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Stories from Ancient China: Sima Guangs Talent and Virtue
The Epoch Times
4/15/2009

Sima Guang (1019 - 1086 AD) was a respected scholar, statesman and poet. He created the classic Zi Zhi Tong Jian, a general chronical of Chinese history between 403 BCE and 969 AD. His writings are seen as the best single historical work of the Northern Song Dynasty (960 AD - 1127 AD).

Sima Guang categorized people according to their virtues and talents into four groups: the astute who have virtue as well as talent the silly ones who lack talent and virtue the noble ones who have virtue but no talent and the lowly ones who have talents but no virtue.

When it came time to install an official, his first choice would be to select from the astute group. His second choice would be a noble person. Could he find neither, according to Sima Guang, it would be more prudent to place a silly person in office than a lowly one, because people with talent who lack virtue are dangerous, and are worse than those who lack both talent and virtue.

Sima Guang believed that a talented noble could accomplish good deeds, while a lower person would easily show his bad side. If this lower person strived diligently, he could accomplish things, but his deeds may be brutal, comparable to a tiger that had been given a pair of wings. The damage would be catastrophic.

Sima Guang also said: a virtuous person enjoys the respect of others, and talented people are treasured. But a highly respected person could keep others at a distance, while a beloved person generally draws others to him. Someone establishing a suitable candidate can easily overlook virtue and be enamored by talent. Throughout history, most all the silly emperors, traitorous officials, and high-living sons of talented fathers were the ones lacking virtue. Examples, too many to count, tell of individuals whose actions brought down their nations or contributed to huge losses in their homelands. Notorious emperors Yin Zhouwang, Zhou Youwang, Sui Yangdi and others were talented but lacked virtue, making them lowly people who were a catastrophe for their nations.

Yin Zhouwang was intelligent, clever, and physically strong—he could tame an animal with his bare hands. But he often hid his mistakes, scoffed at suggestions, and was disrespectful to the gods. He was convinced in his actions, and often acted the show-off. He had illusions of grandeur, thinking the whole world was his oyster, and behaved brutally and cruelly. He tortured loyal followers with branding irons, cut open womens bellies to eliminate their pregnancies, broke peoples bones to savor the marrow, and cut his own uncle into pieces while alive, to get at his heart.

All the nobles and his people eventually turned against him. Yin Zhouwang lost to Zhou Wuwang and was stripped of his kingdom. He was burned at the stake, and his name became the laughing stock of the history books.

That is the reason for Sima Guang emphasizing virtue first, in the selection of high officials or an emperor.

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