Tian Heng and Five Hundred Warriors

In 209 BC, Chen Sheng (陈胜) and Wu Guang (吴广), two men who were born in former Chu (楚) State, led many people to rebel against the Qin Empire. Their actions were supported immediately by the people of six former states (Chu 楚, Qi 齐, Yan 燕, Zhao 赵, Wei 魏 and Han 韩) , and the fire of rebellions was burning everywhere except the original area of Qin State. In 206 BC, the short-lived Qin Empire was destroyed. Xiang Yu (项羽), a heroic general and leader, gave a region to Liu Bang (刘邦) who was one of the leaders of insurrectionists. This region was called “Han”, and Liu Bang was called “the king of Han”. Soon Liu Bang started to contend against Xiang Yu for the dominion of the whole Central Nation. In 202 BC, Xiang Yu was utterly defeated. His love Yuji (虞姬) sang the last song for her lover and killed herself. Xiang Yu thought all was vanity, and he killed himself at the side of the Wu River (乌江). Liu Bang became the emperor of the new Han Empire, and he was Han Gao-Zu (汉高祖). He tried to annex other self-governed areas.

Tian Heng (田横), the king of Qi State, was defeated by Han Xin (韩信) who was an excellent general. Han Xin forced Liu Bang to let him become the king of Qi. Tian Heng had to lead about five hundred followers and run away to an island. Han Gao-Zu thought the Tian family was supported by the people of Qi, and if Tian Heng didn’t surrender, maybe the people of Qi would rebel. So he sent an envoy to induce Tian Heng to surrender. Tian Heng said, “In the past I have once killed your envoy Li Sheng (郦生), and now his younger brother Li Shang (郦商) become a general. I am afraid that he will revenge his elder brother, so I can’t surrender.” Han Gao-Zu heard this word, and warned Li Shang, “Tian Heng, the king of Qi, will come here soon. If your warriors dare to be swayed by personal feelings, the whole families of them will be killed.” Han Gao-Zu let the envoy tell Tian Heng that, if Tian Heng came to the imperial capital, he would be conferred the title “King”, and his followers would also be given titles, or they would be killed by the imperial army. Tian Heng was worried about the safety of his followers, so he decided to have an audience with the emperor of Han Empire. Two warriors accompanied him.

On the long-distance way, Tian Heng thought about many things. He was an offspring of the ruling family of the former Qi State. The Tian (田) family was glorious in the past. However, nowadays, when he was the king, his country was conquered. From the Jiang (姜) family to the Tian family, Qi State had existed for more than 870 years. The old country didn’t exist any longer, how would he meet his ancestors in the nether world? Tian Heng thought the only way was to kill himself, and then he could show his loyalty to his country and people.

When they arrived at a relay station which was very near Luoyang (洛阳), Tian Heng said to the envoy, “A minister must bathe himself before he has an audience with the Heaven-Son.” Then the envoy let he stay at the station. Tian Heng said to his two followers, “Originally I was a ruler as the king of Han, but now he is the Heaven-Son and I am a conquered enemy and I must serve him. It is a serious dishonor. In the past I once killed the elder brother of Li Shang, and I will serve the Emperor with Li Shang. Though maybe Li Shang is afraid about the warning of the Emperor and he won’t revenge his brother, don’t I have a guilty conscience? The Emperor wants to receive me in audience, only because he wants to see my looks. Now the Emperor is in Luoyang, you can take my head and go there soon. My face won’t be putrescent in a short time, so the Emperor can see my looks.” Tian Heng killed himself by his sword. His two followers and the envoy took the head of Tian Heng and arrived at Luoyang quickly. Han Gao-Zu gave audience to them. When the emperor saw the head of Tian Heng, he shed tears and said, “You and your brothers originally lived in common people, but you and your two brothers became the kings in succession. Aren’t you virtuous?”

Han Gao-Zu appointed the two followers of Tian Heng to be officers and let they lead two thousand troops to bury Tian Heng with the rites for a king. When the interment was over, the two followers dug two excavations at the both sides of the tomb of Tian Heng, and killed themselves by their swords. The two thousand troops were thunderstruck, and in panic they reported to the emperor. While Han Gao-Zu heard the news, he was shocked, and highly praised the followers of Tian Heng all were loyal and worthy. The emperor wanted to treat the other followers of Tian Heng well, and sent the envoy to the island again.

The envoy came to the island, and told the sad news to the five hundred warriors of Tian Heng, and then told them the emperor would treat them very well. However, he found the warriors kept silence, and then he understood what they would do. The envoy said, “All of you are loyal, but the King has been dead, and your death has no benefit for him.” The warriors answered, “Our King died, and our country was lost. If we drag out an ignoble existence, the people of the world will laugh at us.” All the five hundred warriors killed themselves by their swords.

When the horrified envoy reported to Han Gao-Zu, the emperor couldn’t say anything in a long time with his whey face. He rushed out of the palace, and saw a chariot. He jumped to the chariot, and pushed the driver down. The emperor drove the chariot by himself and galloped to the east city-gate. He rapidly mounted the tower and watched the east. He sighed with tears and said, “Great, the virtue of Qi State! The Tian family is supported by their people at heart.”

My family name is Jiang (姜), and I am an offspring of the Jiang family of Qi State. Originally I disliked the Tian family who usurped the reigning power of my ancestors. However, when I heard the heroic and tragic story of Tian Heng and his five hundred warriors, my enmity disappeared.

Loyal people should be revered.

Yike Jiang avatar