0002 Readings in the History of Philosophy – Guan Zhong

For an explanation of this series, see 0001 – Readings in the History of Philosophy – Introduction


Guan Zhong (c. 745-645 BC) was an advisor and Prime Minister who served Duke Huan of Qi in China.

State of Qi in China
State of Qi in China

“When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.” (Guanzi)


“All-powerful leadership begins with a fundamental orientation towards the people. When this foundation is in good order, the state is stable, but when the foundation is in chaos, the state would be in danger.” (Guanzi)


“To make the people prosperous is the top priority in running a state. Prosperous people are easy to manage, while poor ones difficult to handle. Why is that? It is because, if they are prosperous, they will be attached to their native land; if they are thus attached, they will defer to their superiors and avoid committing crimes for fear of punishment; and if they are afraid of punishment, they are easy to manage. But if they are poor, they will not be attached to their dwelling place; if they are not thus attached, they will be defiant against their superiors and tend to rebel; and if they tend to rebel, they will be difficult to handle. Hence, a well-managed state must first be prosperous while one in disorder suffering from poverty. Therefore, a ruler good at statecraft must first make people wealthy before governing them.” (Guanzi)


Guan Zhong’s economic and political philosophy (recorded in Guanzi) seems to have advocated a form of government that was focused the virtue of the ruler and on enriching the lives of the people (especially through education) in order to maintain successful government over them.  Although many consider him a forerunner of the Chinese philosophy of Legalism, some have identified him with Confucian political-ethical thought.  One author interestingly compared Guan Zhong to modern philosophers saying:


“He [Guan Zhong] did not only put forward a systematic non-hegemonic theory of political economy at such an early date of human history… he also adopted in practice an economic model, which required the government to appropriately intervene in the market, so that, during his term of office, the state of Qi became one of the most powerful of that time. He achieved what Adam Smith, Marx, and Keynes did not — he put his own theory into practice with great success.”


Primary Sources

Guanzi (English)


Other Articles:

Chinese Literature: Guanzi

Guanzi(《管子》): Earliest Masterpiece on Political Economy in Human History (I)

Wiki:  Guan Zhong



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