The Demeanor of a Benevolent Emperor: Being Open-minded and Displaying Self Restraint
(Clearwisdom.net) The proverb states, "To err is human." Why was an admonisher needed in the imperial courts in ancient China? It was to point out the monarch's faults frankly so that wrongs could be righted. It is important to be tolerant and accepting of others' suggestions and criticisms, because this way one will be able to constantly improve oneself and, by taking advantage of the outsider's view, avoid falling into the trap of not being able to see one's own wrongdoings and thus causing more losses. This is why people say "Honest advice, though unpleasant to the ear, benefits conduct," and Emperor Song Renzong (1022-1063) of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126) was a person who was pleased to hear his own mistakes being pointed out.
Admonisher Wang Su once advised Emperor Song Renzong not to be obsessed with women, but the Emperor said, "Indeed, Wang Deyong sent me a few beautiful young ladies recently, and they are all in the court now. I like them very much, so let me keep them." Wang Su insisted, "I, your minister, came to offer advice today precisely because I fear that Your Majesty would indulge in young ladies." Hearing that, Emperor Song Renzong issued an immediate order, though reluctantly, that the girls be sent out of the imperial court after each of them was given 300 strings of cash. Wang Su knew that the Emperor hated to see the girls leave, so he said to him, "Your Majesty has realized that I was right, so there is no need to act so quickly. Since those girls are already here, it wouldn't be too late to send them away later." Emperor Song Renzong responded, "My fear is that, if I keep them here too long, I will come to love them more and it will be even harder for me to send them away."
Some time later, Emperor Song Renzong retired to his bedroom after attending court business and had one of his eunuchs comb his hair. The eunuch saw that the Emperor was holding a memorial and asked what it was about. The Emperor told him that his admonisher was the cause of it, because he suggested that the number of court maids and servants be cut. The eunuch said, "Even ministers' homes have girls to sing and dance, and when the ministers get promotions, they engage even more of them. Your Majesty does not have too many maids and servants, and yet he suggested a further cut. That is too much." Emperor Song Renzong sat there, silent. The eunuch spoke again. "Will Your Majesty accept the suggestion?" Emperor Song Renzong said, "It is advice from my admonitor, of course I will accept it." Taking advantage of his position as a favored servant who worked close to the emperor, the eunuch said, "In that case, let me leave the court first." At that, the emperor rose and ordered that 29 maids and servants, including the hair-combing eunuch, be removed from the list of the imperial court. Later the queen asked the emperor why he would fire a needed hair-combing eunuch who had been favored and trusted for years. Emperor Song Renzong replied, "He asked me to reject my admonisher's advice. How can I keep that kind of person?! "
Bao Zheng, the inspector and another admonisher in the imperial court, often went to see Song Renzong and told the emperor straight out what he thought. Sometimes he and the emperor entered into heated arguments. Emperor Song Renzong was even known to fly into a rage, but eventually he would accept Bao's opinions. There were even times when Bao, while making his point, would spray his saliva into the emperor's face as the emperor patiently listened, wiping his face with his sleeve.