The Politics of Three Kingdoms to Jin

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The Politics of Three Kingdoms to Jin

Unread postby Kongde » Tue Oct 08, 2019 12:27 am

Hi all, this is just a fun little thing I was inspired to do whilst reading the ZZTJ. I made, what I believe to be, a fair comparison of ancient Jin/Three Kingdoms politics to today's politics. I'm curious to see if you agree with my stances and if you have any of your own that you could add. Feel free to make any corrections to my deductions, or add some of your own.

Perhaps it would be beneficial to first explain what I mean by Left vs. Right. I'll make it real simple, and we'll disregard many social issues, we are looking strictly from an economy/government based version, as our social issues today are incomparable to many social issues of almost 2000 years ago. Therefore, the distinction I'll make between Left and Right is this: The Right believes in smaller government, the less, the better. The government should not be used to solve social problems, nor any other problems. And that the government should only be used for military purposes to defend their country. While the Left believes in bigger government, and that the government can be used to help solve social crisis among other thing.

Liberalism/Socialism/Left

Pei Kai is a great example of a man of the era who mirrors, at least, socialist tendencies. I draw this conclusion off of the Xinshuo Xinyu (which one must take with a grain of salt), in which Kai said, "To diminish excesses and supplement deficiencies is the Way of Heaven." This literally translates to redistributing wealth from the supremely wealthy and moving it to the more needy. In this policy alone, one can deduce Pei Kai would be left-leaning in today's cultures, because Pei Kai believed in the government, via taxes, to redistribute this wealth. (For context, according to the Xinshuo Xinyu, "Pei Kai each year requested from Sima Tong and Sima Lun, principalities a tax of several million cash (qian) in order to relieve the needy members on his mother's and father's sides of the family. Someone ridiculed him, saying, "How can you beg from others to perform an act of private charity?"To which he responded with the above, 'To diminish excesses...' ")

Libertarianism/Conservatism/Right

I believe Du Yu is a prime example of an official who supports Right leaning, libertarianistic viewpoints. I believe so as a result of a memorial taken from the ZZTJ,

Du Yu's memorial
Du Yu's memorial stated, "When the ancients decided upon promotions or demotions, they followed the intuitions of their hearts, and did not become mired in laws. But we of later ages, rather than remember distant things, focus ourselves on small things close at hand. We doubt our hearts, trusting what our eyes and ears tell us instead; we doubt our eyes and ears, trusting in the words of simple reports. The more numerous the reports become, the more falsified the officials' skills will be.

“When the royal clan of Wei examined officials, and put their intentions into effect in the capital, one could indeed say that in culture they produced quite exquisite results; however, in being so exacting with their standards, they went against the original intent of such a process, and this is why their dynasty could not endure through the generations. Why not establish the old methods of Emperor Tang Yao, obtain the great and put away the meager, and cast off exquisiteness in favor of simplicity; it would be an easy thing to make that a reality! Does such a man exist that, even having divine wisdom, he could go fully go against the natural order of things? To place laws before men is to make the form harm the substance.

“It would be better to appoint men to offices where in the performance of their duties they would be conspicuous, and then let each of them conduct their duties. After a year, we may consult among other men and see what they say as to whether the man is excellent or inferior. If this were to be done for six years, then the chief ones could be gathered together, and one could choose and select from among what they say. Within those six years, those who were excellent will have been promoted, while those who were inferior will have been demoted or removed. Those who are excellent in most respects and inferior in a few can be refined, while those who are inferior in most things but have a few excellent points can be transferred elsewhere.

“During this time, so long as private regards are not pursued, then when any difficulties arise, the chief ones shall be able to assess and prepare for the seriousness of the situation; they can make adjustments to what sentences might be in order, whether to let a thing go or to sentence one to death, without doing anything to exhaust the full measures of the law. If somone, excellent or otherwise, does pursue private regards, not in accordance with the general view, then the matter can be turned over to their superiors for them to deal with the offender.

“If it is so ordered that everyone shall equally be held to the same standards of tolerance and transgressions, that would make very clear what will make a man great or ruin him. If you had that, then even if you further had laws for the examinations of officials, they would not be of any additional benefit to you."


Mostly taken from the first paragraph, Yu makes the point that laws are effectively pointless in determining good or bad, and rather one had to go off their "heart." Not only does he talk down upon the meaninglessness of laws in the first paragraph, but again in the last when he says that any laws added to examining officials would be pointless because it would have already been demonstrated by action where the standards are set rather than by law.

Now, I don't believe Du Yu is a total libertarian, but at least when it came to the front of selecting officials, he essentially believed in no laws and only going by your own judgment based on reports of others and themselves to determine who is most qualified on a yearly basis and making adjustments accordingly. Du Yu could not be considered a hard libertarian - but based on his memorial, he likely believes in a minimal amount of laws and restrictions and believes on judging people on a case-by-case basis. One could also argue he was a conservative as well.

Perhaps a more closer example to a more libertarian figure of the time would be Ruan Ji and Wang Cheng, but especially Ruan Ji. Ruan Ji did not believe in customs or rites, and according to the Xinshou Xinyu (again, a spotty source but I tend to lean in believing Ruan Ji was not too far off in his mindset),

Wang Cheng, Hu-wu Fu-zhi, and their circle all considered giving rein to their impulses to be "freedom" (da) (1), and there were even some among them who went naked....

Toward the end of the Wei Kingdom, Ruan Ji, in his fondness for wine, let himself go completely. Baring his head and letting his hair loose, he would set with his legs sprawled apart, completely naked. After him his disciples who valued "free wandering" -- people like Ruan Ji, Wang Cheng, Xie Kun, and Hu-wu Fu-zhi -- all carried on the tradition founded by Ruan Ji, claiming they had attained the root of the Great Way. So they doffed kerchief and cap, stripped off their clothes and exposed their foul ugliness like so many birds or beasts.


This certainly sounds interesting to say the least, especially the latter half which gave me a good chuckle, but I'm going to focus on the more realistic side of it from the first half, which said many in the circle which Wang Cheng and Ruan Ji were in believed giving in to their impulses was true freedom. This is a ton of speculation on my end, but I'm willing to make that leap. By "giving into their impulses as true freedom" - this means a variety of things including murder, lust for others and yourself, and other, what I would call, "barbaric" tendencies. From this, I can judge that Ruan Ji and the circle likely were not fond of laws at all - perhaps even the closest thing to a full on Libertarian there was. But again, this is taken from a book whose word cannot be trusted fully, but also knowing for a fact the person who Ruan Ji is, a man who always goes against the grain seemingly and goes against traditions and taboos, I tend to believe this isn't far from the truth.
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