Thursday, 9 September 2010

Silence Is Golden——Chinese Wisdom

When it comes to foreign affairs, modern countries all try to get the right of speech. But in ancient China, an emperor used Silence as a powerful diplomatic weapon.

During the beginning of Song Dynasty, China was in all respects a multi-state system. The state of Song had conquered most of the old imperial heartland in northern China, while 10 smaller regimes occupied sections of southern and northern China.

The first emperor of Song named Zhao Kuang Yin (赵匡胤) was a great statesman and general with rare gifts and bold strategy. He was ambitious and eager to unify China.
One day, Southern Tang, the strongest state in southern China, sent Xu Xuan (徐铉) to render tribute to Song. Xu Xuan and his two brothers were all famous scholars at that time. They were not only very knowledgeable but also great at debating, and Xu Xuan was the best of them.

According to the then diplomatic custom, state Song had to assign a diplomat to accompany Xu Xuan the whole trip during his stay. Knowing that Xu xun was a formidable debater, all officials of Song refused to take this position. The prime minister also had difficulty in finding out a suitable person for this job. So he had to
ask his emperor for instructions.

Zhao Kuang Yin said nothing but: "All right. Let me handle it." The next day, his secretory went to the barracks of the royal bodyguard and chose ten illiterate soldiers. From them, Zhao Kuang Yin picked out one at random. "you!" he said, "Now you officially become a diplomat of state song."

All were so surprised that they were at a loss for words. Many ministers did not think it was right way to deal with diplomatic event, but they dare not say no or ask why.
The astonished or, more exactly, scared solider was forced to meet Xu Xuan on the border.

As might be expected, on seeing the diplomat of Song, Xu Xuan began showing off his talent. First, he blamed Song for sending spies to his country and encroaching upon his country's land, and then he brought out a number of carefully prepared treaties that could restraint Song from further expanding its territory if they were ratified by Song.

The poor newly-assigned diplomat knew neither what Xu Xuan was talking about nor how to respond.

The only thing he could do was silently following Xu Xuan  everywhere. At first, Xu Xuan thought that it was his words that struck Song's diplomat dumb, thus he was quite excited and started to expect a diplomatic triumph. Gradually, however, he found that no matter what he said, the bodyguard-like person had no response at all. Realizing that it was pointless keeping talking, he fell into silence as well.

A few days later, he ended his fruitless trip and went back to Southern Tang.

Background and Comment:

Zhao Kuang Yin knew that he was in the wrong, because to unite China, he had to conquer the other states, no matter whether they were innocent or not. He wisely realized that it would be much better to give his rivals no chance to talk than to involve in a difficult argument.

Therefore, although Song in fact did not lack capable debaters (We can see lots of them in the history of the Song Dynasty), he still assigned an illiteracy to trouble a well-learned scholar.

What he did was not noble but quite practical.

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