February 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘He Shi Bi’

Story of a priceless bi

A kind of BiIn ancient China, what is broadly referred to as bi – round flat jade piece with a hole in the center – could be priceless. Here is the story of a priceless bi, to which the Chinese proverb “worth several cities”(In Chinese Pin Yin, we said it: Jia-Zhi-Lian-Cheng), referring to things that are priceless, is attributed.

The story is told in Historical Records by Sima Qian (145 BC –– ?), China’s first general history presented in a series of biographies. Back in the Warring States period (475 BC – 221 BC), so the story goes, the State of Zhao had an invaluable bi in its possession. On hearing this, the King of the Qin State offered 15 cities in exchange for the jade piece. The King of the Zhao had no trust in the king of the Qin, a notoriously treacherous guy, but was afraid that the Qin would invade his land if he rejected the offer. Lin Xiangru, a court official, volunteered to help crack the hard nut and, on his request, he went to the State of Qin with the bi as envoy of his king.

As he had expected, Lin Xiangru met with the King of the Qin and offered him the bi for a look. When he found that the king of Qin had no intention to honor his promise, Lin cheated him into giving back the bi by saying that there was a flaw in the piece and he would show him where it was. With the bi in his Lin Xiangruhands, the man threatened to instantly destroy it before he killed himself by knocking his head on the column against which he was standing. The King of the Qin responded by ordering a map of his state displayed and, pointing at it, he enumerated the 15 cities he would give out in exchange for the bi. Lin Xiangru, however, was not to be taken in, and asked the King of the Qin to fast for five days for an elaborate ceremony to celebrate the change of hands for the bi. Afraid of losing the bi he desperately wanted, the King of the Qin agreed. Immediately after he got to the guesthouse, Lin Xiangru asked a lieutenant to go back with the bi. Here is another Chinese proverb originating from the story: “return the jade intact to the State of Zhao”(In Chinese Pin Yin, we said it: Wan-Bi-Gui-Zhao), meaning return of something to its owner in perfect conditions.