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Chapter XII. Difficulties in the Way of Persuation1

i.—Difficulties in the way of persuasion, generally speaking, are not difficulties in my knowledge with which I persuade the ruler, nor are they difficulties in my skill of argumentation which enables me to make my ideas clear, nor are they difficulties in my courage to exert my abilities without reserve. As a whole, the difficulties in the way of persuasion lie in my knowing the heart of the persuaded in order thereby to fit my wording into it.

If the persuaded strives after high fame while you persuade him of big profit, you will be considered low-bred, accorded mean treatment, and shunned from afar. If the persuaded strives after big profit while you persuade him of high fame, you will be considered mindless and ignorant of worldly affairs and will never be accepted. If the persuaded strives after big profit in secret but openly seeks for high fame while you persuade him of high fame, you will be accepted in name but kept distant in fact; and, if you persuade him of big profit, your word will be adopted in secret but your person will be left out openly. These points should be carefully deliberated.

Indeed, affairs succeed if kept secret and 2 fail if divulged. Though you never intend to expose the ruler's secrets, yet if you happen to speak of anything he wants to conceal, you are then in danger. When the ruler embarks openly on an enterprise but plans thereby to accomplish a different task, if the persuader knows not only its motive but also its purpose, he is then in danger. When the persuader has devised an extraordinary scheme which suits the ruler, if another wise man finds it out by inferring it from other sources and divulges the secret to the world, the ruler will think he has divulged the secret, wherefore he is in danger. If the persuader exhausts all his wisdom before his master's favour becomes thick, then though his persuasion prevails and has merits, his fruitful services will be forgotten with ease. If his persuasion takes no effect and has demerits, he will fall under suspicion. In such a case he is in danger. Supposing the ruler had an aptitude for certain faults and the persuader spoke plainly on propriety and righteousness and thereby challenged his vices, he would be in danger. If the ruler has taken a scheme from somebody else, which he assumes to be his own work, and the persuader happens to know the whole secret, he is in danger. Whoever forcibly persuades the ruler to do what he cannot do and not to do what he cannot stop doing, is in danger.

Therefore, if you talk about great men to him, he thinks you are intimating his defects. If you talk about small men to him, he thinks you are showing off your superiority. If you discuss an object of his love, he thinks you are expecting a special favour from it. If you discuss an object of his hate, he thinks you are testing his temper. If you simplify your discussion, he thinks you are unwise and will spurn you. If your discussion is lucidly wayward and extensively refined, 3 he thinks you are superficial and flippant. 4 If you omit details and present generalizations only, he thinks you are cowardly and incomplete. If you trace the principles of facts and use wide illustrations, he thinks you are rustic and arrogant. These are difficulties in the way of persuasion, which every persuader should know.

2.—In general, the business of the persuader is to embellish the pride and obliterate the shame of the persuaded. If he has any private urgent need, you ought to encourage him with the cause of public justice. If the persuaded has a mean intention but cannot help it, you ought to praise its excellent points and minimize its harmfulness to the public. If he has a high ambition in mind but his real ability falls short of the mark, you ought to enumerate its mistakes, disclose its disadvantages, and esteem his suspension from realizing it. If he aspires to the pride of wisdom and talent, you ought to enumerate different species of the same genus with reference to every object of knowledge and thereby supply him with abundant information and let him derive ideas from you but pretend to ignorance of his derivation so as to elevate his wisdom.

If you want the persuaded to adopt your suggestion to cultivate inter-state friendship, you ought to explain it in the light of a glorious cause and intimate its accord with his private interest. If you want to describe things dangerous and injurious to the state welfare, you ought to enumerate the reproaches and slanders against them first and then intimate their discord with his private interest.

Praise those men doing the same things as he does. Esteem the tasks under the same scheme as his tasks are. In regard to men having the same faults as he has, be sure to defend their harmlessness. In regard to men having met the same failures as he met, be sure to bring out their incurring no loss. If he makes much of his own strength, do not bring in any difficult task that impedes him. If he thinks his own decisions brave, do not point out their unlawfulness; that angers him. If he thinks his own scheme wise, do not recall his past failures which embarrass him. When your meaning is not offensive and your wording is not flippant, you are then under way to use all your wisdom and eloquence to persuade anybody. In this way you can become near and dear to him, avoid all suspicion, and exert your speech to the utmost.

I Yin had to work as a cook and Pai-li Hsi had to go as a captive, both aiming thereby to approach their masters. These two men were sages. Still they could not help lowering themselves to such a humble level in order to introduce themselves to notice. Now take me 5 as cook or captive. If you find it possible to take advice from me, carry out my suggestion, and thereby save the world, it is no shame to an able man.

Indeed, as days multiply in the long course of time and favour with the ruler grows well-grounded, when you are no longer suspected of devising schemes profoundly and not convicted in joining issue with the ruler on any point, then you may frankly weigh 6 the relative advantages and disadvantages of the trend of the times and thereby forecast your meritorious services and straightly point out what is right and what is wrong in the course of government and thereby assert yourself. If ruler and minister stand together in such relationship, it is due to the success of persuasion.

3.—In by-gone days, Duke Wu of Chêng, thinking of invading Hu, married his daughter to the Ruler of Hu and thereby pleased his mind. Then he asked his ministers, "I am thinking of starting a military campaign. Which country should be invaded?" In reply High Officer Kuan Ch`i-Ssŭ said, "Hu should be invaded." Angered thereby, Duke Wu executed him saying: "Hu is a sister 7 state. Why do you suggest invading her?" Hearing about this, the Ruler of Hu thought Chêng was friendly to him and so took no precaution against her invasion. Meanwhile, the Chêngs made a surprise attack upon Hu and took the country.

There was in Sung a rich man. Once it rained and his mud fence collapsed. Thereupon his son said: "If the fence is not immediately rebuilt, burglars might come." So also did the father of his neighbours say to him. On the evening of that day he incurred a great loss of money. Thereafter his family had high regard for his son's wisdom but suspected the father of the neighbours.

Now, what these two men 8 said came out equally true. Yet, the one in the serious case met the death penalty while the other in the minor case incurred suspicion. Not that they had difficulties in getting knowledge, but that they had difficulties in using their knowledge.

Therefore, Jao Ch`ao, 9 after his words had proved true, became a sage in Chin but was executed in Ch`in. This is what every persuader should carefully deliberate.

In by-gone days, Mi Tzŭ-hsia was in favour with the Ruler of Wei. According to the Law of the Wei State, "whoever in secret rides in the Ruler's coach shall have his feet cut off." Once Mi Tzŭ-hsia's mother fell ill. Somebody, hearing about this, sent a message to Mi Tzŭ late at night. Thereupon Mi Tzŭ on the pretence of the Ruler's order rode in the Ruler's coach. At the news of this, the Ruler regarded his act as worthy, saying: "How dutiful he is! For his mother's sake he even forgot that he was committing a crime making him liable to lose his feet." Another day, when taking a stroll with the Ruler in an orchard, he ate a peach. It being so sweet, he did not finish it, but gave the Ruler the remaining half to eat. So, the Ruler said: "You love me so much indeed, that you would even forget your own saliva taste and let me eat the rest of the peach." When the colour of Mi Tzŭ faded, the Ruler's love for him slackened. Once he happened to offend the Ruler, the Ruler said: "This fellow once rode in my coach under pretence of my order and another time gave me a half-eaten peach." The deeds of Mi Tzŭ had themselves never changed. Yet he was at first regarded as worthy and later found guilty because his master's love turned into hate.

Therefore, if anybody stands in his master's favour, his wisdom will function well and his intimacy with him will grow; once he incurs the master's hatred, his wisdom will stop functioning 10 and his relationship with him will become more and more distant. For this reason, whoever attempts remonstration, persuasion, explanation, and discussion, before the Throne, must carefully observe the sovereign's feelings of love and hate before he starts persuading him. Indeed, when the dragon moves like a worm, man can tame it, play with it, 11 and ride on its back. However, there are below its throat inverted scales, each one foot in diameter. These scales would kill anyone touching them. So does the lord of men have inverted scales. Any persuader able to avoid touching the inverted scales of the lord of men must be very near to the mastery of the art of persuasion.


1. 說難. This chapter as a whole is so systematic that it naturally falls into three sections. In the first section the author explains what the difficulties are in the way of persuasion. In the second section he suggests the kind of tact a persuader ought to master in order to get over the difficulties. The last one contains certain facts illustrating his viewpoint, while the concluding paragraph sums up the main points of the whole discussion. For convenience's sake I have marked the beginning paragraph of each section with a numeral.

2. With Lu Wên-shao the Historical Records has 而 in place of 語.

3. With Lu Wên-shao the Historical Records has 汎濫博文 in place of 米鹽博辨.

4. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê and Wang Hsien-shen 交 should be 史.

5. With Kao Hêng 言 below 吾 is superfluous.

6. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê the Historical Records has 計 in place of 割.

7. 兄弟之國 literally means "brother state".

8. Kuan Ch`i-Ssŭ and the neighbours' father.

9. In 614 b.c. during the reign of Duke Ling of Chin the Chin Government devised a scheme to get an able man, Shih Hui, back from the Ch`in State. Having discovered the secret plot, Jao Ch`ao submitted to Duke K`ang of Ch`in a word of warning, which, however, was not listened to. At the departure of Shih Hui from Ch`in, Jao Ch`ao said: "Do not think that nobody in Ch`in succeeded in detecting the scheme of Chin. Because my word was not adopted, you are now able to leave for your country." This astonished the Chins, who, accordingly, esteemed him as a sage. In Ch`in, however, he fell under suspicion and was executed.

10. With Wang Hsien-shen the Extracts from Classical Works has no 見罪 below 智不當.

11. With Kao Hêng 柔可狎 should be 可柔狎.

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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia