The Prince of Xinling Steals the Seals to Save Zhao-信陵君窃符救赵

In 258 BC, Qin accelerated its pace of annexing the six states, and warfare became increasingly frequent. Riding on the victory at Changping, Qin subsequently besieged the Zhao capital of Handan, hoping to take down Zhao in one fell swoop and then swallow up the other five states. The situation for Zhao was extremely dire, as other states feared Qin’s military might and dared not send reinforcements. At that time, Wei bordered Zhao and had marital ties with it, so Zhao sent envoys to Wei seeking support.

For Wei, if Zhao fell, it would also be difficult for Wei to maintain its own security. However, Wei’s Prime Minister at the time, Fan Ju, had been imprisoned by Wei Qi, the Prime Minister of Wei, nearly to the point of death, so he harbored deep hatred towards Wei. He sent Qin troops to attack Wei, leaving Wei preoccupied.

In Wei, there was a nobleman named Prince Wujin, the younger half-brother of King Anli of Wei. When King Anli ascended to the throne, he granted Prince Wujin the title of Xinlingjun. Xinlingjun was kind and courteous, respecting talented individuals regardless of their background. Over time, his reputation spread far and wide, and scholars from thousands of miles around sought to join him, with his retinue swelling to three thousand people. With Xinlingjun in Wei and so many talented followers, no vassal state dared to invade Wei for over a decade.

There was a seventy-year-old recluse in Wei named Hou Ying, respectfully referred to as Housheng, who worked as a gatekeeper at the Dayang Yimen in Daliang, struggling to make ends meet. When Xinlingjun heard of him, he went to make friends, bringing gifts. Housheng refused, saying, “For decades, I have valued integrity and would not accept your wealth due to my humble circumstances.” So Xinlingjun specially arranged a banquet, inviting many guests. After all the guests had gathered, Xinlingjun personally drove his carriage, leaving the seat on the left vacant to welcome Housheng.

Housheng, without any modesty, lifted his clothes and got directly into the carriage, taking the left seat. As he did so, he observed Xinlingjun. Seeing Xinlingjun’s humble and respectful demeanor, Housheng said, “I have a friend who runs a butcher’s shop in the market. It’s on the way, could we pay him a visit?” Xinlingjun personally drove his carriage to the bustling market. Housheng got off to see his friend Zhu Hai, purposely lingering there and secretly observing Xinlingjun. Despite Xinlingjun’s grand reception awaiting him at home, the market was filled with people who came to watch. Xinlingjun’s attendants murmured softly, protesting that Housheng did not know how to appreciate kindness. Housheng stole a glance at Xinlingjun, seeing his unchanged expression, still respectful and courteous, before bidding farewell to his friend and getting back into the carriage.

At the banquet, Xinlingjun brought Housheng to the top seat, introducing each guest one by one, much to the confusion of the other guests. As the banquet reached its climax, Xinlingjun walked up to Housheng and toasted him. Only then did Housheng speak: “Today’s events are Housheng’s repayment to the lord. I am but a gatekeeper, yet the lord, in his lofty position, personally drove his carriage to pick me up. In full view of the public, I should not have gone to visit my friend, yet the lord agreed and waited for me there. I purposely did this to observe the lord’s attitude, which became increasingly humble and respectful. This made the people in the street think poorly of me while holding you in high regard, all for the sake of enhancing your reputation.”

Deeply impressed, Xinlingjun made Housheng his top guest after the banquet. Housheng continued, “I heard that the military token of Wei is kept in the king’s bedroom, and the king’s favorite concubine, Rujie, goes there every day. I also heard that Rujie’s father was killed, and she has been seeking revenge for three years without success. It was the lord who sent someone to avenge her father. Rujie wants to repay the favor and is willing to risk her life, but she just can’t find the opportunity. If the lord were to speak, Rujie would surely agree. With the military token in hand, you could take command of the army, aid Zhao, and repel Qin. This would be a great achievement for the other five states as well.”

Xinlingjun followed his advice and indeed obtained the military token. Just before leaving, Housheng said, “Please allow my friend Zhu Hai to accompany the lord. If the lord goes alone with the token, General Jin Bi may not believe it and might seek confirmation from the king. If he doesn’t listen to you, Zhu Hai can kill him.” Xinlingjun burst into tears upon hearing this. Perplexed, Housheng asked, “Why is the lord crying? Are you afraid of death?” Xinlingjun replied, “General Jin Bi is an old veteran. If he doesn’t listen to me, he will be killed. It was this thought that made me cry.”

Xinlingjun went to invite Zhu Hai, who said, “I am just a butcher, but the lord has come to visit me several times. I didn’t return the favor because I believe that great men are not petty. Now that the lord is in trouble, it’s the perfect opportunity for me to repay his kindness.” With that, he eagerly agreed to go. Xinlingjun then bid farewell to Housheng, who said, “I should have gone with the lord, but I am old and feeble and cannot travel. I will calculate the lord’s journey, and on the day you arrive at General Jin Bi’s camp, I will face north and commit suicide as a farewell.”

Xinlingjun hurried to Ye City and met General Jin Bi, presenting the token as proof to request command of the troops. General Jin Bi was skeptical, saying, “Leading a hundred thousand troops is a heavy responsibility. How could the king let you replace me single-handedly?” Seeing this, Zhu Hai took out an iron hammer hidden in his sleeve and killed him on the spot. That day, Housheng indeed faced north and died.

With the military token, Xinlingjun was able to lead troops to aid Zhao and relieve the urgency of Handan. After the Qin army withdrew, both the King of Zhao and Pingyuanjun personally came to greet him. Xinlingjun stole the token to save Zhao, and the King of Zhao was very grateful, bowing deeply to him and saying, “Since ancient times, no one can compare to your virtue, sir.” Even Pingyuanjun admitted that he couldn’t match Xinlingjun.