains high prestige, it’s common for him to change wives.”

Song knew about the situation with the Emperor’s sister and understood the Emperor’s implied meaning. He immediately replied the Emperor with two sentences: “To the friends who helped us when we were poor, we mustn’t forget. To the wife who accompanied us through hardship, we mustn’t abandon.”

After hearing this, the Emperor understood Song’s meaning and agreed that human sentiment and loyalty are most important. He also admired how artful and subtle Song responded in a way that did not make him embarrassed.

Although Song rejected the opportunity of nobility, he gained the respect and admiration of the Emperor and set a virtuous example for his family. His words recorded in history, and countless scholars looked up to his example for thousands of years to come.

Originally published at on April 14, 2021.




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Alex Chen

Alex Chen

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.

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