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Dear Emperor,

I would like to congratulate you on your victories. You have unified all seven states into one, proving

that you are chosen by Heaven itself. Now that the troubling Warring States period is behind us, it is

time to enjoy peace and follow the Way set forth during the golden age of our nation. When we look

back we can only admire the great emperors such as Shun, or the first king of the Western Zhou. The

road is, however, paved with obstacles. Not only do you have to take care of your troops, and slowly

integrate them into a peaceful society, you also have to ensure the security and the unification of the old

seven states. That will only be possible if you follow the Confucian school of thought. I know that other

philosophers whisper in your ear, especially the Legalists who have been of great assistance during war

time. While their philosophy might be effective to conquer territories, if you continue to impose their

idea on your population, you will be remembered as cruel and your empire will shatter. People need

education and rituals to become virtuous, not rewards and punishments. Hence, if you allow me, I will

explain how the Confucian school offers the most complete and comprehensive path to a peaceful and

prosperous empire, while at the same time ensuring its duration over a long period of time. First, I will

explain how a perfect Confucian empire works, then I will tell you how to achieve such an empire, by

educating yourself and your subjects, and finally I will refute the argument of other schools against us.

If the empire follows the Way, then peace, stability and the harmony with heaven will be achieved

effortlessly as long as the emperor takes his ritual position. The master Confucius said that his first

action, if he were to govern, would be the rectification of names: Let the lord be a true lord, the

minister a true minister, the fathers true fathers, and the son true sons (Slingerland 35). In other words,

for a state to follow the Way the people need to be truly sincere. True sincerity means that one accepts

his or her role in society, the responsibilities that come with it, and acts according to the correct rituals

associated with the position. Afterwards if everyone also follows the ritual practices, music, and
literature passed down from the Golden Age of the Zhou, then the empire will be following the Way.

The Way is the correct path to follow, it is the path shown by Heaven that ensures harmony. Only by

following it can you be assured that your empire will prosper. If you wonder why, the answer is very

simple. As we all know, all things on Earth in the cosmos [are] closely interrelated, and thus, if the

microcosm, the empire, is harmonized with the macrocosm, Heaven, prosperity and peace shall prevail.

Likewise, the household should be in harmony with the empire, and the emperor himself should be

harmonious with it. Every single element, from the largest to the smallest, should be in perfect harmony

with the others, and that is only possible when one follows the Way. Once that is accomplished, your

only task as an emperor will be to take your ritual position, and your empire will naturally bloom. Just

like Confucius said, when talking about the great emperor Shun: [he] was the one governing without

activism. What was there for him to do? He simply made himself respectful and took up his position

facing south (22). Simply by taking his ritual position, his virtue shined throughout his empire and he

was able to govern all his subject. Now, you might wonder how to achieve such an effortless state,

where your subjects will be naturally good. It needs to start with yourself first.

By training yourself to internalize the rituals and by constantly following the Way, you will be able to

become a gentleman and lead your people solely through the power of virtue. During the Warring States

period, the mountain around your capital protected you against your enemies, but now, your biggest

enemy will be your own subject if they do not find you virtuous. While the masters of the Confucian

school disagree on whether human nature is good or bad, Confucius himself suggested that anyone could

train our capacity to empathize with each other, ren, through education, ritual and the emulation of

virtuous models (Ropp 13). For you, the models to emulate would be the old emperor of the past. As

for education and ritual, Confucius gives a list of step: Find inspiration in the Odes, take your place

through ritual, and achieve perfection with music (Slingerland p.23). The classical texts are of central
importance to education. Study them, put them into practice, internalize them perfectly, and you will

follow the Way. The first step is thus a cognitive shaping, whereas the second one is a behavorial

shaping, and finally the third step refers to the joy inspired by music, which harmonizes together the

first two steps, hence making ones thoughts harmonized with ones actions (Slingerland 91). When the

classics are completely internalized, one can become fully sincere and with virtue effortlessly. Ones role

is fully understood and the correct rituals are naturally enacted, thus, without any effort -- one could

even say without any action since ones understanding transcends concepts the Way is followed and

harmony prevails. When the emperor becomes so virtuous, the subjects have no other choices but to


To train your subjects, you will need to value virtue and knowledge of the classics over fighting abilities,

and you will have to define their role as it was done by king ?. During the Warring States, your subjects

were promoted based upon their fighting abilities and society was based on warfare. Now that you have

a great army, a great empire, and a great number of people, you need to find a more stable basis than war

for your empire. If you do not, the risk of rebellions and greedy people trying to overthrow you will be

too high. Promoting ren, filial piety and rituals is the best way to ensure the stability of your empire.

Instead of promoting people due to their fighting ability, promote them based on their knowledge of the

Classics. In that way, younger people will look up to older ones based on their virtue, people will look

up to you as a model to follow, and everyone will naturally harmonize with everyone else. You might

think that this would be too hard, but if you lead by example, it is quite doable. Confucius said The

virtue of a gentleman is like the wind, the virtue of a small person like the grass. When the wind blows

over it, the grass must bend (21). If you work on yourself first, others will be compelled to be like you

and your virtue will naturally guide them. Furthermore, in the Analects Zungxi explains how you can
create a sympathetic resonance between yourself and your subjects. Hence, to train your subjects, first

train yourself, promote the Classics and emphasize the importance of ren and filial piety. In that way,

your empire will be stable and prosperous. The advice given to you by other schools will never provide

such a great result.

While the Legalists will criticize the use of rituals from the past and affection between ruler and

subjects, their ways will only alienate the people of your empire. When criticizing the use of ancient

rituals, Gongsun Yang said that former ages did not all have the same teachings. Which past will you

use as a model? (33). While the criticism is valid, there are indeed more than one rituals, why would

that truly matter? It is not because many roads lead to the same city, that the city becomes worthless.

When we look at the past, many emperors, like Yao and Shun, were able to create harmony. However,

we are much closer to the time of the Duke of Zhou, and the teachings and rituals are still available in

the Classics. Why should we disregard them because other rituals also worked in the past? Furthermore,

the Legalists prone a system based on rewards and punishments, and try to turn your subjects against

themselves with their household division. A state where everyone fears the others, and fears the emperor

is not a virtuous one. As Confucius said, Lead them by means of government policies and regulate

them through punishments, and the people will be evasive and have no sense of shame (21). The

subjects of a Legalist state only fear to be caught, but the subjects of a Confucian state fear the lack of

virtue. Because the latter has been taught the worth of virtuous actions, they become naturally good.

Punishing and rewarding with no education in rituals is the same as beating a child if he cant write.

First, you need to teach the child, likewise, education should be the basis of your state. If you only beat

or reward the child without ever teaching him what a good stroke entails, he might get lucky and write a

few letters, but he will never be an accomplished writer. On the other hand, teach him how to write, and

you are very likely to find an accomplished writer. The Legalists teachings were good in times of war,
where people needed to be disciplined quickly and feared for their lives. Now that peace is more present,

it is time for your subjects to naturally respect you, and not fear you. The Legalists are however not the

only one who are in the wrong.

Daoists will criticize the idea of learning and doing actions, but will not offer a comprehensive path to

arrive at their ideal state. Daoists are quite dishonest. They criticize power-seekers and they attack

the reliance on words to convey truth, but at the same time end up using erudite words to convince

power-seekers of the elite (Ropp 18). The true reason for their dishonesty is the paradox found within

their teachings. They will tell you to make the state small and its people few(29), to empty peoples

mind and fill their bellies(28), but how will you achieve such measures? The Warring States period also

saw the rise of many philosophers, if you wish to empty peoples mind, or to keep them ignorant, as

they say, you will need to destroy any books, kill any philosophers just like a real tyrant. If there is any

other way to achieve what they offer, then perhaps it is not known even by them since their texts are

empty of such explanations. Furthermore, their explanation of the sage can easily be interpreted as a

Confucian gentleman. They will tell you that the sage takes on the task of doing nothing and teaches

without speaking. Likewise, according to Confucius, Shun was a gentleman because he did not have to

do anything to rule, and a gentleman can teach without ever speaking since its virtue resonates with the

common people. If their sage resembles the gentleman so much, but only Confucians offer a clear path

to becoming a gentleman, the choice on who to follow is quite easy.

Finally, followers of Mozi will argue for the need of basic necessities, and the removal of wasteful

actions, like the Confucian ceremonies in honor of the dead. Mozis philosophy, much like the Legalists,

should be considered only useful in time of war. He was so focused on defensive warfare that most of

his developments in logic and the study of optic and motion are useless when the empire is at peace.

Mozi will criticize Confucians for saying that The noble person must use ancient speech and use
ancient dress before he can be considered humane. He will say that what is now ancient, was modern

once, and therefore the people who used those dresses and that speech could not have been humane,

since they were not ancient to them (85). That is a clear misunderstanding. First, to be humane in that

context would mean to develop the basic quality that makes us human, ren. Second, it is not the ancient

status of that dress and that speech that makes them valuable, it is the fact that were used when the state

was following the Way. Rituals are not valuable because they are old, but because they are able to

harmonize an empire with Heaven. Finally, they also criticize our belief in the existence of fate. They

wil say that anyone who believes in fate will be lax in their duties or neglect their tasks (86). I

would simply ask, was Confucius lax in his duties? Was he neglecting his tasks? The Duke of Zhou

claimed that he was chosen by Heaven, was he lax or neglectful? Because a gentleman knows the value

of virtue, he does not fear punishments or rewards. Hence, the fact that he is fated to a particular

situation does not bother him, as his only goal is to follow the Way.

To conclude, if you follow my advice you can be sure to make your empire peaceful and prosperous, to

make your subjects virtuous, and to always have the favor of Heaven.


Works cited
Confucius: The Essential Analects. Trans. Edward Slingerland. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006.

Paul S. Ropp. China in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010

Patricia Ebrey. Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook. New York: The Free Press, 1993.

Theodore de Bary. Sources of East Asian Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.