Several Stories about Tang Taizong (Part III)

A Benevolent Emperor

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General Shunde Zhangsun accepted a bribe of thin silk.

Taizong knew it and said: ‘ Shunde has contributed a lot to the empire. I can share the whole wealth of the empire with him, but why he is so interested in wealth?’

Taizong did not punish him; on the contrary, he gave him ten bolts of thin silk.

Yan Hu, an official, said: ‘Shunde broke the law. Why is he not only absolved, but also rewarded?’

Taizong said: ‘ If he is still human, when he receives the thin silk, he will be much more ashamed than if he is punished. If he does not feel shame, he is no different than an animal. Does it help to kill an animal?’

Tujue troops often attacked the border of the Tang Dynasty.

One year, it snowed heavily in the Tujue Kingdom (ancient Turkey), many sheep and horses died, and the citizens of that land suffered famine. Many officials suggested to Taizong that they should attack them.

Taizong said: ‘ We would not be keeping faith, since we just formed an alliance with them, if we broke the treaty so soon; we would not be benevolent if we tried to gain benefit from a kingdom that is suffering disaster; and it is not just military activity to hit your enemy when he is down. Even if all the tribes of the Tujue Kingdom betrayed their king and all the tame animals died out, I would not attack them. I would punish them only if they committed sin against us.’

Once Taizong told his officials: ‘The emperor depends on his empire, and his empire depends on the people. An emperor who forces his people to be his personal slaves is doing the same as cutting his own flesh to fill his stomach. When he is full, he is dead — the emperor becomes rich and his empire is destroyed. So to be an emperor, one should always look inside oneself. The more appetite an emperor has, the heavier the taxes paid by his people, the harder his people’s lives are, and the more the empire is endangered. How could the emperor keep his position in these circumstances? I always think about this, so I always resist my temptations.’

To be continued.

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