Friday, November 18, 2011


Throughout history, the Chinese have conceived the state and its citizens as one entity, subject to one code of ethics. They perceived their state as a microcosm – a miniature copy of the cosmos. In the lost book of the Yellow Emperor, heaven is described as circular, and earth – as square. Heaven is yang-natured, while earth is yin-natured. In this symbolism which separates heaven and earth, the mediator is man, who, like the state, is conceived of as a microcosm. The ruler is expected to deal with the state's affairs, while the individual is required to control his bodily organs in order to live a healthy life. 

According to the Yellow Emperor (third millennium BCE), as long as the government flows in rhythm with all the movements in the cosmos, harmony prevails – rains fall on time and agriculture prospers. Therefore, the top priority of the emperor is to achieve a balance between yin and yang, with heaven and earth serving  him as a model to guide him in his actions.

The prevalent perception was that good government depends on a good administration that stresses the necessity of moral development, rather than on constitutional principles. The importance that the Chinese ascribed to the quality of the government can be learnt from the following story told about Confucius:

Once, when Confucius was out walking with his disciples, they saw on their way a seated woman, crying. When Confucius asked her what disaster had befallen her and how he could help, she told him that a tiger had devoured her son a few days earlier, and that shortly before that, the tiger had devoured her husband and his brother. Confucius asked her why she would not leave the place and move to somewhere else not far from there. The woman replied, "In that place that you mentioned, the ruler oppresses the people, which is why I will not move there". Then, Confucius said to his disciples, "It is easier to live with a wild animal than under a tyrannical government".

The ideal condition desired by the government was that of universal harmony or worldwide peace, as expressed in the word (tài)(píng)(literally: too peaceful,  meaning very peaceful), a state achieved when all the powers and elements of the universe and all the strata of society act harmoniously, united and contented.

In Imperial China the ruler, who was considered the son of Heaven, served as a kind of father for his people. As the head of the ruling hierarchy, all the authority – legislative, executive and judicial, was concentrated in his hands and the bureaucrats received their power from him. His title "son of Heaven" originated in ancient periods when the ruler was both a king and a priest, mediating between gods and men. Until the end of the Zhou dynasty (1046-221 BCE), the ruler of the state was titled "wang" (wáng)  (literally: king), a character comprised of both the character (sān)(literally: three) and a vertical line. The king is represented by the vertical line, which connects the three horizontal lines, representing heaven, earth and humanity. During natural disasters, the king was expected to blame himself, because the prevalent belief was that if he would have behaved properly, Heaven would not have sent such disasters

In theory, the rulers were very powerful, but, in fact, tradition prevented them from becoming despotic. Nonetheless, there were exceptions. As early as during the Zhou dynasty, the idea appeared that the ruler must operate according to a moral code. As the son of Heaven, he could not fulfill his duty unless his moral nature was pure and his behavior exemplary. If he were to prove unfit to be a ruler, Heaven would pass the mandate to rule to another family that was known for its moral values, and a new dynasty would be established. Such an event is mentioned in The Book of History (shū)(jīng)or (shàng)(shū), which recounts that due to the wickedness of the last ruler of the Shang dynasty, who was a tyrant, Heaven passed the rule to the Zhou dynasty. The theory that refers to the mandate from heaven is called "the right to revolt" and the term "revolution" ()(mìng)originates in The Book of Changes.

Though the people believed in their right to rebel, they rarely objected to the royal authority. Unlike Westerners, they were not familiar with the concept of a decisive majority, an electoral system or a legislative authority. Revolution was their means to express disagreement. Only by means of a successful uprising would they be able to replace the ruler. As revolutionaries, some of the Chinese emperors were not born noble and several dynasties were founded by people of a lowly origin. The empresses, who would be chosen for their beauty, usually came from simple families, and thus brought the influence of the common people to the emperor's court.

The main duty of the ruler was to select the civil servants, while maintaining his ruling power and dynasty. Consequently, he would select his family members as the civil servants, especially from his mother's side, because these were totally dependent on him, as opposed to his father's family who might compete with him.

The destruction caused by civil wars during the late Zhou (zhōu) dynasty, alongside the prevalent belief in cosmic harmony, gave rise to emphasis on the role of the administration as conducer to peace and order. The need to create an administration for peace time is found in the words spoken to Liu Bang  (liú) (bāng)(256-195 BCE), the founder of the Han  (hàn)  dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), by his adviser - "Your Majesty conquered the empire on horseback, but one cannot govern it on horseback".

The emperor who laid the foundations for a new ruling system was the first ruler of

the Qin (qín) dynasty (221-207 BCE), who called himself Qin Shi Huang Di (qín)(shǐ)(huáng)() (literally: the first emperor of the Qin dynasty), a title combining the title "huang" (literally: exalted ruler) ascribed to the three ancient sage kings, with the title "di" (literally: supreme ruler, god) ascribed to the five legendary kings. This was his way to demonstrate that his position was higher than that of the rulers of the past. From then on until the end of the empire, the title "huang di" was the title of the Chinese emperors.

Qin Shi Huang Di abolished feudalism, stripped the nobles of the titles inherited from their ancestors, and created a new government, based on civilian government officials. These administrators, who became the pillars of the Imperial government, were chosen according to their skills and as a result of competitive examinations. This was one of the unique characteristics of China. The recruiting methods, the number of government officials and the social components of the ruling system were to change over time, but the employment of scholars, as an integral part of the Imperial bureaucracy, did not change for more than 2,000 years. 

The scholar class (shì), from which the government officials were appointed, was responsible for maintaining moral values. In serving the state, the king expected them to think independently. They worked in the interest of the state and the state preserved their legal privileges, including exemption from physical punishment, taxes, etc. During the Qing dynasty they were entitled to big houses whose size was determined by their position. Likewise, they were entitled to expensive official clothing which enabled their identification in public. The word (guan) , meaning "hat", and the word (guān), meaning "government official" are homonyms, hence the word (guan)also symbolizes a government official.

Some of the government officials abused their positions, being corrupted by wealthy merchants who received from them privileges and monopolies in return for favors. In order to prevent such improper conduct, an innovation was introduced into the system of rule – inspection, criticism and possible dismissal. This system seems to have begun during the Han dynasty but may have already existed during the Zhou (zhōu) dynasty (1046-221 BCE). The inspection was carried out by the Imperial censors ()(shǐ), who were appointed by the emperor to oversee the Imperial administration. Their role was to warn the authorities in regard to improper conduct and to caution against improper government activities, injustice and corruption. They had to report immediately on any corrupt activity to the central government in the capital.

The inspection system gradually became more sophisticated, reaching its peak of efficiency during the Ming dynasty, when there was a special ministry dedicated to censorship. Several censors were located in the capital, with others scattered across China. The Manchurian Qing (qīng)dynasty (1644-1911 CE) employed the censorship as an inspection body with a president, vice-president, deputy inspector, 20 censors who inspected the central administration, and 44 who inspected the local administrations in the provinces.

Though they were subject to the emperor's authority, the censors could be uncompromising, even in the face of pressure, in protecting the law and ensuring justice. They would even point out mistakes made by an emperor or his ministers, and would remove from power those who displayed improper behavior, even high-ranking officials. Likewise, if necessary they would criticize an emperor's improper behavior and repair injustices done toward the common people.

Throughout Chinese history the censors were respected by other government officials, who saw them as role models. The emperor too would sometimes accept their authority. Although the final decision was the emperor's alone, it was important for him to maintain their authority. Some censors gained recognition for their uprightness and moral courage; among them were those who were ready to sacrifice their lives for the principles of justice.

Besides the censors, there was one individual who monitored the emperor's life - his biographer, who would document his deeds daily, writing everything down – both the good and the bad. These writings would be placed in a box inaccessible to anybody, including the emperor himself. Only when a new dynasty came to power would these boxes be opened and the writings read.

The structure of the administration underwent change throughout the dynasties. During the Han dynasty there were three powers of authority - the emperor, the bureaucracy, and the powerful elite families. The centralistic organization of the government strengthened the ruler to an unprecedented extent. A system of recruiting government officials based on skills and capabilities had already been implemented during the Han dynasty, but a well-organized examination system was only to develop centuries later. The appointed government officials were required to be both moral and knowledgeable in the classic texts.  

The administration was divided into administrative and military districts. This organization persisted until the Tang (táng) dynasty (618-907 CE), when the central administration was divided into three departments and six ministries (sān)(shěng)(liù)(), as follows:

1.                         The Secretariat (zhōng)(shū)(shěng) , which was responsible for policy-   

making and the formulation of all Imperial decrees.

2.                         The Chancellery (mén)(xià)(shěng), which advised the emperor and the          


3.                         The Department of State Affairs (shàng)(shū)(shěng) - the executive department, which controlled the six ministries: personnel吏部(lìbù), revenue 户部(hùbù), rites 礼部(lǐbù), war 兵部(bīngbù), justice 刑部(xíngbù), and public works 工部(gōngbù).

During the Qing (qīng) dynasty (1644-1911), two departments were added to the six ministries inherited from the Tang dynasty: one was the Grand Secretariat (called "nei ko" in Wade-Giles' transcription) – the leading institute in the Manchurian government, which participated in the decision-making process; and the other was the Grand Chancellery ("Chün chi-ch'u" in Wade-Giles' transcription), which was responsible for military strategy and took care of important state and military affairs.

The Chinese believed that they had found the best system of rule. Even when the reality was not perfect they continued to strive to reach their ideals. The prevalent perception was that harmony would prevail in the lives of the individual, family and empire, provided that the rules of the world would be understood and respected, and that the official positions would be manned by scholars.

There is no other society in which scholars gained so much authority as in that of China. The scholars, who held positions as bureaucrats, were responsible, among others, for administering the military, legal and education systems and public works.

The separation of authorities, which enabled critique of the ruling system, contributed much to the prevention of a despotic government. The inspection system was based on the Legalist philosophy, according to which human nature is seen as basically evil and laws are required to control it. The Legalists believed that people instinctively strive for advancement and material profit, which is why proper behavior should be encouraged by remuneration, and improper behavior - by punishment.

Government officials retired at the age of 70, and throughout their public service career they would live under social pressure. The heaviest pressure was that of maintaining a public reputation, which could bring pride or shame upon their families.

The Public Examination System

Choosing skilled people for government positions began in China as early as in 163 BCE, when the rulers of the Han dynasty asked the government officials to mark those most fit for promotion. The selected individuals were required to answer certain questions that were presented to them by the emperor. The government examinations, which began during this dynasty, were based on the five classics ()(jīng).[1]

During the Sui (suí) (581-618 CE) and Tang  (táng) (619-907 CE) dynasties a new examination system was introduced that paved the way to a political career. Those who passed the examinations were accepted into the Imperial academy, whose graduates were appointed to positions of ministers and government officials.

There were three examination levels. The lowest level was held once a year in all the district cities, even the smallest. The examinees were given three sentences taken from the classic texts and, inspired by these, they were required to write, within 24 hours, one short poem and one essay, or two essays, on the same subject. In order to pass the examination they needed to be familiar with 10,000 characters, and with the five classic books. During the examination, equipped with a brush, ink and paper, they would be closed in the examination cells, unable to seek help from anybody. Whenever a certain pattern of examination was repeated over a long period, however, clever teachers could predict the questions, and provide the examinees with a formula for sophisticated answers.

Only one percent of the examinees passed the district examination. These select few were allowed to wear a golden button on their hat, which granted them various privileges, such as exemption from taxes and from any physical punishment pronounced by a magistrate. However, they were not yet granted positions in the government.

The examination at the middle level was held in a central city of each province once every three years. All those who had passed the district examinations were examined. This time they were given four sentences from the classic texts, more difficult than those presented to them in the previous examination. They were required to write poems and essays at a higher level than before. Closed in examination cells for nine days and nights, with guards to prevent their seeking any outside help, only a few passed the second examination. Those who passed it were allowed not only to wear the golden button on their hat but also to have their new title inscribed on their front door; but they too were not yet allowed to hold a government position.

The third examination, at the highest level, was held once a year in the spring in the capital city, and lasted two weeks. Throughout this time the examinees would be closed in examination cells. Before entering the cells their clothes would be searched to prevent them from hiding books or notes that might help them. During the examination they would interpret several chapters given to them from the writings of Confucius, Mencius or others, and write poems and essays based on them. Out of around 7,000 examinees, about 300 would pass the examination, and be considered suitable to hold positions in the government.

An Imperial academy was founded in China as early as 124 BCE, in Chang'an, to recruit and train candidates for official positions. The schools of the academy, in which the Five Classics were studied, were located in the capital city of each dynasty. Originally, the number of students was restricted to fifty, but later their number increased significantly and, in the later Han dynasty, there were as many as 30,000 students.

 In 627 CE a state university was founded which comprised three colleges, specializing in law, mathematics and calligraphy. The candidates came mainly from aristocratic backgrounds, but there were also some simple folk who were considered especially talented. The examinees were required not only to write two essays and be knowledgeable in the writings of Confucius, but also to analyze administrative and economic problems of their time. Those who passed the government examinations became government officials, holding key positions and being incorporated among the elite of the emperor's court.

Alongside the examination system there was also a recommendation system. Every year each of the government officials was examined by his superior. The aim was to seek out those excelling in honesty, integrity, impartiality, discretion and extreme diligence. Each such virtue granted the candidate one point. Another point was added whenever the candidate's particular qualities were well matched to his specific position.

The government examinations took place sporadically until 706 CE, during the Tang dynasty, when they became a basic tool in general use for selecting those who would enter the state bureaucracy. As time passed, the examination system became more institutionalized, with an increase in the number of government officials who gained a position following their success in the examinations. Thus, the examination system brought the most talented people into the government.

During the 8th century a new kind of Imperial academy, Hanlin Imperial Academy (hàn)(lín)(yuàn), was established. Here, those who passed the local examinations could learn about their future duties in the various government ministries and potentially become high government officials. The graduates of this academy, which functioned until 1911, provided a reservoir of personnel for government positions.

Within the framework of the reforms (including economic and military),    introduced by Prime Minister Wang An Shi (wáng)(ān)(shí)(1021-1086) during the rule of Emperor Shen Zong (shén)(zōng) (ruled 1067-1085) of the Song dynasty, a reform was introduced in the government examination system. Practical subjects such as geography, economics, law and medicine replaced classical literature and poetry. Those who passed the examinations were graded and classified according to their qualifications. Three independent examiners checked each examination, identified only by a number in order to conceal the identity of the examinees.

During the rule of Emperor Yongle (ruled 1402-1424), the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, the Imperial Hanlin Academy became the most significant institution in the central administration of the Chinese empire. It performed, among others, secretarial and literary tasks for the court. The Manchurian Qing dynasty, which succeeded the Ming dynasty, adopted the examination system as a key to promoting scholars. 

Every man was allowed to sit the examination regardless of age. Sometimes a father, son and grandson all participated in the same examination. S.M. Pearlman, in his book The Chinese, recounts that the official newspaper of Peking (today Beijing), from 1889, noted that in Henan there were 13 examinees who were over the age of 80, and one who was over 90 years old.

Some of those who had excelled in the examinations held in the capital city and attended a continuing education program, were interviewed and reexamined by the emperor himself. The most outstanding among them were considered fit to marry into the emperor's family. From these were chosen those who recorded the Chinese history and wrote the biography of the emperor. Every peasant family cherished a hope that one of its members would return some day from the government examination, ranked first class. Sometimes this hope was realized.

When the examination system was abolished in 1905, the scholars lost their authority, influence and privileges. New modern schools were opened and new Western ideas entered China. The classics of Confucius lost their position as the main       works studied by scholars since the Han dynasty. The young people saw what was going on outside China and understood that scientific and technological knowledge were required if they were to advance their industry. They were ready to learn a Western language in order to acquire a link with the Western world.

Throughout Chinese history, the emperors had implemented the examination system to ensure that only the most skilled would be chosen to become government officials. This examination system also influenced the development of academic life in Europe. During the 16th century, Jesuit missionaries who came to China wrote letters back to Europe describing the examination system in China, and thus leading to adoption of a similar examination system for public positions in Europe. In France, an examination system was established in 1791, in Germany in 1855, and in England in 1870. In the United States, examinations for public positions began in 1883.

Philosophical Ideas on Rule

Schools of philosophy flourished in China during periods of political crises and social chaos, trying, unsuccessfully, to seek remedies for the social morbidities that they had clearly diagnosed. Ethics was thus the main subject to occupy Chinese philosophers.

Whereas in the West absolute truth and supreme authority were considered to be derived from God as an entity transcending space and time, in China the supreme authority was derived from the sages of the past, who in their writings had delineated an ideal human culture that had been passed on from generation to generation. As opposed to Western culture, which strives for innovation, Chinese culture is based on continuity and adhering to tradition. Yao and Shum, the legendary sage rulers in ancient China, who followed the Daoist path, were conceived of by Confucius as role models for rulers.

Confucius and the philosophers of his time spoke of Yao (yáo)  , Shun (shùn)   and Yu ()  ,[2] the legendary emperors from the 3rd millennium BCE, as the sage rulers who were concerned for the wellbeing of their people. It was told that during their time people were honest and loyal, so that throughout the entire state it was not necessary to lock one's front door.

The Chinese philosophers believed that a good emperor is he who chooses the right people to run the state. They interpreted the term "non-doing" ()(wéi), referred to by Lao Zi (lǎo)(), as no action needed to be taken by the ruler whose government officials are efficient and act for him. The Legalist philosopher Han Feizi (hán)(fēi)() (280-233 BCE) expressed this in writing, noting that the deed of the ruler is non-doing and nothing is left undone.

Confucius, who occasionally served as a political adviser to princes, preached his ideas to them. Though he gained recognition and respect for his wisdom and values, the rulers would usually ignore his ideas, which seemed to them impractical. The ideal ruler, in his view, was one who implemented the idea of "non-doing". In other words, the ruler does not personally interfere in the affairs of the state, but rules by means of his virtues and morality, serving as a role model for his subjects.

 Confucius considered the basis of every efficient rule to be that of ethics. Only a ruler who is concerned about his subjects and is trusted by them will succeed in strengthening his kingdom, and in defeating the rival states and uniting them. Confucius made a clear distinction between rulers and their subjects, as manifested in the family unit: the woman was subject to her husband's authority, just as the children were subject to their parents' authority.

The approach of Confucius was based on ethics and a hierarchy. The emperor was the supreme authority, but his subjects were not supposed to obey him blindly. Indeed, it was their duty not to obey him if he became a tyrant. According to Confucius, a government is effective as long as it acts in the right way. Rule must be based on ideals of behavior rather than on the use of force, which is why the presence of soldiers is a sign of bad government. The ruler "does not need to do anything" more than to develop his personality. His relations with his subjects must not require the use of force. In order to achieve harmony in the state, he will select good government officials, serve as a good example himself, and treat his people generously. He must rule with a good heart and honestly. The virtues of the king will stimulate the hidden virtues of his people, and it is their duty in turn to be loyal to him.

Like Confucius, Lao Zi too believed that the ruler "should not do anything" – that he should not interfere in the affairs of the state but serve solely as a moral role model for his subjects. Whereas the approach of Confucius was based on ethics and hierarchy, that of Lao Zi was mystical. The latter wrote that governing a large country is like cooking a small fish; one must be careful not to overdo it. If the good ruler will not interfere with the life of the people, the people will prosper. If he will love peace, people will do what is right. The best ruler does not use force.

Mencius ascribed much importance to the common people and contended that a king who conquers the hearts of the people will gain an empire. He meant that a ruler's generosity, kindness and attention to the welfare of the people will ensure their sympathy, loyalty and support toward him and spread his reputation outside the state. He believed that in the generosity of the ruler lies the key to both internal balance and foreign policy, because even people outside the state will then want to live under his rule. These ideas had a religious basis. The king, according to Mencius, gets his authority from Heaven, which is why Mencius was skeptical regarding the passing of rule from father to son. He presumed that the submissive acceptance of the government by the people was an omen that the king had received his mandate to rule from Heaven. However, a revolt against the king meant that Heaven, which expresses itself through the actions of the people, had revoked this mandate.

As a philosopher who was concerned about the people, Mencius emphasized the importance of their welfare. He suggested that the king avoid extravagance and open up his gardens and state lands to the common people to collect wood and herbs. Likewise, he recommended that public funds be used to take care of the elderly, the poor, orphans, and those who had suffered from natural disasters.

The philosopher Xun Zi  (xún)() (310-237 BCE), who was a Confucian, thought that being a person of exalted status was the key to  good government. However, good laws and rules were required as well. He believed that man is inherently evil and that the natural state of society is that of anarchy, war and chaos. Like Mencius, he ascribed to education the power to change human nature and, like Confucius, his approach was based on hierarchy. Religion, in his view, could maintain social order, especially by means of rituals.

The Legalists had their own views on rule. Unlike Confucius, whose ideas on rule were based on the duty of the ruler to serve as a moral role model, the Legalists based their ideas on the rule of law. Like Confucius, the Legalists too thought that the citizens had the right to oppose the ruler. The Legalist philosopher Han Feizi wrote that it was told about the legendary physician Bian Que  (biǎn)(què)(407-310 BCE) that, when he tended to a serious disease, he would insert the knife into the bone. Similarly, the sage, when needing to save the state in times of danger, may insult the ruler by telling the truth. The Legalists would protest against the ruler when the latter showed preference for his own personal affairs over the affairs of the state; whereas the Confucians would protest against the ruler for endangering morality and not functioning for the benefit of the people.

The philosopher Dong Zhongshu (dǒng)(zhòng)(shū) (179-104 BCE), a Confucian from the Han dynasty period, wrote that the social order, as a whole, focuses on the king, just as the orders of nature encircle heaven. The king must be sagacious because it is he who unites heaven, earth and man. A sagacious king, according to Dong, would select three high government officials, who would each in turn select three ministers of lower rank, so that altogether there would be nine of them. Each of these nine would then select three lower civil servants, so that altogether there would be 27 of them. Each of the latter 27 would select three officers of the first rank, so that altogether there would be 81 of them.  

Dong believed that under ideal conditions the beneficial influence of the king would spread throughout the country and elevate all its citizens. By operating in accordance with the will of Heaven, the king expresses love for all his subjects. Heaven is love and the creator of a balance between wealth and poverty; not because everybody should have exactly the same things, but because both excess and lack lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. A continuous flow of yin and yang creates an equilibrium that promotes economic growth and social stability.

During the 20th century Confucian and Daoist ideas were still influencing leaders such as Sun Yat-Sen (sūn)(zhōng)(shān)(1866-1925) and Chang Kai Shek (jiǎng)(jiè)(shí)(1887-1975). Sun Yat-Sen saw in ren (rén)(meaning generosity and benevolence) a substitute for materialism, believing that a sense of social cooperation rather than a need for profit is the power that sets history in motion. Similarly, Chang Kai Shek ascribed might to morality when he wrote in 1936, as a prisoner in the hands of rebel officers, that these revolutionaries were very dangerous, and he expressed his determination to fight them by means of a high moral standard, spiritual strength and integrity.

The Chinese philosophers had never doubted the necessity for quality in monarchical rule, which was accepted as a customary and natural way of ruling. Their disagreements related to the moral basis of rule, but all the philosophical schools agreed that it is the ruler who determines the quality of the rule. The earthly king, because of his gracious nature, was conceived of as the representative of Heaven (tiān) or the representative of the "supreme God" (shàng)()  . A tyrannical ruler who abused his authority did not deserve to have a mandate from heaven to rule, and rebelling against him would not be considered a crime but as a just punishment from Heaven.



Literally: To inquire of the tripods.

To plan to seize power or to strive to reach the summit in a certain field.

 Nine ancient huge bronze tripods (or cauldrons) were cast during the Xia (xià)  dynasty (2070-1600 BCE) and exhibited in the royal court as a symbol of supreme authority. When the dynasty fell, the cauldrons passed to the hands of the next dynasty.

This idiom originates in the following story:

In 606 BCE the ruler of the State of Chu (chǔ)entered the territory of the ruler of the Zhou (zhōu)dynasty, who was actually the ruler of all the Chinese states. When the King of Zhou sent a government official to greet the ruler of Chu, the latter asked him about the weight and size of the bronze tripods in the court of the Zhou dynasty. The government official replied, "Though the Zhou dynasty is falling from greatness, the mandate it has to rule has not been removed, therefore, no one is allowed to ask about the condition of the bronze tripods".

Promoting worthy people is the root of a government
The gate of the yamen (the government office in feudal China) is open wide like the character八;even if you are right, but have no money, (better) not to enter  
Though the gate of the magistrate's office is open to everybody, without bribes -better not enter.
The higher the climb, the heavier the fall
The higher the position of the government official, the more serious his fall.
In English they say: 
The bigger they come, the harder they fall.
A live mouse is preferable to a dead governor
A retired government official is worthless. 
The best ruler - his existence is not noticed.
Dao De Jing, 17
When there is no tiger on the mountain, a monkey becomes a king
When there is no real leadership, those less qualified will take over the leadership.
  In English:
In the kingdom of the blind a one-eyed man is a king.

Literally: Walking on a zigzag bridge – taking an indirect route.

Often said of politicians.  

Xun zi  荀子
A ruler is like a boat. His relations with his people resemble those between the water and the boat. The water enables the boat to float [and] the water [may] turn it over

Those who endure insults will reach high government positions
The phrase (sān)(gōng)refers to the three high government positions in the Han dynasty – the Prime Minster, Supreme Commander, and Secretary of the Empire. 
()(rén)()(dào)()(quǎn) (shēng)(tiān)
Literally: When a person reaches Dao [even his] chickens [and] dogs ascend to heaven.
 Said satirically of a person who has reached a high position in the government and whose family and relatives also benefit from this.
This is based on the following story:
During the Three Kingdoms (220-280 CE), when the two (western and eastern) Jin(jìn) dynasties ruled, there was a man named Xu Xun (xu)(xùn), who learned witchcraft from immortals and reached the age of 130. When he died his entire household, including his chickens and dogs ascended to heaven with him. 
A similar story is that told about the Immortals, according to which Liu An (liú)(ān), the King of Huainan  (huái)(nán), took an elixir of immortality and ascended to heaven. The dogs and chickens, which had eaten the remains of the elixir, ascended to heaven with him.

Literally: The people are the most important, the state is in second place, [and] the ruler has little importance. (Mencius)
Literally: When a small man reaches high position, he becomes a demonic monster.
Literally: As a live human, one will not enter the government's door [just as] a dead person will not enter hell.   
It is preferable not to deal with government officials, who are the embodiment of hell.
A sagacious ruler turns disaster into happiness and failure into achievement
Confucius asked, "Do you know what ruling means to the ruler?"  Zi Xia answered, "A fish without water will die, [but] water without fish will remain water
A contrasting approach is expressed in the following idiom:
A nation cannot afford [even] one day without a leader
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, chapter 3. 
A retired government official is greatly relaxed
Literally: What is water without fish [and] what is a government official without selfishness?
Government officials are always interested in personal gain.
Literally: Governors are allowed to set fire, whereas the common people are not allowed to light lamps.
The ruler allows himself what he does not allow others.
A parallel idiom in Hebrew: 
פרתו של הרב מותרת (שבת נד)
The cow of the rabbi is allowed (Shabbat 44. Where it is told about the cow of Rabbi Eleazar, son of Azaria, that went out on Saturday with a strap between her horns. This was one of the things that Rabbi Eleazar permitted whereas the Sages forbade it).
                                   The Chinese idiom is based on the following story:
During the Song (sòng) dynasty (960-1279 CE), a new local ruler named Tian Deng  (tián)(dēng)forbade people to say "light the lamps" because the word (dēng), meaning "lamp" is a homonym of the word (dēng)- his name. When the time of the Lantern Festival arrived, however, it was announced that for three days the local ruler would allow the people to "set fire". By "setting fire", he meant "light lanterns". 
Promote the upright and leave behind the corrupt, then the people will submit. Promote the corrupt and leave behind the upright, then the people will not submit.
Analects II, 19
He who rules by means of  virtue is  comparable to the North Star, which remains in its place while all the other stars surround it.
II, 1 Analects
When a tyrant ruler invites one to dinner, there can be no excuse to refuse

An upright ruler - without his orders [everything] will function well, but a ruler who is not upright - though he gives orders, the people will not obey
Analects, XIII, 6   
If good men will rule consecutively for a hundred years, they will be able to transform the violent and do away with capital punishment 
Analects XIII, 11
Being in the company of a king is as [dangerous as] being in the company of a tiger
In English:
Nearest the King, nearest the widdie (gallows)
[The character] (guān)comprises two mouths
The character (kǒu), meaning "mouth", appears twice in the character (guān), which means "government official".
This is said of government officials who say one thing on one occasion and something else on another, and who promise and do not fulfill their promise.
Literally: Public is public [and] private is private.
There should be a separation between the public and the private.
Literally: Emotions between government officials are as thin as paper.
When one government official is in trouble the others will not support him.


[1] For more on the five classics see also the chapter on literary sources.
[2] There is no evidence-based testimony to prove the actual existence of these emperors.

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