[VIEWPOINT]Lessons of an able servantWhy is the story of “Three Visits to a Thatched House,” portrayed in the “Romance of Three Kingdoms,” being repeated these days? This is the story of how Liu Bei visits Zhuge Liang three times to ask him to become his adviser. The story portrays the ideal manner in which a lord should choose his subordinate and how a subordinate should choose which lord to serve.
Liu Bei’s success in bringing Zhuge Liang to his side is considered one of the best scouting stories in history. This was no coincidence, though. Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang were able to get together because they shared the same ambitions, they both recognized that it would be more efficient to join forces, and Liu Bei paid the most attention to Zhuge Liang. Or that is how it is described in the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.”
Each knew what kind of man the other was. At the time, Liu Bei was in a difficult situation with no land to rule but he was known as an honorable man with great ambitions. Zhuge Liang was a well-known genius strategist. The two met to confirm their common beliefs. They shared the dream of saving the people from incessant warring and poverty and restoring the rule of the Han royal family, to which Liu Bei belonged. It was not a matter of code but a matter of common ideals. They also came to agree on the strategy they would pursue. Zhuge Liang proposed that they should set about conquering the land in three stages.
“The region of Jingzhou is to be taken first as a home, the River Lands next for the foundation of domination. When you are firmly established, you can lay your plans for the attainment of the whole empire,” the sage told his lord. This strategy was followed, and the war was indeed fought in these three stages.
When people are appointed to a position without any vision or strategy, they are bound to fail halfway through. We are seeing too much of this failure these days in our government because public positions are being doled out carelessly.
Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang knew they needed each other’s capabilities. Liu Bei needed an adviser with a strategic mind and refined expert knowledge. If he were to go from being the leader of a small band of warriors to the ruler of the entire world, he needed new blood on his team. Zhuge Liang needed the right master to exercise the skills that he had so diligently acquired.
Cao Cao, Liu Bei’s most powerful rival, had already gotten his ranks in order and so there was little room for Zhuge Liang in his camp. Zhuge Liang knew that Sun Quan, head of the Wu kingdom, would also not give him free rein should he offer his services as an adviser. That is how Zhuge Liang chose to join Liu Bei, the weakest warlord at the time but also the most promising one. His judgment was accurate.
When Zhuge Liang joined Liu Bei’s camp, he encountered much jealousy from others. There were the two sworn brothers of Liu Bei who had been with him for 20 years. There were other advisers and subordinates. Liu Bei showed an incredible talent for leadership in keeping his camp from breaking apart while letting Zhuge Liang do his job freely. This is where Liu Bei’s greatness lay.
There are times when a talented newcomer fails because he is checked by the established members of the group. Zhuge Liang not only was able to serve Liu Bei as his topmost adviser until Liu Bei died, but he also served Liu Bei’s successor. This shows us not only how talented and loyal he must have been but also what a magnanimous leader Liu Bei must have been.
Liu Bei had to visit Zhuge Liang in his humble cottage three times before he was finally able to convince the sage to join forces with him. He hadn’t even been able to meet Zhuge Liang on his first visit, which was made during a winter storm. Liu Bei was 47 years old at the time. He made a second visit to Zhuge Liang, 20 years his junior, the following spring. He was finally able to meet him and bring him to his side.
If you want to invite a man of ability, do not spare your attention on him. Likewise, if you are a man of ability, the attention shown to you at first is a sign of how much power you’ll be given later on. Zhuge Liang may have acted haughtily before, but once he entered into Liu Bei’s service he showed enormous loyalty. With his attention and devotion, Liu Bei made sure that Zhuge Liang would not be able to refuse his invitation. This was most fortunate for Liu Bei and ultimately for the people. We are currently looking for a new prime minister. What lessons could we learn from this old story?
* The writer is the chairman of Samsung Economic Research Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-suk