Stories from History: Fu Shuo's Conversation with Wu Ding

Li Jian

PureInsight | November 5, 2006

[] In the Shang
Dynasty in ancient China, there was a king called Wu Ding. After Wu
Ding's father died, he stayed out of government affairs for three whole
years to mourn his father. After the three years of mourning were over,
Wu Ding still did not attend government affairs. As the government
officials were all wondering about it, Wu Ding wrote an announcement to
the officials, saying, "I want to be the role model of my people, but I
am afraid that I do not have enough virtue, so I do not dare to give
orders or make decisions. I've been studying the right ways to govern
the land. I dreamed that the late king, my father, will give me an
excellent official to help me with the rule, and this official will
speak for me." Wu Ding then drew a portrait of the official he had
dreamed of, and ordered his men to search for this person.

A man called Fu Shuo was found to resemble the portrait more than
anyone else. At that time Fu Shuo was constructing city walls in the
suburb of Fuyan. King Wu Ding then appointed Fu Shuo as the Prime
Minister, and asked him to give good advice and help him to manage the
officials, and govern the land.

Fu Shuo suggested to Wu Ding, "A wise king should follow the way of the
universe. The king should establish a country, select a capital city,
and give the officials appropriate titles. Doing so is not for the
king's convenience and comfort, but for the wellbeing of the people.
The gods are the wisest, and they know everything. A wise king should
manage the country the same way that gods treat humans. If the governor
and officials follow the way of the universe, people can be easily

Fu Shuo also told Wu Ding, "If the ruler talks to his people without
respect and care, he will bring shame on himself. If the ruler uses
violence at will, he will cause wars and conflicts. The key to a good
reign is that the officials abide by the law. So the ruler should
appoint officials based on their abilities to handle government issues,
not on the ruler's own preference. Titles should not be given to those
with low levels of morality, but to those who are modest and
virtuous.  The ruler should not indulge mean people or tolerate
disrespect for the law. Do not insist in carrying out wrongdoings to
avoid criticism. Always think twice before making a decision, because
only in this way can one arrange things well."

Wu Ding was very happy with this advice. Fu Shuo knelt down to salute
the king, and said, "It is not hard to know how to behave, but it's not
easy to do the right things. Please learn to control your desires, and
be diligent in government affairs. In this way you can improve your
ability to rule the country. Only when you keep the benefit of the
country at heart, can you improve your own virtue and achievements.
Arrogance will cover up the good qualities of a person. If one flaunts
his abilities, he will lose his merit and achievements." With this
advice, Fu Shuo hoped to help Wu Ding improve his virtue.

Wu Ding said, "Only with the help of a good official, can a king be
wise. In the past, Yi Yin aided my father to achieve great success, but
he said, ‘I am ashamed of myself that I could not help the king to be
as great as the legendary emperors Yao and Shun. When I think of this,
I feel like I am being whipped on the street.' If a worthy person did
not get an appointment from the government, Yi Yin would blame himself
for it. Yi Yin helped my father achieve great accomplishments. I hope
you will help me follow my father's path, and give the people a
peaceful and happy life."

Fu Shuo saluted the king and said, "I will certainly help your highness
to gain great achievements." Fu Shuo kept his promise, and helped Wu
Ding to bring the Shang Dynasty into prosperity.

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