In the Spring and Autumn Period, Yan Zi was a high official in the Qi State. Yan Zi was well known for his intelligent approach in persuading Emperor Qi Jing Gong. The Emperor was very fond of a eucalyptus tree right outside of the palace and he ordered the officials to take care of the tree. A sign by the tree said: “Whoever touches the tree will be jailed, and whoever hurts the tree will be killed.” The people in the city were so afraid of the tree that they stayed far away from it.
One day after getting drunk, a man touched the eucalyptus tree and got caught. After Emperor Jing Gong heard about it, he was furious. He said: “This man is the first person who dares to violate my rule and he should be punished severely.”
The drunkard’s daughter heard that her father had been arrested and was determined to rescue him. So she went to see Yan Zi and said to him: “I am a poor woman from the suburbs and want to be your concubine.”
Yan Zi listened and said with a smile: “I have to introspect carefully. Think about it: Am I a man who is greedy for women? I am already an old man with grey hair and yet there is a beautiful woman coming to see me. I think you must be facing something difficult and want help from me. Don’t worry, just tell me!”
The woman told him about how her father got drunk and mistakenly stumbled into the eucalyptus tree. Yan Zi listened and promised to help her.
The next morning, Yan Zi said to Emperor Jing Gong: “I have heard that people who confiscate other’s wealth for their own extravagance are called tyrants. People like something so much that they grant it a majestic power equal to that of the monarch, which is abnormal; killing innocent people is called brutality. These three are the great disasters of the kingdom. Now you search for the people’s wealth to satisfy your own lusts. This is tyrannical; you like the eucalyptus and hang a sign to scare people away. The virtue of the tree is like a monarch. Isn’t this unusual? The person who touches the eucalyptus tree has to be sentenced. This does not go well with the national law. Isn’t this harmful to the people? You have these three scourges; I am afraid that it will be hard for you to rule the state in the future.”
Yan Zi blasted the Emperor repeatedly; he did not show any mercy. Emperor Jing Gong was almost speechless, then said: “You are right. If you didn’t come to teach me a lesson, I would have made a big mistake. I’ll follow your advice.” So Emperor Jing Gong ordered the tree-guarding official and the sign by the tree removed, abolished the ban, and released the man who had touched the tree.
Translated by Yi Ming