Monday, November 07, 2005

Zhang Liang, the Daoist

Liu Ching advised the emperor to make his capital within the Pass. The emperor was in two minds about this. As most of his attendants and high ministers came from the east of the mountains, they urged him to make Loyang the capital. But Zhang Liang objected and after a lengthy elaboration, he said, “Liu Ching is right.”

That same day the emperor drove west in his carriage to make his capital within the Pass, and Zhang Liang accompanied him. As his health was poor, Zhang Liang practised breath control and ate no grain, not venturing out of his house for a year or more.

The emperor wished to depose the crown prince in favor of his son by Lady Chi; but because many of his chief ministers objected, he had not reached a final decision. Empress Lu was alarmed and did not know what to do till someone suggested, “The marquis of Liu is a shrewd schemer and the emperor trusts him.”

Accordingly Empress Lu sent Lu Tse to enlist Zhang Liang’s help saying, “You have always advised the emperor. Now that he wants to disinherit the crown prince, how can you lie easy on your pillow?”

“When the emperor was in difficulties he used several of my plans,” replied Zhang Liang. “Now the empire is at peace and, if he wants to substitute his favorite son for the crown prince, this is between his own flesh and blood. A hundred or more ministers like me can do nothing.”

But Lu Tse insisted, “Think of some plan for us!”

“Hard to talk him out of this,” was Zhang Liang’s answer. “But there are four men the emperor has failed to win over. These four men are old and, because they think his manner insulting, they have hidden themselves in the hills and refuse to serve the House of Han. The emperor has a high regard for these men.” He elaborated on how to invite them and how to get the emperor to notice these four worthies which should help the case.

Then Empress Lu made Lu Tse send a messenger with the crown prince’s letter, inviting these four men with humble words and rich gifts. Upon their arrival, Lu Tse made them his guests.

One day there was a feast and wine served. The crown prince came to wait on his father, attended by four old men each over eighty. Their beards and eyebrows were white, their hats and gowns most imposing. The emperor asked in surprise, “Who are these men?”

Then the four advanced and gave their names as Master Tung-yuan, Scholar Luli, Chili Chi and Master Hsia-huang.

The emperor exclaimed in astonishment, “I tried for several years to get hold of you, yet you always kept away. What are you doing with my son?”

After the four men gave the reasons, the emperor said, “Take good care of the crown prince!”

The emperor then called Lady Chi and pointed them out to her, saying, “I meant to depose the crown prince, but these four men have come to his aid. His feathers are grown; it would be hard to dislodge him. Empress Lu is going to be your mistress now.”

So thanks to these four men invited at the suggestion of Zhang Liang, the crown prince retained his position.

Zhang Liang accompanied the emperor in his expedition against Chen Hsi in Tai, he devised the stratagem at Mayi, and it was he who urged that Hsiao Ho be made prime minister. In his leisure he advised the emperor on various matters.

Then Zhang Liang announced, “My forefathers were ministers of Hann state and after the state was overthrown I gave up a fortune to avenge Hann against mighty Chin, causing a great stir in the world. With my ready tongue I became the adviser of an emperor, was given a fief of ten thousand households and made a marquis. This is all a common citizen could desire, and I am satisfied. Now I mean to turn my back on worldly affairs and follow the Master of the Red Pine.” He abstained from grain and studied breath control so that he might fly through the air.

The Grand Historian comments: I had always visualized Zhang Liang as a tall, imposing figure, yet when I saw his portrait he looked like a woman or a pretty girl. Confucius said, “Judging by appearances I have been mistaken in the case of Tzu-yu.” The same might be said of Zhang Liang.

Reflections: Perhaps someone who was schooled in Confucian thoughts and later learns Tao could understand and followed Zhang Liang’s proper conduct and righteous actions. Indeed he was brilliant in his war strategies and wise in his advice. No wonder Liu Pang trusts him and frequently acted on his reliable advice. In recommending worthy men to his king, he did no more than what was required in line with the ancient way and remained blameless, as those men never failed the king or the crown prince. He always gave credit where it is due and not allowed his king to be misled by specious advice.

Like Zhang Liang, Prime Minister Chen Ping was another notable who followed the teachings of the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) and Laozi according to Sima Qian.

This entry concludes the story about Zhang Liang. With the four entries on Zhang Liang, perhaps readers can learn something about Han history, why the Records of the Historian makes a good read, what constitutes proper conduct of a Junzi, how a Han Daoist follow the Way while being a court official and what qualities makes a really good adviser. Perhaps Zhang Liang may not be easily forgotten as before?

Credits: All excerpts in the four entries were taken from Records of the Historian as translated by Yang Hsien-Yi and Gladys Yang, and published by The Commercial Press, Limited, Hong Kong. (1975 edition)

1 comment:

Allan said...

P.S. Zhang Daoling the accredited founder of religious Daoism was an eight-generation grandson of Zhang Liang.