Government Exists for the Benefit of the People
As Mencius said, expounding on Confucius's teachings: "The people are the most important element; . . . the sovereign, least important."
Confucius put it another way, quoting from the Book of Odes. He described the government as a loving parent:
"The happy and gracious sovereign Is the father and mother of the people." (Bk. xxvi., i.) who genuinely cared for his people. "When among any of the people there was a death, I crawled upon my knees to help them." (Bk. xxvi., 3.)
In western society paternalism has a somewhat negative connotation. A paternalistic government would be seen as intrusive, but we must remember that in a Confucian context, parents were revered. By comparing a good government to a wise parent, Confucius is describing the ideal form of statecraft, one which emulates the best type of family bound together by bonds of mutual affection and obligation.
As Confucius put it: "When a ruler rejoices in the joy of his people, they also rejoice in his joy; when he grieves at the sorrow of his people, they also grieve at his sorrow. A common feeling of joy will pervade the empire, a common feeling of sorrow the same. In such a condition, it cannot be but that the ruler will attain to the Imperial dignity." (Bk. i., pt. ii., c. iv., v. 3.)
In order to fulfill this,purpose of government was to rectify, that is to correct and improve. This was achieved by the ruler setting an example of correct behavior: 'To govern means to rectify. If you lead with correctness, who will dare not to be correct?'"
Confucius also said "Government is rectification. When the ruler does right, all men will imitate his self-control. What the ruler does, the people will follow. How should they follow him in what he does not do?"
· It was government's obligation to provide for the needs of the people.
The following quotes are illustrative:
" When the grain and fish and turtles are more than can be eaten and there is more wood than can be used, this enables the people to nourish their living and bury their dead, without any feeling against any. This condition, in which the people nourish their living and bury their dead, is the first step in kingly government." (Bk. i., pt. i., v. 3.)
Mencius added to this more explicitly and said: "Therefore an intelligent ruler will regulate the livelihood of the people, so as to make sure that they shall have sufficient wherewith to serve their parents and also sufficient wherewith to support their wives and children." (Bk. i., pt. i., c. vii., v. 21.)
If these things were done, the people would love their government and be agreeable to being governed. Confucius said: "To centralize wealth is to disperse the people; to distribute wealth is to collect the people." And further, Confucius stated: "With the ancients, in their government the love of men was the great point." (Bk. xxiv., 9.)
Note that Confucius is framing his advice on good government as a return to ancient traditions that had been forgotten in the difficult times of the Warring States period.
When government provided for its people, the people would serve their prince unwaveringly. "If you will put benevolence in practice in your government, your people will love you and all in authority, and will be ready to die for them."
In the Analects, Confucius is quoted as saying: "If the people have plenty, their prince will not be left to want alone. If the people are in want, their prince will not be able to enjoy plenty alone." (Analects, bk. xii., c. ix., v. 4.)
Although not stated in so many words, Confucius advocates a concept of servant leadership. The rulers must meed the needs of their subjects above their own.