|[a] Leading RF|
|[b] Management RF|
Such was not the case in imperial China. As I like to frame the story, the bright school child was encouraged to keep studying, pass higher and higher levels of competitive examinations, and eventually to become one of the superstars of Chinese society—a 進士 (jinshi), or presented scholar. These men (alas, the gender choice is accurate here) studied, often into middle age, and finally mastered classics, poems, essays, and the like.
They were a little like English professors, except for one thing.
Instead of becoming teachers (people who failed exams did that), those with the very highest academic honors became administrators. They wanted to be; that was the whole point of all of the study (very little of it of a "practical" nature). They studied and, indeed, memorized large swaths of literature, wrote (well) about it, and then were put in charge of managing people and organizations. It's a little bit like a turbo-charged national MBA program requiring study of Western literature before being appointed to a middle-management position in a corporation.
And that is what I wish to consider today. Authors of business books love the word "leadership." You will have noticed by now that I can't bear to be anything but ironic with it, which is why I keep putting it in quotation marks. Let's not kid ourselves. Most of what we want to think of as "leadership" is middle-management, and in more ways than one. Not only are most such positions stuck in the middle of a corporate flow chart, but managers themselves are stuck in the middle of a sizable range of personalities and expectations.
|[c] Territory RF|
The Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence is a magistrate's handbook from the late-seventeenth century. It is chock full of how to do an autopsy, how to interrogate a suspect, and the methods for collecting local taxes. It is also a shining window onto the challenges of being a kind of chairperson of a vast and complex department of the kind that would cause a newly-minted Ph.D. college professor to consider changing occupations. Imagine, as you read the introduction to the handbook (it runs to 600 pages in English), being at the top of your class, only to confront these issues. It was the goal of every (male) school child (and his parents) in imperial China.
|[d] Supreme harmony RF|
The ancient sage Mencius said, "All men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others. The ancient kings had this commiserating mind, and likewise, as a matter of course, they had a commiserating government." This is, in essence, what this book is all about. In the administration of local government, nothing is more important than this simple principle.
|[e] Managing RF|
However, a department or district is the smallest geographical unit and the magistrate is the official of the lowest rank. Thus the happiness he can bring to and the benevolence he can bestow upon the people may be considered quite limited in scope. Alas! Those who have this opinion do not seem to know the close relationship between the magistrate and his people. Under heaven, the land is divided into departments and districts, each headed by a magistrate. If one magistrate intends to bring happiness to and bestow benevolence upon his people, the people of his district will benefit. If all magistrates think and act accordingly, then all the departments and districts will be benefited by their benevolent rule and thus all the people under heaven will enjoy the benefits. How then can we ignore local administration just because the size of the territory is small and the official status of the magistrate is low?...
The magistrate's position is comparable to that of the head of a family. When old, young, male, or female members of a family suffer hunger, cold, sickness, or misfortune, they will plead for help from the head of the family. The head of the family cannot feel at ease until every member has a full stomach, warm clothes on his back, and good health. Clearly, the responsibilities of the magistrates are, on the one hand, implementing the policies claimed by [the empire's] elder statesmen...from above, and on the other, detecting the hidden worries of the people within their respective jurisdictions with the aim of remedying them. How can we say that the responsibilities of the magistrates are not onerous?
|[f] Happiness; benevolence RF|
 Huang Liu-hung, A Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence: A Manual for Local Magistrates in Seventeenth-Century China Translated by Djang Chu (Tucson AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1984), 53-55.
Huang Liu-hung. A Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence: A Manual for Local Magistrates in Seventeenth-Century China Translated by Djang Chu. Tucson AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1984.