Lessons from Dizi Gui: Handling Criticism and Praise Effectively

By Jade Pearce| Epoch Times Staff

Dizi Gui (弟子规) (Standards for Being a Good Student and Child) is an ancient Chinese text for children that teaches moral values and etiquette. It was written during the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (康熙帝) (1661- 1722) by Li Yuxiu.

Beneath the conservative, “old-school” verbose of this ancient classic, one can still find gems of wisdom that remain surprisingly relevant to our modern society. A new lesson is covered in each issue.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s at home, at school, or at work. Regardless of where we are or what we do, we will always be exposed to criticism and praise.

And between the two, praise goes down a lot easier than criticism does. Criticism makes us judge ourselves more harshly. Occasionally, there is the rude shock of learning something awful about yourself that you’d never realised before.

It’s no wonder that we instinctively want to reject criticism and welcome praise. But as aptly put by author Norman Peale, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

Indeed it is criticism, and not praise, that is the best way for us to identify our faults and grow. In addition, the way we deal with criticism and praise affects our growth as a person for the rest of our lives.

In Dizi Gui, we are taught that “If we react angrily to criticism and happily to praise, then bad company will come our way and true, well-meaning friends will shy away.” This becomes a vicious cycle – the less criticism we accept, the less criticism we receive, and the less we improve.

In contrast, being “afraid to receive praise and glad to receive criticism” invites honest and upright company, who aren’t afraid to point out our shortcomings.

This lesson is perfectly illustrated by two stories from ancient China: Zhou Ji’s (周岌) understanding of praise, and Emperor Taizong’s reaction to criticism.

By keeping honest and transparent advisors like Wei Zheng (魏徵) by his side, Emperor Taizong’s (唐太宗) reign became one of China’s golden ages. (Internet Photo)

Being Blinded By Praise

During China’s Warring States Period, there was a high official for the State of Qi named Zhou Ji, and a gentleman named Xu Gong who was well-known for being extremely handsome.

Zhou Ji considered himself to be a very good-looking man. One morning after dressing himself, he asked his wife, “Between Xu Gong and me, who do you think is more handsome?” His wife smiled and said, “Of course you’re more handsome! How can Xu Gong compare to you?”

Zhou Ji was delighted by her response, but doubted that his wife was being completely honest. So he went to ask his mistress the same question. She replied without a pause, “Xu Gong is nowhere near as goodlooking as you.”

Later, when a friend came to visit Zhou Ji, Zhou Ji asked him the same question again. His friend immediately replied, “Xu Gong’s looks can’t compare to yours!”

One day later, Xu Gong paid Zhou Ji a visit. After taking a good look at Xu Gong, Zhou Ji came to the realisation that he was nowhere near as handsome as Xu Gong. But what really troubled him was why his wife, mistress and friend had not been honest with him in the first place?

After spending a sleepless night thinking about it, Zhou Ji finally realised the answer. The next day, when he met with Qi King, he told the King what he had encountered and said, “Although I’m not as handsome as Xu Gong, my wife told me I was more handsome because she loved me; my mistress said I was more handsome because she was afraid of me; and my friend said I was more handsome because he wanted to ask me of a favour. They were not telling me the truth, and so I remained blind to the truth.

“This made me think of Your Highness—all of your concubines and servants love and worship you; all of your generals and officials are afraid of you; and all of your citizens and even the rulers of neighbouring countries have something to ask of you. If none of them are willing to be sincere and honest with you, imagine how seriously blinded to the truth you’ll be.”

Upon hearing this, the Qi King immediately issued an order: “Any person who can point out my mistakes, or submit a report advising me to improve, will be highly rewarded.”

This order dramatically transformed the Qi’s state of affairs as an endless stream of officials fought to present their suggestions to the King. Thereafter, the State of Qi’s rule improved and it became even more powerful and properous.

Welcoming Critics and Criticism

During the reign of Emperor Taizong of Tang, there was a chancellor named Wei Zheng who was not afraid to directly criticise the emperor. Emperor Taizong respected and valued him, but occasionally he found Wei Zheng’s bluntness and persistence difficult to stomach.

During one such occasion, Emperor Taizong remarked angrily to Empress Zhangsun(长孙皇后), “One day I will kill that upstart! That Wei Zheng criticises me in front of the entire court every day, and even contradicts me in public. It’s infuriating!”

Tang Dynasty Empress Zhangsun congratulated the Emperor Taizong, “Your Highness is truly blessed. Because you are a wise and able emperor, you draw subordinates of integrity and responsibility.” (Taste of Life)

Upon hearing this, Empress Zhangsun immediately congratulated the Emperor, “Your Highness is truly blessed. Because you are a wise and able emperor, you draw subordinates of integrity and responsibility.” The Emperor calmed down after hearing her words.

Emperor Taizong is considered one of China’s greatest emperors, and his exemplary rule was made possible by his constant self-reflection and openness to criticism.

As demonstrated by him and the Qi King, handling criticism and praise positively attracts people of integrity, and provides an honest mirror for one to reflect upon and improve to higher standards.

Handling criticism and praise positively attracts people of integrity, and provides an honest mirror for one to reflect upon and improve to higher standards. (freepik.com)

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