An Immoral Ruler Undermines His Own Legitimacy
Chinese emphasis on the state as a moral entity and on the ruler as the primary ethical actor gave the notions of corruption and subversion special meanings. Among the Chinese military texts considered here, only T’ai Kung’s Six Secret Teachings explores the potential of corrupting an enemy; it is not an essential of Chinese martial thought. Nonetheless, the discussion of this subject in the Six Secret Teachings is particularly illuminating in that it differs considerably from the constant discussion of underhanded tricks in the South Asian classic the Arthashastra. The Six Secret Teachings urges a just ruler to tempt his adversary to reveal his own evil nature. In showing himself to be corrupt, the adversary would lose the Mandate of Heaven and, therefore, the support of his people. The goal is not to subvert specific policies, ministers, or generals but to allow the opponent to undermine his own legitimacy. “[A]ssist him in his licentiousness and indulge in music in order to dissipate his will. Make him generous gifts of pearls and jade, and ply him with beautiful women.” While music occupied special spiritual importance in Confucian thought, “music” here probably also means “pleasure,” as both were written with the same character. “Debauch him with beautiful women, entice him with profit. Nurture him with flowers, and provide him with the company of female musicians.” So vital is perceived virtue to power that moral shortcomings threaten a king and the state itself.
— John A. Lynn, Battle, pp. 43-44
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