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The Governing Principles of Ancient China

Confucius said: “A superior person may hold different opinions from others. A petty person may seem agreeable with others, but he cannot live in harmony with others.” (Scroll 9: Lun Yu)


Confucius said: “A superior person perfects what is good in people. He does not perfect what is bad. A petty person does the opposite.” (Scroll 9: Lun Yu)


A superior person conceals that faults of others as a means to cultivate his own kindness. A petty person destroys the kind deeds of others as a means to show off his own greatness. (Scroll 48: Ti Lun)


Zigong asked Confucius: “Will superior persons despise anyone?” Confucius said: “Superior persons despise people who expose the faults of others. They despise subordinates who slander their superiors. They despise brave people who are discourteous, and they despise resolute people who are unreasonable.” (Scroll 9: Lun Yu)


Superior persons possess solid principles and goals, and every plan that they make is firmly grounded in these principles. They do not need to know too many principles, but whatever they know is applied in their daily life. They do not need to do too many principles, but whatever they know is applied in their daily life. They do not need to do too many things, but whatever they do is done with good reasons. Their minds are calm and rest in good faith as if it is second nature to them. When they do good deeds, they are always apprehensive about not being able to put in their best efforts. Petty persons do the opposite. They do not care about moral principles, they cannot speak of remonstrations that are meaningful, they refuse to take lessons from the virtuous to improve themselves, and they cannot ground themselves in good deeds. They simply go with the flow, oblivious to their deeds. (Scroll 48: Ti Lun)

Human beings have six types of emotions: Joy, anger, sadness, happiness, fondness, and hatred. If a sage king contravenes these emotions, chaos will arise. If he appeases these emotions, harmony will be achieved. While a sage-king instructs his people in accordance with human sentiments, he also imposes propriety to control these sentiments. While he yields to people’s longings, he also establishes righteous principles to control these longings. If righteous principles are concise and complete, and propriety is orderly and humane, people will easily accept and follow the law and order. (Scroll 8: Han Shi Wai Zhuan)


Why is it that a leader cannot see the wrongdoings of the unscrupulous people around him and spoil those who are unrighteous? This is because he is not wise enough to recognize the wrongdoings of unscrupulous people. Also, his determination to uphold morality and justice is not strong enough to enable him to break free from personal bias and preference. (Scroll 47: Liu Yi Zheng Lun)


A rule imposing virtuous principles to govern his state is appreciated by the people. A wicked ruler, on the contrary, is blamed and hated even by his own descendants. Therefore, a virtuous ruler can attract people from afar to submit to him, while a wicked ruler can even lose his closest relatives. (Scroll 40: Xin Yu)


I have heard that loyalty, sincerity, and kindness could reduce enmity and hatred, but I have never heard that wielding power and authority over others could prevent enmity and hatred from happening. (Scroll 5: Chun Qiu Zuo Shi Zhuan, Vol.2)


The Duke of Zhou told his son Boqin, the Duke of Lu: “A superior person does not distance himself from his family and relatives, and he will never cause government officials to complain about not being assigned important duties. If an old friend has not erred terribly, do not abandon him. Do not demand perfection from a person. (Scroll 9: Lun Yu)


A superior person dislikes three types of behaviour that diverge from the norm:

  1. A fondness for stirring up controversies.
  2. A fondness for creating bizarre mysteries.
  3. A fondness for changing rules and regulations.

A fondness for stirring up controversies will create commotions. The fondness for creating bizarre mysteries will defy virtues and upset social customs and practices. The fondness for changing rules and regulations will undermine laws and confuse the standards of behaviour. Thus, there is nothing noble about gaining temporary fame, or overcoming a difficult task resigned to circumstances. The highest form of deed is one that is pure without any trace of wickedness. Next to it, is being able to subdue the rising of improper thoughts. Next to that, is being able to stop improper thoughts from turning into actions. If when the improper thoughts are turned into actions, at least keeping the actions from becoming too outrageous, and steering these actions back to the right path without delay. The worst deed would be deviating too far from the right path without any awareness of this happening. (Scroll 46: Sheh Jian)

Rather than hoping that everything we say is a suitable piece of advice that should be accepted, why not deliberate whether what we say is pertinent to benevolence and righteousness? (Scroll 35: Wen Zi)


A piece of writing should not be esteemed for its grandiose writing style. Instead, writing should be esteemed because it can preserve that tradition of virtue. The rhetoric need not be clever and decorative, but it should be careful not to injure morality. (Scroll 47: Zheong Yao Lun)

The book of Hong Fan said: “No favour to anyone, no cronies in the government. The righteous path taken by the former sage-kings was fair and mighty.” (Scroll 39: Lu Shi Chun Qiu)


When a leader mistakes a person accepted by marketable social standard as a wise person, and mistakes another defamed by society as an unworthy person, this will cause people with the support of a faction to be appointed while those who are not part of a faction cannot get any promotion. As a result, the malicious factions will band together to oust the virtuous and the able; loyal ministers who are innocent will be condemned to death, while ministers with underserved reputation will be knighted. So, the day will become more tumultuous and the survivability of the country will be numbered. (Scroll 31: Liu Tao)


Stay close to the virtuous but accord them with due respect. See them as formidable but regard them with admiration. Be aware of the shortcomings in those we love and recognize the goodness in those we detest. (Scroll 7: Li Ji)


Confucius said: “A superior person is self-confident without being arrogant. A petty person is arrogant yet lacks self-confidence.” (Scroll 9: Lun Yu)


Confucius said: “A superior person does not recommend a person on account of what he says. Neither does he dismiss what is said on account of the speaker.” (Scroll 9: Lun Yu)


It is better to acquire one remarkable horse expert like Bo Le than to own ten superb horses. It is better to acquire one exemplary swordsmith like Ou Zi than to own ten sharp swords. Acquiring many possessions is not as useful as acquiring a few experts who can identify exquisite items for you. The experts can help you to sources and collect more valuable items, and the total number of possessions you own could be more than tenfold greater in the end. (Scroll 44: Huan Zi Xin Lun)


An ancient text said: “If you do not understand the son, just look at his friends and you will find the answer. If you do not understand the leader, just look at the ministers by his side and you will find the answer.” Like-minded people will seek each other’s company. (Scroll 38: Sun Qing Zi)


Mencius said: “Benevolence subdues its opposite just as water subdues fire. Nowadays, those who claim to implement a benevolent government do it as if with one cup of water they could save a hole wagonload of burning fuel, and when the flames are not extinguished, then say that water cannot subdue fire. This is worse than a government that is not benevolent because in the end, even the small amount of benevolence will be lost.” (Scroll 37: Meng Zi)


Potential rebels would reveal shades of guilt on their faces when they speak. People who have doubt in their mind would speak incoherently like branches spreading out in a disorderly fashion. Kind people would speak little while impetuous people talk volubly. Those who malign the kind-hearted would speak without focus. As for those who have lost their personal integrity, their words would reflect the crookedness of their minds. (Scroll 1: Zhou Yi)


When a nation is about to fall because of the prevalence of moral decadence, natural disasters will happen as a warning to the leader of the state. If the leader is still oblivious to this and does not know how to reflect upon himself, abnormal and strange events will occur to frighten him. If he still does not try to correct things, harm and defeat will set in. Thus, Heaven is kind to the leader and hopes to stop him from making disastrous decisions. (Scroll 17: Han Shu, Vol.5)


The Divine being will not bestow blessings or cast curses on one family alone. Those who do good deeds will be blessed with luck and fortune, while those who do bad deeds will be plagued with misfortune. Even small virtuous deeds can cause the whole nation to rejoice; while bad deeds, even if they are just minor offenses, may cause the whole nation to crumble. (Scroll 2: Shang Shu)


Life or death, fortune, or misfortune are all but the result of our own doings. When people accumulate a multitude of meritorious deeds, no natural catastrophe will befall them. (Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu)


When people behave badly upon the learning of good omens, the good omens will change to become disasters. (Scroll 40: Jia Zi)


Natural disasters can be averted if people are willing to abandon their devious ways and do better instead. But if they continue to commit bad deeds without remorse, they will never be able to escape the onslaught of misfortunes. (Scroll 2: Shang Shu)


The sages are like creditors who hold on to the left side of a contract, but who do not use it to pressure debtor to return the borrowed goods. The virtuous, just like the sages, are always giving but not collecting. On the other hand, unscrupulous people are like tax collectors who are always collecting but not giving. In the way of heaven, there is no partiality of love; it is always on the side of the good man. (Scroll 34: Lao Zi)

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