Make a New Start
In ancient China, there was a cruel punishment – putting a horrible tattoo on a criminal's face. But an emperor of the Han Dynasty abolished it. Why? Here's the answer.
Here is the story behind a phrase meaning “to make a new start.” It reads Gai Guo Zi Xin, which literally means “to correct one's errors and make a fresh start.”
In the Han Dynasty of ancient China, there was a skillful doctor named Chun Yuyi. When he was young, he followed a very famous teacher. He became especially expert in diagnosing illnesses by feeling the pulse, which is one of the four fundamental skills in traditional Chinese medicine. In addition, he was given an esoteric recipe handed down from his teacher's ancestors.
After two years of hard study, Chun Yuyi became one of the best doctors of his time. His patients were cured after taking the medicines Chun Yuyi prescribed. And he was also deeply respected because he didn't seek power. Chun Yuyi refused all the high-ranking officials who invited him to serve as their personal doctor. In fact, to make it difficult for these powerful people to find him, he usually lived in a place for only a short period before moving to another. Needless to say, he was comfortably off, but far from rich, and lived a simple life.
But his rebuffing of powerful people made them angry. When he was promoted to be an official in charge of a warehouse, they found a good opportunity to take revenge, and: they framed the doctor, and he was found guilty. Chun Yuyi was sentenced to be tattooed on his face. According to the law of that time, he should receive the punishment in the capital city.
On the day when Chun Yuyi left for the capital, his five daughters wept terribly. In the traditional Chinese mind, boys were more important than girls. But Chun Yuyi had no sons. Because of this, and a dismal future as a convicted criminal, Chun Yuyi was very upset. He said to his daughters, “What a pity it is that I have no son. I was framed. But none of you girls can help me. How I need a son at this time.”
Her father's words triggered the anger of his youngest daughter. She thought she could save her father from the cruel punishment just as well as a son could. So she accompanied her father to the capital, and wrote a letter to the emperor.
She wrote, “All the ordinary people praised my father as an honest, upright official when he took charge of the warehouse. But now he is to be punished. It would be impossible for a dead person to make a new start. And it's next to impossible for a person with the tattoo of a criminal on his face to make a fresh start. I'd like to sell myself to the government as a servant in exchange of giving my father a new start.”
The letter moved the emperor, and he ordered the release of Chun Yuyi. One year later, the emperor banned the cruel punishment of tattooing criminals' faces. The letter written by the brave daughter of Chun Yuyi inspired the idiom Gai Guo Zi Xin. It means to make a new start after correcting one's errors.