An Essay on Bold People

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Introduction

Primary Source Text

English Classical Chinese

In the world, that which is to be feared is none other than the people. The people should be feared more than floods, fires, and wild beasts, yet those above them, on the contrary, treat them with condescension, and command them with cruelty. Why do they do this?

In general, those who are happy to partake in what has been achieved, who are bound by what they can see, and who obediently follow the laws and obey those above are ordinary people. Ordinary people are not worth fearing.

When facing harsh exploitation that strips the skin and sucks the marrow, that exhausts all that households earn and the land provides in order to meet endless demands, those who are despondent and frustrated and blame the ruler are resentful people. Resentful people need not be feared.

Those that conceal themselves among butchers and pedlars, secretly nurturing dissent, surveying the realm, and wanting to spread their claims when the times permit are bold people. Bold people are to be greatly feared.

Bold people wait to exploit opportunities when the state exposes its frailties. They raise their arms and cry out [to raise the people] from their farmland. Hearing their voices, resentful people will come together and, without a thought, they will chant as one. Ordinary people look out for their livelihoods and cannot but follow, with their hoes, rakes, spears, and lances, and kill the tyrants.

The demise of the Qin dynasty was due to the rebellion of Chen Sheng[1] and Wu Guang,[2] and the rebellion in the Han Dynasty was due to the Yellow Turbans.[3] Moreover, when the Tang dynasty was in decline, Wang Xianzhi[4] and Huang Chao[5] availed of it [and rebelled]. In the end, only after the state was lost did they stop. This is entirely the fault of those who severely [exploited] the people to enrich themselves. Then bold people attained [their goals] by availing themselves of the opportune moment.

Heaven established a ruler to nurture the people, not because it wished one man to arrogantly look down from above, or [indulge] greed as vast and deep as a gorge. The calamity of the downfall of the Qin and Han dynasties was a matter of course. There was nothing unfortunate about it.

Now, our state is not like this. The terrain is enclosed and rough, and the people few [in number]. The people are also disrespectful, lazy, and narrow-minded, without any notable integrity or chivalrous spirit.

Therefore, in ordinary times, exceptional persons with extraordinary abilities do not appear for employment in the government, and when faced with chaos, bold people and fierce soldiers do not come to the fore to wreak havoc and make the state concerned. This is also fortunate.

Nowadays, however, things are not the same as they were when the Wang family reigned. The previous dynasty set a limit to their taxation; they shared the profits from the mountains and the lakes with their people. They mobilized their merchants and patronized their craftsmen; they were able to weigh their revenues and plan their expenses. Because they kept in reserve what was left unspent, they did not levy additional taxes to the final year of their reign – when there were great unforeseen wars – for they worried they might exhaust their fields, their courts, and their treasuries.

We are not like that. With such a small population, we are serving the gods and supporting our rulers with the same etiquette of China. Yet among the five portions of tax people submit, only one portion goes to the court, and the rest is extorted by cunning middlemen. In addition, [since] there is no savings in the government bureau, if something happens they will tax the people doubly. Moreover, the magistrates collect revenue without any restraint. Therefore the grievances and resentment of the people is even more severe than that of the end of Koryo dynasty.

Because our state has no bold people, those above have become complacent and know no fear. If someone like Kyŏnhwŏn or Kungye emerged, wielding a club [to instigate a rebellion], then how could they guarantee that the resentful people would not follow? It would be like the uprisings in Qizhou and Liangzhou, [the bold people] crouched in readiness [to spring]. Those who govern the people should be fully aware of the forms of what they should fear. If, moreover, they can take precautions, then it is possible the situation can be saved.

天下之所可畏者。唯民而已。民之可畏。有甚於水火虎豹。在上者方且狎馴而虐使之。抑獨何哉。

夫可與樂成而拘於所常見者。循循然奉法役於上者。恒民也。恒民不足畏也。

厲取之而剝膚椎髓。竭其廬入地出。以供无窮之求。愁嘆咄嗟。咎其上者。怨民也。怨民不必畏也。

潛蹤屠販之中。陰蓄異心。僻倪天地間。幸時之有故。欲售其願者。豪民也。夫豪民者。大可畏也。

豪民。伺國之釁。覘事機之可乘。奮臂一呼於壟畝之上。則彼怨民者聞聲而集。不謀而同唱。彼恒民者。亦求其所以生。不得不鋤耰棘矜往從之。以誅无道也。

秦之亡也。以勝,廣。而漢氏之亂。亦因黃巾。唐之衰而王仙芝,黃巢乘之。卒以此亡人國而後已。是皆厲民自養之咎。而豪民得以乘其隙也。

夫天之立司牧。爲養民也。非欲使一人恣睢於上。以逞溪壑之慾矣。彼秦漢以下之禍。宜矣。非不幸也。

今我國不然。地陿阨而人少。民且呰寙齷齪。无奇節俠氣。故平居雖无鉅人雋才出爲世用。而臨亂亦无有豪民悍卒。倡亂首爲國患者。其亦幸也。

雖然。今之時與王氏時不同也。前朝賦於民有限。而山澤之利。與民共之。通商而惠工。又能量入爲出。使國有餘儲。卒有大兵大表。不加其賦。及其季也。猶患其三空焉。

我則不然。以區區之民。其事神奉上之節。與中國等。而民之出賦五分。則利歸公家者纔一分。其餘狼戾於姦私焉。且府無餘儲。有事則一年或再賦。而守宰之憑以箕斂。亦罔有紀極。故民之愁怨。有甚王氏之季。

上之人恬不知畏。以我國無豪民也。不幸而如甄萱,弓裔者出, 奮其白挺, 則愁怨之民, 安保其不往從, 而祈, 梁, 六合之變, 可跼足須也。 爲民牧者。灼知可畏之形。與更其弦轍。則猶可及已。

Discussion Questions

  1. Who are the “bold people”, and what is Hŏ Kyun’s attitude towards them? Are they good or bad? What is their role in society? What course of action does the author recommend to deal with them?
  2. How are different social strata represented here? Who is responsible for the current predicament?
  3. What kind of comparison is made between Chosŏn and Koryŏ?
  4. How are historical references used in this text?
  5. Who do you think Hŏ Kyun is writing for?

Further Readings

References

  1. Chen Sheng (陳勝; died 208 BC), also known as Chen She, was the leader of the first rebellion, known as Dazexiang Uprising, against the Qin Dynasty during the reign of the second Qin emperor Qin Er Shi.
  2. Wu Guang (吳廣; died 208 BC) was another leader of the first rebellion against Qin Dynasty during the reign of the second Qin emperor Qin Er Shi.
  3. The Yellow Turban Rebellion, also translated as the Yellow Scarves Rebellion, was a peasant revolt in China against the Han dynasty.
  4. Wang Xianzhi (王仙芝; died 878) was a major agrarian rebel during the reign of Emperor Xizong of Tang, whose rebellion, while failing, along with those of his one-time ally Huang Chao, began a series of rebellions that led to Tang Dynasty's disintegration.
  5. Huang Chao (黃巢; 835-884) was a Chinese smuggler, soldier, and rebel, and is most well known for being the leader of a major agrarian rebellion that severely weakened the Tang dynasty.