The Feast of the Tassels–An Ancient Chinese Story of Forgiveness

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King Zhuang of Chu (楚庄王,reigned 613-591 BC), (Image: Public domain)

King Zhuang of Chu (楚莊王) was one of the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period (春秋五霸, 770-476 B.C.), and the most accomplished monarch of Chu.

At a celebration after the suppression of a rebellion, King Zhuang and his ministers drank to their heart’s content. King Zhuang had his concubine Xu Ji toast the ministers. In the evening, he ordered the court to light candles, and the singing and dancing continued.

Suddenly a gust of wind blew out the candles. In the darkness, one of the drunken courtiers pulled on Xu Ji’s clothing. In those days, no men were allowed in the palace unless they were castrated. Assaulting a concubine in this way was a serious offence. She pulled the tassel off of the courtier’s hat and asked King Zhuang to deal with him. King Zhuang not only did not do anything about it but also said loudly that everyone should take their tassels off, relax and enjoy. After all the ministers had taken off their tassels, King Zhuang ordered the candles to be relit.

Xu Ji was both surprised and angry. When the banquet was over, she complained to the king. He replied, “It is excusable to be careless after drinking. If I were to condemn a minister to death over something like this, it would chill the hearts of other ministers, and they would not be able to do their best to defend the country.” Nodding, Xu Ji listened, and agreed.

The minister was undoubtedly at fault for his drunken demeanor, but King Zhuang showed breadth of mind in the way he handled the incident. In time, he was repaid for his kindness.

When King Zhuang was leading his troops to attack the state of Zheng, he was ambushed, and in a critical situation. Tang Cui, the vice general of the Chu army, single-handedly rushed into the enemy lines and rescued King Zhuang from the chaos. The King of Chu was very grateful and wanted to reward him. Then Tang Cui told him that he was the one who had pulled on Xu Ji’s clothes at “the feast of the tassels.”

Later on, the story of “the Feast of the Tassels (絕纓之宴 Jué yīng zhī yàn)” was used as an allusion to treating people with generosity.

Tolerance does not mean giving up one’s dignity; tolerance is the use of wisdom and virtue to treat others kindly.