“Cui Zhu killed his Lord”: this phrase is often used as an allusion to describe the way those who record events for history can disregard their own safety, and is the textbook reference to talk about strength of character. In 548 BC (Year 25 in the Lu calendar), the Minister of State of Qi country, Cui Zhu, killed the Monarch, Duke Zhuang, and took over the State. The Great historiographer of Qi country then wrote this: Cui Zhu killed him. His little brother wrote the same again, he killed him; and a third brother of the historian, who was not afraid to die, still repeated the words of his two dead brothers. Face with a man like this, who did not fear death, Cui Zhu had to give up.
Why did Cui Zhu kill his monarch? You could say that the shameless, dissolute Duke Zhuang brought it upon himself.
The older sister of Cui Zhu’s advisor, Dong Guoyan married, Duke Tang of Qi. Soon after, Duke Tang died, and his sister was a young widow. Dong Guoyan accompanied Cui Zhu to the funeral to pay their respects and Cui Zhu saw that the young widow was very attractive. Captivated by her beauty, Cui Zhu asked Dong Guoyan to be the mediator and arrange for the widow to marry him. Dong Guoyan refused, arguing that both his sister and Cui Zhu had the same family name — during the old days, family names and last names were different, and both the Cui family and the Dong Guo family were descendants of the Kang family, one of Qi country’s main clans, so, being of the same family line, they couldn’t not be married. Divination had also revealed that if they proceeded, the marriage would bring great misfortune. However, Cui Zhu was reluctant to let the matter go, as the young widow was very beautiful. He lamented that even if the widow was jinxed and destined to bring death upon her husband, her previous husband, Duke Tang had born the curse and died, so everything would be all right.
Consequently, to comfort himself, he married another young widow, Tong Jiang. Tong Jiang was a cause of unrest: not long after joining the Cui family, she even had an affair with the Monarch of Qi, Duke Zhuang. Duke Zhuang often came to the Cui family to frolic with his mistress. He didn’t care that he had made Cui Zhu wear horns, and even got carried away, conveniently pilfering a hat Cui Zui had left at home, giving it away as if it was his. — This action amounted to public humiliation, and Cui Zhu decided to have revenge.
That year in May, Cui Zhu pretended to be ill and did not attend the court meetings. The hypocritical Duke Zhuang then dropped by Cui’s house to visit Cui Zhu who was unwell — maybe it was also to see if Cui Zhu was on the verge of death: if it was so, having an affair with Tong Jiang would be convenient. However, Cui Zhu himself hid outside while having men armed with swords ambushed on one side. Later, when Duke Zhuang arrived at Cui’s house, he went in alone, leaving his bodyguards outside. After entering the house, Duke Zhuang found a puzzled Tang Jiang while Cui Zhu was nowhere to be seen. Moments later, Cui’s family servants rushed into the house and seized Duke Zhang. — This time, Cui Zhu had managed to seized the adulterers together.
Duke Zhuang repeatedly asked for mercy, hoping to save his life. However, of course, Cui’s family servants would not send thetiger back to the mountains and informed Duke Zhuang that their master was ill and unable to see him. The servants said that they were only obeying their master’s orders to apprehend thieves, adulterer and adulteress. — Consequently, Duke Zhuang was killed on the spot.
Although Duke Zhuang was a lewd man, he was nonetheless the monarch, and a minister killing the monarch was a classic case of rebellion. So, thinking he might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, Cui Zhu decided to kill Duke Zhuang’s servants while also carrying out a massive purge of the court officials who supported the Duke. This was done so that everyone would declare their allegiance and recognize the rationality of his regicide. When Yan Zi, — Chu country’s ambassador, famous for being a diminutive — heard that the monarch was killed at Cui Zhu’s residence, he went over to Cui’s home to grieve.
But Yan Zi’s men asked him: “are you planning to die for the monarch?” Yanzi replied: “Is the monarch my king alone? Why should I die?” His entourage then asked: “Then are you planning to escape?” Yan Zi answered: “Is the death of the monarch my sin? Why should I run away?” His entourage then asked again: “Then are we going back?” Yan Zi answered: “The king is dead, where can we go back to? As a monarch of the people, it is not for him to oppress the people, but to administer the country’s political affairs. As the monarch’s ministers, we should not protect our livelihood, instead, we should protect the country. So, if the monarch died for his country, thenloyal subjects should die for him. If the monarch flee for the sovereign of the national state, then the ministers should also escape with him. However, if the monarch died or flee for his own ease and well-being, except for the monarch’s personal pet, who out of the other people should die for his sake or flee with the monarch? Besides, Duke Zhuang established his monarchy and he himself has ruined it, how then can I die for such a king? (Duke Zhuang ascended to the throne and was established as the monarch with Cui Zhu’s help yet committed adultery with Cui Zhu’s wife, his action was shameless and dishonorable) Also, how can I go into exile for such a ruler and where can I go back to?
When the Cui family opened its front doors, Yan Zi went in, rested his head on Duke Zhuang’s body and wept. He stood moments later and as was appropriate for a memorial service, Yan Zi paid his condolences then went out. Some said to Cui Zhu: you must kill Yan Zi. But Cui Zhu said: Yan Zi has the people’s trust, if we let him go, we can earn popularity with the people.
Yan Zi’s remarks showed his (and also other wise man of that time’s) deep understanding of the rights and obligation between the monarch and his officials. Yan Zi’s view illustrates that many scholars-officials during the Spring and Autumn Period (an era in Chinese history) believe that “loyalty” is not unconditional. If a monarch fulfilled his obligations, such as treating his people well, diligent in handling government affairs, dying for the sake of the sovereign country, then as a minister, he has to be loyal to the monarchy, and it is his duty to adhere to the monarch. However, there is no need to stay loyal to a monarch if the monarch is a rogue, or a shameless dissolute man just like Duke Zhuang, who frolics with a minister’s wife, and who was consequently, killed.
Although the relationship between the monarch and his subjects are not equal, but one of superiority and inferiority, it can not be a reason to ignore the balance of rights and obligations between the monarch and his subject, demanding for unconditional loyalty from the subordinate. — It should be said that Yan Zi’s opinion is similar to some of the modern political ideas. After the Qin and Han dynasty, monarchical power expanded and slowly, the rights and obligations between the monarch and his subjects became unbalanced. Consequently, if anyone endorsed the same opinion Yan Zi had had, it would have been considered as a heinous treason. During the age of monarchy, even though the monarch was a tyrant, he had to be regarded as Yao Shun (ancient sages), and be given infinite devotion and loyalty.
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