Li Shiqian, also called Ziyue, was born in Zhaojun County during the Sui Dynasty. Li had an inborn nature of filial piety, i.e., respecting one’s parents. During his early childhood, his father passed away. Li was an army officer, but after his mother’s death, Li mourned her death for three years.
Afterwards, he donated his private residence to be used as a monastery and determined not to remain an officer. Li Shiqian’s family was wealthy, but he was more frugal than the poor and treated helping others as a matter of urgency everyday. For example, there were people who had no money for a burial, so he gave them financial assistance.
When two brothers filed lawsuits against one another due to the unequal distribution of property, he supplemented the party who received the smaller asset. The two brothers felt ashamed of what they had done and each courteously declined the other’s property; both became good men.
One day, he saw a thief on his farm cutting the rice in order to steal it. He not only did not shout loudly to catch the thief, but quietly went away. People felt this was very strange. He explained:
“Due to natural disasters, there is no way out for him. We should not blame him.”
One year, due to a severe famine, many villagers were finding it hard to survive. Li Shiqian lent thousands of tonnes of grain stored at his property to the poor who had run out of food. The second year, due to another poor rice harvest, those who owed him grain were unable to pay it back, so they went to his home to apologize.
Li not only did not ask them to repay the grain, but he also invited them to have a meal at his home and publicly burned all their IOU’s. Li said to them:
“The grain stored at my property was originally meant to assist people in trouble, not to hoard for profit. Now that all your debts have been settled, you should no longer worry about it.”
The third year yielded a rich harvest of grain. Those who came to pay back the grain they had borrowed were all turned away by Li.
A few years later, another great famine happened. Li Shiqian spent a lot of money to send rice porridge to the victims, saving more than 10,000 people. In the spring of the second year, Li also donated a large amount of grain seeds to the poor farmers.
Someone said to him: “You have accumulated so much virtue.” He replied:
“The people’s virtue is just like tinnitus, which can be heard only by the people themselves, not others. You know what I have done and that I have no thought of accumulating virtue at all!”
Li Shiqian died at the age of 66 after doing good deeds for over 30 years. On hearing the bad news, all the villagers shed tears. More than 10,000 people in Zhaojun, Li’s hometown, participated in the funeral procession. Later, Li Shiqian’s descendants prospered. People thought this was the result of the virtue Li had accumulated.
(Based on the Book of Sui, Volume 42, Biographies)
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