Duke Zhuang of Zheng Digs into the Earth to Reunite with His Mother-郑庄公掘地见母

During the reign of King Xuan of the Zhou Dynasty, a large coalition of same-surname feudal lords was established in the southeast of the Central Plains to prevent the invasion of eastern barbarian tribes. His brother, Ji You, was granted the territory of Zheng, becoming Duke Huan of Zheng. During the rule of King You of Zhou, Duke Huan of Zheng served as a minister. However, when the Western Rong invaded the capital, Duke Huan of Zheng defended King You in battle but was killed by the Western Rong on the battlefield.

After the death of Duke Huan of Zheng, his son, who became Duke Wu of Zheng, ascended to the throne. Duke Wu of Zheng played a significant role in quelling the chaos caused by the Western Rong, welcoming the establishment of King Ping of Zhou, and safeguarding King Ping of Zhou during the Eastern relocation. Duke Wu of Zheng focused on developing the national strength, annexing territories such as Kuai (present-day southeast of Mianchi County, Henan) and East Guo (present-day northeast of Xingyang, Henan). He also constructed forts and cities, contributing to the gradual strengthening of Zheng.

Duke Wu of Zheng’s wife was Lady Wu, the daughter of Marquis Shen. In the fourteenth year of Duke Wu’s reign (757 BCE), Lady Wu experienced a difficult childbirth that frightened her. The child born under such circumstances was named Wusheng. Due to the traumatic birth, Wusheng was not favored by Lady Wu. Three years later, Lady Wu gave birth again, and this time, the childbirth was smooth, resulting in the birth of Shuduan. Shuduan was favored by Lady Wu.

Lady Wu, determined to see her younger son ascend to the throne, continuously praised Shuduan in front of Duke Wu, claiming his superior qualities over Wusheng and advocating for Shuduan to be the heir. However, Duke Wu adhered to ritual and legal principles, designating Wusheng as the crown prince. Shuduan received the territory of Gongcheng as his fief, earning the title of Duke Gong Shu Duan.

In the fourteenth year of Duke Wu’s reign (757 BCE), Duke Wu passed away, and Wusheng succeeded to the throne as Duke Zhuang of Zheng. Lady Wu, dissatisfied with the lack of power for her favorite son, insisted that Duke Zhuang grant the territory of Zhi (present-day Shisui, Henan) to Shuduan. Despite Duke Zhuang’s reluctance, he eventually yielded to Lady Wu’s persistence.

Lady Wu remained unsatisfied and desired even more influence for Shuduan. She instructed Duke Gong Shu Duan to actively recruit soldiers, acquire horses, accumulate provisions, and prepare for seizing power. She assured him that she would find an opportunity to assist him in capturing the capital and replacing Wusheng as the ruler.

Duke Gong Shu Duan, backed by his mother’s support, focused on strengthening military power and expanding his influence. Despite warnings from ministers about the risks associated with excessive fiefdoms, Duke Zhuang allowed Shuduan to amass power. The situation escalated as Shuduan seized additional territories, including Linyan.

The people of Zheng began to criticize Duke Gong Shu Duan’s actions, and tensions rose. Duke Zhuang, aware of his brother’s ambitions and the dissatisfaction of the people, hesitated to take action against Shuduan, fearing the interference of Lady Wu.

The chief minister Lu Jinxian advised Duke Zhuang to address the issue promptly before it escalated further. He argued that the large fiefdom of Shuduan posed a threat to the state’s security, and according to the principles of ritual and law, such extensive territories were not permissible. Duke Zhuang, however, cited his mother’s influence and expressed reluctance to act against his brother.

Lu Jinxian continued to urge Duke Zhuang, emphasizing that Lady Wu’s demands were insatiable. He suggested curbing Shuduan’s power before it became uncontrollable. Duke Zhuang remained indecisive, citing familial ties and loyalty.

Duke Gong Shu Duan’s actions continued to provoke discontent, with Lu Jinxian advising Duke Zhuang to act decisively and prevent a potential rebellion. However, Duke Zhuang hesitated, believing that allowing Shuduan’s arrogance to grow would make it easier to justify intervention later.

Despite the warnings and advice, Duke Zhuang took no action, and Shuduan’s influence continued to rise. Lu Jinxian, observing Duke Zhuang’s passivity, discussed the situation with other ministers, expressing concern about the potential consequences.

Public dissatisfaction grew, and Duke Zhuang faced criticism for his failure to address the growing threat. Lu Jinxian tried to counsel Duke Zhuang again, suggesting a proactive approach to prevent further escalation. However, Duke Zhuang remained hesitant, expressing concerns about familial relationships.

Duke Zhuang’s inaction allowed Duke Gong Shu Duan to become more emboldened in his ambitions. Eventually, Shuduan issued commands in the western and northern borders, taking control of regions where officials complied out of fear.

Duke Zhuang, recognizing the growing danger, sought advice from ministers. Lu Jinxian reiterated the urgency of the situation and advised Duke Zhuang to take decisive action before it was too late. Duke Zhuang, however, continued to hesitate, still reluctant to confront his brother.

Duke Zhuang’s indecision persisted, and Shuduan’s actions escalated, seizing control of additional territories near the capital. Lu Jinxian, concerned about the potential rebellion and the safety of the state, once again implored Duke Zhuang to act swiftly.

As tensions heightened, Duke Zhuang announced his intention to assist the royal court in Zhou for an extended period, leaving the affairs of Zheng to Minister Ji Zu. Lady Wu saw this as an opportunity and immediately sent a secret letter to Duke Gong Shu Duan, arranging a rebellion on the fifth day of the fifth month.

Public sentiment had turned against Duke Gong Shu Duan, and the people were now supportive of Duke Zhuang. Duke Zhuang, aware of the plot, intercepted Lady Wu’s letter, which confirmed the planned rebellion. Duke Zhuang then forged a reply, confirming the rebellion and sent both letters to Lady Wu.

Upon receiving the letters, Lady Wu realized that her plans were exposed, and Duke Zhuang was fully aware of the rebellion. She left the capital, heading towards Ying, feeling ashamed and defeated.

With the rebellion quelled, Duke Zhuang needed time to reconcile his feelings towards his mother. Eventually