To say I was delighted when I received a letter from the Inland Revenue Department would probably qualify me for the funny farm, but it’s true. Based on calculations that were way over my mathematically challenged head, I received a substantial refund that could only be described as pure serendipity. Whoever it was who worked on my tax file, may he or she have a blessed life.

Not so blessed were the residents of a remote location in the prefecture of Yizhou (present-day Sichuan) in 484. When military commander Chen Xianda, who had lost an eye in battle, was appointed prefect of Yizhou by the court of the Southern Qi dynasty, he came up against the recalcitrant residents of one far-flung district who had refused to pay their taxes to previous prefects. Ensconced in a remote area surrounded by impenetrable mountains, these proud people were impervious to the (not unreasonable) demands made on them by the government. When Chen sent an emissary, they reportedly said, “We have ignored demands for taxes by prefects with both eyes. What makes you think we will obey prefects with only one eye?” Such effrontery could not go unpunished. Late one night, Chen led a group of soldiers through the mountains and slaughtered every single resident, including the women and children.

Next time you’re filling in your tax form, remember Chen and his single eye.