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Essays: (To Complicated Chinese Script) 论文: (到繁體版)

What I've Learned Studying The
Fine Chinese Tradition Xin (Trustworthiness)

By Feng Xin-Ming, 2009



Xin or trustworthiness is a traditional Chinese virtue. The Chinese tradition considered trustworthiness to be extremely important: “Without trustworthiness a person has no standing.” That is to say that if a person loses his credibility and good reputation, then he has no standing in society. To be trustworthy, to possess credibility and good reputation, first, one has to be honest and second, one has to be reliable. This honesty and reliability includes many things, and below are some points I’ve learned from my study of trustworthiness, honesty and reliability:

  1. Speak honestly; say only what is true.

  2. Do not lie.

  3. Do not exaggerate.

  4. Do not distort the truth.

  5. Do not deliberately mislead people such that they get a false impression, even if in doing so one may not “technically” be lying.

  6. If asked about something that you should not tell or do not want to tell, such as your or others’ confidential or secret information, then you should answer, “Sorry, I cannot (or should not, or do not want to) tell you that.” You must not make up a lie to answer the question with.

  7. Don’t lightly speak out on or spread information about matters that you are not sure of.

  8. What you say counts; always admit to what you have said. (Chinese saying: “What a gentleman has said, even a fast chariot cannot bring back.”)

  9. If you do not know or are not sure of something, honestly admit it; don’t pretend you know.

  10. When you don’t understand or are not clear on what the other person has said, ask until you are clear; don’t pretend you understand.

  11. When you know that the other person has misunderstood what you say or what you want, clear up the misunderstanding in time. Do not pretend to not know about it and not clear things up.

  12. Don’t intentionally put down (denigrate) other people.

  13. Don’t toady to or be obsequious to rich or powerful people.

  14. Don’t gossip about others; don’t participate in creating rumors and slanders.

  15. If you have done something wrong, admit it.

  16. If what you have done wrong has harmed others, compensate them.

  17. If you realize you are doing something wrong, correct it immediately.

  18. Welcome other people pointing out your mistakes and shortcomings; never get angry, attack or retaliate.

  19. Don’t cover up your mistake by lying, distorting the truth, or deliberately misleading people.

  20. Never get others to cover up your mistake by lying, distorting the truth, or deliberately misleading people.

  21. Never allow others to deceive people about or cover up your mistake; if you find out you must stop it.

  22. Don’t lightly make promises; if you don’t know whether you can do something or not, don’t promise doing it; the most you can promise is to try your best to do it. (Chinese saying, by Laozi: “Lightly promise, seldom trustworthy.”)

  23. Reliably carry out your promises; always do what you say you will do. (Chinese saying: “A promise is worth a thousand ounces of gold.”)

  24. A lot of contracts and matters, like marriage, parenting, and selling, have responsibilities and obligations that are well-known, customary, and often backed by law, responsibilities and obligations that go without saying. When you enter into such contracts and matters, people expect and count on you to meet those obligations. So as soon as you enter into these contracts and matters, without having said so you have made implied promises to meet each of those responsibilities and obligations. For example, there are implied promises to stay together for life for better or for worse in marriage, to care for the children on becoming parents, and to guarantee a certain quality in selling. Reliably carry out all of your implied promises.

  25. If you want to enter into a contract or matter that has implied promises but you want to cancel some or all of the implied promises, then you must first, beforehand, reach a clear agreement with all parties involved to let you cancel. For example, if a store conducting a clearance sale doesn’t want to guarantee the quality of the goods, which is an implied promise in normal selling, the store must put up big signs saying, “All sales final; no returns”. By buying despite seeing such signs, the customer is agreeing to let the store cancel guaranteeing the quality of the goods. If you don't first have an agreement to cancel some or all implied promises and you still enter the contract or matter, then you must reliably carry out each and all of them.

  26. If circumstances force you to become unable to carry out a promise or part of a promise, warn the other party as soon as possible so that it can take measures to avoid or limit losses.

  27. If your not carrying out a promise or part of a promise causes losses to the other party, compensate it.

  28. Always exert your best effort to completely and punctually fulfill your tasks and responsibilities in work and study.

  29. To reward and punish correctly is an implied promise to those under you: always reward those who have performed well and always punish those who have committed offenses. (Chinese historical example: Prime Minister Cao Cao cuts off his hair as punishment for breaking his own rules.)

  30. Don’t cheat to get things.

  31. Don’t steal things, even when it’s very easy to steal.

  32. Don’t take anything that is not yours.

  33. When you see something someone has lost, do your best to return it; don’t keep it for yourself. (Chinese saying: “Don’t pick up things left on the road.”)

  34. If other people give you money or things by mistake, including giving you remuneration that far exceeds what you deserve, refuse to accept.

  35. If other people give you money or things by mistake and you have accepted them at first because you didn’t know, then when you find out immediately give them back.

  36. Strictly respect other people’s property; don’t use other people’s things if you haven’t asked and received permission. (Chinese saying: “When using other people’s things, one must clearly ask. If one doesn’t ask, then it is stealing.”)

  37. When borrowing things return them on time.

  38. Look after the things well that you have borrowed so that you can return them in the original condition.

  39. If the things that you’ve borrowed have been damaged then compensate the person you’ve borrowed them from.

  40. When borrowing money always pay it back on time, according to the schedule agreed to.

  41. When borrowing money and the agreement includes paying interest then always pay the money back on time with interest.

  42. Whenever you give or take money or things, make sure you have made matters completely clear to the people involved. (Chinese saying: “When taking and giving, what's important is to make everything clear.”)

  43. When buying something, honestly answer with your needs and your situation when asked by the seller. Don’t treat him like he’s going to take advantage of you and give him wrong information. If you are worried about his price or quality, you can still be open and aboveboard and just go visit other sellers to compare prices and quality. If his price is high but you still want to buy from him (e.g. you know him well), you can say, “Your price is high; can you match so-and-so’s price?”

  44. When you have bought something, always pay according to the agreed amount and time schedule.

  45. When you are selling and have accepted a purchase or an order, or when the buyer has paid, always deliver the good or service according to the agreed quantity, quality, and delivery time schedule.

  46. When you have confirmed a business contract always carry out the terms.

  47. Even when the person you are dealing with is ignorant, old, weak, handicapped or of low intelligence, don’t take advantage of him or her – that was what the sign in shops in traditional China meant in saying “we don’t take advantage of old people or children”.

  48. If an agreement or contract is not extremely simple or is not to last for only a very short time, then use pen and paper to write things down clearly and have each side keep a copy.

  49. Respect other people’s confidential and secret information; don’t leak other people’s confidential or secret information, including an enterprise's business secrets.

To people in the time of traditional China, trustworthiness was more important than most things. In the chapter Yan Yuan in the book The Analects, Confucius said that when governing, if necessary one could do without an army and even without food, but one could not do without trustworthiness. He also continued on to say, “Since ancient times there has always been death, but without trustworthiness the people cannot stand.”

This trustworthiness is the credibility and good reputation of a person or a government, their dependability and reliability. Only when one has trustworthiness, that is, only when one has credibility, good reputation, dependability, and reliability, can one have standing in the world. Lying, creating false impressions and misleading, betraying trust and casting away honor, not carrying out or not even admitting to promises - when other people hear of such behaviors, they will distrust and avoid dealings involving you.

During the Eastern Han Dynasty, someone said to the incorruptible official Yang Zhen, “Take it; it’s the middle of night and no one knows!” Yang Zhen replied, “Heaven knows, Earth knows, you know, and I know; how can you say no one knows?” Ashamed, the would-be briber picked up his gold and left.

No matter how superb their intrigue and deception, dishonest people may make temporary gains but will not be trusted or put into important positions. Perhaps even more importantly, they will come to know only using trickery to “win”, and will not realize that the sustainable and long-term way to win is to develop real ability and make real contributions. Thus, no matter how great their talent and ability, often through their whole lives dishonest people cannot succeed or be happy.

On the other hand, often people who have talent and ability that are perhaps not that outstanding, but who are honest and reliable, are trusted and put into important positions, and become successful and happy both at work and at home. Of course, if a person has honesty and reliability in addition to great talent and ability then his or her future will be limitless indeed.

Likewise, if the people in a country are generally honest and reliable, that is, they are trustworthy, then in that country people's work will be conscientious, the quality of products and studies will be high, people will more easily trust each other, dealings among people will flow smoothly, and because of that the economy will become well-developed, the technology will become top notch, and the country will become rich and its people strong.

Yes, as the saying goes, “great wisdom doesn’t seem clever”: honesty and reliability, that is, trustworthiness or xin, are actually the smart method and the secret, to success in life for individuals as well as for whole countries.


  1. 说话诚实,只说真的。

  2. 不撒谎。

  3. 不夸张事实。

  4. 不歪曲事实。

  5. 不蓄意误导别人、使别人产生错觉,尽管严格来说,这样做或许“没有撒谎” 。

  6. 如果别人发问而你不应该或不愿意把答案告诉别人,例如是问及自己的或他人的私隐或秘密,就如实地说“很抱歉,不能(或不应该、不愿意)回答”,而不制造谎话来应付。

  7. 关于见得未真切、知道未确实的事情,不轻率发言或传播。

  8. 说了的话是算数的,必须承认。(“君子一言既出,驷马难追。”)

  9. 自己不知道或不清楚,就坦白承认,不要装作知道。

  10. 谈话时不明白或不清楚对方说的话,要问清楚,不要装作明白。

  11. 知道对方对你的发言或立场有错觉或误会时就及时澄清,不要装作不知道而不加以澄清。

  12. 不刻意贬低别人。

  13. 不谄媚奉承有钱或权势的人。

  14. 不说人家闲话,不参加流言蜚语的制造。

  15. 做错了事就承认。

  16. 做错的事损害了他人就要补偿。

  17. 发觉自己有错就立刻改正。

  18. 欢迎别人指出你的错过和缺点;绝不生气或打击报复。

  19. 不撒谎、歪曲事实、或蓄意误导别人,来掩饰自己的错误。

  20. 不指使他人撒谎、歪曲事实、或蓄意误导别人,来掩饰自己的错误。

  21. 绝不容许别人为你的错误进行瞒骗或掩饰;知道就一定制止。

  22. 不轻易承诺,不知道能不能做到一件事时不会承诺做那件事出来,最多承诺尽力尝试。(老子说,“轻诺而寡信”,就是说轻易承诺便会很少守信。)

  23. 可靠地执行诺言;说做的一定会做(“一诺千金”)。

  24. 很多合约和事情,好像婚姻、生孩子和贩卖,都附有众所皆知的、惯例的、很多时有法律根据的、不言而喻的责任和义务。每当你参与这些合约、事情时,人们就会指望和依赖你会负起这些责任和义务,所以你一参与这些合约、事情时,没有说话就已经立下了不言而喻的诺言,承诺你会一一负起这些责任。例如结婚就不言而喻地承诺了好歹都白头到老,生孩子就承诺了养育孩子,贩卖就承诺了保证货品的一定质量。要可靠地执行你所有不言而喻的诺言。

  25. 如果你想参与一个附有不言而喻诺言的合约或事情,但又想取消某部分的或所有的不言而喻诺言,那么你就一定要事先跟所有有关方面明确地立约,让你取消。例如,清货大减价时,商店要取消保证质量这个不言而喻的诺言,就要事先高挂若干大牌子,写著“货物出门,恕不退换”。看了牌子顾客还是买货,就是同意取消。如果事先没有立约取消就参与了合约、事情,那么就必须可靠地一一执行所有不言而喻的诺言。

  26. 迫不得已不能执行诺言或诺言的一部分时,发现了就尽早警告对方,让对方可以及时采取措施,尽量避免或减轻损失。

  27. 不执行诺言或诺言的一部分而导致对方遭受损失,就作出补偿。

  28. 工作或学业的任务、职责都尽力完满地和依时地完成。

  29. 赏罚分明是对下级不言而喻的承诺:有功的一定赏,有罪的一定罚。(例:丞相曹操割发自罪。)

  30. 不骗取东西。

  31. 不偷东西,尽管很容易偷。

  32. 不拿取不是自己的东西。

  33. 看到别人遗失了的东西就尽力送还别人,不拿取不是自己的东西(“路不拾遗”)。

  34. 别人把钱或东西给错了你的时候,包括给与你远远超出应得的报酬,一定要拒绝。

  35. 别人把钱或东西给错了你的时候,虽然开始你不知道而接受了,一旦发现就立刻把它还给别人。

  36. 绝对尊重别人的财产;未经明确向人求问和获得准许,不要动用别人的东西。(“用人物,须明求。倘不问,即为偷。”)

  37. 借了东西就一定及时交还。

  38. 借了的东西要保管好,交还时要跟原来状况一样。

  39. 借用的东西有损坏时就要赔偿物主。

  40. 借了钱就一定按照原定合约依时还。

  41. 借了钱如果原定合约包括了付利息时就按照条件本利一起依时清还。

  42. 凡给与或拿取东西或金钱,都把事情跟有关的人说得或弄得清清楚楚(“凡取与,贵分晓”)。

  43. 买东西时要把自己的需要和情况如实回答贩卖者的询问,让他可以帮你买到你所需要的货品。不要把他当作存心欺骗那样,用虚言迷惑他。如果你害怕他价钱收得太贵或者品质不好,可以光明正大地去别的贩卖者那里参看价钱和品质。如果他确实收得贵了一点但你仍然想跟他买(例如你跟他相识),可以说,“你的价钱贵了一点,可不可以跟某人的价钱一样?

  44. 买了东西就一定依照约定的价格和时间付钱。

  45. 接受了别人的购买或订单或别人付了钱时,就一定把货物或服务按照约定的数量、质量及时间供应。

  46. 生意上定了合同就一定执行条件。

  47. 跟你进行交易的对方无知、老弱、残障或低能时,绝不趁机加以欺负,这就是传统中国商店里墙上“童叟无欺”牌子的意思。

  48. 协定或合约如果不是非常简单或短暂,就要用笔纸清楚地写下来,双方都拿一份保存。

  49. 尊重别人的私隐、秘密;绝不泄露别人的私隐、秘密,包括企业的经营机密。








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