Ancient “public servant”: Why did Yan Zi dare not bring tea and rice to the monarch

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In the state of Qi in the spring and Autumn period, one day it was “cold in the morning” (it was cold in the morning), and the prime minister Yanzi was accompanying the monarch Qi Jinggong. A cold wind swept through the hall, and Duke Jing felt chilly. In order to add a little heat to keep out the cold, Xu immediately ordered Yan Zi to say, “please enter the warm food (give me some hot food)!” However, Yan Zi declined, “I’m not the one who brings you tea and rice. I dare not obey my orders.” King Gong had to say, “please come into Fu Qiu (bring me a leather robe to wear)!” However, Yan Zi again refused to say, “I’m not the one who serves you and dares not obey orders.” (Yanzi Chunqiu neipian miscellaneous part)

Yan Zi twice “apologized for not obeying orders”, for simple and sufficient reasons. He thought that although he was a minister under the driving of Duke Qi Jing, he did not do “a minister of giving (serving meals)” or “a minister of Yinxi (living room). Such private affairs of serving the king’s life do not belong to the duties of the prime minister, and he has the right to refuse. However, for all that, he is facing the king of a country after all. Some people may think that Prime Minister Yan is too serious and stupid to neglect his immediate boss for a trivial matter?

All dynasties have a common problem of “worshiping the official, the public and the private” (Zizhi Tongjian Jinji). Many officials have been appointed by the imperial court, but they go to a private family to thank, because their promotion is due to the “kindness of support”. Therefore, those who worship officials often have to thank their “benefactors” and “teachers”, so those who flatter in the official arena multiply and do not become extinct. Especially for the top iron fisted people like the king, it’s too late to curry favor. Who is not willing to work hard? According to the “biography of Deng Tong in the book of Han Dynasty”: “Emperor Wen tasted carbuncle, and Deng usually coughed and sucked it.” Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty had hemorrhoids and was in great pain. In order to “thank Lord longen”, Deng Tong, who was favored by the emperor, actually fell on the Emperor Wen’s ass and sucked pus and blood for him several times in succession. He was servile and shameless. It was really disgusting. It’s a pity that Deng Tong, although he is a senior doctor, can do nothing except serve his master, and can’t govern and stabilize the country, leaving behind a historical joke of “sucking carbuncle and licking hemorrhoids”.

Yan Zi, on the other hand, although he was appreciated and valued by Duke Jing, he was not like some people, who would worship whoever gave the official hat, and would not lose his personal dignity and integrity to curry favor with his master. Qi Jinggong didn’t expect Yan Zi to refuse him. Embarrassed, he couldn’t help asking him, “what do you do?” Yan Zi said, “baby, the Minister of the country.” King Gong asked him again, what is the Minister of the country? Yan Zi replied, “it’s the minister who stands on the court, takes charge of the general policy, and can govern the country safely…” in Yan Zi’s view, “the Minister of the country” should serve the country, not belong to a certain king, that is, the interests of the country are higher than the interests of the king, and the minister can be loyal to the people of the country, rather than working for the private affairs of the king. In the current words, “state ministers” are the “public servants” of the country, not the “private servants” of a certain Shangguan. In the era of strict hierarchy, it was rare for Yan Zi to break through the personal attachment between monarchs and ministers and put forward the concept of “Minister of the country”.

Yan Zi would rather resign than ask for orders for the people. He would rather offend the king than exhort him to do his duty. His heart is full of sincerity of loving the people and serving the country. One year, it rained continuously for 17 days, and many places suffered serious disasters, but Lord Qi Jinggong ignored it and drank and had fun all night. Yan Zi repeatedly asked for “sending millet to the people” without permission, so he first distributed his family’s grain to the people. Then, he went to see Duke Jing on foot and said, “now there is famine everywhere. As a state minister, I make the people hungry and poor, and have no way to appeal; make the king greedy for wine and lust, and lose the hearts of the people. My sin is really too great, and I am ashamed of the country and the people!” So he bowed twice and resolutely hung his hat. After awakening, Duke Jing regretted and immediately sent someone to invite Yan Zi back and ordered him to open the warehouse immediately to relieve the people. (Yanzi’s spring and Autumn Annals, inner part of remonstrance, part one)

The poem goes, “under the whole world, is it the king’s land? If you lead the land, is it the king’s minister?” (little Yada Beishan in the bookofsongs) in a monarchical society, it is rare for a few people not to be the private servants of the monarch. Reading the spring and Autumn Annals of Yanzi, Yan Zi’s images of daring to admonish, not being in power, loving the people and benefiting the people always appear in front of him. His “Minister of the country” can be said to be a classical interpretation of “national public servant”, which can be called a classic in the way of ancient officials being officials.

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