Chu Zhuangwang ascended the throne in 613 B.C. During the first three years of his reign, he did nothing other than eat, drink, and have fun. He forbade his courtiers from giving him any advice regarding it. He said: “Whoever dares to give me advice shall be killed.” One courtier named Wu Ju still dared to give his advice in the form of a metaphor. He said: “There is a bird that has not flown for three years. Do you know what kind of bird it is?” Moved by his words, Emperor Chu Zhuangwang replied: “Although it has not flown for three years, once it flies, it will surge into the sky. Although it has not sung for three years, once it sings, it will amaze the world.”
After the Chu Kingdom was settled in the valley between the Yangtze and Huai rivers, it started fighting with the Jin Kingdom. Each encounter could go either way, as both might win or lose a battle. In 597 B.C, Chu Zhuangwang led his army and fought a victorious battle against the Jin Kingdom. The Jin Kingdom had never lost so miserably. Half of the soldiers were killed, and the other half escaped to the river banks. One of his advisers suggested to Chu Zhuangwang that he should follow them and exterminate them. Chu Zhuangwang said: “The Chu Kingdom was humiliated by our defeat at the hands of the Jin Kingdom in the battle of Pu. Now, we have vindicated ourselves by this victory, so why kill unnecessarily?”
After the middle term of the Spring and Autumn period, the Chu Kingdom and the Jin Kingdom shared administrative control of the area. Chu Zhuangwang achieved this feat because he was very generous by nature. One day, he invited many courtiers to a feast where they listened to songs and watched dancers perform. It was getting late but everyone was still in high spirits and did not want to leave, so Chu Zhuangwang asked candles to be lit and they continued on with the feast. On a whim, he asked his concubines Mai and Hsu to have a drink with each courtier in honor of them.
Suddenly a burst of wind blew out the candles and all was in darkness. At that time, Concubine Hsu felt somebody grasp her hand and touch her. She was annoyed and immediately grabbed the ribbon of his hat and pulled it apart. She hurried back to Chu Zhuangwang and whispered to him: “Somebody just harassed me. I have pulled apart his hat ribbon. When the candle is lit again, please check whose hat does not have the ribbon and then punish him.” Hearing this, Chu Zhuangwang said loudly: “Do not light the candles. It is fun to drink in the dark.” Later, he asked: “Are you having fun today?” He asked each courtier to pull apart his hat ribbon to show that he was having fun. Hearing what he said, each courtier pulled apart his hat ribbon. Then Chu Zhuangwang asked the candles to be lighted. Seeing that each one’s hat was in a strange shape they laughed at each other and had a new round of toasts. The feast did not end until daybreak and each courtier left contentedly.
After they returned home, Concubine Hsu complained that Chu Zhuangwang protected the person who harassed her on purpose. According to the law at that time, those who harassed a king’s concubine should be punished by death. Chu Zhuangwang said: “I invited them to the feast to have fun. It is understandable that one might lose control of himself after drinking. If I punished someone for it, the feast would be spoiled and the courtiers would feel humiliated. It was not why I invited them.”
Later, the Chu Kingdom attacked the Tseng Kingdom. A general named Tong Jaw was especially gallant and led the army to defeat the enemy. He was the person whose hat ribbon was pulled apart by Concubine Hsu. He strove to beat the enemy to repay Chu Zhuangwang for his tolerance. The event eventually resulted in the saying: “Chu Zhuangwang had the hat ribbons pulled apart,” which advises tolerance in human relationships.
Translated by Audrey Wang and edited by Helen