In the fifth year of Zhenguan, Emperor Taizong said to his attendants, “Since ancient times, no emperors or kings have been able to avoid this: although you have peace internally; you may have disturbance externally. At our time, external tribes are all submissive; the people have good harvests; the country is mostly in peace, without occurrence of robbery. This is not the result of my personal efforts; it’s the result of your successful assistance. But at times of stability, we must not forget the possibilities for unrest. We are doing good today; but that doesn’t mean we must end well. We should be aware of this, always.”
His chief adviser Wei Zheng said, “Since ancient times, there have been few periods when a nation has both a wise leader and capable assistants. Sometimes the leader is wise, but his officials are not capable; sometimes the officials are capable but they are not as lucky as us to have a wise leader. Your majesty! You are enlightened. Without your enlightenment, we won’t come to anything even with our abilities. The country is now in peace, but I am not feeling that happy. I wish your majesty shall do the same, never forgetting the challenges ahead.”
In the sixth year, the Emperor said to his attendants, “Historically, no ruler has been able to keep his goodness until the last day of his life. The first emperor of Han Dynasty was only a village manager when he started his business. After a dozen years of his reign, he ended in failure by extravagance. Why I have made this conclusion? His successor was his favorite son, kind-hearted with good virtues. But Emperor Han Gaodi wanted to dethrone him to make way for the son of his most loved concubine. Prime Minister Xiao He and General Han Xin both made great achievements in the establishment of the Dynasty, but they both lived in fear and finally acted in revolt, same as the another general Ying Bu. The relations between son and father, between the emperor and his officials, are so confronting; they were the examples. Therefore, when I think of this, I often ware myself at times of peace, so that we can have a good ending.”
In the ninth year, the Emperor said to his dukes and ministers, “I have done nothing extraordinary while people from all directions are submissive. I am not going to praise myself, but I am going to praise you as my dukes and ministers. I have hoped for a long lasting stability for many generations, so that hundreds of years later, when people read our history, they would be amazed by the great achievements we have made!”
Prime Minister Fang Xuanling said, “Your majesty! You have great ambitions; we have been lucky to follow you along to make those achievements. But really we have done very little. We all hope that you continue to make go until the end of time, so that the whole country has long lasting peace.”
The Emperor said again, “I have seen that most ancient dynasty founders were over 40 at their startups, except Emperor Guangwu who was 33. At the time of my startup, I was only 18. At 24, I brought the country into stability. At 29, I was promoted as Son of Heavens. In this military sense, I have done better than the ancient emperors. I joined the army when young and did not have time for study. Since the reign of Zhenguan, I have never put down my book because I know they are the source of civilization and good governance. For some years, the country is in good governance, sons respecting their parents and officials loyal to their emperor. In this cultural sense, I also have done better than the ancient emperors. In the past dynasties of Zhou and Qin, although the country was united, there were still external disturbance. Now all the external forces are submissive. In this national sense, I have also done better than the ancient emperors. I am honored to have these three achievements. How shall I not be able to end well?
In the twelve year, the Emperor said to his attendants, “When I study history, I read about the good things done by ancient kings. They all worked hard continuously and their ministers were all capable with virtues. But when I compare them to people three to five generations ahead of us, the people were not as good as ancient kings. Why?”
Wei Zheng said, “Nowadays people from four directions are submissive; the country is peaceful. This has not been seen since ancient times. Those kings and emperors, at the time of startup, worked really hard in their administration, maybe as hard as Emperor Yao or Emperor Sun. But when the country was in peace, they started to live in extravagance and pride. That’s why they did not end well. As to the officials, when they were first appointed to important positions, they worked hard to help the leader. But when they became honorable and wealthy, they started to think of how to keep their honorable titles. Few of them could end in full royalty. We must make sure both the emperor and his officials behave with caution until the end. This way the country shall have long lasting peace, better than the old times”.
The emperor fully agreed to what Wei Zheng had said.
By staff translator