Book review: The Ruler’s Guide by Chinghua Tang

From time to time, I review the new titles that come in from the Edmonton Public Library and put holds on books that seem interesting to me. The Ruler’s Guide – China’s greatest emperor and his timely secrets of success caught my eye, not just because I thought it would be good to get insights from the life of a successful ruler but also because I have an interest in learning more about Chinese history. Whenever I go to China, I take some time to learn a bit more about China’s vast history and how it may have come to shape the world today.

The book itself has some very interesting stories and discussions between Tang Tai Zong and his ministers and these stories are categorized into different subject areas. Here are some of the great stories and quotes that I took away from this book:

  • Kong Yingda “no matter how talented you are, you can enhance your talent further. No matter how knowledgeable you are, you can still expand your knowledge” – in other words, be humble, keep an open mind and learn from others that you might not think you can learn from
  • “Use brass as a mirror, and one can straighten one’s clothes; use history as a mirror and one can discern the causes of the rise and fall of a state, use other people as a mirror and one can understand one’s own strengths and weaknesses” – I particularly liked this quote because a very key skill that all successful people have is self-awareness and in understanding their own strengths and weaknesses – but what this quote says is that you cannot understand it by studying yourself but by interacting with others and understanding how people react to you (i.e., success is ultimately achieved by working or collaborating with others).
  • There are nine virtues that the Emperor abided by:
    • Graciousness
    • Gentleness
    • Respectfulness
    • Prudence
    • Loyalty
    • Fairness
    • Honesty
    • Courage
    • Adherence to principles
  • and ten vices:
    • Greed
    • Going too far
    • Arrogance
    • Overextending yourself
    • Indulgence
    • Slackness
    • Discouraging your subordinates from speaking out
    • Tolerating slanderers
    • Awarding people when you are happy
    • Punishing people when you are angry
  • I think the nine virtues are interesting, but I am more interested in the vices (especially in regards to not awarding people when you are happy and not punishing people when you are angry – in other words, your emotional state can negatively affect your behavior so you should try to do things as calmly as possible)
  • “Lao Tzu said real eloquence means talking little and Chuang Tzu said truth does not need a lot of argument” – this was in relation to how Taizong argued with his ministers whenever they brought up suggestions or criticism which over time would influence how reluctant his ministers were in raising these suggestions or concerns. Taizong wanted to encourage his subordinates to speak out, criticize him and let him know when he was making mistakes so that he could rule better.
  • “An enlightened ruler employs men as a skilled carpenter selects wood. If the wood is straight, he uses it as a shaft for a cart; if it is crooked, he uses it as a wheel. If it is long, he uses it as a roof beam; if it is short, he uses it as a rafter. Straight or crooked, long or short, each piece is useful.” – Match people’s jobs with their strengths. This also means that you should be aware of your team’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can use people’s strengths as optimally as you can.
  • “Your majesty once told me that Li Ji hadn’t won a great victory or suffered a great defeat in his career, while Xue Wanche was capable of either winning big or losing big. In my opinion, that an army neither seeks major victory nor suffers big defeat means that it is highly disciplined. An army capable of winning great victories or suffering big defeats seems to rely too much on chance.” – This was a really great quote and one that I think can apply to a lot of situations in life. You certainly have to balance the risk and consider that with great risk comes great reward. I found Taizong to be quite wise to realize that an army capable of winning great victories or suffering big defeats seems to rely too much on chance and that without great victories or big defeats, it means that the army is highly disciplined (and Taizon eventually chose Xue Wanche as his minister).

Overall, a very interesting book where I learned a few things to apply to my life and learned a bit about Chinese culture.

Wang