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Respectfully Cautious

The Governing Principles of Ancient China - Qunshu Zhiyao 360

Heedful of Troubling Signs

A leader is analogous to a boat, while the people are analogous to water. Water can carry a boat, it can also capsize a boat. A leader should take heed of the danger told in this analogy and understand what could be dangerous.

Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu

A crown prince need not worry about his wealth, or whether people will regard him with awe. He should instead worry about his insolence and expensive tastes, his isolation from criticisms of his faults, as well as not knowing how hard farmers have to work to make a living. What is worse is that he cannot even name the six domesticated animals. If this is the case, is it not time to study harder?

Scroll 29: Jin Shu, Vol. 1

Mencius said: “Even with the powerful eyesight of Lilou and the skillful hands of Gongshu, no perfect squares and circles could be drawn without the use of a compass and a carpenter’s square. Even with the acute ear of the music-master Shikuang, musical notes cannot be calibrated accurately without the use of the pitch-tubes. Even with a virtuous character as good as that of emperors Yao and Shun, no government can secure order for the country without the benevolent laws laid down by the ancient sage-kings. …Hence it is said: Virtue by itself is insufficient in forming a good government, and laws cannot run effectively on its own.”

Scroll 37: Meng Zi

King Wen asked Tai Gong: “How does the ruler of the state, the leader of his people, come to lose his position?”

Tai Gong answered: “He loses his position because he is not cautious about whom he associates with. He should have used the Six Characteristics to select capable men and safeguard the Three Treasures. The Six Characteristics being: benevolence, righteousness, loyalty, trustworthiness, courage, and the ability to strategize. These are the Six Characteristics to look out for when selecting capable men.”

King Wen asked: “How does one go about using these criteria to select good men?”

Tai Gong said: “Make them rich and observe whether they commit offenses. Put them in high positions and see if they become arrogant. Entrust them with office and see if they stay. Make them solve a problem and see if they will conceal anything. Put them in the way of danger and see if they are afraid. Task them to manage an emergency and see if they are able to handle it well. If they are rich but do not commit offenses, then they are benevolent. If they are in high position but do not become arrogant, then they are righteous. If you entrust them with an office and they stay, then they are loyal. If they solve a problem without concealing anything, then they are trustworthy. If they are in danger and are not afraid, then they are courageous. If you task them to manage an emergency and they handle well, then they are capable of making plans and strategizing.

My lord can use these Six Characteristics to recruit capable men. In addition, the ruler cannot entrust the Three Treasures to other people, otherwise he will lose his authority. The Three Treasures are Agriculture, Industry and Commerce. When the Six Characteristics are conserved, the country will flourish. When the Three Treasures are flawless, the state is secure.”

Scroll 31: Liu Tao

Duke Jing asked Yanzi: “What should a ruler worry about the most in the matter of governing a state and its people?” Yanzi replied: “There are three things that my lord should be most worried about:

1. A minister who is loyal to the ruler is not being treated as trustworthy.
2. A minister who is trusted by the ruler is unfaithful to the ruler.
3. A ruler and his ministers have different agendas in their mind.

With a wise ruler sitting in a position of authority, the incidents of a ruler distrusting his ministers will not happen, and the possibility of his trusted ministers betraying his trust will be eliminated. The ruler and his ministers share the same aspirations, and the populace will have no grievances.”

Scroll 33: Yan Zi

Mozi said: “A state may face the onslaught of the Seven Perils. What are these Seven Perils? They are:

1. The palace and its chambers undergo renovations while the four walls of a fortress and its surrounding defensive trenches can hardly withstand the attack of enemies.
2. None of your neighbors comes to the rescue while enemies invade your territory.
3. Valuable human resources are used on useless projects and unworthy people are rewarded.
4. The officials are only concerned about protecting their jobs and income; scholars without posts are only concerned about establishing circles of influences. Meanwhile, a ruler amends laws to deter his ministers from voicing their opinions.
5. The ruler overestimates his own cleverness and fails to question the progress of administrative affairs. He takes no precautions because he assumes everything is in order.
6. Trusted ministers betray his trust while loyal ministers are cast aside.
7. Reserves and food crops are insufficient to feed the people, and ministers are incapable of shouldering government responsibilities. Rewards cannot make the people happy and punishments cannot keep them in awe.

If a government runs into these Seven Perils, the state will certainly meet its demise. If a fortress runs into these Seven Perils, the city within the four walls will certainly fall into the hands of the enemy. Wherever these Seven Perils dwell there will be disasters.”

Scroll 34: Mo Zi

The Legalist, Han Feizi, summarized the faults of a ruler into the following Ten Faults:

1. To practice loyalty in small ways, which betrays loyalty in big ways.
2. To esteem small advantages, which hampers big advantages.
3. To force personal biases, assert oneself, and behave discourteously before feudal lords, which leads to self-destruction.
4. To neglect government responsibilities and indulge too much in songs and music, which plunges one into distress.
5. To be greedy, self-opinionated and rejoice in nothing but gain, which sows the root of destruction for the state and oneself.
6. To become infatuated with women singers, dancers and musicians, and neglect state affairs, which forecasts the demise of the state.
7. To leave home for distant travels and ignore remonstrations from the ministers, which is the surest way to endanger one’s august position at home.
8. To commit faults, refuse to listen to loyal ministers, and enforce one’s own opinions, which destroys one’s high reputation and causes people to laugh at one’s demise.
9. To take no account of internal strength but rely solely upon foreign allies, which places the state in grave danger of dismemberment.
10. To insult big powers despite the smallness of one’s own country and take no advice from advisors, which paves the way to the extermination of one’s posterity.

Scroll 40: Han Zi

The leader who has caused the downfall of his state must have been a man of self-importance, arrogant and disrespectful of able and virtuous people. He must have perceived himself to be clever, indomitable, and too important to waste his time on matters of administration.

Scroll 39: Lu Shi Chun Qiu

Tedious rites and rituals will make propriety appear less solemn. Taking up too many tasks will make achievements less evident. Harsh laws will stir the populace to defiance, and when there are too many prohibitions, they will become ineffective.

Scroll 39: Lu Shi Chun Qiu

Birds will peck when they are desperate. Animals will bite when they are desperate. Humans will cheat when they are desperate, and horses will run away when they are desperate. To this day, no ruler could stay safe and free from danger if his officials and people were driven to desperation.

Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu

Confucius said: “A superior person is on guard against three things: When he is a young man and his physical energies are not yet settled, he is on guard against lust. When he is in his prime and his energy is solid, he is on guard against combativeness. When he is old, and his physical power is weakened, he is on guard against greed.”

Scroll 9: Lun Yu

In ancient times, on the day when a man is laid to rest, eulogy will be written to attest to his virtues and contributions, as well as latter vices that cannot be concealed with the good deeds done earlier.

Scroll 29: Jin Shu, Vol. 1

A superior person uses three object lessons to guide himself: Taking lessons from history, taking lessons from people, and taking lessons from the mirror. From history he learns how to avoid repeating the same mistakes. From people he learns how to identify good officials. From the mirror, he can reflect upon himself clearly.

Scroll 46: Shen Jian