Clad in a single garment he was obedient to his mother

During the Chow dynasty lived Min Sun (also known by his courtesy name Tzu-ch’ien 闵子骞), whose mother died early so his father subsequently married another wife, who bore him two other sons, but dislike Min Sun.

Min Sun was ill-treated by his stepmother but he never bore any grudges against her. During winter, his stepmother prepared a coat made of reed catkins for him, but prepared coats made of cotton for his stepbrothers.

One day, Min followed his father out and was instructed to drive the carriage. However, as the coat was too thin, Min was unable to withstand the cold so he shivered and was unable to focus on the task at hand. He accidentally caused the carriage to get stuck in a ditch. Min’s father was furious and started beating him until his clothes tore and the reed catkins came out. It was then when Min’s father realised that his son was being mistreated. He was so angry that he wanted to expel Min’s stepmother from the family. However, Min pleaded with his father to spare his stepmother, saying, “If she stays, only I suffer. But if you send her away, me and my stepbrothers will suffer.” Min’s stepmother was so touched that she regretted her actions and never mistreated Min again.

Min Tzu-ch’ien

Lü pû-wei

Lü Buwei was a native of the state of Wei who became a successful travelling merchant and earned “thousands of measures of gold.”

The Strategies of the Warring States has a story about Lü deciding to change careers from commerce to government.

On returning home, he said to his father, “What is the profit on investment that one can expect from plowing fields?”

“Ten times the investment,” replied his father.

“And the return on investment in pearls and jades is how much?”

“A hundredfold.”

“And the return on investment from establishing a ruler and securing the state would be how much?”

“It would be incalculable.”

“Now if I devoted my energies to laboring in the fields, I would hardly get enough to clothe and feed myself; yet if I secure a state and establish its lord, the benefits can be passed on to future generations. I propose to go serve Prince Yiren of Ts’in who is now a political hostage in Chao.”

Using Machiavellian bribes and machinations, Lü set prince Yiren free and arranged for him to return to his own state Ts’in. The Records of the Grand Historian says Lü had a beautiful “dancing girl” in his household, at the time she was pregnant, with whom Prince Yiren became so infatuated that he asked for her. Lü reluctantly presented his courtesan to the prince, and they returned to the capital of Ts’in, Handan.  This “dancing girl” had a son named Zheng, who was enthroned when he was 13 year old. The young king reappointed Lü as Chancellor and called him “Uncle”. This king Zheng eventually unified China and became the first Emperor of Ts’in.

Lü assembled many scholars to compile and encyclopedic book called Mr. Lü’s Annals. On completion this book, Lü pû-wei suspended 1000 pieces of gold at the gate of his palace, which he offered as a reward to anyone who could suggest an improvement of it by adding or expunging a single character. Of course no one was able to claim the rewards.

The Records of the Grand Historian says the Queen Dowager pursued many illicit sexual activities, and Lü, fearing that discovery would cause disaster to befall him, secretly sought a man with a large penis, Lao Ai, whom he made his retainer. Sometimes he would have music performed and order Lao Ai to put his penis through a wheel of wood and walk about, making certain that the queen dowager would hear about it to entice her. The queen dowager did hear about it and consequently secretly desired to obtain him. Lü Buwei thereupon introduced Lao Ai to her. Deviously ordering someone to accuse Lao Ai of a crime punishable by castration, Lü also privately told the queen dowager, “If we can fake the castration, we can make him a servant in the harem.” The queen dowager therewith covertly gave a generous bribe to the officer charged with castrations to falsely sentence him and to pluck out his eyebrows and beard to make him appear a eunuch. As a result, he was made a servant of the queen dowager.

The queen fell in love with Lao and had him appointed Marquis of Shanyang. After she became pregnant, he recklessly took control of the Qin government. The Garden of Stories says, Lao Ai had sole power over the affairs of state and grew increasingly arrogant and extravagant. The high officials and honored ministers of government all drank and gambled with him. Once when he got drunk, he began to speak belligerently. In a provocative fashion, eyes glaring with anger, he bellowed, “I am the stepfather of the emperor. How dare some wretch oppose me!” One of those with whom he had quarreled ran to report this to the emperor, who was outraged.

The emperor learned that Lao Ai was not really a eunuch, and had plotted with the queen to make their illegitimate son become successor. After an attempted revolt failed, the queen was exiled and Lao Ai was executed, along with three generations of his relatives, including their two sons who were put into sacks and beaten to death. Rather than execute the influential Lü, the emperor demoted and banished him to Shu. Lü feared eventual execution and “drank poison”.

The three Brothers of the Peach-orchard

The Meat-seller’s Challenge

One day Guan Yü arrived at Chu-chou, a dependent sub-prefecture of Peking, in Chihli. There Chang Fei, a butcher, who had been selling his meat all the morning, at noon lowered what remained into a well, placed over the mouth of the well a stone weighing two hundred and twenty-five pounds, and said with a sneer: “If anyone can lift that stone and take my meat, I will make him a present of it!” Guan Yü, going up to the edge of the well, lifted the stone with the same ease as he would a tile, took the meat, and made off. Chang Fei pursued him, and eventually the two came to blows, but no one dared to separate them. Just then Liu Pei, a hawker of straw shoes, arrived, interposed, and put a stop to the fight.

By 张天扬

The Oath in the Peach-orchard

Liu Pei, surnamed Hsüan Tê, first looked at Guan Yü, nine feet in height, with a beard two feet long. His face was the colour of the fruit of the jujube-tree, and his lips carmine. Eyebrows like sleeping silkworms shaded his phoenix eyes, which were a scarlet red. Terrible indeed was his bearing.

“What is your name?” asked Liu Pei. “My family name is Guan, my own name is Yü, my surname Yün Chang,” he replied. “I am from the Ho Tung country. For the last five or six years I have been wandering about the world as a fugitive, to escape from my pursuers, because I killed a powerful man of my country who was oppressing the poor people. I hear that the county official are collecting a body of troops to crush the Yellow Turban brigands, and I should like to join the expedition.”

Then Liu Pei looked at Chang Fei, also named Chang I Tê, eight feet in height, with round shining eyes in a panther’s head, and a pointed chin bristling with a tiger’s beard. His voice resembled the rumbling of thunder. His ardour was like that of a fiery steed. He asked, “What’s your name?”

My name is Chang Fêi,” replied Chang, “and I am a native of Cho Chün, where I have some fertile farms, and am a butcher and wine-merchant.”

The three men then went to Chang Fei’s farm, and on the morrow met together in his peach-orchard, and sealed their friendship with an oath. Having procured a black ox and a white horse, with the various accessories to a sacrifice, they immolated the victims, burnt the incense of friendship, and after twice prostrating themselves took this oath:

“We three, Liu Pei, Guan Yü, and Chang Fêi, already united by mutual friendship, although belonging to different clans, now bind ourselves by the union of our hearts, and join our forces in order to help each other in times of danger.

“We wish to pay to the State our debt of loyal citizens and give peace to our black-haired compatriots. We do not inquire if we were born in the same year, the same month, or on the same day, but we desire only that the same year, the same month, and the same day may find us united in death. May Heaven our King and Earth our Queen see clearly our hearts! If any one of us violate justice or forget benefits, may Heaven and Man unite to punish him!”

The oath having been formally taken, Liu Pei was saluted as elder brother, Guan Yü as the second, and Chang Fei as the youngest. Their sacrifice to Heaven and earth ended, they killed an ox and served a feast, to which the soldiers of the district were invited to the number of three hundred or more. They all drank copiously until they were intoxicated. Liu Pei enrolled the peasants; Chang Fei procured for them horses and arms; and then they set out to make war on the Yellow Turbans.

Guan Yü proved himself worthy of the affection which Liu Pei showed him; brave and generous, he never turned aside from danger. His fidelity was shown especially on one occasion when, having been taken prisoner by Ts’ao Ts’ao, together with two of Liu Pei’s wives, and having been allotted a common sleeping-apartment with his fellow-captives, he preserved the ladies’ reputation and his own trustworthiness by standing all night at the door of the room with a lighted lantern in his hand.

The various exploits of the three Brothers of the Peach-orchard are written in full in the book of the Story of the Three Kingdoms, a romance in which every Chinese who can read takes keen delight.

What’s the real name of Guan Yü?

Guan Yü, whose name was originally Fêng Xian,  and style name Chang-shêng (live long), afterward changed to Yün-chang, who was born near Chieh Liang, in Ho Tung (now the town of Chieh Chou in Shansi). His father was a blacksmith of Fêmg Family.

Guan Yü was of an intractable nature, having exasperated his parents, was shut up in a room from which he escaped by breaking through the window.

He ran away to the county town, and there stayed in a tavern. As he has nothing to do there, he took a walk one day, in one of the neighbouring houses he heard a young lady and an old man weeping and lamenting. Running to the foot of the wall of the compound, he inquired the reason of their grief. The old man replied that though his daughter was already engaged, the uncle of the local official, smitten by her beauty, wished to make her his concubine. His petitions to the official had only been rejected with curses.

Beside himself with rage, the youth seized a sword and went and killed both the official and his uncle. He escaped through the T’ung Kuan, the pass to Shensi. Having with difficulty avoided capture by the barrier officials, he knelt down at the side of a brook to wash his face; when lo! his appearance was completely transformed. His complexion had become reddish-grey, and he was absolutely unrecognizable.

As he stood in front of the high tower of the Tung Guan Pass, watching a group of wild geese flying pass the blue sky, a feather of the bird dropped down and setttled beside his feet. Suddenly he had an idea of making up his name by combining “Pass” and “Feather”, that was Guan Yü.

He then presented himself with assurance before the officers, who asked him his name. “My family name is Guan,” he replied,  “and my style name is Yü.”, which means the feather of the bird.

It was by that name that he was thereafter known.

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu Wu was a native of the Ch’i State. His Art of War brought him to the notice of Ho Lu, King of Wu. Ho Lu said to him: “I have carefully perused your 13 chapters. May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a slight test?”

Sun Tzu replied: “You may.”

Ho Lu asked: “May the test be applied to women?”

The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements were made to bring 180 ladies out of the Palace. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, and placed one of the King’s favourite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them all take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: “I presume you know the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?”

The girls replied: “Yes.”

Sun Tzu went on: “When I say ‘Eyes front,’ you must look straight ahead. When I say ‘Left turn,’ you must face towards your left hand. When I say ‘Right turn,’ you must face towards your right hand. When I say ‘About turn,’ you must face right round towards your back.”

Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to the sound of drums, he gave the order “Right turn.” But the girls only burst out laughing. Sun Tzu said: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.”

So he started drilling them again, and this time gave the order “Left turn,” whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter. Sun Tzu: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders are clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.”

So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded. Now the King of Wu was watching the scene from the top of a raised pavilion; and when he saw that his favourite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: “We are now quite satisfied as to our general’s ability to handle troops. If We are bereft of these two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savour. It is our wish that they shall not be beheaded.”

Sun Tzu replied: “Having once received His Majesty’s commission to be the general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept.”

Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway installed the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done, the drum was sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound. Then Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the King saying: “Your soldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for your majesty’s inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire; bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey.”

But the King replied: “Let our general cease drilling and return to camp. As for us, We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops.”

Thereupon Sun Tzu said: “The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds.”
After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzu was one who knew how to handle an army, and finally appointed him general. In the west, he defeated the Ch`u State and forced his way into Ying, the capital; to the north he put fear into the States of Ch’i and Chin, and spread his fame abroad amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the might of the King.

Ssu-ma Ch`ien (c. 145 BC – 86 BC)


Spotted bamboos of the Hsiang River

Long ago, Emperor Yâo had two beautiful daughters, called Ê Hwang and Nü Ying. After the emperor had been on the throne seventy years, he abdicted the throne to Emperor Shun, and gave his two daughters in marriage to Shun.

Emperor Shun died on a tour of inspection to the south, and buried in the plain of Ts’ang-wû.

When Ê Hwang and Nü Ying heard the news of Shun’s death,  they stood on the shores of the Hsiao-hsiang, to the south of Lake Tung-t’ing. Their sorrow was deep as the waters of the Lake that go straight down a thousand miles. Dark clouds blackened the sun. The demon-monkey howled in the mist and ghosts whistled in the rain.

The queens said, ” Though we speak of it we cannot mend it. High Heaven is secretly afraid to shine on our loyalty. But the thunder crashes and bellows its anger, that while Yao and Shun are here they should also be crowning Yü. When a prince loses his servants, the dragon turns into a minnow. When power goes to slaves, mice change to tigers. But the Nine Hills of Deceit stand there in a row, each like each ; and which of them covers the lonely bones of the Double-eyed One, our Master ?”

So the royal ladies wept, standing amid yellow clouds. Their tears followed the winds and waves, that never return. And while they wept, they looked out into the distance and saw the deep mountain of Ts’ang-wû.

“The mountain of Tsang-wu shall fall and the waters of the Hsiang shall cease, sooner than the marks of our tears shall fade from these bamboo-leaves.”

After that the two queens dived into the deep water of Hsing river.  The spots on the bamboo-leaves which grow on the Hsiang River were caused by the tears of these two queens.

Kung-î family

Kung-î family was powerful in the state of Lû, Kung-î Hsiû was priminister in the reign of Duke Mû. He liked eating fish, but once he rejected some fishes offered as bribery. The briber asked the reason, he said:”I am the priminister of the state, I don’t lack means of getting good fish. If I accept yours, I might get punished and lose my position. Who would send me fish any more?

Another famous person of the Kung-î family, was Kung-î Chung-tsu. Though we don’t know his real name, Chung-tsu was just a courtsey name, his case of choosing younger brother as successor instead of his grandson in the line of rightful heir has been discussed for thousands of years.

In ancient China as in the rest of the civilized world, the rule of succession to position and property was that the first born was the proper heir. If the eldest son died, the succession should be descended to the grandson in the line of rightful heir.

Histroy didn’t tell us if Chung-tsu’s eldest son was alive at the time, but we suppose he was dead. Anyway, when Kung-î Chung-tsu died, his younger son, who was by a different wife, and whose position was inferior, was made the head of the family.
At the mourning rites for Kung-î Chung-tsu, Than Kung was there, wearing the mourning cincture for the head, which mourning dress was proper for a friend. In the ceremony, Than Kung noticed that Chung-tsu had passed over his grandson, and appointed one of his younger sons as his successor and head of the family. Than Kung said to himself, ‘How is this? I never heard of such a thing;’ and he hurried to Tsu-fû Po-tsu at the right of the door, and said, ‘How is it that Chung-tsu passed over his  grandson, and made a younger son his successor?’ Po-tsu replied, ‘Chung-tsu perhaps has done in this, like others, according to the way of antiquity. Anciently, king Wăn of Chou passed over his eldest son Yî-khâo, and appointed king Wû; and the count of Wei passed over his grandson Tun, and made Yen, his own younger brother, his successor. Chung-tsu perhaps did also in this according to the way of antiquity.’

Than Kung was not disciple of Confucius, but he was a friend of Tsu-yû. Tsu-yû asked Confucius about the matter, and Confucius did not hesitate to speak out the truth, he said, ‘Nay, the rule is to appoint the grandson.’