Thursday, 28 September 2023

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Buying the bones of thousand-miles steed with a stack of gold

I love to read stories about the Warring States of China, due to its complex political landscape among the seven warring states and constant rivalry which spanned beyond the contest of mere military strategies and technology but also how countries administer policies over their land and recruiting of talents to serve the countries.

During the feudal period in China, one had to be very careful with one words and be cautious of not directing one’s comment towards the king who has absolute right over his subjects. Which is why, many officials even when they are close to the king, will give their advice through subtle ways such as telling a story in hope that the king can understand the meaning and moral of the story without  incurring the wrath of the ruler but still achieving the intended goal of convincing him. (Sadly, when writing this, reminds me of Singapore)

One such example was during 314BC where a rebellion took place in the state of Yan which resulted in the neighbouring state of Qi taking advantage of the situation by sending its troops and conquering portion of Yan’s land.

Yan Zhao Wang (燕昭王) or King Yan Zhao after becoming the king of Yan, suppressed the rebellion. He was determined to recruit talents to revitalize the state of Yan and regain its lost land. But though he expressed such lofty ambitions, not much people took up his offer. This led him to seeking advice from Guo Wei, a citizen of Yan on how to recruit capable individuals.

In response to King Yan Zhao’s query, Guo told a story to him about another king who lived a long time ago.

The king who was willing to buy a thousand-mile steed for 1000 gold . But three years passed, and the steed was never brought. A nameless individual under the king, self-recommended himself to buy the steed which the king then agreed. This person used three months to find out the whereabouts of a thousand-mile steed was but alas, when he arrived, the horse had already died. Then this person used 500 gold to purchase the bones of the dead horse and return to the king with it. The king saw the bones and was unhappy when he got to know that the person brought it at such a high price. However, the person said, “The reason why I did this is to let the whole world know that the king is sincere in offering high price for a thousand-miles steed, and there is no deception involved. And true enough, within a year, people starting coming to offer their steeds for the king to buy.

Seeing that King Yan Zhao was thinking about what he said, Guo continued, “A thousand-miles steed is akin to talents. The king can treat me as the dead thousand-miles steed in the story. Then those who are more capable, intelligent than me, will sooner or later come seeking your audience to offer their service.”

When King Yan Zhao finished listening to Guo’s words, he felt enlightened and was elated. He proceeded to build an elaborate residence for Guo, installed him as a high-ranking official, gave him a handsome amount of salary, and treated him in the same way as what a student would towards a teacher.

Stories of King Yan Zhao’s conduct and how Guo was treated by the king, were spread across the entire state of Yan through the word of mouth and led to many talents seeking employment in the state of Yan. After twenty years of effort, State of Yan prospered and eventually defeating State of Qi, reclaiming its lost land.

How sincere are voters in seeking the new generation of leaders?

Now for the moral of the story. If we were to apply the same principle to Singapore when it comes to political leaders, just how much sincerity are voters showing to the hidden dragons and crouching tigers in Singapore for them to step up to lead the country?

Often you hear excuses and arguments by voters that their candidates for their wards are not from their desired party or they are not the ideal candidate. But what exactly is the ideal candidate for voters? It would seem that the definition has yet seem to be determined, given that the last election showed roughly similar results for opposition candidates across the board whether they are borderline extremists or highly qualified professionals with a passion to serve.

Singapore has no lack of talented and capable individuals but if they are not convinced that voters are sincere and ready for change, why would they step up to take up the challenge and expose themselves to unnecessary publicity and intimidation by the government under People’s Action Party (PAP). Voters ought to ask yourself this question, will you volunteer to step into a political arena with all odds against you with the people whom you are trying to help, being apathetic to the difficulties faced?

So stop saying that you are forced to vote for the ruling party because you are not offered a better candidate, the problem ultimately lies with your mindset and your desire to vote in political leaders who really have a heart for Singapore. If the inept or average candidates outside of PAP* are seen being voted into Parliament**, the truly talented will know that it is time for them to step up to face the challenges faced by Singapore as the new generation of political leaders.

*Why talented and capable individuals are not with PAP? Because with their ability and intelligence, they don’t want to be yes men and women who will be looked down by citizens of the country.
** Singapore has one of the best civil service in the world. The country will not collapse with poor political leaders as what we see now, but it will if laws and constitution are kept being changed to protect the interest of one political party.


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