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The Governing Principles of Ancient China

Looking at the individuals in history who have made great contributions to the society, it is evident that they all had accumulated outstanding and remarkable stories through their endurance against innumerable physical strains and hardships. As well, they were assiduously thoughtful, they never let their studies go to waste, and they never changed their ideals despite poverty. (Scroll 28: Wu Zhi, Vol.2)

 

Wise ministers do not fawn upon their leader to the extent that will corrupt his virtues. They also do not fawn upon the masses just to gain their favor. Neither will they benefit themselves at the expense of the public interests, nor do they hinder the enforcement of laws for the fear of powerful adversaries. They are wise enough to recognize the crafty and the evil. They conform to morality and justice, and their integrity prevents them from forming factions to advance their personal interests. (Scroll 44: Qian Fu Lun)

 

Once upon a time, the great scholar and government minister, Yang Zhen, was promoted to become the prefect of Donglai prefecture. During his travel to Donglai via Changyi county, he was approached in the middle of the night by a man called Wang Mi, who had been nominated by Yang Zhen to become the magistrate of Changyi county, Wang Mi brought with him 10 kilograms of gold as a gift. Yang Zhen was appalled and upset at the sight of this gift. He said to Wang Mi: “As your old friend I understand you very well. But you don’t seem to understand this old friend of yours very well.” Wang Mi replied: “It is the dead of night. No one will know you received the gold!” Yang Zhen corrected his friend: “Heaven knows, the deities know, I know, and you know. How can you say nobody knows?” (Scroll 23: Hou Han Shu, Vol.3)

 

Once Duke Jinpin asked Shuxiang: “Of all the misfortunes that can befall a nation, which one is the greatest?” Shuxiang replied: “When a high-ranking official would rather covet wealth and power than to provide sensible counsel, and a low-ranking official would rather refrain from speaking the truth than to offend his superiors, and thus the leader cannot hear the voice of the people. This is the greatest misfortune that can befall a nation.” (Scroll 22: Hou Han Shu, Vol.2)

A minister with great moral integrity who follows the Six Good Conducts will enjoy honour and glory. In contrast, minister who commits any of the Six Evil Conducts will provoke humiliations. (Scroll 43: Shuo Yuan)

 

** Notes:

The Six Good Conducts of a minister are:

  1. Has great foresight and takes preventive measures. Such as person is a “sagely minister.”
  2. Modest and diligent, supports the good and eradicates the evil. Such as person is a “good minister.”
  3. Hardworking and never tire of recommending good people to work for the government. Such a person is a “loyal minister.”
  4. Perceptive about success or failure, turns misfortune into good fortune. Such a person is a ‘wise minister.”
  5. Honest and scrupulous in his dealings, performs official duties with integrity. Such a person is an “honourable minister.”
  6. Upright and outspoken, unafraid to point out the faults of his government. Such a person is a “forthright minister.”

The Six Evil Conducts of a minister are:

  1. Being content with an official salary but having no interest in his job. Such a person is an “incompetent minister.”
  2. Flatters effusively to placate his superiors. Such is a “flattering minister.”
  3. Talks cleverly in an ingratiating manner and is jealous of good and able people. Such a person is a “treacherous minister.”
  4. Talks artfully and sows discord among people. Such a person is a “slandering minister.”
  5. Dictatorial and arbitrary and forms divisive factions to advance his personal interests. Such a person is a “crooked minister.”
  6. Works behind the scenes and stirs up trouble and unrest. Such a person is a “vicious minister.”

 

Confucius said: “In attendance to the leader, superior persons reflect upon the ways in which they can serve with utmost loyalty in their official duties. And on retirement they reflect upon the ways in which they can remedy their leader’s mistakes. They will help to advance worthy causes put forward by the leader, and they will not hesitate to remedy his shortcomings. Hence, the relationship between the superior and the subordinate is cordial and amicable.” (Scroll 9: Xiao Jing)

 

There are three kinds of approach that an official can take to fulfil his duties: Prevent, Rectify, and Reprimand. “Prevent” involves taking precautionary measures to prevent mistakes from happening. “Rectify” involves rectifying mistakes that have been done. ‘Reprimand” involves giving direct reprimands to the perpetrators. Among the three, “Prevent” is the best approach’ followed by “Rectify”; then by “Reprimand.” (Scroll 46: Shen Jian)

There are three kinds of approach that an official can take to fulfil his duties: Prevent, Rectify, and Reprimand. “Prevent” involves taking precautionary measures to prevent mistakes from happening. “Rectify” involves rectifying mistakes that have been done. ‘Reprimand” involves giving direct reprimands to the perpetrators. Among the three, “Prevent” is the best approach’ followed by “Rectify”; then by “Reprimand.” (Scroll 46: Shen Jian)

 

Confucius said: “For the ones who serve the lords may make the following three errors: To speak when it is not necessary is being rash; not to speak when it is necessary is being evasive; to speak without observing the lord’s facial expression is being blind.” (Scroll 9: Lun Yu)

 

Duke Jing asked Yanzi: “How should a loyal minister serve his lord?” Yanzi replied: “A loyal minister will not die for his lord when his lord is in danger, and he will not send his lord away when his lord is about to flee the state.” Duke Jing was not pleased with Yanzi’s reply and said: “A lord confers land to his minister and thus enables the minister to become rich. He confers title to a minister and thus enables the minister to become noble. And if a minister is not willing to die for his lord, or send his lord away when his lord is about to flee the state, how can this be justified?” Yanzi replied: “Had the lord listened to the loyal minister’s advice, the lord would never be exposed to any danger in his life. Therefore, no situation would arise where a loyal minister had to sacrifice his life for his lord. Likewise, a lord who ha accepted strategies proposed by the loyal minister would never need to flee the state. So, no situation could arise where the minister would have to send the lord on his way to exile. If advice were dismissed and consequently the loyal minister had to accompany his lord to face death, would this not be absurd? And if his lord did not accept good strategies proposed by the loyal minister and consequently the minister had to send the lord on his way to exile, is this not hypocritical? Thus, a loyal minister should be able to provide counsel that can be accepted by his lord and thereby can save both himself and the lord from tragedy.” (Scroll 33: Yanzi)

Confucius asked his student, Zigong: “Who do you think is wiser – the one working hard for himself, or the one nominating worthy officials to the government?’ To this Zigong answered: “The one nominating worthy officials to the government is wiser.” Confucius said: “You are right.” (Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu)

 

A loyal official will nominate a competent person for an important post even if that person is his foe. He will also dismiss an unscrupulous character from a task even if that person is his close relative. (Scroll 40: Han Zi)

 

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