Confucius' Estimate OF Good Government

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CONFUCIUS’ ESTIMATE OF GOOD GOVERNMENT
By
S J Tubrazy
He was born in the middle of the sixth century before Christ, and, as was possible in those days, he practiced as a philosopher. Also, as was not uncommon at that time, he achieved positions of ministership, by virtue of his philosophical distinction, in a number of States and was thus in good position to portray the objectives of Government in his age as well as the special qualities of the rulers in contradistinction with those of the ruled. Confucius had an almost over whelming interest in Government, He once said “were any prince to employ me, in a twelve month something could be done, but In three years the work could be completed”. His own experience belied this expectation, for it appears that with the exception of a single stay of some length at the age of about 55, most of his time was spent in wandering from one State to another and between whiles in running an academy of his own. Confucius described the essentials of good Government as being sufficient food for the people, sufficient forces, and finally the confidence of the people, and when asked in what order he would dispense with these, he placed first the forces, secondly the food, and thirdly the confidence, without which as he rightly said it was impossible for a people to stand at all. Asked about governmental action, he said, it should be “in advance of the people”. Asked what was the test of a good Government he replied “the near are happy and the distant attracted”. One readily sees that he was speaking of a China divided into small princedoms with fluid boundaries, so that aggrandisement was possible even through good Government. Confucius was a great believer in personal rule. In a striking analects he said :

“When good Government prevails in the empire, civil ordinances and punitive expeditions issue from the emperor. When good Government fails in the empire, civil ordinances and punitive expeditions issue from the nobles. When they issue from a noble, it is rare if the empire be not lost within ten generations. When they issue from a noble’s minister, it is rare if the empire be not lost within five generations. But when a minister’s minister holds command in the kingdom, it is rare if it be not lost within three generations. When there is good Government in the empire, its policy is not in the hands of ministers.”

In this proposition, he was clearly building up a pyramid of power, placing the highest potentiality for good at the apex, in the person of the emperor. As he goes down the pyramid he finds the men less and less capable of holding the empire together. You can see how clearly this is the contrary of the condition we find in modern democratic countries, where power is to be derived directly from the people by those who put themselves forward for the function of leadership.

Confucius has many injunctions for rulers. Thus, “if a ruler is himself upright, his people will do their duty without orders; but if he himself be not upright, although he may order they will not obey”. In another place he says :

“When a ruler loves good manners, his people will not let themselves be disrespectful ; when a ruler loves justice, his people will not let themselves be unsubmissive ; when a ruler loves good faith, his people will not venture to be insincere; and if he be like this, then people will come from every quarter carrying their children strapped on their backs; what does he want with learning agriculture?”

To a prince who questioned him as to Government, Confucius replied :  

“If your aspirations are for good, the people will be good. The Choral character of those in high position is the breeze, the character of those below is the grass. When the grass has the breeze upon it, it assuredly bends.”

To which, we may add that it would probably bend in any case. Again, asserting the force of good qualities in a prince acting in aid of his authority, he says :

“Is a prince able to rule his country with courtesy and deference ; then what difficulty will he have? And if he cannot rule his country with courtesy and deference, what use are the forms of courtesy to him ?”

Certainly, in such a case he would be required to use instruments of greater power than mere courtesy and deference. Confucius was capable of returning a very firm answer even to a prince. One of them asked him whether there was any single phrase through which a country may be ruined, and he quoted to him the popular saying :

“I should have no gratification in being a prince, unless none opposed my commands.”

He went on to say that if the commands were good and no one opposed them, then surely all would be well, but if they were not good and there was no one to oppose them, might not one expect that single phrase to ruin his country? Among his adages is one containing an advice to a minister as to his duty towards his prince. He said :

“Never deceive him, and then you may boldly withstand him.”

That advice, followed in his own case, probably led to Confucius having to find so many new masters so often. When asked why he went from failure to failure, he gave the answer :

“Did right rule prevail in the world? I should not be taking part in reforming it.”

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