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The Way Of A Leader

The Governing Principles of Ancient China - Qunshu Zhiyao 360

Guard against greed

Almost a thousand years have passed since the heyday of King Cheng and King Kang, and many rulers having tried to attain the same glory. But this golden era of peace and prosperity never returned. Why has this been so? It is because rulers have forsaken the law and moral standards, and have instead pursued selfish desires, spoiling themselves with extravagance, and totally neglecting the practice of benevolence and righteousness.

Scroll 19: Han Shu, Vol. 7

In general, anything that develops too fast will fall apart just as quickly, whereas a slow and steady development is more assured of yielding favorable results. Plants that unravel into full bloom in early morning may wither and fall by the evening, but the slow-growing pine trees will not wither even in the extreme winter cold. Hence, a superior person* does not hasten to achieve results.

Scroll 26: Wei Zhi, Vol. 2

*Superior person, junzi 君子 deserves a special mention here because it is a central notion in Confucian philosophy. It embodies an ideally ethical and capable person, sometimes meaning a power holder, which is its original sense. The term is a compound word composed of two written characters, which separately means “ruler’s son.” Under the changing social conditions of the Warring States period, the concept of birthright was replaced by the notion of an “aristocracy of merit,” and in the Confucian school, the term junzi came to denote an “ethical aristocrat” rather than a future king. The hallmark of the junzi was his complete internalization of the virtue of ren (benevolence) and associated qualities, such as, yi (righteousness) and full socialization through ritual skills. –Bob Eno, The Analects of Confucius, 2010.

Duke Yi of the state of Rong was known for monopolizing wealth and profits for himself and for being oblivious to its adverse effects on the society. One should know that wealth and profits are the very sources of survival for hundreds of materials nurtured between heaven and earth. To monopolize them will give rise to an unbalanced situation thereby causing much harm. How can one monopolize the resources when they are needed by so many? To do so will arouse anger from the public. If we teach our lord to monopolize resources instead of urging him to take precaution against major disasters, can his reign last long?

Scroll 11: Shi Ji, Vol. 1

Craving for visual splendor can distort our vision and impede our ability to see the truth about things. Basking in musical amusement can numb our hearing and impede our ability to appreciate the finer meanings in music. Excessive indulgence in fine cuisine can dull our taste buds and impede our ability to appreciate the food. Wallowing in the thrill of game hunting can make us reckless and lose our sanity. Being desirous of rare and precious objects can cause our greediness to grow and drive us to behave wickedly.

Scroll 34: Lao Zi

King Yu of antiquity said: “If a ruler is obsessed with womanizing and hunting, drinking fine wine, singing and dancing, living in lofty mansions with intricate wall paintings and carvings; any one of these will surely bring forth the ruin of his country.”

Scroll 2: Shang Shu

Hence, a ruler who can ruin a country will be a leader zealous about expanding his territory but unconcerned with his duty to advance benevolence. He is concerned with pursuing a position of great authority but does not care too much about promoting virtues. By doing this, he has in fact given up all the conditions that can assure his country’s survival. Inevitably he will lead the country to a path of destruction.

Scroll 35: Wen Zi

Nothing can do more harm to a leader than widespread knowledge of the fact that he craves adoration and popularity. Once a leader falls into the traps of wanting an inflated name for himself, his officials will know what he wants and conform to his wishes.

Scroll 48: Ti Lun