Chinese Book on Leadership

Chinese books on Leadership
by Chew

论 语 has been passed down since the Han Dynasty, which is about 20 centuries ago. There has been some misunderstanding by many that it is a writing that is passed down by 孔子,Confucius. However, the fact is that it is a compilation of his teachings by his disciples through their engagements and experience with their master.

论语 has always been a must read for students and leaders. It has even been listed under the 四书五经,which are compulsory texts that will be tested during their imperial exams all the way back to the Tang Dynasty. Basically, Confucius has always been closely associated with the word, 仁政,as he strongly believe that only those who can feel for the world will rule the world. 仁 can come in many forms and meanings. From, it means Humane. From, it means benevolent. From, it also means humane and仁政 means policies for the good of the people or a humane government. So generally, the word cannot void itself from the human factor that one has to have a heart for the people and decide for the benefit of the people.
This is further elaborated in the book; 三国演义,which has loads of stories listing down the positive and negative impact of leadership. For example, lousy leaders like 董卓 (Dong Zhuo) ,刘禅 (Liu Chan) ,丁原 (Ding Yuan) are some of them who have not only failed to lead but also failed to live long enough. Both董卓 and 丁原were basically killed by their god son and it happened to be the same person, 呂布 (Lu Bu) and there is also a strategist, 诸葛亮, Zhu Ge Liang, mentioned in his conversation with 刘备, Liu Bei who one of the three rulers, that although 曹操, Cao Cao, hasthe advantage 天时, which means the advantage of the situation. 孙权 has the benefit of 地力, which is one positioned in a location that gives you the benefit during attack and defense. However, 刘备 who possesses 人和, the trust and being popular to the people, is in a much better position. 诸葛亮 rank the 3 elements saying that天时不如地力,而地力不如人和。So人和 is being ranked first, followed by 地力 and last but not least 天时. He ranks the benefit and trust of people in the topmost priority while having an upper hand in the situation last. This explains that his belief of a great leader is one who has support from the people.
It is the people who form the country; it is the people who form the world. There is a saying in Chinese, 天下是天下人的天下。It simply means that the world belongs to the people of the world. Most of the time this is to elaborate that a single ruler does not own the world but deliver what the people of the world wants. Leaders are servants. The Chinese beliefs further expand this point by saying,君者,需先天下之优而优,后天下之乐而 乐。A leader should be able to foresee and worry the future before the world starts worrying. On the other hand, they will enjoy the fruit of success after the world has tasted it. In reality, how many leaders are able to accomplish this, by putting the people’s benefit before oneself? 曹操 is one of such leader who does not act with such beliefs.


His belief was expressed when he had to run away from董卓 when his assassination plan failed. He had to escape and leave the capital and hid himself in an associate’s place. At night, he killed the host and his family as he suspected them of trying to sell him out. When he was questioned of his action by his accomplice陈宫, Chen Gong, his answer was, 宁我负天下人,也不愿天下人负我。This statement basically brings out personality of the person, being lack of trust of people and focusing only one self interest. In the end, he died as he had no trust of the advice given by the doctor, 化陀,Hua Tuo that he needs an operation to remove the brain tumor that he has. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that during that period of time, 曹操 is the one who holds the greatest power. He took the emperor hostage and claimed his place as the premier. His forces conquered more than half of the Chinese continent. However, his conquest was put on a halt by the combined forces of 刘备 and 孙权.

One of the famous battles between 诸葛亮 and 司马义, 诸葛亮 had demonstrated the importance of a strong and compassionate leader. It was a holding war that诸葛亮 was planning, so he divided his forces into 2 rosters where each will take turn to defend the stronghold. 司马义 found out about such arrangement and he launched an attack during the change over period where the defense is the weakest as the holding force is worn out and the fresh supply of soldier has not taken over yet. Knowing about the attack, instead of getting the soldiers to get ready and prepare for the attack, 诸葛亮 actually summoned the troops to pack up and get ready to move out and hand over their duty leaving the fortress to be emptied. As the generals questioned his intention, he replied that he had promised the exchange and he will steadfast to his promise. Even if there is no more troops left, he will defend the stronghold on his own. Hearing this, the troops volunteered to stay and fight, so he used the renowned, 空城计, the empty vessel strategy to defeat the troop lead by 司马义.

All these examples that are cited are debatable for its credential, but nevertheless, as the saying goes, 空穴来风,未必无因, which means that things happen for a reason. These are just the tip of the ice berg as the history of China has given rise to several great leaders like, 岳飞,孙子,毛泽东,成吉思汗,忽必烈,etc.

All in all, a Leader is one who leads and others follow. I heard this from a colleague that a true leader is one who appoints another to lead and he will follow the one he has appointed even when in doubts. Well, definitely not everyone is able to do that. One biggest flaw of a leader is one who cannot relinquish his power once his task is over. Hence, the next person taking over will face the pressure to comply and the followers being lost and not know who to follow. 孙子曰:将者,智,信,仁,勇,严也。By not relinquishing power to the newly appointed leader, the new leader will lose the element of 信 and 严 and he will not be able to reward and promise, furthermore, he will not be able to fulfill what he promise as his promise might easily be over turn by the previous leader. Why is it so difficult for one to totally hand over his power to another? Probably because one would think that no one can do better than him or it might even be the case where one enjoys the feeling of being in power. Well, one thing that is proven in history is that almost all emperors faced the same succession problems. They are never prepared to name their heir or train some one capable and not from the bloodline to take over the throne.

As the saying goes, 一山不能容二虎。A clear leader must be appointed and the other can always be consulting and advising not having 2 leaders trying to sort things out every time situations arises, resulting in delayed decisions and lost opportunities. Having more than 1 leader also creates the problem whereby one may undermine the decision of the other making one look good and the other looking like a fool.

In the end of the day, what kind of a leader you choose to be is entirely up to you and time and the people around you will tell if you have been an effective leader. Some may debate saying that worse case I don’t step into the role of leadership, but let us take a step back and observe. Aren’t we always leading our own life?