Tso Chüan

posted 17 Mar 2013, 01:52 by Jim Sheng
[By Tso-ch'iu Ming, probably 4th and 5th centuries b.c. The Tso Chüan was a commentary on the Annals of the Lu State. Those annals consisted of bald statements of the principal events which took place in the successive years of each prince's reign. Tso-ch'iu Ming supplemented these by detailed accounts of the various incidents alluded to; and thus we have a vivid panorama of the wars and treaties, the intrigues and dissensions, the loves and hates, of China's feudal age. The style of the work is grand in the extreme, and is a perfect repertory of Chinese proverbs and familiar household words.] 


In the tenth year of his reign, in spring, in the first moon, Duke Chuang defeated the army of the Ch'i State at Ch'ang-Cho. 

THE state of Ch'i having declared war against us, our duke was about to give battle, when a man named Kuei begged for an audience. Kuei's clansmen had said to him, "The authorities will decide upon the proper strategy; what place will there be in their counsels for you?" To which Kuei had replied, "They are but a poor lot, and have no idea whatever of deep-laid plans." 

Accordingly, Kuei was admitted to see the duke, and at once enquired, saying, "On the strength of what is your Highness about to fight?" "I have never monopolized the comforts of food and raiment," replied the duke; "I have always shared with others." "That," said Kuei, "is a small favour, extending only to a few. The people will not rally round you on that account alone." "Then," continued the duke, "in the sacrifices to the Gods I have trusted more to earnestness of heart than to costly displays." "That again," objected Kuei, "is an insufficient basis. The Gods will not bless your arms on that account alone." "And in all judicial investigations," added the duke, "though oft-times unable to ascertain the precise truth, I have always given my decision in accordance with the evidence before me." "Ha!" cried Kuei, "so far you have done your duty to the people, and you may risk a battle on that. I myself pray to be allowed to accompany your Highness." To this the duke acceded, and took Kuei with him in his own chariot. 

The battle was fought at Ch'ang-cho; and on sighting the enemy our duke would have forthwith given orders to beat an attack, but Kuei said "Not yet!" Only when the enemy's drums had sounded thrice did Kuei shout out, "Now!" 

Our victory was complete; and the duke would promptly have given orders to pursue, had not Kuei again said, "Not yet!" The latter then alighted and examined the tracks of the enemy's chariot- wheels; after which he got up on the hand-rail in front, and following the flying foe with his eye, cried out, "Now!" Thereupon the order was given to pursue. 

When the battle had been gained, our duke asked Kuei for an explanation of his tactics. "A battle," replied Kuei, "depends wholly upon the martial ardour of the combatants. At the first roll of the drum, that ardour is violently excited; with the second, it begins to flag; with the third, it is exhausted. Now, when the enemy's ardour was at this last stage, ours was at its highest pitch: therefore we conquered them. Still, against a formidable foe, one should be prepared for anything. I feared an ambuscade; but I found that their wheel-tracks were in evident disorder. I then looked at their standards, and saw that these also were in confusion. Therefore I gave the word to pursue." 


Twenty-first year of Duke Hsi. In summer there was a great drought. 

Thereupon the duke wished to burn a wizard; but his chief minister said to him, "That will avail nothing against the drought. Rather mend the city walls; diminish consumption; be economical; and devote every energy to gathering in the harvest. This is the proper course to take: what can a wizard do for you? If God now desires his death, he might as well have never been born. And if he can cause a drought, to burn him would only make it worse." 

The duke followed this advice; and in the ensuing season, although there was distress, it was not very bad. 


Twenty-fifth year of Duke Hsiang: In the fifth moon, in summer, Ts'ui of the Ch'i state, slew his prince. 

Duke Chuang committed adultery with Ts'ui-tzu's wife, and Ts'ui-tzu slew him. Thereupon Yen-tzu planted himself at the door of the latter's house. 

"Are you going to die with your prince," cried his attendants. "Was he my prince only?" asked Yen-tzu, "that I alone should die," "Will you flee the country?" said the attendants. "Was his death my crime, that I should flee? asked Yen-tzu. "Will you then go home?" enquired the attendants. "Where," said Yen-tzu, "is there a home for him whose master is dead? It is not enough for a prince to be merely above the people; the commonwealth is in his hands. It is not enough for a minister merely to draw his pay; the commonwealth is his trust. Therefore, when the prince dies for the commonwealth, his minister dies with him; when the prince flees, his minister flees also. But if a prince dies or flees in consequence of matters which concern only himself, who, save his own private associates, can be expected to share his fate? Besides, if some one else, under obligations similar to my own, slays the prince, why should I die, why flee, why go home?" 

By-and-by, the door was opened and Yen-tzu went in; and, pillowing the corpse upon his lap gave vent to tears. He then arose, and striking the ground three times with his heel, went out. People advised Ts'ui-tzu to put him to death; but Ts'ui-tzu replied, "He is a popular man, and to leave him in peace will be to win over the people." 

Ts'ui now placed another duke upon the throne, and became his chief minister, Ch'ing Feng being appointed minister of the Left. And when the people were taking the oaths of allegiance in the State temple, beginning, "May those who are not true to Ts'ui and Ch'ing ," Yen-tzu, looking up to heaven, sighed and said, ''May I, in whatsoever I do not submit to those who are loyal to the prince and true to the commonwealth, be answerable to God!" He then smeared his lips with the blood. 


In 721 B.C., the mother of Duke Chuang of the Ch'ing State conspired against him, with a view to put her younger son on the throne. The plot failed. 

Then the Duke placed his mother under restraint, swearing to her the following oath: "Until we meet in the Underworld, I will not look upon you again," an oath of which he shortly repented. Later on, one of the frontier officials, who had heard the story, came to pay his respects. The Duke entertained him with a meal, and noticed that he put aside a portion of the meat served to him. On the Duke asking him why he did so, the official replied, "Your servant has a mother, who always shares his food; she has never tasted your Grace's meat, and I beg to be allowed to keep some for her." The Duke said, "Ah, you have a mother to whom you can give things; alas! I have no mother." The official ventured to ask how this could be; and the Duke told him, adding that he now repented of his oath. "This need not trouble your Grace," said the official. It will be necessary only to dig down to the Underworld and form a tunnel in which the meeting can take place. Who shall say that this is not in accordance with your oath?" The Duke agreed, and entered the tunnel singing, 

"Herein we find 

Our peace of mind," while his mother came in singing. 

"Without, no more 

Was joy in store," and thus they became mother and son as before.