20/2017 – Lessons from the Three Kingdoms

by Tan Thiam Hock

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Age-old philosophy: A movie set depicting the period of the Three Kingdoms. The philosophy proved unworkable for governing in peacetime.

I HAVE just read the Three Kingdoms, the translated English version which was written over three books which was given to my three children by my third nephew whose grandmother was my third aunt.

It was so absorbing that I finished reading the three books in three days and am now watching the made for TV serial – 103 episodes on YouTube every night until 3am the next day.

I understand the Three Kingdoms book is one of the pre-requisite reading among the four literature novels in China’s secondary school curriculum. Since the Chinese civilisation is one of the oldest in the world (some 7,000 years back), the written records of the History of China can be found in 1500 BC (before Christ) which is more than 3,500 years ago! Writing ink was discovered in China and writing was on bamboo tablets and any clothing materials.

The Three Kingdoms era happened between 220 AD and 280 AD when China was ruled by three warlords at the end of the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). The Imperial China era started with the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) which managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of the Han Chinese homeland and to unite them under a tightly centralised Legalist government seated at Xianyang (close to modern Xi’an). The doctrine of Legalism that guided the Qin emphasised strict adherence to a legal code and the absolute power of the emperor.

This philosophy, while effective for expanding the empire in a military fashion, proved unworkable for governing in peacetime. Qin Shi Huang united the country but the Qin Dynasty lasted only 15 years.

A golden age in Chinese history, the Han dynasty’s long period of stability and prosperity consolidated the foundation of China as a unified state under a central imperial bureaucracy, which was to last intermittently for most of the next four hundred years.

During the Han dynasty, territory of China was extended to most of the China proper and to areas far west. Confucianism was officially elevated to orthodox status and was to shape the subsequent Chinese civilization.

Art, culture and science all advanced to unprecedented heights. With the profound and lasting impacts of this period of Chinese history, the dynasty name Han had been taken as the name of the Chinese people, now the dominant ethnic group in modern China, and had been commonly used to refer to Chinese language and written characters.

It is from this glorious period some 2000 years ago that we can draw many parallels and similarities with our political and economic realities of today. It is eerily fascinating that some of the philosophies of yesteryears are still applicable today.

The Three Kingdoms book starts with: Unity succeeds division and division follows unity

One is bound to be replaced by the other after a long time. This is the way with things in the world. A single warlord conquers all other warlords and sets himself as the Emperor and starts a new dynasty after unifying the country. Over four hundred years,

The Han dynasty weakened due to poor succession of emperor quality and the last two emperors were indulgent in the good life of woman, wine and song and worst of all ill advised by treacherous eunuchs.

Periods of peace and prosperity often lead to increased arrogance of the palace and its officials thus leading to their downfall.

Nowadays we have business cycles and product life cycles. When there is growth, market stay calm and peaceful and everybody prosper. Then more players enter the market and existing players become arrogant and greedy and this leads to oversupply and a fragmented market without a clear market leader.

During the downturn the weak and inefficient will be eliminated and after some time, the market will start consolidating and you will see the emergence of the new warlords who will rule over the industry in the next growth cycle.

In this digital world, you must disrupt the enemy, grab larger territories, and always ensure food and equipment (finance) supply is continuous. Never mind the losses, don’t worry if you lose some battles, just ensure you win the war at the end of the day. Local market dominance now. World dominance next.

Malaysia has just celebrated its 60th birthday so compared to China’s history, we are considered a new born. Even then Umno has undergone a few periods of major upheavals with old and new warlords at loggerheads every few years. Sabah politics has been most volatile for so many years as the tribal warlords and siblings fight over the spoils of the state.

Barisan Nasional now faces Pakatan Harapan which is really a coalition of parties where its existence is a marriage of convenience or rather of necessity. PAS on the other hand after 20 years of peaceful and meaningful existence as the party of opposition is now stranded all alone in limbo land, out manoeuvred by the emperor.

Who is the next leader who can unite the country?

Wikipedia quotes that The Mandate of Heaven is a Chinese political and spiritual doctrine used to justify the rule of the emperor of China.

According to this belief, heaven which embodies the natural order and will of the universe—bestows the mandate on a just ruler of the Chinese country, the “Heavenly Son” of the “Celestial Empire”.

If a ruler was overthrown, this was interpreted as an indication that the ruler was unworthy, and had lost the mandate. It was also a common belief that natural disasters such as famine and flood were signs of heaven’s displeasure with the ruler, so there would often be revolts following major disasters as citizens saw these as signs that the Mandate of Heaven had been withdrawn.

Mandate of Heaven is similar to legitimacy to rule as the leader of the party with a simple majority of seats. However in China, the right of rebellion against an unjust ruler has been part of political philosophy and the Mandate of Heaven has been used throughout the history of China to legitimise the successful overthrow and installation of new emperors.

Similarly in our society, everything that has happened has been interpreted as Heaven’s will. This spiritual doctrine was created by scholars way before the Bible and Koran was written. Legitimacy to rule as always been based on the doctrine of righteousness and justification.

As this article is only part one of three, I leave you with the popular Chinese saying, “The winner becomes king, the loser becomes outlaw”.

May you be bestowed with a billion blessings from heaven.

Published: http://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2017/11/11/lessons-from-the-three-kingdoms/

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