A Wise Ruler Fears Three Things

November 23, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Posted in Asia, Culture, Reflections | Leave a comment

By Lu Zhen

Related articles: China > Culture

Han Ying wrote an inspirational tale about leadership in “The Outer Commentary to the Book of Songs,” a very well -known book from ancient China. The ancient principles he discussed carry important messages for our leaders of today. Anyone seeking wisdom would also benefit from studying them.

A wise ruler fears three things: First, he is afraid he may not be aware of his mistakes because of his lofty position. Second, he fears developing arrogance and self-complacency when he succeeds. Finally, he is afraid he may ignore wise advice.

King Goujian of the Yue Kingdom defeated the State of Wu and conquered the nine ethnic groups, thus becoming the ruler of southern China.  After his victory, he summoned a royal court meeting and told his court officials, “King Fuchai of the Wu State led his kingdom to its doom because he was too arrogant to look at and correct his own flaws. I must learn from his deadly mistake. I am declaring that it is a capital offense if anyone discovers that I have a flaw but does not inform me of it.

King Goujian knew that people would hesitate to criticize a leader, thus he worried that no one would point out his mistakes so that he could correct them.

After Duke Wen of the Jin State defeated the State of Chu, his troops got out of hand. They set the Chu troop’s camp on fire. The fire lasted more than three days and nights, causing a lot of expensive property damage.

While most of the court officials were celebrating the victory, Duke Wen looked grave and worried.  His attendants asked, “Why does Your Majesty look worried? We have defeated Chu’s troops.”

Duke Wen explained, “A man must refrain from arrogance and unscrupulousness after a success if there is to be lasting peace. My troops are behaving unscrupulously with arrogance and self-complacency. I am worried about the potential danger to our state.” Even in the midst of a great victory, Duke Wen recognized the dangers that success can bring.

Lord Huan of the Qi State had two wise and upright ministers named Guang Zhong and Xi Peng who were able to tell right from wrong and helped him make correct moral decisions. Lord Huan was very thankful for their advice.

On a selected good day, Lord Huan paid respects to his ancestors by burning incense. He knelt down and said, “It is my ancestors’ blessing that I have two virtuous ministers to help me with my administration. They help me keep my ears open and see things more clearly. I humbly ask my ancestors to continue their blessings so that I will rule with reason, humbly accept their advice, and refrain from obstinately insisting on doing things my way.” Lord Huan thus demonstrated that he was a leader who feared ignoring wise advice.

Leaders of today would do well to learn this ancient wisdom of knowing what to fear.  In a careful review of current events one can recognize  leaders who do not follow these principles and see the consequences.  It is often our failure to be vigilant in recognizing our own inner  weaknesses—rather than external circumstances—that leads to disasters.

Read the original Chinese article.

Created: Nov 5, 2009
Last Updated:
Nov 5, 2009

Adapted from PureInsight.org

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