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Chapter VIII. Wielding the Sceptre1

Heaven has its destiny 2 ; human beings have their destiny, 3 too. Indeed, anything smelling good and tasting soft, be it rich wine or fat meat, is delicious to the mouth, but it causes the body illness. The beauty having delicate skin and pretty white teeth pleases feeling but exhausts energy. Hence avoid excesses and extremes. Then you will suffer no harm. 4

The sceptre should never be shown. For its inner nature is non-assertion. 5 The state affairs may be scattered in the four directions but the key to their administration is in the centre. The sage holding this key in hand, people from the four directions come to render him meritorious services. He remains empty and waits for their services, and they will exert their abilities by themselves. With the conditions of the four seas clearly in mind, he can see the Yang by means of the Yin. 6 After appointing attendants on his right and left, he can open the gate and meet anybody. 7 He can go onward with the two handles without making any change. To apply them without cessation is said to be acting on the right way of government. 8

Indeed, everything has its function; every material has its utility. When everybody works according to his special qualification, both superior and inferior will not have to do anything. Let roosters herald the dawn and let cats watch for rats. When everything exercises its special qualification, the ruler will not have to do anything. If the ruler has to exert any special skill of his own, it means that affairs are not going right. If he is conceited and fond of displaying his ability, he will be deceived by the inferiors. If he is sagacious and lenient, 9 the inferiors will take advantage of his capacity. If superior and inferior exchange their roles, the state never will be in order. 10

The way to assume oneness 11 starts from the study of terminology. When names are rectified, things will be settled; when names are distorted, things will shift around. Therefore, the sage holds oneness in hand and rests in tranquillity, letting names appoint themselves to tasks and affairs settle themselves. If he does not show off his sagacity, the inferiors will reveal their earnestness and uprightness. He then appoints them to office in accordance with their words, and thus lets them choose 12 their tasks. He confers upon them powers in accordance with their needs and thus lets them raise their ranks. Thus, he rectifies their names first, then works with them, and finally makes them accomplish the tasks. Therefore, he promotes them through the examination of names. When the name is not clear, he seeks for its connotation by tracing 13 its form. After the form and the name are compared and identified, he puts the product into use. 14 If both form and name have to be true, the inferiors will have to reveal their true hearts, too. Carefully attend to your duties, wait for decrees from heaven to come, and never miss the key to government. Then you will become a sage. 15

The way of the sage is to discard his own wisdom and talent. If his own wisdom and talent are not discarded, it will be hard for him to keep a constant principle of government. When the people exert wisdom and talent, they will suffer disasters; when the sovereign exerts them, the state will be in danger and on the decline. So, conform to the way of heaven, act on the principle of human life, 16 and then consider, compare, and investigate them. Where there is an ending, there is always a beginning. Be empty and reposed, keep behind others, and never assert yourself before anybody else. For the calamity of the ruler originates in self-assertion. Nevertheless, though you have faith in the inferiors' words, you must not listen to them blindly. Then the myriad people will uniformly obey you. 17

Indeed, Tao is so magnificent as to have no form. Teh is evidently systematic and so extensive as to permeate all lives. When it functions proportionately, the myriad things are formed, 18 though it does not add to their security. Thus Tao is omnipresent in all events. So, follow and preserve its decrees and live and die at the right time. Compare the names of different things, and trace the common source of the principles underlying them. 19

Hence the saying: "Tao does not identify itself with anything but itself. Teh does not identify itself with the Yin and the Yang. The balance does not identify itself with lightness and heaviness. The inked string does not identify itself with ingress and egress. The reed-organ 20 does not identify itself with dryness and wetness. The ruler does not identify himself with the ministers." These six are effects of Tao. 21

Tao is never a pair. Hence it is called one. Therefore, the intelligent ruler esteems singleness, the characteristic feature of Tao. Accordingly, ruler and minister do not follow the same path. When the minister presents any word to the throne, the ruler holds to the name and the minister must work out the form. When form and name are compared and found identical, superior and inferior will have peace and harmony. 22

In general, the right way to listen to the ministers is to take what they utter as the measure of what they harvest. 23 The ruler investigates their names so as to determine their offices, and clarify their duties so as to distinguish between different varieties of work. The right way to hear different utterances is to look 24 drunken. Never start moving your own lips and teeth before the subordinates do. The longer I keep quiet, the sooner others move their lips and teeth. 25 As they themselves move their lips and teeth, I can thereby understand their real intentions. Right and wrong words coming to the fore in such fashion, the ruler does not have to join issue 26 with them 27

To remain empty and tranquil and practise inaction is the real status of Tao. To compare, refer, and analogize things, is the form of affairs. Thus you sometime compare them and analogize them to other things and sometime refer them to and accord them with the condition of emptiness. When the root and trunk of a tree never change, motion and rest 28 will cause no loss of its original status. Make 29 the inferiors feel uneasy. Improve their actions by practising inaction. When you like them, affairs will multiply; when you hate them, resentment will appear. So, discard both like and hate and make your empty mind the abode of Tao. 30

If the ruler does not share the supreme authority with the ministers, the people will regard this as a great blessing. The ruler should never discuss 31 matters of right and wrong with the ministers but let them carry on the discussion themselves. If he locks the inner bar 32 and sees the courtyard from inside the room, then just as differences by inches and feet would come to the fore, so will all ministers know their proper places. Who deserves reward, will be properly rewarded; who deserves punishment, will be properly punished. If everybody pays for whatever he does, and if good and evil visit him without fail, who would dare to distrust the law? Once compasses and squares 33 are established and one angle is made right, the other three angles will come out one after another. 34

If the sovereign is not mysterious, 35 the ministers will find opportunity to take. For, if his task is improper, they will change 36 their routine of work. To behave as high as heaven and as thick as earth is the way to dissolve all worries. To do as heaven and earth do is the way to dismiss all discriminations between strangers and relatives. Whoever can model himself upon heaven and earth is called a sage. 37

To govern the interior 38 of the court you may appoint men to office but should never take kindly to them. To govern the exterior 39 of the court you may put one man in charge of one office but should never allow him to act arbitrarily. If things are so, how can anybody shake the ruler's authority or gain any undue power? If there are numerous men frequenting the gates of the high officials' residences, it will cause the ruler anxieties. At the height of political order no minister can surmise what is in the ruler's mind. If the ruler closely accords form with name, the people will attend to their daily business. To leave this key and seek anything else is to fall into serious bewilderment. This will eventually increase the number of cunning people and fill the ruler's right and left with wicked ministers. Hence the saying: "Never ennoble anybody in such wise that he may molest you; and never trust anybody so exclusively that you lose the capital and the state to him." 40

If the calf is larger than the thigh, it is hard to run fast. 41 As soon as the sovereign ceases being mysterious, the tiger will follow him from behind. If he takes no notice of it, the tiger will behave like a dog. At this moment, if the sovereign does not stop it, the false dog will increase its partisans. The tigers will form a party and murder the mother. 42 If the sovereign has no ministers loyal to him, what kind of a state has he? Yet as soon as the sovereign begins to enforce laws, even tigers will become meek; as soon as he sets himself to inflict penalties, even the largest tiger will become tame. Laws and penalties being of faith, tigers will turn into ordinary human beings and revert to their due status. 43

Any ruler wishing to give peace to the state must disperse the partisans of powerful ministers. If he does not disperse their partisans, they will enlarge their parties. Any ruler wishing to maintain order in his country must adjust the distribution of his gifts. If he does not adjust the distribution of his gifts, rapacious men will seek for extraordinary profits. To grant them requests will then be the same as to lend axes to enemies. It is not right to lend out such things. For they will be used for assaulting the ruler. 44

The Yellow Emperor made the saying: "Superior and inferior wage one hundred battles a day." The inferior conceals his tricks which he uses in testing the superior; the superior manipulates rules and measures in splitting the influences of the inferior. Therefore the institution of rules and measures is the sovereign's treasure, the possession of partisans and adherents is the minister's treasure. Such being the situation, if the minister does not murder the ruler, it is because his partisans and adherents are not yet sufficient. Therefore, if the superior loses one or two inches, 45 the inferior will gain eight or sixteen feet. 46 The ruler in possession of a state never enlarges the capital. The minister following the true path never empowers his own family. The ruler following the right way never empowers any minister. Because, once empowered and enriched, the inferior47 will attempt to supplant the superior. So, guard against dangers and be afraid of eventualities. Install the crown prince quickly. Then many troubles find no way to appear. 48

To detect culprits inside the court and guard against crooks outside it, the ruler must personally hold his rules and measures. Make the powerful wane and the powerless wax. Both waning and waxing should have limitations. Never allow the people to form juntas and thereby deceive their superiors with one accord. Make the powerful wane like the moon, and the powerless wax like the heat of the bored fire. Simplify orders and dignify censures. Make the application of penal laws definite. Never loosen your bow; otherwise, you will find two males in one nest. Where there are two males in one nest, there the fighting will continue at sixes and sevens. When wolves are in the stable, sheep never will flourish. When two masters are in one house, nothing can be accomplished. When both man and wife manage the household, children will not know whom to obey. 49

The ruler of men should often stretch the tree but never allow its branches to flourish. Luxuriant branches will cover the gates of public buildings, till private houses become full, public halls empty, and the sovereign deluded. So, stretch out the tree often but never allow any branch to grow outward. Any branch that grows outward will molest the position of the sovereign. Again, stretch out the tree often but never allow any branch to grow larger than the stem. When the branches are large and the stem is small, the tree will be unable to endure spring winds. When the tree cannot endure spring winds, the branches will damage its kernel. Similarly, when illegitimate sons are many, the heir apparent will have worries and anxieties. The only way to check them is to stretch out the tree often and never let its branches flourish. If the tree is stretched out often, partisans and adherents of the wicked ministers will disperse. When the roots and the stem are dug up, the tree is no longer alive. Fill up the foaming fountain with mud and never let the water clear. Search the bosoms of ministers and take away their powers. The sovereign should exercise such powers himself with the speed of the lightning and with the dignity of the thunder. 50


1. 揚權. Certain editions of the text have 揚摧 in place of 揚權. The latter, however, suits the ideas set forth in the work better than the former. In style and thought it is similar to Chap. V and contains more than Chap. V such similes and metaphors as are susceptible of widely different interpretations. I hope it will be helpful to the reader to give an explanatory note of my own to each paragraph.

2. It refers to the course of nature as manifested in the compelling principle of the rotation of day and night, of the four seasons, and so forth.

3. It refers to the course of nature as manifested in the necessary relation of ruler and minister, of superior and inferior, and so forth.

4. In the opening paragraph it is brought to the fore that though mankind is endowed by nature with both carnal and sexual appetites, nature does not allow the satisfaction of either appetite to run to any extreme. It is, therefore, imperative that the way of life conform to the way of nature. Likewise, the way of government—the Tao of the sovereign—must conform to the way of nature. To wield the sceptre right is the right way to political order, which is expounded in the following paragraphs.

5. 無為. Han Fei Tzŭ's conception of non-assertion or inaction was Taoistic in origin.

6. To see the Yang by way of the Yin means to see things from an unseen place or to see the light from the dark. The Yang (陽) refers to the positive principle of Yi (易) or Change which Chinese sages of classic antiquity thought to be the permanent function of the universe. The Yin (陰) refers to its negative principle. All phenomena are resultant from the interaction of these two principles.

7. As he cannot any longer be deluded, he is not afraid of meeting anybody.

8. The world view of Han Fei Tzŭis purely Taoistic. So is the major premise of his life view. The doctrine of inaction is advocated in the opening sentences of this paragraph, which, however, ends with his insistence on the active application of the two handles to government. Herein lies the difference between Han Fei Tzŭ's ideas and the teachings of the orthodox Taoists. Lao Tzŭand his immediate followers taught that the origin of life is inaction, its ideal should be inaction and that the route to this goal must be inaction, too. With them Han Fei Tzŭagreed that inaction is the end, but he asserted that the means to the end is action. The Utopia remains a permanent Utopian ideal. Life is a constant strife after this goal. So is government an everlasting fight against the disruptive forces in individual and social life for perfect order. In such a fight the law is the only weapon, whose two handles are chastisement and commendation. Therefore, to apply the two handles without cessation is said to be acting on the right way of government. In this connection the shifting emphases in the social and political thought of Lin Yu-tang, one of the greatest admirers of Han Fei Tzŭin modern China, are worth noticing. In his essay on "Han Fei as a Cure for Modern China" (China's Own Critics: A Selection of Essays, 1931), he showed his whole-hearted support of Han Fei Tzŭ. A few years later, as shown in his book, My Country and My People (1936), he appeared to be far more Taoistic and cynical than before, preferring inaction and non-interference to any kind of remedial work which seems to him laborious but fruitless.

9. 好生 literally means "fond of living beings" or "loving production", which here implies "unable to bear killing any human being".

10. Ruler and minister should attend to their respective duties.

11. 用一 — here means to wield the sceptre—to attain the autocratic rule, so to speak.

12. With Wang Hsien-shen 事 should be 定.

13. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 脩 should be 循.

14. 用其所生 means to see whether or not name and form coincide with each other and then enforce reward or punishment accordingly.

15. The epistemological and logical bases of his political theory are concisely discussed here.

16. 反形之理. 反 means 履. 形 refers to the outward phenomena of mankind.

17. To make an objective survey of the ministers' abilities and directly encourage them to render meritorious services, the ruler has to give up or keep hidden his own wisdom and talent. On the other hand, to make the subjects universally obey laws and uniformly follow orders, he should not allow the masses to abuse their own wisdom and talent.

18. With Kao Hêng 盛 means 成.

19. Here is made an attempt to expound the substance and function of Tao and connect metaphysics with ethics and politics.

20. 和. A kind of musical instrument able to maintain the same notes in all kinds of weather.

21. The relationship of metaphysics with ethics is further developed here.

22. The autocracy of the ruler is justified by virtue of the characteristic feature of Tao.

23. With Kao Hêng 以其所出反以為之入 means 以其所言反以為之功 inasmuch as 出 refers to 名 or name and 入 refers to 形 or form.

24. With Yü Yüeh 溶 should be 容.

25. The more silent I remain, the more talkative others become.

26. With Wang Hsien-shen 構 reads 講.

27. The ruler should always stand aloof from the offices to which his inferiors are appointed, and charge them with such responsibilities as never would involve himself.

28. With Hirazawa 泄 stands for 歇 meaning 息.

29. With Wang Hsien-shen 溶 should be ####.

30. Thus, to do inaction is to see everything done of itself and by itself. To remain empty and tranquil is to see everybody driven by nature into good. This, again, is the ideal side of Han Fei Tzŭ's thought. In the practical field he had to advocate the method of persistent action as revealed in the next paragraph.

31. With Wang Hsien-shen 義 should be 議.

32. 閉內扃 really means to conceal one's own opinions so as to inspect the inferiors' works.

33. 規矩 refers to the rules of reward and punishment.

34. The significance of reward and punishment in government is discussed.

35. 神 means "so profound and divine that nobody else can conjecture his intention or estimate his ability".

36. With Kao Hêng 考 is a mistake for 改.

37. It is imperative that the ruler be mysterious and difficult to understand.

38. Courtiers and attendants.

39. Officers and officials.

40. The necessity to take precautions against ambitious wicked ministers is explained.

41. With Lu Wên-shao 趣走 should be 趨走.

42. The mistress of the land, the ruler of the state.

43. The intelligent ruler prevents wicked ministers from becoming too powerful, and improves their character by means of laws and penalties.

44. The ruler should not overstep the limits of reward and punishment.

45. 扶寸. 扶 is the total width of four fingers; 寸 is the distance between the joint of the thumb and the pulse beneath the palm.

46. 尋常. 尋 is 8 feet and 常 is twice as long.

47. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 備 should be 彼.

48. Ruler and minister are always vying with each other in power. The former resorts to the enforcement of state laws throughout the country; the latter to the distribution of personal favours among the masses. One easy way open to the ruler to save the situation is, according to Han Fei Tzŭ, to install the crown prince as early as possible so that many court intrigues will be avoided.

49. As Han Fei Tzŭdirected his main attention in his political thought to the issues between ruler and minister, in the present and next paragraphs he taught the ruler how to maintain supremacy and why to weaken the minister. This well reminds the reader of Lord Shang's "Weakening the People".

50. The tree illustrates the state as a whole organic structure; the stem, the ruler; and the branches, the ministers. Hence Han Fei Tzŭ's saying: "When the branches are large and the stem is small, the tree will be unable to endure spring winds." Accordingly special attention is called to the growth of the stem.

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