To Rule a Country, One Needs to Get Rid of Societal Mice and Fierce Dogs
To Rule a Country, One Needs to Get Rid of Societal Mice and Fierce Dogs
Yan Zi (578 – 500 BC), courtesy name Ying, was a resident in the State of Qi in the Spring and Autumn Period (722 – 481 BC). He served three of Qi’s kings: King Ling (581 – 554 BC), King Zhuang (553 – 548 BC), and King Jing (547 – 490 BC). Yan Zi was the Prime Minister and he paid attention to thriftiness and promoting a benevolent government. Whenever the king asked him a question pertaining to the government, he would answer it directly and never resorted to flattery.
One day, King Jing asked Yan Zi, "What is the thing to be most wary of when ruling a country??" Yan Zi thought for a while and then answered, "It is the mice that live in temples and fierce dogs."
The king asked, "Why do you say this?" Yan Zi said, "Temples to worship deities are constructed with wooden materials and then earth is spread on to make walls. Mice see many offerings there to eat, so they hide in the temples and enjoy ample food all their lives. Those people who respect the deities want to catch and kill the mice, but they are unable to hit them with sticks. If they want to use fire to burn the mice, they are afraid of damaging the temples. If they want to use water to drown the mice, then they are afraid of damaging the walls. These mice will have unlimited food and live a happy, carefree life. A country also has such mice and they are those villains that are employed by the king. These villains flatter the king, always reporting good news and never bad news. They oppress and exploit the common people and do all kinds of evil. The common folks are upset with these villains who are hurting people, but they dare not say so because these villains are protected by the king. Therefore, I believe that in order to rule a country well, we need to be determined to get rid of these mice."
"Then what is the analogy for fierce dogs?" the king asked.
Yan Zi continued, "There was a businessman who specialized in brewing and selling liquor. His liquor was well-brewed; his liquor containers were well-cleaned; the sign for his liquor shop was hung in a conspicuous spot, but no one came to buy liquor from him. He asked his fellow villagers for an explanation. The villagers said: 'It is because you raise a fierce dog at home. People are afraid of being hurt by the fierce dog, so they dare not come and buy liquor from you!' A country is similar to a liquor store. If you want to make your country developed and prosperous, you have to get rid of all those fierce dogs that obstruct or hurt people."
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