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Chapter XVII. Guarding Against the Interior1

The difficulty of the lord of men lies in his confidence in men. Confiding in men, he is restrained by men.

Ministers, in relation to the ruler, have no kinship, but, solely because constrained by force of circumstances, serve him. Therefore, those who minister to a ruler, always watch the mental condition of their master without stopping even for a moment; whereas the lord of men remains idle and arrogant over them. This is the reason why the world sees cases of ruler-molestation and regicide.

If the lord of men has much confidence in his son, then wicked ministers will utilize his son to accomplish their selfish purposes. For illustration, Li Tai, while assisting the King of Chao, starved the Father Sovereign.

If the lord of men has much confidence in his spouse, then wicked ministers will utilize his spouse to accomplish their selfish purposes. For illustration, Actor Shih, while assisting Princess Li, 2 murdered Shên-shêng 3 and placed Hsi-ch`i 4 in his stead. 5

Indeed, even the spouse who is so near and the son who is so dear to the sovereign are not trustworthy, much less can anybody else be trustworthy.

Besides, whether he be a ruler of ten thousand chariots or a ruler of one thousand chariots, the queen, the concubine, or the crown prince, even though he be the legitimate son, might hope for his early death.

How do I know it is so? Indeed, man and wife, having no kinship between them, are intimate when mutually in love and distant when not in love. Hence the saying: "If the mother is loved, the son is held in the arms." If so, the contrary must run like this: "If the mother is unloved, the son is cast aside." Men fifty years old are as fond of women as usual, but women only thirty years old are falling off in beauty. If women falling off in beauty have to serve men still fond of the fair sex, then they will be neglected 6 and their sons will doubt if they will remain heirs of their fathers. This is the reason why queens, princesses, and concubines crave the death of the rulers.

It is only when the mother is the queen dowager and the son is the sovereign that decrees never fail to prevail and prohibitions never fail to function. Then she finds as much pleasure between man and woman as at the time when the late ruler was still alive, and under no suspicion can she have all the powers of the ruler of ten thousand chariots to herself. For such a reason, poisoning with wine and hanging in secret are practised.

Hence it is said in T`ao-wu's7Spring and Autumn Annals: "Of the lords of men, those who died of illness were not even half of those that died." If the ruler is ignorant of such a danger, seeds of disorder will multiply. Hence the saying: "If those who will profit by the ruler's death are numerous, then the lord of men is in danger."

Thus, Wang Liang liked horses, and Kou-chien, King of Yüeh, liked able-bodied men, merely for driving and fighting purposes. The physician sucks patients' cuts and holds their blood in his mouth, not because he is intimate with them like a blood relation, but because he expects profits from them. Likewise, when the cartwright finishes making carriages, he wants people to be rich and noble; when the carpenter finishes making coffins, he wants people to die early. Not that the cartwright is benevolent and the carpenter is cruel, but that unless people are noble, the carriages will not sell, and unless people die, the coffins will not be bought. Thus, the carpenter's motive is not a hatred for anybody but his profits are due to people's death. For the same reason, when the clique of the queen, the princess, the concubine, or the crown prince, is formed, they want the ruler to die early. For, unless the ruler die, their positions will not be powerful. Their motive is not a hatred for the ruler, but their profits are dependent on the ruler's death. Therefore the lord of men must specially mind those who will profit by his death.

For illustration, though the sun and the moon are surrounded by haloes, the causes of their eclipses are inside themselves. Similarly, though the ruler guards against what he hates, the causes of his calamity consist in what he loves.

For this reason, the intelligent sovereign 8 would neither carry out any untenable task, 9 nor eat any inordinate food, but would listen from all round and observe everybody closely in order thereby to scrutinize the faults of the interior and the exterior, 10 and reflect on pros and cons so as to know the line of demarcation between different factions, compare the results of testimony, and thereby hold every utterance responsible for an equivalent fact, hold the consequent in correspondence with the antecedent, govern the masses in accordance with the law, and gather causes of different affairs for comparison and observation; so that nobody shall receive any undue reward and overstep the limits of his duties, and that every murderer shall be sentenced to proper penalty and no convict shall be pardoned. If so, there will be left no room for wicked and villainous persons to accomplish their self-seeking purposes.

If compulsory labour service is frequent, the people will feel afflicted; if the people are afflicted, powerful and influential men will appear to the fore; if powerful and influential men make their appearance, exemptions will multiply; and if exemptions multiply, the nobles will, by accepting bribes from the people exempted from labour service, become wealthy. To afflict the people and thereby enrich the nobles and to vacate the august position and let ministers utilize it, is not a permanent advantage to the world. Hence the saying: "If compulsory labour service is rare, the people will feel safe; if the people are safe, the ministers will gain no extra power; if the ministers have no extra power, powerful and influential men will be extinguished; and if powerful and influential men disappear, all credit will be due to the sovereign."

Now, take for illustration the truism that water overpowers fire. Yet, when a tripod-kettle goes between them, then the water will be heated and boiled till it dries up over the fire while the fire can flame with vigour and continue burning beneath the water. Indeed, the fact that government forbids wickedness is still clearer than this. Yet, when ministers who ought to uphold the law play the part of the tripod-kettle by standing between ruler and subject, then the law, however clear in the sovereign's mind, has already lost its reason to forbid wickedness.

According to the sayings handed down from remote antiquity, as recorded in the Spring and Autumn Annals, whoever violates the law, launches an insurrection, and thereby commits high treason, comes from among the high and noble ministers. Yet what laws and orders guard against and penalties censure is always among the low and humble. That being so, the people give up all hope of salvation and find nobody to petition for relief. The chief vassals form juntas, obscure the ruler en bloc, and maintain their intimate relationship in secret but pretend in the open to mutual hatred in order to prove their unselfishness, and work as the ears and eyes of one another in order to watch for the sovereign's unguarded moments. Thus, surrounded and deluded, the lord of men has no way to get news from outside and retains the sovereign's title but not the reality while ministers have all laws to themselves and carry them into effect at their discretion. Of such a ruler the Sons of Heaven of Chou were good examples. In short, if the power and influence of the Throne is deputed to any minister in particular, high and low will displace their posts; which amounts to saying that no minister should be allowed to utilize the power and influence of the ruler. 11


1. 備內.

2. Favourite concubine of Duke Hsien of Chin.

3. The heir apparent of Duke Hsien.

4. A bastard of Duke Hsien by Princess Li.

5. In 655 b.c.

6. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê 死 above 見疏賤 is superfluous.

7. With Yü Yüeh the Episodes of Ch`u has 檮兀 in place of 桃左.

8. With Lu Wên-shao the Taoist Thesaurus edition has 主 in place of 王.

9. 不參之事 literally means "uncompared tasks", and refers to tasks whose names and realities cannot be compared with each other.

10. The interior includes the queen, the princesses, the consorts, the heir apparent, the sons, the bastards, and the courtiers; the exterior, ministers, magistrates, officers, etc.

11. With Ku Kuang-ts`ê the last eleven characters 此言人臣之不可借權勢也 originally formed an annotation and were by mistake interposed into the text. According to Wang Hsien-shen, the passage seems to introduce further passages which were apparently lost.

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