During the Warring States Period, the ruler of Zhao, King Huiwen, acquired a piece of invaluable jade.
The Emperor of Qin, a stronger state at the time, heard the news and wanted the jade for himself. So he sent an envoy to Zhao, expressing his wish to swap 15 cities for the jade.
Huiwen suspected Qin had little intention of keeping the promise. But if he refused the deal, he worried that the emperor might invade. So Lin Xiangru, King Huiwen’s personal adviser, offered to take the jade to Qin.
When Lin arrived at Qin, the emperor was so delighted that he showed the precious jade to everyone around him. But, seeing that the emperor had no intention of keeping his promise of giving the 15 cities to Zhao, Lin declared that the jade had a minor flaw.
Concerned, the Emperor of Qin handed the jade back to Lin. Taking it, the Zhao ambassador took a few steps back and stopped in front of a large column, threatening to smash both the jade and his own head against it if the emperor broke his promise.
The King of Qin relented and took out a map to mark off 15 cities to be given to Zhao.
By now, Lin had no faith whatsoever in the emperor’s word. So he arranged a subordinate to take the jade secretly back to Zhao.
When the emperor learned that Lin had returned the jade to the State of Zhao, he was furious.
But he recognised that killing Lin would only impair the relationship with Zhao. So Lin returned to Zhao safely.
The story inspired the Chinese idiom Wan Bi Gui Zhao, which means ‘return the jade intact to the state of Zhao’, referring to the act of returning something to its original owner safe and sound.
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