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Count Liang Zhang

Su, Dong-po 1 (1036 -1101 CE)

    A hero in ancient times would have had exceedingly high moral principle. He could endure what ordinary people considered unbearable. When a common man is insulted, he may immediately draw his sword, rise and prepare to fight. These acts are not sufficient to consider him a brave man. A man with great courage will neither be disturbed by the occurrence of an unfortunate accident nor be annoyed by the imposition of unreasonable insults. This is because he has lofty ambition and aspires to far-reaching goals.

    Liang Zhang received a book from the old man on a bridge 2. This event seemed strange. However, consider the possibility that the old man was a recluse who tried to test Zhang's patience. The implied intentions of the old man supported the credos of great men. Ordinary people failed to understand the old man's intentions, and thereby considered him a spirit. They were clearly wrong. More importantly, the old man's lesson extended beyond those written in the book he gave to Zhang.

    When the State of Han 3 was destroyed and the State of Qin had just reached its prime, the Emperor of the Qin dynasty abused his power by randomly torturing people with knives and saws and cooking people alive in caldrons. Countless innocent people were killed for no reason. Even if Ben Meng and Yu Xia 4 could have resurrected, they would not have been able to put their strength to good use against the emperor. It was useless to bear the brunt of a government with such harsh laws and such a powerful security force. However, people might take advantage of opportunities to resist the tyranny after the government's power declined. Liang Zhang failed to suppress his rage and showed off his foolish bravery at one stroke 5. At this moment, Zhang escaped from death only by a hair's breath.

    Why didn't God let Zhang, a man from a noble family, die in the hands of an evil government? Because Zhang's life was so precious, the evil government was powerless to subvert God's wishes for Zhang's success. Zhang, a man with unparalleled talents, should have planned to establish a great government as Prime Ministers Yin Yi 6 and Shang Lü 7 had. Instead, he plotted to assassinate the emperor as Ke Jing and Zheng Nie 8 had done, and escaped death only by luck. This was the reason why the old man on the bridge disapproved of Zhang's action. Consequently, he pretended to be rude and arrogant in order to frustrate Zhang's dashing spirit. Once Zhang learned to be patient, he would be able to accomplish great achievements. Therefore, the old man said that Zhang could be taught.

    In 597 BCE, King Zhuang-wang of the State of Chu attacked the State of Zheng. With a bare back, King Xiang-gong of Zheng brought sheep to welcome Chu's army, admitted his mistakes, and asked for punishment. King Zhuang-wang said, "Since the King of Zheng can lower himself, his people will trust and support him."Consequently, the King of Chu pardoned him. In 494 BCE, Guo-jian, the King of the State of Yue, was defeated by the troops of the State of Wu on Kuai-ji Mountain 9. Consequently, he surrendered and begged for peace. During the next three years, he served the King of Wu like a slave and did not dare to show a tired face 10. If one is determined to take revenge and cannot lower himself, he is obstinate rather than brave. The old man who Zhang unexpectedly met in the countryside considered Zhang talented enough, but worried about his lack of patience. Therefore, he was trying to frustrate Zhang's dashing spirit of youth and make him endure petty anger to fulfill his great plan. Thus even though the old man had never met Zhang before, he demanded from Zhang the service of a servant. However, Zhang complied with great patience as if he had not considered the request strange. This was the reason why the Emperor of the Qin dynasty could not frighten him and Overlord Ji Xiang 11 could not irritate him.

    At the end of the Qin dynasty, there were two great generals, Bang Liu and Ji Xiang, competing for the throne. Bang Liu, who later established the Han dynasty, defeated Ji Xiang simply because the former was patient and the latter was not. Indeed, Ji Xiang was not patient enough, so a single rash use of force led to his demise even though he won every other war. In contrast, General Liu patiently waited for the moment when General Xiang's army was exhausted and defeated it with his full force. It was Liang Zhang who taught General Liu this strategy of being patient. After General Liu declared his emperorship and became Emperor Gao-zu, his army commander, Xin Han, conquered the State of Qi 12. Emperor Gao-zu revealed his anger in his face and words. In view of this event, Emperor Gao-zu was still not flexible and patient enough. Who, except Liang Zhang, could have made him suppress his anger to complete China's unification?

    The Great Historian, Chian Sy-Ma, thought Zhang must have been physically well-built. In fact, Zhang's looks and stature were like a woman's and were not in accordance with his great ambition. In my pinion, this was what made Zhang special.

1 Shi and Zi-zhan were Dong-po Su's other first names. He was a native of Mei-shan City (present day Mei-shan-xian City in Sichuan Province). He, his father, Xun Su, and his younger brother, Che Su, were all famous essayists. Today people call them the "Three Su's". Their essays are outstanding and especially excel in argumentative writing. There was a Chinese saying, "If one masters the essays of the Three Su's, one eats mutton. Otherwise, one eats the roots of greens." The saying showed that their argumentative writings were considered model essays for those who tried to prepare for the Advanced Exam. The Three Su's are included in the "Eight Masters of Ancient Chinese Prose". Dong-po Su was very learned and talented. In 1057 CE, he and his younger brother took the Palace Exam at the Board of Rites. Xiu Ou-yang, the examiner, placed him in second place. At that time Dong-po Su was only twenty-two years old. He wrote the essay "When Punishing or Awarding People, We Must Be Kind and Sincere" as his paper when taking the Palace Exam. Xiu Ou-yang asked Dong-po Su, "In your essay, Gao-tao said three times, 'Kill him.' Emperor Yao said three times, 'Pardon him.' Where does this story come from?" Su replied, "I thought it must have been so." Ou-yang praised Dong-po Su highly and said to himself, "I should keep this man out of the limelight." This statement showed Ou-yang's concern for nurturing young talent. Later, Dong-po Su was appointed to be the judge of Feng-xiang-fu City and then an Editor of Historical Records.
    During the Xi-ning Period An-shi Wang, the prime minister, established new law codes. Dong-po Su sent the emperor a letter to oppose the reform. Consequently, Su was banished from the emperor's court and transferred to the position of Judge of Hang-zhou City. Later, he was demoted to Deputy Commissioner of Militia at Huang-zhou City. During the Yuan-you Period Su became a member of the Royal Academy and then a imperial tutor. In 1094 CE, he was demoted to Deputy Commander at Qiong-zhou City. In 1099 CE, he was pardoned and moved north. In 1101 CE, he died at Chang-zhou City. See the biography of Dong-po Su in Chapter 338 of The History of the Song Dynasty.
    In a letter to Assistant Judge Min-shi Xie, Dong-po Su wrote about the profundity of writing. He said, "Writing is like clouds drifting or water flowing. At first, it does not have any direction. However, it goes where it is supposed to and stops where it should. In other words, the development of an essay should be natural; a good essay is like a graceful woman whose bearing is full of charm." Dong-po Su commented on his own writing, "My essays stem from tremendous resources. They run like a spring which may emerge anywhere from the ground." Su truly understood the profundity of essay writing. He was not only a great essayist, but also a great poet. In addition, Dong-po Su was a man greatly accomplished at practicing calligraphy, playing the game, "Go", appreciating wine, and studying Buddhism. It can be said that he was a man of many talents.

2 After the failure of his attempt to assassinate the emperor who founded the Qin dynasty, Liang Zhang ran to a bridge and met the Old Man of Yellow Stone. The old man threw his shoes off the bridge three times and asked Zhang to retrieve and return them. Each time Zhang brought the shoes back and put them on the old man's feet. The old man said, "You can be taught." He gave Zhang a book about military strategy and tactics, and said, "After you read this book, you can be a king's advisor." Then he left and Zhang never met him again. See the chapter titled "The family of Count Liang Zhang" in Chinese History.

3 The Kings of Han were the descendents of Qian Han. The State of Han was one of the Seven Superpowers in China during the Warring States Period. In 230 BCE, the State of Qin destroyed Han.

4 Ben Meng and Yu Xia were ancient men of great muscular strength.

5 Liang Zhang desired to avenge the State of Han on the Founding Emperor of the Qin dynasty. Zhang recruited a man of great muscular strength to hit the emperor's curtained sedan chair with a sledgehammer at Bo-lang-sha City. However, the sedan chair was a decoy. Thus, the assassination attempt was blundered.

6 Zhi was Yin Yi's other first name. He helped Emperor Tang defeat the tyrant, Emperor Jie of the Xia dynasty. Later, Yin Yi became a great prime minister in the Shang dynasty.

7 Zi-ya was Shang Lü 's other first name. He was given the title, "Grandfather of the State of Jiang". Emperor Wen-wang utilized his talent. Later, he helped Emperor Wu-wang defeat the tyrant, Emperor Zhou of the Shang dynasty. Shang Lü was a great minister in the Zhou dynasty.

8 Ke Jing and Zheng Nie were assassins during the Warring States Period. See the chapter titled “The Biographies of Assassinators” in Chinese History.

9 Kuai-ji Mountain is located eight miles southeast of present day Shao-xing City in Zejiang Province.

10 After being defeated by the State of Wu, Gou-jian slept on a wood pile and tasted bile each night to remind himself of his shame. He followed the advice of his premier, Li Fan, and sent a beautiful female spy, Xi-shi, to corrupt the King of Wu. In addition, he secretly reinforced his army. In 473 BCE, he finally destroyed the State of Wu.

11 Yu was Ji Xiang's other first name. He established himself as the Overlord of the the State of Western Chu. Because he neglected to guard against Bang Liu, the latter was able to use the opportunity to conquer Guan-zhong (present day Shaaxi Province).

12 After Xin Han, Huai-yin Duke, captured more than seventy cities of the State of Qi, he asked for kingship in order to garrison the captured land. Bang Liu, Emperor Gao-zu of the Han dynasty, was furious. At this moment, Zhang went stealthily to his side and whispered in his ear, "Now Xin Han is powerful enough to declare his own kingship. If you don't offer it to him, he may rebel." Realizing the consequences, Emperor Gao-zu immediately approved Han's request.