If a king establishes his kingdom in a region that is strategically located
and difficult to access, then it is inevitable that the king and the emperor
will lose trust in each other. The king will become fearful of persecution and
the emperor will become tormented by worry. Tolerance of such a situation is
definitely not a good way to make both the emperor and the king feel secure.
Several years ago, the emperor's younger brother 1 began to make
plans to become the Eastern Emperor, and the son of the emperor's elder brother
rebelled and attacked westward 2. Now the King of the State of Wu is
accused of disobeying the central government. So although the emperor, a man of
integrity and beneficence, is at the prime of his life and has accomplished
virtuous work, rebellions may still occur. Right now the most powerful kings in
China are ten times as strong as the three who have rebelled. We would expect
that these powerful kings might also rebel. However, China is peaceful at this
time. Why? This is because the kings of all the large countries have not reached
adulthood yet and are still weak. Their prime ministers, who were appointed by
the emperor's court, are holding the real power. In a few years, these kings
will grow up and will be full of vigor and vitality. Their prime ministers will
resign, pleading illness. These kings will fill their government positions, from
city officials up to prime ministers, with their own people. Will this behavior
be any different from that of Huai-nan and Ji-bei 3? At that time,
even Emperor Yao and Shun would not be able to solve our problem of national
security 4. Emperor Huang said, "When the sun is in the middle of the
sky, it is time to dry clothes. When we have a knife in hand, it is time to cut
things." If we follow this principle, it will be easy to solve our security
problem. If we fail to act in time, allow your kinsmen to rebel, and then have
them beheaded, would this punishment be any different from that at the end of
the Qin dynasty?
Even though Your Majesty holds the position of emperor, and time and fortune
are in your favor, you still worry that you might mistake danger for security
and chaos for order. This indicates that you would surely not have united other
kings to put China's politics on the right track if you had been in the shoes of
King Huang of the State of Qi 5. Could you have felt secure as the
emperor when Duke Huai-yin 6 was still the King of the State of Chu,
Qing-bu the King of Huai-nan 7, Yue Peng the King of the State of
Liang 8, Xin Han the King of the State of Han
9, Ao Zhang
the King of the State of Zhao 10, Gao Guan Ao Zhangís prime minister
11, Guan Lu the King of the State of Yan
12, and Xi Cheng
was the commander at Di City 13? In my opinion, you could not. At the
end of the Qin dynasty, China was in chaos. Emperor Gao, who founded the Han
dynasty, rose in revolt along with other heroes. Gao conquered China without the
support of any powerful dukes. In contrast, the best of the other heroes only
assumed positions such as Zhong-juan 14 or She-ren
They were far less talented than Gao. By his wisdom, virtue, and power, Gao
ascended the throne. Soon after, he awarded a rich piece of land and kingship to
each of the generals who had rendered outstanding service to him. Some of them
were offered more than one hundred cities. It can be said that Emperor Gao was
truly generous. However, over the next ten years, rebellions occurred nine
times. Your emperorship is based on inheritance rather than the result of a
talent contest. If you had been the emperor of these rebels, they would surely
have questioned your leadership. In addition, you are not the one who offered
them their kinship. In contrast, Emperor Gao established his emperorship through
victory in wars, but he still could not have one year in peace.
One might argue that these powerful men rebelled simply because they were not
the emperorís relatives. Let us go back to the past and replace the above
rebellious kings with the emperor's relatives. Dao-Hui 16 is the King
of the State of Qi, Yuan 17 the King of the State of Chu, Zhong-zi
18 the King of the State of Zhao, You the King of the State of Huai-yang,
Gong the King of the State of Liang, Ling the King of the State of Yan, and Li
19 the King of the State of Huai-nan. If these kings were alive and
in good health, and you were their emperor, would you have been able to control
them? I know the answer is no. Although these kings were the emperor's subjects
in name, they all considered the emperor merely their brother. They all desired
to become the emperor themselves. They offered titles of duke, pardoned the
criminals on death row, or painted the roofs of their carriages yellow
The law does not apply to them. Even though they acted against the law like King
Li, the emperor could do nothing to them: they would not listen when ordered,
and would not come when summoned. Even if they had come, the law could not have
imposed on them. If the emperor had punished one relative, all the other kings
would have been shocked and would have risen in revolt. Although you have brave
officials like Jing Feng, they are afraid to speak. For they remember what
happened to Jing Feng: as soon as he opened his mouth, a dagger sank into his
chest 21. You are wise, but who will help you govern the nation?
Thus, powerful kings will endanger the nationís security if they are not the
emperor's relatives, and will create chaos in the political system if they are.
These are proven facts. By a fluke, the Han dynasty defeated those rebellious
kings who were not the emperor's relatives. They rebelled simply because they
were powerful. However, the government still failed to change the system which
caused the rebellions. After the rebellious kings were replaced by the emperor's
relatives, these relatives followed the pattern of their predecessors and
rebelled as well. This truth has also been proven. Thus, the rebellions were
crushed and then revived. Even though these disasters occurred, the government
still does not know how to make changes. If a wise emperor like you cannot feel
secure in this situation, then how can the future emperors deal with this
Tan, a great ancient butcher, slaughtered twelve cattle a day. However, since
he cut only between the joints or along the grain of muscles, his knife did not
become dull. As for thighbones, he would use an ax instead. Kindness,
benevolence, and generosity are like the emperor's knife blade. Power and law
are like the emperor's ax. The current kings are as powerful as a thighbone. If
you try to cut a thighbone with a knife rather than an ax, the blade will chip
or break in two. Why did the emperor not apply his generosity to the Kings of Huai-nan and Ji-bei? This was because the emperor could not be kind to
rebellious kings. By studying recent history, I have discovered that the
strongest king will most likely rebel first. Consider, for example, the series
of rebellion that occurred at the start of Han dynasty. The king of Huai-yin was
the strongest, so he was the first one to rebel. Xin Han allied with the Huns,
so he also rebelled. Xi Chen led a superior force, so he rebelled as well. Due
to having the resources of the State of Zhao, Gao Guan rebelled. Emboldened by
his position as the King of the State of Ling, Yue Peng also rebelled.
Emboldened by his position as the King of Huai-nan, Jing-bu rebelled as well.
Guan Lu was the weakest of the rebellious kings, so he was the last one to
rebel. Rui Wu, the King of Chang-Sha, a state with a population of less than
25,000, had the smallest contribution in helping establish the Han dynasty, but
he was the only king to survive who was not a relative of the emperor. Wu was
the least powerful, but he was the most loyal. This is not only because he had
an unusually loyal character, but also because his military power was the
weakest. If in the past Generals Kuai Fan, Shang Li, Bo Zhou and Ying Guan had
occupied fifty cities, they would have rebelled and been destroyed. If Xin Han,
Yue Peng, and others like them had been weaker, they would have survived. The
above examples help us trace back to the root of rebellions.
If you want the kings to be loyal to you, it is better to reduce their
military power so that it is equal to that of the King of Chang-sha. If you want
your generals not to suffer the Hai 22 sentence, it is better to
limit the size of their feudal lands to the size of the lands held by Kuai Fan
and Shang Li. If you want your nation secure and peaceful, it is better to offer
more kingships and reduce each king's military power. If their power is weak, it
is easier to control them by law. If their feudal lands are small, the idea of
rebellion will not occur to them. This strategy will make China's political
system act like a body ordering an arm and an arm ordering fingers. Every part
will obey the one that controls it. All the kings will not dare rebel. They will
obey the emperor's order like spokes emanating from an axle. Even a commoner
will be able to enjoy a peaceful life. Therefore, all the people in China would
recognize your wisdom. The government should stipulate that the lands of the
States of Qi, Zhao, and Chu be divided into several small states. These small
states should be given to the heirs of Kings Hui, You, and Yuan with nearest
relatives receiving the largest states. These states should be assigned until no
more land is left. The same should be done with the states of Yan, Liang, and
others. If a king has large feudal lands but few heirs, then we should establish
states on the land first. The kingships that govern these states will be filled
as new heirs are born. If a king commits a crime, and his lands are confiscated
by the government, then we should offer his heirs another piece of land of
similar size for compensation. The feudal land should be evenly shared by the
heirs of the kings. The emperor should not receive any benefit from these lands.
The land offer should only be used to keep the nation secure. If you were to do
this, all the people in China would recognize your integrity. After this new
method of distributing lands is implemented, the heirs of the royal family will
not worry that they cannot become king. All the kings will not dare rebel, and
the emperor will have no intention to deprive the privilege of the kings.
Therefore, all the people in China would recognize your kindness. When a law is
established, no one will break it. When an order is issued, everyone will obey
it. Plans like those implanted by Gao Guan and Ji Li 23 will no
longer be conceived; Plots like those of Qin Chai and Zhgang Kai
will no longer germinate. Commoners will perform good deeds and officials will
dutifully carry out orders. Thus, all the people in China would recognize your
virtue. Even if a baby lying in its crib is established as the emperor, the
nation will still be peaceful. Even if the emperor dies and his heir is but a
fetus, the officials will pay homage to the emperor's fur garment hanging in the
palace and the nation will still be secure. Thus, if you adopt my strategy, the
nation will become prosperous during your reign. Later generations will praise
your greatness. This single move will lead you to five achievements
ĺ wisdom, integrity, kindness, virtue and greatness.
What fear makes you hesitate to do so?
The current problem in China is like a disease that causes someone to become
swollen. His foot is almost as thick as his waist. His finger is almost as large
as his thigh. He is unable to bend or stretch. When one or two of his fingers
twitch, his body worries, but can do nothing about it. If you miss this
opportunity to cure the problem, it will become a chronic disease. Then even if
Bian-que 25 were alive, he would be unable to cure it. The current
problem in China is like a disease that makes one swollen and sick with an
abnormal sole. King Yuan's son is your cousin. The current king is your cousin's
son. King Hui's son is your nephew. The current king is your nephew's son. Your
immediate relatives may not receive any lands to secure China. In contrast, your
remote relatives may control military power to threaten Your Majesty. This is
the reason I say, "The current problem in China is like a lamentable disease
that makes one swollen and sick with an abnormal sole."
1 The emperor's younger brother refers to Chang, the King of Huai-nan (the
area south of Huai River). Chang intended to rebel. This is why Jia says that
Chang began to make plans to become the Eastern Emperor.
2 The emperor's elder brother refers to Dao-hui, the King of the State of Qi.
Dao-hui's son, Xing-ju, was the King of Ji-bei (the area north of the Ji River).
Xing-ju rebelled and attacked Ying-yang City in the west.
3 See footnotes 1 and 2.
4 Emperor Yao and Shun were ancient (c. 2100 B.C.) emperors in China. This
sentence means that it would be too late if they were to try to solve the
security problem at that time.
5 King Huang of the State of Qi was the leader of the Five Overlords during
the Spring-Fall Period. The Five Overlords were King Huan of the State of Qi,
King Wen of the State of Jin, King Mu of the State of Qin, King Zhuang of the
State of Chu, and King Xiang of the State of Song.
6 Duke Huai-yin refers to Xin Han, a native of Huai-yin City. He helped
Emperor Gao establish the Han dynasty. The emperor first appointed him to be the
King of the State of Qi, then King of the State of Chu. Xin Han, Liang Zhang,
and He Xiao were the Three Distinguished Generals who helped establish the Han
7 Ying-bu gained his name as Qing-bu because he received a Qing sentence: his
crime was tattooed on his brow. Qing-bu accompanied Emperor Gao when the emperor
defeated Yu Xiang, the Overlord of the State of Chu, at Gai-xia City. Later, he
was awarded the kingship of Huai-nan. After he learned that Yue Peng and Xin Han
had been killed, he feared the same disaster would befall him, so he rebelled.
At last he was defeated and killed.
8 Yue Peng was a native of Chang City during the Han dynasty. After he led
troops to conquer the States of Wei, Liang, and Chu, Emperor Gao appointed him
to be King of the State of Liang.
9 Xin Han had the same name as the Duke of Huai-yin. The two men named Xin
Han lived at the same time. After Emperor Gao occupied the State f Han, he
appointed this Xin Han to be its king. Later, Han allied himself with the Huns
to rebel against the Han dynasty. Emperor Gao sent Wu Chai to attack and kill
10 Ao Zhang was the son of Er Zhang, the King of the State of Zhao in the Han
dynasty. After Er died, Ao inherited the throne.
11 Gao Guan was Ao Zhang's prime minister. When Emperor Gao was going to pass
through the State of Zhao, Guan suggested to Ao that he kill the emperor. Ao
rejected the proposal.
12 Guan Lu was a native of Feng City. Lu and Emperor Gao were born in the
same village and on the same day. While he was Emperor Gao's general, he
defeated Zang-tu. Consequently, he was awarded the kingship of the State of Yan.
When Xi Chen rebelled, Emperor Gao suspected that he was allied with Chen. Guan
escaped and surrendered to the Huns. The King of the Huns appointed him to be
King of Eastern Hu-lu.
13 Xi Chen was a native of Wan-qu City during the Han dynasty. Emperor Gao
promoted him from a low-ranking position to duke. Chen commanded the border
troops at Di City in the State of Zhao. He frequently invited guests to his
mansion, which made Chang Zhou, the Prime Minister of the State of Zhao, suspect
that Chen and his guests were conspiring to rebel. Zhou reported his suspicion
to the emperor. Therefore, emperor Gao summoned Chen back to the capital.
Fearful of persecution, Chen rebelled and declared himself King of Di. Later, he
was defeated and killed.
14 Zhong-juan literally means moderation and honesty. Here it was the name
for a type of guard in the palace.
15 She-ren was the name for a type of guard who managed the security of the
16 Dao-hui was born to a lady, who was Gao's concubine before Gao came to
17 Yuan was Emperor Gao's younger brother.
18 Zhong-zi was the son of Emperor Gao's favorite concubine, Lady Qi.
19 You, Gong, Ling and Li were all Emperor Gao's sons.
20 The roof of the emperor's carriage was painted yellow. The interior of the
carriage was decorated with silk. The color and the use of silk show the
emperor's supreme status.
21 Jing Feng was a legislator in the Han dynasty during Emperor Wen's reign.
He reported to the emperor that King Li of Hui-nan rebelled. When he started to
advocate reducing the power of kings, he was assassinated immediately.
22 Hai is Chinese for ground meat.
23 Ji Li was originally Yu Xiang's general. Later, he became a traitor and
defeated Yu Xiang.
24 Qin Chai and Zhgang Kai hatched rebellion along with the King of Huai-nan.
25 Bian-que was a great physician during the Warring States Period.