BEIJING, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- True friends always stay united in spirit, as exemplified and lauded in Chinese folktales throughout history. Among such tales, the story of Guan Zhong and Bao Shuya must be second to none.
Despite the passage of time since it was recorded by historians, the saga of their friendship has always been regarded as a fine example for "junzi," the moral exemplar in Chinese philosophy.
Both Guan and Bao were politicians in the State of Qi during the period of Spring and Autumn (770-476 B.C.), under Duke Huan, the first of the five overlords of that era.
They were born in Yingshang, in modern-day Anhui Province in east China, and became acquainted with each other at an early age.
Compared to Guan's, Bao's family was relatively wealthy. Nevertheless, the two became best friends, and Bao admired his friend's talent and erudition.
Known for being a loyal friend, Bao could always comprehend Guan's difficulties and feelings and never blamed him for his failures and shortcomings.
Before entering politics, they were engaged in business and took part in business ventures together. But, Guan always took more profit share than he actually deserved. Bao was well aware of this but never accused him of avarice, on account of Guan's poverty.
Guan was dismissed from his posts several times, but Bao believed Guan was not given enough opportunities to demonstrate his abilities fully. Besides, Guan fled battlefields on multiple occasions, and Bao made exceptions for Guan's need to take care of his elderly mother rather than accusing him of cowardice.
The two friends later entered politics as tutors to two princes of Qi. Guan was appointed tutor to Prince Jiu. Bao Shuya, meanwhile, became tutor to Jiu's brother, Prince Xiaobai.
After a series of murders and coups, Prince Xiaobai became the new duke, namely Duke Huan of Qi. Subsequently, the new duke won the war against the State of Lu which sheltered Prince Jiu and tried to enforce his claim.
Consequently, Qi pressured Lu to kill the prince and send Guan back.
With Guan Zhong's repatriation, the two friends reunited. But Duke Huan still bore a grudge against Guan, since Guan tried to assassinate him. Meanwhile, the duke planned to elevate Bao, his tutor and guardian, to the post of chancellor.
Bao, however, defended his friend's allegiance to his former master and lauded his talents, convincing the duke to exonerate Guan and elevate Guan as the chancellor instead of Bao. At the same time, he convinced Guan to shift his loyalty to the new duke and serve him wholeheartedly.
Duke Huan took his suggestion into consideration. Years later, based on Duke Huan's governance and Guan's reforms and deft diplomacy, Qi became the most powerful feudal state of that time.
Historian Sima Qian documented a quote of Guan regarding his lifelong friend and supporter in the Shiji, or the Records of the Grand Historian: "My parents gave birth to me, but it is Bao who knows me best."
True friendship and the mutual trust and understanding between friends, as represented in the story of Guan and Bao, have been highly regarded in China for thousands of years and continue to have practical significance in contemporary society and inter-state relations.