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one The Goujian Story in Antiquity before looking at the variety of ways in which the figure of Goujian assumed meaning for Chinese in the twentieth century, we need to examine the story itself. In reconstructing the Goujian story, I have not been unduly concerned with the historicity of particular incidents or details.1 The impact of the story in the twentieth century, as noted in the preface, derived not from its accuracy as history but from its power as narrative.2 Nor have I attempted to trace the evolution of the story as it wended its way from ancient times on up to the end of the imperial era. This is not an exercise in Chinese literary history. What I want to do in this opening chapter is establish a rough baseline for what was known about the Goujian narrative in the first century c.e., the time when the first full-fledged version of the story (of which we are aware) appeared. To this end, I have consulted, either in the original or in translation, such basic ancient sources as Zuozhuan (Zuo’s Tradition), Guoyu (Legends of the States), Sima Qian’s Shiji (Records of the Historian), and Lüshi chunqiu (The Annals of Lü Buwei).3 However, I have relied most heavily on the later (and highly fictionalized ) Wu Yue chunqiu (The Annals of Wu and Yue), originally compiled by the Eastern Han author Zhao Ye from 58 to 75 c.e.4 I have done this for two reasons. First, in comparison with the earlier sources, it is (as David Johnson correctly observes) “far more detailed and coherent” and contains “major new thematic elements.”5 Second, it had a seminal influence 1 on accounts of the Goujian story written during the remainder of the imperial period and was a principal source, directly or indirectly, for many of the versions of the narrative that circulated in the twentieth century.6 the goujian story as known in ancient times The setting for the Goujian story was the rivalry beginning in the latter phase of the Spring and Autumn period (722–481 b.c.e.) between the neighboring states of Wu (in modern Jiangsu) and Yue (in modern Zhejiang ), two newly ascendant powers on the southeastern periphery of the contemporary Chinese world. In 496 b.c.e. the king of Wu, Helu (alt. Helü), took advantage of the opportunity created by Yue’s preoccupation with funerary observances for its recently deceased king to mount an attack . The new Yue ruler, Goujian, at the time only in his early twenties, counterattacked and employed exceptionally brutal tactics to defeat the forces of Wu. Helu was mortally wounded in the fighting, but before dying he summoned his son and successor, Fuchai (alt. Fucha), and asked him to never forget that Goujian had killed his father. Accordingly, after assuming the kingship, Fuchai devoted himself energetically to planning his vengeance against Yue. Goujian saw what was happening and, overconfident after his earlier triumph, asked his trusted minister Fan Li what he thought about a preemptive strike against Wu.7 Fan Li, observing that Yue was not nearly as strong as Wu, urged the young king to be patient. However , convinced that he knew best, Goujian went ahead and attacked Wu anyway. The year was 494 b.c.e. It did not take long for Fuchai’s armies to inflict a severe defeat on Yue at Fujiao (in the northern part of Shaoxing county in modern Zhejiang), forcing Goujian and a remnant army of five thousand men to retreat to Mount Kuaiji (southeast of modern Shaoxing city), where they were surrounded by the forces of Wu. This was a critical point in the sequence of events. Goujian, facing certain defeat, was fully prepared, we are told, to fight to the finish, but his high o‹cials remonstrated with him, arguing the case for a less suicidal course. In the interest of saving Yue from extinction, they contended, Goujian should do everything possible to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict, mollifying Fuchai with humble words and lavish gifts and even evincing his willingness to go with his wife to Wu as slaves of the Wu king. Swallowing his pride, Goujian, with much misgiving, acquiesced in this strategy. It was also decided that Fuchai’s grand steward (taizai), Bo Pi (alt. Bo Xi), well known for his greed and lust, should be secretly bribed with t h e g o u...


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