CHAPTER IX. POSITION OF ENVOYS

It was a fixed rule in ancient China that envoys should be treated with courtesy, and that their persons should be held sacred, whether at residential courts, in durbar, or on the road through a third state. During the wars of the sixth century B.C. between Tsin in the north and Ts'u in the south, when these two powers were rival aspirants to the Protectorate of the original and orthodox group of principalities lying between them, and were alternately imposing their will on the important and diplomatic minor Chinese state of CHENG (still the name of a territory in Ho Nan), there were furnished many illustrations of this recognized rule. The chief reason for thus making a fighting-ground of the old Chinese principalities was that it was almost impossible for Ts'u to get conveniently at any of the three great northern powers, and equally difficult for Ts'in, Tsin, and Ts'i to reach Ts'u, without passing through one or more Chinese states, mostly bearing the imperial clan name, and permission had to be asked for an army to pass through, unless the said Chinese state was under the predominancy of (for instance) Tsin or Ts'u. It was like Germany and Italy with Switzerland between them, or Germany and Spain with France between them. Another important old Chinese state was Sung, lying to the east of CHENG. Both these states were of the highest caste, the Earl of CHENG being a close relative of the Chou Emperor, and the Duke of Sung being the representative or religious heir of the remains of the Shang dynasty ousted by the Chou family in I 122 B.C., magnanimously reinfeoffed "in order that the family sacrifices might not be entirely cut off" together with the loss of imperial sway. In the year 595 B.C. Sung went so far as to put a Ts'u envoy to death, naturally much to the wrath of the rising southern power. Ts'u in turn arrested the Tsin envoy on his way to Sung, and tried in vain to force him to betray his trust. In 582 Tsin, in a fit of anger, detained the CHENG envoy, and finally put him to death for his impudence in coming officially to visit Tsin after coquetting with Tsin's rival Ts'u. All these irregular cases are severely blamed by the historians. In 562 Ts'u turned the tables upon Tsin by putting the CHENG envoy to death after the latter had concluded a treaty with Tsin. Confucius joins, retrospectively of course, in the chorus of universal reprobation. In 560 Ts'u tried to play upon the Ts'i envoy a trick which in its futility reminds us strongly of the analogous petty humiliations until recently imposed by China, whenever convenient occasion offered, upon foreign officials accredited to her. The Ts'i envoy, who was somewhat deformed in person, was no less an individual than the celebrated philosopher Yen-tsz, a respected acquaintance of Confucius (though, of course, much his senior), and second only to Kwan-tsz amongst the great administrative statesmen of Ts'i. The half-barbarous King of Ts'u concocted with his obsequious courtiers a nice little scheme for humiliating the northern envoy by indicating to him the small door provided for his entry into the presence, such as the Grand Seigneurs in their hey-day used to provide for the Christian ambassadors to Turkey. Yen-tsz, of course, at once saw through this contemptible insult and said: "My master had his own reasons for selecting so unworthy an individual as myself for this mission; yet if he had sent me on a mission to a dog-court, I should have obeyed orders and entered by a dog-gate: however, it so happens that I am here on a mission to the King of Ts'u, and of course I expect to enter by a gate befitting the status of that ruler." Still another prank was tried by the foolish king: a "variety entertainment" was got up, in which one scene represented a famished wretch who was being belaboured for some reason. Naturally every one asked: "What is that?" The answer was: "A Ts'i man who has been detected in thieving." Yen-tsz said: "I understand that the best fruits come from Ts'u, and they say we northern men cannot come near the quality of their peaches. We are honest simpletons, too, and do not look natural on the variety stage as thieves. The true rogue, like the true peach, is a southern speciality. I did see rogues on the stage, it is true, but none of them looked like a Ts'i man; hence I asked, 'What is it?'" The king laughed sheepishly, and, for a time at least, gave up taking liberties with Yen-tsz.