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On The Subject Of Administration

The Governing Principles of Ancient China - Qunshu Zhiyao 360

Engaging the Principles

Confucius said: “In order for any ruler who wants to govern a country successfully, he must attend to the nine cardinal rules. These are:

1. Cultivating a ruler’s personal conduct.
2. Honoring worthy individuals.
3. Cherishing his kindred duties.
4. Respecting high ministers of the state.
5. Showing empathy to the whole body of public officials.
6. Loving the people as if they were his children.
7. Soliciting the services of different craftsmen and professionals.
8. Showing kindness to people from far countries.
9. Taking interest in the welfare of the other feudal lords.

When the ruler pays attention to the cultivation of his personal conduct, he will be able to build his virtuous character unaffected by fame and wealth. When the ruler honors worthy individuals, he will not be deceived by devious officials. When the ruler cherishes affection for his kindred, there will be no disaffection among the members of his family. When the ruler shows respect to the high ministers of the state, he will not be prone to making mistakes. When the ruler shows empathy to the whole body of public officials, there will be a strong spirit of loyalty among the officials. When the ruler loves the people as if they were his children, the mass of the people will exert themselves for the good of the state. When the ruler is able to entice different craftsmen and professionals to live in the state, their presence will increase wealth and revenue for the state. When the ruler shows kindness to the people from far countries, they will be brought to pledge their allegiance to him from all quarters. When the ruler takes interest in the condition and welfare of the lords of the land, he will inspire awe and respect for his authority throughout the whole world.”

Duke Ai asked Confucius: “So how can this be achieved?” Confucius said: “By attending to sincerity and to the propriety and dignity of his attire, and in every word and act permitting nothing which is contrary to good taste and decency: this is how the ruler cultivates his personal conduct. By banishing all flatterers and keeping away from the temptations of women, loathing possession of material goods but valuing moral qualities in people: this is how the ruler gives honor to worthy individuals. By raising family members to high places of honor and bestowing ample emoluments that corresponds to their abilities, sympathizing with their tastes and opinions: this is how the ruler inspires love among members of his family. By conferring high government positions and giving them important duties: this is how the ruler shows his respect to the high ministers of the state. By bestowing a liberal scale of pay to the faithful and trustworthy: this is how the ruler gives encouragement to capable officials. By employing them only at the proper times, and making all taxes as little as possible: this is how the ruler shows his love for his people. By ordering daily inspection and monthly examination, rewarding each according to the degree of his workmanship: this is how the ruler is able to acquire the services of the artisan class. By welcoming people from all over the world, commending what is good in them and making allowance for the weak: this is how the ruler shows kindness to strangers from far countries. By restoring broken lines of succession and reviving subjugated states, putting down anarchy and disorder wherever they are found, and giving support to the weak against the strong. Fixing specific time periods for the attendance of diplomatic envoys at court, lading them with abundant presents when they leave while exacting little from them in the way of contribution when they come: this is how the ruler takes interest in the welfare of the lords of the land. For everyone who is called to the government of nations, these are the nine cardinal bearings to be attended to, and the key by which they can be carried out, is through ‘Sincerity’.”

Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu

People constitute the foundation of a nation. When the foundation is stable, the nation will become peaceful and harmonious.

Scroll 2: Shang Shu

The governing principles of King Wen and King Wu are recorded in the classics. Rulers such as them enable a benevolent government to be formed. Without rulers like them, benevolent governments will cease to exist. Hence, the key to forming a good government is in having good people to run the government, and good people will be drawn to leaders who are able and virtuous, whose character is in line with the principles of morality and ethics grounded in benevolence.

Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu

When King Cheng of Zhou dynasty was an infant, Zhao Gong was the crown prince’s Tai-bao, whose duty was to safeguard the physical wellness of the crown prince. Zhou Gong, was his Tai-fu, whose duty was to guide the crown prince with moral and ethical codes of conduct. And Tai Gong, who was his Tai-shi, was responsible for inspiring the crown prince with the wisdom of the sages.* In addition to the Three Venerated Elders (San-gong) and their duties, another Three Supporting Elders (San-shao), namely—Shao-bao, Shao-fu and Shao-shi were established to accompany the crown prince in his learning on a daily basis. Thus, ever since the young prince could comprehend teachings, the three venerated elders and the three supporting elders had imparted lessons on the moral principles of filial piety, benevolence, propriety and righteousness to the crown prince, guiding him to implement these principles. Moreover, all deviant characters were banished from the vicinity of the prince so that he would not be corrupted by deviant behavior. Only individuals who were filial and respectful of kinship, knowledgeable and virtuous were chosen to live with the prince on a daily basis. Therefore, from the moment that the crown prince was born, all that he saw was proper, all that he heard was proper, and all that he practiced was proper because all the people by his side were righteous gentlemen. …Confucius said: “Lessons learned from a young age will become so natural to an individual that they become natural habits.”

Scroll 16: Han Shu, Vol. 4

* Tai-Most senior. Bao-Guardian. Fu-Instructor. Shi-Teacher.

A country that can succeed in establishing a good reputation and turn crisis into peace without resorting to the help from the able and virtuous is something quite unheard of. Likewise, a country need not be big but the government must have the people’s trust. The number of government officials need not be high but the government must have able and virtuous people to assist in its administration. People will support a government that is trustworthy, and able people will be drawn to a leader flanked by able and virtuous officials.

Scroll 43: Shuo Yuan

Duke Ai asked Confucius: “What is the most important element in humanity?” Confucius said: “In the way of humanity, Zheng, proper governing is most important, and Zheng is ‘uprightness’. When rulers are upright, the populace will follow and become the same.” …Duke Ai pressed further: “May I ask how should one govern?” Confucius replied: “Husband and wife play different roles; parents and children are affectionate toward each other; superiors and subordinates show trust toward one another. When these three relationships are properly in place, all other relationships will work out amicably.”

Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu

Heaven and earth may be enormous but without sincerity they will not be able to give life to thousands of things. Sages may be intelligent but without sincerity they will not be able to transform thousands of people with their teachings. Relationship between parents and children may be intimate but without sincerity they will drift apart. Kings are considered the noblest by status but without sincerity they will not be respected. Hence, “Sincerity” is that which a superior person will honor, and it is also the foundation of a good government.

Scroll 38: Sun Qing Zi

Zilu asked Confucius: “If the ruler of Wei is anticipating your assistance in the administration of his state, what will be your top priority?” Confucius said: “What is necessary is to define terms more precisely. If terms are not precise, then what is commanded cannot be accurately obeyed. If what is commanded cannot be accurately obeyed, work cannot be accomplished. If work cannot be accomplished, propriety and music will not flourish. If propriety and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly applied. If punishments are not properly applied, then people will have no standard to judge their actions.”

Scroll 9: Lun Yu

The book of Tuan Zhuan said: “In the oracle named ‘family members’: A woman has her correct place on the inside, a man has his correct place on the outside. This is the great equitable way of heaven and earth. Each family is headed by ‘leaders’—a term referring to the father and the mother—who are serious and principled. When parents fulfill their duties as parents; when children fulfill their duties as children; when elder brothers fulfill their duties as elder brothers; when younger brothers fulfill their duties as younger brothers; when a husband fulfills his duties as a husband; when a wife fulfills her duties as a wife, then the family will live in harmony. When all families live in harmony, the whole world will become stable and harmonious.”

Scroll 1: Zhou Yi

To increase wealth for the people, first and foremost base the economy on farming and textile production above miscellaneous economic activities. To utilize the skills of craftsmen properly, place the priority on practical projects above decorative works. In business transactions, place proper distribution of goods to the populace above selling exotic items. People will become wealthier if these three principles are followed. But if the least important became the most important, people will become poorer, and when they become poorer they will forsake proper behavior as opposed to what they would do if they were richer. Likewise, in the field of education, imparting lessons that enable people to become moral individuals is more important than training people to become artful debaters. In the use of language, being truthful and sensible is more important than the ability to use flowery and cunning descriptions. For a learned individual, being filial and respectful toward his parents and elders is more important than entertaining his friends. In the practice of filial piety, what is important is to perform one’s duties with utmost reverence rather than lavishly displaying pomp and ceremony. For a subordinate, being loyal to his superior is more important than being a flatterer. If these five principles are followed, the practice of benevolence and righteousness will flourish. Abandoning what is important and pursuing what is less important will lead to the decline of morality in society.

Scroll 44: Qian Fu Lun

The standards of benevolence, righteousness, and propriety form the roots of the administration. The standards of law and punishment form the offshoots of an administration. Without the roots, a nation cannot be established. Without the offshoots a nation cannot be developed. To engage propriety and righteous principles to guide a nation, the administration must first implement benevolent rule and lead the people to nurture respects and humility, making them akin to proper conducts without being aware that this is happening.

Scroll 50: Yuan Zi Zheng Shu

Confucius said: “There are six fundamental principles that a person must be aware of before he is qualified as a superior person. They are: The basis of benevolence and righteousness is filial piety. The basis of funeral rites and rituals is the spirit of mournfulness. The basis of a brilliant military strategy is bravery. The basis of a sensible government policy is agricultural production. The basis of national peace and stability is the selection of successors. The basis of creating wealth at opportune times is through hard work. If all these bases are not strong, he should not pursue perfection in non-essential matters. If he cannot associate harmoniously with his relatives, he should not strive to extend friendship to others. If he cannot complete his tasks, he should not accept additional tasks. In these situations, he should return to the basics and begin to work from the fundamentals. These are the approach and principles adopted by a superior person.”

Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu

When Zhuge Liang became the prime minister of the Kingdom of Shu, he worked hard to reassure the people. He imparted to them the principles of propriety and righteousness; he ran a lean government which adjusted its policies as necessary to reflect changing circumstances; he was sincere and fair in making decisions. If a political adversary was loyal and beneficial to the country, premier Zhuge would reward him. If a trusted aide broke the law and neglected his duty, he would punish him. Those who repented their errors would be sentenced less severely even though their offenses were serious. But those who tried to talk their way out of their offenses were sentenced more severely even though their offenses were slight. No matter how small a contribution might be he would give recognition to those who deserved it; no matter how small an offense might be he would impose punishment on the offenders. He was a master in administration, as he would resolve problems at the root, with proper and recognized procedures that gave no allowance to sham and hypocrisy. In the end, all the people in Shu (kingdom) venerated premier Zhuge. Although the laws imposed by him were strict, the people did not utter any grievances because he was fair and honorable, as the parameters of rewards and prohibitions were clearly defined. Zhuge Liang was truly a remarkable politician and administrator, comparable to the caliber of Guan Zhong and Xiao He-r.*

Scroll 27: Shu Zhi

*Guan Zhong was the prime minister of Qi (state), who centralized power and divided the state into different villages, each carrying out a specific trade. Instead of relying on the traditional aristocracy for manpower, he applied levies to the village units directly. He also developed a better method for choosing talent to be governors. Under Guan Zhong, Qi shifted administrative responsibility from hereditary aristocrats to professional bureaucrats. Xiao He-r, was a renowned statesman and tactician who assisted Liu Bang in finding the Han dynasty. He re-established the laws and statutes and advocated “inaction” in management. He held the office of prime minister until his death in 193BC.

Confucius said: “Filial piety is the foundation of all virtues, and the source of all teachings.”

Scroll 9: Xiao Jing

A superior person concerns himself with the fundamentals. Once the fundamentals are established, virtues will emerge. Is not being filial to parents, and loving toward brothers and sisters fundamental to the enactment of benevolence?

Scroll 9: Lun Yu

Confucius said: “The faithfulness that a superior person has shown in serving his parents can be applied to serving his leader; the reverence that he holds in serving his elder siblings can be applied to serving his superior; the well-regulated operation of his family can be applied to good government in any official position. Therefore, when a person is accustomed to filial and fraternal duties at home, he can venture to start a career and establish his name with future generations.”

Scroll 9: Xiao Jing

Confucius said: “The filial piety with which a man serves his parents may be transferred as loyalty to the ruler.” Thus, in order to find a loyal subordinate one only needs to look from families with filial children.

Scroll 22: Hou Han Shu, Vol. 2

Learn how to be a good son and one will know how to be a good father. Learn how to be a good subordinate and one will know how to be a good leader. Learn how to serve people properly and one will know how to appoint people to the appropriate tasks.

Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu

Zengzi said: “When the people are careful about observing all final rites and rituals for their parents, and continue this reverence even after the ancestors and parents are long gone, the virtue of the people will return to its simple kindness.”

Scroll 9: Lun Yu

A deep spring will attract fish and turtles to dwell beneath its waters; a thick forest will attract birds to flock within it; a rich grassland will attract animals to rest upon it; a benevolent ruler will attract virtuous people from all over to serve with him. Hence, a sage-king need not beg others to serve him. Instead, he will work hard in creating conditions that will attract good people toward him.

Scroll 39: Lu Shi Chun Qiu

In the matter of governing, nothing is better than making an effort to run a bureaucracy that has integrity.

Scroll 47: Liu Yi Zheng Lun

Zigong asked about government. Confucius said: “Provide sufficient food, sufficient military equipment, and gain the confidence of the people.” Zigong said: “If it cannot be helped, and one of these must be dispensed with, which of the three should we forgo first?” “Military equipment,” said Confucius. Zigong asked again: “If it cannot be helped, and one of the remaining two must be dispensed with, which one of them should we forgo?” Confucius answered: “Part with the food. From ancient times, death has come to all men, but if people have no faith in their rulers, there is no standing for the state.”

Scroll 9: Lun Yu

Laozi said: “I have three precious things that I prize and hold fast. The first is compassion; the second is frugality; the third is not presuming to be at the head of the world.”

Scroll 34: Lao Zi