For me, the message of this story is that you can't force virtue unto others. You certainly can model it, but virtue must be found and practiced by each person. Try to force it and you will end up with something other than virtue.
King Wen was seeing the sights at Tsang when he spied an old man fishing. Yet his fishing wasn't really fishing. He didn't fish as though he were fishing for anything, but as though it were his constant occupation to fish. King Wen wanted to summon him and hand over the government to him, but he was afraid that the high officials and his uncles and brothers would be uneasy. He thought perhaps he had better forget the matter and let it rest, and yet he couldn't bear to deprive the hundred clans of such a Heaven-sent opportunity. At dawn the next day he therefore reported to his ministers, saying, "Last night I dreamt I saw a fine man, dark-complexioned and bearded, mounted on a dappled horse that had red hoofs on one side. He commanded me, saying, `Hand over your rule to the old man of Tsang - then perhaps the ills of the people may be cured!' "
The ministers, awe-struck, said, "It was the king, your late father!"
"Then perhaps we should divine to see what ought to be done," said King Wen.
"It is the command of your late father!" said the ministers. "Your Majesty must have no second thoughts. What need is there for divination?"
In the end, therefore, the king had the old man of Tsang escorted to the capital and handed over the government to him, but the regular precedents and laws remained unchanged, and not a single new order was issued.
At the end of three years, King Wen made an inspection tour of the state. He found that the local officials had smashed their gate bars and disbanded their cliques, that the heads of government bureaus achieved no special distinction, and that persons entering the four borders from other states no longer ventured to bring their own measuring cups and bushels with them. The local officials had smashed their gate bars and disbanded their cliques because they had learned to identify with their superiors. The heads of government bureaus achieved no special distinction because they looked on all tasks as being of equal distinction. Persons entering the four borders from other states no longer ventured to bring their own measuring cups and bushels with them because the feudal lords had ceased to distrust the local measures.
King Wen thereupon concluded that he had found a Great Teacher and, facing north as a sign of respect, he asked, "Could these methods of government be extended to the whole world?"
But the old man of Tsang looked blank and gave no answer, evasively mumbling some excuse; and when orders went out the next morning to make the attempt, the old man ran away the very same night and was never heard of again.
~ Burton Watson translation ~
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