Chapter 24: Distant Journey of a Thousand Li
After several days of rapid march, the Prince of Yong rendezvoused with the other Yong armies. The Prince of Yong’s army of tens of thousands of troops gradually and methodically retreated back into Great Yong. The other Yong forces tasked with blocking the Southern Chu armies forced them to watch from afar as we withdrew. As a result, the subsequent march was unhurried and comfortable. As a prisoner, I received special treatment and was not required to live with the other captives. The Prince of Yong had given the order to allow Xiaoshunzi and I to live alone in a tent. Although it was only an army tent, it was nevertheless comfortable with the floor covered with embroidered fabric and the walls wrapped in thick animal pelts. As a result, the autumn winds were unable to penetrate inside. At one corner of the tent was a bed large enough for two to sleep in. On the other side was a square pinewood table with two seats. On the table was placed a purple granule tea set. In the middle of the tent was an elaborate and yet practical copper stove. Right now, there was a pot of water placed upon it, causing the entire tent to be comfortably warm.
Hearing the water come to boil, Xiaoshunzi helped me make a pot of hot tea with practiced ease. I stretched my body and began to sit up. The incidents over the last few years had left me with many uncured ailments. Although I persisted in practicing the deep breathing exercises to maintain good health, but my illness would still recur from time to time. I had once thought about properly seeking medical treatment. But psychological diseases were difficult to treat, especially as doctors found it difficult to treat themselves. As a result, I was sickly the last several years. Although I would frequently use the excuse to recuperate, but my body was truly unwell. Xiaoshunzi helped me sit up, complaining, “Young master is always unwilling to convalesce. This trip to Great Yong is exhausting. I fear that young master’s illness will recur.”
I sighed and replied, “Is there any other way? You know how I fell ill. The majority of it is psychological. In reality, I am already much better. It is only that this journey has reminded me of the campaign to invade Sichuan years ago. Unfortunately, the Prince of De has already passed away.1 Now that I am already personally in Great Yong army encampments, recalling past events, I cannot help but wring my hands. Alas …”
At this moment, a clear and bright laugh could be heard from outside the tent before a voice said, “I have heard that Sir Jiang is unwell. This Prince has come to especially visit.” Following the laugh, the Prince of Yong, Li Zhi, entered. He was wearing the garb of an imperial prince. Following behind him were two advisers. The three men entered the tent. With difficulty, I rose from the bed. Li Zhi had already walked over and pushed me back to bed, saying, “Sir does not need to get out of bed. I have heard that Sir has fallen ill. Zhi has been busy with military affairs and only now was able to take the time to pay a visit. This is really ill-mannered.” So saying, he sat down beside the bed, looking at me with concern.
Seeing the two scholars had already sat down, I politely greeted them, “Suiyun’s old ailment has recurred and cannot leave the bed. Sirs, please forgive me. I have long heard that the Prince of Yong’s side is full of talents.2 I am unaware of how to address you two, sirs.”
The older scholar, possessing a delicate appearance, was over fifty-years-old rose from his seat and replied, “Guan Xiu of Beihai3 greets Sir Jiang. Sir’s literary talent is acclaimed throughout the world. I have had the opportunity to read Sir’s verses and are deserving of their great reputation, and cannot bear to roll them up.”
The other was a white garbed scholar who had slender eyebrows and long eyes, and possessed a distinguished and accomplished bearing. He smiled and said, “That day, Sir used the verse Dance of the Cavalry to force the King of Shu to commit suicide. To this day, this one still recites it in my heart. I4 am Dong Zhi.”
I faintly replied, “I have long heard of the advisers in the service of the Prince of Yong. Guan Xiu of Beihai is adept at the organization of army provisions and military equipment. Dong Zhi of Luoyang is adept at troop movement and disposition. There is also a Gou Lian of Yingchuan5 who is a skilled envoy. These three individuals are known as the three distinguished heroes. Today, you two indeed justify your reputation.6 It is a pity that I am meeting only two of the three distinguished heroes. Suiyun can only sigh at my limited and shallow fortune.”
Dong Zhi smiled and replied, “Brother Gou is not in the army presently, so he is not here today. He also highly esteems Sir. That day, Sir followed the deceased Prince of De and came to the Yong army encampments. Coincidentally, the three of us were not with the army. Afterwards, we hurriedly parted ways and did not have the opportunity to sit side by side and have a comprehensive conversation. Since Sir has also come under the banner of His Highness. Presumably, we will have the opportunity, going forward, to raise our wine cups and chat.”
I looked at Li Zhi, smiling faintly. I did not refute Dong Zhi’s words, so as to avoid his face from becoming unsightly. I only indifferently said, “Although Suiyun is constantly ill, but my consciousness is still energetic. If brother has any questions or inquiries, feel free to ask Suiyun. Suiyun will answer as best as I can.”
After speaking for a short period of time, they saw that my vitality was worn out and after bidding farewell, departed. Li Zhi repeatedly exhorted me to rest well, stating that he had already prepared a carriage to carry me on the journey. He further exhorted Xiaoshunzi to take care of and told him to seek out Guan Xiu if there was anything needed.
Waiting until they left, I laid down on bed. With a smile, I said, “Contrary to what one might expect, the Prince of Yong’s advisers were quite sincere. But in my eyes, I fear that Gou Lian is narrow-minded. Otherwise, why didn’t the Prince of Yong bring him along?”
Xiaoshunzi smiled and replied, “Young master is intelligent this time. That Gou Lian is also within the encampments, but his temperament isn’t good. Thus, the Prince of Yong did not invite him along so as not to immediately offend young master.”
The Prince of Yong and his two advisers exited the tent. With a sigh, Li Zhi said, “I was originally under the impression that he was faking an illness. Unexpectedly, he is actually bedridden. Alas, his health is poor and I have forced him on a long journey. No wonder, he always treats this Prince so indifferently.”
“Your Highness need not be worried,” replied Dong Zhi soothingly, “I saw that although this person is bedridden, his drive is excellent. Presumably, he has not become resentful because Your Highness brought him along. Although I cannot clearly see through this man’s intentions, when I mentioned that he was serving Your Highness, he did not directly refute it. It can be clearly seen that this man isn’t someone who will not surrender.”
Li Zhi smiled bitterly and replied, “Jiang Zhe, this person, is adaptable and flexible. 7 Even if I were to forcibly confer upon him a position, he may not necessarily refuse. But to want him to serve loyally, that is a difficult matter. At the time, the Prince of De regarded quite highly, but perhaps there was some degree of reluctance. As a result, he refused to accompany and serve in the army. Even though the Prince of De was the Royal Uncle of Southern Chu, he was so offhandedly. I am worried that he would also treat me in a perfunctory manner.”
“Your Highness be at ease,” replied Guan Xiu, “Although this person’s heart is as cold as ice, he nevertheless is still filled with hot blood. Otherwise, he would not have submitted that memorial. As long as Your Highness treats him with sincerity, you will certainly acquire devotion and loyalty. I have heard that he distanced himself from the Prince of De was mostly because of the Prince’s retainer, Rong Yuan. I am worried about Gou Lian’s temperament. This person seldom submits to others, always seeking provocation. I’m afraid that Gou Lian will offend Jiang Suiyun.”
“Brother Guan is overthinking matters,” replied Dong Zhi, “I actually believe that if Gou Lian had come, I’m afraid that there will be unexpected results. Although Jiang Zhe, this person, has a cultured and refined exterior, he has an innermost being is that of someone arrogant and obstinate.8 This temperament is quite similar to brother Gou. I believe there won’t be any harmful consequences.”
Just as the three discussing this in length, the person they worried about arrived at the entrance to my tent. Gou Lian was extremely proud and arrogant. When he had learned that Li Zhi had especially brought Jiang Zhe back by force, and showed concern and care for him. Gou Lian was quite upset. This time, Li Zhi had brought Guan Xiu and Dong Zhi to check on my illness and yet did not bring Gou Lian along. Gou Lian was even more uncomfortable. For someone of his intelligence and wisdom, how could he not know that Li Zhi and the two other advisers were worried that he would offend Jiang Zhe. This made him feel even more not resigned to. Therefore, Gou Lian took advantage of Li Zhi and company departing not long before, to arrive before my tent. I was still a “captive” of the Yong army. Although Li Zhi had commanded that I be left alone, Gou Lian had a high status within the army. As such, the soldiers watching over me did not block him, allowing him to enter my tent.
With one look at the young man with an aquiline nose, I had guessed at his identity. Watching his complete lack of manners as he regarded him for half a day, I waved my hand to stop stem Xiaoshunzi’s rage. I smiled and asked, “Excuse me, may I ask if it is the Tongue as Sharp as a Sword, Gou Lian, Gou Yongquan?”9
For a moment, Gou Lian was at a loss for words, before replying, “It is hard to imagine that Jiang Suiyun who with one song took the life of the King of Shu would recognize me, this nobody. I am truly extremely honored. I wonder if the lord zhuangyuan who once mocked the King of Shu with the lines, ‘Suddenly I became a captive slave, / Frail my waist, gray my temples, grinding away,’ knew that such a day would come? I see that brother has a wan and sallow appearance and has a disorganized and ill body. This should be considered as ‘frail my waist, gray my temples, grinding away,’ no?”
I faintly replied, “I have long heard that brother Yongquan was formerly the retainer of Xuzhou General Zhang Chen. Zhang Chen established a new regime and commanded his troops to set up an independent regime. At the time, brother Yongquan received favor and honor while in his service. Later, His Highness, the Prince of Yong, led a punitive expedition against Zhang Chen. Under orders, sire was dispatched as an envoy to the Yong camps. Who knew that you would be subdued by His Highness’s awe-inspiring majesty. When you returned, you convinced General Zhang to surrender. Afterwards, sire served as an envoy on the Prince of Yong’s behalf without ever failing. I wonder if this is because of your original failed diplomatic mission on General Zhang’s behalf and consider being convinced by another to surrender as a humiliation, and from that day forward, sire studied assiduously and tirelessly, later gaining many accomplishments?”
Gou Lian’s face became red. Although the matter of him convincing Zhang Chen to surrender was an anecdote often told with praise, the reality was that he had gone to convince the Prince of Yong to withdraw his troops and ended up becoming the Prince of Yong’s mouthpiece to convince Zhang Chen to surrender. This was unavoidably an incident where he had failed his mission. He could not believe that someone would draw blood with one prick.10Blushing with shame, he replied, “The Prince of Yong has the appearance of a dragon and phoenix. He has a high and refined magnanimity. How can he be swayed by mere words? For this lowly one to fail in my mission isn’t something strange. Moreover, this one helped rescue General Zhang saved from difficult circumstances. This meritorious service is able to make up for that earlier mistake. As for your distinguished self, since you know that Great Yong is the legitimate regime, why do you serve an illegitimate regime?”
I smiled and replied, “Brother Yongquan’s words are incorrect. I stated that General Zhang was illegitimate, because at the time, the Central Plains would be united in no time. Popular sentiment had already submitted to Great Yong. General Zhang relied upon military might, showing no understanding of the times, and was therefore disparaged. As for my Southern Chu … although it is a small country, its history is longer than that of Great Yong. Suiyun was once the zhuangyuan of Southern Chu, a jinshi who tested in the first tier. I have served for many years in the Hanlin Academy, receiving great favor from the King. How can I abandon my monarch and change my loyalty to Great Yong? Suiyun am aware of honor and shame. My former master is still alive, how can I curry favor to serve a new master?”
Gou Lian rolled his eyes, replying, “Since your distinguished self is determined to serve Southern Chu. The King of Southern Chu is currently in our encampments. Zhao Jia has bent his knee and is serving my Great Yong. Why is your distinguished self so pigheaded? Let alone the fact that I have heard the saying that a virtuous subject chooses his master. Zhao Jia is incompetent and muddleheaded, forcing the death of a virtuous prince. In comparison, my master, His Highness, the Prince of Yong, is modest and open-minded,11 and respects the wise. His actions are clear and decisive. He is known throughout the world for his benevolence and righteousness, and sagacity. Why is your distinguished self such a stickler for tradition12 and unwilling to surrender and pay allegiance to? To act to such extent will be laughed at by the entire world.”
I laughed coldly and replied, “Although a virtuous subject chooses his master, I have never heard of virtuous subjects who serve new masters when their old masters remain alive? In the olden days, Yu Rang loyally served Zhi Bo only after the Zhonghang family was destroyed. The Zhonghang family treated Yu Rang as a mere ordinary follower, and yet Yu Rang did not abandon them.13 What’s more, Suiyun served not just Zhao Jia, but the entire Southern Chu royal family. The former King appointed me to the Hanlin Academy. The Prince of De used me as an aide. This kindness is before my eyes. How can I serve a new master upon seeing high position and great wealth?”
Gou Lian uprightly replied, “Although your distinguished self’s words are precious, but your distinguished self has been dismissed long ago. Why do you remain so foolishly loyal?
I replied indifferently, “In the olden days, Bi Gan cut open his heart, but his aspirations did not change. Qu Yuan was dismissed from office, and yet when he heard the misfortune of King Huai of Chu, he threw himself into the river.14Suiyun is not a sentimental person and dare not imitate the behavior of our worthy predecessors. Moreover, to covet glory and splendor is one thing, but to surrender and serve a new liege to acquire riches and honor, I dare not do so.”
Hearing this, Gou Lian could only kneel and bow, replying, “Sir’s character is lofty and unsullied, this one admires greatly. However, His Highness has the disposition of a ruler. If sir misses this opportunity, then it would be a great pity. But sir is bedridden, Yongquan dares not forcibly compel. We are still a thousand li away from the Yong capital. May Yongquan stop by from time to time and respectfully listen to your teachings.”
I smiled and replied, “Brother Yongquan is famed throughout the world. It is Suiyun who should be asking for guidance. The journey has been lonesome, if your distinguished self has time, there is no harm in coming to hold conversations deep into the night. Although Suiyun has extensive knowledge, I am not familiar with the four arts. I have heard that your distinguished self is famed for your skills in these four arts, I hope that sire would offer guidance.”
After learning that Gou Lian had visited me, he was originally extremely concerned, immediately sending someone over to mediate the situation. Who knew that when the person arrived, he found Gou Lian and I conversing congenially. Hearing of this, Li Zhi’s face beamed with joy.15 From then on, he would frequently have his retainers keep me company. I did not refuse their company. After spending many days in close contact and deep conversation with the Prince of Yong’s retainers, I gained a great respect for the three. Guan Xiu was extremely proficient in handling tax documents, money, and food supplies, while Dong Zhi was a master of the art of war and formations. Once we started conversing, our conversation went like an unceasing torrent. As for Gou Lian, he was versatile and able, and our conversations were the most congenial. It was only that he had a competitive personality and always liked to argue over complicated issues with me. My mood was pretty good and combined with Xiaoshunzi’s attentive care, I gradually began to recover while on the journey.
I had favorable impressions of all three and they treated me with great respect.
Guan Xiu was adept with performing the duties of a quartermaster, handling money and supplies for the army. He was the Prince of Yong’s Registrar. But when he discussed matter with Jiang Zhe, he found that no matter how difficult the subject, this young man understood the problem thoroughly. When the young man occasionally spoke, his words would directly hit home. Afterwards, Jiang Zhe unintentionally revealed that he had once handled documents while in the service of the Prince of De. Only then did Guan Xiu understand how this Hanlin Academician would comprehend such tedious matters. He had originally believed that Jiang Zhe was only a simple aide in the military administration of the Prince of De.
Dong Zhi was adept with the art of war. When he debated issues with Jiang Zhe, he found that this young man was familiar with all kinds of formations, dating back into antiquity. Even parts he was not familiar with, Jiang Zhe was able to explain them in clear and logical detail. When questioned about how he knew all this, the young man smiled and replied that he had read many books on warfare while serving the Marquis of Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Lu Xin, and had collected books on warfare and battle tactics. Dong Zhi originally believed that Jiang Zhe was only capable of theoretical discussions that were useless in practice. But when he practiced battlefield tactics and strategies against Jiang Zhe, Dong Zhi found that his opponent’s strategies were bold and imaginative,16 unable to find any discernable logic. Every single time, Jiang Zhe’s troops would suddenly appear in the most unimaginable locations. But when he later analyzed these movements, Dong Zhi realized that they were sensible and reasonable, extremely clever and wonderful. After being convinced, Dong Zhi could not help but be competitive. He began to discuss the military equipment used in war. Who could imagine that Jiang Zhe was even knowledgeable about these matters. Although Jiang Zhe did not say much, the times he did speak were enough to force Dong Zhi to reflect on the matter for a long time, quickly deciding to study and improve military equipment.
Gou Lian admired Jiang Zhe the most. He originally was conceited by his erudition, but unexpectedly Jiang Zhe had participated in the establishment of the Palace of Sublime Culture while in Southern Chu, and had read a countless number of books. Every single time they debated literary works, Jiang Zhe would quote from many sources, leaving Gou Lian flabbergasted. As for debate techniques, although Jiang Zhe did not use them frequently, whenever Gou Lian became complacent and proud, Jiang Zhe would only need to say one sentence and cause Gou Lian to be completely convinced.
What caused the most admiration was not Jiang Zhe’s talent, but the way that he conducted himself, indifferent to fame or gain, behaving completely natural. Their discussions with him were like the spring wind bringing forth cleansing rain. They saw Jiang Zhe’s brilliance, and also saw that he was not overbearing. Only when night deepened, did they feel something different, as cold sweat dripped down their backs. Afterwards, the three’s competitive spirit was enflamed. In the face of this spirit, Jiang Zhe would frequently nimbly retreat, leaving the three’s fiery zeal transformed into a spring wind, only later discovering that Jiang Zhe had no intention to take up the challenge.
The journey of a thousand li, although long, would eventually come to an end. As the army was nearing the Great Yong capital, the three advisers requested an audience with Li Zhi, requesting that the Prince of Yong must absolutely acquire Jiang Zhe as a subordinate. Gou Lian was especially intense in his words, saying, “If Your Highness is unable to acquire this man as a subordinate, it will be an extreme pity. This man’s talent is superior to ours by several-fold. If we were to become his enemy, I fear that even our corpses won’t have any place to be buried.”
With a bitter look on his face, Li Zhi replied, “Sirs, how does this Prince not know this man’s importance? But every single time this Prince tries to persuade him, he would remain silent and not respond, leaving this Prince without any means.”
“There is no need for Your Highness to be so worried,” replied Guan Xiu, “This person highly respects Your Highness and has no ill intent towards us. Under ordinary circumstances, he should not continue to refuse. This trip back to the capital, we should place this man under house arrest at the official residence of the Prince of Yong, and slowly convince him. There has to be a way. In addition, Shi Ziyou is magnanimous and high-minded, and should be capable of talking him around.”
Li Zhi sighed and replied, “We can only do this … If Shi Ziyou cannot persuade him, then this Prince, this Prince … alas, this Prince bear to lose …”
Guan Xiu and the other two looked at one another, all of them understood that Li Zhi’s killing intent had been stirred.
Rain drips and dribbles outside these curtains, spring withers away.
What once dream I dreamt of being a minor guest, I clench to those pleasures in vain.
I must not lean alone by the railings, I do not mourn these lands.
As blossoms shatter on the rippling waters, spring is spent; heaven on earth remains.17
With my outer wear draped over my shoulders, I stood before the window within a posthouse. Tomorrow, I would arrive at the Great Yong capital. I recited this “Waves Scouring the Sands,” my heart filled with boundless loneliness. The more that I thought back to the mesmerizing landscapes of Southern Chu, the more my heart would bring memories of the past. Xiaoshunzi walked to my side and spoke in a low voice, “Young master, over these past several days, you have subdued the advisers serving Li Zhi, and yet you continue to refuse to respectfully and favorably treat Li Zhi. If Li Zhi’s killing intent is stirred, what will you do?”
“Xiaoshunzi, you don’t understand. Before, I was willing to accept the circumstances and adapt. It did not matter who I served. Even before the Prince of De, my service was desultory. But the Prince of Yong’s heart is like a mirror. If I were to serve him, if I cannot serve him with sincerity,17 then the Prince of Yong will not be satisfied, and will not help eliminate the dangers he faces. For me to exhaust all my abilities for him, I must test his bearing and magnanimity. I am deliberately pressuring him to kill me. If he were to ultimately let me go, then I have found a wise liege lord and master to serve. If he ultimately tries to kill me, then he is no more than a hegemon.18 Rather than worry that he would kill ministers who had performed meritorious service, it is better to test whether he is broadminded and open now. If he ultimately releases me, then I believe that when the time comes, I will be able to receive a respectable end. If he were to try to kill me, then I can take the opportunity to fake my death and escape.”
A look of anxiety appeared on Xiaoshunzi’s face, as he replied, “Young master … His Highness, the Prince of Yong, has enormous power and influence. If he wished to kill you, how will you be able to escape? Although my martial arts are pretty good, I dare not guarantee that I will be able to rescue young master.”
I smiled faintly and replied, “I believe that in the Prince of Yong’s mind, he will not kill a scholar famed throughout the world. He will not come at me overtly. Using poison is the best method. I have already prepared a precious poisonous pill. When the time comes, I will take the pill. My body will become rigid like a corpse. To bring away a living person is difficult. To steal a corpse should be quite easy. When I have escaped, I will hide in the Yong capital and wait for the opportunity to avenge the death of my beloved wife. After that, Xiaoshunzi, you and I would be able to travel the world, living incognito. Wouldn’t this be wonderful? People constantly say that it is better to travel ten thousand li than to read ten thousand books. I am greatly looking forward to this.”
Relieved, Xiaoshunzi replied, “If that is the case, then I would rather the Prince of Yong tries to kill young master, so that young master is not tied down and forced to shed your blood, sweat, and tears for him.”
I smiled faintly. Not just anyone was qualified to have me shed my blood, sweat, and tears. To speak the truth, I’m afraid that no one would be able to pass my test. Wise lieges had unspoken thoughts that if a person could not be used, then that person must die. Alas, the Prince of Yong was someone that I greatly respected, I thought regretfully.
Footnotes:????, jiahexigui – idiom, lit. to fly on a crane to the Western Paradise; fig. to pass away ????, rencaijiji – idiom, a galaxy of talent; a great number of competent people ??, Beihai – an ancient prefecture that is now modern-day Changle County, Weifang, Shandong Province ??, wansheng – lit. this youngster, I (self-deprecatory, in front of elders) ??, Yingchuan – modern-day Xuchang, Henan Province ????, mingbuxuchuan – idiom, lit. name is not in vain; a fully justified reputation; enjoys a well-deserved reputation ????, suiyu’er’an – idiom, lit. at home wherever one is; ready to adapt, flexible, to accept circumstances with good will ????, jie’aobuxun – idiom, arrogant and obstinate; unyielding ??, Yongquan – Gou Lian’s style, lit. Perpetual Spring (small stream) ????, yizhenjianxie – idiom, lit. to draw blood on the first prick; fig. to hit the nail on the head ????, xuhuairuogu – idiom, lit. receptive as an echoing canyon; modest and open-minded ????, baocanshouque – idiom, lit. to cherish the outmoded and preserve the outworn; conservative, stickler for tradition ??, Yu Rang was a famous assassin of the Spring and Autumn Period. He was originally in service to the Zhonghang family, but Zhonghang Yin did not treat him well. After the Zhonghang family was destroyed, Yu Rang served Zhi Bo. Zhi Bo greatly appreciated Yu Rang. Zhi Bo and his family was later destroyed. Zhao Xiangzi especially hated Zhi Bo and used his skull as a drinking cup. Yu Rang swore revenge and attempted to assassinate Zhao Xiangzi, but failed. Admiring his loyalty, Zhao Xiangzi gave Yu Rang his robe. Yu Rang stabbed the robe three times before committing suicide. ??, Qu Yuan was a minister of the state of Chu. He was slandered and dismissed from office by the King Huai of Chu. Learning that King Huai of Chu had been captured and that the Chu capital of Ying had fallen, Qu Yuan wrote a lengthy poem entitled “Lament for Ying” before wading into the Miluo River holding a rock to commit ritual suicide. ????, xixingyuse – idiom, face light up with delight; to beam with joy ????, tianmaxingkong – idiom, lit. like a heavenly steed, soaring across the skies; bold and imaginative, unconstrained in style This is a poem written by the last ruler of the Southern Tang state, Li Yu, to the ci, “Waves Scouring the Sands” (???). This poem was written by Li Yu while he was prisoner of the Song Dynasty in Bianliang (modern-day Kaifeng) and laments his former life as the ruler of Southern Tang. This is a negative reference comparing Li Zhi to the Hegemonic King of Western Chu, Xiang Yu, who lost to the founder of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang. Xiang Yu was known for his unwillingness to listen to advice and pettiness.