The Courtyard is as Busy as a Market Place

PureInsight | August 29, 2007

[] During the
Warring States Period, there was a minister from the Qi State, Zou Ji,
who was a tall and handsome man. One day, when he was getting dressed
in front of a mirror, he asked his wife, "Between Xu Gong from the
north of the city and me, who is more handsome?"

His wife said, "You are far more handsome. Xu Gong is not your match!"
Xu Gong from north of the city was well known for his good looks. Zou
Ji had no confidence and asked his concubine the same question.

His concubine said, "How can Xu Gong be as handsome as you!"

Two days later, a visitor came. After they visited for a while, Zou asked the visitor the same question.

The visitor said, "You are more handsome than Xu Gong."

The following day, Xu Gong came to visit Zou. Zou took a good look at
Xu Gong and realized that he could not match Xu Gong. At night, he lay
in bed and pondered over it. "My wife said that I was handsome because
she was partial to me. My concubine said that I was handsome because
she was afraid of me. My visitor said that I was handsome because he
wanted a favor from me."

As a result, Zou went into the imperial court to see Qi Weiwang, King
of the Ji State. He said, "I know that I am not as handsome as Xu Gong.
However, my wife is partial to me, my concubine is afraid of me, and my
visitor wanted a favor from me, so they all told me that I was more
handsome than Xu Gong.  Now the territory of Qi State is very big
and there are 120 mansions. The ladies in the palaces and your close
assistants are all partial to you. The officials in the imperial court
are all afraid of you. The people in the state all want something from
you. Therefore, you will be severely deceived.

Qi Weiwang said, "You are absolutely right!" Consequently, Qi Weiwang
issued the following order: "All officials and civilians: if anyone can
point out my mistake in person, he will be highly rewarded. If one can
send me the criticism in written form, he will be moderately rewarded.
If one criticizes me in public and the criticism is related to me, he
will be rewarded the least."

Once the announcement was made, the officials from the imperial court
all came in and the courtyard was like a city market, full of people. A
few months later, there were still written criticisms being presented.
A year later, many people still wanted to make suggestions but there
was nothing more they could pick on. Four other states heard about what
Qi Weiwang was doing and sent people to the Qi State to pay their
respects. It was just like people say: if a kingdom wants to be better
than other kingdoms, it needs to preserve its political integrity.

This story tells us that Zou Ji used an analogy to advise the king of
the Qi State and helped him to be modest in receiving others' advice.
Later, people liked to picture the crowd continuously coming to the
palace, so the saying that the courtyard is as busy as a city market
turned into an expression for a busy crowd.

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