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Chapter V. The Tao of the Sovereign1

Tao is the beginning of the myriad things, the standard of right and wrong. That being so, the intelligent ruler, by holding to the beginning, knows the source of everything, and, by keeping to the standard, knows the origin of good and evil. Therefore, by virtue of resting empty and reposed, he waits 2 for the course of nature to enforce itself so that all names will be defined of themselves and all affairs will be settled of themselves. Empty, he knows the essence of fullness: reposed, he becomes 3 the corrector of motion. Who utters a word creates himself a name; who has an affair creates himself a form. Compare forms and names and see if they are identical. Then the ruler will find nothing to worry about as everything is reduced to its reality.

Hence the saying: "The ruler must not reveal his wants. For, if he reveals his wants, the ministers will polish their manners accordingly. The ruler must not reveal his views. For, if he reveals his views, the ministers will display their hues differently." Hence another saying: "If the like and hate of the ruler be concealed, the true hearts of the ministers will be revealed. If the experience and wisdom of the ruler be discarded, the ministers will take precautions." Accordingly, the ruler, wise as he is, should not bother but let everything find its proper place; worthy as he is, should not be self-assumed but observe closely the ministers' motivating factors of conduct; and, courageous as he is, should not be enraged but let every minister display his prowess. So, leave the ruler's wisdom, then you will find the ministers' intelligence; leave the ruler's worthiness, then you will find the ministers' merits; and leave the ruler's courage, then you will find the ministers' strength. In such cases, ministers will attend to their duties, magistrates will have definite work routine, and everybody will be employed according to his special ability. Such a course of government is called "constant and immutable".

Hence the saying: "So quiet, it rests without footing; so vacant, it cannot be located." Thus, the intelligent ruler does nothing, but his ministers tremble all the more. It is the Tao of the intelligent ruler that he makes the wise men exhaust their mental energy and makes his decisions thereby without being himself at his wits' end; that he makes the worthy men exert their talents and appoints them to office accordingly without being himself at the end of his ability; and that in case of merits the ruler gains the renown and in case of demerit the ministers face the blame so that the ruler is never at the end of his reputation. Therefore, the ruler, even though not worthy, becomes the master of the worthies; and, even though not wise, becomes the corrector of the wise men. It is the ministers who do the toil; it is the ruler who gets the spoil. This is the everlasting principle of the worthy sovereign. 4

Tao exists in invisibility; its function, in unintelligibility. Be empty and reposed and have nothing to do-Then from the dark see defects in the light. See but never be seen. Hear but never be heard. Know but never be known. If you hear any word uttered, do not change it nor move it but compare it with the deed and see if word and deed coincide with each other. Place every official with a censor. Do not let them speak to each other. Then everything will be exerted to the utmost. Cover tracks and conceal sources. Then the ministers cannot trace origins. Leave your wisdom and cease your ability. Then your subordinates cannot guess at your limitations.

Keep your decision and identify it with the words and deeds of your subordinates. Cautiously take the handles 5 and hold them fast. Uproot others' want of them, smash others' thought of them, and do not let anybody covet them. If the ruler is not cautious of the locking or if he does not keep the gate in good repair, the tiger will come into existence. If the ruler does not take precautions for his sway or if he does not cover his realities, the traitor will make his appearance. Who murders the sovereign and takes his place and finds the whole people side in awe with him, is called a tiger. Again, who serves the country by the sovereign's side and watches for his secret faults with villainous motives, 6 is called a traitor. Scatter his partisans, arrest his supporters, 7 lock up the gate, and deprive him of all assistance. Then there will be no tiger in the country. Be too great to be measured, be too profound to be surveyed, identify norms 8 and names, scrutinize laws and manners, and chastise those doing as they please. Then there will be no traitor in the country.

For these reasons, the lord of men always has to face five kinds of delusion: delusion by ministers impeding the sovereign, delusion by ministers controlling public resources and revenues, delusion by ministers issuing decrees at random, delusion by ministers distributing personal favours, and delusion by ministers feeding dependents. When ministers impede the sovereign, the sovereign loses his viewpoint. When they control public resources and revenues, he loses his advantages. 9 When they issue decrees at random, he loses his ruling authority. When they distribute personal favours, he loses his name. When they feed their dependents, he loses his supporters. All their doings as such should be based on the initiative of the lord of men and should not be started by the ministers at their pleasure.

The Tao of the lord of men regards tranquillity and humility as treasures. Without handling anything himself, he can tell skilfulness from unskilfulness; without his own concerns of mind, he can tell good from bad luck. Therefore, without uttering any word himself, he finds a good reply given; without exerting his own effort, 10 he finds his task accomplished. Whenever a reply is given to his question, he holds to its covenant. Whenever any task is accomplished, he holds to its result. And out of coincidence and discrepancy between the consequences of tasks accomplished and the covenants of words uttered reward and punishment are born. Therefore, when a minister utters a word, the ruler should according to the word assign him a task to accomplish, and according to the result of the accomplishment call the task 11 to account. If the result corresponds with the task and the task with the word, the minister should be rewarded. If the result corresponds not with the task and the task not with the word, he should be censured. It is in accordance with the Tao of the intelligent ruler that every minister should utter no word that corresponds not with its proper task.

For this reason, the intelligent ruler, in bestowing rewards, is as benign as the seasonable rain that the masses profit by his graces; in inflicting punishments, he is so terrific like the loud thunder that even divines and sages cannot atone for their crimes. Thus the intelligent ruler neglects no reward and remits no punishment. For, if reward is neglected, ministers of merit will relax their duties; if punishment is remitted, villainous ministers will become liable to misconduct. Therefore, men of real merit, however distant and humble, must be rewarded; those of real demerit, however near and dear, must be censured. If both the reward of the distant and humble and the censure of the near and dear are infallible, 12 the distant and humble will not go idle while the near and dear will not turn arrogant.


1. 主道. In style and thought this work is similar to Chap. VIII. Both show the same tendencies to vague verse and reveal metres, measures, and rhymes in many points. The mode of expression is elegant but the ideas are profound and abstract and therefore susceptible of different interpretations.

2. With Kao Hêng the first 令 below 待 is superfluous.

3. With Yü Yüeh 知 should be 為.

4. Up to this paragraph the chapter deals with the theoretical aspects of the Tao of the sovereign. The rest of the chapter covers its practical sides. Hence its division into two parts by the Waseda University Press edition.

5. Vide infra, Chap. VII.

6. With Wang Nien-sun 臣 is a mistake for 匿 which reads 慝.

7. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 餘 should be 與.

8. 刑 is derived from 形 meaning "form".

9. With Wang Hsien-ch`ien 德 should be 得.

10. With Wang Hsien-shen 約 should be 事.

11. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê and Wang Hsien-shen 事以 should be 以其事.

12. With Wang Hsien-shen 疏賤必賞 should be supplied above 近愛必誅.

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