Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Classic Mirror of Wise Rule

The Tang Dynasty (618-907) is a glorious chapter in Chinese history. It was when Emperor Taizong (named Li Shimin) (597-649) led China into a period of unprecedented political and social harmony, as well as economic and cultural prosperity.

Scholar and court official Fan Zuyu (1041-1098) of the succeeding Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), commented on and summarized the successes and failures of each Tang Dynasty emperor in his book Tang Jian (The Mirror of the Tang Dynasty).

He presented the volume to the Northern Song emperor in the hope that the lessons it contained would help the emperor to rule wisely. The successes he cites are mainly those of Li Shimin (reign title Zhenguan), who engendered what Chinese historians acknowledge as the “Golden Era of Feudal China” and “Governance of the Zhenguan Reign.”

Tang Jian is similar to Sun Zi’s Art of War in that it is still relevant and of value today as a political, military, economic and also managerial manual for those that intend to be in control of their lives.

Historical Lessons

A Tang Dynasty gilded iron cast in 633.

As mentioned, much of Tang Jian focuses on Li Shimin and his successful reign. Li began his military career at the age of 16. He rendered heroic and meritorious military service to his father, the first Tang Emperor Gaozu, by helping him topple the corrupt Sui Dynasty and restore the country to order.

At the age of 29, Li succeeded the throne and became the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty. Upon enthronement, his first official statement was: “The pacification of the people and the stabilization of the country are dependent on the ruler.” Li Shimin was a brave soldier, but felt keenly the pressure on him as ruler of a newly established dynasty.

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