(Clearwisdom.net) One's moral character is the most fundamental element of being a human being. In Chinese history a person's moral character was always the number one consideration used to determine whether he would be recommended to serve in any important position. Of course, the moral character of the person doing the recommending is also important. He has to be broadminded, impartial, and unselfish. If a person is selfish and partial to those who are close to him, then whatever he does will be done to develop his own group and enhance his own power. The story "Li Ke Recommends a Prime Minister" in the ancient book Zizhitongjian is a good example.

Emperor Weiwenho of the Dong Zhou Dynasty once summoned an official, Li Ke, who served outside the court, and said to him, "I am looking for a prime minister to help me. The two candidates I have in mind are Wei Chengzi and Zhai Huang. Which one do you think is more suitable?"

Li Ke replied, "There is a saying: 'A person in a lowly position should not pay attention to concerns of high positions. A person who is a distant relation should not be concerned with matters of your close relations.' I should not comment about matters in the court since I serve outside the court."

Weiweiho said, "This is important to our country. Please do not be modest." Li Ke thought for a moment and then said, "One can tell a person's moral character and capabilities from examining five areas: Who are the ones closest to him? Who does he befriend when he is rich and noble? Who does he recommend when he is prominent and powerful? What does he not do when he is down? And, what does he not take when he is poor? Answer these questions and you will know which is the better choice." Hearing this, the emperor said happily, "Now I know whom I shall ask to be my prime minister."

On his way home, Li met Zhai Huang. Zhai stopped him and asked, "I heard that the king summoned you to ask of your opinion on the selection of a prime minister. Whom did the king choose in the end?" "Wei Chengzi," Li answered. Zhai Huang immediately became angry and said, "Why am I not good enough? I recommended the governor for Xihe County; when the king was worried about the governing of Yichen, I recommended Ximenbao to help. I also recommended Leyangzi to help the king to conquer Zhongshan Country. Afterwards, the king could not find a suitable person to govern it, and I recommended you to him. The prince's teacher, Quhoufu, was my recommendation, also. You know all this. Why do you think that I am inferior to Wei Chengzi?"

After hearing Zhai Huang out, Li Ke said solemnly, "You and I are friends of gentlemen. Didn't you recommend me to the king so that I could serve the country well? I don't think that you did it so that you could become more powerful and be paid more." Zhai could not refute this. Li continued, "The king asked who would be the more suitable person to be the prime minister. I only told him my honest opinion. I know that Weichengzi used nine tenths of his salary to recruit good people for the country and used what was left for his family. He found three wise people from the east: Buzixia, Tianzifang and Duanganmu. They are all capable with excellent moral character. The king treated them as teachers and consulted with them on national affairs. The five people that you recommended, however, only have the talents of regular officials to serve the king. So how can you be compared to Weichengzi?"

Zhai Huang was embarrassed and apologized profusely to Li. He said, "I am sorry that I just said so many wrong things and offended you. I will learn from you and try to elevate my moral character."

Li Ke's ability to recognize a person's good character, the moral character of Wei Chengzi, Zhai Huang's immediate realization, and Emperor Weiwenho's taking Li Ke's recommendation are all very interesting points in this story. One can tell a person's nature from his speech and conduct, or sometimes from trifling things that he does. If a person truly has high moral character, a single word or action of his can reflect his good qualities and affect the people around him.