Chung Kuan was a native of City Y. When he was young, he befriended B.
B recognized Kuan's talent. Kuan was poor, so he often profited at B’s expense.
However, B always treated Kuan in a friendly manner and never complained. Later,
B served Prince H and Kuan served Prince G. After Prince H became the King of
Country Chyi, Prince G was killed and Kuan was put in prison. Then B recommended
to King H that he appoint Kuan as his prime minister. After Kuan assumed the
office of prime minister, Country Chyi became strong. It was Kuan's strategy
that King H used to unite the kings of other countries in China to make China
peaceful and prosperous.
Kuan said, "When I was poor, B and I did business together. When we divided a
bonus, I always took a greater share than B. B did not consider me greedy
because he knew I was poor. One time I gave advice to B to help him solve his
problem. It turned out that I unintentionally led him into more trouble. B did
not consider me foolish because he knew success depends on fortunate timing and
can be blocked by unforeseeable mistakes in timing. I was appointed by the
government three times and got fired three times. B did not consider me
untalented. He knew that the timing was not in my favor. I went to war three
times and deserted three times because I had to take care of my old mother. B
understood this and did not consider me a coward. When Prince G failed in the
power struggle, Official C died for him, and I was imprisoned and insulted. B
did not think that I should feel shame. He knew I did not care about
insignificant damage to my reputation. I would feel ashamed only if I do not
become famous for making great contributions to China. The ones who gave birth
to me were my parents. The one, however, who understood me well was Mr. B."
After B recommended Kuan to King H, B's rank decreased because he became Kuan's
subordinate. The government of Country Chyi gave many generations of B's
offspring government appointments and feudal lands. Most of them had good
reputations. People in China did not praise Kuan's great work, but did praise
B's capability for recognizing talented people.
After Kuan became the Prime Minister of Chyi, a small country near the
seashore, he distributed goods and built wealth to make the country rich and the
army strong. Recognizing that his policies had won people's heart, Kuan said,
"Only after a country's warehouses become filled with supplies can its people be
civil. Only when one has enough food and clothing can one distinguish glory from
shame. Only after government officials come to follow the law can an extended
family unite in harmony. If morality decays, the country will be destroyed. As
water flows downhill, an order should follow people's needs." Consequently, Kuan's policies focused on the pragmatic and were easily executed. Kuan gave
people what they wished to have and eliminated policies that they opposed. When
Kuan dealt with state affairs, he was good at changing misfortune to fortune and
turning failure into success. He thoughtfully weighed his priorities and
carefully evaluated gain and loss. Consider three examples in history. First,
the real reason that King H went south to attack Country Ts'ai was that he was
angry because his wife, the Princess of Country Ts'ai, had been married off
1 to someone else. Along the way, King H attacked Country Chuu. The King
of Chuu asked why he should be punished. Kuan accused him of not paying taxes to
the Emperor of China 2. Thus, Kuan turned King H's anger into
justice. Second, King H wanted to go north to attack the mountain tribes. When
Country Yen was invaded by the mountain tribes, King H immediately sent troops
to rescue Yen. Kuan used this opportunity to demand that Yen reform its
politics. Third, after King H defeated Country Luu, Luu gave Country Chyi a
large portion of land. M from Country Luu kidnapped King H and demanded that he
return Luu's land. King H agreed, but rued the decision after returning to his
camp. Kuan advised him to keep his word. Because King H followed his advice, all
the kings in China became Chyi's allies. Therefore, Kuan said, "Give is take.
This is the secret power of politics."
The decoration of Kuan's home could be compared to that of a king’s. Kuan had
three mansions and each had a wine cabinet. The people of Chyi did not consider
him extravagant. After Kuan died, Country Chyi followed his policies and was
often stronger than other countries in China. More than a hundred years later,
there was another great prime minister of Chyi named Yen.
Yen was a native of City Y. He served as Prime Minister of Chyi under Kings
L, J, and G. During this time, he earned a good reputation based on frugality
and putting his high principles into action. Even after he became Chyi’s Prime
Minister, his meals remained simple and his wife and concubines continued to
wear clothes made of inexpensive material rather than silk. While he was at the
King's court, he would correct the king's words if he found them improper and
would make his own decisions if the king's directions were not available. If the
government policies were beneficial to people, he would follow them. If not, he
would disobey them. Because of his independent thought and high principles, he
was famous in China during the reign of Kings L, J, and G.
Yueh, a talented man, was sentenced to prison. One day on the road, Yen saw
him with his hands tied up. Yen untied his left horse from his carriage and used
it as ransom for Yueh’s release. Yen then carried Yueh to Yen's house. Upon
arriving, Yen went straight to his room without speaking to Yueh. He stayed
there for a long time and then came out to see Yueh. Yueh was unhappy about this
behavior and wanted to leave. Yen was amazed at Yueh's request. He quickly
straightened up his clothes and hat and said, "Although I am not virtuous, I
saved you from being imprisoned. Why do you want to leave so soon?" Yueh
replied, "You should not say that. I have heard that a man with principles can
endure insult from people who do not understand him, but not from people who
understand him. When I was put in prison, the judge and the jailer did not
understand me. You realized that my imprisonment was a mistake, so you ransomed
me. This showed that you are a friend who understands me. If I am insulted by
one who understands me, it would be better for me to stay in prison."
Consequently, Yen invited Yueh to stay and treated him as a guest of honor.
While Yen was Chyi's Prime Minister, he went out by carriage one day. Prior
to leaving, the wife of Yen's driver peeped at her husband from behind a door
that was barely open. Her husband, the Prime Minister's driver, was holding an
umbrella and steering four horses. He appeared very proud and seemed to be in
high spirits. When the driver returned home, his wife asked for a divorce. When
her husband asked why, she explained, "Though Yen is less than five feet tall,
he is Chyi's prime Minister and renowned in China. Today I watched him going
out. He has high goals and deep thoughts but he acted humbly as if he were
inferior to others. In contrast, you are seven feet tall, but only a driver for
someone else. Furthermore, you looked conceited. Therefore, I am asking to leave
you." Afterwards, her husband became more humble and reserved. Yen felt very
strange and asked about it. His driver told him the truth. Yen then recommended
him to be a high-ranking official.
The Official Historian says, "I have read Annals of Country Chyi by former
Prime Minister Yen and several of Kuan's essays: 'Shepherding People',
'Circumstances', 'Riding Horses', 'Weighing Priorities', and 'Nine Ministries'.
They recorded the ideas of Kuan and Yen in great detail. After reading their
works, I wanted to study how they responded to various situations that arose.
Therefore, I am writing this essay about their stories. Since their writings are
popular, I have chosen not to discuss them here and focused on their anecdotes
instead. Kuan was regarded as a wise prime minister by many historians, but
Confucius considered him lacking in vision. Perhaps this was because the
talented Prime Minister Kuan only helped the King of Chyi become the leader of
the kings of other countries in China, but failed to encourage him to become the
Emperor of China as the Chow dynasty declined. The chapter about serving a king
in the Bible of Filial Duties says, "If the emperor’s policies are
virtuous, we officials will follow them. However, if they are evil, we should
correct them. Thereby, the emperor and the officials can establish a close
relationship." Was this statement intended to refer to Kuan or does it just
appear that way? When Yen prostrated himself on the corpse of King Juang, he
cried to properly mourn his king and then left. The Analects of Confucius
says, "One who fails to perform his duties in a crisis is a coward." It thus
follows that Yen was a brave man. Furthermore, Yen was so loyal to his country
that he would give his advice even though it might offend his king. The chapter
about serving the king in the Bible of Filial Duties says, "In the
governmental office, one should devote his work to the country. At home, one
should meditate on correcting the mistakes he made at work that day." Yen
fulfilled such a high goal. If Yen were alive today, I would consider it a great
honor even to hold a whip to drive his carriage.
1 In 657 B.C., King H and his wife, the Princess of Ts'ai, played in a boat.
His wife startled him by rocking the boat. King H was angry and order his wife
to go back to her parents' home to repent her mistake. As a result, her father,
the King of Country Ts'ai, had her married to someone else. King H was so
furious that he wanted to attack Country Ts'ai.
2 In the late Chow dynasty, the Emperor did not have real power. Instead, the
power went to the kings of small countries. Very few of these kings paid taxes
to the emperor.