A marquis named Jing Hou once paid a visit to the prince of Wei State during the Warring States period of Chinese history (475–221 B.C.).
Jing Hou specially dressed up for the occasion, holding a sword with precious stone inlays on the left and a precious jade tablet pendant on the right, both sparkling brightly. However, the prince did not even take a look or ask any questions.
Jing Hou tried to raise the topic by asking, “Do you have precious treasures in Wei State?”
“Yes, of course!” the prince replied.
“What are they?” Jing Hou asked.
The prince said, “The king honors credibility, the officers pledge their loyalty, the state has the love of its people, and these are the treasures of Wei State.”
“No, I did not mean these,” Jing Hou said. “I was asking about real precious objects.”
“Real treasures? Yes, of course!” the prince replied. “We have sage Tu Shizhao ruling the state, so there is no overstocking or uneven distribution to the markets, eliminating cunning merchants making unjust fortunes.
“We have sage Xi Xin administrating the cities, so nobody will misappropriate lost objects on the road. We also have Mang Mao as officer in the court, and all talented people with good reputations come to pay tribute. These three sages are our true treasures,” the prince said.
This time Jing Hou understood the message, and he felt ashamed. He stood up as if at a loss, mounted his carriage, and left quickly without taking the precious sword or the jade tablet pendant with him.
The prince sent his servant on a horse to return the sword and pendant to Jing Hou with a message: “I am not capable of holding these treasures for you. Besides, these objects cannot become clothes for warming, and neither can they become food during a famine. They only bring about theft. So they might as well be given back to you.”
Source: “Shuo Yuan,” or Garden of Talks: stories and tales from Confucian scholar Liu Xiang from the pre-Qin period to the Western Han Dynasty.
Edited by Sally Appert.