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A Good Economy Makes People's Dreams Come True

Chinese History by Qian Si-ma (ca. 145-86 BCE)

   Lao-zi said, "When politics is at its best, people are in harmony with their neighbors, roosters and dogs. All the people are content with their food, clothes and occupations. They seldom burden each other by asking for favors." If we use this dogma to teach people to be content with what they have, we must cover their eyes and ears to hide their temptations. However, it is impossible to do so in modern times.

   Mr. Official Historian said, "Before the time of the Father of Chinese Agriculture, there were no reliable historical records to understand people's lives. According to The Book of Poetry and The Book of Records, since the dynasties of Yu and Xia, people have desired sensual pleasures: They desire to see beautiful things; they desire to hear beautiful music; they desire to taste delicacies. They enjoy entertainment. They love to boast about their accomplishments, powers and abilities. People have had this custom for a long time. They will not go against their nature even if the government presents them with an idealistic doctrine. Therefore, the best government goes along with human nature; the next best government guides people with rewards; the next best government teaches people what to do; the next best government controls the market; the worst government competes with people to gain profits."

   The area to the west of Tai-hang Mountain produces a lot of wood, bamboo, grain, sesame, fur, and jade. The area to the east of Tai-hang Mountain is rich in fish, salt, paint, silk and entertainment. The area to the north of Yangtze river produces a lot of stately trees, cassia trees, ginger, gold, tin, lead, arsenic, horns, turtles, pearls, tusks, and leather. The landscape lying north of Long-men City and Jie-shi City is rich in horses, cattle, sheep, leather, sinew, and horns. Copper and iron are produced by almost every mountain. Their mines are densely distributed like the pieces in a Go game. This is the rough description of land production. These products include what people in China enjoy. They also include items necessary for us to eat, to dress, to live, and to travel. Hunters and fishermen tap resources of mountains and rivers. Factory workers turn raw materials into products, and businessmen distribute them. Is it necessary for the government to summon people, teach people, and arrange a certain date for them to meet at a market? Everyone devotes himself to his profession and gains what he desires. A shortage of a product will make its price go up. A surplus of it will make its price go down. People choose their professions according to the market’s demand and their own interests. They are motivated to continuously work their jobs like water is driven to flow towards lower places. People will come even though the government does not summon them. They will produce even without the government asking. It is searching for a better life that makes all these things possible.

    The Book of Records says, "If farmers fail to produce grain, then there will be a shortage of food. If workers fail to produce, there will be a shortage of products. If businessmen fail to trade, then we will not be able to purchase pearls, jade or gold. If there are no lumberjacks, hunters, or fishermen, then we will not be able to tap the resources of mountains and rivers." The people in the above professions produce food and clothes. If there are many people in these professions, the resources will be plentiful. If there are few people in these professions, we will have shortages. If we apply this principle to a country, we can make the country rich. If we apply this principle to a family, we can make the family wealthy. Thus there is a definite method for people to become rich. The government should not be allowed to interfere in wealth distribution. In general, smart people often feel that they have more than they need; foolish people often feel that they need more than they have. After Duke Zi-ya Jiang was given the land in Ying-qiu District 1, he found that people there were sparse and that the land was not suitable for farming because it was too salty. Therefore, Duke Jiang advised women to develop a clothing industry and continuously improve their products. He also advised people to trade fish and salt. After a few years, Ying-qiu District became so rich that many people in China assisted their old and young to move there. Later all the hats, belts and clothes in China were made in Qi. People who lived along the seashore all loved to visit the magnificent business district in Qi. Later during a time when Qi's economic strength had weakened, Prime Minister Zhong Guan made a reform. After he established the Department of Economics and the Department of Finance, Qi regained its reputation as an economic superpower. King Huan-gong of Qi held meetings nine times with the kings of other states in China. They discussed together how to solve the problems in China. Prime Minister Zhong Guan owned three mansions. Even though he was only a prime minister, his wealth exceeded that of the kings of other states. Consequently, Qi maintained its economic superpower status until the reigns of Kings Wei-wang and Xuan-wang. There is a saying, "Only after the barns of grain are filled will people start to behave properly. Only after people have enough food and clothing will they care about their reputation." Etiquette is born after people have basic necessities and is discarded when they do not. When a selfish man becomes rich, he will keep his riches to himself. Therefore, when a virtuous man becomes rich, he should give back to his community. When a river is deep, fish are born. When a mountain is heavily forested, animals will move there. People always praise one who is rich to gain favors. Thus if a rich man manages his business well, he will increase his social status. On the contrary, if he loses all his money, everyone will ignore him. No wonder many rich people suffer from depression once their money is gone. There is a saying, "Money talks." These are not empty words. Therefore, we say, "In this busy world, people all work for profit like merchants going to noisy markets to sell their wares." Even a king with 10,000 chariots, a duke with lots of land, or a count with a large homestead still desires more money, not to mention the common man.


1 Duke Zi-ya Jiang was the ancestor of the kings of the future State of Qi. During the Zhou dynasty, the duke was given the land in Ying-qiu District renamed the State of Qi later. During the Warring States Period, the offspring of Zi-ya Jiang seceded from the central government, claimed their own kingships, and established the State of Qi.