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Chapter VII. The Two Handles1

The means 2 whereby the intelligent ruler controls his ministers are two handles only. The two handles are chastisement3 and commendation. 4 What are meant by chastisement and commendation? To inflict death or torture upon culprits, is called chastisement; to bestow encouragements or rewards on men of merit, is called commendation.

Ministers are afraid of censure and punishment but fond of encouragement and reward. Therefore, if the lord of men uses the handles of chastisement and commendation, all ministers will dread his severity and turn to his liberality. The villainous ministers of the age are different. To men they hate they would by securing the handle of chastisement from the sovereign ascribe crimes; on men they love they would by securing the handle of commendation from the sovereign bestow rewards. Now supposing the lord of men placed the authority of punishment and the profit of reward not in his hands but let the ministers administer the affairs of reward and punishment instead, then everybody in the country would fear the ministers and slight the ruler, and turn to the ministers and away from the ruler. This is the calamity of the ruler's loss of the handles of chastisement and commendation.

As illustration, that which enables the tiger to subject the dog, is his claws and fangs. Supposing the tiger cast aside its claws and fangs and let the dog use them, the tiger would in turn be subjected by the dog. The lord of men controls his ministers by means of chastisement and commendation. Now supposing the ruler of men cast aside the handles of chastisement and commendation and let the ministers use them, the ruler would in turn be controlled by the ministers.

Thus, T`ien Ch`ang petitioned for rank and bounties, which he in his turn conferred upon the body of officials, and enlarged pecks and bushels, by virtue of which he distributed alms among the hundred surnames. In other words, Duke Chien lost the handle of commendation, which T`ien Ch`ang set to use. In the long run Duke Chien 5 was murdered. Likewise, Tzŭ-han once said to the Ruler of Sung: "Indeed, rewards and charities being what the people like, may Your Highness bestow them! Slaughter and punishments being what the people dislike, may thy servant beg leave to enforce them?" Thenceforth, the Ruler of Sung lost the handle of chastisement, which Tzŭ-han set to use. Hence followed the molestation of the Ruler of Sung. 6 Inasmuch as T`ien Ch`ang used only the handle of commendation, Duke Chien was murdered; inasmuch as Tzŭ-han used only the handle of chastisement, the Ruler of Sung was molested. Therefore, if any minister of the present age uses both the handles of chastisement and commendation, the danger of his ruler will be more serious than that of Duke Chien and the Ruler of Sung. For this reason, every sovereign molested, murdered, deluded, or deceived, because he had lost 7 the handles of chastisement and commendation and let the ministers use them, invited danger and ruin accordingly.

The lord of men, whenever he wants to suppress culprits, must see norm accord with name and word never differ from task. 8 Whenever a minister utters a word, the ruler should in accordance with his word assign him a task to accomplish, and in accordance with the task call the work to account. If the work corresponds with the task, and the task corresponds with the word, he should be rewarded. On the contrary, if the work is not equivalent to the task, and the task not equivalent to the word, he should be punished. Accordingly, any minister whose word is big but whose work is small should be punished. Not that the work is small, but that the work is not equivalent to the name. Again, any minister whose word is small but whose work is big should also be punished. Not that big work is not desirable but that the discrepancy between the work and the name is worse than the accomplishment of the big work. Hence the minister should be punished.

Once in by-gone days, Marquis Chao of Han 9 was drunk and fell into a nap. The crown-keeper, seeing the ruler exposed to cold, put a coat over him. When the Marquis awoke, he was glad and asked the attendants, "Who put more clothes on my body?" "The crown-keeper did," they replied. Then the Marquis found the coat-keeper guilty and put the crown-keeper to death. He punished the coat-keeper for the neglect of his duty, and the crown-keeper for the overriding of his post. Not that the Marquis was not afraid of catching cold but that he thought their trespassing the assigned duties was worse than his catching cold.

Thus, when an intelligent ruler keeps ministers in service, no minister is allowed either to override his post and get merits thereby nor to utter any word not equivalent to a fact. Whoever overrides his post is put to death; whoever makes a word not equivalent to a fact is punished. If everyone has to do his official duty, and if whatever he says has to be earnest, then the ministers cannot associate for treasonable purposes.

The lord of men has two difficulties to face: If he appoints only worthy men to office, ministers will on the pretence of worthiness attempt to deceive their ruler; if he makes arbitrary promotions of officials, the state affairs will always be menaced. Similarly, if the lord of men loves worthiness, ministers will gloss over their defects in order to meet the ruler's need. In consequence, no minister will show his true heart. If no minister shows his true heart, the lord of men will find no way to tell the worthy from the unworthy.

For instance, because the King of Yüeh liked brave men, the people made light of death; because King Ling of Ch`u liked slender waists, the country became full of starvelings; because Duke Huan of Ch`i was by nature jealous and fond of women, Shu Tiao castrated himself in order to administer the harem; because Duke Huan liked different tastes, Yi-ya steamed the head of his son and served Duke Huan with the rare taste; because Tzŭ-k`uai of Yen liked worthies, Tzŭ-chih pretended that he would not accept the state. 10

Therefore, if the ruler reveals his hate, ministers will conceal their motives; if the ruler reveals his likes, ministers will pretend to talent; and if the ruler reveals his wants, 11 ministers will have the opportunity to disguise their feelings and attitudes.

That was the reason why Tzŭ-chih, by pretending to worthiness, usurped the ruler's throne; and why Shu Tiao and Yi-ya, by complying with their ruler's wants, molested their ruler. Thus Tzŭ-k`uai died in consequence of a civil war 12 and Duke Huan was left unburied until worms from his corpse crawled outdoors. 13 What was the cause of these incidents? It was nothing but the calamity of the rulers' revelation of true hearts to ministers. Every minister in his heart of hearts does not necessarily love the ruler. If he does, it is for the sake of his own great advantage.

In these days, if the lord of men neither covers his feelings nor conceals his motives, and if he lets ministers have a chance to molest their master, the ministers will have no difficulty in following the examples of Tzŭ-chih and T`iench`ang. Hence the saying: "If the ruler's likes and hate be concealed, the ministers' true hearts will be revealed. If the ministers reveal their true hearts, the ruler never will be deluded."


1. 二柄 For the English rendering of 柄 Professor M. S. Bates suggested "grip" instead of "handle". I prefer "handle" in order to retain the native colour of the original.

2. With Yü Yüeh 導 should be 道 which means 由.

3. 刑.

4. 徳.

5. In 481 b.c. In the same year Confucius composed the Spring and Autumn Annals.

6. Tzŭ-han was a minister of Sung, but his intimidation of the sovereign is mentioned neither in the Historical Records nor elsewhere except here. Granted that this chapter is not spurious, Han Fei Tzŭmust have derived the information from some unreliable source of his age.

7. With Yü Yüeh 非 above 失 is superfluous.

8. Hirazawa's edition has 言不異事 in place of 言異事.

9. He ruled from 358 to 333 b.c. During his reign his premier, Shên Pu-hai, enforced legalistic policies so successfully that Han emerged to be a rich and strong country. In the same country Han Fei Tzŭwas born about half a century later and was therefore greatly influenced by the legalism taught and practised by Shên Pu-hai (vide infra, Chap. XLIII).

10. As Tzŭ-chih, Premier of Yen, had intimated that even if the state were offered him, he would never accept it, Tzŭ-k`uai, King of Yen, in 316 b.c. purposely abdicated in favour of him, who, however, took the throne with no reserve.

11. With Yü Yüeh 欲見 should be 見欲.

12. In 314 b.c.

13. When Duke Huan was dying, Shu Tiao and Yi-ya allowed nobody else to see him. After his death they made no announcement and let his corpse lie unburied for sixty-seven days (vide infra, Chap. X, pp. 89-91).

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