Mao Sui’s Self-Recommendation-毛遂自荐

“After the Qin army’s decisive victory over the Zhao forces at Changping in 261 BC, they besieged the Zhao capital of Handan, putting the state of Zhao in imminent danger. Anxious about the situation, the Zhao king urgently summoned Lord Pingyuan to the palace to discuss methods of persuading the Qin forces to withdraw. Lord Pingyuan suggested, ‘Given the current situation, we should seek assistance from other states. Myself and Lord Xinling, the younger brother of the King of Wei, have good relations. We can ask him to send troops for assistance. The state of Chu possesses considerable strength, but it’s too far from us. It’s better to propose to them that several states unite to jointly resist the powerful Qin. I am willing to go personally.’ The Zhao king agreed.

Lord Pingyuan was a renowned noble during the Warring States period, known for treating talented individuals with respect and not discriminating based on status. Thus, many people flocked to him. With a large retinue, Mao Sui was at the very end of the line. Upon returning home, Lord Pingyuan immediately summoned his retinue and informed them of the upcoming mission to Chu to form a coalition against Qin, stating that he hoped to select twenty individuals to accompany him. He said, ‘This trip to Chu requires cooperation and the forging of alliances, as it concerns whether Handan can be defended and the survival of Zhao. Therefore, only success is acceptable, not failure. If peaceful negotiations fail, we may have to resort to force. Hence, the twenty selected individuals must be proficient in both literary and martial arts. All of you are talented individuals, and given the urgency of the situation, the twenty will be chosen from among you.’

Although Lord Pingyuan had many followers, not everyone proficient in literature was skilled in martial arts, and vice versa. After much consideration, only nineteen were selected, and they struggled to find the twentieth suitable candidate. Lord Pingyuan couldn’t help but remark, ‘I have been selecting talents for decades, gathering so many followers, but I never expected that I couldn’t even find twenty.’

At that moment, Mao Sui, seated at the back, stood up and said, ‘Although I may not possess much talent, I am willing to accompany you.’ Lord Pingyuan, who had hardly seen or heard of him, decided to test him, asking, ‘How long have you been with me?’ Mao Sui replied, ‘For three years.’ Lord Pingyuan, with a hint of disdain, said, ‘Truly talented individuals in this world are like needles in a haystack, quickly breaking through the surface. Yet, you have been here for three years, and I have never heard anyone mention you. It seems that you are not exceptional in literary or martial arts. Moreover, this mission to Chu, involving the fate of the nation, may be too much for someone of your abilities. It might be best for you to stay.’

Although Lord Pingyuan expressed doubts, Mao Sui remained undeterred. He promptly responded, ‘Your words are reasonable. Truly talented individuals can demonstrate their abilities, but first, they need opportunities to do so. You are known for your ability to recognize and employ talents and for your courteous treatment of others. However, if you didn’t have the title of Zhao’s Lord, how many people would know of your talent for recognizing others? If I haven’t been noticed, it’s because I haven’t had the opportunity to emerge. Otherwise, I would have emerged long ago, rather than just breaking through the surface.’ Mao Sui’s articulate response surprised Lord Pingyuan. With time running short, he couldn’t search elsewhere for the twentieth member, so he reluctantly agreed to let Mao Sui accompany them.

The other nineteen members, although they heard Mao Sui’s words, did not take him seriously. They thought he was just good at talking and laughed at him, considering him presumptuous. They all considered themselves knowledgeable and talked incessantly on the journey, discussing various topics. Mao Sui remained silent most of the time, but when he spoke, he hit the nail on the head, offering insightful remarks. By the time they arrived in Chu, the other nineteen members had come to respect him.

Upon reaching Chu, Lord Pingyuan hurried to the court early the next morning to discuss the matter of forming a coalition of the six states with the King of Chu. However, the King of Chu expressed reluctance, citing past failures of such alliances and the risk of violating their recent treaty with Qin. Despite Lord Pingyuan’s repeated pleas and explanations, the King of Chu remained unmoved.

Meanwhile, outside the court, Mao Sui and the other nineteen members grew concerned about Lord Pingyuan’s delay. They urged Mao Sui, ‘Go and see what’s happening.’ Without uttering a word, Mao Sui drew his sword and strode into the court, asking Lord Pingyuan, ‘After a whole morning of discussions, why haven’t we reached a decision on the coalition of the six states?’ The King of Chu was enraged by Mao Sui’s audacity but, not knowing his background, was intimidated by his presence and dared not reprimand him rashly. He turned to Lord Pingyuan and asked, ‘Who is this person?’ Lord Pingyuan replied, ‘This is my retainer, Mao Sui.’ The King of Chu then angrily rebuked him, ‘How dare you! We are discussing important national matters here. How can you interrupt? Leave immediately!’

Undaunted, Mao Sui stepped forward, boldly proclaiming, ‘The coalition of the six states concerns the world. Anyone can speak on such a matter. Furthermore, you have criticized me in front of my lord. Whom are you trying to embarrass? You rely on the multitude of Chu’s people, but now you are only ten steps away from me. No matter how many people Chu has, they won’t help you. If I want your life, I can take it at any time. What power do you have? In the past, King Shang had only seventy li of land and still dominated the world. King Wen of Zhou had only a hundred li of land and still earned the respect of the world. Which one of them relied on a large population and used force to bully others? Chu, with a circumference of five thousand li and a million soldiers, should be capable of dominating, but instead, it has been suppressed by Qin and suffered defeat after defeat. Even your king has become a captive of the Qin. Don’t you feel ashamed? A coalition of the six states is not only for Zhao but also for Chu. Yet, you hesitate, vacillating back and forth. Isn’t that pathetic?’

The King of Chu was speechless, nodding repeatedly. Mao Sui then asked, ‘So, do you agree to the coalition?’ The King of Chu hastily replied, ‘Yes, I agree.’ Mao Sui immediately ordered the attendants to bring blood. Holding up the blood-filled copper plate with both hands, he presented it to the King of Chu, saying, ‘Let’s swear by blood. Your Majesty first, followed by my lord, and then me.’ Afterward, he gestured to the other nineteen men outside, ‘Gentlemen, come and drink below! You useless people who can’t accomplish anything without relying on others.’

After returning to his country, Lord Pingyuan remarked with emotion, ‘I thought I had a keen eye for talent and wouldn’t miss any usable talents. However, after three years of being with Mao Sui, I failed to see his abilities. In the Chu court, not only did Mao Sui successfully negotiate the coalition of the six states, but he also restored dignity to Zhao. Your eloquence and persuasion skills are worth more than a million soldiers. From now on, I dare not call myself a talent scout again.’ Since then, Mao Sui became one of Lord Pingyuan’s top retainers.”