More than seventy years later,1 in the state of Jin, there was the affair of Yu Rang. Yu Rang was a native of Jin. Previously, he had served the Fan family and the Zhonghang family, but he did not become well known, so he left and began serving the Earl of Zhi, who greatly respected and loved him.
When the Earl of Zhi attacked Viscount Xiang of Zhao, Viscount Xiang plotted with the Han and Wei families and together they killed the Earl of Zhi and all his heirs and divided his lands in three parts. Viscount Xiang of Zhao so despised the Earl of Zhi, that he had his skull lacquered and used it as a drinking vessel.
Yu Rang fled to the mountains, where he said to himself, “Alas! Gentlemen die for those who understand them, ladies adorn themselves for those who take pleasure in them.2 The Earl of Zhi truly understood me, so for his sake I must take vengeance on his enemy before I die. If I can repay him in this way, then my spirit will not be shamed in the afterlife.”
Thus Yu Rang changed his name and took up a new life posing as a convict laborer. Gaining entry to Viscount Xiang’s palace, he was assigned the task of repainting the privy. Under his arm he carried a concealed dagger, with which he hoped to stab Viscount Xiang. Viscount Xiang went to the privy, but suddenly grew uneasy, and ordered his men to seize and question the convict who was repainting the privy. It was Yu Rang, who, clutching the dagger close, said, “I served the Earl of Zhi, and hoped to take vengeance on his enemy!”
Viscount Xiang’s attendants wanted to execute him on the spot, but Viscount Xiang said, “He is a righteous man. I will simply have to be careful to avoid him. The Earl of Zhi is dead and has no heirs, so if one of his ministers wants to take revenge on his enemy for his sake, he must have been a truly worthy man!” So in the end he released him and let him depart.
Shortly thereafter, Yu Rang tried once again, painting lacquer all over his body to induce sores, swallowing lye to make his voice sound hoarse, and making his appearance unrecognizable. When he went begging in the marketplace, his own wife did not recognize him, but later, when he ran into a close friend, his friend did recognize him and said, “Aren’t you Yu Rang?”
Yu Rang said, “Indeed it is I.”
His friend began to weep for him and said, “With all your talents, you should swear yourself to Viscount Xiang and serve as his minister. Viscount Xiang would be certain to make you one of his close associates and treat you well. Once you become intimate with him, wouldn’t it then be easier to achieve your aim? Destroying your body and ruining your appearance, hoping by means of this to seek revenge against Viscount Xiang—isn’t this the hard way?”
Yu Rang said, “After swearing allegiance to someone and becoming his minister, to then seek to kill him—this amounts to harboring traitorous thoughts against one’s lord. Although the course I am pursuing is clearly an extremely difficult one, the reason why I am doing this is that it will shame the men of the world’s future generations who become peoples’ ministers and yet harbor traitorous intentions against them!”
After having said this, he departed.
A short time later, Viscount Xiang was about to go out, so Yu Rang lay in ambush under a bridge which he would be passing over. When Viscount Xiang arrived at the bridge, his horse suddenly startled. Viscount Xiang said, “It must be Yu Rang!” He sent a man to investigate, and sure enough it was Yu Rang.
Viscount Xiang berated Yu Rang, saying, “Did you not in the past serve the Fan and Zhonghang families? When the Earl of Zhi wiped them out, you did not take revenge on him for their sake, but instead swore allegiance to him and became his minister. Now that the Earl of Zhi has also died, why do you only seek to avenge him so earnestly?”
Yu Rang said, “It is true that I served the Fan and Zhonghang families, but they both treated me as an ordinary man. Therefore, I repaid them as an ordinary man would. But the Earl of Zhi treated me like I was one of the finest men in the land, so therefore I repay him as one of the finest men in the land would.”
Viscount Xiang sighed deeply and with tears in his eyes, said, “Ah Master Yu! You have already proven to the world your loyalty to the Earl of Zhi, and I have already pardoned you enough. You had better prepare yourself, for I cannot release you again!” He ordered his soldiers to surround Yu Rang.
Yu Rang said, “I have heard it said, ‘An enlightened ruler does not conceal the fine points of others, and a loyal minister has a duty to die for his honor.’ Before you were magnanimous and pardoned me, and in all the world no one did not praise your worthiness. Today I will submit willingly to my fate, but first I pray you give me your robe that I may strike it right here, and by means of this fulfill my promise to take revenge. Then, even if I die, I will have no regrets. It is not something I dare to hope for, but I have dared to speak my inmost feelings.”
Upon hearing this, Viscount Xiang knew him to be a man of great righteousness. He had his attendants take off his robe and give it to Yu Rang. Yu Rang drew his sword and three times leapt forward and slashed it, saying, “At last I can go to the world below and report to the Earl of Zhi!” Thereupon he fell on his sword and died.
That day, when the willful men of Zhao heard what he had done, they all wept for him.