(Minghui.org) Niu Shumei served as the prefect of Ningyuan Prefecture during the periods of Daoguang and Xianfeng (the period including 1820-1861) in the Qing Dynasty. He was honest and hardworking and achieved remarkable things, for which people praised him highly. 

One day, there was a devastating earthquake. All the houses in town collapsed and countless people were injured or died. The government offices were also damaged. Niu's son perished and Niu sustained such a serious injury to his foot that he had difficulty walking.

In his anguish, Niu Shumei wrote a long article to question the Town God. In the article, he accused the Town God of enjoying the incense people burned, but failing to protect them, and challenged the Town God by asking if it was possible that everyone in the big town was wicked and deserved to die? He said he had a clear conscience, but his son was dead and he himself was injured. He asked whether the way of Heaven was not good enough for people to have faith in and if gods also made mistakes in their judgment.

That night, Niu Shumei had a dream that the Town God invited him to his place and said to him, “You reprimanded me in your writing with self-righteousness and justification, but you really don't understand how gods and spirits function, and that's why I have invited you here to address your question and defamatory remarks.

“All calamities result from sinful karma accumulated by people over time, and nothing is accidental,” he told Niu.

He revealed to Niu the secret of how the gods spent 50 years making arrangements about the earthquake. He said, “There was a 50-year-long investigation and note-keeping in relation to the current earthquake, and all those who were not supposed to suffer had been relocated; if they had committed new sins, they would have been moved back; even if there might have been changes at the time amid the catastrophe, such changes would have been taken into consideration and human lives would never be ignored.”

“If this is the case,” Niu Shumei argued, “do you mean to say that there was not even one kindhearted person in the whole town, and that my son and I also deserved to be condemned?”

“There are three families in town that remain safe and sound,” the Town God said. “One is the family of a woman who has been living as a widow for three generations and is now taking care of her grandson. One is a doctor's family. He never sells fake medicine, and he attends to a patient the best he can whenever there is such a need, even in the middle of the night or the roads are wet and muddy. Another one is the family of an old lady and her young grandson, who make a living by selling fried rice cakes. They are all safe and sound. You can go and check it out. I wouldn't tell lies.

“Your son did a lot of bad things in his previous life, and as a result he met his due retribution in the earthquake,” the Town God told Niu. “You would have been condemned as well, but because you are an honest and hardworking official, you were given a lenient punishment and only your foot was injured. In a word, gods and Heaven are extremely cautious when dealing out rewards or punishments, and they would never show any extra favor to any particular person. Every disaster or good fortune has its reasons, so if you do your very best to be a good official, you could be promoted to the position of Justice Commissioner.”

After hearing all this, Niu Shumei thanked the Town God and apologized for what he wrote in the article.

After he woke up, Niu went to check out the three families the Town God had told him about in the dream. Sure enough, he found the families of the woman and the doctor, even though it took him a bit more effort to find the old lady selling fried rice cakes. She told Mr. Niu that she treated people fairly, and when she came across people who were old or disabled, she would still sell them cakes at a discount or not charge them at all.

She also told Niu that two days before the earthquake struck, she had more customers all of a sudden and the supply exceeded demand, so she and her little grandson spent the night making fried rice cakes to sell the next day. Then came the earthquake and the two of them were covered under the collapsed house for three days before they were rescued. They survived on fried rice cakes during those three days.

Niu Shumei was very surprised to hear her story, and after that he gained an even deeper understanding of the principle of cause and effect and worked even harder to be a good official. Later, he was indeed promoted to the position of Justice Commissioner of Sichuan.

Editor's Note

Niu Shumei was a real person in history (1791-1875), born in Gansu and a successful candidate of the Imperial Examination in the 21st year of the Daoguang period in the Qing Dynasty. He served as magistrate of Zhangming County (current Jiangyou City), prefect of Maozhi and Ningyuan and Justice Commissioner of Sichuan in his career of officialdom.

Niu was described in The Draft History of Qing as being “transparent and prudent in adjudicating cases. He left no case unsolved and was deeply loved by the people.” 

The earthquake in question happened in Xichang on the night of September 12, 1850 (August 7 of the lunar year, and the 38th year of the Daoguang period). It was a devastating magnitude 7.5 earthquake. 

It was recorded in the The Draft of Qing History about the situation in Ningyuan, “the earth quaked and the entire town collapsed, leaving many people dead or injured. (Niu) Shumei was buried in rubble, but survived. The local people in Sichuan said that Heaven spared Niu Qingtian (a nickname given to him by people in praise of his righteousness and uprightness), so that he could promote kindness and benevolence. Shumei blamed himself for not having abundant virtue and failing to protect the people, and reflected upon himself. He then offered whatever he could to help the victims and gained even deeper respect and love from the people.”

The story was taken from “Juen Yuan Notes” by Huang Shuyun.