During Emperor Qianlong’s reign in the 18th century, there was a thief who specialized in stealing treasures out of the palace. The thief could go in and out of the palace without leaving any trace despite the high walls, deep moat, and palace guards.
The thief’s antics did not upset the emperor very much until one day, Qianlong found his jade seal missing from the Imperial Study Hall. That infuriated him. He ordered a thorough search, with no stone left unturned.
Three days later, the jade seal mysteriously appeared on Qianlong’s table. Qianlong panicked, as he thought to himself: “This thief moves so freely in and out of the palace. This time, it was just the jade seal. What if the next time, he wants my head?” He immediately called his officials together to discuss how to catch the thief.
Minister Heshen said he had a foolproof plan. “First, deploy an additional three thousand guards so the thief cannot slip through. Second, increase palace surveillance to prevent anyone from planning any malicious activities. Third, all people going in and out are to be searched. If you follow these instructions, the thief will not be able to escape.”
Qianlong agreed, but the thief was still not caught and the thefts continued, so another meeting was called. This time the emperor asked Yong Liu: “Minister Liu, you have always been resourceful. Do you have any ideas?”
Liu answered: “Your Majesty, this case can be solved with these three actions. First, remove all the additional guards. Second, remove all the locks from the treasure hall. Third, open all the treasure chests. After doing so, we will certainly catch the thief.”
Qianlong was puzzled: “Minister Liu, you are usually so clever. How can such a foolish plan work?” Liu smiled: “Your Majesty, please try and see.” Qianlong ordered the plan to be followed, and in ten days the thief was caught.
Minister Liu explained: “The thief had years of experience stealing. Through all of those experiences, he learned how to sneak in, avoid the guards, go to the door, quickly open the lock, take the treasure, and quickly escape. As long as these successive steps are precisely and accurately carried out, the treasure can be stolen even if the palace is strictly secured. However, this time, when the thief entered, there were no extra guards, no locks on the doors, and all the treasure chests were open. The scenario caused an unprecedented situation, so he panicked.”
Actually, our own lives are full of these types of situations. Our successes preserve the habits that brought us that success, but once the situation changes, it is easy to become complacent about those old habits and fail when we find ourselves in new circumstances.
It was not a foolproof security plan that caught the thief. It wasn’t a high wall, a deep moat, or many guards, but it was the thief’s own previous experiences that defeated him.
Translated by: Chua BC
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