Di Renjie was from Taiyuan in Shanxi during the Tang Dynasty- His formal name was Huai Ying. Clever and diligent in his studies, he mastered the Five Classics. On his way to the capital to take the examination, he stopped for a night at an inn. The hostess of the inn was an attractive young lady who had just been widowed. She was afflicted with thoughts of desire when she saw how refined and stately Renjie was. Although she tried to seduce him with her charms, Renjie was not moved by her beauty. He used propriety to reform her and did not allow himself to take liberties.
As a result of this private good deed, he took first place in the imperial exam. In the capital, someone made a prophesy that the person taking the first place would be “the fire dog, a hero among two people.” [This is an allusion to the name of Di Renjie in Chinese.]
As an official in Bing District, he was incorruptible and carely deeply for the people. When a colleague assigned to be transferred away was worried that nobody would look after his aged and sick mother, Renjie found out about this and volunteered to replace his colleague. His supervisor was so moved that he sent someone else.
Later he was transferred from Bin District to Taiyuan. On the way, he passed by Taihang Mountain. Ascending its summit, he gazed east at the distant white clouds and thought of his parents. He told those around him, “Under those white clouds is my parents’ house.” From this incident evolved the Chinese idiom, “House under the white clouds.”
During the reign of Emperor Gao, there were mountains of cases awaiting judgment. He was instructed to judge the cases and within a year he had judged more than 17,000 cases with equality and fairness. As a result, the delighted people sincerely accepted him.
When he passed away at age seventy-three, Empress Zetian wept and said, “From now on, there will be no one like him in the royal court. Why did the heavens seize this elder of our country so soon?
We will talk today about a righteous, unselfish government official—Di Renjie. He was born in Tang Dynasty, at Taiyuan, Shanxi Province. His other name was Huaiying. He was smart and diligent, and so he thoroughly mastered the Five Classics and Four Books. In ancient China, one had to pass imperial examination in order to become an official. Thus, he went to the capital to take the exam. On the way to the exam, he stayed at an inn where the owner was a widow who had recently lost her husband. Perhaps this widow was so staunch and unyielding that her husband died because of her personality. When Di Renjie stayed at her inn, she couldn’t help but be attracted to his dignified, gentle appearance and upright spirit. Hence, she dressed up in a stylish, bewitching, coquettish way to seduce him.
Being a man of honor, he was not confused by her beauty. Instead, he reasoned with her in a proper and righteous manner and put an end to her licentious thoughts. Consequently, she wasn’t bold as before. What he had done was a hidden virtuous deed that no one knew. A good deed is not truly good if you want others to know about it, whereas an evil deed is truly malicious if you try to keep it a secret. Because he created hidden virtue by influencing a person with improper intentions to reform, he took first place in the highest imperial examination.
Before the examinations took place in the capital, people were trying to guess who would come out first in the highest imperial exam. They divined by means of Eight Trigrams that the “the fire dog, hero among two people” would win. Most people did not understand what this prediction meant. After the exam, they realized that ‘fire’ 火plus ‘dog’犬referred to the character
di 狄. ‘Two people’ 二人composed the character ren 仁, and ‘hero’ is
jie 傑 so the phrase made the three characters “Di Renjie” 狄仁傑. Thus the prophecy was correct.
When Di Renjie first became government official, he worked in Bing District. He was honest, upright and fair, so all citizens admired him. At that time, the higher authorities planned to transfer his colleague to another place. His colleague’s mother was sick and as a filial son, the colleague was depressed thinking that he wouldn’t be able to personally take care of his mother and give her food and medicine if he were transferred away. He couldn’t figure out any way to deal with this. Hearing this, Di Renjye, volunteered to be transferred out in his stead. The higher authorities valued his considerate thinking, and assigned another person to take that position.
We can tell from this incident that Di Renjie was really a good official who was considerate and who always helped others. On the way from Bing District to fill a position at Taiyuan, he passed by Mt. Taihang. While looking east at the distant white clouds capping the peak of Mt. Taihang, he was reminded that his parents once lived there. He told his attendants that his parents’ house was under those white clouds. The idiom “house under the white clouds” evolved from this incident.
During the reign of Emperor Gao, the judicial court neglected to judge the cases brought before them, and thus the cases piled up like a mountain. Di Renjie was assigned to investigate those cases. In one year, he cleaned up the accumulated cases and finished over 17,000 cases. All the cases were dealt in a proper and appropriate manner, and they were all resolved fairly and impartially. All the people were pleased, and they loved and respected him. As the prime minister under Empress Wu Zetian, he governed the country until peace prevailed. Therefore, when he died at the age of 73, Wu Zetian cried because she held him in the highest regard. His presence caused her to behave decently. She was usually ill-behaved and licentious, but she respected and was afraid of Di Renjie’s honest and upright character. Wu Zetian said at his death, “There is no one in my royal court now. Why did the heavens take this meritorious elder so soon?” She was filled with endless lamentation. The main point of this section is that Di Renjie was a just and upright person who did not entertain the slightest bad thought.
To be continued