Governing a Country with Virtue and Appointing Officials Based on Virtue
Governing a Country with Virtue and Appointing Officials Based on Virtue
An individual without virtue cannot establish him or herself in the world. "Governing a country with virtue and appointing officials based on virtue" is the foundation to govern a country well and bring peace to the world. This saying comes from China's age-old and profound culture. It is a virtue that should always be remembered and passed on.
One who is virtuous often displays a nobility of character as well as the capacity to effect people's well-being. Ancient Chinese people appointed officials who adhered to the principle of virtue and displayed valuable talents, but these qualities had differing degrees of importance. Virtue was primary as it would then guide one's leadership abilities, leading to the saying "talents support virtue, while virtue leads to talents."
Sima Guang (1019 – 1086 AD) was an upright scholar, statesman, and poet. He wrote Zi Zhi Tong Jian
, or Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, a general chronicle of Chinese history from 403 BC to 959 AD. It is considered one of the finest historical works from the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127 AD). Sima Guang divided individuals into four groups based on their virtue and talent: sages, who have both virtue and talent; fools, who have neither virtue nor talent; noble persons who have more virtue than talent; and sly persons, who have more talent than virtue.
When it was time to appoint an official, the first choice would be a sage and then a noble person. If neither a sage nor a noble person could be found, it would be better to use a foolish person rather than a sly one, because individuals with talent but without virtue were most dangerous. They were worse than those who have neither talent nor virtue. This has been a principle that guided emperors throughout history.
Emperor Kangxi (1654 – 1722 AD) in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912 AD), when appointing officials, always used this criterion: "When a nation seeks officials, his virtue is most important while his talents are secondary," and "the best candidate is the one who has both virtue and talents, and one with talents but without virtue is worse than one with virtue but lacks talents."
There is a story from the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). King Hui of the State of Wei asked King Wei of the Qi State, "As king of the Qi Nation, what kinds of treasures have you collected?" King Wei replied, "Nothing." King Hui said, "In a small nation like mine, I have collected several pearls that are about one inch in diameter. These pearls can emit light that illuminates twelve carriages. In your nation that has thousands of carriages, how come you have no treasures?" King Wei replied, "The treasures most valuable to me are virtuous people, and they are different from the treasures you have. I have an official named Tan Zi. I have him govern Gaotang, so the Zhao Nation does not dare to invade our nation. I have another official named Qian Fu whom I have appointed to govern Xuzhou. He takes charge over seven thousand families that have moved there from different places. I have still another official called Zhong Shou under whose governing people lead peaceful and happy lives: no one picks up things that others have lost on the roads, and households don't shut their front doors at night. Treasures like these can shine over thousands of miles, far more than twelve carriages." King Wei's words revealed why the State of Qi was rich and powerful.
Prime Minister Zhuge Liang (181 – 234 AD) of the Kingdom of Shu, one of the most accomplished strategists in Chinese history during the Three Kingdoms era (220 – 280 AD), recommended Jiang Wan as his successor. He commended Jiang for emphasizing his personal cultivation, his lofty character, his willingness to accept criticism, and his unselfishness. After Zhuge's death, Jiang managed the nation's affairs prudently and effectively. People's interests were the core of his work; he was forgiving and enjoyed people's trust. At that time, the Shu Kingdom was not as strong as the Wei Kingdom, which had many outstandingly capable people. The Wei army attacked the Shu several times. The fact that Jiang Wan and Jiang Wei (a famous general who succeeded Zhuge Liang in commanding the military) were able to safeguard the Kingdom of Shu and its people for as long as 29 years was testament to Zhuge Liang's correct choice of officials. Zhuge himself was a visionary. In his quest to lead a northern expansion and unite China, he lived up to his own words, "exhausting myself for the nation till I die." In his letter to King Liu Chan just before he died, Zhuge wrote, "I have 800 mulberry trees [which can be used to feed silk worms to produce silk], which should be enough for my descendents to support themselves. After I die, I would not want them to have surplus silk or external incomes, so as to prevent them from failing to live up to expectations." All the officials Zhuge had appointed led thrifty lives. Jiang Wan was "elegant and modest in nature. He did not accumulate and hoard wealth in his home. He ordered all of his children to wear plain clothes and eat plain food, so that they were no different from the common folk." Similarly, Jiang Wei also "lived in a simple house, did not have savings, and had no servants with him when he traveled."
Governing a nation with virtue is quite important, as it determines whether power will be used for the benefit of the people. Virtue also significantly influences the officials' and people's conduct as well as the safety of the nation.
Ever since ancient time, ethical, virtuous officials and those with good personal integrity have constituted the foundation of honest and fair politics. Such officials are able to put the interests of the people as the priority at all times. By contrast, appointing officials according to kinship can only lead to danger. They take personal interest as their starting point, which promotes selfishness and allows inferior persons to control everything. The result is lasting damage to the country. Historically viewed, the appearance of corrupt officials or prodigal sons has been due to this. The reason behind the biggest calamities is the lack of virtue rather than the lack of talent.
Cai Jing (1047 – 1126 AD) was a famous calligrapher during the Northern Song Dynasty. Emperor Huizong (ruling from 1100 – 1126 AD), who was highly accomplished in the arts, admired Cai’s works, so Cai gave his calligraphy, paintings, and other works to the emperor, empress and other officials. Through these methods of flattery, Cai Jing became prime minister. He expended vast amounts of the nation’s treasury to expand the imperial palace. Construction continued until the dynasty’s downfall. Cai Jing was one of history’s most corrupt officials. He amassed an amount of gold and silver that was greater than what the nation’s treasury had. He framed loyal officials, formed cliques and only recognized kinship. Once, Cai Jing asked Wu Boju, an official he had promoted, to perform a task. When Wu decided to act according to the law, Cai Jing shouted in anger, “You already have a good position, yet you also want to be a good person. How can the two coexist?” Wu was fired right away. When Cai Jing was the prime minister, bribery was rampant, the people were destitute and it was the darkest period of the Northern Song dynasty. All the people rose up to call for the execution of Cai Jing to appease the nation. The imperial court had no other choice but to remove Cai Jing from office.
Only by adhering to morals can people follow a righteous path and have a bright future. Acting in this way will produce righteous customs and conduct, and make everything prosperous and peaceful.