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anger, ordered him to kill himself. Wu Tzu-hsiu obeyed his king, but before he plunged the knife into his chest, he cried, “Tear out my eyes, oh King, and fix themon the gate of Wu, so that I may see the triumphant entry of Yueh.”As Wu Tzu-hsiu had predicted, within a few years a Yueh army passed beneath thegate of Wu. As the barbarians surrounded the palace, the king remembered his minister's last wordsand felt the dead man's disembodied eyes watching his disgrace. Unable to bear his shame, the king killed himself, “covering his face so that he would not have to meet the reproachful gaze of his minister in the next world.”InterpretationThe story of Wu is a paradigm of all the empires that have come to ruin by overreaching. Drunk with success and sick with ambition, such empires expand to grotesque proportions and meet a ruin that is total. This is what happened to ancient Athens, which lusted for the faraway island of Sicily and ended up losing its empire. The Romans stretched the boundaries of their empire to encompass vast territories; in doing so they increased their vulnerability, and the chances of invasion from yet another barbarian tribe. Their useless expansion led their empire into oblivion.For the Chinese, the fate of the kingdom of Wu serves as an elemental lesson on what happens when you dissipate your forces on several fronts, losing sight of distant dangers for the sake of present gain. “If you are not in danger,” says Sun-tzu, “do not fight.” It is almost a physical law: What is bloated beyond its proportions inevitably collapses. The mind must not wander from goal to goal, or be distracted by success from its sense of purpose and proportion. What is
concentrated, coherent, and connected to its past has power. What is dissipated, divided, and distended rots and falls to the ground. The bigger it bloats, the harder it falls.OBSERVANCE OF THE LAWThe Rothschild banking family had humble beginnings in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt, Germany. The city's harsh laws made it impossible for Jews to mingle outside the ghetto, but the Jews had turned this into a virtueit made them self-reliant, and zealous to preserve their culture at all costs. Mayer Amschel, the first of the Rothschilds to accumulate wealth by lending money, in the late eighteenth century, well understood the power that comes from this kind of concentration and cohesion.First, Mayer Amschel allied himself witii one family, the powerful princes of Thurn und Taxis. Instead of spreading his services out, he made himself these princes' primary banker. Second, he entrusted none of his business to outsiders, using onlyhis children and close relatives. The more unified and tight-knit the family, the more powerful it would become. Soon Mayer Amschel's five sons were running the business. And when Mayer Amschel lay dying, in 1812, he refused to name a principal heir, instead setting up all of his sons to continue the family tradition, so that they would stay united and would resist the dangers of diffusion and of infiltration by outsiders.