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Chapter IV. On Favourite Vassals: A Memorial1

Favourite vassals, if too intimate with the ruler, would cause him personal danger. Ministers, if too powerful, would overturn the august position of the sovereign. Wives and concubines, if without distinction of rank, would cause legitimate sons dangers. Brothers, if not subservient to the ruler, would endanger the Altar of the Spirits of Land and Grain.

Thy servant has heard: "The ruler of one thousand chariots, if not on his guard, would find close by him vassals of one hundred chariots aiming to shake his authority 2 and upset his country. The ruler of ten thousand chariots, if not on his guard, would find close by him vassals of one thousand chariots aiming to shake his authority and upset his country." That being so, wicked ministers can multiply while the sway of the sovereign declines. Therefore, the territorial expansion of the feudal lords leads to the damnation of the Son of Heaven; the extraordinary wealth of ministers leads to the downfall of the ruler. Hence generals and ministers who would leave the sovereign's interests behind 3 and prosper 4 the welfare of their own families instead, should be ousted by the ruler of men.

Nothing is more valuable than the royal person, more honourable than the throne, more powerful than the authority of the sovereign, and more august than the position of the ruler. These four excellences are not obtained from outside nor secured from anybody else, but are deliberated in the ruler's own mind and acquired thereby. Hence the saying: "The lord of men, if unable to exercise his equipment with the four excellences, is bound to end his life in exile." This the ruler of men must keep firmly in mind.

Of old, the ruin of Chow and the fall of Chou were both due to the territorial expansion of the feudal lords; the partition of Chin 5 as well as the usurpation of Ch`i 6 was due to the extraordinary wealth of ministers. So were the regicides in Yen and Sung, indeed. Thus, whether in the cases of Yin and Chou or in the cases of Chin and Ch`i, or in the modern cases of Yen and Sung, the same reason never failed to hold true.

For this reason, the intelligent ruler, in keeping officials in service, exhausts their abilities with laws and corrects their errors with measures. Hence no release from the death penalty, no remission of punishment. Both release from the death penalty and remission of punishment, being called "authority-losing" 7 on the part of the ruler, mark the fall of the Altar of the Spirits of Land and Grain into danger as well as the shifting of the state under the "deflected authority" 8 of the wicked ministers.

Therefore, no minister, however large his bounty may be, should be allowed to include 9 the capital city in his private fief; nor should he be allowed, however numerous his adherents and supporters may be, to subject officers and soldiers as personal vassals. Accordingly, no official, while serving the state, should be allowed to have any private governmental office. While in the army, nobody should be allowed to cultivate personal friendships. No official should be allowed to make any loan from the public treasury to individual families. This is the way the intelligent ruler should forbid wicked practices.

For the same reason, no minister should be allowed to have a four-horsed chariot as personal escort nor should he be allowed to carry any kind of weapons. If anyone, being neither a public courier nor a herald of urgent messages, transport implements of war from place to place, he should be condemned to death without mercy. This is the way the intelligent ruler should provide against accidents.


1. 愛臣.

2. With Wang Wei 民 should be 威.

3. With Kao Hêng 管主 should be 後主.

4. With Kao 國 between 隆 and 家 is superfluous.

5. In 376 b.c. by the Chao, Han, and Wey Clans.

6. In 386 b.c. by the T`ien Clan.

7. 威淫.

8. 偏威.

9. With Yü Yüeh 藉 should read 籍 and 威 below it is superfluous.

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