Qu Yuan’s Suicide by Drowning-屈原投江殉国

During the Warring States period, the other six vassal states often faced attacks from the state of Qin. Therefore, Qu Yuan, the Left Minister of Chu, went to persuade the other five states, hoping that the six states could unite and collectively resist Qin. In 317 BC, Qu Yuan’s persuasion had an effect, and the rulers of Qi, Yan, Zhao, Han, and Wei came to the Chu capital of Yingdu, where they formed an alliance with King Huai of Chu at the center. With the backing of the alliance, Chu’s strength grew stronger, and Qin no longer dared to brazenly offend. Consequently, King Huai of Chu greatly relied on Qu Yuan, entrusting him with many domestic and diplomatic matters.

King Huai of Chu’s heavy reliance on Qu Yuan aroused jealousy among Chu’s nobles, including Duke Zilan, who frequently slandered and defamed Qu Yuan in front of the king. Believing their words, King Huai gradually weakened Qu Yuan’s power and no longer trusted him as before.

Chu’s alliance with the other five states became a major concern for Qin, as Qin had always hoped to find a breakthrough to destroy the alliance. The discord between Qu Yuan and King Huai of Chu provided Qin with an opportunity. King Huai of Qin consulted with Prime Minister Zhang Yi. Zhang Yi believed that among the six states, Qi and Chu were the most powerful. By breaking the alliance between these two states, the other states would be rendered ineffective. Zhang Yi sought to exploit the internal discord in Chu and personally execute this scheme of sowing discord.

King Huai of Qin was delighted and provided him with a sum of money and jewels to facilitate his efforts. Zhang Yi pretended to resign from his position as Prime Minister of Qin and handed over his seal of office, then traveled to Chu. He first attempted to persuade Qu Yuan to abandon the alliance with the other five states and instead form an alliance with Qin, but Qu Yuan remained unmoved. Zhang Yi then visited Duke Zilan, who had always harbored jealousy toward Qu Yuan, and said, “King Huai of Chu trusts Qu Yuan because of the existence of the six-state alliance. Once the alliance ceases to exist, what can a mere Qu Yuan do?” These words struck a chord with Duke Zilan, and the two quickly reached an agreement. With Duke Zilan’s approval, Zhang Yi soon gained the trust and support of other nobles in Chu.

Through Duke Zilan’s introduction, Zhang Yi met with Lady Zhengxiu, the beloved consort of King Huai of Chu. Appealing to her interests, Zhang Yi presented her with a pair of priceless white jade ornaments. Lady Zhengxiu, overjoyed, readily agreed to Zhang Yi’s request, thereby facilitating an alliance between Chu and Qin. They believed that if King Huai of Chu no longer trusted Qu Yuan, the architect of the six-state alliance, the alliance would collapse. And once the alliance fell apart, Chu would have the opportunity to ally with Qin.

However, how could they make King Huai of Chu no longer trust Qu Yuan? They devised a plan: Duke Zilan took Zhang Yi to meet with King Huai of Chu. Zhang Yi persuaded King Huai, saying that it was better to ally with powerful Qin than with weaker states like Qi. He promised to cede six hundred li of land to Chu if they agreed to the alliance. King Huai believed this proposition and was overjoyed. Lady Zhengxiu took the opportunity to mention, “I heard that Zhang Yi recently visited Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan asked for a pair of white jade ornaments, but Zhang Yi refused. I wonder if Qu Yuan would oppose the alliance.”

The next day, during a banquet convened by King Huai to discuss the alliance between Chu and Qin, Qu Yuan, unaware of the scheme, vehemently opposed the alliance. Enraged by Lady Zhengxiu’s words, King Huai rebuked Qu Yuan, “Do you consider six hundred li of land less valuable than a pair of white jade ornaments?” From then on, Qu Yuan was never summoned again. Qu Yuan saw his influence dissipate: without the alliance to rely on, Chu was left vulnerable, and the prospect of losing the country loomed. Frustrated and indignant, Qu Yuan penned a lengthy poem titled “Li Sao” (“The Encountering Sorrow”), unaware that this poem would become fodder for Duke Zilan and others to slander him, accusing him of calling King Huai a tyrant. Furious, King Huai stripped Qu Yuan of his position.

Qu Yuan left Yingdu and went to the north of the Han River. Hearing that Chu was about to form an alliance with Qin, he hurried back to Yingdu. However, upon returning, he was met with scorn and banishment. In his exile in Lingyang for nine years, Qu Yuan lived in despair. In 278 BC, news of the capture of Yingdu by the Qin general Bai Qi reached Qu Yuan, and he realized that Chu was doomed. Standing by the Miluo River, he looked at his reflection in the water and lamented, “The world is polluted while I remain pure; everyone is drunk, but I alone am sober.” In utter despair, he embraced a stone and plunged into the river, ending his life.

In front of King Huai’s coffin, Qu Yuan wept bitterly. He once again advised King Huai to restore the alliance with the other five states, strengthen their power, and rescue King Huai. However, King Huai ignored him. Qu Yuan knelt in front of the palace gates, weeping day and night. Impatient, Lady Zhengxiu ordered Duke Zilan to rebuke him. Qu Yuan vehemently criticized him, “It was you who sent King Huai to Qin! Are you still a citizen of Chu? You’re nothing but a spy for Qin! The people of Chu wish to devour your flesh!”

Upon hearing this, Duke Zilan returned and exaggeratedly reported Qu Yuan’s words to Lady Zhengxiu. Enraged, Lady Zhengxiu ordered King Huai to strip Qu Yuan of his position and exile him to the south of the Yangtze River, forbidding him from ever crossing the river again. In Lingyang, Qu Yuan lived in seclusion for nine years, consumed by depression. In 278 BC, upon hearing of the fall of Yingdu to Qin forces, Qu Yuan realized that Chu was doomed. He went to the Miluo River, where, with a heavy heart, he embraced a large stone and threw himself into the river, ending his life.