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Heroes of Ancient China
Posted by: Vandechine (IP Logged)
Date: February 06, 2008 07:09AM
Hello, I am a youth from Beijing. I am writting a series of articles about history of ancient China. A gentelman named Arnaud thinks that it's a good idea to publish them on this forum. So, here it is.


Ancient China is one of the Four Great Ancient Civilizations: ancient Egypt, ancient Babylon, ancient India and ancient China. Among these four great civilizations, china may not have the longest history, but it must have the longest history record and historic tradition. According to records of shell-and-bone inscriptions, China's recorded history can be tracked back to about 2000BC. In Chinese traditional culture, the history is not only about recording what has happened before. It is also used as politics guide by emperors and their politicians. (以史为鉴,可以知兴亡。) Hence, almost every dynasty of China made an official history of the previous dynasty(24史). Among these books, the first one Shiji(《史记》,mémoires historiques de simaqian) which was wrote by one of the greatest historians of China: Sima Qian(司马迁), is my favorite.

Just like other civilizations, these Chinese history books were made up of lots of heroes. Some of them laughed when others cried; some of them won when others lost; some of them stood when others fell. They and their stirring stories not only made Chinese history but also the core of Chinese culture. As a westerner and posterity of great Rome, you must be familiar with its legendary legions and heroes, such as great Julius Caesar and his great heir Augustus Octavian, brave general Mark Anthony and beautiful queen Cleopatra. But you may know nothing about Chinese Caesar: Qinshihuang(秦始皇), Chinese Augustus: Liu Bang (高祖刘邦), Chinese Mark Anthony: Xiang Yu(项羽)and Chinese Cleopatra: Lvhou (Queen Lv, 吕后). They are so famous in Chinese culture that many idioms are from their stories. But for some proverbial reasons such as culture difference, they are unknown to public beyond China. That's why I wrote this series of articles. I just want to introduce them to friends all over the world who are interesting in China and its magnetic history.

Before we meet these great heroes, I will first introduce someone, who may be less famous but more interesting as a start.

Yanzi (?-500BC), was a premier of kingdom Qi in the Chunqiu Age (春秋,770BC-476BC). According to historic record, he is a very wise but quite short guy, no more than 1.5m. His tomb is now in Zibo City, Shandong Province(山东省淄博市).

When he worked as a premier for Qijinggong (one king of Qi, 齐景公), there were three warriors also working for Qijinggong. They are tall, brave, strong and without discipline. Yanzi disliked them and regarded them as troublemakers, so he decided to kill them. He started thinking and finally got a plan: he decided to kill these three warriors with two pitches. What?! A gnome wants to kill three orcs with two pitches? Yes, and he succeeded.

One day, a royal banquet that every official including Yanzi, these three warriors and king Qijinggong attended, was held in the palace. When everyone had drunk enough wine, Yanzi took out two pitches and announced:

"Here are two pitches from royal garden for real warriors of Qi as a reward. If anyone of you believes he is good enough to get one, he must stand out and talk to all of us what he has done for our king and country!"

The first warrior stood up with wine dripping from his chin and shouted: "3 years ago, when I was hunting with his Majesty, a tiger suddenly jumped out and rushed towards him. I stand out, fought it and finally killed it. Am I good enough to get one pitch?"

Yanzi smiled and said:" My warrior, you are certainly good enough to get one pitch. Here it is." Then he reworded the first warrior with one of the pitches. The warrior received it with full pleasure.

The second warrior hastily jumped over his table and shouted: "Last year, when I crossed Yellow river with his majesty as an escort. A dragon (it may be crocodile) climbs the ship. It's I who pounced on it and killed it with my knife. I believe I am also good enough to get one, am not I?"

Yanzi looked at his face while holding the other pitch in both hands and said with smile: "Of course, my warrior, you are brave and good enough to get this one. In fact, I believe you are better." The second warrior took the pitch and smiled with his mouth open.

At the same time, the third warrior finally couldn't help standing up and walked up to Yanzi with full anger. "I, brave warrior of his Majesty, great general of Qi army, has killed two enemy generals, captured three cities and seized 500 prisoners in the latest war. Isn't it more glorious than what they had done? Shouldn't I get one pitch?"

Yanzi stared at him, simpered and said with a pity:" Oh, my real warrior! You are the best of three and the real one who should get one pitch. But, but, both pitches have been given out. You can only take one cup of wine instead of one pitch!" Then, he turned over and pretended to pour.

The third warrior growled with full anger and shame:" I am so brave and strong and have done so many things for his Majesty and Qi! I can't even get one pitch as a reward! That's unbelievable and insufferable!" He took out his sword and suicided.

The first warrior saw this and cried:" He has done so many things and can't get a pitch. I have done so few things and get one. What a shame! How can I still live when he has died?" He dropped his pitch, took out his sword and also cut his neck.

The second warrior watched with astonishment, then looked up to the roof and sighed with a painful accent:" My god, how could you be so callous! We three have sworn that we would treat each other as brothers and lived together for ever. They have left me and I have to follow them for our brotherhood!" And then, his neck was cut by his own sword with his blood flowing out and his pitch dropping from his hand.

Everyone including Qijinggong was shocked and stared at three bodies and two pitches which had been incarnadined by blood, except for Yanzi. Qijinggong was terrified for a while and finally turned his eye from bodies to Yanzi. When he was opening his mouth and just starting to ask, Yanzi turned over and smilingly said:" Your majesty, don't be sad and regretful. I killed them with a little trick, because they are out of discipline and order. These guys are just bodyguards without value. I will recommend a real hero who can lead our army and our country to victory." (This guy is Sima Rangyi(司马穰宜), who is one of the most famous militarists of Chunqiu Age. With his help, Qi became a strong country once again.)

An ancient fresco of this story: Killing three warriors by two pitches. (二桃杀三士)

This is the origin of idiom 二桃杀三士. Of course, like many other stories, there are many different versions of it. For example, in one version, Yanzi wanted to kill these three warriors not because they are out of discipline but because they didn't have enough respect for him. I don't know what readers from western countries think of this story, because even in China, there are many different opinions on this story. But one thing is clear and certain. Yanzi is considered as a "Solomon" of ancient China. Another story of Yanzi about his trip to Chu (楚国) as an emissary(晏子使楚) has been chosen as an article in schoolbook of elementary school. And this story is considered as one typical example of how wisdom beats strength. Because in Chinese opinion:

Wisdom is far more important than strength.

Hence, in this series of articles, almost none of these heroes are muscle-men like Hercules. Contrarily, most of them are like Yanzi, who are not famous for their strength and appearance but for their wisdom and determination.

Re: Heroes of Ancient China
Posted by: Jay (IP Logged)
Date: February 06, 2008 08:31PM
Thanks for the post Vandechine, very interresting indeed!

Re: Heroes of Ancient China
Posted by: Vandechine (IP Logged)
Date: February 08, 2008 01:44AM
Thanks Jay. I'm very glad that someone likes it.

Re: Heroes of Ancient China
Posted by: Yarik (IP Logged)
Date: February 08, 2008 04:29AM
Hi Vandechine
I like ancient china too. Can you write something about modern chinese culture and traditions ?

Re: Heroes of Ancient China
Posted by: Hathuo (IP Logged)
Date: May 10, 2008 06:24AM
Hi Vandechine,

I am Vietnamese. I have read this story which has been translated into Vietnam language. Liubang,Xiang Yu, lvhou,Yanzi are familiar with VietNam.There are some famous stories about Yanzi.Please write for everybody enjoy


Re: Heroes of Ancient China
Posted by: Li1121 (IP Logged)
Date: May 10, 2008 04:13PM
I think that it'd also be interesting to tell people about the Three Kingdoms era, Vandechine. That period is full of many characters, all of which have a heavy amount of glory and greatness.

Re: Heroes of Ancient China
Posted by: Xtaaxtw (IP Logged)
Date: January 06, 2010 03:47AM
In my opinion ,Libing is one heroes of Ancient China. Li Bing is the Qin person, he managed to construct Dujiang Dam. In ancient China, the flood threatens common people to live seriously. Li Bing constructs Dujiang Weirs, solves problem which flood has brought. Dujiang Dam has been benefitting the common people from completing,more than 2000 years!

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/09/2010 11:18AM by Olive.

Re: Heroes of Ancient China
Posted by: Astroboy (IP Logged)
Date: January 24, 2010 10:48AM
I agree, people like Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Liu Bei, Zao Zilong etc.

Li1121 Wrote:
> I think that it'd also be interesting to tell
> people about the Three Kingdoms era, Vandechine.
> That period is full of many characters, all of
> which have a heavy amount of glory and greatness.

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