Summary: This story concerns two important officials in the State of Zhao during the Warring States (771-221BC). The army general Lian Po was very jealous of the newly promoted premier Lin Xiangru and tried very hard to humiliate him. Having the state’s interests in mind, the new premier was so tolerable to the general’s rude behavior that finally the general was moved by Lin’s humbleness.
The story took place more than two millennia ago in the period of Warring States (771-221BC). Lin Xiangru made great contributions to the State of Zhao, and was quickly promoted from an unknown commoner to be a very important official (equivalent of today’s premier) in the Zhao court.
At that time, there was a well known general named Lian Po in the State of Zhao. He was not convinced that Lin Xiangru could hold a higher position above him. So with jealousy and hatred, he wanted to take revenge on him. He publicly announced that he would not like to work together with Lin Xiangru. He also wanted to insult and humiliate him face to face should occasions come.
When Lin Xiangru heard this, he did his best to avoid meeting Lian Po. One day, Lin Xiangru was going out in his carriage. When he saw Lian Po’s carriage was coming towards his direction from a distance, he immediately asked his subordinates to ride his carriage into a small lane to make way for Lian Po’s carriage to pass first.
His subordinates thought Lin Xiangru feared Lian Po. They became so angry that they wanted to leave him. Repeatedly Lin Xiangru asked them to stay, explaining to them: “Look, now the powerful State of Qin doesn’t dare to invade our state. Do you know why? It is because our State of Zhao has General Lian and me! If we two cannot get along well with each other, then isn’t it a good opportunity for Qin to attack us? I am so tolerable to General Lian, not because I fear him. For the safety of our state, I have to put aside my personal concerns.”
Lin Xiangru’s words were later passed to Lian Po. Lian Po felt very ashamed for what he had done to Lin Xiangru. So he took off his coat and tied on his back a cane made of chaste branch. He asked to be led to Lan Xiangru’s house and requested punishment with the cane. Seeing Lian Po behave in such a humble manner, Lin Xiangru took away the cane from his back and asked him to put on his coat on.
They then had a pleasant conversation and became close life-long friends after that.
Later generations remembered this story in the expression “carrying a chaste cane to beg for punishment” (fu jing qing zui), which means offering a humble apology to people one has done wrong to.
Source: Sima Qian (6th century BCE), Records of the Grand Historian (Shi Ji).