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Boyi and Shuqi Ashamed of Eating Five Grains of Zhou

Once upon a time, in the east of the Empire of Shang, in a small state of of Gu Zhu, King Ya Wei had three sons. The eldest was called Bo Yi, the second Ya Ping, and the third Shuqi. King Ya Wei loved his youngest son, Shuqi, the best and indicated that Shuqi should be the crowned prince instead of the eldest son, Boyi. When the king died, Shuqi did not want to displace his older brother, and he ran away. Boyi did not want to violate his father’s wish and he also ran away. They lived on the shore of the Northern Sea. The countrymen made the second son Ya Ping the king.

In the west of Shang, there was a thriving tribe called Zhou. Boyi and Shuqi learned that King Wen of Zhou was wise and able, and his people were known to be kind to their elders. Boyi and Shuqi heard the rise of King Wen and said to each other, "Why do we not go to him! I heard that the Lord of the West, King Wen, is good at honouring and caring the Old".

The two brothers decided to subject themselves to King Wen. Unfortunately, when they arrived in Zhou, they found the state in commotion---King Wen had died. His son, King Wu, before burying his father, decided to wage war against the famously amoral King of Shang. He mobilized the grieving people in his father’s name.

As Boyi and Shuqi entered the capital, the Zhou army was on its way out to conquer Shang. King Wu rode at the very front bearing his father’s name placard. Boyi and Shuqi threw themselves under the King Wu’s horse. Kneeling, with their heads touching the ground, they remonstrated King Wu, “New king of Zhou, your father still lay unburied, yet you are already brandishing weapons for killing. Can this be considered filial? As a subject of Shang, you intend to kill the king of Shang. Where is your humanity?”

The followers of the king rushed to kill the brothers, but King Wu’s adviser, the grand duke of Zhou stopped them. He said these were men of justice and instructed the attendants to raise brothers to their feet and walk them off.

The duke of Zhou would confer on them wealth and position in an oath sealed by blood sacrifice. Boyi and Shuqi looked at each other and said, "Ha! Strange! This is not what we call the right Way." They would not establish themselves through the destruction of another, nor would they elevate themselves through abnegation of another, nor would they benefit themselves through taking advantage of the times.

Presently, King Wu wiped out Shang and the entire land under the sky became the land of Zhou. Yet Boyi and Shuqi regarded Zhou as shameful. The two brothers said to each other, "Now the world is in dark, and virtue of Zhou is in decline. Instead of remaining side by side with Zhou and taint my person, I would rather escape from it to protect the purity of my conduct." Thus, they refused to eat the grains on Zhou's land and exiled themselves to wilderness. They hid in the Shou Yang Mountain, where they survived on tree barks and grass.

One day, when the two brothers were gathering fiddlehead ferns, they met a maiden who was also gathering the same plants.  The maiden saw them starving and offered them to share her dry cake and drink, but Boyi and Shuqi refused offer politely, and told her that they were ashamed of eating five grains of Zhou, would not allow themselves to be tainted by the productions of the Land of Zhou.”

The maiden then reminded them, asking, “Are these wild mountains not belonged to Zhou? Are these fiddlehead ferns not the production of the land? Even if you become earthworms, which eat the dry earth above, and drink from the Yellow Spring below, you’re still live on the land of Zhou. How are you able to keep your purity?”

Boyi and Shuqi couldn’t give an answer to the question. They then stopped gathering the ferns, and refuse to take any food.

They became very feeble, and almost fainted from hunger. Suddenly a white deer appeared, suckling them, nurturing them with her milk, and thus preventing immediate starvation.

When they were near death, they sang:
“Climb the West Mountain,
and find its vetches;
Conquering violence with violence,
Why don’t people see the evil therein?
Gone are the time of Magic Farmer and Sage Yao,
The descendants of Da Yu are also long scattered!
Where do we belong?
As we sigh, life grows dimmer still.”

Finally, they both starved to death on the Shou Yang Mountain. If one can make an impact by relinquishing everything, Boyi and Shuqi, did just that.


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