In the Spring and Autumn Period, Yan Zi was a high official in the Qi State. Yan Zi was well known for his intelligent approach in persuading Emperor Qi Jing Gong.
Jing Gong was very fond of a eucalyptus tree right outside of the palace and he ordered the officials to take care of the tree. A sign by the tree said: “Whoever touches the tree will be sentenced and whoever hurts the tree will be killed.” The people in the city were so afraid of the tree that they stayed far away from it.
One day after getting drunk, a man touched the eucalyptus tree and got caught. After Jing Gong heard about it, he was furious. He said: “This man is the first person who dares to violate my rule and he should be punished severely.”
The drunkard’s daughter heard that her father was arrested and determined to rescue her father. So, she went to see Yan Zi and said to him: “I am a poor woman from the suburbs and want to be your concubine.”
Yan Zi (578 BC – the first 500 years) listened and said with a smile: “I have to introspect carefully, think about it: Am I a man who is greedy for women? I am already an old man with grey hair and yet, there is a beautiful woman coming to see me. I think you must have something difficult and want help from me? Don’t worry, just tell me!”
The woman told about how her father got drunk and mistakenly slammed into the eucalyptus tree. Yan Zi listened and promised to help the woman.
The next morning, Yan Zi said to Jing Gong: “I have heard that people who scrape other’s wealth for their extravagance are called tyrants. People like something so much that they grant it a majestic power equal to that of the monarch, which is abnormal; killing innocent people is called brutality. These three are the great disasters of the kingdom. Now you search for the people’s wealth to satisfy your own lusts. This is tyrannical; you like the eucalyptus and hang a sign to scare people away. The virtue of the tree is like a monarch. Isn’t this unusual? The person who touches the eucalyptus tree has to be sentenced. This does not go well with the national law. Isn’t this harmful to the people? You have these three scourges, I am afraid that it is hard for you to rule the state again.”
Yan Zi slammed Jing Gong repeatedly; he did not show any mercy. Jing Gong was almost speechless, then said: “You are right. If you didn’t teach me a lesson, I almost made a big mistake. I’ll follow your teachings.” So, Jing Gong ordered the tree guarding official and the sign by the tree removed, abolished the ban, and released the man who had touched the tree.
Translator: Yi Ming
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