Yanzi’s Diplomatic Mission to Chu-晏子使楚

Yanzi, also known as Yan Ying and with the courtesy name Pingzhong, was an eminent statesman in the state of Qi during the Spring and Autumn period in ancient China. Historically known as “Yan Pingzhong,” he succeeded Guan Zhong as another prominent prime minister of Qi and served in key political roles for over 50 years during the reigns of Duke Ling, Duke Zhuang, and Duke Jing of Qi. Renowned for his eloquence and sharp intellect, Yanzi was a distinguished political and diplomatic figure of the Spring and Autumn period.

When Yanzi assumed the position of prime minister, it was during the later years of Duke Ling of Qi. At that time, the state of Qi was in decline, no longer the dominant power it once was. Duke Ling, being incompetent, pursued extravagant and militaristic policies. Attempting to designate his son by a favored concubine, Prince Ya, as the crown prince, Duke Ling sent the original crown prince, Prince Guang, to defend the city of Jimo. Simultaneously, he waged war against the state of Lu, leading to a weakened state, exhausted military forces, and a distressed population. Yanzi, in his role as an advisor, offered wise counsel, but Duke Ling remained indifferent.

In 555 BCE, a coalition of states led by Jin confronted Qi at the Battle of Pingyin. Duke Ling suffered defeat and fled, leading to his subsequent illness and death. The ministers Cui Zhu, Qing Feng, and others brought Prince Guang back from Jimo and killed Prince Ya and his mother. With Duke Ling’s demise, Prince Guang ascended to the throne as Duke Zhuang. However, internal strife continued, leading to the murder of Duke Zhuang by Cui Zhu and Qing Feng, who then installed Duke Zhuang’s half-brother Chuju as the new ruler, known as Duke Jing. Yanzi continued to assist Duke Jing, striving to rescue Qi from internal and external challenges.

Yanzi’s diplomatic skills were put to the test during a mission to the state of Chu. Aware of Yanzi’s short stature, King of Chu concocted a plan to embarrass him. The king ordered the construction of a small gate near the city gate, instructing guards to direct Qi’s envoy to enter through the small gate when he arrived.

Upon Yanzi’s arrival, he noticed the closed city gate and inquired about entry. The guards informed him of the small gate, claiming it was suitable for someone of his stature. Yanzi, understanding the king’s intention, smiled and boldly responded, “If it’s a messenger from a dog-like state, then indeed, I should use this small gate. Please convey to the king and inquire whether this is the appropriate entrance for an envoy from a dog-like state. If not, I shall use the main gate.” The guards relayed Yanzi’s words to the king, who had no choice but to allow him through the main gate.

Despite the initial attempt to humiliate him, Yanzi’s wit and composure prevailed. This incident showcased his diplomatic prowess and prevented Qi from facing humiliation.

In a subsequent visit to Chu, Yanzi faced further challenges orchestrated by King Ling of Chu. However, Yanzi’s eloquence and strategic responses turned the situation in his favor. By adeptly handling verbal confrontations and upholding Qi’s dignity, Yanzi earned respect and admiration, proving himself as a remarkable diplomat.

Yanzi’s diplomatic acumen, resilience, and dedication to Qi’s interests solidified his reputation as a prominent figure of the Spring and Autumn period. His ability to navigate complex political situations and safeguard Qi’s honor underscored his significance in ancient Chinese history.