Zhang Xuansu was a government official in the Jing Prefecture during the reign of Emperor Taizong of the Great Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) Emperor Taizong once summoned him to the royal court and asked him about his philosophy on government administration. Zhang Xuansu told Emperor Taizong, “Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty (the previous dynasty) insisted on overseeing everything. He did not trust the court subjects. He relied on his own wisdom to run the entire country. That was the tragic flaw that led the Sui Dynasty to its end! If Your Majesty would recruit and select government officials wisely and cautiously, and if Your Majesty would reward or punish their administration accordingly, Your Majesty would not need to worry about the government administration! Besides, I have noticed that although there were many rebellions towards the end of the Sui Dynasty, there were no more than a dozen people who wanted to seize the throne. Most people joined the rebellions in order to protect their hometowns and to follow the warlords they expected would do a better job than Emperor Yang at governing the country. Very few people understood the true reason why the people of the Sui joined the rebellions. The truth was that Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty did not know how to run the country!” After hearing Zhang Xuansu’s opinion, Emperor Taizong promoted him to be a royal court official.
In the fourth year of Zhenguan Era, Emperor Taizong decided to renovate Qianyang Hall in his Luoyang Royal Palace. Zhang Xuansu told Emperor Taizong, “I have witnessed how the Sui Dynasty built its Qianyang Hall. They chopped down large trees in Nanchang. Each tree was so large that it took 2,000 people to transport it. They transported the lumber in iron carts, but these carts broke every few miles because of the weight they were carrying. They had no choice but to have several hundred men carrying backup carts along the way. They could travel less than 30 miles a day. Take some other examples, the Qin Dynasty collapsed after it finished building its E-Fang Palace. The Chu Kingdom collapsed after it finished building its Zhanghua Palace. The Sui Dynasty collapsed after it finished building its Qianyang Hall. At the present moment, the Tang Dynasty has not attained the same level of prosperity that the Sui Dynasty once reached. Besides, our people have not fully recovered from the civil wars at the end of the Sui Dynasty. Under the circumstances, if we should spend money and resources on renovating Qianyang Hall, I am afraid that Your Majesty would make a even bigger mistake than Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty.” Emperor Taizong said, “Are you saying that I would be even worse than Emperor Yang the tyrant?” Emperor Taizong immediately aborted his plan to renovate Qianyang Hall.
When Wei Zheng heard Zhang Xuansu’s sincere advice to Emperor Taizong, he praised Zhang, “Zhang Xuansu had the ability to revive the dead.”
Wei Zheng’s comment spawned the idiom, “the ability to revive the dead.” It is used to describe one’s ability to reverse a deadly mistake.
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