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Essays: (To Simplified Chinese Script)     論文: (到简体版)

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 be well-developed, the technology will be top notch, and the country will be 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. 說話誠實,只說真的。

  2. 不撒謊。

  3. 不誇張事實。

  4. 不歪曲事實。

  5. 不蓄意誤導別人、使別人產生錯覺,儘管嚴格來說,這樣做或許“沒有撒謊” 。

  6. 如果別人發問而你不應該或不願意把答案告訴別人,例如是問及自己的或他人的私隱或秘密,就如實地說“很抱歉,不能(或不應該、不願意)回答”,而不製造謊話來應付。

  7. 關於見得未真切、知道未確實的事情,不輕率發言或傳播。

  8. 說了的話是算數的,必須承認。(“君子一言既出,駟馬難追。”)

  9. 自己不知道或不清楚,就坦白承認,不要裝作知道。

  10. 談話時不明白或不清楚對方說的話,要問清楚,不要裝作明白。

  11. 知道對方對你的發言或立場有錯覺或誤會時就及時澄清,不要裝作不知道而不加以澄清。

  12. 不刻意貶低別人。

  13. 不諂媚奉承有錢或權勢的人。

  14. 不說人家閒話,不參加流言蜚語的製造。

  15. 做錯了事就承認。

  16. 做錯的事損害了他人就要補償。

  17. 發覺自己有錯就立刻改正。

  18. 歡迎別人指出你的錯過和缺點;絕不生氣或打擊報復。

  19. 不撒謊、歪曲事實、或蓄意誤導別人,來掩飾自己的錯誤。

  20. 不指使他人撒謊、歪曲事實、或蓄意誤導別人,來掩飾自己的錯誤。

  21. 絕不容許別人為你的錯誤進行瞞騙或掩飾;知道就一定制止。

  22. 不輕易承諾,不知道能不能做到一件事時不會承諾做那件事出來,最多承諾盡力嘗試。(老子說,“輕諾而寡信”,就是說輕易承諾便會很少守信。)

  23. 可靠地執行諾言;說做的一定會做(“一諾千金”)。

  24. 很多合約和事情,好像婚姻、生孩子和販賣,都附有眾所皆知的、慣例的、很多時有法律根據的、不言而喻的責任和義務。每當你參與這些合約、事情時,人們就會指望和依賴你會負起這些責任和義務,所以你一參與這些合約、事情時,沒有說話就已經立下了不言而喻的諾言,承諾你會一一負起這些責任。例如結婚就不言而喻地承諾了好歹都白頭到老,生孩子就承諾了養育孩子,販賣就承諾了保證貨品的一定質量。要可靠地執行你所有不言而喻的諾言。

  25. 如果你想參與一個附有不言而喻諾言的合約或事情,但又想取消某部分的或所有的不言而喻諾言,那麼你就一定要事先跟所有有關方面明確地立約,讓你取消。例如,清貨大減價時,商店要取消保證質量這個不言而喻的諾言,就要事先高掛若干大牌子,寫著“貨物出門,恕不退換”。看了牌子顧客還是買貨,就是同意取消。如果事先沒有立約取消就參與了合約、事情,那麼就必須可靠地一一執行所有不言而喻的諾言。

  26. 迫不得已不能執行諾言或諾言的一部分時,發現了就盡早警告對方,讓對方可以及時採取措施,盡量避免或減輕損失。

  27. 不執行諾言或諾言的一部分而導致對方遭受損失,就作出補償。

  28. 工作或學業的任務、職責都盡力完滿地和依時地完成。

  29. 賞罰分明是對下級不言而喻的承諾:有功的一定賞,有罪的一定罰。(例:丞相曹操割髮自罪。)

  30. 不騙取東西。

  31. 不偷東西,儘管很容易偷。

  32. 不拿取不是自己的東西。

  33. 看到別人遺失了的東西就盡力送還別人,不拿取不是自己的東西(“路不拾遺”)。

  34. 別人把錢或東西給錯了你的時候,包括給與你遠遠超出應得的報酬,一定要拒絕。

  35. 別人把錢或東西給錯了你的時候,雖然開始你不知道而接受了,一旦發現就立刻把它還給別人。

  36. 絕對尊重別人的財產;未經明確向人求問和獲得准許,不要動用別人的東西。(“用人物,須明求。倘不問,即為偷。”)

  37. 借了東西就一定及時交還。

  38. 借了的東西要保管好,交還時要跟原來狀況一樣。

  39. 借用的東西有損壞時就要賠償物主。

  40. 借了錢就一定按照原定合約依時還。

  41. 借了錢如果原定合約包括了付利息時就按照條件本利一起依時清還。

  42. 凡給與或拿取東西或金錢,都把事情跟有關的人說得或弄得清清楚楚(“凡取與,貴分曉”)。

  43. 買東西時要把自己的需要和情況如實回答販賣者的詢問,讓他可以幫你買到你所需要的貨品。不要把他當作存心欺騙那樣,用虛言迷惑他。如果你害怕他價錢收得太貴或者品質不好,可以光明正大地去別的販賣者那裡參看價錢和品質。如果他確實收得貴了一點但你仍然想跟他買(例如你跟他相識),可以說,“你的價錢貴了一點,可不可以跟某人的價錢一樣?

  44. 買了東西就一定依照約定的價格和時間付錢。

  45. 接受了別人的購買或訂單或別人付了錢時,就一定把貨物或服務按照約定的數量、質量及時間供應。

  46. 生意上定了合同就一定執行條件。

  47. 跟你進行交易的對方無知、老弱、殘障或低能時,絕不趁機加以欺負,這就是傳統中國商店裡牆上“童叟無欺”牌子的意思。

  48. 協定或合約如果不是非常簡單或短暫,就要用筆紙清楚地寫下來,雙方都拿一份保存。

  49. 尊重別人的私隱、秘密;絕不泄露別人的私隱、秘密,包括企業的經營機密。








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