posted 19 Mar 2013, 21:50 by Jim Sheng
[Died 155 b.c. An Imperial counsellor, chiefly known by his strenuous opposition to the system of vassal princes, which had been in part re-established under the Han dynasty after the total abolition of feudatory government by their predecessors, the Ch'ins. Ultimately, when a coalition of seven vassal princes threatened the very existence of the dynasty, Ch'ao Ts'o was shamefully sacrificed by the Emperor, with a view to appease the rebels and avert the impending disaster.] 


AS it please your Majesty, 

Ever since the accession of the House of Han there have been constant irruptions of Tartar hordes, with more or less profit to the invaders. During one reign they twice fell upon Lung-hsi, besieging the city, slaughtering the people, and driving off cattle. On another occasion, they made a further raid, murdered the officials and garrison, and carried away everything upon which they could lay their hands. 

Now, victory inspires men with additional courage: with defeat their morale disappears. And these three defeats at Lung-hsi have left the inhabitants utterly demoralised, with never a ray of hope for the future. The officials, acting under the protection of the Gods and armed with authority from the Throne, may strive to renew the morale and discipline of their soldiers, and to raise the courage of a beaten people to face the onset of Huns flushed with victory. They may struggle to oppose many with few, or to compass the rout of a host by the slaughter of its leader. The question, however, is not one of the bravery or cowardice of our people, but rather of the strategy of our generals. Thus it is said in the Art of War, "A good general is more indispensable to success than a good army." Therefore we should begin by careful selection of competent generals. Further, there are three points upon which the fate of a battle depends. These are (1) Position, (2) Discipline, and (3) Arms.

We read in the Art of War, "(1) A country intersected by ditches and watercourses, or marshy, or woody, or rocky, or overgrown with vegetation, is favourable to the operations of infantry. Two horsemen are there not equal to one foot-soldier. 

"Gentle slopes of soft earth, and level plains, are adapted to the manoeuvres of cavalry. Ten foot-soldiers are there not a match for one horseman. 

"Where the route lies between high hills some distance apart, or through defiles with steep precipices on each side, the conditions are favourable to bowmen. A hundred soldiers with side-arms are there no match for a single archer. 

"Where two armies meet at close quarters on a plain, covered with short grass and giving plenty of room to manoeuvre, the conditions are favourable to lancers. Three men with sword and buckler are not equal to one of these. 

"But in jungle and amid thick undergrowth, there is nothing like the short spear. Two lancers are there not equal to one spearman. 

"On the other hand, where the path is tortuous and difficult, and the enemy is concealed from view, then swordsmen carry everything before them, one man thus equipped being more than a match for three archers. 

"(2) If soldiers are not carefully chosen and well drilled to obey, their movements will be irregular. They will not act in concert. They will miss success for want of unanimity. Their retreat will be disorderly, one half fighting while the other is running away. They will not respond to the call of the gong and drum. One hundred such as these will not hold their own against ten well-drilled men. 

"(3) If their arms are not good, the soldiers might as well have none. If the cuirass is not stout and close set, the breast might as well be bare. Bows that will not carry, are no more use at long distances than swords and spears. Bad marksmen might as well have no arrows. Even good marksmen, unless able to make their arrows pierce, might as well shoot with headless shafts. These are the oversights of incompetent generals. Five such soldiers are no match for one." 

Therefore, the Art of War says, ** Bad weapons betray soldiers. Raw soldiers betray their general. Incompetent generals betray their sovereign. Injudicious sovereigns betray their country." The above four points are of vital importance in military matters. 

May it please your Majesty. There is a difference in outline between great things and small ones. There is a difference in power between the strong and the weak. There is a difference in preparation between dangerous enterprises and easy ones. To truckle and cringe to the powerful,  this is the behaviour of a petty State. To mass small forces against one great force,  this is the attitude of a hostile State. To use barbarians as a weapon against barbarians,  this is what we do in the Central State. 

The configuration of the Hun territory, and the particular skill there available, are not what we are accustomed to at home. In scaling mountains and fording rivers our horses do not excel; nor our horsemen in galloping wildly along precipitous mountain paths, shooting as they go; nor our soldiers in endurance of cold, hunger, and thirst. In all these respects the Huns are our superiors. On level ground we beat them out of the field. Our bows, our spears, are incomparably better than theirs. Our armour, our blades, and the manoeuvres of our troops, are unmatched by anything the Huns can show. When our good archers discharge their arrows, the arrows strike the target all together, against which their cuirasses and wooden bucklers are of no avail. And when it comes to dismounting and hand-to-hand fighting with sword and spear in the supreme struggle, the victory is easily ours. In these respects we excel them. Thus, the Huns may be compared with us in strength as three to five. Besides which, to slaughter their myriads we can bring tens of myriads, and crush them by mere force of numbers. But arms are a curse, and war is a dread thing. For in the twinkling of an eye the mighty may be humbled, and the strong may be brought low. The stake is great, and men's lives of no account. For him who falls to rise no more, the hour of repentance is past. 

Now the maxim of our ancient kings was this "The greatest safety of the greatest number." And as we have among us several thousand barbarians who, in point of food and skill, are closely allied to the Huns, let us clothe them in stout armour and warm raiment, arm them with trusty bows and sharp blades, mount them on good horses, and set them to guard the frontier. Let them be under the command of a competent general, familiar with their customs, and able to develop their morale according to the military traditions of this empire. Then, in the event of arduous military operations, let these men go to the front, while we keep back our light war-chariots and horse-arches for work upon level ground. We shall thus have, as it were, an outside and a lining; each division will be employed in the manner for which best adapted; our army will be increased, and the greatest safety of the greatest number will be achieved. 

It is written, "The rash minister speaks, and the wise ruler decides." I am that rash minister, and with my life in my hand I dare to utter these words, humbly awaiting the decision of your Majesty. 


"A bold peasantry, their country's pride." 

When the people are prosperous under the sway of a wise ruler, familiar with the true principle of national wealth, it is not only the tiller of the soil who fills his belly, nor the weaver alone who has a suit of clothes to his back. 

In the days of Yao there was a nine years' flood: in the days of T'ang, a seven years' drought. Yet the State suffered not, because of the preparations which had been made to meet such emergencies. Now, all within the boundary of the sea is under one sceptre; and our country is wider and its inhabitants more numerous. For many years Heaven has sent upon us no visitation of flood or drought. Why then is our provision against emergency less? The fertility of the soil is not exhausted; and more labour is to be had. All cultivable land is not under tillage; neither have the hills and marshes reached their limit of production; neither has every available idler put his hand to the plough. 

Crime begins in poverty; poverty in insufficiency of food; insufficiency of food in neglect of agriculture. Without agriculture, man has no tie to bind him to the soil. Without such tie, he readily leaves his birth-place and his home. He is like unto the birds of the air or the beasts of the field. Neither battlemented cities, nor deep moats, nor harsh laws, nor cruel punishments, can subdue this roving spirit that is strong within him. 

He who is cold examines not the quality of cloth: he who is hungry tarries not for choice meats. When cold and hunger come upon men, honesty and shame depart. As man is constituted, he must eat twice daily, or hunger; he must wear clothes, or be cold. And if the stomach cannot get food and the body clothes, the love of the fondest mother cannot keep her children at her side. How then should a sovereign keep his subjects gathered round him? 

The wise ruler knows this. Therefore he concentrates the energies of his people upon agriculture. He levies light taxes. He extends the system of grain storage, to provide for his subjects at times when their resources fail. 

Man makes for grain, just as water flows of necessity in the direction of a lower level. Gold, silver, and jewels, are powerless to allay the pangs of hunger or to ward off the bitterness of cold; yet the masses esteem these things because of the demand for them among their betters. Light and of limited bulk, a handful of such valuables will carry one through the world without fear either of cold or hunger. It is for these things that a minister plays false to his prince. It is for these things that a man lightly leaves his home: a stimulus to theft, the godsend of fugitives! 

Grain and cotton cloths come to us from the earth. They are produced in due season by the labour of man, and time is needed for their growth. A few hundred-weight of such stuffs is more than an ordinary man can carry. They offer no inducement to crime; yet to be without them for a single day is to suffer both hunger and cold. Therefore the wise ruler holds grain in high honour, but degrades gold and jewels. 

Now in every family of five there is an average of at least two capable husbandmen, who have probably not more than a few roods of land, the yield of which would perhaps be not more than a hundred piculs. In spring they have to plough; in summer, to weed; in autumn, to reap; in winter, to store; besides cutting fuel, repairing official residences, and other public services. Exposed, in spring, to wind and dust; in summer, to scorching heat; in autumn, to fog and rain; in winter, to cold and frost,  from year's end to year's end they know not what leisure means. They have besides their own social obligations, visits of sympathy and condolence, the nourishment of orphans, of the aged, and of the young. Then, when flood and drought come upon them, already compassed round with toil and hardship, the government pressing harshly, collecting taxes at unsettled times, issuing orders in the morning to revoke them at night,  those who have grain sell at half value, while those who have not borrow at exorbitant usury. Then paternal acres change hands; sons and grandsons are sold to pay debts; merchants make vast profits, and even petty tradesmen realise unheard-of gains. These take advantage of the necessities of the hour. Their men do not till: their women do not spin. Yet they all wear fine clothes and live on the fat of the land. They share not the hardships of the husbandman. Their wealth pours in from the four quarters of the earth. Vying in riches with kings and princes, in power they out-do the authorities themselves. Their watchword is gain. When they go abroad they are followed by long retinues of carriages and servants. They ride in fine coaches and drive sleek horses. They are shod in silk and robed in satin. Thus do they strip the husbandman bare of his goods; and thus it is that the husbandman is an outcast on the face of the earth. 

At present, the merchant is de jure an ignoble fellow; de facto, he is rich and great. The husbandman is, on the other hand, de jure an honourable man; de facto, a beggar. Theory and practice are at variance; and in the confusion which results, national prosperity is out of the question. Now there would be nothing more presently advantageous than to concentrate the energies of our people upon agriculture; and the way to do this is to enhance the value of grain by making it an instrument of reward and punishment. Let rank be bestowed in return for so much grain. Let penalties be commuted for so much. By these means, rich men will enjoy honours, husbandmen will make money, and grain be distributed over the face of the empire. Those who purchase rank in this way will purchase out of their surplus; and by handing this over to the Imperial exchequer, the burden of taxes may be lightened, one man's superfluity making up for the deficiency of another, to the infinite advantage of the people. The benefits of this plan may in fact be enumerated under the following heads:  (1) Sufficiency for Imperial purposes; (2) Light taxation; (3) Impetus given to agriculture. 

Then again, at present a horse and cart are taken in lieu of three men under conscription for military service, on the ground that these are part of the equipment of war. But it was said of old, "An you have a stone rampart a hundred feet high, a moat a hundred feet broad, and a million of soldiers to guard the city, without food it shall be of no avail." 

From the above it is clear that grain is the basis of all government. Rather then bid men gain rank and escape conscription by payments of grain: this would be better far than payment in horses and carts. Rank can be given at will by the mere fiat of the Emperor, and the supply is inexhaustible; grain can be produced from the earth by man in endless measure; and rank and exemption from penalty are what men above all things desire. 

Therefore, I pray your Majesty, bestow rank and commute penalties for grain-payments; and within three years the empire will be amply supplied.