A statue of Hai Rui
Hainan Island, off China’s southern coast, is a land of palm-lined roads and swimming beaches that, thanks to decades of explosive economic growth, is now a major destination for domestic tourists.
The island is known as “the Hawaii of China,” and the hotels going up all over make the comparison apt.
Yet Hainan used to be home to many members of the Li ethnic minority and served as a place of exile for those who were vanquished in struggles for power.
The island is also the birthplace of Hai Rui, a Ming dynasty official who 500 years after his birth continues to be admired as a model of the ideal bureaucrat—a man of integrity who did not seek to curry favor with his superiors.
Hai Rui’s tomb can be visited in his hometown of Haikou, the provincial capital. Although a grave was erected on the site two years after his death in 1587, the surrounding area was not built up until the 1980s.
Beyond the gate off a major road, a granite path takes visitors about 100 meters to the tomb and a statue of Hai Rui, who looks calm but strong willed.

Many people still visit the tomb of Hai Rui in Haikou, Hainan Province, to pay respect to his incorruptible character.

The surrounding greenery and clear blue sky make for a beautiful setting, and also bring to mind Hai Rui’s nickname “Hai Qing Tian,” which literally means “sea blue sky” but can also be read “upright official Hai.”
“I was moved to learn how he didn’t kiss up to his superiors and only left behind the equivalent of one month’s pay when he died,” said Wang Xi, a tourist from Lanzhou, Gansu Province.
Hai Rui, whose father died when he was very young, was raised by his strict but education-minded mother.
In his career in public service, he witnessed the corruption of the dynasty and the lives of peasants burdened by heavy taxes. Wherever he went, he strove to improve governance.
But Hai Rui is most famous for submitting a written opinion criticizing Emperor Jiajing for the government’s lackadaisical commitment to Daoist longevity arts. At the time he was serving as the top official of the finance bureau in charge of the Yunnan region.
Hai Rui knew that having an ignorant sovereign caused the common people grief, but he was also aware that his behavior could bring him the death penalty.
Indeed, the emperor was so angry he sentenced Hai Rui to death.
However, he was pardoned by Emperor Longqing and continued to make policy proposals under Emperor Wanli as well, showing that his upright character had not changed.
Another Hai Rui, this one a 32-year-old company employee from Changchun, Jilin Province, was also visiting the tomb.
“My parents gave me the same name, but I’m not sure if I’d have the courage to put my life on the line if I were in his position,” he said.
Popular 420 years on
The tomb has been designated a base for anticorruption education for high-ranking Communist Party officials, and is visited by many party members.
“We dream of a day when corruption will disappear and this will no longer be a base for anticorruption education, but just a normal tourist site,” said Chen Tao, chief of the tomb’s managing bureau.
Yet just this year, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China announced it was investigating Hainan Province Vice Gov. Ji Wenlin for “serious violations of laws and regulations.”
Ji had attended a ceremony marking the 500th anniversary of Hai Rui’s birth only about a month before.
Hai Rui remains a popular figure 420 years after his death, maybe because today, just like during the Ming dynasty, the Chinese people are dissatisfied and critical of their government.
Yoshida is a former correspondent in Guangzhou.
Hai Rui passed the first stage of the Chinese civil service examinations, called xiangshi or “township exams,” with a paper on how the Li minority of Hainan Island should be governed. He attempted the next level exam twice, but failed to pass. As a result, he mainly served as an official in more outlying regions. The release of a story titled “Hai Rui Dismissed from Office” in 1961 eventually triggered the Cultural Revolution. Some believed the character Hai Rui in the story was meant to represent Peng Dehuai, a former defense minister who had criticized the Great Leap Forward, and that it was meant to be critical of Mao Zedong, who had purged Peng.
SOURCE: Japan news
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