Confucius once said, "When Shun was the emperor, he selected Gao Yao to serve a very important position, and the malicious people stayed far away." (Analects of Confucius:
"Duke Wen of Teng," part I). According to history books, Gao Yao was in charge of the judicial system in Shun's time (2294 – 2184 BC). He enforced the law with fairness and care. As a result, there were no unjust cases. He paid great attention to enlightenment, education and established rules for ceremonies and music.
Gao Yao was born in Gao Cheng (present day Liuan City, Anhui Province). He served under Emperors Yao, Shun and Yu over his lifetime. He was the Minister of Law under Emperor Shun. Together with Emperors Yao, Shun and Yu, he is considered one of the "Four Sages of Ancient China." Gao Yao believed that heaven created everything on earth and gave people benevolent and virtuous characteristics. Therefore, people need to follow heaven's arrangements. It is a person's sacred duty to maintain virtuous characteristics. He also proposed the ideas of "Heaven graciously distinguishes the virtuous. Heaven punishes the guilty. Sages display nine virtues in their conduct."
Gao Yao's idea of nine virtues includes the following: magnanimous yet prudent in behavior; mild-tempered yet assertive with own opinion; carry a modest yet serious attitude; being capable and earnest in duties; good at listening to others' opinions yet decisive; upright in action yet gentle in manner; direct in approach yet detail-oriented; being conscientious and down-to-earth; being strong and righteous.
Additionally, Gao Yao suggested to Emperor Yu a strategy of governing a nation. The emperor should be strict with himself in personal cultivation. The emperor serves as a role model and thus people will follow and respect the emperor. If the emperor cannot act with kindness and righteousness, people will not abide by the laws and rules, even if a country has them. The emperor should know how to choose the right officials. Only after he places the right people in each position, can the people benefit from the governing system. The emperor should respect his people and provide safety and prosperity for them. People's stability and prosperity reflect an emperor's virtuous governing methods.