Liu Ji and the Tripod Cen

The Kuanding Ding from the Spring and Autumn Period. (Image:  National Palace Museum)
The Kuanding Ding from the Spring and Autumn Period. (Image: National Palace Museum)

The state of Lu is home to a great treasure known as the Tripod Cen. The tripod is huge and magnificent, with a delicate and beautiful pattern cast on the surface, which looks marvelous. The king of Lu regarded the tripod as the country’s most valuable item.

One year, the state of Qi launched a massive attack on Lu and defeated the king’s army. The king of Lu sent an envoy to negotiate peace with the king of Qi. Qi said: “Lu’s sincerity can be demonstrated by dedicating the Tripod Cen to Qi.” The king of Lu was anxious. If he did not give the tripod to Qi, Qi would not make peace with Lu. If he accepted Qi’s demand, he would lose his most highly treasured possession. He was in a dilemma and didn’t know how to solve this problem.

An official came up with an idea: “Your Majesty, the king of Qi has never seen the tripod. Why don’t we offer Qi another tripod in place of the Tripod Cen? So we can not only sign a peace agreement, but also retain the most valuable artifact in our country.” “Wonderful!” said the king of Lu and accepted the suggestion.

The Mao Gongding during the Western Zhou dynasty, from the collection of the National Palace Museum. (Image: Jason22 via wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Mao Gongding during the Western Zhou Dynasty, from the collection of the National Palace Museum. (Image: Jason22 via wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

So Lu sent another tripod to Qi. Observing it carefully, the king of Qi felt that this tripod looked ingenious, but it seemed not to be as good as people said. Lu had sent this tripod to Qi so easily that he doubted whether it was the Tripod Cen. How could he check its authenticity?

An official suggested: “I heard that Lu Jiu (namely Liu Xiahui) is the most credible person in Lu, who never lies. We can invite him to Lu and ask him the truth about the tripod.” The king of Qi agreed to this suggestion and sent a messenger to tell the king of Lu of his intent.

The king of Lu had no choice but to invite Liu Ji to the royal palace, explaining the situation to him, and begged him: “To keep the most valuable treasure in Lu, I beg you to tell a lie just this once.”

The Bronze Age of China started in the late Xia dynasty (17th B.C.E.), lasting about 1,500 years through several dynasties from Shang to Western Zhou and Eastern Zhou. (Image: National Palace Museum)

The Bronze Age of China started in the late Xia Dynasty (17th century B.C.E.), lasting about 1,500 years through several dynasties from Shang to Western Zhou and Eastern Zhou. (Image: National Palace Museum)

After pondering for a while, Liu Ji replied seriously: “You regard the Tripod Cen as the most important thing, but I take honesty as the most important thing. Honesty is the fundamental way that I deal with people, and I have stuck to it throughout my entire life. Now, you want me to destroy the fundamental basis of being a human in exchange for your treasure. I beg your pardon. I cannot do it.” After listening to the righteous words, the king of Lu realized that it would be useless to argue further. So he dedicated the Tripod Cen to Qi and signed a peace treaty with the king.

In the conflict of interests, life, and death, Liu Ji was able to adhere to the bottom line of being a person through honesty, which is an invaluable character. He also gave us a paradigm that no matter what the circumstances, we cannot give up our foundation of being human. Liu Ji is indeed a veritable sage.

Translated by Joseph Wu and edited by Helen

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