(Minghui.org) Mencius, or Mengzi (372 BC – 289 BC), is one of the most famous philosophers in Chinese history. He once said, “It was by benevolence that the three dynasties of Xia, Shang and Zhou gained the throne, and by not being benevolent that they lost it. It is by the same means that the decaying and flourishing, the preservation and perishing, of States are determined.”

He also said, “If the Emperor is not benevolent, he cannot prevent the throne from passing from him. If the Head of a State is not benevolent, he cannot preserve his rule. If a high noble or great officer is not benevolent, he cannot preserve his ancestral temple. If a scholar or common man is not benevolent, be cannot preserve his four limbs.”

“People these days hate death and ruin, and yet delight in not being benevolent–this is like one who hates to be drunk yet keeps drinking wine!” [1]

The ancient Chinese believed that by valuing moral principles, a person influences his or her surroundings and is able to live in peace and harmony within his or her environment. If the entire population behaves as such, the country is sure to be prosperous and the society affluent and peaceful.

Yanzi's Advice to King Zhuang and King Jing

Yanzi (578 BC – 500 BC) was a famous politician and diplomat during the Chun and Qiu period, when China was divided into many smaller countries.

King Zhuang of the Qi Kingdom wanted to attack the Jin Kingdom. He asked Yanzi for advice. Yanzi replied, “This should not be done. You have much, and still you desire more. Your desire continues to grow, as does your arrogance. A person who has much and still desires more will bring danger to himself.” Hearing Yanzi's words, King Zhuang was very unhappy. Thus, Yanzi resigned his post and moved to the countryside.

King Zhuang attacked Jin by force and attained a brief victory. He also attacked Ju. But a year later, King Zhuang was killed by one of his own ministers.

When King of Jing wanted to attack Lu, Yanzi gave this advice, “The king of Lu is benevolent and righteous. He is well-loved by his people. Those who attack such a country will only bring ominous danger to themselves. I also heard that only when a king has high virtue to keep his country stable and his people happy, can he raise an army to fight a war.” The King of Jing took Yanzi's advice and did not attack Lu.

Wuju Comments on the Zhanghua Palace

King Ling of the Chu Kingdom ordered a grand palace to be built. It took several years and great manpower; it almost emptied the country's treasury. Upon completion of the Zhanghua Palace, King Ling and all of his ministers went up to the high tower of the palace.

King Ling commented, “How beautiful this tower is!” Wuju, one of his ministers, said to the king, “A wise king is virtuous and well-respected. He enjoys keeping his people content and happy, he takes advice from those with high virtue, and people from far away will pledge allegiance to him because of his virtuous reputation.”

“He does not consider building a high tower with carved pillars and painted beams as beautiful, or loud music from a large orchestra as enjoyable, or beautiful scenery and luxurious furnishings as pleasing to the eye.”

“What good does it do to build a beautiful palace, while emptying the country's treasury? When a person has too many selfish desires, his benevolence and justice is sure to decrease. If your majesty thinks this tower is beautiful, I am afraid our country is in danger.”

Wuju's warning materialized four years later, when King Ling was overthrown by his brother and other court officials. He hanged himself in a shelter.

King Mu Pardons Farmers

King Mu of the Qin Kingdom had a ranch where he kept all kinds of famous horses. One day, several horses went missing. The officer who was in charge of the ranch was very scared. He thought the king would surely be angry with him and have him executed. The officer looked all over the place and finally found objects that looked like horse bones in a nearby village. He suspected that the villagers had killed and eaten the horses. He arrested three hundred farmers in the village and took them to the king.

The officer told King Mu that the farmers had eaten the horses and should be executed. To his surprise, King Mu did not get angry. He pardoned the farmers and sent them home.

A few years later, King Mu was in a battle with another country. His army was surrounded and was about to be defeated. King Mu himself was also in danger. At this critical moment, a small troop of riders broke through the enemy line and fought next to King Mu's army. The riders fought valiantly, and the enemy retreated. King Mu was able to reach safe ground. He was very grateful to the riders and asked who they were. The riders replied that they were the farmers who had eaten King Mu's horses.

King Mu's forgiveness and benevolence eventually saved even him.

[1] Based on The Mencius, translated by James Legge

Related articles in Chinese:以仁为本-利民兴国(中)以仁为本-利民兴国(下)