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The Rule of Virtue in the Zhou Dynasty


The Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC-771 BC) is an important period for Chinese culture. In terms of management, the most important contribution of the Western Zhou Dynasty is the Rule of Virtue, one of the main management philosopies in ancient China. It exerted a great influence on the development of management thoughts and practices in ancient China. 

The basic meaning of the Rule of Virtue is to rule virtuously. If one can be moral in thought, one also will be moral in conduct. This is the meaning of Rule of Virtue.  

Most of the emperors’ names in the Zhou Dynasty are based on the principle of morality. Take Emperor Wen and Emperor Wu for example. “Wen” has the same meaning as “de” and “Wu” means self-discipline and great contributions.  

For rulers, virtues have three aspects. The first is respecting God. Zhou people believed that the emperor was the son of God and sent to earth to rule on behalf of God. Rulers who are not respectful towards God are considered to be incompetent. 

The second aspect is protecting the people, which requires emperors to rule with love. Whoever has this merit will be blessed by the God.  

The third aspect is that rulers should use integrity to rule and benefit people. This is the most important virtue of rulers and also the basis of their fates. 

The Rule of Virtue also stresses new social relationships, in particular the relationship between emperors and civilians. According to the Zhou people, emperors and civilians are all God’s people. Emperors are called the sons of God and their responsibility is to rule people on behalf of God. If the emperor rules by virtue, he will get God’s blessings and protection. If not, God will choose someone else to replace the emperor. Emperors and civilians are interdependent and support each other mutually.  

The Rule of Virtue also advocates new forms of governance. Emperors should rule people on the basis of love and protection instead of possession and domination. They also should establish rules and norms observed by all the people; and persuasion, education, and guidance should be used as primary and fundamental management methods. 

From the choice of management objectives to the adoption of management methods and other key aspects, the Rule of Virtue pursues larger interest and starts from a long-term perspective. It also created the tradition of emphasis on leaders’ individual quality, andself-discipline, and stressed that a good example is the best sermon. 

Editor: Dong Lin