One day Taizong said to some officials: ‘I have read some profound articles written by Sui Yang Di.’ (A tyrant who craved luxuries. His unofficial name was Guang Yang. His father was Jian Yang, the first emperor of the Sui Dynasty.) ‘Why can he judge right from wrong in his articles but not in dealing with the affairs of state?’
Zheng Wei answered: ‘Even if the emperor is a saint, he should accept others’ suggestions without vanity. In this way, wise persons can share their stratagems; brave persons can give their all. Sui Yang Di relied on his own ability and considered himself always right. What he said was like the words of a saint, what he did was like deeds committed by a devil. Furthermore, he had no self-knowledge, so the only possible result was for the empire to be destroyed.’ Taizong said: ‘ All of this happened not long ago, we need to remember these lessons.’
One day, Taizong told his officials: ‘ By looking at a mirror people can evaluate their appearance. By looking at his loyal officials an emperor can evaluate his own faults. If the emperor always considers himself right and refuses suggestions from his officials and, at the same time, his officials flatter their emperor to make him happy, the emperor will lose his empire, and his officials will not stay alive either. Just like Shiji Yu, an official of Sui Yang Di, flattered Sui Yang Di in order to protect his own wealth. When Sui Yang Di was killed, he could not live any longer either. You should remember this lesson and point out my mistakes.’
Taizong said: ‘ Every time I contact my officials, before speaking a word, I always think about it for some time in order to avoid saying the wrong thing. So I seldom speak.’
The official in charge of recording said: ‘ My duty is to record every word you say. So, My Majesty, if you make some mistakes, I will record them. Thus your mistakes will not only harm today’s empire, but will also be laughed at by posterity.’
Hearing this, Taizong was very happy, and awarded this official 200 bolts of silk.
Taizong told his officials: ‘ Somebody said the emperor is afraid nothing. I am not like what they said. I fear the judgment of the gods and am anxious about the respect of my officials. Even if I cautiously and conscientiously perform my responsibilities, I am still afraid that what I do may not be according to the desires of the gods and my subjects.’
Taizong kept on, saying that: ‘ What I hold precious are the methods to govern the country according to what Rao, Shun, (great ancient Chinese kings) Zhou Gong (great ancient Chinese official) and Confucius taught. Their methods to me are like wings to birds and water to fish. Without them I cannot live for even a minute.’