#16 Wang Fu – Friendship and Getting Ahead
Wang Fu is a Chinese philosopher/political thinker who explains in an essay the flaws of the Han Dynasty civil service recruitment system. Instead of looking for qualifications, people were hired because they had connections to the powerful. This society would prefer that only morally-fit candidates were hired. It was flawed at its core. Some people used it to secure high-ranking positions of power. Wang Fu explained how friendship became shallow relationships for the wealthy and powerful, while the poor were ignored. People would make friends with others to get some kind of benefit. These essays give an overview of the Han Dynasty at that time and the people who lived there. The Han Dynasty’s people were quick to judge, and this is the key concept that the entire essay highlights. The ability to judge someone’s appearance and status was a quick way to decide whether they were willing to be friends with another person. Fu gives numerous examples of how wealthy and powerful people are treated compared to those who don’t. He also explains why this is harmful to society.
Wang Fu may not have been motivated by this piece. But, since he has never been appointed to an official post, it is plausible to suppose that he was responding to this fact. Margaret Pearson states in “The Nature of the Worthy” that Wang Fu argued that all people, even those less than perfect, are worthy of official responsibility. Fu believed many people were born with the capacity to hold official accountability, but were unable to because of various circumstances. His writing was reflective of this fact. This is something to think about when you analyze his essay. Wang Fu’s essay opens with the line “With people, the good friends who have been there for a long time are the best. With things, the good ones are the most valuable.” He continues to state that friendship should be like this, with people becoming closer over time. Your friendship should grow closer the longer you have known someone. Fu wrote that in the Han Dynasty, people were attempting to break the ancient sages’ rule to cherish old friends and let their friendships die. Fu concluded that people have a tendency to charm those in higher positions to their advantage while neglecting those below them. Befriending people with higher status may help them to rise to a higher level of wealth and status. But making friends with people below will cause them to lose their net worth. Some people felt that giving up humility or honesty for power and wealth was a reasonable compromise in politics. While this is not a unique idea, it is worth noting that it was encouraged by the political system.
You may have seen things that you didn’t know were there. While the poor might be able to wear expensive clothes and still be considered wealthy, if they were wearing ragged clothes they wouldn’t be noticed. One could be a brilliant scholar and appear like a homeless person, and no one would notice. Fu’s words are not entirely objective, and Fu never achieved a position. This still shows the flaws within the political system. The cunning and crafty minds used to rise to power by friends with ulterior motives. Their abilities were not validated by any checks. Officials would only recommend their friends, or men who had the most influence and wealth over the people who were most qualified. The system existed until the introduction of written exams for candidates. Wang Fu was one exception to this rule. However, most people seemed to be happy with how it turned out. Many Han Dynasty leaders either did not know how to become official during this period or just accepted it. This shows the lack of political awareness. Despite this inefficient casting of officials, it is likely that there was someone worthy.
Wang Fu believed that anyone could be worthy of supervision. Existing problems could frustrate the righteous and tempt them to choose the easy path. “…he would then fall prey to the disease of arrogance…which would destroy him.” (Pearson 284) Fu believed that candidates should be honest. Fu wanted to hear their weaknesses, not embellish them. He wanted to see the whole person and not just their connections. He compared a person’s imperfections to salt that is used in polishing gold. Certain commodities are more valuable than others because they have less desirable or unattractive qualities. To put it another way, understanding your weaknesses is key to getting the best out people. People from the Han Dynasty are not allowed to be accepted for their character, ability or deeds. Instead they make up fake reputations. This further demonstrates how power-hungry people were able to compromise their humility.
Han Dynasty had a system that made it easy to obtain their officials. Before the written exam system, men were able to rise to power through their networks. People were able to find ways to abuse the recommendation of an already qualified official, rather than bringing in qualified people. It was basically a business deal to make friends with someone else. Wang Fu’s essay titled Friendship and Getting Ahead revealed many of the values and considerations in the times. For a chance at power, men would be more crafty and abandon benevolence. It was not worth the effort to change those who weren’t involved in politics. Those who were determined to succeed lost the meaning of friendship