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Chapter XIV. Ministers Apt to Betray, Molest, or Murder the Ruler1

Wicked ministers, in general, all think of following the mind of the lord of men in order to attain the status of enjoying the sovereign's confidence and favour. For this reason, whatever the sovereign likes they praise accordingly; whatever the sovereign hates they blame accordingly. On the whole, such is the general nature of mankind that people regard each other as right if their matters of acceptance and rejection are in common, and as wrong if their matters of acceptance and rejection are diverse. Now that what the ministers praise is what the lord of men regards as right, this is called "acceptance in common"; since what the ministers blame is what the sovereign regards as wrong, this is called "rejection in common". Indeed, people who have their matters of acceptance and rejection in common 2 and offend each other, are never heard of. That is the way the ministers win the sovereign's confidence and favour.

Indeed, if wicked ministers can take advantage of the status of enjoying the sovereign's confidence and favour to blame, praise, promote, and degrade the officials, it is because the lord of men has neither the tact and measure 3 to keep them under control nor 4 the procedures of comparison and verification to judge them. Worse than this, because in the past they held every judgment in common with him, he would believe in any word they now utter. This is the reason why favourite ministers can deceive the sovereign and accomplish self-seeking tasks. In consequence, the sovereign is always deluded and the ministers are always powerful. Such ministers are called "lord-manipulating vassals". 5

If the state has "lord-manipulating vassals", then no official will be able to exert his wisdom and strength and thereby express his spirit of loyalty nor will any magistrate be able to uphold the law and thereby accomplish his merits. How to explain this? Indeed, to choose safety and profit and leave danger and trouble, this is human nature. Now, if men who, being ministers to a ruler, apply their forces to accomplish their merits and exert their wisdom to express their spirit of loyalty, eventually plunge themselves into misery, incline their families towards poverty, and entangle their fathers and sons in their own troubles, and if those who delude the sovereign for the sake of wicked profits and serve nobles and vassals with bribes of cash and commodities, always glorify themselves, enrich their families, and benefit their fathers and sons, then how can people leave the way to safety and profit and choose the place of danger and trouble? Should there be such a fault in the government of the state, it is clear that it would be impossible for the superior to expect the inferior to do no wickedness and the magistrates to uphold the law.

For this reason, as soon as the attendants come to know the impossibility of seeking safety 6 by remaining honest and faithful, they will certainly say: "When we serve the superior honestly and faithfully and increase our meritorious services, to seek safety is as hopeless as to distinguish between black and white colours with blind eyes. When by following the true path and the right tact 7 we serve the superior, 8 practise righteous principles, and never covet wealth and nobility, to seek safety is the same as to discriminate between flat and sharp notes with deaf ears, which is still more hopeless. If neither road leads to safety, why should we not associate for the purpose of deluding the sovereign, committing villainy, and thereby pleasing the heavy-handed men?" Such people will no longer regard the intentions of the lord of men.

Likewise, as soon as officials of all posts come to know the impossibility of seeking safety by playing square and upright, they will certainly say: "When we serve the superior cleanly and incorruptibly, to seek safety is as hopeless as to make squares and circles without the carpenter's compasses and squares. If we hold office by observing the law and not forming juntos, to seek safety is the same as to scratch the head with the foot, which is still more hopeless. If neither road leads to safety, why should we not discard the law, practise selfishness, and thereby please the heavy-handed men?" Such people will no longer regard the laws of the sovereign.

Such being the case, those who work for the heavy-handed men by practising selfishness are many; those who serve the ruler by observing the law are few. For this reason, the sovereign stands in isolation above while the ministers form juntos below. This was the very reason why T`ien Ch`êng finally murdered Duke Chien.

Indeed, tactful men, when ministering to a ruler, would enforce 9 theories of regulations and measures to clarify the law of the sovereign and harass wicked ministers in order to glorify the sovereign and tranquillize the state. Accordingly, as soon as theories of regulations and measures are enforced, reward and punishment will infallibly become applicable. The lord of men will then earnestly illustrate the tact of the sage but never have to follow 10 the commonplaces of the world. He will decide between right and wrong according to the relation between name and fact and scrutinize words and phrases by means of comparison and verification.

For this reason, attendants and courtiers, as soon as they come to know the impossibility of seeking safety by means of falsehood and deceit, will certainly say: "If we do not stop wicked deeds and apply our strength and exert our wisdom to serve the sovereign, but merely associate with one another for treasonable purposes and make arbitrary blame and praise so as to seek safety, it is as hopeless as to expect to live by falling into an abyss of immeasurable depth with a weight of thirty thousand catties 11 carried on the back."

Likewise, officials of all posts, as soon as they come to know the impossibility of seeking safety by coveting wicked profits, will certainly say: "If we do not obey the law by keeping ourselves pure, incorruptible, square, and upright, but simply want to secure wicked profits by bending the law with the greedy and corrupt minds, it is as hopeless as to expect to live by going up to the top of a high hill and then falling down into the bottom of a deep ravine."

If the road to safety and danger is so clear, then how can the attendants beguile the sovereign with empty words? And how dare the officials exploit the masses covetously? Accordingly, ministers able to express their spirit of loyalty are never put out of sight 12 ; inferiors able to attend to their duties never show resentment. That was the way Kuan Chung governed Ch`i and Lord Shang strengthened Ch`in.

From such a viewpoint, I can see that the sage in governing the state pursues the policy of making the people inevitably do him good 13 but never relies on their doing him good with love. For to rely on the people's doing him good with love is dangerous, but to rely on their inevitability to do him good is safe.

To be sure, ruler and minister having no blood kinship, if able to seek safety 14 by following the right and straight way, the minister will apply all his strength to serve the sovereign; if unable to seek safety by following the right and straight way, he will practise selfishness and thereby violate the superior. Knowing this well, the intelligent sovereign simply establishes the system of advantages and disadvantages and thereby shows the world what is right and what is wrong.

Certainly for this reason, though the lord of men neither teaches the officials with his own mouth nor finds the culprits and ruffians with his own eyes, yet the state is always orderly. The lord of men does not have to possess such eyes as those of Li Lou in order to be bright, nor does he have to possess such ears as those of Musician K`uang in order to be acute. If he does not trust to measures but relies on his eyes alone for his brightness, then what he sees will be little. For it is not the technique to avoid delusion. If he does not count on his august position but relies on his own ears alone for his acuteness, then what he hears will be little enough. For it is not the way to avoid deception. The intelligent sovereign would make All-under-Heaven inevitably see and hear on his behalf. Therefore, though his person is confined in the innermost court, his brightness illumines everything within the four seas. If nobody in All-under-Heaven can delude or deceive him, what is the reason therefor? It is because the roads to darkness and chaos have crumbled while the faculties of acuteness and brightness have appeared.

Therefore, who can hold his august position skilfully, finds his state in safety; who does not know how to utilize his august position, finds his state in danger. For illustration, in by-gone days it was the custom in Ch`in for both ruler and minister to discard state laws and uphold private creeds, wherefore the country was disorderly, the army weak, and the sovereign ignoble. Thereupon Lord Shang persuaded Duke Hsiao of Ch`in to alter the law and renovate the custom by making public justice clear, rewarding the denouncers of culprits, discouraging secondary callings, 15 and encouraging primary works. 16 In those days the people of Ch`in were used to the beaten track that men guilty of crimes could be pardoned and men of no merit could be honoured. Therefore, they were very apt to violate the new law. In the meantime, however, the censure of offenders against the new law became strict and definite; the reward of the denouncers of culprits became big and of faith. Hence no culprit was missed. Men sentenced to punishment became many. The people grumbled and resented it. Criminal offences 17 were heard every day. Lending no ear to all these, Duke Hsiao enforced the Law of Lord Shang to the utmost, until at last the people came to know that men guilty of crimes would infallibly be censured and informers against culprits 18 became many. Hence the people dared not violate the law and penalty could be inflicted on nobody. Therefore, the state became orderly, the army strong, the territory extensive, and the sovereign honourable. The cause of all these was nothing other than heavy punishment for sheltering criminals and big rewards for denouncing culprits. Such was also the way to make All-under-Heaven see and hear on the ruler's own behalf.

The law and craft of the best government are thus clear enough. Yet scholars in the world never understand them.

Further, all stupid scholars in the world do not know the actual conditions of order and chaos but chatter nonsense and chant too many hackneyed old books to disturb the government of the present age. Though their wisdom and thought are not sufficient to avoid pitfalls, 19 they dare to absurdly reproach the upholders of tact. Whoever listens to their words, will incur danger. Whoever employs their schemes, will invite confusion. Such is the greatest height of stupidity as well as the greatest extreme of calamity. Though they gain fame for discussion and persuasion just as the upholders of tact do, yet in reality the former are as far apart from the latter as a distance of thousands of li. That is to say, the similarity is nominal but the difference is actual.

Indeed, what the stupid scholars in the world are to the upholders of tact, that is the ant-hill to the big mound. They are very different from each other. The sage is the one who scrutinizes the facts of right and wrong and investigates the conditions of order and chaos. Therefore, when governing the state he rectifies laws clearly and establishes penalties severely in order to rescue all living beings 20 from chaos, rid All-under-Heaven of misfortune, prohibit the strong from exploiting the weak and the many from oppressing the few, enable the old and the infirm to die in peace and the young and the orphan to grow freely, and see to it that the frontiers be not invaded, that ruler and minister be intimate with each other, that father and son support each other, and that there be no worry about being killed in war or taken prisoner. Such is one of the greatest achievements. Yet the stupid men do not understand it and condemn it as misgovernment.

Of course, the stupid men want order but dislike the true path to order. 21 They all hate danger but welcome the way to danger. How do I know this? Indeed, severe penalty and heavy conviction are hated by the people, but by them the state is governed. Mercy and pity on the hundred surnames and mitigation of penalty and punishment are welcomed by the people, but by them the state is endangered. The sage who makes laws in 22 the state is always acting contrary to the prevailing opinions of the age, but is in accord with Tao and Teh. 23 Who understands Tao and Teh, will agree with the principles of justice but disagree with the commonplaces of the world. Who does not understand Tao and Teh, will disagree with the principles of justice but agree with the commonplaces of the world. If throughout All-under-Heaven those who understand Tao and Teh are few, then the principles of justice will generally be disapproved.

If the upholders of law and tact, being located in an unrighteous position, accorded slanders by everybody, and addicted to the words of the age, want to face the severe Son of Heaven and seek safety, is it not hard for them to hope 24 for any success? This is the reason why every wise man to the end of his life never becomes celebrated in the world.

Lord Ch`un-shên, 25 younger brother of King Chuang of Ch`u, had a beloved concubine named Yü. The son born by his wedded wife was named Chia. Yü first wanted the Lord to desert his lawful wife. So she injured herself. She, showing 26 the injuries to the Lord, shed tears and said: "To be able to become Your Excellency's concubine, is very fortunate, indeed. However, to please madame is not the way to serve the master; to please the master is not the way to serve madame. Being unworthy myself and not able enough to please two lords, thy servant will eventually by force of circumstances displease both. Therefore, instead of dying at the madame's place, I prefer to be allowed to kill myself in front of Your Excellency. After 27 allowing thy servant to kill herself, if Your Excellency favours anybody else among the maid attendants, will Your Excellency be more considerate than now and never become a laughingstock of people?" The Lord, accordingly, took the falsehood of his concubine Yü as true, and deserted his lawful wife.

Yü next wanted to kill Chia and make her own son the heir apparent instead. So she tore the lining of her own petticoat. Showing the torn clothes to the Lord, she shed tears and said: "It is a long time since Yü became able to enjoy Your Excellency's favour, which Chia has known of course. Just a while ago, he thought of taking liberties with Yü by force. Yü struggled with him, till he tore her clothes. No other impious act committed by a son could be worse than this!" Enraged thereby, the Lord killed Chia. Thus, the wife was deserted because of the falsehood of the concubine Yü and the son was killed because of the same.

From this I can see that even the father's love of the son can be demolished and damaged. Now that the mutual relationship of ruler and minister does not involve the kinship of father and son and the slanderous words of the officials are not so simple as those coming out only from the single mouth of a concubine, no wonder worthies and sages are slaughtered and executed! This was the very reason why Lord Shang was torn to pieces by chariots in Ch`in and Wu Ch`i was dismembered in Ch`u.

In general, ministers, when guilty of crimes, never want to be censured, but, when of no merit, all want to be honoured and celebrated. However, the sage, when governing the state, never bestows rewards on men of no merit but definitely inflicts censures on culprits. If so, the characters of the upholders of tact and measure are certainly disgusting to the attendants and wicked ministers. Accordingly, nobody but an intelligent sovereign can take advice from them.

Scholars of the present age in counselling the lord of men do not say, "Make use of the august and commanding position and thereby harass the wicked and villainous ministers," but all say, "Practise nothing but benevolence, righteousness, favour, and love!" Accordingly, rulers of the present age have praised the names of benevolent and righteous men but have never examined their realities, so that in serious cases they have ruined their states and lost their lives and in minor cases they have seen their territories dismembered and their ranks relegated. How to explain this? Indeed, to give alms to the poor and destitute is what the world calls a benevolent and righteous act; to take pity on the hundred surnames and hesitate to inflict censure and punishment on culprits is what the world calls an act of favour and love. To be sure, when the ruler gives alms 28 to the poor and destitute, men of no merit will also be rewarded; when he hesitates to inflict censure and punishment upon culprits, then ruffians never will be suppressed. If men of no merit in the country are rewarded, the people will neither 29 face enemies and cut heads off on the battlefield nor will they devote their strength to farming and working at home, but all will use articles and money as bribe to serve the rich and noble, accomplish private virtues, and make personal names, in order that they may thereby get high posts and big bounties. In consequence, wicked and self-seeking ministers become many and violent and outrageous fellows gain the upper hand. Under such circumstances, what but ruin can befall the state?

Indeed, severe penalty is what the people fear, heavy punishment is what the people hate. Accordingly, the wise man promulgates what they fear in order to forbid the practice of wickedness and establishes what they hate in order to prevent villainous acts. For this reason the state is safe and no outrage happens. From this I know very well that benevolence, righteousness, love, and favour, are not worth adopting while severe penalty and heavy punishment can maintain the state in order.

Without the severity of the whip and the facility of the bridle, even Tsao-fu could not drive the horse; without the rule of the compasses and squares and the tip of the inked string, even Wang Erh could not draw squares and circles; and without the position of authority and power and the law of reward and punishment, even Yao and Shun could not keep the state in order. Now that rulers of the present age thoughtlessly discard heavy punishment and severe censure and practise love and favour, to realize the achievement of the Hegemonic Ruler is also hopeless.

Therefore, the skilful sovereign makes rewards clear and displays advantages to encourage the people and make them get rewards for meritorious services but no prize for any act of benevolence and righteousness. He makes penalties severe and punishments heavy to restrain the people and make them get censure for criminal offences but no pardon by love and grace. Therefore, men of no merit never long for any reward and those guilty of crimes never look for an amnesty.

If you have a solid carriage and a good horse, you can go over slopes and cliffs on land; if you embark in a safe boat and hold its easy helm in hand, you can get over the hazards of streams and rivers on water. Similarly, if you have the measures of law and tact in your grip and carry heavy punishment and severe censure into effect, you will be able to accomplish the achievement of the Hegemonic Ruler. Now, to have law and tact, reward and punishment, in governing the state, is the same as to have a solid carriage and a good horse in travelling on land and have a fast boat and an easy helm in travelling on water. Whoever has them in his grip will eventually accomplish his purpose.

Yi Yin mastered them, wherefore T`ang became supreme; Kuan Chung mastered them, wherefore Ch`i became hegemonic; and Lord Shang mastered them, wherefore Ch`in became a powerful state. These three men all understood the statecraft of supremacy and hegemony clearly and observed the measures for order and strength closely and were never restrained by worldly and popular sayings. Thus, meeting the demands of the intelligent sovereigns of their times, they emerged from the status of wearers of hemp cloth 30 to the posts of High Official and Prime Minister. When holding office and governing the state, they actually accomplished the task in honouring their masters and extending their territories. Such persons are called "ministers worthy of respect". 31

T`ang, because he got Yi Yin, rose from one hundred square li of territory to become the Son of Heaven. Duke Huan, because he got Kuan Chung, became the first Hegemonic Ruler, called nine meetings of the feudal lords, and brought All-under-Heaven under one rule. Because Duke Hsiao got Lord Shang, his territory was extended and his army was strengthened. Therefore, whoever has loyal ministers, has no worry over enemy states outside and no anxiety about rebellious ministers inside, enjoying permanent peace in All-under-Heaven and handing down his name to posterity. Such ministers are the so-called loyal ministers. 32

Take the case of Yü Jang. When ministering to Earl Chih, he could not counsel the lord of men and make him clearly understand the principles of law and tact, rule and measure, so as to avoid disasters, nor could he lead and control his masses so as to keep the state in safety. When Viscount Hsiang had killed Earl Chih, Yü Jang branded 33 his face and cut off his nose, thus destroying his facial features in order to avenge Earl Chih on Viscount Hsiang. In this wise, though he earned the reputation for destroying his features 34 and sacrificing his life for the cause of the lord of men, yet in reality he rendered Earl Chih not even such a bit of benefit as the tips of autumn spikelets. Such a man is what I look down upon, whereas rulers of the present age regard him as loyal and exalt him. In antiquity, there were men named Poh-i and Shu-ch`i. When King Wu offered to transfer All-under-Heaven to them, 35 both declined it and starved to death on the Shou-yang Mound. Ministers like them, neither afraid of heavy censure nor fond of big rewards, cannot be prohibited by punishment, nor can they be encouraged by reward. They are called "ministers of no account". 36 They are what I make light of and cast aside, but are what rulers of the present age think much of and seek out.

There is a proverb saying, "Even the leper feels pity for the king." 37 It is not a reverent saying. Nevertheless, since in antiquity there was no empty proverb, everybody should consider it carefully. It speaks for 38 such sovereigns as are liable to molestation or murder.

If the lord of men does not have law and tact to control his ministers, then though he is still on the green margin of his life and has excellent talents, chief vassals will, as usual, gain influence, administer all state affairs at their will, and make all decisions on their own authority, everybody working to his own advantage. Fearing lest uncles and brothers of the sovereign or some heroic men should exercise the authority of the lord of men to suppress and censure them, they would depose 39 worthy, full-grown rulers and set up young, weak ones on the throne, or set aside lawful heirs 40 and place unlawful ones in their stead.

Hence it is recorded in the Spring and Autumn Annals: "Prince Wei of Ch`u was once on his way to visit the court of Chêng. Before he crossed the state border, he heard about His Majesty's illness and therefore turned homeward. When he went in to inquire after the King's illness, he strangled His Majesty to death with the ribbons of his hat, and finally established himself on the throne. 41 The wife of Ts`ui Chu of Ch`i was beautiful. Duke Chuang formed a liaison with her and frequented the house of the Ts`ui Clan. One day, when Duke Chuang went again, a dependent of Ts`ui Tzŭ, named Chia Chü, led the followers of Ts`ui Tzŭ and attacked the Duke. The Duke rushed into a room and suggested dividing the state with him, but Ts`ui Tzŭ would not grant the request. The Duke then asked permission to kill himself in the ancestral shrine, but again Ts`ui Tzŭ would not listen to the request. So the Duke started to run away. When he was going across the mud fence on the north of the compound, Chia Chü shot him with an arrow and hit his thigh. The Duke fell down upon the ground, where Ts`ui Tzŭ's followers cut the Duke with lances and killed him. 42 Thereupon his younger brother was installed on the throne as Duke Ching."

As witnessed in recent times, no sooner had Li Tai 43 come into power in Chao, than he starved the Father Sovereign 44 for one hundred days till he died; no sooner had Nao Ch`ih come into power in Ch`i, than he pulled out the sinews of King Min 45 and hanged him on the beam of the ancestral shrine where he died after one night. 46

Therefore, the leper, despite the boils and swellings all over his body, as compared with rulers of the Spring and Autumn Period, never suffers such miseries as neck-strangling and thigh-shooting, and, as compared with rulers of recent times, never suffers such miseries as starvation to death and sinew-pulling. Thus, the mental agony and physical pain of the rulers molested and murdered certainly exceed those of the leper. From this viewpoint, though the leper feels pity for the king, there is good reason for it.


1. 姦劫弒臣. The content of this chapter appears not very unique. The thought seems to lack unity, too. Only the various paragraphs at the opening and towards the end fit well into the subject matter. On the whole, however, the work shows no contradiction to the general system of the author's teachings. With Wang Hsien-shen Chao Yung-hsien's edition has 殺 in place of 弒.

2. With Wang 合 below 取舍 should be 同.

3. For 數 I usually use "measure" and casually "number" or "statistics".

4. Wang Hsien-shen suggested the supply of 有 below 非.

5. 擅主之臣.

6. With Wang Hsien-shen 利 below 安 is superfluous.

7. Wang regarded 化 as a mistake for 術.

8. With Wang 事上 above 而求安 should be above 行正理.

9. With Wang 得 above 效 is superfluous.

10. With Wang 苟 should be 徇.

11. 千鈞. One chün is about thirty catties.

12. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê the Taoist Thesaurus edition has 蔽 in place of 弊.

13. With Yü Yüeh 不得不愛我 should be 不得不為我.

14. With Wang Hsien-shen 利 should be 安.

15. 末作. Such professions as trade and handiwork.

16. 本事. Such professions as farming and fighting.

17. With Wang Hsien-shen 眾過 should be 罪過.

18. With Wang 私姦者 should be 告姦者.

19. With Wang 穽井 should be 井穽.

20. 群生, an indigenous expression, was seemingly replaced by 眾生 after Buddhistic ideas began to influence Chinese thought (vide supra, p. 55).

21. With Wang Hsien-shen 者 should be supplied below 治.

22. Kao Hêng proposed to supply 於 between 法 and 國.

23. 道德 here as elsewhere cannot be rendered as "reason and virtue" or "morals" or "morality". Inasmuch as 道 refers to the natural course of the cosmos and 德 to the standard of conduct derived from it, transliteration seems preferable to translation.

24. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 幾 above 不亦難 should be below it.

25. Different from another Lord Ch`un-shên whose real name was Huang Hsieh.

26. With Wang Hsien-shen 視 should be 示.

27. With Kao Hêng 以 reads 已.

28. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 有 above 施與 is superfluous.

29. With Ku 不外 should be 外不.

30. In ancient China all commoners, before they became white-haired, were supposed to wear no silk but hemp cloth. Hence wearers of hemp cloth came to mean commoners.

31. 足貴之臣.

32. 忠臣.

33. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 黔 should be 黥.

34. With Wang Hsien-shen 刑 should be 形.

35. They declined their father's offer, but nowhere else is mentioned King Wu's offer.

36. 無益之臣.

37. According to the Schemes of the Warring States, the passages beginning with this sentence and ending with the present chapter were written by Sun Tzŭ to Lord Ch`un-shên.

38. With Wang Hsien-shen 謂 should be 為.

39. With Lu Wên-shao I prefer 捨 to 弒.

40. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê the Taoist Thesaurus edition and the Schemes of the Warring States have 正適 in place of 正的.

41. 515 b.c.

42. 548 b.c.

43. He became the Grand Assistant to King Hui-wên of Chao in 298 b.c.

44. 主父 was the title King Wu-ling of Chao gave himself after his abdication in favour of his younger son Ho in 298 b.c. Three years later, his eldest son, Chang, who had once been the Crown Prince, launched a revolt against Ho, then King Hui-wên, but failed and sought refuge in the Father Sovereign's detached palace at the Sandy Hill. Li Tai upon his arrival first killed the rebellious prince and then locked up the Father Sovereign inside the palace and starved him to death.

45. Having suffered a crushing defeat by the invading forces of Yen in 284 b.c., he asked for rescue from Ch`u. King Ch`ing-hsiang, accordingly, appointed Nao Ch`ih commander of the reinforcements. Upon his arrival at Ch`i, Nao Ch`ih was appointed Prime Minister by King Min. Fearing the Yen invaders, however, he betrayed the King, secretly made peace with Yen, and finally murdered the King in 283 b.c.

46. With Wang Hsien-shen 宿昔 should be 宿夕.

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