Tag Archives: governance

Best of breed

顏淵問為邦。子曰:「行夏之時,乘殷之輅,服周之冕。樂則韶舞,放鄭聲,遠佞人。鄭聲淫,佞人殆。」
When Yan Hui asked how to govern a state, Confucius said: “Observe the calendar of the Xia Dynasty; ride in the chariot of Yin Dynasty; wear the ceremonial cap of the Zhou Dynasty. As for music, follow the Coronation Hymn of Shun and the Victory Hymn of Wu. Ban the music of Zheng. Stay away from smooth talkers. The music of Zheng corrupts. Smooth talkers are dangerous.”

Far from advising his favorite disciple Yan Hui to copy slavishly from the past, Confucius is telling him to adopt only the finest traditions and practices from previous dynasties. Continue reading Best of breed

Confucius on effortless action

子曰:「無為而治者,其舜也與!夫何為哉?恭己正南面而已矣。」
Confucius said: “If there was a ruler who achieved order through effortless action it was Shun, wasn’t it? How did he do it? He composed himself with reverence and sat facing south. That was all.”

Effortless action (無為/wúwéi) is a term much more closely identified with Daoist teaching than Confucius, which is hardly surprising given that this is the only time it appears in the Analects. Continue reading Confucius on effortless action

Half an answer

子言衛靈公之無道也,康子曰:「夫如是,奚而不喪?」孔子曰:「仲叔圉治賓客,祝鮀治宗廟,王孫賈治軍旅,夫如是,奚其喪?」
Confucius said that Duke Ling of Wei didn’t follow the Way. Ji Kangzi said: “If this is the case, how come he has not lost his state?” Confucius said: “He has Zhong Yuzhen looking after guests and foreign delegations, Zhu Tuo taking care of the ancestral temple, and Wangsun Jia in charge of defense. With such officials as these, how could he possibly lose his state?”

Confucius had history with the notorious Duke Ling of Wei, including an ill-judged, if not downright suspicious, audience with the duke’s scheming concubine Nanzi (南子) in Chapter XXVIII of Book 6 of the Analects. Continue reading Half an answer

People and processes

子曰:「為命:裨諶草創之,世叔討論之,行人子羽修飾之,東里子產潤色之。」
Confucius said: “Whenever a government edict needed to be written, Pi Chen prepared the first draft, Shi Shu reviewed and revised it, Ziyu, the head of protocol, edited it, and Zichan of Dongli gave it a final polish.”

Confucius was a great admirer of Zichan, the prime minister of Zheng (鄭國) from 544 BC until 522 BC who drove the implementation of extensive government, agriculture, business, and social reforms in the state. Continue reading People and processes

Effortless action

子曰:「無為而治者,其舜也與!夫何為哉?恭己正南面而已矣。」
Confucius said: “If there was a ruler who achieved order through effortless action it was Shun, wasn’t it?” How did he do it? He composed himself with reverence and sat facing south. That was all.

Effortless action (無為/wúwéi) is a term much more closely identified with Daoist teaching than Confucius, which is hardly surprising given that this is the only time it appears in the Analects. Continue reading Effortless action

Speak cautiously

子曰:「邦有道,危言危行;邦無道,危行言孫。
Confucius said: “When the Way prevails in a state, speak boldly and act boldly. When the Way does not prevail in a state, act boldly but speak cautiously.”

Assuming the role of a high-level minister was a perilous undertaking throughout Chinese imperial history, given that one of the main responsibilities of the position was to speak out when you thought that your ruler was following the wrong path and acting against the interests of the people and the state. Continue reading Speak cautiously

Sound advice

子夏為莒父宰問政。子曰:「無欲速,無見小利。欲速則不達,見小利則大事不成。」
When Zixia was governor of Jufu he asked about governance. Confucius said: “Do not try to rush things. Ignore matters of minor advantage. If you try to rush things, you will not achieve success. If you pursue matters of minor advantage, you will not succeed in major affairs.”

According to many commentators, Zixia moved far too aggressively to reform the walled city of Jufu in state of Lu when he took over as its governor. Hence, Confucius warns him to move more cautiously and not “rush things.” Continue reading Sound advice

Make the people happy

葉公問政。子曰:「近者說,遠者來。」
The Duke of She asked about governance. Confucius said: “If you make the people near to you happy others will come from afar.”

Population was the measure of the strength and power of a state during the tumultuous Spring and Autumn period that Confucius lived in: the more people there were to till the land in times of peace and join the army whenever war threatened the better. Continue reading Make the people happy

One single saying

定公問:「一言而可以興邦,有諸?」孔子對曰:「言不可以若是其幾也!人之言曰:『為君難,為臣不易。』如知為君之難也,不幾乎一言而興邦乎?」曰:「一言而喪邦,有諸?」孔子對曰:「言不可以若是其幾也!人之言曰:『予無樂乎為君,唯其言而莫予違也。』如其善而莫之違也,不亦善乎?如不善而莫之違也,不幾乎一言而喪邦乎?」
Duke Ding asked: “Is there one single saying that can ensure the prosperity of a country?” Confucius replied: “No single saying could have such an effect. There is a saying, however: ‘It is difficult to be a ruler, it is not easy to be a minister.’ A saying that could make the ruler understand the difficulty of his task would come close to ensuring the prosperity of the country.” “Is there one single saying that can ruin a country?” Confucius replied: “No single saying could have such an effect. There is a saying, however: ‘There is nothing I love more about being a ruler than never having to be contradicted.’ If you are right and nobody contradicts you, that’s great; but if you are wrong and nobody contradicts you, then would this not come close to being a case of a ‘single saying that can ruin a country?’”

Great leaders approach their task with humility. They do not underestimate the complexity of the challenges they face and they welcome the opinions of others. Continue reading One single saying

Government affairs

冉子退朝,子曰:「何晏也?」對曰:「有政。」子曰:「其事也!如有政,雖不吾以,吾其與聞之!」
When Ran Qiu returned from court, Confucius said: “What kept you so long?” Ran Qiu replied: “Government affairs.” Confucius said: “Surely you mean private affairs. If it had been any government affairs I would have heard about them, even though I’m not in office.”

Confucius had a rather contentious relationship with his disciple Ran Qiu, who stayed on in the state of Lu after the sage went into exile in 497 BC and was subsequently appointed to a senior government position by  Ji Kangzi (季康子). Continue reading Government affairs