The Wisdom of Teacher Kuang

Teacher Kuang (572-532 BC) was a well-known musician in the country of Jin. When Emperor Jindao and Emperor Jinping were in power, he also served as a minister. He is remembered for the "Wisdom of Teacher Kuang." He was a political activist and a scholar. His contemporaries referred to him as a "widely experienced" man. Teacher Kuang accomplished this even though he was born blind. Hence, he called himself the Blind Courtier.

According to legend, his skill with the drum and the qin (an ancient stringed instrument still used today) was incomparable. Kuang's contemporaries said that his skill had reached the highest possible level known to man. He could also use the qin to express natural sounds, such as the singing of a bird. In addition, he was knowledgeable in folk songs from all over the country.

Kuang was a government official regarding music. He believed that one purpose of music was to disseminate moral concepts via folk songs. These songs reached every part of the country. He thought that by singing the songs with poems and combining them with rituals, it would be possible to civilize more people. His understanding of music also inspired methods of governing the country. One day, Emperor Jinping was feeling sorry for Kuang because he was blind. Kuang replied, "There are five types of blindness":

The emperor cannot see that one of his officials uses bribery.
The emperor appoints the wrong men to jobs.
The emperor fails to differentiate between the capable and the incapable officials.
The emperor only wants to use force.
The emperor is not aware of how the citizens live.

When a tyrannical king was deposed by his subjects, Emperor Jindao thought that the king's public had gone too far. Kuang believed that the foundation of a country was its people. The king's job was to see that his subjects were properly treated. He was not above the public and should live with morals. Failure to do so was to go against nature. Such a king had brought disappointment to the public, was not taking care of the government, and hence should be replaced. Emperor Jindao admired Kuang's views and asked Kuang what was the best way to govern. Kuang replied, "Uphold benevolence and righteousness."

In politics, Kuang advocated a transparent government, indicating that morality and law were equally important. The emperor should let events unfold naturally, promote universal love, and use a set of laws to safeguard the governing system. Without laws, both the officials and the public would be without guidance. In personnel selection, Kuang said that only a moral and talented individual should be given national responsibility. Kuang also said, "When a loyal minister is let go, and an untrustworthy individual is given responsibility, chaos will follow. A similar situation will occur if a high-level government position is given to an unworthy person." Regarding the economy, Kuang believed that the public needed to be prosperous for society to be peaceful. Government officials should be familiar with the reality of life for the citizens to insure no one is mistreated.

For the leader of a nation, he recommended, "Do not get stuck in mediocrity. Do not let people stop you from moving forward." "As a leader," he thought, "one must have foresight and independent views."

He believed that these characteristics were needed to lead a nation and to prosper. During the reigns of Emperors Jindao and Jinping, the nation prospered because of Kuang's advice. Kuang followed Emperor Jinping to battle several times and went on a diplomatic mission to the Chou Dynasty.

In those days the country of Qi ruled a strong territory, and the Qi emperor also consulted Kuang on how to govern his country. To that question he replied, "An emperor should bring prosperity to his people."

Kuang had a staunch disposition. He was elegant in his presentation, but he would not curry favor with powerful people. When emperor Jinping became arrogant and extravagant in his old age, Kuang advised him many times to return to his earlier ways.

One time, in front of all his ministers, Jinping claimed, "An emperor is the happiest man, because no one dares to disobey his words." Kuang thought an emperor should not make such a statement and threw his qin at Jinping. If Kuang had feared death, he would not have done so.

Because the elderly Jinping had become so extravagant, the Jin Dynasty was in decline. When the emperor issued orders, the public reacted as if robbers were coming. During three hunting trips, Jinping acted as if he were the emperor of the universe. Kuang reacted by saying. "This is self-delusion." Jinping became angry. Back in the palace, he asked his servants to place thorny plants on the stairs. Then, Kuang walked upstairs without shoes. After stepping on the thorns, Kuang said, "When a person lowers himself to the level of a slave, his days are numbered. An emperor's court is not a place where thorny plants grow. I predict Jinping is about to die."

Because of his noble character and care for the public, Kuang was highly regarded by noblemen as well as common people. The ancient Chinese believed, "The moral concepts in life are the same as those in man." Kuang's achievements in music and politics are directly related to how he cultivated his mind.

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