The Five Arts of Governing the People

Shang Yang's evil governance manipulates the people with five techniques: weakening the people, impoverishing the people, exhausting the people, humiliating the people, and dumbing down the people. In fact, there are two additional techniques: oppressing the people and controlling the people.

In the book "Shang Jun Shu," it is said, "To govern the wicked people with virtuous people leads to chaos and the decline of the country; to govern the virtuous people with wicked people leads to a strong and prosperous country."

  1. Weakening the people: The way to govern a country and strengthen it lies in weakening the people. In order for a country to be strong and prosperous, it is necessary to weaken the power of the people and minimize their strength. To overcome enemy countries, it is necessary to first control one's own people.

  2. Dumbing down the people: Unifying thoughts. In order to achieve the weakening of the people, it is necessary to dumb down the people. Only by making the majority of the people ignorant and simple-minded can they be prevented from forming a strong force to resist the country and the ruler. Instead, they will obediently follow the arbitrary manipulation of the ruling class, making the country easier to govern and the ruler's position more secure. Implementing a specialized culture to keep the common people ignorant and without knowledge, turning them into mindless puppets who can be easily controlled by the ruler. "Ignorant farmers do not know and do not pursue knowledge, they only focus on farming."

  3. Exhausting the people: Creating tasks for the people, making them exhausted and unable to consider other matters. By creating tasks for the people and making them exhausted and constantly busy, stability for the rulers can be achieved. Shang Yang demanded that when the people were working in the fields, they should not look around, listen to gossip, or speak casually. This brings to mind the image of a donkey pulling a millstone, where the owner would blindfold the donkey to make it focus solely on pulling the millstone.

  4. Humiliating the people: This includes two aspects: first, depriving them of self-esteem and self-confidence; second, encouraging mutual denunciations and living in an atmosphere of fear all day long. The Qin bamboo slips unearthed in Shuihudi stipulated that if a commoner's cow lost a few pounds of weight, they would be punished.

  5. Impoverishing the people: Besides the necessities of life, their surplus silver and wealth are confiscated (i.e., inflation or excessive printing of money); poverty leads to short-sightedness. Impoverishing the people means making them struggle on the poverty line, causing them to have "no surplus grain in their homes." Shang Yang believed that "if a family has surplus food, they will live in comfort for the year."


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