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A Revised Collection of Zhi Lu's Advice 1

¾ A Gift to Emperor Zhe-zong (May 7, 1093 CE)

Su, Dong-po (1036-1101 CE)

    Though shallow and ignorant, we are appointed as imperial tutors, members of the Royal Academy. Your Majesty is gifted, extraordinarily wise, and dedicated to learning. Our talents are limited, but knowledge itself is endless. We wish to provide you with advice, but our voices are not equal to the task of expressing our thoughts. Therefore, we feel ashamed and bewildered. In my opinion, an official who gives advice to his emperor is similar to a physician who prescribes medicine to a patient. Although the medicine is given by the hands of a physician, the prescription most likely has been passed down from ancient times. If an ancient prescription has proven to be effective, the physician need not invent a new one.

    In our opinion, Deputy Prime Minister Lu from the Tang dynasty was talented and knowledgeable enough to assist and mentor an emperor. His arguments were to the point. His theses never deviated from virtue. He was as wise as Count Liang Zhang 2 and a more talented writer than Zhang. His arguments were as persuasive as Yi Jia's 3, and his strategies were well conceived. He corrected his emperor's misconceptions about politics and informed the government of the needs of the common people. Unfortunately, his era did not allow him to work toward his political ideals. Emperor De-zong 4 mistook cruelty for competence, while Lu advised him to be kind. Emperor De-zong used suspicion as his general strategy, while Lu persuaded him to show his good faith in people. Emperor De-zong was bellicose, while Lu tried his best to prevent war. Emperor De-zong loved to amass a fortune, while Lu considered distributing wealth to the common people as his first priority. Lu taught Emperor De-zong the principles of appointing people and accepting wise advice as well as the strategies of strengthening the defense of China's borders and winning the loyalty of his generals. He suggested that the emperor win the people’s support by taking the blame for the troubles they suffered. Lu also suggested that the emperor correct mistakes in order to fulfill God’s principles. Likewise, he recommended that the emperor dismiss evil officials to eliminate corruption. Moreover, he cautioned against rewarding those who are undeserving. The merits of Lu's advice were innumerable. It can be said that his counsel was like a bitter medicine or acupuncture applied to treat illness. If Emperor De-zong had adopted all his advice, the glory of the Zhen-guan Period 5 could have been regained.

    Every time we leave our offices, we gather and tell each other privately that in view of the profound wisdom of Your Majesty, you would surely value Lu's advice highly. If the ideas of a wise man match closely with an emperor's, then it will seem as though the wise man and the emperor were contemporaries. When Prime Minister Tang Feng 6 spoke of the talents of Po Lian 7 and Mu Li 8, Emperor Wen-di of the Han dynasty greatly lamented that their advice had been ignored. After Prime Minister Xiang Wei 9 detailed the strategies of Cuo Chao 10 and Zhong-shu Dong 11, Emperor Xuan-di adopted them and they led to the resurgence of the Han dynasty. If Your Majesty would like to find a mentor for yourself, Lu would be the best choice. Although the Six Bibles 12, the Three History Books 13, and all the schools of Chinese philosophy are great and can be used as guides for governance, the Six Bibles are deep and theoretical, the history books as well as the schools of philosophy are fragmented and inconsistent. Their meanings are as inaccessible as the bottom of the sea or the summit of a mountain. Their principles are too diverse to choose among and too difficult to be deduced from one or two examples. In contrast, Lu's advice can be easily understood. His advice is an accumulation of the essence of both the past and present wisdom. In addition, he provides examples of governance from which to draw lessons. Consequently, we collected Lu's advice, revised it somewhat, copied it neatly, and presented it to Your Majesty. We hope that you will keep it close at hand so that it will seem as though you are meeting with Lu. Peruse it repeatedly so that it will be as if you are conversing with Lu, absorbing his lessons. Then it will enlighten your wisdom and help you succeed in leadership in the near future. With all humility and sincerity, we welcome your comment and criticism.


1 Zhi Lu (754-805 CE) was a native of Jia-xing City during the Tang dynasty. Jing-yu was his alternate first name. When De-zong was a crown prince, he was familiar with Lu's fame. Consequently, he summoned Lu to the palace and appointed him to be a member of the Royal Academy. After De-zong inherited the throne, he valued Lu's opinion highly. Although there was a prime minister taking charge of major issues, Zhi Lu often decided whether a proposal should be adopted. At the peak of his career he was the vice president of the emperor's cabinet. He died at fifty-two and was given the posthumous name "Xuan" (announcer) by the emperor.

2 Liang Zhang (262-189 BCE) was a strategist and statesman who helped Emperor Gao-zu unify China and found the Western Han dynasty.

3 Yi Jia (200-168 BCE) was a native of Lo-yang City during the Western Han dynasty. He had mastered all schools of Chinese philosophy by the time he was eighteen. He advocated reassigning New Year’s Day when a new emperor assumed the throne, assigning colors to officials' uniforms based on rank, establishing law codes, and promoting rites and music. Emperor Wen-di appointed Jia to the Royal Academy and intended to promote him to Advisor. However, powerful generals, Bo Zhou and Ying Guan, opposed the promotion because they did not trust Jia and they thought he was too young. Consequently, Jia was banished from the emperor's court and became the tutor of the King of Chang-sha. When he crossed the Xiang River, he wrote a poem to mourn Yuan Qu's death (Yuan Qu is the Father of Chinese Poetry). The poem showed his self-pity by comparing Yuan Qu to himself. Soon after he was transferred and became the tutor of King Liang-huai-wang. He assisted the king in state affairs. His achievement was appreciated. Later, King Liang-huai-wang fell from a horse and died. Yi Jia lamented that he failed to prevent the accident. After a little more than a year, Jia also died.

4 De-zong was the dynastic title of Zhi Lu's emperor. De-zong was Emperor Dai-zong’s son and was prone to suspicion. He had been on the throne for twenty-five years.

5 The Zhen-guan Period was a prosperous period during Emperor Tai-zong's reign in the Tang dynasty.

6 Tang Feng was a native of An-ling City during the Han dynasty.

7 Po Lian was a famous general of the State of Zhao during the Warring States Period. During the Battle of Chang-ping against the State of Qin, he led Zhao's troops to build a series of forts along the front in order to deter Qin's offensive and to avoid bearing the brunt of their main force. His strong defense and cautious strategy succeeded in blunting Qin's advance. Therefore, Qin sent spies to the Zhao Court. They slandered Po Lian by insinuating that he was too old and cowardly to fight battles. Falling into the trap, King Xiao-cheng-wang of Zhao became impatient with Lian’s progress and dissatisfied with his strategy. Consequently, the King of Zhao replaced Po Lian with Kuo Zhao as his army commander. In July of 260 BCE, Kuo Zhao led troops to directly confront Qin’s powerful force. At first, Qin feigned retreat. In fact, they secretly left some soldiers behind for an ambush. Then the retreating army turned around, besieged Zhao’s troops, and annihilated them completely.

8 "Lament for the Old Battlefield" written by Hua Li (?-766 CE) says, "General Mu Li of the State of Zhao used only a few soldiers to defeat the Huns. The enemy fled and Li's troops captured a thousand square miles of its land."
    When Mu Li became Zho’s army commander, Po Lian went into exile. The State of Qin had a difficult time invading the State of Zhao because of Li’ strong defense. Therefore, Qin sent spies to the Zhao Court and bribed the officials there to persuade the King You-miu-wang that Mu Li planned to rebel. The King of Zhao heard and believed the slander, so he arrested Li and had him executed. Li’s death made the fall of the State of Zhao inevitable. In 228 BCE, Qin destroyed Zhao.

9 Xiang Wei was a native of Ding-tao City during the Han dynasty.

10 Cuo Chao (?-154 BCE) was a native of Ying-chuan City (present day Yu-zin City in Henan Province) during the Western Han dynasty. He was a distinguished politician. During Emperor Wen-di's reign, he was a member of the Royal Academy. He often analyzed and commented on contemporary events. During Emperor Jing-di's reign, the Huns frequently invaded China. The emperor consulted scholars to deal with the problem. Chao's strategy was valued above all others, so Emperor Jing-di promoted him as his advisor. Later, Chao proposed to reduce the extent of each king's domain. This proposal caused seven kings to rebel against the central government. In exchange for peace, the seven kings demanded that the emperor have Chao executed. Under the pressure of the situation, Emperor Jing-di killed him to appease the kings. However, Chao's death did not stop the rebellion. Therefore, the officials in the emperor's court and the common people thought Chao had been treated unjustly. Chao's story is a good example of brave Chinese scholars who devoted themselves to solving their country's problems despite the danger involved.

11 Zhong-shu Dong (179-104 BCE) was a native of Guang-chuan City (present day Heng-shui City in Hebei Province) during the Western Han dynasty. When he was young, he loved to study The Spring and Autumn Annals written by Confucius. During Emperor Jing-di’s reign, Dong was a member of the Royal Academy. In 136 BCE, Emperor Wu-di adopted Dong's proposal by promoting Confucianism and dismissing all other schools of Chinese philosophy. Since then, Chinese scholars have considered Confucianism the main stream of Chinese philosophy.

12 "The Six Bibles" refers to "The Book of Poetry, The Book of Records, The Book of Changes, The Book of Rites, The Book of Classical Music, and The Spring and Autumn Annals".

13 "The Three History Books" refers to Chinese History, The History of the Han Dynasty, and The History of the Eastern Han Dynasty.