It all started in 722 B.C. when a man named Bian He saw a golden phoenix coming down to rest upon a high mountain. Knowing phoenixes only perch on stones of jade, he climbed the mountain and discovered a large uncut stone — he knew he had found something very special. He brought it before King Li.
King Li had it examined by an apparent expert craftsman who deemed it worthless. As punishment for trying to deceive the king, Bian He’s left foot was cut off. After King Li’s passing, Bian He maintained his certainty that the stone was far from ordinary, and he brought it before King Li’s son, King Wu. Again, it was judged as valueless, and Bian He had his other foot cut off as punishment.
Eventually, Bian He managed to return to his mountain, where he cried endlessly for three days and three nights, until he had no tears left to shed. When asked about his weeping, Bian He said: “I cry not for my feet, but for the wrongs that allow a precious jade to be called a stone, and an honest man a liar.”
Upon hearing this story, King Li’s grandson, King Wen, had the stone cut open. To his astonishment, hidden within it was a flawless jade stone, the best in the world, one with no imperfections. The king named it “Hé Shì Bì” (和 氏璧) after Bian He. Many proverbs originate with this treasure, including lessons from Bian He’s story — lessons of loyalty, honesty, and courage. This jade became the royal seal for many emperors, and at one point, 15 cities were offered in exchange for it!