The Virtuous and Selfless Empress Changsun
Li Shimin firmly remembered his wife words, "Think about danger when living in peace," and "recruit capable people who are open to different opinions." At that time the entire country lived in peace. Many military officials slacked off at practicing martial arts. During his spare time, Taizong would call those military officials to practice shooting technique. It seemed to be just for fun, but in fact it was a way for the military officers to practice their skills diligently. He used the results of the exercises as an important reference to promote and reward them. Under the rule of previous dynasties, only palace guards and very few special individuals were allowed to bring weapons into the palace. Someone thus reminded Taizong, "Those officers have their bows and arrows with them despite sitting near you. If someone plots or if there is a conspiracy to harm Your Majesty, that would be a disaster to the nation!" Li Shimin said, "I treat people forthrightly. I do not want suspect them." He appointed people based on their abilities, and entrusted them with heavy responsibilities. This was very much appreciated by his military and civil officers. This motivated the officers to be diligent and keep vigilant, even in peaceful times. The nation had strong soldiers and strong horses for a long time. They were not afraid of any external threat.
Regarding "recruiting capable people," Taizong also greatly benefited from that advice. He often said to his assistants, "For a man to see his face, he must use a mirror. For a King to know his own mistakes, he must use officers who can give honest criticisms." His top officer Wei Zheng was a very honest and straightforward man with great integrity. Wei Zheng was not reluctant to point out Tang Taizong's inappropriate behavior and policies, and urge him rectify them. Tang Taizong respected him very much, often calling him an "honest criticizing officer." But sometimes Wei Zheng would not ignore minor things, and Taizong sometimes felt offended. Once, Taizong felt like taking a large group of guards for hunting. When he was just about to leave the palace, he bumped into Wei Zheng. When Wei Zheng heard about his Emperor's foray, he immediately advised Taizong, "Now it is the second month of the spring, everything is sprouting, animals are nursing their young, so it is not a good time for hunting. Your Majesty, please return to the palace." Taizong insisted on hunting, Wei Zheng would not back off, and he stood in the middle of the road to block Taizong's way. Taizong was angry, so he got off the horse and returned to the palace.
When Taizong saw Empress Changsun, he angrily told her, "Sooner or later I will kill that old stubborn man!" The Empress was told the reason for the Emperor's anger. She did not say a word and left the room. When she returned, she was dressed in a formal dress and congratulated Emperor Taizong. Her act confused Taizong, so he asked, "What matter is so important?" She said, "I heard that an officer is willing to present his honest opinion only when the emperor is wise and open-minded. I would like to congratulate Your Majesty for having a cabinet member who is not afraid to contradict you, because it is a proof of Your Majesty's open-mindedness!" After hearing the Empress's words, Emperor Taizong felt the truth of it and calmed down. This indicates that Empress Changsun was not only very open and tolerant, but also held great wisdom.
Empress Changsun and Taizong's eldest son Li Chengqian was made crown prince at a very young age. Li Chengqian's nanny Madam Suian was in charge of controlling his daily expenses. At that time the palace was frugal, including the crown prince, whose purse strings were controlled tightly. Madam Suian often complained in front of Empress Changsun. She said, "The crown prince will be the future Emperor. His expenses should of course be paid for by the country. Now, his purse strings are kept so tight and everything around him is so shabby." She asked several times to increase his allowance, but Empress Changsun did not relax the rule just because he was her favorite son. Changsun said, "Being an Emperor, his future is before him. He should worry more about establishing his virtue and make a name for himself. He should not concern himself with his way of life and his expenses!" Her fairness and intelligence were well respected by many people in the palace.
Changsun Wuji was Empress Changsun's brother, and he was well versed in military and civil affairs. When he was young, he was already good friends with Li Shimin. He assisted Li Shimin in uniting the entire country and he was known for his great achievements. He should have ranked as a high level official. But, because his sister Changsun was Empress, he tried to avoid high positions at all times. Tang Taizong wanted Changsun Wuji to continue serving as the Prime Minister, but Empress Changsun said, "I am already Empress, one of the highest positions. I really do not want my brother to take a position in the cabinet.
Otherwise it would be like a family business. The behavior of Empress Lv of the Han Dynasty should be used as an example for making mistakes, and we should learn from others' mistakes." Tang Taizong did not want to accept her advice. He wanted to appoint Changsun Wuji because of his abilities and achievements. He felt that appointing people should be based on the talent solely, and relationships should not be counted. But Changsun Wuji also felt uneasy about his relationship with his sister, and did not want to be in a high ranking position. As a last resort, Taizong gave him a position that ranked high, but did not bring real political power. Changsun Wuji still did not want to accept it and argued, "I'm a relative of Your Majesty. If you appoint me as a high ranking official, I'm afraid people statewide would say that you are selfish." Tang Taizong said, "I appoint officials only based on abilities. If a person does not have abilities, even if he is my relative I won't appoint him. King of Xiangyi Shengfu is such an example. If he is capable, even if we were enemies I would use him, and Wei Zheng is such an example. Today's act is not because you are my relative." Changsun Wuji thus accepted it.