Volume 1, Chapter 23: Becoming a Captive
In the tenth month of first year of Zhihua, Li Zhi launched a surprise attack against Jianye. Helped by spies, Jianye fell on the first night. All of the officials were captured. That day, Princess Changle returned to the Palace, but all of the guards escorting her were dead. That night, Li Zhi traveled incognito and visited the Concealed Cloud Manor, promising Jiang Zhe prestige and generous salary. Jiang Zhe refused. The next day, the captured King of Southern Chu was brought back. Li Zhi issued the order to plunder Jianye. After several days, with numerous Southern Chu reinforcements sent to rescue the King approaching, Li Zhi retreated. Within the retreating army were a significant number of the members of the imperial clan and many of Southern Chu’s civil and military officials, including Jiang Zhe. At this time, Jiang Zhe had already retired.…
—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun
Having settled Princess Changle down, Li Zhi traveled incognito to the Concealed Cloud Manor, his mind filled with questions. Because of the army’s forced march, Li Zhi had not brought a single one of his advisers. As a result, the pain that he felt of having no one he could discuss matters with caused Li Zhi to want to meet the person that he considered to be his Zifang.1 When he arrived at the Concealed Cloud Manor, Li Zhi’s mood calmed. He had carefully thought about how he was going to acquire Jiang Zhe as his subordinate, trying to figure out a way to resolve this while he rode. But no matter how much he pondered, there was no way that was dependably certain. Jiang Zhe, this person, was someone rarely seen with anything that could be taken advantage of. Ultimately, Li Zhi made the decision. Whatever the means, he must bring Jiang Zhe with him. Otherwise, he would have come to Jianye in vain.
After calming down, Li Zhi entered the Concealed Cloud Manor. According to his instructions, the Yong army had not done anything to disturb the manor’s master, but they had already controlled the entire residence. Guided by Sima Xiong, Li Zhi walked towards the rear courtyard’s Coiling Fragrance Garden, where Jiang Zhe would loiter every day. Li Zhi could see that the entire courtyard was filled with hidden Yong soldiers. Somewhat concerned, Li Zhi glanced at Sima Xiong and asked, “Was Sir Jiang dissatisfied with this arrangement?”
In a low voice, Sima Xiong remarked, “Sir Jiang seems to have turned a blind eye towards us. There are very few people inside the manor. Outside of one Li Shun, there are only four young servants. Their names are very strange; they’re called Chiji, Daoli, Hualiu, and Lü’er. These servants are all extremely obedient and have not caused any problems. However, this general feels that Li Shun is very strange. He is a eunuch.”
Li Zhi stopped his feet for a moment, explaining, “Chiji and the others are the names of eight horses of King Mu of Zhou. It seems like Sir Jiang is indeed a brilliant literary talent. As for that Li Shun, this Prince has heard whisperings of that person. From our spies within the Southern Chu army, there was a eunuch under the Army Supervisor who was on close terms with Jiang Zhe. I originally thought that this was a mere personal friendship, but now it looks like this man’s relationship with Jiang Zhe is not ordinary. But no matter, it’s only a single eunuch. There is no need to make things difficult for him, so long as we don’t offend the sir.”
In a low voice, Sima Xiong continued, “This general gets the feeling that Li Shun is not ordinary. Every single time I meet him, I feel fear.”
Li Zhi glanced at him and indifferently replied, “Oh … if that’s the case, then keep an eye on him.” As they were speaking, they arrived at the Coiling Fragrance Garden. At the entrance, Chiji and Daoli sat at the cloister before the door, conversing in low voices. Seeing Li Zhi and others arrive, they rose from their seats and stood respectfully.
With a smile, Li Zhi asked, “Is Sir Jiang inside?”
“The young master was feeling under the weather today,” responded Chiji respectfully, “He went to bed after eating dinner.”
Hearing these words, Sima Xiong became angry. In a low voice, he declared, “Your Imperial Highness, this general has already informed him that Your Imperial Highness will come to meet him. This person is too discourteous!”
Li Zhi gestured with his hand for Sima Xiong to stop speaking. Smiling faintly, he said, “So Sir Jiang has already gone to bed. Has Sir’s body always been so poor?”
Respectfully, Chiji answered, “Ever since young master returned from Sichuan, he has been confined to bed. A few days ago, his condition improved, but with the death of the Prince of De and the young master’s dismissal because of his essay, young master’s old illness has recurred. If Your Imperial Highness has any instructions, this lowly one will invite Steward Li over. I await Your Imperial Highness’s instructions.”
Sima Xiong’s hand wrapped around the grip of his sword and eyed at Chiji in rage. In comparison, Chiji was respectful and proper, a smile on his face, without any sign of fear.
After thinking it over, Li Zhi replied, “That works. This Prince will meet with Steward Li.”
Having spoken, Li Zhi walked to a nearby pavilion and sat down. Looking at the courtyard filled with green bamboo, Li Zhi was contented. Daoli and Chiji delivered tea and snacks, attentively attending to Li Zhi. It wasn’t long before Xiaoshunzi arrived. Respectfully performed the proper courtesies when greeting an imperial prince, he stated, “This servant, Li Shun, respectfully greets Your Imperial Highness. The master of this household was discourteous due to his ailment and cannot personally come to attend to Your Imperial Highness. I pray that Your Imperial Highness will forgive this discourtesy.”
Li Zhi raised his head and considered the eunuch before him. Li Shun’s appearance was definitely not ordinary. Back home, Li Zhi had met many eunuchs, but regardless of their status, regardless of whether they were arrogant or docile, they all shared a singular shared trait—they all had the look of inferior individuals in their eyes. In comparison, this Li Shun’s eyes were cool and neutral. Although his actions were humble, Li Zhi could sense a certain pride in this eunuch, a pride that came from being able to dictate life or death. Li Zhi could remember clearly. He had seen this kind of look before. That was the first time he had met the Master of the Fengyi Sect. That year, he had accompanied his Imperial Father on his campaigns. Once, while they were marching, the Master of the Fengyi Sect had come like the wind to converse with Li Yuan. The resulting discussion was congenial. Not long afterwards, Great Yong received the support of the righteous sects of wulin, while Imperial Father gained a Noble Consort Ji by his side. Li Zhi would always remember the eyes of the Master of the Fengyi Sect. They were a pair of eyes filled with tender mercy and compassion for all living things. But Li Zhi would always remember when he was leading an army to attack Yang Laosheng, the King of Xia, after the Master of the Fengyi Sect had provided assistance in helping kill Yang Laosheng’s generals, the Master had revealed a monstrous and conceited aura. It was at that moment that Li Zhi developed the intentions to be vigilant against the Fengyi Sect. Seeing Li Shun’s temperament, Li Zhi suddenly understood that this individual before him was a peak martial arts expert. Moreover, this individual had the potential of becoming a worthy opponent for the Master of the Fengyi Sect.
Thinking of this, Li Zhi spoke in a gentle voice, “This Prince has heard some stories regarding Steward Li. If this Prince is not mistaken, Steward Li participated in the Sichuan campaign?”
Li Shun shot Li Zhi a look of surprise before replying, “Your Imperial Highness unexpectedly knows about some of the matters relating to this lowly servant. This servant and the young master have been friends for years, and is indebted to the young master for his frequent care and consideration. As Jianye has fallen into chaos, this servant decided that I might as well abandon that fake glory and splendor, and idly serve at the young master’s side. If Your Imperial Highness wishes to find fault in this servant as someone from the Palace, then this servant naturally dares not resist.”
Li Zhi gestured with his hand and with a smile, returned, “Although the two countries are at war, it should not affect unfortunate people such as yourself. Let alone the fact that you are now in service to Sir Jiang. Someday in the future, this Prince may require Steward Li to sing my praises to Sir Jiang. Is Sir Jiang extremely angry?”
A sliver of favorable impression flickered across Li Shun’s eyes, as he disclosed, “Although the young master was forced to retire, he has after all served Southern Chu for years. Now, seeing the country in peril, if the young master was joyful, it would not fly no matter where he goes. In addition, the reason behind Your Imperial Highness’s campaign is unclear. My young master remains perplexed despite much thought.2 If Your Imperial Highness is willing to tell this lowly one and allow this lowly one to pass the message, it may cause the young master to smile.”
Li Zhi was moved. Was it possible that Jiang Zhe did not completely reject him? With honesty, he stated, “In the eyes of Sir Jiang, this campaign against Jianye would be viewed as acting willfully and making trouble. In reality, this campaign was caused by internal strife within Great Yong.3 On a daily basis, Li Zhi feels like he’s walking on thin ice.4 If I am unable to receive the assistance of Sir Jiang, I fear that I will not live long. Would Steward Li pass along Li Zhi’s intentions? Sir Jiang must be invited to come back to Great Yong with this one, regardless of method. If Sir Jiang continues to refuse to show any concern, then I fear that I will be unfortunate and cannot listen respectfully to his teachings.”
Li Shun bowed respectfully and conveyed, “Your Imperial Highness greatly values the young master. This servant respectfully bows in thanks on behalf of the young master. May I ask Your Imperial Highness? My young master only loves the beauty of mountains and rivers, and has no interest in saving the world or its people. Not to mention, he has no wish to achieve or accomplish any goals. For what reason does Your Imperial Highness wish my young master to shed his blood, sweat, and tears? Even if he does serve, he would likely be eliminated once he has served his purpose.”5, 6
Li Zhi rose to his feet and sincerely expounded, “I cannot guarantee that the ruler and his ministers will be mutually safe, but Li Zhi is definitely not someone who envies the virtuous and talented, and is not someone like the King of Yue who only knows how to share trials and tribulations, without sharing riches and honors.7 This Prince knows that Sir Jiang is disinterested in riches and honor, glory and splendor, as well as the opportunity to make contributions and accomplish goals. But if the world falls into chaos, Sir Jiang will not be able to live the rest of his days in peace. Right now, Great Yong is facing imminent internal strife, while Southern Chu is leaderless and will likely soon fall into chaos. Although Northern Han is stable, they emphasize martial prowess and denigrate culture and education. If Sir Jiang’s name is spoken to the people of Sichuan, the vast majority would be filled with thoughts of vengeance rather than thoughts of admiration. It is not that this Prince is using threatening words; if my Great Yong is unable to unify the world, then the world will fall into chaos, with no place left in peace. If Sir Jiang is willing to lend this prince a helping hand, this Prince can guarantee that Sir can live in peace in Great Yong. Zhi is willing to share glory and splendor with Sir.”
Thinking it over, Li Shun replied, “Your Imperial Highness’s words are filled with sincerity. This servant will pass on all of your words to the young master.” Having spoken, Li Shun bowed deeply before withdrawing. Li Zhi continued to sit in the pavilion, filled with expectation and hope. From Li Shun’s words, Li Zhi could feel that Jiang Zhe wasn’t completely refusing. It was only that he was filled with apprehension.
After some time had passed, Li Shun returned. Bowing, he said, “Young master has asked this servant to communicate with Your Imperial Highness. The matter of service concerns the young master’s lifelong reputation, and he cannot randomly make the decision. Your Imperial Highness is busy with military affairs. Young master invites Your Imperial Highness to quickly return to the encampments. Young master said that Your Imperial Highness should not mistreat the capture Shang Weijun, Lord Prime Minister Shang. Lord Prime Minister Shang is the father of Noble Consort Shang. Now that the Crown Prince and Consort Shang have fled, if Your Imperial Highness wishes for the difficulty of the later campaign to conquer Southern Chu to be reduced, then it is better to not hunt them down. The sovereign has already fled. If Your Imperial Highness has already captured him, then that is for the best.”
Speaking to this point, Li Shun glanced at the Prince of Yong. Li Zhi replied, “Zhao Jia will be brought to Jianye tomorrow.”
Li Shun continued, “The sovereign is incompetent and is easily persuaded by slander. Now that he has been captured, the country will find it difficult to continue to exist, and everyone will disparage him. There is no point for him to remain in Southern Chu. But if he is brought back to Great Yong, he will not live long enough for him to have the chance to return. When that time comes, the people of Southern Chu will hate Great Yong. In the past, King Huai of Chu died as a prisoner of the state of Qin,8 enraging the people of Chu. Later there was the saying, ‘although Chu only has three clans, it will be Chu who destroys Qin.’9 Years later, the Qin Dynasty was indeed destroyed by the people of Chu.”
Hesitating, Li Zhi wondered, “But if I cannot bring back the captured Zhao Jia and all of officialdom from this campaign against Jianye, how am I to report back to Imperial Father?”
Li Shun casually responded, “Young master understands the difficulty that Your Imperial Highness faces. As such, he also said that the Southern Chu can be brought back to Great Yong as a last resort. But he cannot be harmed rashly. Your Imperial Highness must immediately withdraw your army and call for a cessation of hostilities, negotiating with Southern Chu. Have the new monarch cede territory to show his sincerity, while also giving him the opportunity to redeem the captured sovereign and officials. One, this will greatly reduce Southern Chu’s strength. Two, this will prevent the formation of an indissoluble and deep enmity with Southern Chu.”
Li Zhi considered these words for some time before voicing, “Please thank Sir Jiang for his good advice. Regardless of whether Sir is willing to serve Li Zhi, Li Zhi cannot thank Sir enough.”
Watching Li Zhi depart, Li Shun revealed a faint smile. I had purposely had him receive the Prince of Yong, letting him use his insight to judge whether Li Zhi was deserving of my service. His answer was, Li Zhi was worthy.
Listening to Xiaoshunzi’s detailed report, I laid down the book in my hand and quietly said, “It looks like Li Zhi believes that I will fall into his hands.”10
Xiaoshunzi asked, “Young master, what is your view?”
I objectively responded, “His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, had one phrase that was extremely tempting. If the world is in chaos, where will I be able to find a place to live in peace?”
“What’s more, there is still Crown Prince Li An,” replied Xiaoshunzi. “If that person is really Li An, then young master’s vengeance will have to borrow the Prince of Yong’s strength.”
I sighed and uttered, “That’s right. Killing Li An may not be difficult. What’s difficult is how to handle the aftermath. However, I don’t want to follow Li Zhi so easily. Back then, I once thought about sparing no effort in serving the Prince of De, but the existence of Rong Yuan caused me to give up that idea. Li Zhi is indeed an enlightened monarch, but I wish to see if he is supported by virtuous subjects. How about this … I will not agree to serve him, allowing this matter to temporarily drag out. I believe that we will be taken to Great Yong as captives.”
Xiaoshunzi’s face was filled with bitterness, as he replied, “Wouldn’t this be too humiliating? Young master is willing to go so far as to be a captive. Unwilling to become the guest of honor, and yet willing to become a prisoner.”
I smiled faintly and judged, “I’m afraid that if I become a guest of honor now, in the future, I won’t even have the chance to become a prisoner.”
The next day, Zhao Jia was brought back to Jianye by the Yong army. Meeting the Prince of Yong, Zhao Jia repeatedly and bitterly begged, “We have never had the intention of rebelling against Great Yong. We hope that Your Imperial Highness can consider the face of the Queen and give us a way out of this predicament.”
Li Zhi replied with mild words, only saying that Imperial Father longed to see his daughter and daughter-in-law, wishing to reunite with them in Great Yong. Zhao Jia begged bitterly, but ultimately, he could only shed tears and agree. He then asked to see the Queen, Princess Changle, but was prevented from doing so by Li Zhi with the excuse that Changle had received a shock and was inconvenient to meet her.
A few days, after Jianye had been completely plundered, Li Zhi left Jianye, bringing along the Southern Chu King, royalty, members of the royal harem, and many officials. On that day, the Southern Chu sovereign and ministers cried bitterly, losing their voices. The common people seeing them off, looked at one another and also shed bitter tears, but could only hold them back and swallow their’ cries in the face of the elite Yong horsemen. Sitting on his horse, Li Zhi looked upon the icy reception on either side of the road and could only sardonically smile, saying, “It looks like Southern Chu has not yet lost popular sentiment.”
Sima Xiong, who was following Li Zhi, replied, “That’s true. But they don’t have the courage to resist. We only have twenty thousand soldiers. Even if every person only slashed at us once, we would be finished.”
Li Zhi quietly observed, “The people of Southern Chu are feminine and soft, but we cannot underestimate their strength. If we were to coerce them too fiercely, I fear that they will risk their lives to make things difficult for us. They are adept at scheming. At that time, we will be surrounded on all sides by thistles and thorns.”
Hearing the words, “people of Southern Chu are feminine and soft,” Sima Xiong could not help but snort callously and say, “The southerners really have reserved minds. Your Imperial Highness has treated that zhuangyuan, Jiang Zhe, as one would treat the wise and sagacious. But he still refuses to surrender. Now that Your Imperial Highness is bringing him back as a captive, see if he is still so pretentious.”
Li Zhi could not help but wryly smile again and again. He didn’t expect it either. After that day, he had gone to see Jiang Zhe several times. Jiang Zhe refused to discuss matters deeply with him, either citing his illness or hurriedly withdrawing at the first encounter. Li Zhi had repeatedly inquired after Jiang Zhe’s intentions from Li Shun. Li Shun replied evasively, only hinting that Jiang Zhe was unwilling to go to Great Yong to become an official. Ultimately, Li Zhi had no alternative but to forcibly include Jiang Zhe on the list of captives, bringing him back to Great Yong. He had personally gone to see Jiang Zhe to report this deed. Jiang Zhe only smiled indifferently, as if he was not resentful. When they departed, Jiang Zhe only brought along Li Shun. He had presented silver money to everyone else and had them disband. Without a care for the world, he had come to the prisoner encampment. He was acquainted with many of the other officials. Although the relationships were not deep, the relationships were congenial. He was calm and composed, helping improve the mood of many deeply worried officials. Li Zhi was worried that he would thoroughly offend Jiang Zhe, finding it difficult to eat and sleep. But with the Southern Chu reinforcements advancing upon Jianye and the Yong army finding it difficult to resist, Li Zhi could only give the order to leave Jianye.
Princess Changle also accompanied the Yong army north. Although she had received a fright, as soon as she remembered that she was returning to Great Yong, her frame of mind became more cheerful and carefree. But as they were preparing to leave Jianye, Li Zhi could sense that Princess Changle wanted to say something but was hesitating to do so. Her expression was somewhat filled with fear. Li Zhi inquired a few times but the Princess only gave perfunctory responses. But Li Zhi could see that Princess Changle did not seem to care about the safety of Zhao Jia, and was not excessively concerned. In any case, when they returned, Noble Consort Zhangsun would be there to figure out what was going on. As for the insane Liang Wan, she was like an infant. If she wasn’t crying and causing a ruckus, she was frolicking about. Li Zhi did not have any martial artists from the Fengyi Sect in his army and could only have his subordinates keep a strict eye on Liang Wan, while dispatching some court ladies to take care of her.
Thinking about everything that he had faced, Li Zhi really found that there were many agonized difficulties that he could not speak of. Li Zhi wondered if he had made the wrong move campaigning against Jianye. At the very least, the benefits before him could, in time, become an antidote-less poison that he personally takes.
Amidst the gathered crowd watching the Yong army withdraw, Chen Zhen and Han Wuji calculatedly watched the elite Yong horsemen. In a low voice, Han Wuji muttered, “In reality, it isn’t difficult to rescue young master. But young master is stubbornly refused.”
Chen Zhen murmured, “You don’t understand. Young master and the Prince of Yong have been in constant communication. Although the majority was because of Southern Chu, I can see that the young master views the Prince of Yong highly. This time, the Prince of Yong is here to quench his thirst for talents. From what Chiji has said, this campaign was clearly launched for the sake of acquiring the young master. How can the young master not be grateful for this high regard? It’s only that the young master remembers the Prince of De and still has some sentiment towards Southern Chu, and was thus willing to become prisoner.”
Han Wuji callously observed, “In reality, the young master’s heart is too soft. At the time, the young master spared no effort in serving Southern Chu. If it weren’t for the young master, our Kingdom of Shu would not have so easily fallen. That Prince of De did not wholeheartedly trust or rely upon the young master, and yet the young master is stubbornly unable to let it go. That day, he personally traveled to Xiangyang to save the Prince of De. Alas, the King of Southern Chu is so mediocre and incompetent, forcing the Prince of De to his death and causing the young master to grieve and fall into despair.”
Chen Zhen sighed. “That’s right. After returning from Xiangyang, the young master’s old ailments relapsed. It was only because of Lord Li’s consoling that the young master no longer grieved.”
In a pained voice, Han Wuji spoke, “The young master with Southern Chu and us with the Kingdom of Shu, have all experienced the same kind of grief. Although you ordinarily boast about your cold detachment and ruthlessness, I don’t believe that you don’t have any longing for the Kingdom of Shu.”
Chen Zhen was silent for some time before replying, “The Shu King treated me harshly and mercilessly, and yet, thinking back, I still reminisce a bit about it. Southern Chu’s treatment of the young master can be considered as excellent. It is no wonder that the young master cannot bear to abandon it.”
- 子房, Zifang – was the style name for Zhang Liang, strategist to the Supreme Ancestor of Han, Liu Bang
- 百思不得其解, baisibudeqijie – idiom, lit. to remain puzzled after pondering over something a hundred times; to remain perplexed despite much thought
- 祸起萧墙, huoqixiaoqiang – idiom, troubles start inside the house; there is internal strife afoot
- 如履薄冰, rulübobing – idiom, lit. as if walking on thin ice; fig. to be extremely cautious; to be skating on thin ice
- 鸟尽弓藏, niaojingongcang – idiom, lit. the birds are over, the bow is put away; fig. to get rid of somebody after they’ve served their purpose
- 兔死狗烹, tusigoupeng – idiom, lit. to boil the hound once it caught the rabbit; fig. to get rid of somebody after they’ve served their purpose
- This refers to King Goujian of Yue (越王勾踐). Goujian was enslaved by King Fuchai of Wu. During these years, the state of Yue was run by ministers such as 文种, Wen Zhong and advisers such as 范蠡, Fan Li. Goujian was eventually released back to Yue and attacked the state of Wu, destroying it. After the victory, Goujian killed or exiled all of his former supporters.
- 楚怀王, King Huai of Chu was a King of the state of Chu during the Warring States Period. In 299 BC, while attending negotiations with the state of Qin, King Huai was captured and held hostage. While he later managed to escape, he was recaptured, ultimately dying three years later while in captivity
- 楚雖三戶, 亡秦必楚, chusuisanhu, wangqinbichu – a Chinese expression denoting the hostility that the state of Chu had for the state of Qin. The state of Chu was one of the most difficult opponents of the state of Qin (later Qin Dynasty). After Chu fell to the Qin armies in 223 BC, its people were implacably hostile towards the Qin governance. After the death of Qin Shi Huang, Chu rose in revolt on several occasions. The Hegemonic King of Western Chu, Xiang Yu, and the founding Emperor of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang, both hailed from Chu.
- 势在必得, shizaibide – idiom, lit. to be determined to win; is confident that he will win and acquire the item/person