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Chapter XV. Portents of Ruin1

1. As a rule, if the state of the lord of men is small but the fiefs of private families are big, or if the ruler's sceptre is insignificant but the ministers are powerful, then ruin is possible.

2. If the ruler neglects laws and prohibitions, indulges in plans and ideas, disregards the defence works within the boundaries and relies on foreign friendship and support, then ruin is possible.

3. If all officials indulge in studies, sons of the family are fond of debate, peddlars and shopkeepers hide money in foreign countries, and poor people suffer miseries at home, then ruin is possible.

4. If the ruler is fond of palatial decorations, raised kiosks, and embanked pools, is immersed in pleasures of having chariots, clothes, and curios, and thereby tires out the hundred surnames and exhausts public wealth, then ruin is possible.

5. If the ruler believes in date-selecting, 2 worships devils and deities, believes in divination and lot-casting, and likes fêtes and celebrations, then ruin is possible.

6. If the ruler takes advice only from ministers of high rank, refrains from comparing different opinions and testifying to the truth, and uses only one man as a channel of information, then ruin is possible.

7. If posts and offices can be sought through influential personages and rank and bounties can be obtained by means of bribes, then ruin is possible.

8. If the ruler, being easy-going, accomplishes nothing, being tender-hearted, lacking in decision, and, wavering between acceptance and rejection, has no settled opinion, then ruin is possible.

9. If the ruler is greedy, insatiable, attracted to profit, and fond of gain, then ruin is possible.

10. If the ruler enjoys inflicting unjust punishment and does not uphold the law, likes debate and persuasion but never sees to their practicability, and indulges in style and wordiness but never considers their effect, then ruin is possible.

11. If the ruler is shallow-brained and easily penetrated, reveals everything but conceals nothing, and cannot keep any secret but communicates the words of one minister to another, then ruin is possible.

12. If the ruler is stubborn-minded, uncompromising, and apt to dispute every remonstrance and fond of surpassing everybody else, and never thinks of the welfare of the Altar of the Spirits of Land and Grain but sticks to self-confidence without due consideration, then ruin is possible.

13. The ruler who relies on friendship and support from distant countries, makes light of his relations with close neighbours, counts on the aid from big powers, and provokes surrounding countries, is liable to ruin.

14. If foreign travellers and residents, whose property and families are abroad, take seats in the state council and interfere in civil affairs, then ruin is possible.

15. If the people have no 3 confidence in the premier and the inferiors do not obey the superiors while the sovereign loves and trusts the premier and cannot depose him, then ruin is possible.

16. If the ruler does not take able men of the country into service but searches after foreign gentlemen, and if he does not make tests according to meritorious services but would appoint and dismiss officials according to their mere reputations till foreign residents are exalted and ennobled to surpass his old acquaintances, then ruin is possible.

17. If the ruler disregards the matter of legitimacy and lets bastards rival legitimate sons, or if the sovereign dies before he inaugurates the crown prince, then ruin is possible.

18. If the ruler is boastful but never regretful, makes much of himself despite the disorder prevailing in his country, and insults the neighbouring enemies without estimating the resources within the boundaries, then ruin is possible.

19. If the state is small but the ruler will not acquiesce in a humble status; if his forces are scanty but he never fears strong foes; if he has no manners and insults big neighbours; or if he is greedy and obstinate but unskilful in diplomacy; then ruin is possible.

20. If, after the inauguration of the crown prince, the ruler take in a woman from a strong enemy state, the crown prince will be endangered and the ministers will be worried. Then ruin is possible.

21. If the ruler is timid and weak in self-defence and his mind is paralysed by the signs of future events; or if he knows what to decide on 4 but dare not take any drastic measure; then ruin is possible.

22. If the exiled ruler is abroad but the country sets up a new ruler, or if before the heir apparent taken abroad as hostage returns, the ruler changes his successor, then the state will divide. And the state divided against itself is liable to ruin.

23. If the ruler keeps near and dear to the chief vassals whom he has disheartened and disgraced or stands close 5 by the petty men 6 whom he has punished, then he will make them bear anger and feel shame. If he goes on doing this, rebels are bound to appear. When rebels appear, ruin is possible.

24. If chief vassals rival each other in power and uncles and brothers are many and powerful, and if they form juntas inside and receive support from abroad and thereby dispute state affairs and struggle for supreme influence, then ruin is possible.

25. If words of maids and concubines are followed and the wisdom of favourites is used, and the ruler repeats committing unlawful acts regardless of the grievances and resentments inside and outside the court, then ruin is possible.

26. If the ruler is contemptuous to chief vassals and impolite to uncles and brothers, overworks the hundred surnames, and slaughters innocent people, then ruin is possible.

27. If the ruler is fond of twisting laws by virtue of his wisdom, mixes public with private 7 affairs from time to time, alters laws and prohibitions at random, and issues commands and orders frequently, then ruin is possible.

28. If the terrian has no stronghold, 8 the city-walls are in bad repair, the state has no savings and hoardings, resources and provisions are scarce, and no preparations are made for defence and attack, but the ruler dares to attack and invade other countries imprudently, then ruin is possible.

29. If the royal seed is short-lived, new sovereigns succeed to each other continuously, babies become rulers, and chief vassals have all the ruling authority to themselves and recruit partisans from among foreign residents and maintain inter-state friendship by frequently ceding territories, then ruin is possible.

30. If the crown prince is esteemed and celebrated, has numerous dependents and protégés, develops friendships with big powers, and exercises his authority and influence from his early years, then ruin is possible.

31. If the ruler is narrow-minded, 9 quick-tempered, imprudent, easily affected, and, when provoked, becomes blind with rage, then ruin is possible.

32. If the sovereign is easily provoked and fond of resorting to arms and neglects agricultural and military training but ventures warfare and invasion heedlessly, then ruin is possible.

33. If nobles are jealous of one another, chief vassals are prosperous, seeking support from enemy states and harassing the hundred surnames at home so as to attack their wrongdoers, but the lord of men never censures them, then ruin is possible.

34. If the ruler is unworthy but his half-brothers are worthy; if the heir apparent is powerless and the bastard surpasses him; or if the magistrates are weak and the people are fierce; then the state will be seized with a panic. And a panic-stricken state is liable to ruin.

35. If the ruler conceals his anger, which he would never reveal, suspends a criminal case, which he never would censure, and thereby makes the officials hate him in secret and increases their worries and fears, and if he never comes to know the situation even after a long time, then ruin is possible.

36. If the commander in the front line has too much power, the governor on the frontier has too much nobility, and if they have the ruling authority to themselves, issue orders at their own will and do just as they wish without asking permission of the ruler, then ruin is possible.

37. If the queen is adulterous, the sovereign's mother is corrupt, attendants inside and outside the court intercommunicate, and male and female have no distinction, such a régime is called "bi-regal". 10 Any country having two rulers is liable to ruin.

38. If the queen is humble but the concubine is noble, the heir apparent is low but the bastard is high, the prime minister is despised but the court usher is esteemed, then disobedience will appear in and out of the court. If disobedience appears in and out of the court, the state is liable to ruin.

39. If chief vassals are very powerful, have many strong partisans, obstruct the sovereign's decisions, and administer all state affairs on their own authority, then ruin is possible.

40. If vassals of private families are employed but descendants of military officers 11 are rejected, 12 men who do good to their village communities are promoted but those who render distinguished services to their official posts are discarded, self-seeking deeds are esteemed but public-spirited works are scorned, then ruin is possible.

41. If the state treasury is empty but the chief vassals have plenty of money, native subjects are poor but foreign residents are rich, farmers and warriors have hard times but people engaged in secondary professions are benefited, then ruin is possible.

42. The ruler who sees a great advantage but does not advance towards it, hears the outset of a calamity but does not provide against it, thus neglecting preparations for attack and defence and striving to embellish himself with the practice of benevolence and righteousness, is liable to ruin.

43. If the ruler does not practise the filial piety of the lord of men but yearns after the filial piety of the commoner, does not regard the welfare of the Altar of the Spirits of Land and Grain but obeys the orders of the dowager queen, and if he allows women to administer the state affairs and eunuchs to meddle with politics, then ruin is possible.

44. If words are eloquent but not legal, the mind is sagacious but not tactful, the sovereign is versatile but performs his duties not in accordance with laws and regulations, then ruin is possible.

45. If new 13 ministers advance when old officials withdraw, the unworthy meddle with politics when the virtuous pass out of the limelight, and men of no merit are esteemed when hard-working people are disdained, then the people left behind will resent it. If the people left behind resent it, ruin is possible.

46. If the bounties and allowances of uncles and brothers exceed their merits, their badges and uniforms override their grades, and their residences and provisions are too extravagant, and if the lord of men never restrains them, then ministers will become insatiable. If ministers are insatiable, then ruin is possible.

47. If the ruler's sons-in-law and grandsons live behind the same hamlet gate with the commoners and behave unruly and arrogantly towards their neighbours, then ruin is possible.

Thus, portents of ruin do not imply certainty of ruin but liability to ruin.

Indeed, two Yaos 14 cannot rule side by side, nor can two Chiehs 15 ruin each other. The secrets of rule or ruin lie in the inclination towards order or chaos, strength or weakness.

It is true, the tree breaks down because 16 of vermin, the fence gives way on account 17 of cracks. Yet, despite the vermin, if no sudden gale blows, the tree will not break down; despite the cracks, if no heavy rain falls, the fence does not give way.

If the sovereign of ten thousand chariots can exercise tact and enforce law and thereby function as gale and rain to rulers having portents of ruin, his annexation of Allunder-Heaven will have no difficulty.


1. 亡徽. The various portents of ruin are enumerated, but no facts are adduced in illustration of them. The numerical indication of each is mine.

2. The ruler would ask the court astrologer to select lucky dates for inaugurations, for instance.

3. With Yü Yüeh 不 should be supplied above 信.

4. With Lu Wên-shao 知有謂可斷 should be 知有可斷.

5. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 逆 should be 近.

6. With Ku 民 should be 人.

7. With Ku 行 should be 私.

8. With Lu Wên-shao 無地固 should be 地無固.

9. With Lu and Wang Hsien-shen 變褊 should be 攣褊.

10. 二主 literally means "two masters".

11. 馬府 literally means "horsemen's mansions".

12. I propose the supply of 去 below 世.

13. With Wang Hsien-shen 親 should read 新.

14. Namely, two worthy rulers.

15. Namely, two wicked rulers.

16. With Kao Hêng 通 in both cases should be 道 meaning 由.

17. With Kao Hêng 通 in both cases should be 道 meaning 由.

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