Once Taizong talked with his officials about how to stop robbing and stealing. Somebody suggested that a harsh law be established.
Taizong said: ‘The reasons for people stealing or robbing are the heavy taxes, too strenuous public service requirements, official malfeasance, and suffering hunger and cold, all of which make people forget their sense of honor. So I suggest saving money, lowering taxes, and selecting disinterested officials. These will make people know they need not worry about hunger and cold; the thieves and robbers will then disappear soon. There is no need for a rigorous law.’
Several years later, the empire became peaceful. Citizens treated each other as if all were their family, there was no need to shut the door at night, and travelers could safely sleep in the fields.
Some people were found to be cheating during the process for the selection of officials. Taizong decided to sentence them to death according to an order that he had just declared.
Wei Dai, an officer of the defense department, said: ‘ They should be exiled according to the law.’ Taizong said angrily: ‘ You want to stand by the law and make me lose my credibility?’ Wei said: ‘ My Majesty, you declared your order according to your temporarily happy or angry mood, while the law is declared for all of the people to stand by. My Majesty, you were very angry because you had been cheated, and decided to sentence them to death. You also know that what you have done does not stand by the law. If you can judge the whole situation from the view of the law, I think, you can jump out of your selfish anger and obtain the trust of the empire.’
Taizong said happily: ‘ Since you can interpret the law like this, there is no need for me to worry about it.’
After that, Wei gave advice to the emperor several times, Taizong took all of his advice, and there were no unjust charges from then on in the empire.
One day, Taizong asked Gui Wang, ‘ Why are recent governors not as good as the ancient ones?’
Wang said: ‘ In the Han Dynasty, people advocated Confucianism, and the folkways were pure; recently, people despise Confucianism and emphasize the effect of the law, so the country grows weaker and weaker.’
Taizong agreed with him.
To be continued.