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Silver tongues in history

In ancient times, eloquent talkers played important roles in national affairs

05·21·2015

Silver tongues in history

In ancient times, eloquent talkers played important roles in national affairs

05·21·2015

In China’s long history, there have been people known as lobbyists or persuasive talkers, who technically were neither civil officials nor military generals. They managed to build establishments using solely their eloquent tongues. Zhang Yi, a famous strategist in Warring during the Warring States Period, once said to his wife after a failed lobby that “Check to see whether my tongue is still there.” This sentence might work for most lobbyists in history, for whom, a silver tongue is enough to achieve their aspirations. Let’s look back and appreciate those excellent speeches.

 

唐睢不辱使命 (Tang Ju completes his mission perfectly)

Image courtesy of blog.sina.com.

Image courtesy of blog.sina.com.

Most persuasive talkers served as envoys in ancient times. Tang Ju, an official under Lord Anling of the State of Wei in the Warring States Period, was famous for completing his diplomatic mission perfectly with his eloquence and courage.

At that time, the State of Qin was the most powerful among the seven states. The Emperor Zhao of Qin proposed to Lord Anling that he would like to exchange the place of Anling with a 500 square mile territory. But Lord Anling declined. Emperor Zhao was very furious. So Lord Anling sent Tang Ju as an envoy to fix this issue.

When Tang arrived, Emperor Zhao did not hide his anger and said his proposal was generous, and he deemed Lord Anling’s refusal as contempt. Tang Ju explained that the fiefdom of Anling was granted by the deceased emperor, so Lord Anling cannot give it away. Emperor Zhao said, “Have you ever witnessed the rage of the Son of Heaven? Once I am enraged, there will be millions of dead bodies, blood will flow for thousands of miles.” However, Tang Ju was not afraid. He stepped forward and brandished his sword, saying, “Have you ever witnessed the rage of common people? When this happens, two people fall, the blood will flow five steps away, and people under the sun will wear mourning clothes. That could be today!”

Then Emperor Zhao was frightened and apologized to him. He said, “ The strong states like Han and Wei perished, but Anling survived with only 50 square miles of territory. Now I know that it is because there are people like you.”

 

三寸不烂之舌 (Three-inch unbroken tongue)

Image courtesy of blog.sina.com.

Image courtesy of blog.sina.com.

Even in China, there are people who are unaware of Mao Sui’s achievements. They all know the idiom “Mao Sui recommends himself (毛遂自荐)”,which is now used to describe volunteering. In the Warring States Period, the State of Qin besieged the capital of the State of Zhao. Duke Pingyuan of Zhao planned to ask the ruler of the State of Chu for assistance. He wanted to select a capable person to go with him. A little-known man called Mao Sui volunteered.

The negotiations between these two states stalled because the ruler of Chu could not make up his mind. Duke Pingyuan was at his wit’s end.  Then Mao Sui began his persuasive speech to the Emperor:

“Qin’s ambition (to swallow the other six states) is so obvious. If Zhao perishes, your state will not exist for long. Looking back to earlier years when the other six states formed an alliance, Qin did not dare to do anything. Now, even though we are besieged, our capital has not shaken at all. We have good relations with Wei. If you send your troops, we can align with Wei and Han, fight against Qin together and retake our lost territories. It will be benefit you, why hesitate?”

The ruler of Chu was persuaded by him and agreed to send troops. Duke Pingyuan praised Mao Sui, saying “Mao’s three-inch tongue is more useful than a million bold warriors (毛先生以三寸之舌,强于百万之师).” Now the term “three-inch unbroken tongue” is still used to describe people’s eloquence.

 

晏子使楚 (Yan Zi visits the State of Chu)

yanzi

Image courtesy of haosou.com.

It is never easy for an envoy to protect national dignity, especially in front of an arrogant and rude emperor of another country. But, Yan Ying, also called Yan Zi, from the State of Qi in the Warring States Period, set a good example when he served as an envoy to the State of Chu.

Yan Ying was a short man. When he arrived at the court of Chu, he was led to a small side entrance, which was obviously an intentional insult. Yan Ying refused to enter and said to the official, “If I visit a dog kingdom, I should go through the dog entrance. Now, I come to Chu, I shouldn’t go through this gate.” The official then took him through the front gate.

When Yan Zi entered the court, the King of Chu asked, “Aren’t there any talented people in Qi? If there are, why did they send you?” Yan Ying answered, “We have our own rules for envoys. Capable envoys visit valuable kingdoms; incapable ones visit valueless kingdoms. I am the most incapable one.”

During the banquet, the king tried to provoke him again. A man in manacles was hauled across the doorway of the banquet hall, and the King said to Yan Ying, “The man is a thief. He comes from Qi. Your people are naturally good at stealing?” Yan Ying replied, “I hear that orange trees grown in the south produce sweet and juicy fruits, while those grown in the north produce sour and bitter fruits. Why? Because the environment is different. People don’t steal when living in Qi. But when they come to Chu, they become thieves. Perhaps it is the environment of Chu that is conducive to stealing.” The king laughed and said, “People can’t make jokes on a saint. I made myself a joke consequently.”

 

触龙说赵太后 (Chu Long persuades the empress dowager of Zhao)

Image courtesy of blog.sina.com.

Image courtesy of blog.sina.com.

Different from the other three, Chu Long, from the State of Zhao in the Warring States Period, was not an envoy. But what he did was arguably more difficult: successfully persuading a mother into sending her own son to another kingdom as a hostage.

When the empress dowager took over control of Zhao, Qin attacked Zhao. Zhao asked Qi for help. Qi said if Duke Changan, the son of empress dowager could go to Qi as a hostage, they would send troops to help. But the empress dowager firmly declined. Many worried officials tried to persuade the empress dowager to change her mind but all of them failed. Then, Chu Long stood forward. He told the empress dowager that he did not think she loved her son enough because if parents love their children, they should care about their future.

His accusation confused the empress dowager. Then he said, “Look at the descendents of previous emperors, they were granted as dukes. But when they passed away, none of their children successfully inherited their titles. That’s because their descendents enjoyed high status and immense wealth but didn’t contribute to their country. Now, the same has happened to Duke Changan, you gave him a high-ranking title, fertile land, and countless treasures, but not the opportunity to make a contribution. After you pass away, how can he make a living in this country? What you are considering for him is just short-sighted.” The empress dowager was convinced and then sent Duke Changan to Qi.

 

Mastery image depicts Zhuge Liang, another eloquent talker, aguring with a group of officials, courtesy of 3lian.com.