Chu Yan Persuaded the King of Qi

Strategies During the Warring States Period  (403-221 BCE)

    The King of Qi met the scholar Chu Yan. The King said, "Chu, come!" Chu Yan also said, "King, come!" The king was not happy. The king's entourage said, "The king is our leader. You are his subject. Is it appropriate for you to say, 'King, come!' when the king asks you to come?" Chu Yan replied, "If I were to go to the king, it would mean that I admire power. If the king were to come to me, it would mean that the king is looking for scholars. Therefore, it is more appropriate for the king to look for scholars than for me to admire power."

    The king frowned and asked angrily, "Who is more important? A king or a scholar?" Chu Yan answered, "A virtuous scholar is more important than a king." The King asked, "Why?" Chu Yan explained, "When the State of Qin attacked Qi sometime ago, the King of Qin decreed, 'Anyone who dares to cut lumber within fifty feet of the tomb of Qin Zhan, a great scholar, will be sentenced to death.' He also decreed, 'Anyone who can acquire the King of Qi's head will be offered a dukedom and 1,008 pounds of gold.' In view of this, the head of a living king is not as important as the tomb of a dead scholar."

    The King of Qi said, "Alas! A real scholar cannot be insulted. I only insulted myself. I would like to ask you to be my mentor. If you stay with me, your meals will be choice. When you go out, you can take my carriages. Your wife and children will have beautiful clothes to wear."

    Chu Yan did not accept the offer. He explained, "Jade is imbedded in a mountain rock. Once one cuts it out of the rock, it will break. The cut jade is still precious, but its natural setting becomes incomplete. A virtuous scholar lives in nature. Once he accepts a position based on a recommendation, he will be lured to pursue wealth and power. Although he is still important, he loses the innocence of a true scholar. I eat only when I am hungry. Doing so makes my food delicious. I walk slowly so that I feel as comfortable as I would if I were taking a carriage. My good deeds build my self-esteem. To be clean and virtuous makes me happy." Then he said good-bye to the king and left.

    A virtuous scholar said, "Yan is content. He returns to nature to be like a jade in rock, keeping its natural setting complete. He will never become corrupt."