Bearing thorns and begging forgiveness-负荆请罪

Among the Seven Warring States, the state of Qin was the strongest, often bullying weaker countries, and Zhao was one of the most oppressed weak states.

At that time, Zhao had a general named Lian Po, who was brave and skilled in warfare. He had repeatedly repelled attacks from the Qin army, forcing Qin to negotiate with Zhao. In a battle against the state of Qi, Lian Po led his army to advance forcefully, like a sharp knife cutting through, defeating the Qi army and capturing the city of Yangjin. This event brought him great renown among the various states, making Zhao the most powerful state among the other six besides Qin. King Huai of Zhao was delighted and rewarded him by appointing him as the Left Senior Official. With Lian Po’s presence, Qin, despite its desire to attack Zhao, dared not do so rashly. Lian Po was proud of his achievements and considered himself the most important person in Zhao.

Zhao also had a renowned statesman named Lin Xiangru, who preserved the He Shi Bi jade disc during his mission to Qin and safely returned it to Zhao. The king of Zhao greatly admired him and, to honor his achievements, appointed him as a Senior Official.

Several years later, the Qin army attacked Zhao, killing over twenty thousand soldiers. Qin’s king once again resorted to trickery, sending envoys to Zhao and arranging a meeting with the king of Zhao at Mianchi, near the western border of both states. The king of Zhao feared Qin’s military might and the possibility of being held hostage by Qin, so he hesitated to go and consulted with his ministers. Lin Xiangru said, “Not going would show weakness to Qin and is not an option.” The king of Zhao then decided to bring Lin Xiangru along to the meeting. Lian Po escorted them and prepared defensive measures at the border.

During the banquet, the king of Qin, taking advantage of the festive atmosphere, requested the king of Zhao to play the se with the Qin zither. Unable to refuse, the king of Zhao reluctantly complied. The king of Qin immediately had his historian record, “At the Mianchi meeting, the king of Qin and the king of Zhao drank together, and the king of Zhao played the se.” Humiliated, the king of Zhao couldn’t bear it, and Lin Xiangru couldn’t sit idly by. He stepped forward and stood in front of the king of Qin, saying, “I heard that the king of Qin is skilled in playing Qin music. Allow me to present a fou in return, for mutual entertainment.” Enraged, the king of Qin refused. Lin Xiangru then threatened, “The distance between us is less than five steps. Within five steps, I can splatter my blood onto your body.” The guards beside the king of Qin raised their swords, ready to kill Lin Xiangru, but he intimidated them into retreat. Unable to do anything else, the king of Qin reluctantly struck the fou. Lin Xiangru promptly had Zhao’s historian record, “At the Mianchi meeting, the king of Qin struck the fou for the king of Zhao.”

Qin did not give up and, during the banquet, Qin’s ministers asked the king of Zhao to offer fifteen cities as a birthday gift to the king of Qin. Lin Xiangru immediately countered, “Please offer the capital city of Xianyang to the king of Zhao as a birthday gift.” Despite the entire banquet, the king of Qin couldn’t gain an advantage. Aware that Lian Po had stationed troops at the border, the king of Qin had no choice but to let the king of Zhao return home. After returning to Zhao, the king believed that Lin Xiangru had preserved Zhao’s dignity. Recognizing his great achievements, the king appointed him as a superior official, even higher than Lian Po.

Lian Po, upon hearing this, felt deeply resentful. He thought to himself, “I risk my life on the battlefield, while Lin Xiangru merely relies on his eloquence. Why should his position be higher than mine?” He expressed his dissatisfaction to those around him, saying, “When I see Lin Xiangru, I’ll make him regret it.” Lin Xiangru learned of these words and avoided encountering Lian Po whenever possible, even feigning illness to skip court sessions. He instructed his subordinates to show humility when encountering Lian Po’s men, avoiding conflicts. If he heard that Lian Po was nearby or approaching, he would immediately turn back or hide in alleys until Lian Po passed.

His subordinates didn’t understand and asked, “Your position is higher than General Lian’s, so why are you afraid of him? Avoiding him like this only makes him disrespect you more. It’s shameful for us too.” Lin Xiangru replied, “Between General Lian and the king of Qin, who is more formidable?” The subordinates answered, “Of course, it’s the king of Qin.” Lin Xiangru said, “Exactly. If I’m not afraid of the king of Qin, why should I fear General Lian? But consider this: the reason Qin dares not attack Zhao is because Zhao has both Lian Po and Lin Xiangru. One is martial, and the other is literary. Together, they are like two arms working in unison, making Qin fear. If our own people fight each other, injuring or disabling one another, Zhao would lose one arm, giving Qin an opportunity. So, tell me, what’s more important, personal grievances or national affairs?”

Upon hearing this, Lin Xiangru’s subordinates were convinced and agreed to show deference whenever they encountered Lian Po. These words reached Lian Po’s ears, and he felt extremely guilty. He took off his upper garment, bared his shoulders, and carried a thorn branch on his back. Accompanied by his attendants, he went to Lin Xiangru’s home to apologize and asked Lin Xiangru to beat him with the thorn branch. Lin Xiangru hurriedly came out, threw the thorn branch to the ground, and helped him up. From then on, the two men shook hands, reconciled, and became close friends, working together for the good of Zhao.

The friendship between Lian Po and Lin Xiangru united the civil and military officials of Zhao, making Zhao stronger and becoming a protective wall for other vassal states. Qin dared not invade Zhao for more than ten years.