Volume 1, Chapter 13 : One Song to Force Suicide.

With difficultly, I resisted the dread in my heart and lowered my head. Yes, I was feeling dread. This Li Zhi was the so-called merchant that I had met on my way to Jianye in order to take the imperial examinations, Li Tianxiang. Heavens! I had actually explained to the Prince of Yong how to conquer the world! In addition, I even explained the internal threats facing Great Yong. Is it possible that the Prince of Yong has really listened to my advice to first destroy Shu and then to target Southern Chu? It’s simply impossible. The Prince of Yong was extremely talented, a fine soldier and statesman. He must have thought of this plan long ago.

At this moment, the Prince of Yong had come forward to welcome us. After politely greeting the Prince of De, Li Zhi spoke in a genial voice, “The Prince of De has battled all the way here. The journey must have been exhausting. Breaking through Ba Prefecture, conquering Luocheng. Just from these two battles, one can see Your Highness’s reputation as a famous general.”

Zhao Jue’s face became slightly red, as he replied, “For the Prince of Yong to praise me so, you flatter me too much.1 Today, our armies have joined up. All that Shu has left is the single city of Chengdu. I wonder what the Prince of Yong intends?”

Li Zhi proclaimed, “Chengdu can be easily captured, but this city is the capital of the Kingdom of Shu. There are tens of thousands of citizens within this bustling city. If our two armies were to attack, the people of the city would be harmed. This Prince has already prepared a document calling for its surrender. What does Your Highness think?”

Zhao Jue indifferently responded, “I have no objection to calling for their surrender, but are we having the King of Shu surrender to Great Yong or to Southern Chu?”

Confident that he was speaking supported by reason,2 Li Zhi declared, “As Southern Chu is a vassal of Great Yong, the Kingdom of Shu rightly should surrender to Great Yong.”

Prepared for this answer, Zhao Jue nonchalantly stated, “If that is the case, then I request the Prince of Yong dispatch an envoy to convince Shu to surrender. If Shu refuses to do so, our two armies will begin to assault the city tomorrow.”

Smiling, Li Zhi asserted, “This ought to be the case. Gou Lian, Sir Gou, is an envoy under my banner. I have already requested that he undertake this mission. Does the Prince of De agree?”

Zhao Jue could not help but look at me. Seeing that I did not object, he replied, “Sir Gou Lian has served the Prince of De for many years. To my knowledge, he has acted as an envoy to numerous warlords and should be capable of persuading Shu to surrender. I await the good news. Alas, I have many military matters to deal with and will return to my camp to await the news.”

Seeing that Zhao Jue agreed with his decision, Li Zhi then asked that Zhao Jue leave behind a trusted commander or retainer to serve as a liaison to consult over military matters. After thinking it over, Zhao Jue agreed that there was such a need. He turned to look at those who were accompanying him. Although all of us were trusted, the vast majority could only help to pass along information. There were only Rong Yuan and Jiang Zhe whom were able to actually to discuss military matters and to fight for Southern Chu’s interests with the Prince of Yong. Zhao Jue could not do without Rong Yuan, so he calmly replied, “Whether there will be war or peace has yet to be determined. This Jiang Zhe is my assistant. I will have him stay behind. Any deviations can be discussed with him.”

Only then did the Prince of Yong glance at me, as if he was just seeing me for the first time. I felt a chill envelop my entire body. Zhao Jue was an idiot. The Prince of Yong so easily tricked him. I did not believe for a second that Li Zhi intended to discuss military matters. It was very likely that the real motive was to have me stay. As I watched Zhao Jue depart, the Prince of Yong invited me to his tent to chat, while waiting for the envoy to return. Restless, I followed the Prince of Yong inside the tent. My personal guard, Chen Zhen, was halted at the entrance and prevented from entering. Sitting in the marshal’s seat, Li Zhi saw that I was reserved and uneasy. With a smile, he said, “Why is Jiang daren so uncomfortable? We can be considered old friends. There is no need to be overly polite.”

I cursed him in my mind for some time before replying, “That day, this lowly official greatly offended you. I did not know that it was the Prince of Yong traveling incognito. May Your Imperial Highness please forgive me.”

Li Zhi watched me sit and replied, “What offense are you talking about? At the time, this prince had traveled under disguise to Shu, to observe the military conditions and popular mood in Sichuan, and had the fortune of meeting young master. Listening to the words of a sage is superior to studying books for ten years. If my Great Yong unifies the world, then young master Jiang will have performed a deed of great merit for the empire.”

I was so angry that I almost fainted. If I performed such a deed for Great Yong, didn’t that mean that I had performed a crime against Southern Chu? If these words were to spread, wouldn’t it result in my death? I quickly tried to explain myself, “The Prince of Yong is a veritable storehouse of ideas. This lowly subject’s plan must already have been within Your Imperial Highness’s grasp. For Your Imperial Highness to push these meritorious deeds upon this lowly subject, Suiyun dares not accept.”

The Prince of Yong smiled faintly. He did not continue to beat around the bush, instead directly saying, “Upon hearing young master’s plan and your intentions to serve Southern Chu, this Prince originally thought about playing the role of a bandit and kidnapping young master back to Great Yong. Alas, my whereabouts were discovered by others. These individuals desired to assassinate me. As I did not have many guards, I feared that I could not ensure the young master’s safety and was forced to let the opportunity slip by. That young master is an official of Southern Chu leaves me, Li Zhi, to wring my hands and lament the loss.”

Listening to his words, I quickly understood what was going on. Even if his identity was discovered by Shu or Southern Chu, there was no one who dared to harm him. There was only one person who wished to have him assassinated. Li Zhi was greatly talented, and yet was unfortunately the second son, and as a result could not inherit the throne. In addition, he had to face his older brother’s jealousy and assassination plots. It left him to lament his misfortunes. But for me to lament was one thing. For him to lament being able to attain my services was a completely different matter. If he had taken me away, I would have likely suffered a disaster, a violent death. Although I was thinking this, I could not directly say it. Instead, I chose to reply, “This must mean that this lowly subject does not have the fortune of serving Your Imperial Highness. It must be Heaven’s will.”

Li Zhi looked at me, delighted. He said, “That day, we met by chance. When we met again today, young master Jiang had already become the trusted military adviser to the Prince of De. You must have presented many ideas for the Prince of De. The Prince of De and his subordinate retainers and generals are all orthodox soldiers or strategists. And yet, both the battles for Ba Prefecture and Luocheng practically completely relied upon luring-to-kill and ambush stratagems. They must surely be young master Jiang’s brilliant schemes.”

I felt my entire body become rigid. I could only wryly smile and reply, “This lowly subject does not understand anything about military matters. I only spoke of principles. It was all due to the Prince of De’s wisdom and resolution, determining the strategies, that we were able to be victorious.”

Solemnly, Li Zhi conveyed, “Sun Tzu’s Art of War states that ‘A general who wins a battle must consider many things in his mind before the battle is even fought. The general who loses a battle considers few things beforehand. More calculations lead to victory, fewer calculations lead to defeat, let alone those who make no calculations at all. By paying attention to this simple point, we can foresee who is likely to win or lose.’3 For young master to be adept at these calculations already makes you an exceptional talent. For Li Zhi to meet young master is akin to King Wu of Zhou having the fortune of meeting Jiang Ziya4 and Emperor Gaozu of Han meeting Zhang Liang.5 Southern Chu has no ambitions and hides in Jiangnan; its officials seeking calm, its soldiers seeking amusement. Although the Prince of De is both a fine soldier and statesman, he does not possess the bearing of a monarch. Young master is no more than a mere literatus in Southern Chu, but if you join Great Yong, you can become my right hand.”6

Wasn’t he being too unbridled by openly recruiting another country’s officials? I took the opportunity to ask a question. “I have heard that Shi Yu, Shi Ziyou is the leading strategist in service to the Prince of Yong. Whenever the Prince of Yong leaves the capital, he handles all of the government affairs under your jurisdiction. In your mind, he must surely be your left hand?7

Although he did not understand what I was getting at, he still replied, “Ziyou is adept at handling government affairs. Ziyou overseeing my rear echelon allows Li Zhi to deploy my forces capably.”

Unflinchingly, I continued, “What if Shi Zhiyou was a subject of another country and was treated indifferently by his monarch, and was easily persuaded to surrender? Would Your Imperial Highness still place him in such an important position?

Li Zhi became dazed at my words. Smiling wryly, he could only respond, “If that were the case, Li Zhi dare not trust Ziyou.”

Smiling, I added, “Does Your Imperial Highness understand this lowly subject’s difficulties now?”

Sighing, Li Zhi stated, “Southern Chu is not a worthy perch, let alone the perch of a phoenix.8 Southern Chu treats you like an ordinary person. I treat you as befitting a high minister. Suiyun is still unwilling to join my Great Yong?”

I stared stupidly at Li Zhi. I really was a bit regretful. If at the time, Li Zhi had kidnapped me, I would undoubtedly have been quite unhappy and perhaps even harbor a grudge against him. But it would have likely allowed me to not have to worry about Southern Chu. But that was not the case. I have become an official of Southern Chu. Throughout the years, my career has progressed smoothly and I have learned much while serving at Hanlin Academy. Southern Chu has treated me well. Under these circumstances, I cannot join Great Yong and then watch Southern Chu be destroyed. Thinking of this, I sadly said, “Although Southern Chu treats me as an ordinary person, I cannot betray it. As long as Suiyun is a subject of Southern Chu, I will continue to serve Southern Chu.”

Heaving a soft sigh, Li Zhi asked, “If Southern Chu were to be destroyed by Great Yong, what then?”

Thinking it over, I replied, “I believe that I am incapable of overthrowing fate. If Southern Chu is destroyed, as long as Great Yong does not charge me with a crime, this lowly subject intends to travel the world, living in the wilds.”

Unenthusiastically, Li Zhi voiced, “During this invasion of Shu by Southern Chu, you took part in the handling of military affairs. Your abilities have captured the attention of others. Although Zhao Jue cannot use your abilities to the fullest, he will most assuredly continue to use you to advise him. When the time comes, no matter what you think, Great Yong will not leave such a talent alone.”

I looked at Li Zhi with admiration. The Prince of Yong was extremely intelligent. From just a few words, he could deduce so much. Without any intention to hide anything from him, I stated, “I will come up with a strategy for the Prince of De that will give Southern Chu several years of peace.”

Suddenly a brilliant light flashed by in Li Zhi’s eyes. He declared, “If I guess correctly, this plan is related to the King of Shu. If the King of Shu is willing to surrender to Great Yong, this will become Southern Chu’s greatest danger.”

Making no attempt to mask my intentions, I answered, “That is correct. If the King of Shu were to surrender, I have a plan to have him die. At the very least, I can prevent Great Yong from taking advantage.”

Deeply contemplating, Li Zhi pondered, “If Shu refuses to surrender, our two armies will attack Chengdu. It is possible that the King of Shu dies by our hands or by his own. But if he surrenders, you really have a way for him to die while in the hands of Great Yong?”

I knew that he did not believe me, but I still resolutely9 replied, “Precisely so.”

Li Zhi stood and paced in his tent before pronouncing, “Okay. If you are truly able to do so and cease to strategize for Southern Chu upon your return, and are not present in Jianye when Great Yong destroys Southern Chu, this Prince promises to allow you to pass out your remaining days in peace.”

I exulted, as this was an edict that would save my life. I hurriedly stepped forward to express my thanks. Li Zhi inquired meaningfully, “If the King of Shu safely arrives at Great Yong, what then?”

“If that is the case, Suiyun is willing to serve Your Imperial Highness,” I responded without hesitation.

Laughing, Li Zhi said, “Good, good. That’s settled then.” As he spoke, he stretched out his right hand. My heart warmed and I extended my own right hand. We clasped our hands together in a pledge.

For the purpose of insurance, I added, “If this lowly subject wins, after I have returned to Southern Chu, if Your Imperial Highness has any difficulties with issues not pertaining to Southern Chu, this lowly official is willing to help advise.”

Li Zhi froze again. He originally thought that if I had the ability to kill the King of Shu while in his hands, then he would have to let me off. But he had yet to decide whether to use his forces in Southern Chu to trap me. He could not believe that I had made such a suggestion. He could not help but gasp in surprise. He was silent for a good while before he replied, “Okay. Let’s first see if the King of Shu is willing to surrender.” With that, he returned to his marshal’s seat and sat down.

I did not know what else to say, so I sat down as well and waited for Gou Lian to return.

When the sun set, Gou Lian returned, reporting to Li Zhi. The King of Shu would exit the city to surrender at noon tomorrow. Both of our faces revealed looks of happiness. The gamble that would determine my fate thus began. After discussing with Li Zhi the details about how our two armies would cooperate tomorrow, I returned to the Southern Chu camps. The Prince of Yong personally escorted me out of his camp, leaving me overwhelmed by his favor.

The next day, the King of Shu, wearing white as a sign of mourning, led his officials and his sons to surrender to Great Yong ten li outside of the city. After accepting the surrender, our two armies split and entered the city through the western and eastern gates. Having come to a mutual understanding, there were no disputes. The only incident occurred at the Ministry of Revenue where Rong Yuan ran into the Prince of Yong’s retainer, Cui Luan. Both men had been tasked with taking the revenue and census records. Neither side was willing to stand down. After arguing for some time, the Prince of Yong and the Prince of De personally came to an agreement to divide the records in half. Although this was a pity, half was better than having none. Secretly, Zhao Jue asked me how we were going to sow discord between the Shu King and Great Yong now that the Shu King had surrendered. The Shu King’s surrender to Great Yong was a big problem facing Southern Chu’s governance of our portion of Sichuan. I was ready with a plan. I informed Zhao Jue that all that needed to be done was to host a banquet before the King of Shu departed for Great Yong.

Having experienced the complicated negotiations and division of the spoils, the Prince of De decided to depart and return back to Jiangnan. According to proper etiquette, the Prince of Yong suggested that a banquet be held in honor of the Prince of De’s planned departure. This was to be expected. The Prince of De naturally had to attend the banquet. In addition, the King of Shu would also appear at the banquet to bid the Prince of De farewell. Within the luxurious Shu royal palace, the generals and advisers of Great Yong and Southern Chu sat facing either side, making merry and carousing. The King of Shu sat just below the Prince of Yong followed by the surrendered officials of Shu. Their complexions were all ugly, especially that of the King of Shu. Although he wasn’t even fifty, he had a wan and sallow appearance, his hair all white. If one said that he was seventy, it would be believed.

After everyone had partaken in the wine, Zhao Jue followed my plan and suggested that a banquet with only alcohol but no song or dance was too boring, proposing that the ladies of the Shu court sing and dance for our entertainment. Although those representing Great Yong believed that Southern Chu was as weak and soft as expected, they did not have a good reason to prevent it, allowing the ladies to come forward to entertain us. The zither music of Shu was like violent waves or swift thunder, while the dance of Shu brought forth the vigor of a woman’s graceful bearing. Those Shu officials who were about to leave Sichuan fought back tears, while the generals and advisers of Great Yong and Southern Chu applauded.

Seeing that the time had come, I shot Zhao Jue a look. Understanding, Zhao Jue stood and said, “Witnessing Shu’s music and dance today is extremely moving. My Southern Chu is cultured and refined. How can we not present song and dance to please our friends? Unfortunately, our army does not have any ladies. This one will have to use his crude mastery of the zither to please our hosts. This is Jiang Zhe of Hanlin Academy, a talented scholar of Southern Chu. For today’s occasion, he has especially composed a poem, inviting everyone to appreciate.”

Li Zhi’s heart jumped. Over the last few days, he had assigned a heavy guard to protect the King of Shu, but did not see a single Southern Chu assassin. After today, the King of Shu would head to Great Yong. He had already guessed that I would make my move today, but what he did not expect was for me to only present a newly composed poem. If he was to prevent Zhao Jue from personally playing the zither, he would undoubtedly anger the sovereign and subjects of Southern Chu for his rudeness. Although he knew that he had to prevent it, he could only agree.

I stood, paying my respects to everyone. Zhao Jue sat and began to softly pluck the zither strings. A clear and sweet melody was released by the zither. It was the music of Dance of the Cavalry. In a clear voice, I sang:

“For sixty years my country and home,

Three thousand li of mountains and rivers.

The phoenix pavilion and dragon tower reaching up to the Milky Way,

Jade trees and jasper branches forming a cloudy net.

Not once did I touch sword or spear!

Suddenly I became a captive slave,

My waist frail, my temples gray, grinding away.

Never shall I forget the day I bade farewell at the ancestral shrine,

The court musicians played farewell songs,

My tears streamed as I gazed at the court maidens.10

After I finished singing the song, the entire hall was silent. Li Zhi felt chilled, knowing that I had already acted. He looked at the King of Shu. The King’s face was numb and haggard, revealing a look of inconsolable sorrow. The Shu officials within the hall were either crying heavily or glaring angrily. After some time, the King of Shu, Meng Jun stood and said, “This lowly King is exhausted from drinking. Would Your Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, graciously allow this lowly King to return to palace chambers to rest?”

The Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, had a pained expression. He wanted to stop the King of Shu, but he couldn’t say anything. After heaving a heavy sigh, he consented. “Your Majesty can return to your chambers to rest. Please do not think too much of this. His Imperial Majesty will not indifferently treat Your Majesty.”

Meng Jun did not reply, only taking a look at the gathered individuals in the hall. When his eyes fell upon me, I could sense the despair and hatred in his eyes. How could you have a favorable impression of someone who tore up your beautiful dreams? The King of Shu left his seat, his subjects rising and kneeling to bid their farewell. Smiling wryly, Li Zhi looked at me, filled with admiration and with anger. He raised his cup in a toast before downing the contents in one gulp.

Not long afterwards, a eunuch tearfully entered the hall. Kneeling, he informed us all, “The King has taken poison and died.”

“Good, good. Zhuangyuan Jiang is indeed ferocious. A single Dance of the Cavalry was enough to take the life of a king,” said Li Zhi with a laugh before continuing apathetically, “This Prince will soon return back home and has many military matters to take care of. I bid everyone farewell.” So saying, he left.

Zhao Jue and Rong Yuan’s backs were soaked with cold sweat. Although they were delighted that the King of Shu had committed suicide, they were also worried about offending Great Yong. I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. Although I went overboard in forcing the King of Shu to commit suicide, it was still necessary for him to feel shame. Li Zhi’s words before he departed seemed to express his hatred and displeasure towards me. From a different point of view, I could pass my days peacefully when I returned to Southern Chu. However, his words also meant that I would become famous. There was no way for me to conceal my identity and live anonymously. That this Li Zhi could strike back under these circumstances showed just how fearsome he was.

Mounted upon his horse, Li Zhi finally completed the final dispositions for Shu and was preparing to return back to Great Yong. Although the King of Shu had committed suicide, the Queen and the heir apparent were still alive. Presenting them to the ancestral shrine would be sufficient. The Southern Chu army had already left the day before. According to the agreement, the Hanzhong region belonged to Great Yong, while the Sichuan region belonged to Southern Chu. In reality, Great Yong controlled Jiameng Pass and Southern Chu controlled Luocheng, leaving Sichuan as a buffer. His strategy had already achieved success. It was only that Southern Chu had gotten no few advantages. Li Zhi smiled wryly. He deeply regretted not taking the risk to kidnap Jiang Zhe.

His retainer, Tan Shuo, rode forward and inquired, “Why did Your Imperial Highness not prevent the King of Shu from committing suicide and for no reason allowing Southern Chu to become pleased with themselves?”

Li Zhi glanced at him. He knew that his retainers and his subordinate generals all had doubts. He coolly replied, “It was too late. If the King of Shu did not commit suicide even under those circumstances, he would have been despised by the people of Sichuan. Even if he lived, he would be no better than a walking corpse.”

Fan Qun, a fierce general under Li Zhi, angrily replied, “This was definitely Zhao Jue’s crafty scheme, having that zhuangyuan write those verses to ridicule the King of Shu.” Everyone else agreed with the opinion, although several retainers argued that Jiang Zhe’s poem was a masterpiece.

Li Zhi smiled slightly, but did not speak. In his head, he thought, How do you know this? In reality that Jiang Zhe was the mastermind. But he acted ingeniously. No one will think that it was his idea. This Jiang Zhe is definitely worth this Prince spending time on. Looking at the sky to tell time, he said, “Let’s hurry. Allow them to be full of themselves for now.”

***

Addendum:

On the sixteenth day of the second month of the twentieth year of Xiande, the King of Shu, Meng Jun, wore white mourning clothes and surrendered. Shu was destroyed.

On the second day of the third month, the Prince of Yong hosted a farewell banquet for the Prince of De. The King of Shu, Meng Jun, attended. The banquet did not lack in the song and dance of Shu. The Prince of De personally played the zither, commanding Jiang Zhe to sing his new poem. Jiang Zhe sang Dance of the Cavalry. Hearing the words, the King of Shu was shamed and retired. Taking poison, he died. He was forty-seven years old. People hailed Jiang Zhe’s piece as the Heartbreak Poem or as the Suicide Poem.

—Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun

Footnotes:

愧不敢当, kuibugandang – idiom, lit. I’m ashamed and dare not (accept the honor); fig. I do not deserve your praise
理直气壮, lizhiqizhuang – idiom, in the right and self-confident; bold and confident with justice (reason) on one’s side
These are the closing lines of the first chapter of Sun Tzu’s Art of War: Detail Assessment and Planning.
周武王, King Wu of Zhou (lit. the Martial King of Zhou) overthrew the Shang Dynasty and founded the Zhou Dynasty. 姜子牙, Jiang Ziya was King Wu’s strategist and later prime minister of Zhou.
汉高祖, Emperor Gaozu of Han (lit. the Supreme Ancestor of Han) was the founding emperor of the Han Dynasty who reunified China after revolts destroyed the Qin Dynasty. 张良, Zhang Liang, was his chief strategist.
Basically, Li Zhi considers Jiang Zhe to be capable of being his Right Prime Minister. In China, left was superior/senior to the right. Meaning that Jiang Zhe would be Li Zhi’s second most important adviser.
Left is senior to right; in Western parlance, the right-hand man.
This comes from a Chinese proverb: ‘a wise bird chooses its perch; a wise man chooses his master.’ Basically Li Zhi is suggesting that Southern Chu doesn’t deserve someone like Jiang Zhe, who he considers to be a superlative talent (comparable to a phoenix).
斩钉截铁, zhandingjietie – idiom, lit. to chop the nail and slice the iron; fig. resolute and decisive, unhesitating
This poem was composed by the third and final ruler of the Southern Tang state during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, Li Yu. Li Yu was an incompetent ruler, neglecting everything in favor of poetry. In 975, after a yearlong siege of his capital, Li Yu surrendered. He was taken captive to the Song capital. This poem reflects the regret and shame that he felt when he was taken away. This type of poem is called a ci (词), a poetic form that uses a base set of certain patterns to compose its verses. The pattern used in this poem is known as “Dance of the Cavalry,” the same as the poem in Chapter 8 by Song Dynasty poet, Xin Qiji.

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