Emperor Taizong: Open to Criticism and Readily Corrects Own Faults (Part 1)

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(Epoch Times)

Li Shimin, Emperor Taizong (627 – 649 A.D.) of the Tang Dynasty was one of a few truly outstanding emperors in Chinese history. He was famous for being receptive to advice and criticism. When his officials’ criticism became too harsh and painful, Emperor Taizong sometimes had difficulty maintaining self-control, and would even want to cover up the problems and refuse to listen. Despite that, after all he was a person with remarkable generosity and laudable tolerance, and he always regarded the country’s interests as the most important and made corrections once he realized his own faults.

Story One:
Wang Gui (also known as Wang Shujie) of the Tang dynasty was an upright and straightforward person with a pure heart, few desires and righteous behavior. When Li Jiancheng, Li Shimin’s elder brother, became the crown prince, Wang Gui was appointed as his political advisor. On July 2, 626 A.D., a Palace Coup at Xuan Wu Gate took place. Li Shimin was forced to kill Li Jiangcheng and another brother in self-defense. After that, Wang Gui was exiled to the remote Jun Zhou Prefecture.

In the first year of the Zhen Guan Era (627 – 649 A.D.), Li Shimin ascended to the throne and became Emperor Taizong. He knew that Wang Gui was very talented, and therefore summoned Wang Gui back to the capital city. He pardoned Wang Gui for the attempted assassination at Xuan Wu Gate, and made him a royal advisor responsible for pointing out the emperor’s mistakes.

One day when Emperor Taizong was about to appear in front of the court, he said to the officials, “If an upright emperor uses evil officials, the country won’t be governed well. By the same token, if righteous officials serve an evil emperor, the country won’t be governed well. Only when the emperor and the officials coexist as harmoniously as fish and water, can true stability across the country be achieved and can the country be in good order. I am not smart, so I hope you all can correct me when I am wrong in order to put your good ideas and opinions into full use and make the country peaceful.”

Upon hearing this, Wang Gui said: “I have heard that only by following the correct measurement, can a piece of wood be cut straight. An emperor can be wise only when he listens to his officials’ advice. Therefore in ancient times, an emperor had to surround himself with seven frank and forthright officials. When their remonstrations were not listened to, they would continue to remonstrate with their lives. Your majesty is wise and a man of virtue. As a member of this open-minded court, I will be wholeheartedly devoted to it.”

Emperor Taizong felt inspired by Wang’s words. He made a rule that when all high-ranking government officials above the third grade were in court, advisors must be present to give advice. [Note: In ancient China, there was a nine-grade system for high-level government officials with the 9th grade being the lowest and the 1st grade being the highest.] Emperor Taizong indeed accepted remonstrations readily. Wang Gui routinely gave him advice and corrected his mistakes.

However, not all the remonstrations were so easy to listen to. One time, Taizong lost his temper badly and scolded Zu Xiaosun, a royal court music director, just because his way of teaching musicians in the palace did not suit Emperor Taizong’s style. Wang Gui and Wen Yanbo thought it was not Zu Xiaosun’s fault and therefore advised Emperor Taizong: “Zu Xiaosun is proficient at music and he also tried his best when teaching. The person you asked might have lied to your majesty. Besides, Zu Xiaosun is a refined scholar, yet your majesty neglected this and asked him to teach music to maids, and even scolded him. We are concerned that people in the country will be scared by this.” Upon hearing this, Emperor Taizong became even angrier and scolded them, “You are my trusted officials and should show your loyalty and honesty. Why are you going along with a lower person and deceiving a higher person, speaking up for Zu Xiaosun?”

Wen Yanbo hurried to kneel down and apologized for being offensive, but Wang Gui refused to do so and said: “I served the former crown prince Li Jiancheng and should have been executed for my offense. Your Majesty pardoned me and placed me in an important position, asking me to serve faithfully. The words that I spoke earlier today weren’t for myself. Yet to my surprise, Your Majesty has become suspicious and blames me. It is Your Majesty who has let me down, and not the other way around.” Emperor Taizong was speechless.

The next day, Emperor Taizong said to Fang Xuanling, “Since ancient times, emperors have had difficulties in accepting remonstrations. King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty failed to accept loyal Boyi and Shuqi’s words. King Xuan of the Zhou Dynasty was an emperor of virtue, yet he killed the innocent Shubo. I have been hoping to follow the previous saints, but regret that I can’t achieve the level of the ancients. Yesterday, I scolded Wang Gui and Wen Yanbo, and I now regret it. I hope this incident won’t stop you from providing upright remonstrations!”

唐太宗傾耳虛心、聞過則改(上)

唐太宗是中國歷史上屈指可數的傑出帝王,尤以兼聽納諫著稱。然而,當大臣們諫諍言詞激烈,有切膚之痛時,唐太宗有時也控制不住自己,也想文過飾非、充耳不聞。但唐太宗畢竟有過人的雅量和氣度,以國家社稷為重,聞過則改。
(一)
唐朝的王珪,字叔玠,清心寡慾、品行端正、剛直不阿。世子李建成被立為東宮太子後,他出任太子中舍人。玄武門之變後,王珪受牽連,被流放到雋州。
貞觀元年,唐太宗即位。他知道王珪很有才幹,就不計前嫌,召回王珪,拜為諫議大夫。一次,唐太宗臨朝,對侍臣們說道:「正直的君主任用奸邪的臣子,是無法使天下大治的;正直的臣子侍奉奸邪的君主,同樣無法使天下大治。只有君臣相遇,如同魚水一般和諧,海內才能安定,天下才能大治。我雖不敏,還望諸公多加匡正,以便憑藉諸公的佳謀良策,使天下昇平。」
王珪隨即應道:「臣聽說,木材按照繩墨割鋸才會正直,君主採納臣下諫言才會聖明。所以,古代的聖主身旁必有七位諍臣,他們言而不從,則繼續以死相諫。陛下開明聖哲,為臣身處廣開言路之朝,當然願意竭誠盡忠。」唐太宗聽了受益匪淺,就規定三品以上的顯官入朝時必須有諫官在側。唐太宗也確實是從諫如流,王珪更是有過必規,見缺必勸。
然而,並不是每次勸諫聽起來都那麼入耳。一次,太常少卿祖孝孫因為教授宮人聲樂不合唐太宗的心意,唐太宗大發脾氣,狠狠的責怪了祖孝孫一頓。王珪、溫彥博認為責任不在祖孝孫,便勸諫唐太宗道:「祖孝孫精通音律,教授時也並非不盡心。只怕陛下詢問的那個人欺騙了陛下。況且祖孝孫是位雅士,陛下忽略了這一點,讓他教授女樂,而且還怪罪他,臣等擔心天下人都會為此感到驚怕。」唐太宗一聽,火上心頭,呵斥道:「你們都是我的心腹,本當盡忠獻直,怎麼竟附下罔上,替祖孝孫說起話來!」
溫彥博趕忙拜伏謝罪,而王珪偏偏不拜,說道:「臣從前侍奉東宮太子,罪已當死,陛下寬恕了為臣,並讓為臣處在顯要職位,要求臣盡忠職守。今天臣所進言不是為了自身,不料陛下陡起疑心,譏誚為臣,這是陛下對不起臣,不是臣對不起陛下。」唐太宗聽了,說不出話來。
第二天,唐太宗對房玄齡說道:「自古以來,帝王是很難做到採納諫言的。周武王尚且不用伯夷、叔齊之言。宣王是位賢主,可杜伯居然以無罪被殺。我一直希望師法從前的聖主,只恨自己不能達到古人的水平。昨日,我責備了王珪和溫彥博,對此我頗感後悔。希望你們不要因此而不進直言啊!」

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