To today’s Chinese, the term “maintaining stability” (維穩) brings to mind the authoritarian policies of the communist regime, which shuts down free speech, spiritual faith, and civil society in order to strengthen its dictatorship.
At the time of Emperor Xuan (91-48 B.C.) of the Han Dynasty, a famine struck Bohai and nearby counties. Bandits roamed around and became quite a significant issue for the people.
Emperor Xuan needed a competent officer to handle the situation. The prime minister recommended Gong Sui. Following this suggestion, the emperor appointed Gong Sui to be the magistrate of Bohai.
At that time, Gong Sui was already 70 years old. Emperor Xuan summoned him and noted that he was less imposing in person than rumor would have had him believe. With contemptuous skepticism Emperor Xuan asked him: “How will you quell the bandits?”
Gong Sui replied: “Bohai County is located in a remote area, without the blessings and education of Your Holy Majesty. The people there are suffering from hunger and cold, and the local officials do not know how to provide relief. As a result, your people are brandishing weapons by the lakeside. Do you want me to destroy them, or to pacify them?”
After hearing this, Emperor Xuan was pleased, and said: “The reason why I chose such a virtuous talent is to pacify them.” Gong Sui said: “I have heard that handling rebels is like unraveling a complex knot. We must be patient. I hope that the Prime Minister and other officials do not constrain me with regulations so that I can handle the bandits according to the circumstances, so I have no need to ask for permission whenever I need to take action.”
Emperor Xuan promised him he would have a free hand.
Endowed with this authority, Gong Sui took a four horse-drawn-carriage to Bohai County. Hearing of his arrival, the county official led his troops to greet him. Gong Sui told all the troops to return and ordered the official to remove everyone in charge of hunting down the bandits.
He stated that any people they found holding farm tools were all good people and that the officials must not question them. He went on to say that only those holding weapons were bandits. Then, Gong Sui drove to the county seat alone.
After hearing Gong Sui give out his instructions, the bandits immediately disbanded, abandoned their weapons, and picked up farming equipment such as hoes and pitchforks. The thefts and robberies all subsided.
Gong Sui opened the granary and gave food to the poor. He also selected good officials to manage and support the people. He encouraged people to plant crops in spring and summer and to harvest and pay taxes in autumn and winter. As a result, all the families in Bohai County had savings, and both the officials and the people became wealthy.
Translated by Jean Chen and edited by Leo Timm