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Chapter XLIV. On Assumers1

In general, the principal way of government does not solely mean the justice of reward and punishment. Much less does it mean 2 to reward men of no merit and punish innocent people. However, to reward men of merit, punish men of demerit, and make no mistake in so doing but affect such persons only, 3 can neither increase men of merit nor eliminate men of demerit. For this reason, among the methods of suppressing villainy the best is to curb the mind, the next, the word, and the last, the work.

Modern people all say, "Who honours the sovereign and safeguards the country, always resorts to benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, and ability"; while they ignore the fact that those who actually humble the sovereign and endanger the country, always appeal to benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, and ability. Therefore, the sovereign pursuing the true path would estrange upholders of benevolence and righteousness, discard possessors of wisdom and ability, and subdue the people by means of law. That being so, his fame spreads far and wide, his name becomes awe-inspiring, his subjects are orderly, and his country is safe, because he knows how to employ the people. As a rule, tact is what the sovereign holds in hand; law is what the officials take as models. 4 If so, it will not be difficult to make the courtiers get news everyday from outside and see the law prevail from the neighbourhood of the court 5 to the state-frontiers.

In bygone days, the Yu-hu Clan had Shih Tu; the Huan-tou Clan had Ku Nan; the Three Miaos had Ch`êng Chü; Chieh had Hu Ch`i; Chow had Marquis Ch`ung; and Chin had Actor Shih. These six men were "state-ruining ministers". 6 They spoke of right as if it were wrong, and of wrong as if it were right. Being crafty in mind, they acted contrary to their outward looks; pretending to a little prudence, they testified to their goodness. They praised remote ancients to hinder present enterprises. Skilful in manipulating 7 their sovereigns, they gathered detailed secrets and perturbed them with their likes and dislikes. They were the same types of men as most courtiers and attendants.

Of the former sovereigns, some got men through whom they became safe and their states were preserved, and some got men through whom they were jeopardized and their states went to ruin. The getting of men was one and the same but the differences between gains and losses are hundreds of thousands. Therefore, the lord of men must not fail to take precautions against his attendants. If the lord of men clearly understands the words of the ministers, he can differentiate the worthy from the unworthy as black from white.

Hsü Yu, Shu Ya, Pai Yang, 8 Tien Chieh of Ch`in, 9 Ch`iao Ju of Lu, 10 Hu Pu-chi, Chung Ming, Tung Pu-shih, Pien Sui, Wu Kuang, Po-i, and Shu-ch`i, all twelve men were neither delighted at evident profits nor afraid of impending disasters. Some of them, when given the rule over All-under-Heaven, never took it. Some of them, afraid of incurring humility and disgrace, never welcomed the privilege of receiving bounties. 11 Indeed, not delighted at evident profits, they could never be encouraged, though the superior made rewards big; not afraid of impending disasters, they could never be terrified, though the superior made penalties severe. They were the so-called "disobedient people". 12 Of these twelve men, some be dead in caves and holes, some died of exhaustion among grass and trees, some starved to death in mountains and ravines, and some drowned themselves in streams and fountains. If there were people like these, even sage-kings of antiquity could not subject them. How much less would rulers of the present age be able to employ them?

Kuan Lung-p`êng, Prince Pi Kan, Chi Liang of Sui, Hsieh Yeh of Ch`ên, Pao Shên 13 of Ch`u, and Tzŭ-hsü of Wu, these six men disputed straightly and expostulated bitterly with their masters in order to overcome them. When their words were listened to and their projects were carried out, then they would assume the attitude of tutor towards pupil; when even a word was not listened to and but one project was not carried out, then they would humiliate their sovereigns with offensive phraseology and threatening gestures. Even in the face of death, the break-up of their families, the severing of their waists and necks, and the separation of their hands and feet, they had no hesitation in so doing. If ministers like these could not be tolerated by the sage-kings of antiquity, how could they be employed by rulers of the present age?

As regards T`ien Hêng of Ch`i, Tzŭ-han of Sung, Chi-sun I-ju, Ch`iao Ju 14 of Lu, Tzŭ Nan Ching of Wei, Chancellor Hsin of Chêng, Duke White of Ch`u, San Tu of Chou, and Tzŭ-chih of Yen, these nine men, while ministers, all formed juntas for self-seeking purposes in serving their rulers. In obscuring the right way and thereby practising private crookedness, in intimidating the rulers above and thereby disturbing the government below, in securing foreign support to bend the policy of internal administration, and in making friends with the inferiors so as to plot against the superiors, they had no hesitation. Ministers like these could be suppressed only by sage-kings and wise sovereigns. Would it be possible for stupid and outrageous rulers 15 to discover them?

Hou Chi, Kao Yao, Yi Yin, Duke Tan of Chou, T`ai-kung Wang, Kuan Chung, Hsi P`êng, Pai Li-hsi, Chien Shu, Uncle Fan, Chao Shuai, Fan Li, High Official Chung, Fêng Tung, Hua Têng, these fifteen men, while ministers, all got up early in the morning and went to bed late at night, humbled themselves and debased their bodies; they were, cautious in mind and frank in intention, and clarified penal actions and attended to official duties in serving their rulers. When they presented good counsels to the Throne and convinced their masters thoroughly of right laws, they dared not boast of their own goodness. When they had achieved merits and accomplished tasks, they dared not show off their services. They made no hesitation in sacrificing their family interests to benefit their countries and no hesitation in sacrificing their lives to safeguard the sovereigns, holding their sovereigns in as high esteem as high heaven and the T`ai Mountain and regarding themselves as low as the deep ravines and the Fu-yu 16 Stream. Though their sovereigns had a distinguished name and a widespread fame in the states, they had no hesitation in keeping themselves as low as the deep ravines and the Fu-yu Stream. Ministers like these, even under stupid and outrageous masters, could still achieve meritorious service. How much more could they do under brilliant sovereigns? Such are called "Assistants to Hegemonic Rulers". 17

Hua Chih of Chou, Kung-sun 18 Shên of Chêng, Kung-sun Ning and Yi Hsing-fu of Ch`ên, Yü Yin Shên Hai of Ching, Shao Shih of Sui, Chung Kan of Yüeh, Wang-sun O of Wu, Yang-ch`êng Hsieh of Chin, Shu Tiao and Yi Ya of Ch`i, these twelve 19 man, while ministers, all thought about small profits and forgot legal justice. In public they kept worthy and good personages in obscurity in order to delude and befool their sovereigns; in private they disturbed all the officials and caused them disasters and difficulties. When serving their masters, they partook of the same tastes with them to such an extent that if they could give one pleasure to the sovereigns, they would have no hesitation in plunging the states into ruin and putting the masses to death. Were there ministers like these, even sage-kings would fear lest they should be dismayed. How much less could stupid and outrageous rulers avoid losses?

Whoever had ministers like these men, always was put to death and his state driven to ruin, and has been ridiculed by All-under-Heaven. Thus, Duke Wei of Chou was killed and his state divided into two; Tzŭ-yang of Chêng was killed and his state divided into three; Duke Ling of Ch`ên was killed by Hsia Chêng-shu; King Ling of Ching died by the Dry Brook; Sui was ruined by Ching; Wu was annexed by Yüeh; Earl Chih was extinguished in the vicinity of Chin-yang; while Duke Huan lay dead and unburied for sixty-seven20 days. Hence the saying: "Adulatory ministers are known only by sage-kings." Outrageous sovereigns welcome them. In consequence, they are killed and their states go to ruin.

The same is not true of sage-kings and enlightened rulers. When selecting able men for office, they mind neither relatives nor enemies. Whoever is right is raised, whoever is wrong is punished. Therefore, the worthy and good are advanced; the vicious and wicked are dismissed. Naturally they can at one effort bring all the feudal lords under submission. Thus in ancient Records there is the saying: "Yao had Tan-chu, Shun had Shang-chün, Ch`i had Five Princes, Shang had T`ai-chia, and King Wu had Kuan and Ts`ai." Now, all these men censured by the five rulers were related to them as father and son, uncle and nephew, cousins, or brothers. But why were their bodies broken and their families ruined? It was because they were state-ruining, people-harming, and lawbreaking men. Suppose we look at the personages the five rulers appointed to office. They were found amidst mountains, forests, jungles, swamps, rocks, and caves, or in jails, chains, and bonds, or in the status of a cook, a cattle-breeder, and a cowherd. Nevertheless, the intelligent sovereigns, not ashamed of their low and humble origins, considered them able to illustrate the law, benefit the state, and prosper the people, and, accordingly, appointed them to office. In consequence, they gained personal safety and honourable reputation.

The ignoble sovereigns would act differently. Not aware of the motives and actions of their ministers, they entrusted them with state affairs. In consequence, their names are debased and their territories dismembered; or, what is worse, their states are ruined and they themselves are killed. For they do not know how to employ ministers.

Rulers who have no measures to estimate their ministers, always judge them on the basis of the sayings of the masses. Whoever is praised by the masses, is liked. Therefore, those who minister to rulers would even disrupt their families and ruin their property to form factions inside and keep contact with influential clans and thereby become known. When they form secret promises and alliances and thereby strengthen their positions, and when they deceptively reward 21 people with ranks and bounties as encouragements, each of them would say: "Whoever sides with me shall be benefited and whoever does not side with me shall be damaged." The masses, greedy of the gain and afraid of the threat, believe that when really happy, they will benefit them, and when really 22 angry, they will damage them, wherefore all turn and stick to them. As a result, their fame spreads all over the country and reaches the ear of the sovereigns. Unable to understand the real situation, the sovereigns regard them as worthies.

They also disguise deceitful men as favourite envoys from the feudal lords and equip them with coaches and horses, provide them with jade and bamboo tablets, 23 dignify them with writs of appointment, and supply them with money and silk. Thus, they make the false envoys from the feudal lords beguile their sovereigns. With self-seeking motives in mind the false envoys discuss public affairs. They pretend to represent the sovereigns of other states, but in reality they speak for the men around the sovereigns they are visiting. Delighted at their words and convinced by their phraseology, they regard these men as worthies in All-under Heaven, the more so as everybody, whether in or out, right or left, 24 makes only one kind of reputation for them and repeats the same conversation about them. In consequence, the sovereigns have no hesitation in lowering themselves and their supreme status and thereby condescending to them or at least benefiting them with high rank and big bounties.

Indeed, if the ranks and bounties of wicked men are influential and their partisans and adherents are many, and if besides, they have vicious and wicked motives, their wicked subordinates will persuade them time and time again, saying: "The so-called sage-rulers and enlightened kings of antiquity succeeded their predecessors not as juniors succeeding seniors in the natural order, 25 but because they had formed parties and gathered influential clans and then molested their superiors, murdered the rulers, and thereby sought after advantage." "How do you know that?" they ask. In reply the subordinates say: "Shun intimidated Yao, Yü intimidated Shun, T`ang banished Chieh, and King Wu censured Chow. These four rulers were ministers who murdered their rulers, but All-under-Heaven have extolled them. The inner hearts of these four rulers, if observed carefully, displayed nothing but the motive of greediness and gain 26 ; their actions, if estimated closely, were simply weapons of violence and outrage. Nevertheless, while the four rulers were extending their powers at their pleasure, All-under-Heaven made much of them; while they were noising their names abroad, All-under-Heaven regarded them as intelligent. In consequence, their authority became sufficient to face Allunder-Heaven and their advantages became sufficient to challenge their age. Naturally All-under-Heaven followed them."

"As witnessed by recent times," continue the crooks further, "Viscount T`ien Chêng took Ch`i, Ssŭ-ch`êng Tzŭ-han took Sung, Chancellor Hsin took Chêng, the San Clan took Chou, Yi Ya 27 took Wei, and the three Viscounts of Han, Chao, and Wey partitioned Chin. These eight men 28 were ministers who murdered their rulers." Hearing this, the wicked ministers would spring to their feet, prick up their ears, and regard it as right. Accordingly, they will form parties at home, develop friendly contact 29 with influential clans outside, watch for the right moment to launch the turn of affairs, and take the state at one stroke.

Again, those who intimidate and murder the rulers with partisans and adherents at home and reform or alter their states through the influences of the feudal lords outside, thus concealing the right way and upholding private crookedness so as to restrain the ruler above and obstruct the government below, are innumerable. Why? It is because the ruler does not know how to select ministers. The ancient Records says: "Since the time of King Hsüan of Chou ruined states number several tens and ministers who murdered their rulers and took their states are many." If so, the calamities which originated inside and those which developed from outside were half and half. Those who had exerted the forces of the masses, broke up the states, and sacrificed their lives, were all worthy sovereigns; whereas those who overexerted themselves, 30 changed their positions, saved the masses but estranged 31 the states, were the most pitiful sovereigns.

If the lord of men 32 really penetrates the ministers' speeches, then even though he spends all his time in hunting with nets and stringed arrows, driving and riding around, playing bell music, and, seeing girl dancers, his state will remain in existence; whereas, if he does not penetrate the ministers' speeches, then even though he is frugal and industrious, wears hemp clothes, and eats poor food, the state will go to ruin of itself.

For example, Marquis Ching, an early Ruler of Chao, never cultivated his virtuous conduct, but would give rein to the satisfaction of desires and enjoy physical comforts and auditory and visual pleasures. He spent winter days in hunting with nets and stringed arrows and summer time in boating and fishing. He would sometimes drink all night long, sometimes even hold his wine cup for several days, pour wine with bamboo ladles into the mouths of those who could not drink, and behead anybody not prudent in advance and retreat or not reverent in response and reply. Though his way of living, acting, drinking, and eating, was so unscrupulous and his way of censure and execution was so reckless, yet he enjoyed ruling his state for more than ten years, 33 during which period of time his soldiers were never crushed by enemy states, nor was his land ever invaded by any surrounding neighbour, nor was there any disorder between ruler and minister or among the officials at home, nor was there any worry about the feudal lords and the neighbouring states, for he knew how to appoint ministers to office.

Contrary to this, Tzŭ-k`uai, Ruler of Yen, a descendant of Duke Shih of Chao, ruled 34 over a territory several thousand li square and had spear-carriers several hundred thousands in number, and neither indulged in the pleasures of pretty girls, nor listened to the music of bells and stones, nor cared for the reflecting pool and the raised kiosk inside the palace, nor went hunting with nets and stringed arrows in the fields outside. Furthermore, he personally handled ploughs and hoes to rectify the dikes and tracts of farms and fields. So extremely did Tzŭ-k`uai distress himself in grieving at the people's sorrows that even the so-called sage-kings and enlightened rulers of antiquity who had themselves worked and grieved at the sorrows of the world could not be compared with him. However, Tzŭ-k`uai was killed; his state was lost to and usurped by Tzŭ-chih; and he has become a laughing-stock of All-under-Heaven. What was the reason 35 for this? It was because he did not know how to appoint ministers to office.

Hence the saying: "Ministers have five wickednesses, which the sovereign does not know." Some would make extravagant use of cash and goods as bribes for acquiring honours; some would endeavour to bestow rewards and favours for winning the hearts of the masses; some would endeavour to form cliques, exert their wisdom, and honour scholars, and thereby abuse their authority; some would endeavour to pardon criminals and thereby increase their influence; and some would follow the inferiors in praising the straight and blaming the crooked and bewilder the people's ears and eyes by virtue of strange phraseology, queer clothing, and novel action. These five kinds of action are what the intelligent rulers punish 36 and the sage-sovereigns forbid. With these five kinds of action forbidden, deceitful men dare not face the north and stand 37 and talk; and talkative but impractical and law-breaking men dare not falsify facts and thereby embellish their discussions. For this reason, the officials in daily life will cultivate their personalities and in action will exert their abilities. But for the superior's orders, they will not dare to do anything as they please, utter irresponsible words, and fabricate affairs. That is the way the sage-kings superintend the ministers and the inferiors.

Indeed, if the sage-sovereigns and enlightened rulers do not make 38 use of camouflage to watch their ministers, most of their ministers will become double-faced at the sight of camouflage. Hence the saying: "Among bastards some children presume to be legitimate sons; among consorts some concubines presume to be wives; in the court some officials presume to be premiers; and among ministers the favourites presume to be sovereigns." These four are dangers to the state. Hence the saying: "The inner favourites compatible with the queen, the outer favourites dividing the ruling prerogative, the bastards rivalling the legitimate son, and the chief vassals assuming the air of the sovereign, all lead to confusion." Hence the Record of Chou says: "Do not exalt the concubine and humble the wife. Do not debase the legitimate son and exalt the bastard. Do not exalt any favourite subordinate as rival to high officials. Do not exalt any chief vassal to assume the majesty of his sovereign." If the four assumers collapse, the superior will have no worry and the inferiors will have no surprise. 39 If the four assumers do not collapse, the sovereign will lose his life and ruin his state.


1. 說疑. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 疑 reads 擬. The English rendering of 說疑 by L. T. Chên is "Misgivings" (Liang, op. cit., p. 116, f. 1), which is a serious mistake.

2. With Ku 明 below 謂 is superfluous.

3. With Kao Hêng 方在於人 means 僅及於有功有罪之人耳 .

4. I propose the supply of 則 below 然.

5. With Kao Hêng 於 above 郎門之外 is superfluous.

6. 亡國之臣 means "ministers who caused the states to go to ruin".

7. With Wang Hsien-shen 禪 means 擅.

8. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 晉 above 伯陽 is superfluous.

9. With Yü Yüeh 秦 is a mistake for 晉.

10. With Yü Yüeh 衛 is a mistake for 魯.

11. 食穀 literally means "eating grains".

12. 不令之民.

13. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 申胥 should be 葆申 who was a minister to King Wên of Ch`u and was famous for his bitter expostulation.

14. With Wang Hsien-shen 晉 above 僑如 is superfluous. Ch`iao Ju was Shu-sun Hsüan-pai of Lu.

15. With Wang 若夫 above 昏亂之君 should be removed.

16. With Wang 鬴洧 refers to 釜鍑, which traces its source to the Yang-ch`êng Mountains.

17. 霸王之佐.

18. With Wang Hsien-shen 王孫 should be 公孫.

19. The men enumerated number eleven instead of twelve. With Ku Kuangts`ê there must be some hiatus among them.

20. With the Historical Records 六十 should be supplied above 七日.

21. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 相 above 與 is superfluous.

22. With Wang Hsien-shen 忌 should be 誠.

23. 瑞節. In ancient China credentials carried by envoys and messengers were made of 瑞 "jade tablets" or 節 "bamboo tablets".

24. With Lu Wên-shao 之於 above 左右 is superfluous.

25. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 弱 below 長幼 is superfluous and 也 above 及 should be 世.

26. With Ku 人 below 得 is superfluous.

27. How Yi Ya took Wei, is not known.

28. With Wang Hsien-shen 六人 should be 八人.

29. With Wang 攄 should be 接.

30. With Yü Yüeh 法 below 轉身 is superfluous.

31. With Yü 傅 should be 傳.

32. With Wang Hsien-shen the Ch`ien-tao edition has 主 in place of 臣.

33. I propose 十數年 for 數十年 because according to the Historical Records Marquis Ching was on the throne only for twelve years.

34. With Kao Hêng 湮 reads 抑 which means 治.

35. With Wang Hsien-shen 其何故 should be 其故何.

36. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 疑 reads 擬. To me 擬 here refers to 擬罪.

37. With Wang Hsien-ch`ien 立談 should be 談立.

38. Wang Hsien-shen proposed 道 for 適.

39. 上無意下無怪 means, according to Wang Hsien-shen, that the ruler does not have to make use of camouflage to watch his ministers while the ministers do not have to fabricate facts to embellish their discussions.

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