Wei Zheng, a Free-spoken and Brave Official, Remonstrating with the Emperor
Becoming a statesman during the early Tang Dynasty, Wei Zheng was born into a poor family in AD 580 in Qucheng, Weizhou (today's Daming County, Hebei Province). As a boy, he studied hard, and had a lofty aspiration. When he became an advisor to Li Jiancheng, he repeatedly reminded him that he had to eliminate Li Shimin.
After the coup at Xuanwu Gate, Li Shimin sent for Wei Zheng and asked him with a set face, "Why did you stir trouble between us brothers? "
"What a pity the Crown Prince had not listened to me. He need not have died," responded Wei Zheng, without losing his composure.
Despite his colleagues' anxieties, Emperor Taizong pardoned Wei Zheng for his honesty and talent and made him his advisor whose duty was to remonstrate with the emperor.
Wei Zheng possessed character and integrity. There are many stories about him being candid with the Emperor, while other officials had misgivings over telling him the truth.
Emperor Taizong once complained about his food. Wei Zheng told him: "Emperor Yang Di of Sui did not like his food either, and he complained a lot, until it became a reason his people did not like him. There is danger in caring too much about what you eat and Your Majesty is well advised to heed the waming. Content yourself with what you have, then you will find the food to be all very good; whereas, if you should be so disposed as to never feel satisfied by anything, then you will not enjoy any delicacy served onto your table."
"I would not possibly listen to such an admonition except from you," said the Emperor gratefully.
The Tang Dynasty reached a golden age during the reign of Emperor Taizong. While everybody else was busy lauding and glorifying the emperor, Wei Zheng submitted a memorial reminding him of the ten virtues he must be mindful of and practice amidst general plenty, which might otherwise foster pride and indolence. Emperor Taizong made a copy of this memorial and put it on a screen so that he could read it every time he looked up. "You let me know where I might fall short," he told Wei Zheng, "I shall work on all the flaws, otherwise I would be embarrassed to see you again."
Wei Zheng died in 643. Mourning over his loss, Emperor Taizong wrote the tombstone script for him. He recalled Wei Zheng as a friend who would always criticize him for any wrongdoing: "Polished bronze can be a mirror, it tells you if you have not dressed well; history can be a mirror, it tells you what is behind the rise and fall of dynasties; a man can be a mirror, a mirror of your soul, he tells you where you have gone wrong. Now that Wei Zheng is dead, I have lost my mirror."