Governing People with Kindness and Virtue, Expressing the Demeanor of a Benevolent King
(Clearwisdom.net) Benevolent and wise king Zhou Wenwang (originally called Ji Chang) reigned from about 1099 B.C. to about 1050 B.C. He was discreet and sincere, using kindness and virtue to govern the country and was thus well respected by the people. His benevolence and kindness set a great example for later generations.
Use Virtue to Influence People and Be Well Respected by All Regions
In the latter period of the Shang Dynasty, Ji Chang was the Xibo Duke, the leader of all the western dukes. Later he was given the respectful title of Zhou Wenwang. When Zhou Wenwang governed the Zhou Country, he pursued virtue as his governing principle and proposed "using virtue to harmonize with heaven, respecting virtue and protecting the people, pursuing virtue and being cautious of using punishment." He acted on what he had enlightened to and pointed out, "The king should act in accordance with kindness and virtue. Officials should act based on discreetness. The son and daughter should act based on the filial piety. The parents should act based on kindness and caring. The people should communicate with one another based on sincerity and faith." He taught the people to rectify their thoughts, respect heaven, and respect virtue.
Zhou Wenwang set a good example himself, working diligently and conscientiously. He lived thriftily, wearing everyday people's clothes. He went to the farmlands and did farm work with the farmers. In addition, he established many policies to benefit the citizens. For example, one policy was aimed at reducing the farmers' taxes to allow them to build up savings. Another one was to permit farmers to work on public land and only have to pay 1/9 of the usual tax. Furthermore, a policy was established to not collect customs duties on imported and exported goods. He had the legal system set up so that when someone committed a crime, his or her spouse or children would not be implicated. He also promptly gave help to the poor and helpless. Many good people and noblemen who had spoken frankly to the Emperor and incurred his wrath turned to Zhou Wenwang for protection. Zhou Wenwang always treated these people politely and assigned them positions based on their abilities.
Yu and Rui were both western countries affiliated with the Shang Dynasty. One time, the dukes of both countries were in conflict over the border between them. They were unwilling to ask the emperor of the Shang Dynasty to settle the matter. They both admired Zhou Wenwang's prestige and asked him to settle it instead. Based on the Shi Jing (or the Book of Poems), the two dukes went to Zhou Country and saw that "the farmers all voluntarily gave the edge of their fields to their neighbors, the travelers all allowed others to pass through first, and the elderly people did not need to carry heavy loads because the young people always helped them." Everyone in Zhou Country behaved in a noble manner. The two dukes compared Zhou Country with their own countries and both felt very ashamed. They said to each other, "Petty people like us really don't have the courage to face this nobleman and have him settle the matter for us." So even before they saw Zhou Wenwang, they both voluntarily gave the disputed land to the other country. In the end, both sides refused to accept the donated land, and the land was abandoned. People later called this land "the unoccupied land." All the nearby dukes soon learned of this matter, and thus all took Zhou Wenwang as a role model. Many of them became affiliated with Zhou Country, which eventually accounted for two thirds of the total territory of the Shang Dynasty.
Sincerely Caring for the People, Mercy Even for the Dead
The people in Zhou Country enjoyed good and prosperous lives. They all held to high moral standards, which brought good fortune to the entire country.
Zhou Wenwang once went to survey the outlying areas. He saw some dried bones lying in a meadow. He immediately asked the person accompanying him to bury the bones properly. The companion asked, "Your majesty, these are just dried bones and no one grieves for them. Why should we pity them?" Zhou Wenwang replied, "The person who governs the world is the host of the world. The person who governs the country is the host of the country. I am the one who grieves for those who passed away. How can you say no one grieves for them?" His companion was very touched by Zhou Wenwang's words and immediately took great care to bury the corpses. The people all heard that Zhou Wenwang had mercy on the dead bodies and did not want them to be exposed to the rain and sun. They said, "Xibo Duke's mercy even benefits corpses, not to mention how much he cares about the living."
Harmonize One's Actions with the Principles of Heaven, Respect Sages and Honor Them Responsibly
The last emperor of the Shang Dynasty, Shang Zhouwang, was tyrannical and went against the principles of heaven. Zhou Wenwang spoke frankly to him, "If your majesty can understand heaven's mercy toward beings, respect heaven and follow the heavenly principles, and get rid of evil people, then it will bring great fortune to all citizens." Emperor Shang was very angry after he heard this. The evil Chong Houhu, Emperor Shang's trusted minister, also secretly slandered Zhou Wenwang in front of Emperor Shang, "Ji Chang has proposed kindness and virtue everywhere, and the hearts of all the empire's citizens wae dedicated to him. All the dukes admire him. This perhaps does not favor your majesty." Emperor Shang had Zhou Wenwang arrested and detained at Youli (which is in present-day Tangyin County, Henan Province) for seven years. When Zhou Wenwang was detained at Youli, he taught with virtue and influenced the local soldiers and civilians. He instructed them to cultivate themselves and understand virtue. He also concentrated on studying the principles of the heavens and invented Zhouyi (the Book of Changes). He deduced 64 Trigrams from Fu Xi's original 8 Trigrams, which included 384 diagrams. The 64 Trigrams contain the principle of the movement of the universe and the secret of the interaction between yin and yang.
Confucius said: "Zhou Wenwang's dao and principle are magnificent. He did not intentionally act, but changed people. He did not intentionally do things, yet achieved success. This is because Zhou Wenwang could strictly cultivate and restrain himself, and be kind and generous to others." People always said that a sage's thoughts could shine like the sun and the moon. This is because a sage's virtue is in harmony with heaven. A sage can enlighten to the truth of the universe, save sentient beings, accumulate virtue, and act with benevolence. Zhou Wenwang's morality influenced many people, who, in turn, greatly admired him.