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Chapter LIV. Surmising the Mentality of the People: A Psychological Analysis of Politics1

The sage in governing the people considers their springs of action, never tolerates their wicked desires, but seeks only for the people's benefit. Therefore, the penalty he inflicts is not due to any hatred for the people but to his motive of loving the people. If penalty triumphs, the people are quiet; if reward over-flows, culprits appear. Therefore the triumph of penalty is the beginning of order; the overflow of reward, the origin of chaos.

Indeed, it is the people's nature to delight in disorder and detach themselves from legal restraints. Therefore, when the intelligent sovereign governs the state, if he makes rewards clear, the people will be encouraged to render meritorious services; if he makes penalties severe, the people will attach themselves to the law. If they are encouraged to render meritorious services, public affairs will not be obstructed; if they attach themselves to the law, culprits will not appear. Therefore, he who governs the people should nip the evil in the bud; he who commands troops, should inculcate warfare in the people's mind. If prohibitions can uproot causes of villainy, there will always be order; if soldiers can imagine warfare in mind, there will always be victory. When the sage is governing the people, he attains order first, wherefore he is strong; he prepares for war first, wherefore he wins.

Indeed, the administration of the state affairs requires the attention to the causes of human action so as to unify the people's mental trends; the exclusive elevation of public welfare so as to stop self-seeking elements; the reward for denunciation of crime so as to suppress culprits; and finally the clarification of laws so as to facilitate governmental procedures. Whoever is able to apply these four measures, will become strong; whoever is unable to apply these four measures, will become weak. Indeed, the strength of the state is due to the administration of its political affairs; the honour of the sovereign is due to his supreme power. Now, the enlightened ruler possesses the supreme power and the administrative organs; the ignoble ruler possesses both the supreme power and the administrative organs, 2 too. Yet the results are not the same, because their standpoints are different. Thus, as the enlightened ruler has the supreme power in his grip, the superior is held in high esteem; as he unifies the administrative organs, the state is in order. Hence law is the origin of supremacy and penalty is the beginning of love.

Indeed, it is the people's nature to abhor toil and enjoy ease. However, if they pursue ease, the land will waste; if the land wastes, the state will not be in order. If the state is not orderly, it will become chaotic. If reward and penalty take no effect among the inferiors, 3 government 4 will come to a deadlock. Therefore, he who wants to accomplish a great achievement but hesitates to apply his 5 full strength, can not hope for the accomplishment of the achievement; he who wants to settle the people's disorder 6 but hesitates to change their traditions, can not hope to banish the people's disorder. Hence there is no constant method for the government of men. The law alone leads to political order. 7 If laws are adjusted to the time, there is good government. If government fits the age, there will be great accomplishment. Therefore, when the people are naïve, if you regulate them with fame, there will be good government; when everybody in the world is intelligent, 8 if you discipline them with penalties, they will obey. While time is moving on, if laws do not shift 9 accordingly, there will be misrule; while abilities are diverse, 10 if prohibitions are not changed, the state will be dismembered. Therefore, the sage in governing the people makes laws 11 move with time and prohibitions change with abilities. Who can exert 12 his forces to land-utilization, will become rich; who can rush his forces at enemies, will become strong. The strong man not obstructed in his way will attain supremacy.

Therefore, the way to supremacy 13 lies in the way of shutting 14 culprits off and the way of blocking up wicked men. Who is able to block up wicked men, will eventually attain supremacy. The policy of attaining supremacy relies not on foreign states' abstention from disturbing your state, but on their inability to disturb your state. Who has to rely on foreign powers' abstention from disturbing his state before he can maintain his own independence, 15 will see his state dismembered; who relies on their inability to disturb his state and willingly enacts the law, will prosper.

Therefore, the worthy ruler in governing the state follows 16 the statecraft of invulnerability. When rank is esteemed, the superior will increase his dignity. He will accordingly bestow rewards on men of merit, confer ranks upon holders of posts, and appoint wicked men to no office. 17 Who devotes himself to practical forces, gets a high rank. If the rank is esteemed, the superior will be honoured. The superior, if honoured, will attain supremacy. On the contrary, if the state does not strive after practical forces but counts on private studies, its rank will be lowered. If the rank is lowered, the superior will be humbled. If the superior is humbled, the state will be dismembered. Therefore, if the way of founding the state and using the people can shut off foreign invaders and block up self-seeking subjects, and if the superior relies on himself, supremacy will be attained.


1. 心度.

2. Distinguishing between 權 and 政, Han Fei Tzŭ evidently differentiated the government as political machinery from the supreme authority—or sovereignty, to use a term of modern political science—behind it, and again the supreme authority from the person through whose will-power it could be exercised. Thus, he answered in this short paragraph such principal problems of modern political theory as, What is sovereignty? Where is sovereignty located? and, How does sovereignty function?

3. With Ku 天 above 下 is superfluous.

4. I propose 政 above 必塞.

5. Ku proposed 其 for 而.

6. Wang Hsien-shen proposed 民亂 for 其法.

7. Wang Hsien-ch`ien proposed 唯法為治 for 唯治唯法.

8. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 知 reads 智.

9. Wang Hsien-ch`ien proposed 法不易 for 治不易.

10. With Wang 治 below 能 is superfluous.

11. With Ku 治 above 法 is superfluous.

12. Ku proposed 趨 for 越.

13. Ku proposed 趨 for 起.

14. Ku proposed 閉 for 聞.

15. Ku proposed 始 for 治 above 立.

16. With Ku 適 should be 道.

17. With Kao Hêng 關 below 無所 means 置 or 措.

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