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Admonitions on Governing the People

Manual for All Administrators

Yagyong Chong

Publication Year: 2010

This is the first English translation of one of Korea’s most celebrated historical works, a pre-modern classic so well known to Koreans that it has inspired contemporary literature and television. Written in 1821 by Chong Yagyong (Tasan), Admonitions on Governing the People (Mongmin simso) is a detailed manual for district magistrates on how to govern better. In encyclopedic fashion, Chong Yagyong addresses the administration, social and economic life, criminal justice, the military, and the Confucian ritual system. He provides examples of past corrupt officials and discusses topics of the day such as famine relief and social welfare. A general call for overhauling the Korean ruling system, the book also makes the radical proposition that the purpose of government is to serve the interests of the people. This long-awaited translation opens a new window on early-nineteenth century Korea and makes available to a wide audience a work whose main concerns simultaneously transcend national and cultural boundaries.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, About the Series, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-11

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Notes on Translation

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pp. xi-xiv

...source text was too massive to be translated in its entirety; the copious information and historical facts were curtailed in order to provide the most relevant and meaningful English translation. Because of the work’s encyclopedic scope, many of the details are repeated or are too technical to be appreciated by modern readers. For instance...

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Translator’s Introduction

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pp. xv-xxxviii

...local governments described by Chŏng are perennial, as is the quest of civilized states to achieve governments that might eff ectively manage such aberrations. The challenges leaders face in ruling a society are universal and predictable, but Chŏng’s motivations and the way in which he presents these timeless issues...


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Author’s Preface

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pp. 1-4

...educate the sons of the nobility on how to cultivate their morality and govern the people. This indicates the link between governing the people and nurturing them. Therefore, half of the superior man’s learning...


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1. Appointment

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pp. 5-15

...If they are prudent and discreet, the officials in the royal court in Seoul whose duty is to serve the king or carry out their duties in the various departments of the administration are generally less exposed to corruption or regretful actions. On the other hand, the magistrates who...

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2. Preparations for Traveling to the Post

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pp. 15-20

...The magistrate’s love of people lies in his frugality, and the essence of his frugality lies in a life of simplicity. Without being frugal, he cannot be upright, and without being upright, he cannot be benevolent. Thus frugality is a virtue he should try to attain first...

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3. Taking Leave of the King

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pp. 20-27

...conducted by the two officials who represent each of the two offi ces [the Offi ce of Inspector General and the Office of Censor General]. (When the officials from the two offices are not both present, the ones who arrived fi rst can proceed with the hearing.) If one happens to fail confirmation hearings even...

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4. Traveling to the Post

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pp. 28-33

...The magistrate should always start his travel early in the morning and stop early in the evening. It is acceptable for the day to break as soon as he mounts his horse and for the sun to linger when he dismounts...

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5. Inauguration

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pp. 33-39

...Even though almost everyone chooses an auspicious day, it always happens that men are either fired from their posts with the official treasury being sealed up (when the secret royal inspector drives out a corrupt official, he first shuts down the trea sury section) or are dismissed aft er being impeached...

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6. Conducting Official Duties

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pp. 39-50

...unreasonable in their nature, it is advisable to keep them on his table without signing them, unless they must urgently be dispatched, until he has an opportunity to rectify the problem. If the matters are too complicated to change easily, he should go ahead and sign the reports and start making reforms slowly...


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1. Setting the Body in Order

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pp. 51-80

...The magistrate gets up early in the morning, lights a candle, and washes his face; he puts his clothes on, wears his belt, and sitting still, concentrates and starts meditating. For a while he thinks about the things to be done that day and sorts them according to priority. He has to fi gure out which offi cial document should be dealt with first and which orders he should give next, and so...

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2. Integrity

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pp. 80-107

...increasingly dwindling, and the country suff ered more poverty and the people more hardship. How lamentable! During the span of four hundred years those who worked in the royal court, clad in official robes, amounted to a thousand or ten thousand, but those who were chosen as...

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3. Ruling the Household

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pp. 107-124

...Ruling a district is like ruling a country. Without ruling his house hold well, how can the magistrate rule a district? Th ere are several essential points on ruling a house hold well. First, he must observe the law about the limit on house hold members whom he is allowed to take with him; second...

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4. Rejecting Personal Requests or Favors

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pp. 124-134

...and servants. Nevertheless, a private person who has neither position nor qualifi cations exercises authority to supervise the work of clerks and officials, saying that a certain thing is too much or too little, or not true or true. Is this appropriate? If the private secretary...

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5. Frugality

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pp. 134-145

...He who is foolish and ignorant becomes arrogant and insolent as soon as he is appointed magistrate of a district. Having acquired a taste for luxury and not knowing discipline, he wastes money as he pleases. Then, when his debt increases, he becomes greedy, and if he becomes greedy, he calls in the yamen clerks to devise a scheme to pay off his debts. If this happens, he has to share the...

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6. Enjoyment of Bestowing Benefits

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pp. 145-151

...Th e reason that water is held in a pond is to release it in the future so that it can wet the fields. He who saves, therefore, can be able to help, and he who does not cannot. When I made observations of the magistrates during my exile, those who sympathized with and helped me were always frugal, wearing plain clothes...


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1. Edification of the People

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pp. 152-155

...of the king cannot be promoted, and his benevolence cannot reach far. The magistrates at the moment, as the subjects of their sovereign, fail to remember this fact; some of them do not respect the law made by the king, treat the people in a cruel manner, and deal with conniving...

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2. Observing the Law

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pp. 156-158

...Every time he discharges his duty, the magistrate must be mindful of the national law and must never do things that transgress the law. If he finds that a mistake was made by his pre de ces sor, he should find a way to correct it by sending him a letter. If his pre de ces sor makes little effort...

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3. Proper Manners toward Superiors and Subordinates

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pp. 158-168

...It is a principle of the old days that in human society there are high and low ranks and statuses. Diff erentiation of colors and decorations in making carriages, costumes, and banners is intended to observe that principle. A man...

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4. Making Official Reports

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pp. 168-174

...duties that he personally checked and examined all the records and documents. People said, “Your Honor is high in rank and status and also advanced in age. Th at is why the government sent you to a local district so that you could have some respite. You do not need to exhaust yourself by attending personally...

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5. Collecting Taxes and Tribute

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pp. 174-180

...springtime as if they were his own children; however, he should be reluctant to collect taxes from them, hating it as if it were his enemy. To promote one benefit is no better than to remove one abuse, and to start a new business can be worse than to reduce the load of present work. The dignity of the...

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6. Responding to a Requisition Order for Service

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pp. 181-188

...purifying himself nor be careless in his movements when he walks up and down before the altar, bends himself, or prostrates himself on the floor. Furthermore, he should not use either unclean or damaged vessels or sacrifi cial meat and wine that are spoiled and sour. Wherever...

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...How can the magistrate’s duty be limited only to the seven aff airs? Nowadays people ranging from high officials to their subordinates pay attention only to the seven aff airs in giving or carry ing out orders as if there was nothing else to do. As a result, even those who are disposed to benevolence and...

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1. Caring for the Elderly

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pp. 189-193

...in the same book also states, “In the spring the government raises children and in the autumn serves the elderly.” Therefore, the rites of serving the elderly should be performed before it becomes cold after the harvest. (Th e days of Frost Descent will be appropriate...

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2. Fostering Orphans

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pp. 193-198

...because they were extremely poor were allowed to bring them to the orphanage. Then the orphanage raised them, recording their date of birth, and let people who were childless adopt those children if they wanted to. As a result, there were no abandoned children on the street even in years with a poor harvest...

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3. Saving the Poor

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pp. 198-201

...Zhu Xi said, “Those who are old and sick and disabled, as well as widowers and widows who are withered and socially isolated, are the people who have no one to depend on, but they should be regarded as the brothers...

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4. Commiseration and Support for the Families of the Dead

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pp. 201-205

...allowed to call out from the gate [to summon him for corvée labor] a man whose parent has died; no one is allowed to impose corvée services on a man who is in mourning for his grandparents or his mother, which lasts one to three years; a man mourning the death of relatively...

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5. Generous Treatment of the Sick

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pp. 205-208

...How sad! How can a man who is a magistrate treat the people like that? Disabled people like the blind, the deaf, lame persons, and ones with underdeveloped sexual organs should not be registered for military service nor summoned for miscellaneous labor requirements...

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6. Saving the Victims of Natural Disasters

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pp. 208-212

...neighborhood and cut down timber. Taking the value of the timber into account, he should set the price, and instead of paying it directly, he should exempt the owner from his compulsory labor according to the timber’s worth. The length of the exemption period must be observed, and the grant of...


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1. Taking Control of Yamen Clerks

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pp. 213-228

...Whereas people take the land for their farms, yamen clerks take the people for their farms. The way yamen clerks farm their lands is to exploit the people, stripping off their skins and sucking the marrow of their brains; the way they harvest the crop is to bring in the people from everywhere and squeeze...

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2. Subordinating Petty Functionaries and Underlings

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pp. 228-234

...Xue Jingxuan [Xuan] said, “One must not have partiality in the slightest degree. If one shows partiality, his subordinates will surely despise him because they are aware of being treated unfairly. I used to have a servant years ago. Finding him a smart fellow, I frequently employed him in various missions...

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3. Employing the People for the Local Government

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pp. 234-241

...One who governs the state must give the foremost priority to employing men of benevolence. Since a principle applies to all matters regardless of their scale, one can butcher chickens with a knife for cows. From the magistrate’s aides, law-enforcement officials, and yamen clerks to village representatives...

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4. Recommending Virtuous Men

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pp. 241-246

...Securing men of ability mainly depended on these two activities. Since the Han dynasty, however, these two laws have completely collapsed, and what is left is the system in which local magistrates recommend wise men with ability to the government...

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5. Supervision of Personnel

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pp. 246-254

...The magistrate cannot help worrying about petty clerks, heads of the local yangban association, and law-enforcement offi cers who always watch every move of the magistrate to commit tricks of all kinds. He also cannot help supervising...

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6. Evaluation of Personnel

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pp. 254-260

...become too relaxed in their discipline and hundreds of aff airs break down, and officials, regardless of their rank and position, are no diff erent as far as this matter is concerned. Nowadays there exists punishment for crimes, but no reward for contributions. Because of this, the conduct of suboffi cials grows increasingly wicked. When...


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1. Land Administration

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pp. 261-278

...land of different length and width have a form, but the soil, which is of either rich or poor quality, is invisible. Th e forms of the lands do not change despite the passage of time, but the soil does. (The quality of the land depends on human efforts.) Therefore, it is problematic to administer land if it is...

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2. Law of Taxation I

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pp. 278-295

...Far removed from the scene, the court does not hear about it; governors, preferring the status quo, are reluctant to investigate; and magistrates, unaware of the magnitude of the problem, do not know what to do. It has been this way for a hundred years. Th is is not a matter that a district magistrate can dare to correct by himself. The law stipulates...

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3. Law of Taxation II

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pp. 295-309

...Once the new magistrate leaves for the post of his appointment, these people secretly present 500 or 600 taels to the magistrate’s family in Seoul. Next, they visit the magistrate at his inner quarters, offering precious gift s to his wife. At the same time they also bribe the chief of the local...

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4. Grain Administration I

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pp. 309-326

...gradually turned into a public trea sury and finally the current grain- lending system. Since the original purpose of this system was to supply the people with provisions, on the one hand, and to raise funds to cover government expenditures, on the other, how could a law with this intent treat the people with...

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5. Grain Administration II

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pp. 326-343

...On the day of the autumnal equinox, the magistrate gives an order to bring in the various containers for mea sur ing grain and selects the ones of middle size, neither too large nor too small. He has the mea sur ing containers that are either too large or too small gathered at the yard of the yamen and destroyed, and he makes...

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6. Household Registration

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pp. 343-360

...requires that every single house hold be included on the register, since anyone who is left out is thereby not entitled to any benefit of law, even if he or she is murdered or raped. The corpse of such a person is not examined, and a victim of sexual violation cannot bring a suit against her attacker. So this law is mainly focused on...

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7. Justice in Levying Corvée Services I

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pp. 360-385

...the basis of house hold production. The former originated from the land, and the latter from the man, and they were dealt with separately without intermixing. During the Han and Wei dynasties, however, taxes that combined both land and house hold taxes were legislated. This happened because a scholar named Mei...

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8. Justice in Levying Corvée Services II

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pp. 385-408

...squeeze money out of the people instead of purchasing a couple of horses and raising them for his purposes? When he was unemployed, preparing for the civil service examination, the magistrate traveled all around the country with only a servant and a single horse. Now that he has become...

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9. Encouraging Agriculture

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pp. 408-433

...I have observed that there were always rewards and reprimands in the laws made by former kings. There were always rewards in their encouragement of agriculture, and their encouragement was not made without rewards. Likewise, in their reprimands there were always punishments, and their reprimands were...


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1. Sacrifices

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pp. 434-460

...took over the world, his son Nong took charge of agriculture and successfully propagated hundreds of kinds of grain crops. As the Xia dynasty declined, Qi, the ancestor of the Zhou dynasty, took over the work of Nong and was also worshipped as a god of grain...

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2. Entertaining Guests

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pp. 460-492

...There were certain rules of propriety for those who visited foreign countries or entertained guests from them. The size and number of dishes on the dining table were all different according to the status of the guests...

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3. Educating the People

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pp. 492-515

...together on the first day of every month, read the law of the state, selected the outstanding individuals who practiced filial piety, fraternity, and peace with in-laws, and made a record of the outstanding individuals. Th e ward head...

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4. Promoting Learning

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pp. 515-530

...disappeared, it stands to reason that the school should be abolished. However, if the virtue of moderation is taught, filial piety and fraternal duty are practiced, poems and essays are recited and read, archery is practiced once in a while, and local wine-drinking rites are performed, these activities may well be regarded as...

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5. Maintaining Social Hierarchy and Order

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pp. 530-541

...exceeded the boundary of propriety. Since men of low status thus look down on those of high status, and the latter have become helpless in the face of such a degree of classlessness, how can one bring the people together into one body and vitalize it to make the blood circulate...

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6. Selection and Examination

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pp. 541-556

...conspire to tamper with the examination. Furthermore, his offi ce is busy to a degree of utter disorder with matters like providing a banquet for successful candidates or presenting them with awards. As a result, people who feel resentful revile the magistrate, throwing dirt and stones at his office. Th e magistrate immediately orders military...


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1. Enlistment for Military Service

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pp. 557-593

...Th e troops belonging to the Defense Command at Namhan Fort and the Anti-Manchu Division were mobilized in the Kyŏnggi region, and the recruitment of troops and the collection of the military cloth tax for the Military Training Command, the Royal Guards Command...

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2. Training Soldiers

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pp. 593-605

...Mao Yuanyi stated: “Unless the soldiers are trained, a battle formation cannot be made properly; neither attack nor defense nor making military camps nor carrying out battles nor conducting naval war is possible; neither can a fire attack produce its due eff ect nor can horses run, no matter how...

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3. Repairing Weapons of War

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pp. 606-610

...In every district and county there is an armory, and inside the armory there are bows and arrows, spears and swords, muskets, gunpowder and lead bullets, banners, armor, bow cases and quivers, cauldrons made of copper, and tents. In addition, there are miscellaneous items that are listed in the record, but to repair or...

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4. Recommending Martial Arts

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pp. 610-618

...art worth practicing. Even in the case of archery, the bows that we produced, whose strings were rubbed only with glue, were problematic. They were strong at first but slack later, strong in the winter but weak in the summer, and strong in fine weather but weak on a rainy day. Furthermore, the bowstring often came off...

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5. Domestic Disturbances

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pp. 618-629

...groundless rumors. Thus he in turn makes others unsettled and becomes a target of derision. A man of magnanimous character, however, reacts to those things calmly and with a smile. If the magistrate in normal times takes a look at history in the past and familiarizes himself with the precedents...

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6. Defending the District against Enemy Attack

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pp. 629-654

...twenty or thirty thousand soldiers under his command. Zhuge Liang tried to conciliate Hao Zhao, but the latter refused to give in. Hao Zhao’s army was no more than several thousand. Driving mobile siege ladders and ramming vehicles up to the fortress wall, Zhuge Liang’s army launched an attack, and Hao Zhao...


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1. Trial Hearings I

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pp. 655-684

...also discusses in detail the meaning of sincerity and the supreme good and then closes the discussion in relation to lawsuits. One can find, therefore, profound reasoning and mysterious meaning in the correspondence of these ideas....

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2. Trial Hearings II

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pp. 684-709

...on the left and right, respectively. Th e magnitude of the tomb and the number of trees planted around it depend on the title and rank of the person buried in it. He makes sure that each tomb is properly placed in line, and the grave site is fully cleared, and its boundary is well kept...

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3. Judgment and Imprisonment

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pp. 709-739

...cautious, the judgment that he makes will be marked by unexpectedness and unfairness; if he is only cautious without being observant, his work is delayed and remains unresolved for a long time. This is a real challenge for the magistrate who has to make decisions every day. Only when he is both observant and cautiously decisive...

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4. Judicious Enforcement of Punishments

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pp. 739-758

...They refer generally to various tribute-related official duties, such as grain transport, payment of revenue, payment of tribute, meeting deadlines for sending tribute and official reports to the capital and provincial offices, and so forth, which officials and village heads fail or delay...

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5. Compassion for Prisoners

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pp. 758-776

...All the pains and sufferings to be endured in the prison cannot be fully described. If only major ones are mentioned, there are generally five kinds: first, sufferings from the implements of punishment attached to the body; second, extortion by prison officials; third, sickness; fourth, cold and hunger; and fifth, the...

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6. Prohibition of Tyrannical Abuses

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pp. 776-796

...Proud and powerful people are generally composed of seven types: the royal family or the king’s in-law family, men of power and influence, royal security guards, eunuchs, powerful local families, corrupt officials, and hoodlums. These seven types of people need to be restrained and suppressed if the magistrate...

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7. Eliminating Threats and Harms

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pp. 796-824

...If we ask people who gather and talk in ordinary times what they are most afraid of in the world, their responses are all diff erent according to each individual. Some say that they fear thieves and bandits, others spirits, and others tigers. Hence it is clear that these three things are threats to the people. The troubles...


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1. Cultivating and Managing Mountain Forests

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pp. 825-844

...logging is allowed, but there is a time limit for the ordinary people engaged in logging. However, there is no such restriction for the artisans hired by the government. Those who log trees without authorization are subject to punishment as criminals.” The...

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2. Managing Waterways and Reservoirs

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pp. 844-857

...Th e law of former kings assigned an official solely to the task of managing the water for agriculture. How can the magistrates today, on the other hand, just watch that task with their arms folded? Since silt settles in the lakes and ponds, it must be removed on a regular basis; since banks break down, they must be repaired...

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3. Repair of the Yamen Office

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pp. 857-868

...The magistrate who is not benevolent is anxious only to make his fortune and keep his position as long as he can, and therefore he neither loves the king above him nor cares about the people below him. Since he is reluctant to fix things even if they collapse or crumble, this is the reason that the yamen office building in bad condition...

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4. Repair of the Fortress

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pp. 868-876

...According to the “Proceedings of Government in Diff erent Months,” in the early autumn one is supposed to strengthen walls and enclosures and repair city and suburban walls; in the midautumn, to construct city and suburban walls and repair granaries; and in the early winter, to put broken walls into good repair and...

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5. Construction and Maintenance of Roads

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pp. 876-884

...arrived in the royal domain, making sure that the people repaired state roads in their districts so that the roads might not be severed. When the roads or waterways were narrow, he had the boats and vehicles pass in order. When there was an important aff air of state, he had the people prepare the roads by assigning...

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6. Manufacturing Goods

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pp. 885-892

...Yongchuan. Because he was upright and anxious to preserve his good name, he was extremely cautious whenever his district grew interested in manufacturing various goods. He fi rst made artisans calculate the expenses for manufacturing goods, and when they submitted their report, he told them to hold the implementation...


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1. Preparation of Relief Supplies

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pp. 893-911

...is the person who is in charge of land administration. However, when famine takes place or epidemic breaks out, he is expected to suspend labor- service requirements, forgive the taxes in arrears, and not to collect taxes, merely keeping his position without performing his normal duty...

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2. Solicitation of Contributions

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pp. 911-927

...did not follow these instructions were punished under the laws on penal affairs. If the people are encouraged to share their grain in a year of poor harvest, who, being a member of the community, would refuse to do this? If they share their food with their brothers, relatives, neighbors, and the poor...

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3. The Extent of Relief Measures

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pp. 927-945

...However serious flood damage may be, it is confi ned to the flooded area, and disasters like those caused by wind, frost, insects, and hail do not necessarily affect the whole country. However, when a severe drought occurs and the dry mountains that stretch over 1,000 li appear to burn, the people throughout the...

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4. Setting Up Camps and Organizing Relief Activities

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pp. 946-953

...Since the success of all affairs under Heaven depends on finding the right persons, it is impossible to accomplish the goal unless one finds the persons who are capable of carrying it out. The personnel who are needed for relief activities are...

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5. Additional Measures for Dealing with Famine

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pp. 954-964

...This is so-called sowing alternative crops [taep’a]. The alternative crops are just a few: one is millet, another is buckwheat, and another is late beans. As much as several hundred sŏk of seeds of these crops should be saved during ordinary years in order to be ready for unexpected disasters...

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6. Concluding Relief Operations

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pp. 964-974

...Th ere are three things that a man should be afraid of: Heaven, the people, and his own mind. If his intentions are not sincere, then his mind will not lead him along the straight and narrow path. In this case he deceives his superior and his country, tries to avoid punishment, and endeavors...


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1. Replacement and Transfer

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pp. 975-985

...which happens due to a royal order (it indicates cases in which an individual is called to three offices, the Office of the Inspector General, Office of the Censor General, and Office of the Special Counselors, which are generally referred to as...

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2. The Baggage of the Departing Magistrate

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pp. 985-990

...Afterward, when he left the district, he used two carriages. On his use of two carriages, he was known to make the following lamentation: “When my grandfather returned from Weizhou, he took only a single carriage, and even half of that carriage was filled with books. I can hardly come near his standard...

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3. The People’s Request That the Magistrate Stay Longer

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pp. 990-1000

...parted, and the people grabbed the bridle of his horse and cried out, “Where are you going, abandoning us?” When Meng Chang, prefect of Hepu, departed from his post, his carriage could not advance because clerks and residents held his carriage, requesting that he stay longer, so he left secretly at night by a merchant’s boat...

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4. Minor Offenses and Failures

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pp. 1001-1005

...what they feel, even if they wish to take the punishment on his behalf, one can see that a serious moral degeneration has taken place in our time. It is relatively easier for the residents, who already experienced the administration of the accused magistrate, to seek forgiveness for him. Sometimes it happens that the residents...

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5. Mourning the Death of the Magistrate

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pp. 1005-1010

...reason that he should not do this, the coffin can be easily damaged if it is too big and heavy, and those who have to carry it up the hill dislike this since it makes them sweat and breathe hard. Th e reason that the sages formulated funeral rites was to make the people not dislike...

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6. Missing and Honoring the Late Magistrate

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pp. 1010-1022

...after the elderly, orphans, and widows. Therefore, all the residents, including clerks, loved and respected him. He was gradually promoted until he became chamberlain for the national treasury but fell ill. Faced with imminent death, he said to his son, “Many years ago I used to serve as an official of the district...


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pp. 1023-1084


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pp. 1085-1088


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pp. 1089-1133

Production Notes

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p. 1134-1134

E-ISBN-13: 9780520947702
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520260917

Page Count: 1176
Publication Year: 2010