The Origin of the Chinese Idiom: You Are My Second Guardian

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Su Zhang was born in the Fufeng region of the East Han Dynasty. He later became Governor of the Ji Zhou Prefecture. One of Su Zhang’s subordinates, and a good friend of his, was the Magistrate of Qinghe County. One day, Su Zhang went on an inspection tour of Qinghe County. During the tour, he found solid evidence that his friend had turned corrupt and that he had abused his position for his own benefit. Even so, the Magistrate tried to capitalise on their friendship and used incessant flattery on Su Zhang during the visit. The Magistrate also asked him to be a guest at an extravagant banquet.

Even knowing of his friend’s crimes, Su Zhang accepted his old friend’s invitation to dine with him. At the banquet, the Magistrate was delighted that Su Zhang had accepted the invitation as he saw it as a sign that the Governor would conceal his crimes. Thus he was grateful to his old friend. He was extremely attentive to Su Zhang and was boastful to the other banquet guests about his friendship with this high ranking official who he believed would cover up his crimes. The Magistrate was very nervous at the beginning of the dinner. But as the dinner went on, he became more and more relaxed because Su Zhang didn't say anything about his wrongdoings. Instead, he just recollected their good old days together as old friends. The Magistrate even bragged, “Everyone has his own guardian above him to protect and watch over him but I have two.” He implied that Su Zhuang was that second guardian from saving him from a fate of death for his crimes, and he was expressing his deep gratitude to Su Zhuang.

But Su Zhang answered in a mellow yet serious and righteous manner, “I am here to drink with my friend tonight, but I will handle all government affairs as I should as the Governor of Ji Zhou Prefecture tomorrow. These two things are completely separate.”

The next day, Su Zhang handed his friend over to justice and as a result all the government officials in Ji Zhou Prefecture quickly rectified their behaviour. Consequently, the political climate throughout the Ji Zhou Prefecture improved.

Later on the idiom, “You are my second guardian” became a way to express gratitude toward those who helped another in a difficult situation. It also carries the same meaning as another saying, “You have given me a second life.”

Source: “The Biography of Su Zhang” from the History of Eastern Han or Hou Han Shu

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