Volume 1, Chapter 8: Duel of Words at Bright Moon Pavilion
In the seventh month of the nineteenth year of Xiande, the Prince of De, Zhao Jue, returned to Jianye. The King questioned him regarding the invasion of Shu. At the time, Prime Minister Shang Weijun wholeheartedly supported the invasion, and was joined in agreement by the entire court. Using all his power, the Prince of De opposed the invasion, causing the King to hesitate. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, Liang Wan, the adopted daughter of King Ling, held a banquet at Bright Moon Pavilion, inviting the Prince of De to attend. Also in attendance was Prime Minister Shang Weijun; the Prince of Qi, Li Xin, of Great Yong; and the Prince of Qi’s adviser, Qin Zheng. Jiang Zhe was also invited. Later generations reading this will wonder why Jiang Zhe would attend the banquet given his lowly rank and the important matters of state being discussed. Some would say that he was already disloyal and duplicitous. Considering the available evidence, this is not the case.After the banquet, the Prince of De angrily departed. Jiang Zhe chased down the Prince of De and spoke several words, leaving the Prince silent. During the later court assembly, the Prince of De held his peace. Some will say that the Prince ceasing to oppose the invasion was the fault of Jiang Zhe, who bears the heaviest blame for this terrible blunder. But when the Prince’s colleagues and subordinates learned what Jiang Zhe said, they all understood his predicament.—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of King Yang of Chu
The Prince of De, Zhao Jue, returned. The chaos surrounding the debate around the invasion of Shu seemed to calm. When Zhao Jue returned, he immediately went to pay his respects to the former king. When the former King had passed, Zhao Jue was garrisoning the border and could not return to mourn. The court’s political situation had calmed. As Zhao Jue was a major military commander, the debate over the invasion of Shu must listen to his opinion, and thus he was recalled back to the capital. After he had sorrowfully paid his respects, Zhao Jue was granted an audience with the king. Before the king, Zhao Jue did not mince his words,1 forcibly arguing against the invasion. Zhao Jue was extremely influential in the royal court. As a result, many stopped discussing the invasion, although even more individuals came one by one to visit him and exhort him to change his mind, especially Shang Weijun and a number of the court’s luminaries. However, the Prince of De would not agree.
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the Princess Mingyue, Liang Wan, invited the Prince of De to a banquet. She simultaneously invited the Prince of Qi, Li Xian, and Prime Minister Shang Weijun. Everyone understood her intent. In reality, I was disinterested in the affairs of these individuals of power and prestige who held state authority, so why must I attend? I did not know whether to cry or laugh as I looked at the Prince of Qi. Just as I said I was a lowly official, arguing that I did not have the qualifications to attend, the Prince of Qi’s face did not change, as he declared, “It’s only a banquet organized by Lady Liang. You were sent by your King to receive me. You naturally must participate.”
Although I had the heart to decline, in the face of murderous intent emitted by the Prince of Qi, I could only agree to attend. Who said that you cannot bend before martial power? Let them try and stand before these personal guards who had survived numerous battlefields.
The Prince of Qi was second to arrive. This banquet was being held at Bright Moon Pavilion. It was the middle of summer and the heat was intolerable. All of the building’s windows were open wide. On all sides were buckets filled with ice, helping to cool the building. Liang Wan was wearing a light yellow dress and was seated in the host’s position. Shang Weijun was wearing silk robes and was seated on the left in the second seat. After him sat a black-clothed Confucian scholar. He was likely Shang Weijun’s adviser, Nian Yuan. When Shang Weijun saw the Prince of Qi arrive, the Prime Minister strode forward to welcome the Prince with a smile from ear to ear. Seeing my presence, his brow furrowed. I hurriedly took the opportunity to say, “This lowly official was ordered by royal edict to accompany His Highness, the Prince of Qi. Since daren is here, please allow this lowly official to withdraw.”
Shang Weijun revealed a satisfied smile, praising my discretion. I believed that I had succeeded in my scheme and was getting ready to depart when the Prince of Qi grabbed my arm and with a terrible smile, said, “Don’t go. Shang daren, Academic Jiang is an official dispatched by your king, a Reader-in-Waiting, and also a gifted scholar and distinguished personage of Southern Chu. How about we let him listen?”
Shang Weijun’s brows furrowed, but ultimately could not afford to offend the Prince of Qi. He gave me a look of warning, reminding me to not say anything.
The Prince of Qi was seated at the first position on the right side with young master Qin seated below him, followed by me. I could not sit on the left side as I was only allowed to stay because of the persistence of the Prince of Qi. We did not wait long before we heard clear and bright laughter from outside the door. A large and handsome man dressed in the garb of a prince entered. As King Ling had departed for less than a year, he still wore white garb that denoted he was in mourning.2 This man was the Prince of De, Zhao Jue. Behind him followed a middle-aged Confucian scholar dressed in green and a black-garbed warrior carrying a sword. When I saw Zhao Jue, I almost yelled out in surprise. He was the man in gray that I had made a divination for prior to passing the imperial examinations. If he was the Prince of De, then that year, he was proceeding to garrison the frontier at Hengjiang and was preparing to raid Moling. No wonder I divined misfortune. Thinking back to that day, the words I told him—“in-fighting within, strong enemies without”—coincided with reality. This Prince of De was the younger brother of King Ling and was a prominent military official. To think that I once divined his fate. I wondered if he remembered me?
Zhao Jue carefully swept past everyone in the room one by one. That he paused as he considered me did not mean that he did not have any memories of me, but rather he was suspicious of my identity. He sat down in the first position on the left. The warrior sat down protectively behind him, while his adviser took the last position on the left. As I had left a seat between young master Qin and myself, I was directly across from the adviser. As our eyes met, I smiled ingratiatingly, while his perceptive gaze considered me inquiringly.
After Zhao Jue was seated, female attendants delivered tea and snacks before retreating from the room. Standing, Liang Wan said, “This servant was entrusted by the Prince of Qi and Prime Minister Shang to invite the Prince of De to attend this banquet. Although this servant should, by all rights, not involve herself in matters of state, all of these daren require someone to wait upon them. As a result, this servant can only stay behind. This is a matter of importance for both my Great Yong and for Southern Chu. As this servant was born in Great Yong and has received great favor from the former King, I vow to keep everything discussed here a secret.”
Smiling slightly, Zhao Jue stated, “Lady Liang is the adopted daughter of the former King and can be considered as Zhao Jue’s niece. Zhao Jue, naturally, believes the young lady. May Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, and Prime Minister Shang enlighten me as to the nature of this meeting?”
Li Xian regarded Zhao Jue, smiling as he said, “I have long heard that the Prince of De is the most famous general of Southern Chu, commander-in-chief of the Southern Chu armies. Meeting you today, I can say that you are indeed elegant and lofty with an extraordinary charm. Although I, Li Xian, am an imperial prince, I am but a mere lowly general in the army. If we were to consider our ranks, Li Xian would be beneath Your Highness. How could I dare presume to enlighten Your Highness? But the Prince of De has opposed the discussion of the invasion of Shu. This opposition does not match the famed general moniker. Would the Prince of De explain?”
Indifferently, Zhao Jue clarified, “Although the Kingdom of Shu is at fault for refusing to submit to Great Yong, the King of Shu is a former vassal of Eastern Jin and alongside Great Yong, were equally vassals in the imperial court. There was no such distinction of lord and vassal. Now, I do not understand how Great Yong can use Shu’s refusal to submit as the rationale for an invasion. Even if Great Yong considers this reason to be sufficient, this however, is not enough for Southern Chu. Although we have submitted to Great Yong, we have never been willing to accept Great Yong’s orders.”
Smiling, Li Xian countered, “The Prince of De’s words are mistaken. My Great Yong’s sovereign and vassals are sagacious. That King of Shu’s secession and refusal to submit cannot be tolerated. If Shu had submitted to Great Yong, then we Great Yong would not be attacking the Kingdom of Shu. It is said that an emperor’s enmity can be avenged even if nine generations had passed. At the time, Shu took advantage of Great Yong’s founding to attack Qinchuan,3 sacking and pillaging as they went. When the former Emperor of my Great Yong heard the news, he cried tears of blood. If we cannot avenge this enmity, how can we consider ourselves human? Later on, when Great Yong attacked Southern Chu, Shu once again launched an attack. Although they have shown kindness to Southern Chu, they have inflicted terrible losses upon Great Yong. In the territory that formerly belonged to the state of Qin during the Warring States period, ruins spread for thousands of li and the common people could not survive. Afterwards, the Kingdom of Shu even extorted countless treasures, silk, and beauties from Southern Chu. Considering this view, the Kingdom of Shu is a hidden, vicious wolf. Under normal circumstances, it lives in seclusion, but once it espies discord, it will inevitably come out to bite. The Prince of De speaks up for Shu today, but the time will inevitably come when Southern Chu will be swallowed by this kind of friendly state who forgets friendship and only knows its own interests.”
Coldly, Zhao Jue riposted, “Although I may lack talent, I understand how without lips, the teeth would feel cold.4 I’m afraid that once Shu has been destroyed, it will be Southern Chu’s turn.”
Li Xian was at a loss for words. He of course knew that once Shu was successfully invaded, Southern Chu would be the next target. He just didn’t expect for Zhao Jue to be unafraid to offend Great Yong and get straight to the point. As a prince of Great Yong, he could not casually lie. At this point, young master Qin spoke up. “These words are incorrect. The so-called interdependence requires mutual dependence and the sharing of common interests. Nowadays, the Kingdom of Shu repeatedly provokes Southern Chu, treating friends as enemies. The teeth are as sharp as knives, and the lips are gnawed until they bleed. I do not understand what interdependency the Prince of De speaks of.”
Zhao Jue smiled faintly. His adviser set down the folding fan in his hand and answered, “Although Southern Chu and Shu have a few disputes, none of them have been disgraceful humiliations.5 In the ninth year of Xiande, after Great Yong pacified the Central Plains, you dispatched an army south to the Yangtze. If it were not for the assistance of the Kingdom of Shu attacking Qinchuan, Great Yong would not have called for a ceasefire. Even so, my Southern Chu submitted to Great Yong. This kind of humiliation deserves to be remembered. Although our two countries are on amicable terms, and we have marriage relations with the marriage of Princess Changle and our King, your country, however, continues to train a navy in preparation for southern invasion. I wonder if Your Imperial Highness can explain this.”
Smiling, Li Xian returned, “Although our two countries are on amicable terms, your state still possesses numerous individuals such as the Prince here who cannot forget the enmity between our two countries. These individuals are definitely not in the minority. If my country did not train a navy, I fear that your military would have crossed the Yangtze to attack. The Prince of De has long garrisoned the Yangtze; how can you not know this? Furthermore, my country has repeatedly tried to be friendly. My Imperial Sister is the beloved daughter of my Imperial Father. And yet she has come to Southern Chu to be married to your King. The last several years has not only seen frequent contacts from both sides, but also trading and marriage relations unlike the Kingdom of Shu who has chosen to close off its borders and seal the country. My country has long held military discussions and will attack Shu to eliminate this hidden danger.6 We only ask that Southern Chu assist.”
Humorlessly smiling, Zhao Jue asserted, “Preposterous!7 Over the last ten years, my Southern Chu has paid a yearly tribute in money and silk, and yet your country refuses to sell us weapons and horses. Why would you do this if you truly wish to be friendly? Furthermore, although the Queen is a princess of Great Yong, are these not matters of state? Why must we consider the qualms of a married woman? Duke Wu of the state of Zheng once married his daughter in order to attack the state of Hu.8 I do not dare to forget this story.”
Young master Qin angrily rebutted, “The Prince of De has insulted my country. Enough is enough. After careful consideration, Your Highness’s worries are not without merit. Please allow my lowly self to explain. My country’s prohibition on the sale of weapons and horses is not directly at your country, but rather because of the hostilities along our northern frontier. With our frontier forces so occupied, how would we dare to sell weapons and horses? Furthermore, your country has long occupied Jiangnan, an area of rivers and lakes. If your country does indeed not wish to attack Great Yong, why would you need horses? Are you going to use them to attack Shu?”
Zhao Jue was at a loss for words. Shang Weijun hurriedly tried to change the subject. “Your Highness and young master Qin have both misspoke. We are not gathered here today for an emotional dispute. Would the two honored personages please not bear any grudges.”
Zhao Jue and young master Qin raised their teacups respectfully, both sides sipping, signaling the cessation of the debate.
Taking a breath, young master Qin explained, “My country plans against Shu because of its obstinate refusal to submit. Although we were once allied, they have repeatedly broken the alliance. Most dreadfully, my country does not produce enough salt and we must purchase salt from Sichuan, but the Kingdom of Shu has repeatedly raised the price. Sichuan possesses abundant salt, and yet chooses to use such unscrupulous means to amass wealth. We cannot continue tolerating this situation. If our two countries attack Shu together, we are willing to divide Sichuan, using the river as the border. At that point, Southern Chu’s military strength will be greatly increased. While Great Yong still has a menace upon its frontiers, Southern Chu will completely control the entirety of the Yangtze River. By then, what will there be to continue to make you anxious? If Your Highness, even under these circumstances, cannot be reassured and believe that Southern Chu cannot fight against Great Yong, then Your Highness may be better served surrendering. Does Southern Chu only wish to control a mere Jiangnan with its life and death determined by others?
Although Zhao Jue remained silent, he shook his head. He understood that the combat ability of Southern Chu’s soldiers was relatively poor. If they were to attack Shu, the majority of the territory would probably fall into the hands of Great Yong. What equal division of the spoils? By that time, the territory would belong to whoever conquered it. Everyone looked at each other seeing the determined expression on Zhao Jue’s face. No matter how glib a tongue, it would not be able to change his intentions. A vexed look could be seen flickering in Li Xian’s eyes before he glanced at Liang Wan. Standing, Liang Wan pronounced, “Everyone is tired today. If no one objects, would my honored guests descend downstairs to eat? This servant has prepared pickled plum soup to help alleviate the heat.”
Shang Weijun stood and said with a smile, “Lady Liang’s banquet must definitely be attended. Please.”
Zhao Jue also stood. Looking at young master Qin, he inquired, “May I ask this honored personage’s name? What position do you hold in Great Yong?”
Paying her obeisance, young master Qin replied, “This one is Qin Zheng in the service of the Prince of Qi.”
With a smile, Zhao Jue said, “Young master Qin’s tongue is as sharp as a sword, gaining Zhao Jue’s admiration. There are some matters that no matter how eloquently spoken can surpass strength and interests. My Southern Chu has already acknowledged that we do not have the ability to be treated as an equal with Great Yong. If Great Yong were to attack the Kingdom of Shu, my Southern Chu would prepare its troops in order to defend itself.”
Seeing Zhao Jue’s stubborness, young master Qin could only smile wryly as she responded, “The Prince of De has made his decision and sticks by it, and will not be swayed by mere words. Qin Zheng was impetuous and begs for forgiveness.”
Zhao Jue nodded his head slightly and apologized. “This Prince has many military matters to deal with, thus must depart. Would everyone please forgive me?” No one thought that Zhao Jue would be so determined and had planned originally to continue lobbying him when he had gotten tipsy and merry. At this moment, they had no alternative but to escort him out.
As everyone was exchanging glances, my mind raced. Rising from my seat, I suggested, “All the daren are weary, so please allow this lowly official to escort His Highness out.” The Prince of Qi and the others were not in the mood to take other. Shang Weijun agonizingly replied, “That will be fine.”
I followed Zhao Jue out. Zhao Jue was somewhat tired. I carefully considered this merely thirty-year old prince. The pressure on him in these last few years must have been acute. In the three years since our last meeting, the hair on his temples had turned slightly white. He continued to exude a firm and indomitable spirit. This was Southern Chu’s main pillar. I was not only filled with admiration, but also felt sad for him. His painstaking efforts were not understood by others. I could not understand how he had this kind of courage.
Feeling my gaze, Zhao Jue indifferently asked, “Who are you?”
Respectfully, I answered, “This lowly official is Jiang Zhe, a Hanlin Reader-in-Waiting, tasked with accompanying the king.”
Surprised, Zhao Jue questioned, “You are Jiang Zhe? Why were you with the Prince of Qi?”
I hurriedly explained, “This lowly official was ordered by the King to receive the Prince of Qi. Today, the Prince of Qi forced this lowly official to be present. This lowly official had the fortune of hearing Your Highness’s teachings, and is truly fortunate.”
Although Zhao Jue felt that it was strange, he didn’t investigate in-depth. With a pained voice, he spoke, “I have read your poetry; it is very well written.
‘Drunk, I contemplate the sword under the lamp,Awakened, bugles ring through the camps.Recalling a scene of soldiers drinking and savoring roasted beef in their widespread camps,With military music played out by various instruments they are entranced,In the autumn cool a grand parade advances.Warriors on coursers speed by, with bows fully drawn, hotly after their enemies’ end,On the twangs of the bows into dismay the enemies sank.I vow to restore His Majesty to sovereignty with my morale greatly enhanced,Earning myself renown and success that never end.Deplorably old I’ll be before any achievement attained.’”
He was seemingly intoxicated by the concept of this Dance of the Cavalry9 poem that I had written while I was in Jiangxia. He subconsciously stroked the hair on his temples. After some time, he wondered, “Do you think that we should attack the Kingdom of Shu?”
Seeing that there was no way around, I replied, “Before this lowly official can express his opinion, please allow this lowly official to ask three questions.”
Zhao Jue looked at me with amazement before talking. “Ask away.”
A look of grief flashed in my eyes as I asked, “First, would Your Highness please tell me who in Southern Chu, from the King to the common people, understands the rapacious designs of Great Yong?”
Zhao Jue stirred after being silent for some time. “There aren’t many. Even my trusted subordinates advised me to attack Shu.”
“Second,” I continued to ask, “Would Your Highness please tell me if Great Yong were to attack Shu and Shu were to request for our help, would our Southern Chu dare to dispatch troops?”
Distressed, Zhao Jue remarked, “We would not dare. Our King would inevitably sit and watch Shu be destroyed.”
Even though I understood his pain, I chose to continue to ask my third question, “Third, if Your Highness continues to oppose the invasion of Shu, but the King has already made his decision and chooses to use a different general, does Southern Chu have a more capable general than yourself?”
My three continuous questions were each increasingly penetrating. Zhao Jue felt himself break out in a cold sweat at them, staring fixedly at me.
Lowering my head, I expounded, “Nowadays, our country cannot act autonomously. If Your Highness persists in your opposition, the King will dispatch another to attack Shu. Our country’s soldiers and generals are no match for those of Great Yong or Shu. If we use up too much of our limited resources in attacking Shu, at that time, Great Yong will be able to easily destroy Southern Chu like a hot knife through butter.10 If Your Highness were willing to lead the troops personally, then we may be able to acquire a portion of Sichuan’s critical points to serve as a base. As long as we are able to use Longyou11 and Guanzhong12 as a buffer and properly defend the Xiangfan13 region, Great Yong will be restrained. Southern Chu will receive at least ten years’ worth of benefits. As long as Southern Chu is patient and waits for the right opportunity,14 then we may be able to conquer the world.”
At first, Zhao Jue’s face revealed a look of sorrow that gradually calmed, before finally being replaced by a look of unwavering determination. He replied, “Jiang daren is truly an incomparable minister. If I am to lead the army to attack Shu, would Jiang daren be willing to serve as my adviser?”
You must be joking? I didn’t want to go to war. Therefore, I indifferently answered, “This lowly official does not understand military matters or strategy, and dares not obey. If Your Highness has any questions, this lowly official will not hide anything and will speak frankly.”
Zhao Jue looked at me stunned, unable to understand why I had rejected such a good opportunity. In a heavy voice, he replied, “Everyone bears responsibility with the fate of our country in the balance.15 Since Jiang daren is a vassal of Southern Chu, how can you not spare no effort for our Southern Chu? You should think it over.” After finishing, he led his people away.
I resentfully watched Zhao Jue depart. What a fellow to repay kindness with malice. I just advised you, and this is how you repay me? To want me on the battlefield was really complete nonsense. What’s to be done? I bitterly began to think of who I could ask to help so that I need not join the army on its campaign.
- 直言不讳, zhiyanbuwei – idiom, lit. to speak bluntly; not to mince words
- Under traditional Chinese funeral rites, family members of the deceased are required to observe the proper mourning rites which include avoiding bright colored garb, wearing white garb. Traditionally, the rites were observed for direct family members for up to twenty-seven months (rounded up to three years). As the Prince of De is the younger brother of King Ling, he must observe a minimum of nine months of mourning.
- 秦川, qinchuan – refers to the region that is now modern-day Shaanxi and Gansu
- 唇亡齿寒, chunwangchihan – idiom, lit. without the lips, the teeth would feel cold; fig. intimately interdependent
- 奇耻大辱, qichidaru – idiom, lit. extraordinary shame and humiliation
- 心腹之患, xinfuzhihuan – idiom, lit. calamity within one’s bosom; hidden great danger or trouble
- 岂有此理, qiyoucili – idiom, lit. how can this be so?; preposterous, ridiculous, absurd
- This is an apocryphal story of how Duke Wu of Zheng (郑武公, Martial Duke of Zheng) conquered the state of Hu (胡国) during the Spring and Autumn Period. He first married his daughter to the ruler of Hu. During the wedding celebrations, Duke Wu asked his advisers who he could invade. One of his advisers suggested Hu. Angrily, Duke Wu stated that the two states were brothers and state of Zheng could not invade. The ruler of Hu was happy and later the state of Hu ceased to defend against Zheng. Seizing the opportunity, Zheng invaded and conquered Hu.
- This is a poem by Song Dynasty poet Xin Qiji entitled Dance of the Cavalry (破阵子)
- 势如破竹, shirupozhu – idiom, lit. as easily as breaking bamboo; like a knife through hot butter, irresistible force
- 陇右, longyou – aka Longxi (陇西) refers to the area that was once part of the Hexi Corridor connecting China proper with the Silk Road
- 关中, guanzhong – lit. the land within the passes; refers to the territory originally controlled by the state Qin during the Warring States Period
- 襄樊, Xiangfan – refers to the two neighboring cities of Xiang and Fan that were combined in 1949 to form the city of Xiangyang
- 卧薪尝胆, woxinchangdan – idiom, lit. to lie on firewood and taste good; to suffer patiently, but firmly resolved on revenge
- 国家兴亡，匹夫有责, guojiaxingwang, pifuyouze – idiom, everyone bears responsibility for the prosperity of the nation