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A Two-Faced Character

In the line of dynasties the Ming succeeds the Yuan. At the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), there was much fighting. The Yuan troops had waged a seesaw battle in the region north of the Yellow River against the forces of Zhu Yuangzhang, who later became the Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was a confusing time for the people of this region as they were expected to greet whichever army that occupied their township. Every time the occupying army entered they had to put up banners with welcoming slogans. In this period of uncertainty, the banners were used all too frequently.

The people in Huaiqing Prefecture in northern Henam Province led a frugal life and hated to write a welcome banner every time a new army entered. So they thought of a way to economize. Instead of using paper, they used a wooden board which they could recycle.On one side of the board, they wrote, "We welcome the Yuan army to protect the region and bring peace to the people." On the other side, they wrote, "Drive out the Tartars and restore the middle kingdom!" It could be turned over and back again at appropriate times. This was an economic and convenient way for the people to fulfill their patriotic duties.

Soon after, the insurrectionary army under the command of General Chang Yuchun defeated the Yuan court troops. The General and his soldiers entered the seat of Huaiqing Prefecture and were greeted with the colorful wooden boards to welcome them. Suddenly there was a gust wind and the wooden boards were flipped over. The General saw the words welcoming the Yuan court troops written on the other side of the board. He was enraged and ordered punishment for the families that had written the words on the both sides of the board.

Chang Yuchun then feigned that he was withdrawing from the town.He tricked the people by leaving shoe-shaped silver ingots on the streets. Those who took the ingots were then accused of theft when the General returned. He then proceeded to kill the "thieves." He played this trick again and again. The killing were on until no one dared to pick the silver ingots which were left abandoned on the streets. As a result of this, the prefecture of Huaiqing was left with only a few inhabitants. That was why when the Ming Dynasty was formally established, many people migrated from Hongdong County in neighboring Shanxi Province to Huaiqing.

This story later gave rise to the expression "a two-faced character." It was once used to describe the dilemma of a man who has a foot in both camps, and now refers to a dual character currying favor with both sides.

(Compiled by Shen Jun and Ma Hanmin)

                                             

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