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Friday, March 22, 2013


Duke Wén (Wén gōng 文公) of Jìn 晋 (monarch 04d-4) died, and strange noises were heard coming from his coffin. A divination was held, and the noises were interpreted as meaning that before long there would be an invasion from the region of Xiáo 崤, a village in southern Jìn near its border with the small state of Zhōu 周. This was puzzling, since Zhōu was small and weak and in no position to attack Jìn, despite the confusion attendant upon Duke Wén’s death.

Meanwhile Duke Mù of Qín (Qín Mù gōng 秦穆公, monarch 04d-2), to the west of Jìn, heard that the state of Zhèng 郑 was quite weak, and thought it might be a good time to add Zhèng to his expanding domain. Zhèng lay far to the east, on the other side of powerful Jìn. Therefore Duke Mù decided to consult a retired courtier by the name of JIǍN Shū 蹇叔 about how best to carry out a sneak attack.

Jiǎn strongly advised against such a military adventure, since it would involve transporting troops a long distance as well as crossing the territory of Jìn, which was more powerful than Qín (and the territory of Zhōu as well, for that matter). There would be no way to bring enough troops fast enough for Zhèng to be caught unprepared, and the expedition would infuriate both Jìn and Zhōu and fill them with fighting spirit. This was a war that could not be won.

Duke Mù was furious. He had come for advice on how to launch the sneak attack, not whether to do so. Ignoring Jiǎn Shū’s advice, He called in Qin’s three top generals, MÈNG Míng 孟明, XĪ Qǐ 西乞, and BÁI Yǐ 白已 and ordered them to attack Zhèng.

Jiǎn Shū’s son was among the soldiers called up to be sent, and Jiǎn tearfully told his son to fight loyally and bravely, and his father would come for his remains at the Northern and Southern Tombs located along the road.

Matters turned out exactly as Jiǎn Shū had predicted. Zhèng got advance news of the Qín attack and prepared a massive force. The three generals decided that there was no hope of victory and turned around to return to Qín.

As the Qín troops were passing Xiáo, the southern Jìn town mentioned in Duke Wén’s oracle, the forces of Jìn itself launched a surprise assault on them, killing many.

Escaping back to Qín, the three generals presented themselves to Duke Mù for punishment. They were surprised to hear him say, “It is I who should be punished, for I refused to listen to the sound advice that Jiǎn Shū offered.”


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