Nie Zheng, the Second Famous Assassin of the Warring-States Period

Nie Zheng (聂政) was born in Shenjing Li (深井里, “Li” was the name of the lowest administrative region at that time) of the county Zhi (轵) in the Han (韩) State, so he was called “Nie Zheng from Shenjing Li of Zhi”. He took his family to the Qi (齐) State for evading his enemy, and he became a butcher. He was famed for his bravery and chivalry. His father died when he was a little boy, and his mother brought up him and his elder sister by herself. So Nie Zheng was very filial to his old mother. The couple of his elder sister also lived in the Qi State. Their life was simple and happy. However, one day, a man named Yan Sui (严遂) disturbed their quiet life.

Yan Sui was a minister of the Han State, and the monarch Han Lie-Hou (韩烈侯) thought highly of him. Han Kui (韩傀) was the prime minister of the Han State. There were some big conflicts between Yan Sui and Han Kui, so the two persons hated seeing each other. One day, Yan Sui censured Han Kui in public for his faults. Han Kui was infuriated, and scolded Yan Sui in a loud voice. Yan Sui felt insulted, and also became very provoked. He drew his sword and walked quickly toward Han Kui. Han Kui didn't feel fearful, and he also drew his sword. Other ministers dissuaded the two crazy men in a hurry.

Yan Sui thought that Han Kui would kill him, so he left the Han State. He utterly hated Han Kui because he couldn't tolerate Han Kui’s insult in public. He decided to take revenge. Therefore, he started to look for an assassin. When he arrived in the Qi State, someone recommended him to visit Nie Zheng. Yan Sui then made friends with Nie Zheng, and treated him very well. Nie Zheng felt touched, and said to him, “Do you want me to do something for you?” Yan Sui said, “We have been friends just for a short time. How dare I want you to do something?”

However, Yan Sui really thought Nie Zheng could be the ideal assassin. One day, Yan Sui visited Nie Zheng and drank with him. Yan Sui drank a toast to Nie Zheng’s mother, and held one hundred Yi (镒, a unit of weight at that time. One Yi is equal to more than 250 g) of gold as a present to Nie Zheng’s mother for showing his respects. Nie Zheng felt very surprised. He thought that his family couldn't accept such a lavish present and he wondered what the intention of Yan Sui was, so he refused to accept the gold, but Yan Sui persisted in presenting the gold to Nie Zheng’s mother. Nie Zheng said, “My mother is old, and my family is poor. I am a butcher, so I am able to bring good food to my mother. I have the ability to support my family, so I don’t dare to accept your present.”

Yan Sui told Nie Zheng in private, “I have an enemy. I have been to some states and found many men who are able to revenge me. When I arrive in the Qi State, I heard your well-known fame for your faithfulness. Today I present one hundred Yi of gold, just for showing my respects to your mother. I hope we can be good friends. How dare I have a request?” Nie Zheng was a clever man, and he guessed the mind of Yan Sui. He then said to Yansui, “I lowered my aspiration and became a butcher in the marketplace, just for supporting my old mother. My old mother is alive, so I don’t dare to promise to give my life for others.” He still refused the gold of Yan Sui.

Some years later, Nie Zheng’s mother died. After the funeral, Nie Zheng started to consider what he should do for Yan Sui. Nie Zheng said silently to himself, “I am just a butcher in a marketplace, but Yan Sui, a high-rank minister, came from a far place and made friends with me. What I have done for him was little, and I have no merit which can be worthy of his esteem. He wanted to present one hundred Yi of gold to my mother, and I refused it. However, this thing shows he understands me deeply. In order to take revenge, he is willing to trust me, a poor and humble man. Can I keep silence? In the past, my mother was alive, so I couldn't give my life for him. Now my mother has died full of years, I should do something for the person who understands me.”

At that time, Yan Sui was not in the Qi State. He lived in the city Puyang (濮阳), the capital of the Wei (卫) State. Nie Zheng then went to Puyang and visited Yan Sui. He said to Yan Sui, “Last time I didn't promise you, because my mother was alive. Now my mother has passed away. Can you tell me who you want to take revenge on?” Yan Sui said, “My enemy is Han Kui, the prime minister of the Han State. He is the uncle of the Han’s monarch. His clan is strong, and he has many warriors. I have sent many persons to assassinate him, but no one was successful. I feel profoundly pleased that you didn't forget me. I will send many men to assist you.” Nie Zheng said, “The Han State and the Wei State are two close countries. Now you want to kill the prime minister of the other state, and the target is the relative of the monarch, so you shouldn’t send many persons. If many assassins go there, you cannot ensure that no one will be caught alive. If someone is caught alive, you cannot ensure that your plan won’t be divulged. If your plan is divulged, the whole country of the Han State will be your enemy. How can you be successful at that time?” Nie Zheng asked Yan Sui about the appearance of Han Kui, and then he went to the Han State alone with only a sword.

At this time, the monarch and ministers of the Han State held an important meeting in the city Dongmeng (东孟). Nie Zheng arrived in the city, and found that there were many guards around the meeting place. Nie Zheng felt no worried. He insinuated himself into the meeting place. He saw that there was a large house where many people were discussing something. He went into the house, and said loudly, “I have something to tell the prime minister!” Han Kui felt surprised. He stood up and said, “What do you want to tell me?” Nie Zheng recognized Han Kui. He drew his sword and rushed to Han Kui. Han Kui then realized what the man wanted to do. He hurriedly left his seat and tried to evade. Han Lie-Hou let Han Kui stand behind him, and said sternly to Nie Zheng, “Stop!” Nie Zheng shouted and his sword pierced into the chest of Han Lie-Hou. Lie-Hou fell dead. Han Kui was petrified, and he was killed by Nie Zheng, too.

The meeting place was in serious disorder. Nie Zheng fought against ministers and guards. Dozens of people were killed or wounded. Nie Zheng knew that he was not able to escape, so he decided to disfigure him in order that others couldn't recognize him. He cut his face, gouged out his eyes, disemboweled himself and then died. The angry warriors of the Han State exhibited the body of Nie Zheng in the marketplace, and offered a reward of one thousand Yi of gold for someone who recognized the dead assassin. However, no one recognized the dead man.

The news of the Han State soon spread to other states. The elder sister of Nie Zheng knew the dead assassin was her younger brother. She said to herself, “My brother was a brave man. If I cherish my life and let my brother be buried in oblivion, I will go against the aspiration of my brother.” Therefore, she went to the Han State. She saw the body of her younger brother, and said, “How brave you were! How great you heroic spirit was! Your courage exceeded the famous ancient warriors, Meng Ben (孟贲), Xia Yu (夏育) and Cheng Jing (成荆). You died and others didn't know your name. Our parents had already passed away, and we have no other brother or sister. I know that, you did so just because of me. I don’t have the heart to cherish my life and cover your name.” Then she held her brother’s body in her arms and cried, “He was my younger brother, Nie Zheng from Shenjing Li of Zhi.” She killed herself beside the body of her brother.

The monarchs of the Jin (晋) State, the Chu (楚) State, the Qi (齐) State and the Wei (卫) State heard the tragically heroic story, said with deep respect, “Not only Nie Zheng was a hero, but also his elder sister was a heroic woman.”

Oriental Style
Since February 6th, 2006
Copyright © Yike Jiang