Governance and Character

昵小人,疏君子,而欲致治,非所聞也.

Being intimate with those of poor character and neglecting those of noble character while desiring good governance is unheard of.

[Wei Zheng, 十漸不克終疏 {“10 Beginnings Without an End Memorial”} My translation. For full text and translation into modern Chinese, see here.]

Wei Zheng, who made a famous career of pointedly criticizing his emperor (Tang dynasty), obviously was not what is called in Washington a “team player.” That he survived, was listened to, and was honored says much about why the early Tang is still remembered as a brilliant example of good governance. Whether in truth his standards were met during the Tang or not, today in Washington the idea of cooperating with others on the basis of their character would hardly even be comprehended.

I will leave it to Chinese readers to comment on the degree to which this principle, or others evoked in Wei’s marvelous essay accusing his boss of slacking off in his old age may be observed. If anyone knows of a full translation of this essay into a Western language, please send it to me.

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