A righteous magistrate much loved by his people
Gu Kui (1790-1850), a Songjiang native, passed the jinshi exam, the highest imperial examination in ancient China that promised successful candidates a bright official career, in 1826. In the next 24 years till his death Gu served his people diligently with honesty and righteousness.
Gu was appointed magistrate of Lingshi County in north China’s Shanxi Province after the exam. Lingshi at that time was a remote and backward mountainous region and people there were likely to resort to litigation to solve conflicts.
Gu did his best to make the right decisions and solve doubtful cases. Folk customs also improved as mediation was often adopted when Gu was settling a lawsuit.
One time a melon farmer was killed at his farmland. The man had no wife or offspring but three young relatives. While Gu was judging the case, he found one man looked differently and reckoned him to be the murderer.
Gu then kindly persuaded him to reveal the truth. The suspect kowtowed and acknowledged that he killed the deceased in a conflict after his request to borrow money was rejected.
The case was solved without the use of torture devices and earned respect for Gu from the general public.
A smart and impartial judge, Gu was also a resourceful official who was able to gather social efforts for the benefit of his people.
A torrential flood once broke out in Fenhe River and battered down stone dikes, fields and houses. Gu took the initiative to donate money to build new dikes. Rich people in the county followed suit. Before long the riverbanks were strengthened and much more solid than before.
In addition, to maintain the new dikes, Gu loaned the remaining sum of the project to merchants and used the interest to pay the charges.
He also ensured his people were never insulted by passing armies.
Once a passing soldier tried to plunder goods from a storeowner. When the latter resisted, the soldier bullied him. On hearing this, Gu rode a horse to catch up with the army and negotiated with its general command. He succeeded in bringing back the offending soldier and asked him to apologize to his people.
Gu suffered a low ebb in his life after he went against another official’s idea of running a porridge factory.
“Lingshi is a mountainous region and its poverty-stricken people are scattered at different places. I don’t think it will work if we just run a porridge factory at a certain place,” said Gu.
The official complained about Gu’s objection to high-level officials and Gu was stripped of his government post. Furthermore, he was not allowed to simply resign and return to his hometown.
During his demoted period, Gu became extremely poor. But the general public in Lingshi vied to send him food and money. They even appealed for a high-level official to restore Gu to his post in Lingshi. The people succeeded and four months later Gu returned to his post.
Gu’s mother died in September that year. To mourn her, he returned to his hometown in Songjiang and left officialdom.
In 1849 Songjiang, then Huating County, experienced a famine and Gu was assigned the job of disaster relief. He used government money to purchase rice in order to lower rice prices. His efforts were slandered by some people.
Gu died at the age of 61 due to sickness from constant overwork.