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Yi Yue Replied to the King of Yen  (A historical event in 279 B.C.)

Strategies During the Warring States Period (403 B.C-221 B.C.)

    Yi Yue, who held the title of the Knight Responsible for the Country's Prosperity and worked for King C of Country Yen, led the troops of five countries to attack Country Chyi. Yue conquered seventy cities of Chyi and annexed them into Yen's territory. Only three cities of Chyi were left unconquered. At that juncture, King C died and his son Hui succeeded to the throne. General T of Chyi sowed discord between Yue and King Hui by spreading the rumor that Yue did not make an effort to conquer the remaining three cities because he desired to declare himself king. King Hui fell into the trap and replaced Yue with a new commander, J. Yue fled to Country Chao. The King of Chao knighted him. General T of Chyi tricked Commander J, defeated Yen's troops, and recovered Chyi's lost land. King Hui was filled with regret and worried that Country Chao might take advantage of Yen's defeat and attack.

    Consequently, King Hui sent a messenger to deliver a letter, which reproached Yue, but also admitted his own fault. It said, "My father entrusted all the troops of Yen to your care. You defeated Chyi and thus avenged my father. Your success shocked the world. I will not forget your great contribution even for a single day. Soon after my father passed away 1, I succeeded to the throne. My advisers misled me. I replaced you with J because you had been exposed to the war for so long. Therefore, I called you back so that you could take a rest. I also hoped we would be able to discuss state affairs together. Unexpectedly, you misunderstood me. You thought our relationship was strained, so you fled to Country Chao. Of course, this was proper if you were only considering your own interests, but I ask you to consider how you can return the great favor of my father."

    Through a messenger, Yue sent a letter of reply to the King of Yen. It said, "Because I lack talent, I cannot follow your father's teaching to please your advisers. I was afraid that I would be accused of violating the law and sentenced to death. If this had happened, I would have damaged your father's reputation for recognizing talents and hurt your reputation for kindness. Therefore, I fled to Country Chao. Because I committed the crime of fleeing, I did not dare to argue. Now you have sent a letter to reproach me. I worry that you understand neither why your father cared for me nor why I loyally served him, so I must respond to your letter.

    "I have heard that a great king employs high achievers rather than his friends. He appoints the competent rather than his favorites. A king who can recognize talents and appoint competent people will succeed. A scholar who chooses friends based on their integrity will gain a good reputation. From what I had learned, I concluded that your father had an ambitious goal in mind. Consequently, I came to Country Yen by taking advantage of the opportunity to be Country Wei's envoy. Based on your father's favorable evaluation, he chose me from his guests and gave me a position higher than all his officials. He did this without even seeking the counsel of his family. I thought I could follow your fatherís orders and teachings without any problem. Therefore, I accepted his offer.

    "Your father revealed his plan to me, when he said, 'Accumulated resentment and deep anger incite my desire to fight against Country Chyi even though I know our army is not as good as theirs.' I replied, 'Country Chyi inherits the reputation of a military superpower and continually wins wars. They master both weaponry and war strategy. If you want to defeat Country Chyi, you must unite with other countries in China to attack them. The fastest course for building an allied force is to begin by allying ourselves with Country Chao. As you know, the land of Country Sung to the north of the Huai River was coveted by Country Wei and Country Chuu. If Country Chao agrees to be our ally, then we can invite Countries Wei, Chuu, and Sung to join the alliance. With the combined armies of five countries, we can defeat Chyi easily.' Your father said, 'Good!'

    "Then I accepted the order that your father dictated to me, carried the king's official symbol, and went south to Country Chao as an envoy. After succeeding in my mission, I returned to Yen and subsequently led Yen's troops to attack Country Chyi. Due to God's will and the enemy's belief that your father was invincible, the land north of the Yellow River and west up to the River J was completely annexed into Yenís territory. Then the troops by River J also followed my order to attack Chyi, and won a great victory. Our light infantry and crack cavalry advanced straight to Chyi's capital without much opposition. Only the King of Chyi was able to escape to City C to avoid capture. Pearls, jade, jewelry, chariots, and Chyi's other collections were all absorbed into Yen's treasury. ĺ Chyi's worshipping caldron was displayed in the King's Palace. Yen's old caldron, previously looted by Chyi, was returned to Yen's Palace of History. Chyi's various treasures were exhibited in the Museum of Peace. The bamboo trees currently planted in Yen's capital all came from the shore of the Wen River in Chyi's territory. ĺ Since the time of the Five Superpowers, no king has accomplished as much as your father. He was satisfied and thought that I did not fail to succeed in my mission. Consequently, he awarded me a piece of land so that I could live like a small king. Although I lacked talent, I thought I could follow your father's orders and teachings without any problem. Therefore, I accepted his offer.

    "I have heard that a wise king tries to keep his established reputation, and thereby ensure that his work will shine in history. A scholar with vision will not ruin his reputation for great accomplishment, and thereby his glory will be passed down to future generations. Your father avenged Chyi's insult, conquered the superpower that had 10,000 chariots, and acquired Chyi's treasure which had been collected for 800 years. On his deathbed, your father taught his offspring the key principle of politics so that officials could follow the governmental policy to improve the welfare of the disadvantaged and protect the common people. Your fatherís entire legacy can be taught to future generations.

    "I have heard that one who has good ideas may not be able to execute them and that one who starts well may not do well in the end. In 506 B.C., King H of Country Wu adopted General W's advice. Consequently, he was able to defeat Country Chuu and expand his territory as far as Chuu's City Y. After King H died, his son, Prince F, succeeded him to the throne. He was not like his father. When General W advised him, he put General W in a leather bag and threw it into a river 2. King F failed to understand that a wise general could help him accomplish great work, so he did not regret drowning W. General W could not distinguish the different manner in which the two kings responded to advice. Therefore, he did not correct his method of giving advice and died as a consequence. In order to show your father's great work, I had to avoid a death sentence and preserve my reputation for military accomplishment. I think this is my best strategy. The last thing I want is to suffer slander and insult or ruin your father's reputation. It is immoral to attack Yen with Country Chao's army by taking advantage of Yen's defeat. Therefore, I will not do so even though I face the unexpected accusation by your advisers.

    "I have heard that gentlemen will not reproach each other even though they are no longer friends. When a loyal official leaves his king, he will not vindicate himself. Although I lack talent, I love to follow these codes for a gentleman. However, I worry that you only believe the words of your advisers and fail to look into the truth of my past. It is for this reason that I dare to write this letter to you. I am hopeful you will be careful."




1 King Hui meant that his father died, but it was taboo to mention the death of one's own father. Therefore, he used "my father passed away" instead.

2 In 494 B.C., King F of Country Wu conquered Country Yueh. The King of Yueh surrendered and sent a young, beautiful spy to be King Fís wife. The spy persuaded King F to let Country Yueh survive. However, General W insisted that Country Yueh be destroyed. King F would not listen. After the general committed suicide, King F put his corpse in a leather bag and threw it into a river. In 473 B.C., the King of Yueh took revenge by destroying Country Wu.