[VIEWPOINT]To govern well, appoint good people

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[VIEWPOINT]To govern well, appoint good people

The talents and characters of the three main figures of “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan, are quite similar. They were all great men with slightly different characteristics. Cao Cao was clever and quick to make decisions. He looked after all the important points and took care of things by himself. He was also lucky, being the first to occupy the largest territory and leading the strongest of the three kingdoms. Liu Bei was blessed with natural virtue and kept quiet and listened to people, so a lot of good people followed him. He was the type of person who delegated his authority to subordinates and was generous and tolerant. He was persistent and knew how to win. Sun Quan was a master of defense who did a good job expanding and developing the country that was handed down from his ancestors. He used old subordinates well and trained new people, creating harmony and cooperation between the old and new generations. He preserved his country well through flexible diplomacy, pursuing actual profits rather than appearances.
The common point among them was that they selected good people and employed the right person at the right place. Appointment of personnel was the most important aspect of leading a country back then. In those times when there were always upheavals and battles, recruiting talented people and helping them exercise their ability was the key to the prosperity or ruin of a country. The competent and talented people were also known to join hands or part with their superiors, as they continuously sought a good master to serve. Cao Cao was a great soldier, strategist and intellectual. He greatly coveted talented people. When he first met with Soon Wook, who can be called the greatest staff officer, he ran out of his room without his shoes on to welcome him. He recruited talented people by issuing an order to the whole country “to recommend talented people regardless of minor weaknesses.” If a talented young man was in trouble, he went out of his way to defend him. Therefore many competent people came to him, and he picked the most talented among them through rigid evaluations and made them do their utmost by rewarding their merits and punishing their faults.
Liu Bei, who did not have much in his possession from the beginning, put all his efforts into recruiting talented people with a humble and gentle heart. He paid three visits to Zhuge Liang, who was 20 years younger than him, in order to invite him to his side. He gave active support to Zhuge Liang so he could exercise all his talents. Of course, there were also restraints and checks from groups with vested interests, even during that era. But Liu Bei delegated part of his authority to Zhuge Liang while enjoining his fellow founders and retainers not to offend him. Liu Bei might seem to be too trusting because he was so generous, but he had an animal-like instinct of recognizing the character of people. When he saw Zhuge Liang’s affection for his subordinate Ma Su, who later became a traitor, he instructed Zhuge Liang in his dying hour, “Ma Su is all talk but no action. Be careful not to give an important job to him in the future.” As he had sharp eyes, he could delegate this job to others. Zhuge Liang later beheaded Ma Su.
Sun Quan also employed competent people in the right places and helped them grow well too. In times of crisis, he recruited talented old acquaintances and reaped big successes out of such recruitment. It was a sort of “code,” similar to parachute appointments of today, in which important public posts are distributed to those with connections. Those in power looked for competent people when he needed them, and used them in decisive moments. Even during a big war on which the fate of the country depended, he wholly entrusted the fate of the country to his chosen officials and simply supported them. Sun Quan was not a great general, but he could handle great generals well, and that is why he was so successful. Sun Quan once had a very hard time with money when he was young. Sun Quan used to spend a lot of money because he was so generous, but his brother Sun Ce strictly regulated him, saying he would spoil his own people. One subordinate used the money strictly according to the rules but another subordinate put some money aside to make Sun Quan happy. As soon as Sun Quan came to power, however, he let the person who put money aside go, and promoted the subordinate who used the money strictly. It is probably because he was clear about personal life and state affairs that so many subordinates followed him.
Controversies over personnel appointments create a lot of noise these days. As criticism against parachute appointments is not going to end soon and people without qualifications are clamoring to get into high positions, it may be natural that talented people look out for themselves. On top of that, standards for what constitutes talent might have changed and not much effort is made in finding competent officials. On the other hand the government institutions that should actually worry about finding good people remain rather complacent and optimistic. They say that the “code,” or the practice of appointing people with connections has exited with the [bad] old days; but if this is also practiced in other countries nowadays, why shouldn’t it be used by this administration?
Of course the argument against this is that invariably it leads to appointees with low qualifications and the persons appointed tend to think as if it is their personal entitlement. There would be no problem if appointments are made within the appropriate rank or at least with a reasonable margin of error. I wish the holders of appointment authority would, at least once, properly read “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.”

* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Woo-suk
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