Exemplary anecdotes

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Exemplary anecdotes

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1Fogies
Redigerat: aug 27, 2008, 12:57 pm

The biographical sections of the Chinese dynastic histories have many, many exemplary anecdotes showing the character and behavior of their subjects. They are well annotated. For reading to improve your grasp of Classical Chinese they are highly recommended. A few minor emendations have been made here without notice.

(To see the Chinese text, go here: http://www.chinapage.com/big5/big5-history.html, find the sub-page 史 記 卷 一 百 二 十 一 and do a ctrl-f search for this passage: 魏 文 侯 時 , 西 門 豹. It seems LT is implacably hostile to posting continuous Chinese text.)

In the time of the Wei Wen Hou, Xi Men Bao was appointed commandant of Ye. Bao traveled to Ye and met with the oldest men. He asked them what folk suffered most from. They said, “The worst is we have to marry a woman to the River Boss, so we’re all poor.” Bao asked to hear the details, and they told him the preceptors and magistrate’s clerks of Ye every year levy an assessment on the citizens, taking in several million cash and using two or three hundred thousand in betrothing a wife to the River Boss, and then divide the rest up with the officiant shamaness to take home. When the time for it came, shamanesses would go about looking at low-ranking families who had pretty daughters and say, “This one should be the River Boss’s wife.” And so she was betrothed. They bathed and shampooed her, and had clothing specially made for her of satin, silk lace and gossamer. She had nothing to do but follow tabus and restrictions. For that they made a ritual enclosure at the river’s edge, putting up red screening-curtains, and she dwelt within, and she stayed there ten days or more. They provided everything in the way of beef and wine and steamed grain and other food. They supplied a boat, decorated it as if it were a nuptial bed, had the woman get on it and floated it out onto the river. It floated for some miles and then sank. Local families who had a pretty daughter feared the great shamaness would condemn her to be taken for the River Boss, so many of them took their daughters and fled far away. Thus the city became more and more empty and depopulated, and poorer as well. That had been going on for a long time. The local tradition was that if ever they did not give a bride to the River Boss, the water would rise in waves and drown the people.
Xi Men Bao said, “When the time comes to give the bride to the River Boss, I want the preceptors, the shamanesses and the village elders to send her off at the river bank. You favor us with your presence and your address to her. I also will go there to send her off.” They all agreed. When the time came, Xi Men Bao went to join them. Preceptors, government workers, men of exemplary good character and village elders all attended. Those who observed in the capacity of ordinary citizens were two or three thousand. The shamaness was an old woman, fully seventy. Her acolytes were ten or more women all wearing single-layer fine silk clothing, standing behind the grand shamaness. Xi Men Bao said, “Call forth the bride of the River Boss. I will see how pretty she is.” Xi Men Bao looked at her. He looked back and said to the preceptors, the officiant shamaness and the elders, “This woman is not pretty. I will trouble the great shamaness herself to go into the river because of that and report to the River Boss that we have to look again for a pretty woman, whom we will send in a few days.”
At that he had the sergeant and his squad bind the great shamaness bodily and throw her into the river. After a while he said, “Why is the shamaness taking so long? Let an acolyte hurry her.” He had one of the acolytes thrown into the river in the same manner. After a while he said, “Why is the acolyte taking so long?” He had another acolyte thrown into the river in the same manner. When they had thrown a total of three acolytes, Xi Men Bao said, “The shamaness herself and the acolytes are just women; they can’t make a proper report of the matter. I will trouble the preceptors to enter and report it.” And he had them thrown in in the same manner.
Xi Men Bao tucked in his belt-seal and stood leaning over the river, watching, for a long time. The elders and officials and bystanders observing this were all terribly frightened. Xi Men Bao looked back and said, “The shamaness herself and the preceptors have not returned. What shall we do about that? I am inclined to send one each of court clerks and exemplary characters to hurry them.” All kowtowed, knocking their heads on the ground till they were about to break and blood flowed from their foreheads, their faces like ashes. Xi Men Bao said, “Very well. We will stay here and wait for them for a while.” In a while Bao said, “You court clerks get up now. It turns out the River Boss detains his visitors a long time. You are all dismissed. Go home.” The officials and people of Ye were terribly frightened. From that time on, no one ever again dared mention betrothing a wife to the River Boss.

2jcbrunner
aug 30, 2008, 7:51 am

A wonderful story which combines human sacrifice, evidence-based management and a coup.

Sacrificing life to ensure heavenly favors is old and widespread (see Theseus and the Athenian tribute of 7 boys and 7 girls to the Minotaur). Reading the story, it seems to me that the main objection is economic not moral.

The appeal to hard evidence/reality is truly modern, and only partially accepted in Ancient Europe (Hic Rhodos, hic salta). Even today, people are not required to put their money where their mouth is: Some Baghdad shopping for the "Iraq is safe" promoters would surely have helped the perception of reality.

The swift decapitation strategy is masterful in both its ruthlessness to the leaders as well as its leniency to the followers.

3Fogies
Redigerat: aug 31, 2008, 9:52 am

This is a well-known story, from Yen Zi Chun Qiu. As before, minor emendations made without notice.

Gong Sun Jie, Tien Kai Jiang and Gu Ye Zi were in the service of Marquess Jing Gong of Qi. They were renowned for having the bravery and strength to capture tigers. When Yen Zi passed them he would hurry his stride, but they never rose.
Yen Zi had a private audience with the marquess. He said, “I have heard that a clear-sighted ruler treats a retinue of brave vigorous men in such a way that above there is the proper relation of ruler and servant, while below there is the order of leading and following. Thus internally he can prevent violence with them while externally he can frighten his enemies with them. Their superiors benefit from their vigor while their subordinates submit to their bravery. Thus he makes their rank honored and their salaries impressive. Here Your Lordship treats brave and vigorous men in such a way that above there is no proper relation of ruler and servant,while below there is no order of leading and following. Thus internally you cannot prevent violence while externally you cannot frighten enemies. These are weapons that endanger the state. Better get rid of them.”
The marquess said, “The thing to worry about with these three is that if I seize them they might not stay seized, while if I try to assassinate them the blow might miss.” Yen Zi said, “These are all men whose style is a vigorous attack against a strong enemy. They observe no protocol of senior and junior. So I would like Your Lordship to have someone present them with two peaches, saying, “Why don’t you three gentlemen tell why you deserve to eat these peaches?”
Gong Sun Jie looked up, sighed and said, “Yen Zi is a discerning man. The way he got our ruler to evaluate our merits, if one doesn’t get a peach he lacks courage. Peaches being fewer than men, why not tell why I deserve to eat a peach? I once captured a wild boar and twice captured a mother tiger nursing cubs. Feats like mine entitle me to eat a peach without sharing it with another.” He took a peach and got up.
Tien Kai Jiang said, “I have made a whole national army retreat just holding a weapon at the ready. I did it twice. Feats like mine also entitle me to eat a peach without sharing it with another.” He took a peach and got up.
Gu Ye Zi said, “I once followed our ruler crossing the Yellow River. A giant turtle* seized the ruler’s left outer horse in its mouth and took it into the Di Zhu current. At that time I was quite young and could not swim. I sank to the bottom and walked a hundred paces against the current, then went nine li with the current, got the turtle and killed it. Holding up the horse’s tail in my left hand and hefting the turtle’s head in my right, I came out of the river high-stepping like a crane. People in the shallows all said, “It’s the River Boss!” But I looked at it and it was just the head of a huge snapping turtle. Feats like mine also entitle me to eat a peach without sharing it with another. Why don’t you two give back the peaches?” He drew his sword and got up.
Gon Sun Jie and Tien Kai Jiang said, “Our bravery is not as good as yours, nor do our feats come up to yours. To take the peaches rather than yielding them to you was greedy. To be so and not to die is to lack bravery.” They both gave back the peaches and died by cutting their own throats.
Gu Ye Zi said, “It would show a lack of feeling for me to live through this after they both died in it. To shame people with words and boast of one’s reputation is not proper. Full of remorse for what one has done, not to die is to lack courage. Even so, for the two to share a peach would have been fair and for me to have the other peach to myself would have been proper.” He also returned the peaches and died by cutting his throat.
The messenger reported that they had all died. The marquess buried them in full uniform with the honors of officers.

*Cantor’s giant soft-shelled turtle Pelochelys cantorii, a huge carnivore that can grow to two meters length. It lies on the river bottom until prey approaches, then strikes with astonishing speed.

4jcbrunner
aug 31, 2008, 4:07 pm

Logic overkill! Peaches, in contrast to babies, can be cut and divided quite easily. Sharp blades and minds do not mix ... Early Chinese Darwin award winners.

Attack of the killer turtles! I knew that turtles have a healthy appetite for meat that make vegetarians pale but never imagined that they would fill the ecological niche of crocodiles.

5Fogies
Redigerat: sep 13, 2008, 11:12 am

This one is from the Intrigues of the Warring States (zhan guo ce):

Qin mobilized its army to menace Zhou and demand the nine cauldrons.1 The Zhou ruler asked Yen Shuai what to do about this trouble. He replied, “Let your Majesty not worry about it. Your servant requests permission to go east, to Qi, for rescue.” He went to Qi and said to the king, “In that lawless way of theirs, Qin has mobilized its army to menace Zhou and demand the nine cauldrons. Ruler and ministers have racked our brains for a plan, and find it preferable to entrust them to your great state, rather than give them to Qin. Now, to retrieve a state from peril will burnish your reputation, and the cauldrons would be no mean reward. We would like your majesty to consider it.”
The king of Qi, enormously pleased, sent an army of half a million men2 with Chen Chen Si in command to rescue Zhou, and the Qin army stood down. With Qi about to demand the nine cauldrons, the Zhou ruler was again troubled. Yen Shuai said, “Let your Majesty not worry about it. Your servant requests permission to go east and resolve it.”
He went to Qi and said to the king, “Zhou has imposed upon your great state's sense of right to obtain for us, as ruler and minister, father and son, the gift of each other's lives. Now we wish to present to you the nine cauldrons, and would like to know which route your great state would prefer to be the one by which we deliver them to you.”
The king of Qi said, “We will get Liang to let us bring them through.”
“Oh, that won’t do,” said Yen Shuai. “The ruler and ministers of Liang want the cauldrons themselves, and have for a long time been devising schemes to that end beneath the Bright Tower and above the Lesser Sea.3 If the cauldrons enter Liang they will not re-emerge.”
The king of Qi said, “We will get Chu to let us bring them through.”
“Oh, that won’t do,” said Yen Shuai. “The ruler and ministers of Chu want the cauldrons themselves, and have for a long time been devising schemes to that end in the Leafy Pavilion. If the cauldrons enter Chu they will not re-emerge.”
The king of Qi said, “Well, then, what road is it that We should choose to bring them to Qi?”
Yen Shuai replied, “Our poor city takes the liberty of considering that Your Majesty has indeed got a serious problem. These cauldrons are not like pickle jars or sauce bottles; their lifting-handles are of a size to embrace with your arms. Hoisting them and getting them to Qi will be nothing like birds flocking, crows flying, rabbits hopping, horses galloping, blithely flitting into Qi. Long ago when Zhou chastised Yin and obtained the nine cauldrons, each cauldron took ninety thousand men4 to draw its wagon. Nine times that makes eight hundred ten thousand men, with officers and sergeants, army troops, weapons and implements and shelter gear, all also needed in proportion to that number. Supposing your Majesty to have that many men, by what route will you come out? I personally take the liberty of feeling sorry for your Majesty.”
The king said, “Your method of numbering the escorts amounts simply to not giving Us the cauldrons.”
Yen Shuai said, “I would not dare to deceive your great state. As soon as you decide which route to take, our poor city will transport the cauldrons in accordance with your orders.” The king of Qi then let the matter drop.

1 Huge cast bronze bowls with legs and lifting-handles, supposedly captured from Yin (=Shang) when the mandate of heaven passed from that dynasty to Zhou. Probably first used to stew game animals at ceremonial feasts, they later became a symbol of the right to rule the world, at least in name. The “nine” is probably not to be taken literally, and may not even be “nine” at all, since the same character used to write the word nine is also used to write another word that means to collect, to group together. Thus the phrase we now translate “nine cauldrons” might have meant “collected cauldrons.”
2 Give or take a few. Writers in this genre do not consider themselves on oath. (But toward the end of the period there were indeed some major battles fought between large armies, though nothing like half a million.)
3 Parts of the Liang ruler’s palace used for official business; a similar reference to discussions in the White House might be, “They schemed in the Oval Office and the Rose Garden.”
4 None of these giant cauldrons survives, but assuming each weighed as much as a small truck, one percent of that number of men ought to have sufficed. Chinese engineers of the period must have moved stones weighing at least that much, and hoisted them aloft to boot. But rulers were not given a technical education.

6jcbrunner
sep 13, 2008, 9:19 am

Zhou was fortunate that Qi was not very sharp. It could either have traded the cauldrons to any of the other (closer) states or it could have easily used its own in-theater army of 500.000 to transport them back.

But then, the story is more about glorifying cheating and cunning. It probably is no accident that the quite-barbarian Qi is duped (Western tales only allow such behavior with marginalized victims such as the devil, a witch, a foreigner or a Jew (Merchant of Venice)).

7Fogies
Redigerat: sep 13, 2008, 11:46 am

>#6 Your considerations are all valid but they miss the point of the story. Cheating and cunning are bad things, to be sure, but in the sense that all weapons are bad things, to be used only as a last resort in emergency. We see cheating and cunning as moral failures in themselves; the Chinese view would ascribed moral failure to having allowed a situation to develop in which cheating and cunning had to be used.

Yen Shuai is a genuine hero on this view. He is not a snake oil salesman gulling rubes but a skilled diplomat who is able to supply the military force his own state cannot raise by exploiting the folly of the king of Qi, using the weapons of cheating and cunning in self-defense.

Qi takes a simplistic view of the cauldrons, as if they were Tolkien's ring, whose very possession conferred power on whoever held them. But the situation is the opposite: no one not entitled to rule the world can take possession of them. The king should have known that he could not acquire such symbols by barter but only by actually conquering the world by morally worthy means. He could not have used his own army to transport them through a neighboring state, since that would have been an act of aggression that would start a war that he could not be sure of winning. That he lacks means to transport the cauldrons is a sure sign that he has not earned the right to them, a consideration that ought to have occurred to the king beforehand.

The rump state of Zhou finally was extirpated in 256 BC by Qin, who promptly seized the cauldrons for transport to their own capital. But they never got there. They sank in a deep hole in the river Si. When Qin conquered the world in 221 BC one of the earliest acts of the First Emperor was to send divers to recover the cauldrons from the river. But although hundreds of divers searched, they could not be found.

8jcbrunner
sep 18, 2008, 8:19 am

Thanks for elaborating. I need to pay more attention to the concomitance of realistic and magical elements (similar to 17th century Europe, Newton being both an alchemist and a physicist).

I like the interpretation of Zhou's desperate Gollum-like holding on to the cauldrons. Or is their behavior more like Boromir? Anyway, the Chinese Nibelungen treasure is lost. Perhaps with China's new wealth and technology someone will start the search for the cauldrons (as they do in the Rhine). The cauldrons might have served as a good MacGuffin for the Indiana Jones franchise.

9pechmerle
sep 19, 2008, 7:29 am

Taking just the cauldrons episode and dramatizing it would make a great Zhang Yimou movie.

10Fogies
Redigerat: jul 28, 2009, 8:08 pm

Archery was one of the six arts that every gentleman was supposed to master. Here are a few snippets about archery from ancient Chinese writings.

“Originally there were ten suns, which rose one after another and shone in rotation without end. In the time of Yao there was a freakish thing, the ten suns all rising at once. Thus they were shot and killed by Yi the archer.”

“Li Guang went out hunting and, seeing a stone in the weeds, thought it was a tiger and shot it. His shot buried the arrowhead in the stone. When he saw it was a stone, he then tried shooting it again, but was never again able to penetrate the stone.”

To that one Wang Chong, the grandaddy of Chinese snarkers, asks:

“If he had shot the body of an actual tiger, would the arrow have gone clean through?”

It would be interesting to learn the circumstances under which public demonstrations of archery were conducted.

“There was a man in Chu, one Yang-you-ji, who was good at archery. Of a hundred shots at a willow leaf from a hundred paces away he would hit the mark every time. All around him said he was good. A man passing by said, “You’re a good archer but you need to learn some things about archery.” Yang-you-ji said, “Everyone else says I’m good but you say I need to learn more. Why don’t you take a turn shooting at my mark? The stranger said, “I can’t teach you to hold up your left arm and bend your right. When shooting at willow leaves you took a hundred shots and made a hundred hits instead of stopping when your skill was established. After a while you will get tired, so when the bow is released the arrow will arc. The first missed shot will nullify all your prior accomplishment.”

One of them provided Zhuangzi with a story
“Lie Yu-kou gave Bo-hun Wu-ren a demonstration of shooting. When he drew the string he took to its utmost. He balanced a cup of water on his elbow. As he shot them, just as each arrow hit in the same manner as its predecessor, at the same time its successor was emplaced in the same manner. All this time he was like a statue. Bo-hun Wu-ren said, ‘This is shooting for shooting’s sake; it isn’t shooting when one wouldn’t shoot. Suppose we try this: I will climb a high mountain with you, we will stand on a precipice and we will look down into a thousand-foot chasm. Would you be able to shoot then?’ Then Wu-ren climbed a high mountain, stood on a precipice and looked down into a thousand-foot chasm. He ran around backward. His feet overhung the edge by two inches. He bowed to Yu-kou and bade him come forward. Yu-kou fell on the ground. Sweat poured down to his heels.”

And of course the ultimate skill is arrowless archery:

One time Geng Lei was sitting under the Jing tower with the king of Wei. They looked up and saw birds flying. Geng Lei said to the king, “I shall down a bird for Your Majesty by drawing my bow and shooting with no arrow.” The king of Wei said, “Am I to believe that archery can be brought to this degree of perfection?” Geng Lei said, “It is possible.” In a while a wild goose came flying from the east and Geng Lei brought it down by shooting his bow with no arrow. The king of Wei said, “Am I to believe that archery can be brought to this degree of perfection?” Geng Lei said, “This one was a straggler.” The king said, “How did you know that, sir?” He replied, “Its flight was slow and its cry plaintive. Slow flight was due to the pain of an old wound. Plaintive crying was due to its having been separated from its flock for a long time. Its old wound has not healed and its panic has not left it. When it heard the bowstring twang it tried to draw away by flying higher and was brought down by its old wound.”

11pechmerle
Redigerat: jun 9, 2009, 5:29 am

The Geng Lei story made me wonder whether Sherlock Holmes might be a Zen master in disguise. And sure enough, it seems that some contemporary Zen teachers (in the West, to be sure) do see the affinity between Holmes and Zen teachings on awareness and observation.

Such writers quote a famous admonition of Holmes to Watson, in A Scandal in Bohemia. Holmes was expounding on observation, and asked Watson how many steps led up to the flat at 221-B Baker Street. Watson of course does not know, and Homes exclaims, "Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point."

12Fogies
aug 4, 2009, 1:11 pm

Sima Qian, the Grand Scribe says, “All women, it does not matter if they are beautiful or ugly, meet jealousy when they come to dwell in the harem. All men, it does not matter if they are capable or blunderers, meet suspicion when they enter the court.”
Here are anecdotal examples, both from Intrigues of Warring States:
The king of Wei gave a beautiful woman to the king of Chu, who was delighted with her. The king’s wife Zheng Xiu knew that the king was delighted with the new woman, so she took extraordinary care of the newcomer, having her favorite kinds of clothing and trinkets made for her, having the kind of bedroom and bedding she preferred made for her, exceeding even the king’s own favor of her. The king said, “How a wife serves a husband is by sensual pleasure, and to be jealous is their inborn nature. Here Zheng Xiu knows how I delight in the newcomer, and exceeds even my own favor of her. This is the behavior of a filial son to a father, or a loyal minister to a ruler.” When Zheng Xiu knew that the king assumed she was not jealous, she went on to tell the newcomer, “The king has fallen in love with your beauty. But he dislikes your nose. So when you are with the king, be sure to cover your nose.” When the newcomer was with the king, she accordingly covered her nose. The king asked Zheng Xiu, “Why is it that when the newcomer sees me she covers her nose?” Zheng Xiu said, “I could tell you.” The king said, “You must tell me, even if it is bad.” Zheng Xiu said, “Well, it would seem that she dislikes your body odor.” The king said, “How arrogant!” He gave orders to cut off her nose, and refused to countermand the order.
Zou Ji, Marquess of Cheng, was prime minister of Qi. Tien Ji was general. The two did not like each other. Gong-sun Han said to Zou Ji, “Why don`t you make a plan to attack Wei for the king? If we win, it will be due to your plan, and you can take credit for it. If we don’t win it will be Tien Ji’s lack of aggressiveness, and if he isn’t killed in battle then we can have him punished. Zou Ji thought it would work, so he made a proposal to the king to have Tien Ji attack Wei. Tien Ji fought three battles and won every time. Zou Ji brought that to Gong-sun Han’s attention. Gong-sun Han then had a man take ten gold coins with him to a diviner in the marketplace and say, “I am Tien Ji’s man. He fought three battles and won every time; his reputation has the whole world in awe, and he wants to carry out a coup. Are the omens auspicious or not?” The diviner went out and got someone to seize the proxy client, and testified in the royal presence to what he had said. Tien Ji then fled.

13Fogies
Redigerat: jul 16, 2011, 4:25 pm

Here's a famous one:
The Renowned King of Qin was going to make Lord Mengchang premier of Qin. Someone made this proposal to the Renowned King of Qin: “Lord Mengchang is very competent and is also of the house of Qi. Now in acting as premier to Qin he is sure to put Qi first and Qin second. Qin will be endangered.” The Renowned King of Qin went no further. He imprisoned Lord Mengchang and considered killing him.
Lord Mengchang sent someone to the Renowned King’s favorite princess to get him released. She said she wanted his lordship’s white fox fur cloak. Lord Mengchang at that time had a white fox fur cloak worth a thousand gold coins. There was no other like it in the world. When he entered Qin he presented it to the Renowned King. He had no other cloak to replace it. Lord Mengchang, in a quandary, asked all around among his retinue, but no one had an answer.
There was one among those seated lowest who had the skill of dog-thievery. He said he could get the cloak. At night he crept like a dog into the Qin palace treasury and took the white fox fur cloak that had been presented, bringing it back to be presented to the king’s favorite princess. The favorite spoke to the Renowned King on behalf of Lord Mengchang, and the Renowned King released him.
When Lord Mengchang got his release, he immediately hurried away. He altered his border transmittal, changing his name, to get through the barrier. They arrived at the Hangu barrier in the middle of the night.
Having released Lord Mengchang, the Renowned King of Qin regretted it. He sent for him but he had already left. He immediately sent men to pursue him at high speed. Lord Mengchang arrived at the barrier. The rule at the barrier was that travelers were allowed to pass when the roosters crowed. Lord Mengchang feared that the pursuit would overtake him. There was one among those seated lowest who had the skill of imitating the crowing of a rooster. The roosters all crowed with him. They produced the transmittal and went out. When they had been gone for about the time it takes to eat a meal, the Qin pursuers did indeed arrive at the barrier. Lord Mengchang having already gone, they were too late and so returned.
When Lord Mengchang first enrolled these two men among his retinue, the others all deemed them contemptible. When Lord Mengchang got into trouble in Qin, it turned out to be these two who extracted him.

14jcbrunner
jul 17, 2011, 8:29 am

>13 Fogies: Thanks. Aren't the thief and the FX/tech guy mandatory group members in any heist? The Greeks could just send Odysseus.

15Fogies
Redigerat: jul 18, 2011, 6:06 am

Viewing the Mengchang anecdote as like a caper flick is illuminating, especially so if you think of an escape rather than a robbery. The plot is vaguely like Von Ryan’s Express. But a better analogy for this sort of anecdote in general would be to covert operations against an enemy state, utilizing the craft skills of professional criminals, as in this example:
The Chu general Zifa liked to seek out men with special talents. There was in Chu a man skilful at being a sneak thief. He went for an interview and said, “I have heard that Your Lordship is seeking out men with special talents. I am a sneak thief, and as such would like to provide my services as one soldier in your army."
When Zifa heard that he went right out to greet and honor him without belting his robe or taking the time to straighten his hat. His servants said, “A thief is a criminal to all the world. Why do him honor?” The general said, “This is nothing for servants to meddle with.”
Not much later, Qi mobilized to attack Chu. Zifa led a force to resist them, but was forced to retreat three times. The best and brightest high officers of Chu put forth their most dedicated efforts to make all the plans they could, but the Qi force only got stronger.
At that point the thief in his service came forward and said, “I have a minor skill that I would like to exercise on Your Lordship’s behalf.” Zifa agreed to it. He sent him out straightaway without even asking what he had to say. The thief then went at night and took the blanket and bed curtain of the Qi general and brought them back.
Zifa then dispatched a man to return them with the message, “Some men went out to get firewood and found your general’s bed curtain. I have been dispatched to return them to whoever is in charge.” The following night he went in similar manner and took his pillow. Zifa again dispatched a man to return it. The following night he went in similar manner and took his hairpins. Zifa again dispatched a man to return them.
When the Qi army heard of it they panicked. Their general consulted with his military council. He said, “If we don’t leave here today, I’m afraid the Chu general will have my head.” So they withdrew the army and left.
A one-off ninja coup like this seems better suited to Sunzi’s style of warfare than to that of Clausewitz, but such are not unknown in the west, eg Skorzeny’s retrieval of Mussolini.

16jcbrunner
jul 19, 2011, 6:20 pm

A better Western match than the analytic Clausewitz is Machiavelli whose manual is closer to Sunzi's approach. The renaissance was well aware of the cost effectiveness of an assassin or a bit of poison. Showtime's The Borgias features a great sneaky assassin (although the pool adventure lacked forethought.).

As with the anecdote about Zhuge Liang, the Chinese stories go to great length about only counting coup. Is this idealized behavior that rarely happened in reality (such as Roman civic sacrifice heroes, dying to die for their country)? In the West, the Godfather/Untouchables approach prevails, at little effect (cf. the drone attacks killing numerous Nr. 3's).

A technical question: Did these general sleep on soft or wooden pillows? I thought they preferred those uncomfortable headrests? A quick internet search revealed that ceramic pillows appeared during the Tang dynasty, so these pillows would probably be wooden "pillows".