King Li restrains false accusations-厉王止谤

After the successful governance of King Cheng and the era of peace that lasted for over forty years, social harmony prevailed. However, with the reign of King Zhao, the exploitation by slave-owning aristocrats increased, leading to the intensification of social contradictions.

During the Western Zhou period, there were two main sources of tribute: the assistance of commoners in cultivating public fields and the tributes paid by feudal lords. By the time of King Yi of Zhou, the Western Zhou dynasty’s strength had declined, and some feudal lords no longer paid tribute. Additionally, people continued to develop private fields, resulting in the abandonment of public fields and the deterioration of the well-field system. Furthermore, an increasing number of individuals engaged in fishing and hunting for profit in mountainous areas and lakes, causing a significant decrease in the economic income of the Western Zhou court. In this situation, the extravagant lifestyle of the nobility could no longer be sustained by the diminishing revenues of the court.

The well-field system was the fundamental land system of the Western Zhou, where the land was divided into nine sections in the shape of a “well.” The central section was the public field, collectively cultivated, and its harvest belonged to the state. The eight surrounding sections were private fields, and the harvest from these belonged to individual families. All land was considered the property of the Son of Heaven, allowing the ruler to demand tribute from those who cultivated the land and reclaim the land if needed.

After the death of King Yi of Zhou, his son Ji Hu ascended to the throne, becoming King Li of Zhou. King Li, driven by greed, implemented policies to accumulate wealth for his personal enjoyment. He heavily relied on Rong Yi Gong and issued a monopolistic policy known as “special privilege.” According to this policy, mountains, forests, lakes, and marshes were considered the property of the Son of Heaven, and the people had to pay taxes to utilize these natural resources. This monopolistic policy intensified the burden on the laboring population and encroached upon the rights of some lower and middle-ranking nobles, leading to widespread discontent.

Dafu Rui Liangfu advised King Li, stating, “Mountains, forests, lakes, and marshes are natural gifts from heaven and earth, and everyone has the right to use them. How can one person monopolize them? Monopolizing these resources will breed resentment among many people, sowing the seeds of disaster. As a king, even if you benefit the entire realm, you should be wary of arousing people’s resentment. However, you are allowing Rong Yi Gong to use wealth and benefits to entice you. Disaster may be imminent if you persist in this path. If you must proceed, you will eventually lose the support of the people.”

King Li paid no attention to the advice and continued to appoint Rong Yi Gong as his minister, implementing the monopolistic policy. He even dispatched officials to various regions to investigate and punish individuals engaging in unauthorized fishing and hunting. The resulting complaints and criticisms from the people generated widespread discontent and condemnation against King Li’s rule.

In response, King Li, furious at the growing dissent, sought the services of a diviner from the State of Wei to gather information on the people’s opinions through divination. The diviner, acting under the king’s orders, infiltrated the populace and reported individuals who spoke against King Li. The oppressive actions of the diviner, supported by King Li, instilled fear among the people, and they refrained from expressing their opinions openly. Even when recognizing familiar faces on the streets, people avoided greeting each other, exchanging only glances before hurriedly moving away.

Upon learning about the silenced discontent, King Li proudly declared to Dafu Rui Liangfu, “I have silenced the people’s criticisms, and they dare not speak against me anymore.”

However, Dafu Rui Liangfu shook his head and said, “You have only closed the mouths of the people. Suppressing the people’s speech is more terrifying than damming a flowing river. When water is blocked and accumulates, it will eventually break through the dam, causing even greater destruction. Therefore, managing the people is similar. Allow them the freedom to speak openly and express their opinions. This is the way to govern. The ruler should encourage officials, courtiers, poets, musicians, historians, and elders to provide poems, songs, and writings that critique the government’s successes and failures. This ensures a smooth implementation of policies, as it reflects the sentiments of the people. People’s voices are like the high mountains and flowing rivers of the land, crucial sources of wealth and sustenance. People expressing their opinions is akin to cultivating fertile land, yielding the necessities for life. What people say reflects their true thoughts, and how can you block that? Even if you do, how long can such a situation be maintained?”

Despite Dafu Rui Liangfu’s admonitions, King Li, feeling dissatisfied, ignored him, and Dafu Rui Liangfu reluctantly withdrew.