Stories from Ancient China: Accepting Criticism Improves Conduct, Allowing Bad Habits to be Prevented

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Emperor Tangtaizong of the Tang Dynasty once asked Zhe Suiliang, an official responsible for admonishing the emperor for wrongdoing, "When Emperor Shun planned to make varnished utensils, a dozen officials stepped up to admonish him. What is the big deal about making varnished utensils?"

Zhe Suiliang replied, "To be lavish and satisfy one's desire as much as one can is the root cause of the failure and the fall. Soon, varnished utensils will fail to satisfy him and next would be utensils made of gold and jade. A loyal official who loves his emperor will prevent bad things from happening by handling them in their infancy. If the disaster is already there, it is too late to furnish any advice."

Tangtaizong said, "That is true, indeed. When I am doing something wrong, you need to admonish me as soon as I begin. I found that in previous dynasties some emperors did not like to hear their officials admonish them. They always said, 'It is done already,' or 'I have given my consent already,' and did not want to correct themselves. In this way, how could they avoid failing?"

As an emperor of a country, Tangtaizong was modest and willing to accept admonishment. He corrected his mistakes as soon as he was aware of them and thus created a prominent era.

As a matter of fact, we need to "stop mistakes in their infancy" in our study and conduct as well. If we do not pay attention to minor inadequacies, they will eventually become big problems. In ancient times, smart emperors regarded the officials who could directly point out their deficiencies as "loyal officials." How shall we treat those who criticise us and give us suggestions? Only those who are good at taking other people's criticism and suggestions can benefit from everyone else and avoid big mistakes.

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