During the Warring States period, Lian Po 廉颇, a military general from the Zhao Kingdom, acceded to the rank of shangqing 上卿 or ‘high-ranking official’, having pulled off a series of stunning military victories.
However, another Zhao Kingdom official, Lin Xiangru 蔺相如 had also proven his merit by protecting his king’s dignity (we won’t digress about how, but one instance famously involved a zither). As recompense Lin Xiangru was honoured by the Zhao King with a position that was even more senior than that of Lian Po.
Lian Po refused to acknowledge Lin Xiangru’s superior rank and chose to ignore Lian Po in government affairs. To the people’s bewilderment, Lin did not confront Lian at all and remained conciliatory. This led many to believe that Lin was afraid of Lian (in fact, even his own advisors took this view). But when his advisors threatened to resign, however, Lin revealed to them that he believed that discord between two of the state’s most prominent officials would not benefit the state and could lead to the Zhao kingdom’s collapse.
Lian caught wind of Lin’s conversation and subsequently realised the error of his ways. He was so ashamed that he stripped off his garments and tied tree twigs (used as whips) to his back, before prostrating himself before Lin and pleading for forgiveness.
The story still resonates in the Chinese language today. The phrase ‘fu jing qing zui’, literally meaning ‘‘to carry chastening twigs and beg for forgiveness’ alludes to it.
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