Follow Us:

Education as the First Priority

Home Qunshu Zhiyao 360 Self-Reflection

The Way Of A Leader

The Governing Principles of Ancient China - Qunshu Zhiyao 360


The foundation of virtue is built upon a mind that is righteous. When the mind of a ruler is righteous, his conduct will be righteous. When his conduct is righteous, the conduct of his ministers will be righteous. When the conduct of his ministers is righteous, the government will be just. When the government is just, the country will be just. And when the country is just, the whole world will be just.

Scroll 49: Fu Zi

Zengzi said: “Every day I reflect upon three things: Have I done my best to do my job well? Have I been a trusted friend? Have I put into practice lessons given to me by my teacher, or prepared my lessons before teaching them to my students?”

Scroll 9: Lun Yu

The Son of Heaven does not speak playfully. Once said, official historians will record it; ceremonial proceedings will be held to fulfill it, and songs will be sung to glorify it.

Scroll 11: Shi Ji, Vol. 1

Confucius said: “Reprimand yourself harshly but reprimand others more forgivingly. You will avoid making enemies this way.”

Scroll 9: Lun Yu

If a leader is unvirtuous he will bring danger to the nation and chaos to his people. A virtuous leader, on the other hand, will bring stability to the nation and order to his people. The fate of a nation therefore lies in the hands of a good ruler who is capable and wise, independent from the changing of seasons.

Scroll 31: Liu Tao

King Tang who founded the Shang dynasty said: “If in my person as a king I have committed offenses, oh Lord of heaven, do not hold the people of the myriad regions responsible. If people in the myriad regions committed offenses, let the punishment fall on me alone, for I have not taught people the proper way to behave.”

Scroll 9: Lun Yu

When a sage ruler committed a mistake, he would reflect upon the mistake and correct it. When he accomplished any achievement, he would attribute the achievement to the people. The self-reflection would help him to stay disciplined, while the attribution of success to others would bring great joy and happiness to the people. Making people feel happy while he remained watchful over his own actions is the successful governing principle of a good leader.

Scroll 32: Guan Zi

In the book of Zuo Zhuan, it was said: “King Yu and King Tang took all blames upon themselves and their countries prospered. King Jie and King Zhou put all blames upon others and their downfall was hastened.” Hence, we can see that the key to a good and lasting government is dependent on the virtuous character of the leader.

Scroll 47: Zheng Yao Lun

Mencius said to Duke Xuan of the state of Qi: “When a lord treats his subordinates like brothers, they will pledge allegiance to him in return. When a lord treats his subordinates like slavish animals, they will regard him as a stranger on the street. When a lord treats his subordinates like dirt and weeds, they will regard him as a robber and an enemy.”

Scroll 37: Meng Zi

Duke Jing of the state of Qi asked Yanzi: “The task to bring wealth to the people and stability to the state—Will this be difficult to achieve?” Yanzi said: “Not difficult at all. Frugality on the part of the ruler will bring prosperity to the people, and fair trials will bring stability to the state. Doing these two things well will suffice.”

Scroll 33: Yan Zi

A sage ruler worries about three things. His first worry is that his high position may shelter him from hearing criticisms of his mistakes. Next, he worries that his success may spur him to arrogance. And last, he worries that he may not be able to govern based on the truth and reality that he had gathered from all quarters of the society.

Scroll 43: Shuo Yuan

Once upon a time, a severe drought hit the land ruled by King Cheng Tang. Cheng Tang then used the following six questions to reproach himself: “Is my governance not in accord with laws and regulations? Have the people been made to labor too hard? Are my palace and dwellings too luxurious? Have the favored court ladies interfered too much in politics? Have briberies become rampant? Have the obsequious and the slanderers become too reckless?”

Scroll 22: Hou Han Shu, Vol. 2

Zengzi said: “The government has deviated from the righteous way of leadership and the people have long been left to their own devices. If you can finally uncover the truth behind the making of a crime, you ought to be sympathetic toward the criminals instead of being delighted in your ability to solve crimes.”

Scroll 9: Lun Yu

It is not right for a ruler who has deviated from the righteous way of leadership to put his officials and subjects to death. Even though the people are not being taught the way of filial piety and the proper behavior that goes along with it, they are being convicted and put into prisons. To do so amounts to killing the innocent.

Scroll 10: Kong Zi Jia Yu

A good government must first eradicate the Four Perils before it can carry out the Five Correct Policies. The Four Perils are:

1. Hypocrisy, for it will upset social customs.
2. Bribery, for it will wreck the legal system.
3. Unruliness, for it will overstep propriety.
4. Luxury, for it will breach rules and regulations.

As long as these Four Perils persist, benevolent rule cannot be put into practice because of the following:

When social customs are upset, moral decadence will ensue and no divine beings can hope to safeguard the purity of human nature. When the legal system is wrecked, society will fall apart and no leader can hope to uphold any law at that point. When propriety is overstepped, proper rites will wither away and no saints can hope to defend the path of righteousness. Lastly, when rules and regulations are breached, a ruler’s desires will become so unfettered that even the vast territories of the four corners of the world could not hope to satisfy his insatiable appetites. Such are the Four Perils.

As for the Five Correct Policies, they are:
1. Revive farming to provide food for the people.
2. Distinguish what is right from wrong to establish good social customs.
3. Proclaim cultural and educational policies to advocate
the education effort made by the government.
4. Establish military facilities to uphold the dignity of the country.
5. Unify the national legal system by being strict and impartial in meting out rewards and punishments.

Scroll 46: Shen Jian