Duke Chao Advised Emperor Li to Allow Criticism

The National Languages of China (403 B.C.-221 B.C.)

    Emperor Li was a tyrant. People criticized him. Duke Chao told the Emperor, "People can no longer endure tyranny." Emperor Li was angry, so he hired a witch from Country Wei and ordered her to spy on his critics. When the witch reported a critic, he would be executed immediately. People did not dare to speak any more. They expressed their anger with their eyes.

    The Emperor was pleased. He told Duke Chao, "I can eliminate the criticism about me. People dare not speak." Duke Chao said, "Your actions are preventing people from criticizing you. It is more dangerous to block a person's mouth than to block a river. A blocked river will flood and hurt many people. An emperor will risk a similar disaster if he attempts to block free expression. Thus, one who is in charge of a river will dredge it, and an official who serves people will guide them to speak openly. A good emperor will encourage all the officials from dukes to the lowest rank to present poetry that promotes morals and corrects mistakes. He will urge musicians to present songs that distinguish virtue from evil, historians to present valuable lessons, and advisors to present advice. After listening to people's opinions, local officials will present recommendations to the court officials. They in turn will give advice to the emperor. The relatives of the emperor will evaluate the work done by the government. Historians will compile local documents. Based on these opinions and documents, senior Advisors will design and modify governmental policies. Then the emperor will carefully consider these policies to make sure that they follow the will of the people.

    "Just as the mountains and rivers of the earth provide goods and resources, and just as the rich soil of a flat wetland produces food and clothing, the mouths of people propose good or evil ideas. Applying good ideas and keeping records of bad ones for are ways to increase the production of goods, resources, food and clothing. When people express their opinions, the emperor should help fulfill their wishes. How can you block them? Any attempt to curtail their speech will not last."

    The emperor did not listen to Duke Chao's advice. People did not dare to speak. Three years later, Emperor Li was exiled to a pig farm.