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Tian Guang Surrenders to the Sword

This Chinese tomb mural from the Han Dynasty shows Jing Ke's assassination attempt. The King of Qin is on the left and Jing Ke, on the right, has been seized. In the middle is the dagger, sticking out of the column. (Image:  wikimedia  /  CC0 1.0)
This Chinese tomb mural from the Han Dynasty shows Jing Ke's assassination attempt. The King of Qin is on the left and Jing Ke, on the right, has been seized. In the middle is the dagger, sticking out of the column. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

In China’s 5,000 years of traditional culture, the Chinese idiom stands out as a shining pearl in the treasure of the Chinese language. It is concise, vivid, expressive, and an accumulation of historical facts and rich ethnic cultures. The formation of each phrase reflects historical truths that mirror China’s politics, military, culture, folk customs, ethics, and ideals. These idioms help us better understand the long history of China, its unmatchable wisdom, and its timeless language.

One well-known piece of Chinese history is the attempted assassination of Qin Emperor Shi Huang by Jing Ke, but very few people know about Tian Guang, the man who recommended Jing Ke for the job.

During the Warring States Period, the Qin State was about to take over six other states. (Image: Philg88 via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

During the Warring States Period, the Qin State was about to take over six other states. (Image: Philg88 via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

During the Warring States Period, the Qin State was about to take over six other states. Prince Dan of the Yan State was very worried. After talking it over with his minister Ju Wu, he decided to find someone to assassinate the king of Qin. Ju Wu recommended that the prince speak to a wise man named Tian Guang.

When Tian Guang came to the palace to meet Prince Dan, the prince not only greeted him personally, but was also very respectful to him. He even knelt down to wipe the seat of the chair for Tian Guang to sit on. Onlookers were laughing secretly that the prince showed so much respect for someone who looked so old and weak.

Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Tian Guang was very moved by the prince’s manner; however, he knew that he was too old and too weak to carry out such an important task, so he recommended Jing Ke. He told Prince Dan that Jing Ke was not only superior in intelligence and courage, but also good at disguising his inner feelings. In addition, since he had done Jing Ke a favour before, Jing Ke could not refuse his request. Prince Dan was very happy to hear that, and asked Tian Guang to invite Jing Ke to the palace. Before they parted, Prince Dan said:

Tian Guang found Jing Ke and revealed to him the mission Prince Dan had in mind. Jing Ke said:

Tian Guang was very pleased, then caressed his sword and sighed:

Tian Guang killed himself with his own sword before Jing Ke left. When Jing Ke came to Prince Dan, he told the prince of Tian Guang’s death. Prince Dan pounded his chest and cried for a long time.

Later, Jing Ke tried to assassinate the king of Qin, but failed because his dagger missed; however, his courage has been remembered by Chinese people for thousands of years.

“Tian Guang surrenders to the sword” means that a virtuous man will keep his promise even if it means he has to give up his own life.

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