Go to contents

[Opinion] He’s Jade Disk

Posted January. 23, 2006 03:24,   


Sometime during China’s Chu Dynasty, a man known only by his surname, He, gave a lump of jade to Queen Li. But when the lump was identified as just a stone, the queen sentenced him ordered his left heel cut as punishment.

Undaunted, he later gave the jewel to King Wu, Queen Li’s successor. That got him his right heel cut.

When King Wen ascended the throne, He shed tears of blood for three days with the lump of jade in his arms. When the king asked him why he was crying, he answered, “It is because I am saddened when precious jade is called mere stone, and when a righteous man is called a swindler.” The king had the lump of jade carved into a precious jade jewel and called it “The Jade Disk of He.” This episode takes place in the book, “Han Feizi.”

The Jade Disk of He later fell into the hands of King Huiwen of Zhao. Coveting the jewel, King Zhaoxiang of Qin, a rival power, urged Zhao to exchange it for 15 of his cities. He actually intended to take the jade jewel while not giving up his cities. Lin Xiangru of Zhao, who was dispatched to Qin, noticed this. He explained that he would reveal where the flaws of the jewel were, and secretly sent the “flawless” Jade Disk of He to his home country. That is the origin of the expression, “Flawless Jade,” which means perfection.

On January 19, a paper titled, “Ankles and Papers” was posted on the bulletin board of the official website of the Biological Research Information Center (BRIC), where young scientists called for a verification of the truth regarding the manipulation of papers by Professor Hwang Woo-suk. The writer, nicknamed “joke,” reflected on himself by recalling a memory from 18 years ago when he was writing his master’s thesis. At the time, his advisor told him that one should “sincerely write a paper to the extent that one is ready to get his or her ankles cut.” He said, “I discovered misspellings in a published paper, and I once found a missed reference only after another paper was published. If one gets his or her ankles cut because of flaws in his or her jade jewel, I would definitely have had to get my wrists cut as well.”

Some 2,500 people, including Hwang supporters, held a candlelight rally on January 21 at the Citizen’s Open Yard in Gwanghwamun, Seoul. If Hwang had written a perfect and truthful paper, they would not have had to suffer the cold to express their lingering attachment to his research.

“The Jade Disk of He” and “Flawless Jade” are ancient anecdotes that scientists should hold dear inside their minds.

Han Ki-heung, Editorial Writer, eligius@donga.com