In the state of Jìn 晋 in the Chūnqiū春秋 period (period 04d), there lived a great general named WÈI Jiàng 魏绛, who went off to war and remained away for fifteen years.
Also in the state of Jìn there lived two officials. The civil official, named ZHÀO Dùn 赵盾, was virtuous, but the military official, named TÚ Àngǔ 屠岸贾, was evil. The virtuous Zhào and the evil Tú were enemies.
A neighboring king gave the king of Jìn a miraculous but vicious dog (shén'áo 神獒), which was passed on to the evil TÚ, who trained it to attack a dummy dressed as Zhào. When the dog was fully trained, Tú started a rumor that there was a traitor in their midst, and that the dog was capable of detecting the traitor.
All the top officials were brought before the king, and the dog was released and immediately attacked Zhào. Zhào was therefore executed, together with all his family and servants with the exception of his pregnant wife, ZHUĀNG Jī 庄姬, who was only placed under house arrest, since she happened to be a princess.
She soon gave birth to Orphan Zhào (ZHÀO Shì Gū'ér 赵氏孤儿), whom Tú determined to kill to avoid its growing up to seek revenge. The baby was smuggled out of the palace in the bag of a family friend named CHÉNG Yīng 程婴, a doctor visiting Orphan Zhào’s mother, who feigned illness. He was briefly detained at the door by the righteous general HÁN Jué 韩厥, who however was sympathetic to his mission, let him pass, and then committed suicide.
Knowing the baby had been successfully stolen, Tú announced that if it was not returned to him in 3 days, all small children in Jìn would be massacred.
Chéng himself had a son of about the same age as Orphan Zhào. He conferred with his friend GŌNGSŪN Chǔjiù 公孙杵臼, who agreed to sacrifice his life to save the children of Jìn. So Chéng dressed his son as the orphan and passed him on to Gōngsūn. He then reported to Tú that the orphan had been found in the custody of Gōngsūn. Gōngsūn and the child, Chéng's son, were immediately executed.
Tú himself did not have a son, and proposed to adopt the Chéng's son (the actual Orphan Zhào), to whom Tú, like a good father, taught military arts.
Chéng was widely criticized for his apparent collaboration with the tyrant Tú.
Fifteen years later General Wèi Jiàng returned from the frontier. As a patriotic warrior, he was particularly offended by Chéng's collaboration, and had Chéng beaten, and he denounced him vigorously for his treachery.
When he finally had opportunity to speak, Chéng told General Wèi of sacrificing his own son, and of the sacrifices made by Gōngsūn and Hán. When he learned of this terrible treachery, General Wèi was sorry that he had had Chéng beaten without hearing his story. And he agreed to contribute his talents to try to depose the tyrant Tú.
Chéng then told Orphan Zhào about his origins and his obligation to avenge his family's slaughter. Orphan Zhào had grown to be very strong and had learned all the arts of war. And so, after conferring together, the conspirators invited Tú to dinner and Orphan Zhào killed him, a fate he richly deserved.