Who, according to Han dignitaries and the Bhagavad-Gita, made a good ruler and what qualities did he/she need to possess?

The Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the classic Indian epic the Mahabaratha, records the dialogue between Arjuna, the Pandava warrior prince and Lord Krishna who is also his chariot driver.  When faced with the prospect of fighting his own cousins in the field of battle, Arjuna is despaired and aggrieved.  He communicates his moral dilemma to his mentor and guide Lord Krishna, who in turn offers Arjuna a discourse on Hindu dharma.  While the advice is directed to Arjuna, it is also broadly applicable to all human beings in different contexts in their lives.  Krishnaderives his code of conduct from the ancient Hindu tradition of Varna Dharma, which was an extension of the caste-system followed in India.  According to this system, members of each of the four castes have their own social roles to perform[1].  Striving to fulfill these roles without questioning them is considered a virtue.  Arjuna, having born into the Kshatriya caste (the warriors and rulers) is expected to fight the righteous battle, even if his opponents are his own cousins and eventually one of them might be killed.  The people across the battlefield, waiting to confront Arjuna[2] with swords, arrows and spears are people like Bhishma and Dhronacharya[3], the former being his uncle and the latter his teacher.  Not only were they elderly and respectable individuals but were also related by blood.  The other contenders were the hundred odd sons of King Dhritirashtra, Arjuna’s father’s own brother[4].  Indeed, the dilemma and confusion that set in Arjuna’s mind were understandable.

 It is at this juncture that Lord Krishna consoles Arjuna by extolling to him the virtues of performing one’s designated duties.  The duty (dharma) for a warrior prince is to defend his side from enemies.  If Arjuna did not carry out this noble calling of his caste, then he will neither achieve peace in this lifetime for his own warring cousins will bring about his death, nor will he attain peace in the afterlife due to the digression of not having performed his duty.  As per the code of conduct prescribed by Varna Dharma, a Kshatriya (warrior) should not hesitate to kill his own brother if the latter is wrong.  Arjuna, the warrior prince is impelled to decimate those forces that are devious and corrupt.  In the war of Kurushetra, the devious and corrupt forces have assumed the form of his Kaurava cousin brothers and hence Arjuna should not express such sentimental notions which are unbecoming of his caste.  When Arjuna doubts the very necessity of this war, Krishnaexplains to him the righteousness of the war and how a warrior prince should not be intimidated by the cycle of birth and death, for out of the debris of dutiful destruction emerges divine life[5].  In other words, a good ruler would participate in the affairs of his kingdom with a sense of detachment and would also exhibit virtues of fortitude and bravery.

In the text of ancient Chinese dignitaries of the Han kingdom, the focus of leadership is more toward the economic aspects of a ruler as opposed to interpersonal or social aspects.  A good ruler should be able to display effectiveness in handling various situations in war as well as in peace.  Emperor +Wu of the Han dynasty exemplified these qualities more than anybody else since in the history of Han Chinese.  His foremost virtue is the adoption of “rule by consensus”, wherein the King would have intellectual discussions with ministers and other learned men before declaring his edicts.  In spite of possessing supreme command over his subjects, Emperor Wu still carried himself with humility.  The other important quality expected of a king was his ability to facilitate efficient production and distribution of essential goods.  First under the leadership of Emperor Wu and later under Emperor Zhao, the advanced economic scheme of “equable marketing system” were implemented[6].  This was a sophisticated system of organizing economic activity by way of eliminating bottlenecks in the distribution system and encouraging innovation in production tools.

Not only were the Han dignitaries’ economic system advanced for its time, its implementers were also able to make nuanced observations of human life and its necessities[7].  As a result, the produce was classified under “essential” and “luxury” categories and the artisans and peasants were monitored to see that luxury commodities do not become surplus at the cost of diminishing essential goods.  Even more meritorious is the notion of the balancing standard, wherein “a receiving bureau was established at the capital for all the commodities.  Because goods were bought when the prices were low and sold when the prices were high, the government suffered no loss and the merchants could not speculate for profit”.  Hence, according to Han dignitaries of the 1st century B.C, a good ruler must have a thorough understanding of economic activity so that he can devise suitable plans for different contexts[8].

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