Tales from Ancient China: Returning the Whole Jade Without Damage

The retelling of a story from ancient Chinese history

According to an old Chinese saying, if two tigers fight each other, one will be wounded or killed. Human beings also compete and fight with one another, but they are also capable of a wisdom that prevents conflict or brings about friendship. Such wisdom helped preserve the whole jade for the Kingdom of Zhao.

During the Spring and Autumn period of the Era of the Warring States, there was a general named Lian Bo who served the Kingdom of Zhao.

In the sixteenth year of the reign of King Zhao Huiwen Wang, Lian served as the general who led the attack on the Qi Guo Kingdom. Because Lian Bo defeated Qi and captured Yang Jin City, he was appointed to be the Shang Qing, which is one of the highest officials in the Zhao Kingdom. After that, Lian Bo became very well known among the warring kingdoms for his bravery and for always being victorious in battle.

At the time of Zhao Huiwen Wang, the Kingdom of Zhao acquired the He Shi Be jade, after it had been lost by the Chu Kingdom. This large piece of white jade in the shape of a disk would play an important role in Chinese history. Qin Wang, the king of the Qin Kingdom, heard about Zhao’s acquisition of the jade and sent a letter to Zhao Wang. He offered to exchange 15 cities in Qin for the He Shi Be.

Zhao Wang discussed this issue with General Lian Bo and all the other high officials, but did not know what to do. If he gave the jade to Qin, then Qin may never keep his word to give the 15 cities to Zhao. If he didn’t give the jade to Qin, then he feared Qin would attack Zhao and conquer the kingdom.

While feeling unsure about what to do, Zhao Wang wanted to send someone to Qin to reply, but he could not find someone who could succeed at the job. The head eunuch Miao Xian said he had the right man for the job—Lin Xiangru would be very well qualified to do it. Lin Xiangru lived in Zhao Kingdom as a guest in the household of Miao Xian.

Zhao Wang asked, how did he know that Lin Xiangru could accomplish this?

Miao said, “Once I made a mistake and was afraid your majesty would punish me and would not forgive me. So I had planned to escape to the Yan Kingdom.

“Lin Xiangru then asked me how I knew Yan Wang would accept me and keep me there? I told him that before, I went with your majesty to a meeting with Yan Wang at the border. Privately, Yan Wang held my hand saying he would like to make me his close friend, so I knew Yan would accept me.

“Lin at hearing that shook his head and said, ‘at that time Yan was afraid of Zhao. Zhao was strong, and you were a close and trusted official of Zhao. That’s the reason Yan wanted to make friends with you. Now that you have offended Zhao, how would he dare keep you, since Yan fears Zhao?

“‘Instead, Yan would tie you up with rope and send you back to Zhao. I would rather strip my shoulders naked, carry a whip, kneel in front of Zhao, and beg his pardon, which is best way to be forgiven. I listened to him, and, fortunately, Dai Wang you forgave me.’

“I think Lin is a very wise man and extraordinarily brave. He is right for this task.”

So, Lin was summoned to visit Zhao, who put the matter to him, “Qin Wang wants to exchange 15 cities for the He Shi Be jade. What do you think?”

Lin replied, “Qin is big and powerful, Zhao is small and weak. We have to obey their request.”

Zhao said, “What if Qin took my jade but did not give us their cities?”

“If we don’t agree to give the jade to Qin while Qin asks us to exchange the jade for their 15 cities, then we are doing wrong,” Lin said. “But if Zhao gave the jade to Qin and Qin doesn’t give cities to Zhao as promised, then Qin is wrong. So weighing the situation, it is better to agree with Qin’s request and let Qin take the responsibility for doing wrong.”

Zhao then asked, ”Who can I send to Qin for this?”

“I am willing to do it if Dai Wang, your majesty, has no person to do it,” Lin said.

“I will do it in this way. If the cities are given to Zhao, then the jade will be left to Qin,” Lin said. “If the cities are not given, then I guarantee the jade will be returned whole to Zhao.”

Zhao then sent Lin to Qin with the He Shi Be.

Qin Wang, holding court in the Zhangtai Palace, received Lin Xiangru.

Lin, holding the jade with his hands, presented it to Qin. Qin was very happy, and passed the jade out to his concubines and attendants. All the ministers cheered: “Wan Sui”(long life)!

Lin read Qin’s mind: Qing didn’t want to keep his word and give the 15 cities to Zhao at all. So he stepped forward and said, “There is a defect in the jade. Let me point it out to your majesty.”

Once he got hold of the jade, Lin held it with both hands tightly, stepped backward several steps, and stood against a column. Angry, with his hair standing on end and putting his hands with the jade on top of his head as if he was pushing up his hat, he said: “Your majesty wanted the He Shi Be and sent a message to Zhao Wang. Zhao Wang talked about your request with all his ministers. They all said Qin is greedy and is relying on his being strong and powerful. He only wants to extort the jade with vain talk.

“They feared that Zhao would never get the 15 cities promised by Qin, and so they didn’t want to give the jade to Qin. But I think even the common people still keep their word and do not cheat one another. Will not countries like Qin keep their word? It is not a right thing to do to offend the powerful Qin due to a piece of jade. So our Zhao Wang fasted for five days and sent me bearing the jade.

“Zhao Wang kowtowed by offering the jade just to show respect to your majesty, Qin Wang. Now that I have come here, Qin Wang has only received me at a low-level palace and the proper protocol has not been observed.

“Then, when you got the jade, you passed it around to your concubines and attendants, in this way just teasing me. Then I knew your majesty had no intention of giving the 15 cities to Zhao at all, so I got it back.

“If you do force me to give it to you, here and now, my head will be smashed against this column along with the jade! The jade will be broken, and I will be dead.”

After making this speech, Lin stood there holding the jade while looking out of the corner of his eyes at the column, as though he would smash the jade against it.

Qin said very softly he was sorry, fearing Lin would smash the jade. Asking him not to smash the He Shi Be, he called in the officer in charge, checked the map, and pointing from one spot to another, where the 15 cities were he proposed giving to Zhao Wang.

Lin was sure that Qin Wang was pretending, and only wanted to extort the jade without actually giving the cities. So Lin said to Qin Wang: “The He Shi Be is well known to the whole world and is a precious treasure. Zhao Wang didn’t dare not to give it to Qin Wang. Zhao Wang fasted for 5 days before I left. Now, Qin Wang your majesty also needs to fast for 5 days, set up a ritual ceremony in the palace hall, and then I will present the valuable jade to you.”

Qin Wang weighed the situation then, thinking that since they cannot forcefully snatch the jade from Lin, he agreed to what Lin said. Qin settled Lin in the Guang Cheng guest house. Lin was sure Qin Wang would not give the cities to Zhao, so had his attendant put on coarse clothes, and, carrying the jade in his breast, escaped by a small path and returned to Zhao.

Five days later, Qin Wang set up a ritual ceremony at the hall of the palace and held a feast to treat Lin as ambassador from Zhao. Lin came and said: “Your majesty, from the time of Qin Mugong down to you today, 20 kings have ruled over the Qin Kingdom, but none of them has kept his word. I really feared that if your majesty didn’t keep your word, I would do a big wrong to Zhao. So I sent someone back to Zhao overnight with the jade. I am sure he is now there.

“Qin is very powerful, while Zhao is weak. Zhao will certainly hold up the jade immediately to present respectfully to Qin if your majesty just sent a lower level envoy to Zhao. Now with the power of Qin, if Qin gave the 15 cities to Zhao in advance, how should Zhao dare not to give the jade to Qin?

“I know I warrant being killed for my crime of daring to cheat your majesty. I beg your majesty to kill me. I hope your majesty and all your ministers will think and talk about it carefully.”

Qin Wang and his ministers looked at each other and exclaimed sharply. Some of those attendants would pull Lin away to kill him, but Qin Wang said, “If we now kill Lin Xiangru, we still cannot get the He Shi Be. On the contrary, we will cut off the good relationship between Qin and Zhao. We’d rather treat him well and let him return to Zhao. Would Zhao Wang cheat Qin only because of a piece of jade?”

After returning to the Kingdom of Zhao, Zhao Wang thought Lin was a very capable elite person, a scholar. Lin had gone to another country as powerful as Qin as an ambassador, fulfilled the task, preserved Zhao’s reputation, protected Zhao’s treasure, and incurred no shame. So he appointed him as Shang Dafu, a very high official.

Making Peace

Later, Qin didn’t give the cities to Zhao, and Zhao didn’t give the jade to Qin, either.

Some time later, Qin attacked Zhao and occupied Shi City. The next year, Qin attacked Zhao again and killed about 2000 of Zhao’s subjects.

In 282 B.C., Qin conquered two places of Zhao. The next year, Qin occupied the Stone City of Zhao. Then the next year, Qin attacked Zhao again and Zhao lost about 20 thousand people, but Qin was stopped.

Then in 279 B.C., Qin Wang wanted to make peace with Zhao so they could be focus on attacking Chu. Qin sent an envoy to Zhao, asking him to meet at Mianchi City at the border, to make peace and become friends.

Zhao Wang was frightened and did not want to go. Lian Bo and Lin Xiangru said, “Dai Wang, your majesty, if you do not go, it shows Zhao is not only weak but also timid; it is shameful.”

So Zhao Wang decided to go, taking Lin with him. Lian Bo saw them off to the border. Before they separated, Lian said, “Dai Wang, your majesty, this trip will not be more than 30 days, including all the rituals and stops on the way. So if you are not back in 30 days, please allow me to set up our prince, your older son, as King, in order to prevent any idea Qin may have of threatening the Kingdom of Zhao.” Zhao Wang agreed.

Lian Bo stationed a large body of troops at the border, thus showing strength and preventing Qin from invading.

At the banquet, Qin Wang and Zhao Wang discussed a treaty, then drank and talked.

In the middle of the conversation, Qin Wang said, “I heard Zhao Wang is very good at playing Se (an ancient Chinese instrument). I have a Se here, please play music for us to make things pleasant.”

Zhao Wang did not dare to refuse and had to play the Se. Then and there, a scribe came over and wrote down on a page of the historical record: “On xx year, xx month, and xx day, Qin Wang and Zhao Wang had a banquet at Mianchi, and Zhao Wang played Se for Qin Wang at the order of Qin Wang.”

Lin Xiangru was not happy about Zhao Wang being insulted in this way. So he came over to Qin Wang and said, Zhao Wang heard that Qin Wang is good at beating fou, (a kind of pottery). I have a fou here, please your majesty beat the fou for us to make us all happy.”

With that Qin Wang was furious and refused. Lin Xiangru, holding the fou, came over and presented it to Qin Wang. Qin Wang still angrily refused. Lin said. “Between Qin Wang you and me there is only five steps distance. If, Qin Wang, you don’t beat the fou, I would rather die and my blood will splash all over your body.”

Qin Wang’s guards saw that Qin Wang was threatened, and hurriedly pulled out their swords to kill Lin. But Lin was not afraid at all. Opening his eyes wide, he shouted. Those guards were frightened and backed up. Qin Wang was upset but had to beat at the fou several times.

Lin turned back to Zhao’s scribe and had him make a note on the history book that said: “on xx year, xx month, xx day, Qin Wang and Zhao Wang had a banquet at Mianchi. Zhao Wang ordered Qin Wang to beat the fou for Zhao’s happiness.”

All the ministers of Qin saw that Qin didn’t take any advantage of Zhao, and so they said, please Zhao Wang give up 15 cities as a birthday gift to Qin Wang!”

Lin Xiangru said immediately, “Please Qin Wang give Xian Yang City (the capital of Qin) to Zhao Wang as a birthday gift!”

All through the banquet to the end, Lin Xiangru used his wisdom to bravely and smartly fight against the Qin ministers, save his motherland’s dignity, and frustrate the Qin plot. At the same time, Qin also knew that Lian Bo had a large body of troops at the border, well prepared, and knew he could not win even by force.

Qin had to send Zhao Wang with his envoy back home respectfully. From that time, there was a period of peace between Qin and Zhao.

Making Friends

When Zhao Wang came back home with Lin Xiangru, he thought Lin had done a great job, and promoted Lin to be a Shang Qing, at a higher rank than Lian Bo, who became very upset.

Lian Bo thought to himself that he had fought a lot of battles, risking his life and shedding his blood to protect his country and people, while Lin Xiangru only used his mouth, without bearing any hardships.

He felt that Lin’s obtaining a higher rank than he was so unfair that he claimed publicly that once he came across Lin Xiangru, wherever it was, he would insult Lin without hesitation and mercy.

Somebody told Lin about what Lian Bo had said. Lin was not willing to fight with Lian and took great caution to avoid meeting him. Whenever there was a possibility that he would come across Lian, Lin would not go. Every morning he would say he was sick in order not to go to the palace to see Zhao Wang, just to avoid bumping into Lian.

One day Lin was on the way somewhere, but, seeing Lian in the distance, he hurriedly detoured onto another road. Lin’s attendants and staff were unhappy and felt Lin was unworthy.

They went to see Lin and asked leave not to work with him anymore since they thought Lin was a coward. Lin asked them to stay and questioned them: “My people, who do you think is more powerful and more frightening, Qin Wang or General Lian Bo?”

They replied, of course there is no doubt that Qin Wang is much more powerful.

“Please think, powerful as Qin Wang is, the whole world afraid of him, yet I dared to scold him to his face and insulted his ministers. How could I be afraid of General Lian?

“But what I keep in mind is our country’s safety and interest. Why, even though Qin is so strong and powerful, does it dare not bully Zhao, such a small country?

“Only because there are we two here. In the military, there is General Lian who is a world-class warrior, brave and always victorious. In politics, I am capable, able to handle affairs with wisdom and always victorious, too.

“But if we two fight against each other, there is an old saying. If two tigers fight each other, at least one of them must be wounded or killed. Then who do you think will be happy? Qin would take the advantage and opportunity to attack us, and then our country and people will suffer.

“I would rather be humble and yield to General Lian and only think of the whole situation for the country’s interest.”

Lin’s staffers and attendants were so deeply moved that they learned from Lin and yielded to and were humble before Lian Bo’s men whenever they bumped into them.

Later, when Lian Bo heard what Lin said, Lian was deeply moved and also felt ashamed. He took off his top, tied a stick from the vitex shrub on his back and asked someone to lead him to Lin’s home, where he begged Lin for pardon.

He said, “I am humble and lack knowledge. I am sorry for my bad behaviour. I didn’t know the minister was so generous and forgiving of me.”

Lin saw Lian’s true heart, personally untied the stick from Lian’s back, asked him to take a seat, and the two had a heart to heart talk. Ever since then, Lin and Lian became such close friends that they swore that they would die the same day.

Lin was very famous in Chinese history. He was so wise, brave, and smart, and could handle different unexpected situations very well, preserving his country’s interests—few people can accomplish such things. His story in Chinese is called Wan Bi Gui Zhao, which means the whole jade is returned to Zhao without damage.

The story of Lin Xiangru returning the jade intact has been told in China for generation after generation up until today. While Lin was very clever, he was most admired for the way he did not boast, nor was he proud of himself, even though he did a great job for his country. Because he always put the interests of his country first, he could bear insults from others for the sake of the country and its people. This virtue of Lin’s moved General Lian Bo to want to make peace with him.
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The He Shi Be jade would become the seal of the Chinese Emperor, passed down from dynasty to dynasty, until it was lost between the Tang and Ming dynasties.

Originally published at http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/china-news/stories-from-history-returning-the-whole-jade-without-damage-240740-all.html

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