Sunday, September 28, 2014

China’s Assassins

The first recorded assassination in Chinese history was that of rich businessman Wang Hai. Apparently Wang got naughty with the wife or daughter of another tribal chief while he was visiting the family. While he slept that night, a guard chopped off his head with an axe, then dismembered his corpse. It’s not known why the assassin killed him, but it’s generally believed that the hit was ordered by the husband/father.

One famous Chinese assassination was performed by Zhuan Zhu, who was in the service of Prince Guang. The assassination is a true reflection of the Chinese assassins’ creed, which states ‘it is honourable to die for people who recognise and appreciate your worth’. Zhuan was grateful for the way the prince treated him and his mother, so decided to do something nice for him: assassinate his cousin, who was king at the time, so the prince could claim the throne. Zhuan went to the effort of studying to be a royal chef, and specialised in the king’s favourite dish: broiled fish. Zhuan hid a tiny sword inside the king’s fish to get the weapon close enough to use, then stabbed him to death. Of course, the royal guards killed the assassin instantly, but his master did become king – quite a famous king, in fact: King Helü, one of the age’s greatest rulers.

Possibly the best-known assassin in Chinese history, Jing Ke, actually failed at the task. Jing clearly didn’t adhere to the assassins’ code like Zhuan, and, for two years, took advantage of the luxuries offered to him by the Prince of Yan, who hoped he would kill the King of Qin. However, when it seemed the State of Yan would fall, he finally devised a plan to assassinate the Qin King. It seemed he suspected he would fail, because, when the prince bade him farewell, he sang ‘I will go on my journey with no return’. To get close to the enemy king, Jing went to Qin’s court under the pretence of delivering a message of surrender. When Jing arrived in the court, he drew a poisoned dagger and grabbed the king’s sleeve, trying to stab him in the chest. The king’s sleeve tore, and the king ended up stabbing Jing to death instead.

There’s a plethora of tales about Chinese assassins, many of which romanticise them and their motives. Most ancient Chinese assassins, however, were very private people, and not many knew their motives or anything personal about them. In fact, even their assassinations and failed attempts were not publicised.

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