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China, Chinese, Chinese Culture, Culture

[Ancient Chinese Philosophy] People First, Sovereign Last- Mencius

The Warring States Period in Chinese history covers the period from 403 BC to the unification of China by the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC There were then seven major states collectively called the Seven Hegemonials of the Warring States, two of which were the states of Qi and Zhao.
The King of Qi sent a messenger to greet Queen Wei of Zhao, mother of Zhao’s King Xiaocheng. Before opening the envelope with the Qi’s King’s letter, Queen Wei asked the messenger, “How is Qi’s harvest this year? How are Qi’s people? How is the King of the Qi State?” The messenger felt upset and said, “ I was assigned to pay respects to you, your majesty, while you inquired about Qi’s harvest and people before returning your regards to my King. Don’t you think you wrongfully put the honored behind the lower ranks?”

Queen Wei replied, “You can not say that because if there were no harvest, no one could survive. If there were no people, no king could exist. Based upon the priority order as mentioned, I raised my questions. Are you suggesting to ignore the foundation and emphasize minor matters instead?” Queen Wei clearly pointed out her theory of ruling a country, indicating that the people are precious while the sovereign is not as important.

The theory that people are should be placed before the rulers was prompted by Mencius. Mencius said, “The people are the most precious; the gods of earth and grain are next, and the monarch is the least important. Therefore, winning the hearts of the people is the way to becoming a good emperor; having the trust of the emperor is the way to become a prince of a feudal state; and obtaining the appreciation of the prince of a feudal state is the way to become a great officer.”

Thus, the one who wins the heart of the prince of a feudal state could become a great officer while winning the heart of the emperor could become a prince of a feudal state and only could one be an emperor if he won the hearts of the common people.

Since people are so important, what should the governors do to procure the people’s hearts?

Mencius’ response was, “The king who protects the interests of the citizen should never be overthrown.” Mencius thought that the king who cares about the people and lets the people reside safely and work happily should be resisted by no one. He believed, first of all, that a conqueror needs to have a compassionate mind to love his people.

Secondly, to allow people to own their own property would enable people to have an everlasting and stable business income, so that they may serve their parents, raise their wives and raise their children.

Thirdly, a conqueror must emphasize education towards his people to make them aware of propriety, manners and virtue. As a result, the people will live safely and work enjoyably and thereby the country may be ruled with long security and stability.

The wise ancient emperors were always aware of the principle of putting the people first and the sovereign last. They also counted on winning the hearts of the people so that they could have success in securing their monarchy. As such, they considered the issue of how to give people a safe residence and a stable occupation as the top concern of ruling a country. If there were any ignorant or violent tyrants who did not safeguard the people and even tortured, the citizen would live in hardship. The officers and people of that country would exile or even assassinate the bad sovereign and support another emperor.

Xia Jie was the last emperor of the Xia Dynasty who was known as being brutal and obscene. Shang Tang called the army to overthrow Jie and established the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC). Around 600 years later, King Zhou, the last emperor of Shang Dynasty (11th century BC) was of a brutal nature and deeply indulged in his alcoholic and sexual addictions while detaining dissidents. Therefore, King Wu united with another vassal states to overthrow King Zhou and in his place, built the Zhou Dynasty (770 BC).

King Xuan of the Qi State, who reigned from 342-324 BC, asked Mencius, “Is it true that Shang Tang exiled Xia Jie while King Wu overturned Shang Zhou?” Mencius replied, “The events were recorded in history books.” Then King Xuan asked, “Is it proper for a feudal official to kill the king?” Mencius said “One who destroys human virtues is called a ‘thief’ and the one who damages justice is called ‘brutal.’ The one who abuses both human virtues and justice is called ‘dictator.’” I heard that King Wu overthrew the dictator but never assassinated an emperor.”

The killing of an emperor, known as Shi (assassination), was considered an absolute violation of human morality. However, if the assassination was of a brutal conqueror, such conduct was as a mission bestowed by the Heavens to achieve justice and save the people from disaster. It was quite clear for ancienct Chinese people in ancient times to draw a line between good and bad, or right and wrong.

There were intellectual kings as well as brutal tyrants in the past. A wise emperor not only benefitted the people of his time and was admired for it, but would also be commemorated by the people generation after generation. However, a fatuous or brutal tyrant not only made the people of his time live in pain and suffering, but would also be considered disgraceful by the future people. The one who loses the hearts of the people would lose political power over the country. Any fatuous or brutal tyrant would not reign long and would be spurned by the people.

– Source: The Epochtimes



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