Chung Kuan and Ying Yen

Chinese History by Chian Sy-Ma (145 B.C.-?)

    Chung Kuan was a native of City Y. When he was young, he befriended B. B recognized Kuan's talent. Kuan was poor, so he often profited at B’s expense. However, B always treated Kuan in a friendly manner and never complained. Later, B served Prince H and Kuan served Prince G. After Prince H became the King of Country Chyi, Prince G was killed and Kuan was put in prison. Then B recommended to King H that he appoint Kuan as his prime minister. After Kuan assumed the office of prime minister, Country Chyi became strong. It was Kuan's strategy that King H used to unite the kings of other countries in China to make China peaceful and prosperous.

    Kuan said, "When I was poor, B and I did business together. When we divided a bonus, I always took a greater share than B. B did not consider me greedy because he knew I was poor. One time I gave advice to B to help him solve his problem. It turned out that I unintentionally led him into more trouble. B did not consider me foolish because he knew success depends on fortunate timing and can be blocked by unforeseeable mistakes in timing. I was appointed by the government three times and got fired three times. B did not consider me untalented. He knew that the timing was not in my favor. I went to war three times and deserted three times because I had to take care of my old mother. B understood this and did not consider me a coward. When Prince G failed in the power struggle, Official C died for him, and I was imprisoned and insulted. B did not think that I should feel shame. He knew I did not care about insignificant damage to my reputation. I would feel ashamed only if I do not become famous for making great contributions to China. The ones who gave birth to me were my parents. The one, however, who understood me well was Mr. B." After B recommended Kuan to King H, B's rank decreased because he became Kuan's subordinate. The government of Country Chyi gave many generations of B's offspring government appointments and feudal lands. Most of them had good reputations. People in China did not praise Kuan's great work, but did praise B's capability for recognizing talented people.

    After Kuan became the Prime Minister of Chyi, a small country near the seashore, he distributed goods and built wealth to make the country rich and the army strong. Recognizing that his policies had won people's heart, Kuan said, "Only after a country's warehouses become filled with supplies can its people be civil. Only when one has enough food and clothing can one distinguish glory from shame. Only after government officials come to follow the law can an extended family unite in harmony. If morality decays, the country will be destroyed. As water flows downhill, an order should follow people's needs." Consequently, Kuan's policies focused on the pragmatic and were easily executed. Kuan gave people what they wished to have and eliminated policies that they opposed. When Kuan dealt with state affairs, he was good at changing misfortune to fortune and turning failure into success. He thoughtfully weighed his priorities and carefully evaluated gain and loss. Consider three examples in history. First, the real reason that King H went south to attack Country Ts'ai was that he was angry because his wife, the Princess of Country Ts'ai, had been married off 1 to someone else. Along the way, King H attacked Country Chuu. The King of Chuu asked why he should be punished. Kuan accused him of not paying taxes to the Emperor of China 2. Thus, Kuan turned King H's anger into justice. Second, King H wanted to go north to attack the mountain tribes. When Country Yen was invaded by the mountain tribes, King H immediately sent troops to rescue Yen. Kuan used this opportunity to demand that Yen reform its politics. Third, after King H defeated Country Luu, Luu gave Country Chyi a large portion of land. M from Country Luu kidnapped King H and demanded that he return Luu's land. King H agreed, but rued the decision after returning to his camp. Kuan advised him to keep his word. Because King H followed his advice, all the kings in China became Chyi's allies. Therefore, Kuan said, "Give is take. This is the secret power of politics."

    The decoration of Kuan's home could be compared to that of a king’s. Kuan had three mansions and each had a wine cabinet. The people of Chyi did not consider him extravagant. After Kuan died, Country Chyi followed his policies and was often stronger than other countries in China. More than a hundred years later, there was another great prime minister of Chyi named Yen.

    Yen was a native of City Y. He served as Prime Minister of Chyi under Kings L, J, and G. During this time, he earned a good reputation based on frugality and putting his high principles into action. Even after he became Chyi’s Prime Minister, his meals remained simple and his wife and concubines continued to wear clothes made of inexpensive material rather than silk. While he was at the King's court, he would correct the king's words if he found them improper and would make his own decisions if the king's directions were not available. If the government policies were beneficial to people, he would follow them. If not, he would disobey them. Because of his independent thought and high principles, he was famous in China during the reign of Kings L, J, and G.

    Yueh, a talented man, was sentenced to prison. One day on the road, Yen saw him with his hands tied up. Yen untied his left horse from his carriage and used it as ransom for Yueh’s release. Yen then carried Yueh to Yen's house. Upon arriving, Yen went straight to his room without speaking to Yueh. He stayed there for a long time and then came out to see Yueh. Yueh was unhappy about this behavior and wanted to leave. Yen was amazed at Yueh's request. He quickly straightened up his clothes and hat and said, "Although I am not virtuous, I saved you from being imprisoned. Why do you want to leave so soon?" Yueh replied, "You should not say that. I have heard that a man with principles can endure insult from people who do not understand him, but not from people who understand him. When I was put in prison, the judge and the jailer did not understand me. You realized that my imprisonment was a mistake, so you ransomed me. This showed that you are a friend who understands me. If I am insulted by one who understands me, it would be better for me to stay in prison." Consequently, Yen invited Yueh to stay and treated him as a guest of honor.

    While Yen was Chyi's Prime Minister, he went out by carriage one day. Prior to leaving, the wife of Yen's driver peeped at her husband from behind a door that was barely open. Her husband, the Prime Minister's driver, was holding an umbrella and steering four horses. He appeared very proud and seemed to be in high spirits. When the driver returned home, his wife asked for a divorce. When her husband asked why, she explained, "Though Yen is less than five feet tall, he is Chyi's prime Minister and renowned in China. Today I watched him going out. He has high goals and deep thoughts but he acted humbly as if he were inferior to others. In contrast, you are seven feet tall, but only a driver for someone else. Furthermore, you looked conceited. Therefore, I am asking to leave you." Afterwards, her husband became more humble and reserved. Yen felt very strange and asked about it. His driver told him the truth. Yen then recommended him to be a high-ranking official.

    The Official Historian says, "I have read Annals of Country Chyi by former Prime Minister Yen and several of Kuan's essays: 'Shepherding People', 'Circumstances', 'Riding Horses', 'Weighing Priorities', and 'Nine Ministries'. They recorded the ideas of Kuan and Yen in great detail. After reading their works, I wanted to study how they responded to various situations that arose. Therefore, I am writing this essay about their stories. Since their writings are popular, I have chosen not to discuss them here and focused on their anecdotes instead. Kuan was regarded as a wise prime minister by many historians, but Confucius considered him lacking in vision. Perhaps this was because the talented Prime Minister Kuan only helped the King of Chyi become the leader of the kings of other countries in China, but failed to encourage him to become the Emperor of China as the Chow dynasty declined. The chapter about serving a king in the Bible of Filial Duties says, "If the emperor’s policies are virtuous, we officials will follow them. However, if they are evil, we should correct them. Thereby, the emperor and the officials can establish a close relationship." Was this statement intended to refer to Kuan or does it just appear that way? When Yen prostrated himself on the corpse of King Juang, he cried to properly mourn his king and then left. The Analects of Confucius says, "One who fails to perform his duties in a crisis is a coward." It thus follows that Yen was a brave man. Furthermore, Yen was so loyal to his country that he would give his advice even though it might offend his king. The chapter about serving the king in the Bible of Filial Duties says, "In the governmental office, one should devote his work to the country. At home, one should meditate on correcting the mistakes he made at work that day." Yen fulfilled such a high goal. If Yen were alive today, I would consider it a great honor even to hold a whip to drive his carriage.

1 In 657 B.C., King H and his wife, the Princess of Ts'ai, played in a boat. His wife startled him by rocking the boat. King H was angry and order his wife to go back to her parents' home to repent her mistake. As a result, her father, the King of Country Ts'ai, had her married to someone else. King H was so furious that he wanted to attack Country Ts'ai.

2 In the late Chow dynasty, the Emperor did not have real power. Instead, the power went to the kings of small countries. Very few of these kings paid taxes to the emperor.