The Han dynasty–the second imperial dynasty of China (206 BC–220 AD)–was founded by Emperor Gaozu, and succeeded by Emperor Wen and Emperor Jing.
The 40-year rule of Wen and Jing brought forth the first Pax Sinica—a golden age of peace and prosperity—in ancient China 2000 years ago.
How did Emperor Wen and Emperor Jing rule the country? How did they lead China to a better time? The secret is revealed in two writings collected from Guwen Guanzhi–an anthology of essays published during the Qing dynasty in 1965. One is the Edict of Emperor Wen on the Primacy of Agriculture; the other is the Edict of Emperor Jing to Order Officials to Perform Duty.
In his edict, Emperor Wen pondered why people suffered poor harvests, as well as the calamities of flooding, droughts, and pestilence. Besides reflecting on whether he had adopted improper strategies, Emperor Wen examined potential factors behind the shortage of food.
He considered that it could be related to human disharmony, the neglectingof worship, the lavish behaviour of officials, the over-valuation of trading with less emphasis on agriculture, and too much grainbeing used for wine and livestock feed.
Instead of blaming others, Emperor Wen asked the officials to look into the possibility of these being the reasons, while contemplating strategies to help solve the problems.
Emperor Jing was the son of Emperor Wen. He adopted the manners of his father. Therefore, in the Edict of Emperor Jing to Order Officials to Perform Duty, he also concerned himself with poor harvests and food shortages, hoping to discover the reasons behind them.
He attributed poor crop yields to farming being neglected due to more attention being placed on the arts–carving, painting, brocade and embroidery. The latter two brought a shortage of female labourers.
Emperor Jing practiced what he preached, placing personal priority on agriculture. He engaged in farming and weaving with his Queen.
In addition, he noticed the drawbacks of bribery by officials and the exploitation of the masses. To ease the burden on the people, he created laws to regulate and punish any officials who are caught being involved in bribery.
Reaching New Heights
With the two emperors passing on their serious self-reflections, as well as their solicitude for people, personal discipline, and stricter regulations of the government, the first Pax Sinica in China was born. It enabled Emperor Wu, the fourth successor, to maintain a powerful army and employ an aggressive foreign policy, significantly expanding the Empire, while pushing the Han economy, culture and science to new heights.
In contrast, nowadays, very few politicians value self-reflection or respect honest suggestions. Government officials often appear self-absorbed and blinded by flattery;they blame others—like the members of the opposite party—for societal problems. In turn, no issue is resolved. In the end, not only their political career, but also the development of the state is negatively influenced.
Those in leadership may well learn the art of self-reflection from the stories and writings of the emperors Wen and Jing. In doing so, perhaps the next Pax Sinica of prosperity may be just around the corner.