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 CHÊNG , 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 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 CHÊNG. Both these states were of the highest caste, the Earl of CHÊNG 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 CHÊNG 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 CHÊNG 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 , 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.
In 545, when Ts'u for the moment had the predominant say over CHÊNG's political action, it was insisted that the ruler of CHÊNG should come in person to pay his respects: this was after a great Peace Conference, held at Sung, on which occasion Tsin and Ts'u arranged a modus operandi for their respective subordinate or allied vassals. There was no help for it, and the Earl accordingly went. The minister in attendance was Tsz-ch'an-a very great name indeed in Chinese history; he was a lawyer, statesman, "democratic conservative," sceptic, and philosopher, deeply lamented on his death alike by the people of CHÊNG, and by his friend or correspondent Confucius of Lu state. The Chinese diplomats then, as now, had the most roundabout ways of pointing a moral or delicately insinuating an innuendo. On arrival at the outskirts of the capital, instead of building the usual daïs for formalities and sacrifices, Tsz-ch'an threw up a mean hut for the accommodation of his mission, saying: "Altars are built by great states when they visit small ones as a symbol of benefits accorded, and by way of exhortation to continue in virtuous ways." Four years later Ts'u sent a mission of menacing size to CHÊNG, ostensibly to complete the carrying out of a marriage agreed upon by treaty between Ts'u and CHÊNG. Tsz-ch'an insisted that the bows and arrows carried by the escort should be left outside the city walls, adding: "Our poor state is too small to bear the full honour of such an escort; erect your altar daïs outside the wall for the service of the ancestral sacrifices, and we will there await your commands about the marriage."
In 538, when Ts'u was, for the first time, holding a durbar as recognized Protector, being at the time, however, on hostile terms with her former vassal, Wu, the King of Ts'u committed the gross outrage of seizing the ruler of a petty state, who was then present at the durbar, because that ruler had married a princess of Wu. The following year, when two very distinguished statesmen from the territory of his secular enemy Tsin came on a political mission, the King of Ts'u consulted his premier about the advisability of castrating the one for a harem eunuch, and cutting off the feet of the other for a door-porter. "Your Majesty can do it, certainly," was the reply, "but how about the consequences?" This was the occasion, mentioned in Chapter VI., on which the king was reminded how many great private families there were in Tsin quite capable of raising a hundred chariots apiece.
It appears that envoys, at least in Lu, were hereditary in some families, just as other families provided successive generations of ministers. A Lu envoy to Tsin, who carried a very valuable gem- studded girdle with him, had very great pressure put upon him by a covetous Tsin minister who wanted the girdle. The envoy offered to give some silk instead, but he said that not even to save his life would he give up the girdle. The Tsin magnate thought better of it; but it is remarkable how many cases of sordid greed of this kind are recorded, all pointing to the comparative absence of commercial exchanges, or standards of value between the feudal states.
Ts'u seems to have thoroughly deserved Yen-tsz's imputations of treachery and roguery. At the great Peace Conference held outside the Sung capital in 546, the Ts'u escort was detected wearing cuirasses underneath their clothing. One of the greatest of the Tsin statesmen, Shuh Hiang managed diplomatically to keep down the rising indignation of the other powers and representatives present by pooh-poohing the clumsy artifice on the ground that by such treachery Ts'u simply injured her own reputation in the federation to the manifest advantage of Tsin: it did not suit Tsin to continue the struggle with Ts'u just then. Then there was a squabble as to precedence at the same Peace Conference; that is, whether Tsin or Ts'u had the first right to smear lips with the blood of sacrifice: here again Shuh Hiang tactfully gave way, and by his conciliatory conduct succeeded in inducing the federal princes to sign a sort of disarmament agreement. This is one of the numerous instances in which Confucius as an annalist tries to menager the true facts in the interests of orthodoxy.
Even the more fully civilized state of Ts'i attempted an act of gross treachery, when in 500 B.C. the ruler of Lu, accompanied by Confucius as his minister in attendance, went to pay his respects. But Confucius was just as sharp as Yen-tsz and Tsz-ch'an, his friends, neighbours, and colleagues: he at once saw through the menacing appearance of the barbarian "dances" , and by his firm behaviour not only saved the person of his prince, but shamed the ruler of Ts'i into disclaiming and disavowing his obsequious fellow- practical jokers. Yen-tsz was actually present at the time, in attendance upon his own marquis; but it is nowhere alleged that he was responsible for the disgraceful manoeuvre. As a result T'si was obliged to restore to Lu several cities and districts wrongfully annexed some years before, and Lu promised to assist Ts'i in her wars.