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Prince Bi Gan

Updated on June 4, 2010

Prince Bi Gan was one of the three uncles of the tyranny King Zhou (Chou) of Shang Dynasty.

Bi Gan also written as prince Pi Kan, or the prince Pî-kan, his character and conducts was widely discussed by all kinds of philosophy schools.

Confucius highly praised Bi Gan, and said: “In three of the Yin there was love”. But Chuang Tzu disaproved of Bi Gan's behaviour, he thinks that it's Bi Gan's fond of good fame incurred his own death, in Chuang tzu, chapter IV :

"In ancient times Chieh put Kuan Lung-feng to death and Chou put Prince Pi Kan to death. Both Kuan Lung-feng and Prince Pi Kan were scrupulous in their conduct, bent down to comfort and aid the common people, and used their positions as ministers to oppose their superiors. Therefore their rulers, Chieh and Chou, utilized their scrupulous conduct as a means to trap them, for they were too fond of good fame."

The Death of Bi Gan

Bi Gan repeatedly remonstrated to the king regarding his behavior and incurred the king's wrath, the King shouted at him, "I heard that a sage's heart has seven apertures! Today, I would like to check it out!" The king ordered to cut open Bi Gan's chest to see how many compartments or holes in his heart. Bi Gan cut his heart out by himself.

Legend has it that when his chest was cut open, Bi Gan grabbed his heart and pulled it out of his body to be given to King Chou. He did not lose his life, nor shed a single drop of blood. Instead, he walked out of the palace, and went straight home. Yet upon the last few steps on reaching home, a female huckster yelled from behind, 'Hey, Cheap water spinach!' Bi Gan startled and looked back, then realized that he was walking without heart, and died.

Why did King Chou cut open Prince Bi Gan's heart? Because Bi Gan and Viscount Wei, and lord Chi were together known as "The Three Kindhearted Men of Shang" in the kingdom. King Chou might be jealous of the three men's good fame and wanted to revenge.

In the Book of Investiture of the Gods (or The Creation of the Gods) it was Daji , King Chou's favourite concubine, took revenge on Bi Gan. Once Daji awoke one morning and began to cough blood, she created the excuse that half a person's heart is needed within soup as a medicine to cure her ailment. As the Prime Minister, Bi Gan should sacrifice half his heart as a "showing of love to his king".

The Viscount of Wei resigned and went into exile, the lord of Ch´i became a slave, then he faked insanity and was relieved of his post. But Pi-kan was disemboweled and died for his reproofs.

King Wu raised a tumulus over Pi-kan's grave, and released the viscount of Chi from prison, after he defeated and killed King Chou of Shang.

Prince Bi Gan became the God of Wealth

According to the book The Creation of the Gods, Bi Gan actually didn't die after his heart was dug out, he went into the midst of the common people to distribute treasure, and became the God of Wealth, all merchants under the blessing of Bi Gan do honest business, never cheating anyone.

Descendants of Bi Gan

The Origin of the Lin surname was said to be related to Prince Bi Gan. When he was arrested, Bi Gan's pregnant wife escaped into the forest, and her baby was born in the forest, it is said that she grabbed hold of two trees and gave birth to a baby boy between two trees. The Chinese character of the surname Lin is depicted by two trees.

The Chinese legend also mentions that Wang family are descendants of Prince Bi Gan, and know as the 'The Bi clan of Wang family'.


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