Don’t Piss on the Ashes


By Dr Wong Wee Nam
20 January 2015

I couldn’t resist the headline “Chan Chun Sing rebuffs Huffington Post for running articles by Chee Soon Juan”.

The latter had written two articles “Without Freedom There is No Free Trade” and “Free the Singapore Media and Let the People Go” talking basically about income inequality, media freedom creativity and the need for improvement in the system.

There is rarely open political debate in Singapore involving the ruling party, and certainly, a debate even between a powerful ex-Major General turned Minister and what Chan Chun Sing calls a politically-failed nobody must surely deserve some attention.

I started reading the rebuttal with great expectations because I expected a scholar and a touted future Prime Minister to demolish the “failure” with very strong and logical arguments. But I was disappointed. What I read was not a response to the issues raised by Dr Chee but a personal attack on him, raking up his past and labelling him with derisory terms.

Phyllis Schlafly, an American constitutional lawyer, has this to say about ad hominem personal attacks: That shoddy tactic is a loser before any audience.

Confucius also warned of the dangers of being ungentlemanly. In the Analects of Confucius under the segment of The Great Learning, there is a famous saying,十目所视,十手所指, 其严乎 (Ten Eyes Watching, Ten Hands Pointing, How Terrifying!) This is a famous saying from Zengzi, a disciple of Confucius. It simply tells you how you behave is watched by 10 pairs of eyes and the fingers pointing at you will come from 10 pairs of hands. Quite unnerving! In the age of the internet and particularly when you are a politician, you will be watched by hundreds or even thousands of eyes and criticized by the same number hands. Zengzi’s advice is that a person should be sincere, should not to be overbearing, and should act without airs.

Mencius, another disciple of Confucius, also advised. 言人之不善,当如后患何?This means that when you speak ill of others, you had better consider how things will backfire.

No wonder the internet is flooded with criticisms against those who strike a low blow!

The PAP has always been a supporter of a Confucian-style of government. Perhaps the Analects should be made compulsory reading for its potential acolytes.

There is a story from the History of the Han Dynasty that people aspiring to positions of power should take note. During the reign of Emperor Han Wudi, an official, Han Anguo, was sent to jail for some offence. The jailor, Tian Jian, frequently insulted him. Han told him, “Who can say for certain that dying ashes would not burn again.” Tian retorted, “If that happens, I’ll piss and put it out again.”

A few years later, Han was released and became an official again. For fear of his safety, Tian fled. Han ordered that he return or his whole family would be executed. Tian returned and apologized to Han.

“Now you can piss on me,” Han said.

Tian turned ghastly white, dropped onto his knees, kowtowed nonstop and begged for mercy. “Get up,” Han told him. “I am above retaliating against a person like you.”

What a gentleman. An exemplary leader indeed!

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