Chinese Philosophy

Han Fei Tzu (c280 BC-233 BC) Quotes

It is dangerous for a ruler to trust others. He who trusts others can be manipulated by others.

Indeed, customs differ between the past and the present. To try to govern the people of a chaotic age with benevolence and lenient measures is like to drive wild horses without reins and whips.

In usual circumstances, everyone knows that water overwhelms fire. However, when there is a kettle between them, water will get bubbly and will boil itself away on the top, while fire will endure underneath.

It is also expected that government should ordinarily quell wickedness just like water overwhelms fire. However, if the official who is in charge of affirming the law acts like a kettle, it will cause the laws to only be apparent from the viewpoint of the ruler, and he will lack a way to stop wickedness.

Even if a ruler is wise, he should not be excessively meddlesome, and he should let things find their proper place. And even if he is excellent, he should not make assumptions about his acts, and he should intently observe what motivates ministers’ actions. And even if he is valiant, he should not be provoked, and he should allow each minister to demonstrate his intrepidity.

Tao does not have a visible existence, nor does it have an intelligible function.

When you hear any statements made, do not alter or shift them. Just compare them with the actions, and observe whether the statements and actions correspond with each other.

When it comes to women, the wise ruler may enjoy them, but should not be drawn into their pleads or submit to their requests.

When it comes to people who are close to him, he enjoys them, but is sure to hold them responsible for what they say, and prevent them from expressing unasked for opinions.

When it comes to uncles, brothers, and chief vassals, he should punish them when their advice leads to failure, and promote them when their advice leads to success. He should not promote them erratically.

When it comes to pleasures and the enjoyment of valuable goods, he should have a staff tha handles these things, and prohibit anyone from having the freedom to control them. Otherwise, ministers will be able to manipulate the sovereign by knowing his wants.

When it comes to favors, he should grant them at his own will to use emergency resources and public storehouses, and benefit the people. A minister should never be allowed to give based on his personal favorites.

When it comes to persuasions and discussions, he must observe and find out people who are considered skillful at something, and verify the lack of skill in those who are considered bad. He should always avoid letting ministers talk to each other about them.

The wise ruler institutes posts, offices, ranks, and bounties in order to offer a guarantee to promote the worthy and encourage the excellent. …

The sovereign promotes the worthy by examining their abilities, and gives them bounties based on what excellences they have. Thus, worthy people will not hide their abilities in their service to the sovereign, and the excellent people delight in career promotion. And so, aims and advantages are achieved.

…Placing too much value on minor advantages will impede major advantages.

In general, the difficulty in persuading people lies not in knowing the necessary information to plead one’s viewpoint/persuade the ruler, possessing the skill in argumentation that will make ones ideas clear, or beign careful in fully utilizing one’s abilities.

For the most part, the difficulty in persuading people is found in reading/knowing someone else’s mind/heart and adapting your words to conform to it.

Suppose the person you are trying to persuade is concerned with establishing a virtous reputation, and you discuss moneymaking. He will consider you rude, give you neglectful/mean/unfair and scornful treatment, and most likely tell you to get lost.

Or suppose he is concerned with moneymaking, and you discuss a virtuaous reputation. He will consider you tactless and unrealistic, and disregard your statements.

And if he is concerned with moneymaking but pretends he is concerned with a virtuous reputation, and you discuss a virtous reputation, he will pretend he is receptive to your statements while inwardly disregarding you; and if you discuss moneymaking, he will outwardly disregard you while inwardly considering your statmenets.

When dealing with a ruler, if you talk about high caliber people, he will think you are suggesting that he is inferior to them; and if you discuss low caliber people, he will think you are trying to make yourself look good so you can manipulate him.

If you discuss his likes, he will suppose that you want to take advantage of him; and if you discuss what he hates, he will suppose you are attempting to meddle with his patience.

If you speak too straightforward and forthright to him, he will think you are somehow lacking in something/unwise and will avoid you. If you speak too fancily and explanatory, he will think you are too conceited and will disregard you.

If you are too unspecific when you present your ideas, he will conclude you are a sissy who is too cowardly to express what he means. If you are too expressive/enthusiastic and verbose, he will regard you as a crude vulgar person who wants to look down at him.

Such are the difficulties in persuasion—you must take heed of them.

The key to persuasion is in knowing how to feature the perspectives that the person you are talking to wants to promote, while you downplay the aspects that he wants to hide. …

If you seek to persuade someone to adopt your suggestion to cultivate inner-state friendship, you should explain it in a way that highlights glorious cause, and intimate its accord with his private interests. If you seek to discuss things that are dangerous and harmful to the state’s well being, you should enumerate the reproaches and slanders against them first, and then intimate their discord with his private interests.

Praise other people who have similar actions to the person you are talking to, and esteem tasks that are in under the same category that his tasks are. …

As the days go on and you grow a solid favor with the ruler, and when he is not suspicious that you are coming up with deep schemes and are not devoted to always agreeing with the ruler on all issues, then you can be honest in examining advantages and disadvantages based on the current conditions, and can thus display your excellence in actions and straightforwardly display the right and wrong points in the states way of governing, and thus you can assert yourself. When ruler and minister are thus in this kind of relationship, it is because of successful persuasion.

In ancient times, Duke Wu of Cheng planned to invade Hu. So he gave his daughter in marriage to the ruler of Hu, causing him to ease his mind. Then he asked his ministers, “I am considering starting a military campaign. What countries should we invade?”

His High Officer Kuan Ch’i Ssu said, “We should invade Hu.”

Greatly angered, Duke Wu had the man executed, exclaiming, “Hu is our brother state. How can you suggest invading it?”

The Ruler of Hu heard about what happened, assumed that Cheng was on friendly terms with him; and lowered his guard against a potential invasion. Not long afterwards, however, the people of Cheng attacked and conquered Hu.

There was a rich man who lived in Sung. One day, rain caused his mud fence to topple. Both his son and his neighbor told him, “If you don’t rebuilt the fence immediately, robbers might come.”

That evening, the man was indeed robbed of a great deal of property—and from then on, his family had high regard for the son’s judgment, but was suspicious of the neighbor’s family.

Though both men in these stories made statements that turned out to be true, the man in the first case was executed, while the one in the second case incurred suspicion.

It’s not like they had trouble obtaining the right information. It’s simply that they had trouble using it the right way.

In ancient times, Mi Tzu Hsia became popular with the ruler of Wei State. At the time, the laws of Wei State stated, “The punishment for using the royal carriage without permission is a double foot amputation.”

One day, someone went into the palace late at night and informed Mi Tzu Hsia that his mother was sick. Upon hearing this, he forged a fake request from the ruler in order to use his carriage, and then took it to go see his mother.

When the ruler found out about this, [not only was he not offended,] he only had good things to say, and remarked, “What a filial child! Over his concern for his mother, he went so far as to risk having his feet cut off!”

Another time, Mi Tzu Hsia was walking outdoors with the ruler, and began eating a peach. Tasting how delicious it was, he offered the remaining half to the ruler, who remarked, “Your love for me is truly genuine!—so much so that you have put your own appetite aside, and instead cocnered youself with offering me tasty food!”

But many years later, when Mi Tzu Hsia looks had faded and the ruler was not enamored with him anymore, a charge was brought against him by the ruler, who remarked, “Don’t forget, this is the same guy who stole my carriage and offered me his half-eaten peach!”

Although Mi Tzu Hsia’s actions remained the same, he was initially praised from them, and later charged with wrongdoing—and this was all because the ruler’s love for him had converted into disdain.

… Those who attemps remonstration, persuasion, explanation, or discussion before the throne must be careful to first observe the sovereigns loves and hates.

It like a dragon who moves like a worm, and a person can tame, play with, and ride on its back. But it has inverted scales below its throat, each about a foot in diameter, that would kill anyone who came into contact with them. Like that, a lord of men has inverted scales, and the persuader who can avoid coming into contact with those inverted scales of the lord of men are surely very close to having mastery in the skill of persuasion.

It is human nature to choose safety and gain over danger and trouble.

Now, suppose the ruler’s ministers who apply their energy toward meritorious sevice, and exert their wisdom in a spirit of loyalty, end up finding themselves in miserable state, are too poor to take care of their families, and and have their fathers and sons mixed up in their own problems.

And suppose those who who trick the sovereign in order to profit themselves illegitimately, and serve nobles and vassals with bribes of money and goods, end up encountering glory, enriching their families, and benefiting their fathers and sons.

If this is the case, should we expect people to choose a way of safety and gain in order to choose one of danger and trouble?

…Once the attendants realize that faithful service and honesty will not lead to personal safety, they will most certainly think, “ …why shouldn’t I aim to delude the sovereign, commit villainy, and thereby please the heavy-handed men?” And then these kinds of people will no longer care about the intention of the lord of men.

And similarly, once officials of all posts realize uprightness and squareness will not lead to personal safety, they will definitely think, “…why why shouldn’t we discard the law, practice selfishness, and thereby please the heavy-handed men?” These kinds of people will no longer care about the laws of the sovereign.

If this happens, plenty of people who will work for the heavy-handed men by practicing selfishness, while few will serve the ruler by observing law. The sovereign will be in isolation above, while the ministers will form juntos below. …

… [But if the loyal benefit and the corrupt suffer misfortune,] attendants and courtiers will realize that falsehood and deceit will not lead to deceit, and they will most certainly think, “If we don’t stop wicked deeds and apply our strength and exert our wisdom to serve the sovereign, by just associate with one another for treasonable purposes and make arbitrary blame and praise in an effort to find safety, it will be hopeless …”

And similarly, once the officials of posts realize that it is impossible to find safety by coveting wicked profits, they will definitely say: “If we don’t obey the law by keeping ourselves pure, incorruptible, square, and upright, but just hope to secure wicked profits by bending the law with greedy and corrupt minds, it will be hopeless…”

And if the way to safety and danger becomes so clear, then how will the attendants beguile the sovereign with empty words? And how would the officials dare to exploit the masses covetously? And so, ministers able to express their sprit of loyalty are never put out of sight, and inferiors able to attend to their duties never show resentment. It was in this way that Kuan Chung governed Ch’i, and Lord Shang strengthened Ch’in.

From such a viewpoint I can see that the sage, in governing the state, pursues the policy of making the people inevitably do him good, but never relies on their doing him good with love. It is dangerous to rely on the people doing him good with love, but it is safe to rely on their inevitability to do him good.

To be sure, ruler and minister having no blood kinship, if able to seek safety by following the right and straight way, the minister will apply all his strength to sere the sovereign. But if unable to seek safety by following the right and straight way, he will practice selfishness and thereby violate the superior. Knowing this well, the intelligent sovereign simply establishes the system of advantages and disadvantages, and thereby shows the world what is right and what is wrong.

If the ruler only takes advice from ministers of high rank, does not compare different opinions and testif to the truth, and uses only one person as a channel of information, then ruin is possible.

If posts and offices can be sought through influential personages, and rank and bounties can be obtained by means of bribes, then ruin is possible. …

If the ruler enjoys inflicting unfair punishment and does not uphold the law, likes debate and persuasion but never sees to their practicability, and indulges in style and wordiness but never considers their effect, then ruin is possible.

F the ruler is shallow-brained and easily penetrated, reveals everything but conceals nothing, and cannot keep any secret but communicates the words of one minister to another, then ruin is possible. …

If people have no confidence in the premier, and the inferiors do not obey the superiors while the sovereign loves and trusts the premier and cannot dispose him, hen ruin is possible.

If the ruler does not take the capable people of the country into his service, and if he does not make tests according to meritorious services but instead appoints and dismisses officials only according to their reputations, till foreign residents are exalted and enabled to surpass his old acquaintances, then ruin is possible. …

If the ruler is narrow-minded, quick-tempered, imprudent, easily affected, and becomes blind with rage when provoked, then ruin is possible.

If the sovereign is easily provoked and fond of resorting to arms, and neglects agricultural and military training, but heedlessly ventures into warfare and invasion, then ruin is possible. …

The ruler who sees a great advantage but does not advance towards it, hears the outset of a calamity but does not provide against it, thus neglecting preparations for attack and defense, and striving to embellish himself with the practice of benevolence and righteousness, is liable to ruin.

If measures for political orders are clarified, the state, even if small is size, will be rich. If reward and punishment are dignified and of faith, the people, even if small in number, will become strong. But if rewards and punishment follow no regulations, then the state, no matter how large, will have weak soldiers. For the soil is no longer its territory, the people no longer its subjects. And without territory and people, even Yao and Shun couldn’t reign supreme, nor could the three dynasties [Hsia, Yin, and Chou] have ever become strong.

And additionally, when the sovereign gives indiscriminately, the ministers will take inconsiderately. … If the sovereign gives wrongly, the ministers will take idly. And if the sovereign gives wrongly, the ministers will expect undue rewards, and if the ministers take idly, meritorious services will not be held in high esteem, and if people of no merit are rewarded, the state exchequer will run low and the people will be mad about it, and if the state exchequer runs low and the people are mad about it, then nobody will apply his strength to duties. So, he who overuses rewards will lose the people, and he who overuses penalty cannot hold the people in awe. And if the reward is not enough to encourage or the penalty is not enough to prohibit, then the state, no matter how large, will be in danger.

… The superior person takes the inner feelings but leaves the outer appearances, likes the inner qualities but hates the outer decorations.

* … Hui Tzu said: “An insane person is running eastwards and the person running after him is also running eastward. Their running eastward is the same. But their motives behind their running eastward are different.”

Eels are similar to snakes. Silkworms are similar to caterpillars. People are scared when they see snakes, and surprised when they see caterpillars. And yet, fishermen are willing to hold eels in their hands, and women are willing to pick up silkworms. So, when there is profit, people turn as brave as Meng Pen and Chuan Chu.

In all-under-Heaven there are three truths: Even wise people will find certain tasks unattainable; even strong people will find certain objects unmovable; and even brave people will find certain opponents unbeatable

For example, even if someone as wise as Yao cannot accomplish the great without the support of the masses; even someone as mighty as Wu Huo cannot elevate himself with other people’s assistance; and even someone as strong as Meng Pen and Hsia Yu cannot remain undefeated without upholding law or tact.

And so, Wu Huo found a few hundred pounds to be light, but his own body to be heavy—not because his body weighed more than a few hundred pounds, but simply because his position would not facilitate him to raise his own body.

And similarly,? Chu found it easy to see across one hundred steps, but difficult to see his own eyelashes—not because one hundred steps were near and his own eyelashes were far, but because the way of nature would not let him see his own eyelashes.

And so, the intelligent sovereign neither reproaches Wu Huo for his inability to raise himself, nor does he embarrass?Chu for his inability to see himself. Yet, he counts on favorable circumstances and seeks the easiest way, so that he exerts a small effort and accomplished both an achievement and a reputation.

Times/opportunities wax and wane, affairs help and harm, and things come into existence and into extinction. As the lord of people has these three objects to face, he expresses the colors of joy and anger, people [with talents as precious as] gold and [with minds as stable as] stone will be estranged, while the wise and shrewd will explore the depths of the ruler’s mentality. So, the intelligent sovereign observes people’s deeds, and never lets other observe his own motives.

And now that you understand why Yao cannot rule by himself or why Wu Huo cannot raise his own body by himself or why Meng Pen and Hsia Yu cannot win all by themselves, if you uphold the law and tact, then the course of observing deeds will be completed.

The intelligent sovereign offers rewards that may be earned, and establishes punishments that should be avoided.

The seven tacts [a sovereign should use] are:

1. Comparing and inspecting all available different theories

2. Making punishment definite and authority clear

3. Bestowing rewards faithfully and everybody exert his ability

4. Listening to all sides of every story and holding every speaker responsible for it

5. Issuing spurious edicts and making pretentious appointments

6. Inquiring into cases by manipulating different information

7. Inverting words and reversing tasks.

Comparing different views: If the sovereign does not compare what he sees and hears, he will never get the real.

Making punishment definite: If the ruler is too compassionate, the law will never prevail. If the authority it too weak, the inferior will offend the superior. And so, if penalties are not definite, prohibitions and decrees will take no effect.

Bestowing Reward and Honor: If reward and honor are insufficient and faithless, the inferior will not obey. If reward and honor are great and of faith, the inferior will make light of death. This is based on a saying by Viscount Wen: “The inferior turns to great rewards and high honor just like the wild deer who go to luxuriant grass.”

Listening to All Sides of Every Story: If the ruler listens straight to own project alone, he cannot distinguish between the stupid and the intelligent. If he holds every projector responsible, ministers cannot confound their abilities.

Making Pretentious Appointments: If someone has frequent audience with his superior and is accorded a long reception but not appointed to any office, then villainous people will disperse in his presence like deer in all directions. If the superior sends people out to find anything other than what is in question, the inferior would not dare to sell private favors.

Manipulating different information: If you make inquiries by manipulating different information, then even unknown details will become apparent.

King Hui of Wey said to Pu P’i, “When you hear my voice, what does it sound like to you?”

He replied, “I, your servant, hear Your Majesty’s compassion and beneficence.”

Delighted to hear this, the King said, “And then to what extent will my achievement progress?”

“To the extent of ruin,” Pu P’i replied.

The King curiously said, “But being compassionate and beneficent are good deeds to practice—so why would it lead to ruin?”

Pu P’i replied, “Compassion results in leniency, and beneficence results in fondness of conferring favors. If Your Majesty is lenient, you will neglect censuring those who have faults. If Your Majesty if fond of conferring favors, you will bestow rewards without first awaiting for merit to appear. If people who are guilty of faults are not punished, and those who have no merit are rewarded, then isn’t ruin a likely outcome?”

Li K’uei was Governor of the Upper Land under Marquis Wen of Wey, and he wanted every man in the region be a good shooter. He issued a decree that if any men were involved in an unsettled legal dispute, they would have a target shooting competition, and the winner would win the suit, while the loser would lose the suit.

As soon as the decree was issued, the whole region began practicing archery day and night continuously.

And then, when the region went to war with the Ch’ins, they obliterated them due to the fact that everyone was such a good archer.

The Prime Minster of Shang once sent a petty official out, and on his return he inquired to hear what he saw in the marketplace.

The official replied, “Nothing.”

The Premier insistently said, “But you surely saw something. Tell me what.”

The official replied, “Well, I saw some ox carts right outside the south gate of the marketplace, and you could barely walk through them.”

Upon hearing this, the Premier said to the messenger, “Don’t tell anyone else about what I asked about.”

Then the Premier summoned the mayor, blamed him, and asked why there were so many ox carts and so much ox shit outside the gate of the marketplace.

The mayor was very surprised to hear that the Premier had gotten such information, and from then on was very afraid of his wide and quick knowledge.

Rulers and ministers have different interests. Thus, ministers can never be [compeltely] loyal.

Tsao Fu managed four horses. He drove them at maximum speed, maneuvered them expertly, and could go in any direction he wanted. He could mange the horses in whatever way he wanted, since he was in control of the whip and reins. But, when a jumping pig scared the horses, Tsao Fu lost control of the horses. This is not because the severity of the whip and rein decreased. This is because his authority over the horses was superceded by the impact of the jumping pig.

Take the example of a fire brigade. If the captain by himself caries jars and pots of water and runs to the fire, then he will only perform the function of one person. But if he puts a whip in his hand and gives orders to the workmen, he will rule over many men. Thus, the sage does not look after trifles, and the enlightened sovereign does not attend to minor affairs.

Tzu Chang was pulling a push-cart to go across the arch of a bridge, but was unable to bear the weight. So, he sat on the shaft and began singing. Meanwhile, the passers-by from the front stopped, and those from the rear ran forward to help him, until the push-cart reached the top of the arch.

Suppose Tzu Chang had no technique to attract people. Then even if he exhausted himself to death, the cart would not have been able to go across the bridge. The reason why he did not exhaust himself while the cart went up the arch of the bridge was because he had the technique to make use of people.

In general, the order of all-under-heaven must accord with human feelings. Human feelings have their likes and dislikes, wherefore reward and punishment can be applied. If reward and punishment are applicable, prohibitions and orders will prevail, and the course of government will be accomplished. As the ruler has the handles in his grip and thereby upholds his august position, what is ordered works and what is prohibited stops.

… The sage does not [necessarily] seek to follow the ways of the ancients, nor does he establish any fixed standards for all times. He examines things in his age and prepares to deal with them.

A farmer from Sung was cultivating his field and came across a stump. One day, he noticed a rabbit running on the field that accidentally ran into the stump, causing it to break its neck and die. After seeing that, the farmer just put away his tools and observed the stump, expecting that he would get another rabbit through the same method. But he got no more rabbits that way, and was soon regarded with ridicule by the people of Sung.

People who expect to effectively govern people in modern times through the methods of ancient kings are acting like those people who are observing stumps.

Han Fei Tzu said: Most people will submit to authority; very few will be moved by righteousness. Confucius was a Sage who illustrated tao--and yet, after travelling through the entire country, he only atrracted 70 [major] disciples. ... Duke Ai of Lu was an unextraorindary ruler--and yet, when he rose to power as the head of the state [and exercised authority], everyone in Lu obeyed him [, including Confucius himself]. ... These days, schoalrs advise rulers to practice benevolence and righteousness instead of telling them to rely on the proven technique or exercising authority. This is like asking someone to act like Confucius, and expecting the general public to act like Confucius's disciples..

… Rewards should not be anything except great and certain. This will make people regard them as profitable.

Punishments should not be anything but severe and definite. This will make people fear them.

Laws should not be anything but uniform and steadfast. This will make people understand them.

And so, if the ruler makes no changes in bestowing rewards, and grants no pardon in carrying out punishments, but adds honor to rewards and disgrace to punishments, then both the worthy and the unworthy will exert their efforts.

In modern times, everyone knows about the teachings practiced by the Confucians and the Mohists. The Confucians esteem supreme regards for Confucius, and the Mohists do the same for Mo Tzu.

Since the death of Confucius… [eight current distinct Confucian sects have emerged and are being followed]. Since the death of Mo Tzu… [three current distinct Mohist sects have emerged and are currently being followed].

And despite the fact that each sect has varying and sometimes contradicting teachings and practices, each of these sects insist that they have the true teaching of Confucius or of Mo Tzu. It is clear that we cannot bring Confucius or Mo Tzu back to life—so who can assert which of the varying versions of their teachings today is the accurate one?

And as for Confucius and Mo Tzu, each of them was an adherent to the ways of Yao and Shun. Yet Confucius and Mo Tzu had teachings that differed from each other, and each of them indicated that they were practicing the real ways of Yao and Shun. It is clear that we cannot bring Yao and Shun back to life—so who can assert if it is the Confucians or the Mohists have the accurate version?

Now consider this: it has been over seven hundred years since the Yin and early Chou time periods, and it has been more than two thousand years since the Yu and early Hsai time periods. Since we cannot even agree on which of the current versions of Confucian and Mohist teachings are accurate [, which are only about three hundred years old], how can we even begin to ascertain the ways of Yao and Shun, who lived about three thousand years ago! It is clear that we cannot be sure of anything at all! …

Clearly, people who assert that they are following the ways of ancient kings, and say that they are sure of their descriptions of the ways of Yao and Shun, are surely either fools or fakers.

A wise ruler will never strictly adhere to teachings that come from fools and fakers and are so varied and contradictory.

If someone only observed how much tin is in a certain mixture and what color the metal is, and did not examine it in any other way, then even Ou Yeh could not be certain of how sharp a sword is. Yet if someone observes it slice off water-bird heads and cut up land-horses, then even the most ignorant slave would be able to know that the sword is sharp.

If someone only examined a the shape of a horse’s teeth, then even Po Lo could not be certain of the horse’s quality. Yet if someone attaches it to a carriage and observes the way it moves over a certain distance, then even the most ignorant slave would be able to know if the horse is effective.

And if someone only looked at a person’s features, clothing, and speech; even Confucius would not be able to say what sort of a person he is. Yet if one tests him in government position and sees what he does, than even someone with so-so judgment would be able to know if he is wise or not.

So the sage, in ruling the state, does not depend on people doing him good. Instead, he makes sure that there is no way they can do him wrong.

If he depends on people doing him good, then even if you search throughout the state boundaries, you will not even find tens of such people. But if he makes sure there is no way they can do him wrong, then an entire state can be uniformed.

And so, the administrator of state affairs should consider the many, and disregard the few. And thus, his devotion is on law, not virtue.

The wise ruler uses just two handles to command his ministers: rebuke and acclaim. …

Ministers fear reprimands and punishment, but are fond of encouragements and rewards.

So, if a master of people uses the handles of rebuke and acclaim, then every minister will cringe from his severity, and be drawn to his liberality.