Ages ago, I watched 12 Kingdoms and I found myself thinking about it almost on a daily basis – well, ever since the presidential debate for the US chair turned to groping and tantrums. So I asked myself, “What makes a good ruler?”
So I set this weekend aside to answer just this question. I binge-watched the 45 episodes (even the fillers) and I think my curiosity has been satisfied – to a point.
In a place where the rulers (be they worthy or not) are picked by a celestial being called a Kirin, an unlikely contender for the throne comes in the form of the red-haired mousy girl called Youko. Her evolution is astonishing and the insight into how the other kingdoms came to success/ruin is also an eye opener. I think the rulers from today should sit down and have a good think before attempting to go for presidency. So here’s what I learned from the show:
- A merciful and kind ruler will be laughed at by his/her people
While Youko is in training, she is often talking to the chambermaids, to the different people around her, regardless of cast or class and while we would think that is a normal thing to do, when it comes to being a king/queen, you should chose your conversations as well as who you decide to have them with a bit more carefully. Showing too much lenience, too much kindness will transform you into a doormat for your people.
“Palaces are built on the people’s bones. To tell the truth, the masses would be better off without kingdoms, which is why it takes a gifted ruler to tell just the right lies so they never realize it.”
2. Keeping up appearances
While you would feel comfortable in joggy bottoms, a ruler will have to dress to the occasion every time. Showing fancy hair pins, gold earrings, the full silk kimono. Power must be seen and must be heard. Speak with authority and never look like you are uncertain.
There is this Lady Ryou in the series, cruel mistress who would wake her servants in the dead of the night and ask them to clean the house, who would desire a tea made from a flower that grew in the highest and most dangerous mountain. She got to power by greed and manipulation and back-stabbing. When meeting the new queen of Sai, she is put back into her place with a small reminder that her status as a noble woman can be revoked and her staff removed if she does not change her way. When she quips back that no-one can do that to her, the old queen tells her that she can make it her business. Perfect end.
4. Punish people in proportion with their crime.
As Gekkei has shown, you will have a disgruntled population who would rather face the wrath of heavens for killing their own king than to endure the mass genocide. The case is simple enough – you have a ruler that despises corruption and will punish anyone for any crime – be is stealing a hand of grain to survive the famine, or wearing a hair accessory… or even taking a day off sick. You might get a stern king with no eye for crime, but in his kingdom, thousands have been killed at his wish. And this is where the problem is – death punishment for any crime and no legal system. We’ve seen this before in today’s news, no?
5. Treat people according to their rank and allow people to be proud of their work
One of the least-spoken-of kingdom, Kyou, had a small (petite) and decisive ruler. She made some fair points that by complaining about how hard and dirty your work is you shame everyone else doing the same work. And in order to live somewhere, with no skills or other knowledge, you will start from scrubbing floors and not from the princess quarters.
Her punishment for theft was a lifelong exclusion from her kingdom.
“I think that once you’re born, the thing you have to do is find out who you are and live that life as well as you can. You can’t spend your time wondering how things would have been if you were someone different.”
6. Getting stuck in the past will not allow you to see the present.
There are good times and there are bad times. And there are times where you are the daughter of a mass-murdered who was thrown into the big wide world with no knowledge of the outside. You might feel that the world has something against you, that your belongings have been stripped away from you and that everyone hates you from something you didn’t do.
Shukei is a prime example – from riches to rags, the only thing she is capable of is crying for her loss of youth, her hardening of skin, her work. Self-pity is never the way forward and sitting with both legs sunk in the past is no way to go forward.
“It doesn’t take any effort to dream. It’s a lot easier than looking at the problems in front of you and figuring out what you’re going to do about them. But all you’re doing is putting your problems up on a shelf for later, right? That doesn’t make them go away.”
7. A great kingdom is built upon acceptance and tolerance
The kingdom of En had refugees coming from all the other kingdoms around it. And more people were going there to study as they covered all subjects and they allowed half-humans (half-animals) to attend too. These creatures were born from a special tree and we get to meet at least three during the show. What En did – they allowed everyone in and this prosperity worked well. This level of integration might not be possible in our current culture but I hope, in time, it will.
8. There will always be two accounts to every story
Make a close circle you can trust and make sure you don’t form an opinion based on someone else’s.
9. A ruler is kind, a ruler is strong, a ruler is dangerous.
Sometimes brute force is needed to silence a problem. Especially when dealing with high-ranking corruption. But never kill your enemy. Make him talk, get to know everyone else who is your enemy. Subdue them.
I think that in today’s politics, it works the same way. Don’t just fire a corrupt official, fire all the ones he reports to too. It will be empty in our parliament if that were to happen.
A throne is always paid for in blood.
The king of En had told her that once. Even should a king’s ascension be bloodless as a gift from Heaven, to hold onto one’s throne invariably meant that blood must flow — as it had at the beginning, in the fight against the false king’s armies, and the quelling of civil war, and the execution of criminals.
Luckily, the fighting part was easy for Yoko. All she had to do was resist the temptation to run away.”
10. It takes years on the throne to have a prosperous kingdom
This is why the rulers need to have long lives. How much can you do in 4 years? If someone takes presidency from another person (ie Hillary from Obama), they will have to bring in their own trusted people in key positions, then these people will have to bring in their people in their own key position. This type of uprooting takes time. And if someone is in power for a long time, they might go crazy with it. A king declared that the people brought in by the sea storms were the cause of diseases and to be killed immediately. A queen, jealous of the other women, proclaimed that all women should be exiled from the kingdom. Another king tried to kill the heir to a throne of a neighboring country to avoid that country doing better than his.
In the end, we’re all human.
She couldn’t live in denial of her own humanity
“The sword gave me visions – whether I liked them or not. They were visions of what was going on in my deepest mind – sometimes my desires, sometimes my greatest fears .. It was me. I do not need a scabbard to sheathe my mind. ”
“You will make a great queen”