Loyalty is at present an agonizing question to many concerned Chinese who face either divisive circumstances or imposition of particular political lines. Few topics could be more relevant than their heritage of loyalty and its implications today. Never a simple matter in politics, loyalty often produced great tensions and even ironical tragedies that filled the pages in Chinese history. As early as the Shang period, according to the ancient legend, an official most loyal to the state was killed by the displeased last king for not being loyal to him. In the more recent period of the Ming, for example, Yü Chien (1398–1457) suffered the same fate. Having defended Peking and thus saved the realm during the emperor's brief captivity, he was later executed by the same emperor who returned and eventually retook the throne. Of all these ironical tragedies—loyal men condemned as disloyal—the case of Yüeh Fei has been highly significant. He was for centuries a much mythologized and even deified symbol of loyalty. With superstitious beliefs swept away by modern waves, many Chinese still identify his image with nationalism, anti-imperialistic stands, and attachment to the fatherland. This essay will analyze the following: pertinent points in Yüeh Fei's career, the neo-Confucian theory and practice of loyalty in political science terms, and his evolving myths in intellectual history with regard to both the elite heritage and the mass heritage.

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