Ancient Tales from China: “Straight Talk” with Royal Leaders for Benefit of the People (Part 2 of 3)
(Minghui.org) (Continued from Part 1)
Persuading the Duke of Qi To Be More Diligent and Caring
Qi Jing Gong (Duke Jing of Qi) indulged in a luxurious lifestyle. While Yanzi was in the State of Lu on a diplomatic mission, Duke Jing ordered a new palace to be built. The construction continued into winter, and it was very cold. The workers couldn't go home to harvest their crops, which lay rotting in the fields. Many of them didn't have enough to eat when the cold weather came. They complained about the situation and hoped that Yanzi would return soon and rescue them.
When Yanzi returned, he heard about what had taken place in his absence. He went to Duke Jing's palace to report back. Duke Jing hosted a welcome home dinner for him. After eating and talking for some time, Yanzi stood up and said to the Duke, “With your permission, I'd like to sing a song.” Yanzi then started singing, “It's the end of the year, but crops have not yet been harvested; what to do? I'm worried. It's very cold, but the construction work has not completed; what to do? I'm filled with sorrow.” After he finished, he started to cry. Duke Jing instantly realized that Yanzi was referring to the construction of the new palace. He walked up to Yanzi and said, “You don't need to be so worried. If you're referring to building the pavilion, I'll ask them to stop the construction immediately.” Yanzi thanked him. As promised, Duke Jing ordered a prompt end to the construction. As soon as they heard the news, the construction workers quickly left the site.
Duke Jing went on a sightseeing trip for 18 days. Yanzi asked him to return to the palace and attend to State affairs. Duke Jing was surprised, and said, “Why do I need to go back and work? Aren't legal affairs being handled properly? Taishi Ziniu (an official in charge of judiciary affairs) is processing those. Aren't the places of worship getting timely sacrifices? Taizhu Ziyou (an official in charge of worship) is handling those. Are exchange programs with other states not going well? Xingren Ziyu (an official in charge of exchange programs) is responsible for them. Maybe we didn't cultivate enough farmland this year, or our storage warehouses don't have enough food and supplies. Officials in charge of agriculture will handle that. As for how to manage the State overall, you are in charge. Since I have you five ministers, why should I be worried?” Yanzi answered, “Each person has his responsibilities and should do his own job. But the Duke hasn't done any work for days." Duke Jing realized that what he did was wrong, and went back to the palace with Yanzi.
Although Duke Jing had trustworthy ministers to help him manage the State, he still had his own responsibilities to fulfill. He thought that he could simply sit back and relax since everything was being done for him. Everyone had their duties and should do their part. But one should not ignore his own responsibilities because everyone else is fulfilling their duties.
Duke Jing Helps a Starving Elderly Person
One day, the Duke and several officials went sightseeing at Shou Palace. He saw a pale, thin, elderly man with a large bundle of firewood on his back. It looked like the old man hadn't eaten for a long time, and he looked exhausted. Duke Jing felt sorry for the old man. He ordered officials to take care of the old man so he would not need to work so hard and suffer from hunger.
Yanzi praised Duke Jing for what he did. He said, “I heard that the essence of ruling a state is to keep capable and virtuous people close to you and show compassion to people who are less fortunate. Your helping the elderly man shows that you are willing to be kind to your people. That's so important!” Duke Jing was very happy to hear that. Yanzi continued, “A wise and righteous duke will appreciate the capable and virtuous, and sympathize with the less fortunate. When they see one person suffering, they'll be reminded of other people in similar situations. Please have the local officials track down people who need help – the elderly, the young, the widowed, and those who don't have families, and make proper arrangements to take care of them. That way, your kindness is extended to the entire state.” Duke Jing really liked Yanzi's idea and immediately agreed to follow his suggestion. Thanks to Yanzi's advice, Qi's helpless elderly, young, and feeble citizens were taken care of. People in the State of Qi subsequently lived more stable and harmonious lives.
When Duke Jing had pity for an elderly man, Yanzi used the opportunity to persuade the Duke to be kind and care for everyone in the State. An open and considerate mind is needed not only when giving advice, but also in accepting advice. One should affirm and encourage other people's strong points. When others give better advice, can the person happily accept it and further improve themselves so they can improve?
Duke Jing's Plan to Reward the Worthless and Punish Those Who Should be Rewarded
Duke Jing once wanted to reward people he favored. Three of his favorites would receive the top rewards, and five would receive intermediate rewards. After he issued the order, the official in charge of accounting refused to carry it out. Duke Jing was furious. He ordered the accounting official to be removed from his position. But the official in charge of judiciary affairs disobeyed his order, too. The Duke was not happy. He told Yanzi, “A ruler should be able to reward people he likes and not those he dislikes. But now I cannot give awards to people I like, and I cannot remove people I don't like. It's like I've lost the power to rule the State!”
Yanzi replied, “I heard that when the ruler is doing the right thing, and his ministers follow his order, that's considered being obedient. If the ruler made a wrong decision, and his ministers still followed his order, that's considered treason. Now you want to give generous rewards to backstabbers and sycophants, and you want your ministers to obey you. The Duke is going down a wrong path, and the ministers are not doing their jobs well. Previous dukes set the rule to reward favorable behavior in order to encourage good deeds, and to punish bad behavior for the purpose of prohibiting cruelty. The reason dukes in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou periods were able to build strong and prosperous states was because they appreciated and rewarded those who could benefit their states, and disliked and punished people who were harmful to the state. As a result, there were more and more capable and virtuous people, and bad people started to change their behaviors and stop their evil deeds. Their people lived in peace and order.”
Yanzi continued, “When states were in decline, and their dukes slacked off and lived lives of debauchery, they liked and rewarded people who blindly obeyed them and punished those who didn't. They misplaced their trust and could no longer distinguish good from evil. Consequently, there were more and more corrupt people, and those who were upright were driven away. In the end, families fell apart, and the states were overthrown. You can't understand how your righteous ancestor was able to build a strong state, and you didn't know the reason why certain states fell into other people's hands. I'm worried that your excessive rewards and punishments will lead to Qi's demise, especially if your ministers become too afraid to reason with you.” Duke Jing realized his mistake, and said, “I didn't know any better. Let's keep the ministers' arrangements.” After a careful audit, the State of Qi was able to save three tenths of the money that was misappropriated by the Duke to reward his favorites.
Duke Jing was trying to reward people he liked. He didn't realize that his favorites weren't contributing to the betterment of the State. If one can get rewarded lavishly just by catering to the duke, there will be more and more yes men and sycophants. That will erode the society's moral values. The fact that both accounting and judiciary officials disobeyed Duke Jing's orders demonstrated their dedication to their responsibilities. They risked their own positions and possibly their lives for the sake of the state. Duke Jing could only see on the surface which ones followed and which ones disobeyed his orders. He didn't realize that true obedience abides by the rules and the right path. But Duke Jing did do one thing right. He asked Yanzi, an upright and wise man, for advice. Yanzi conducted a comprehensive analysis and made Duke Jing understand what was at stake with his actions and how he needed to change course. When one is confused about something, does he realize he should consult a virtuous person? Faced with his own mistakes, can he have an open mind and correct his actions? If a person clearly understands his own capabilities and weaknesses, that person can avoid many mistakes, and lead a sensible and rational life.