Some closing comments on this volume which dealt with two famous revenge-stories in the Spring and Autumn period. Goujian's story is worth remembering for playing a huge role in Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist (Kuomintang) party's rhetoric/propaganda. The humiliation that Goujian endured to eventually enact his revenge deeply resonated among Chinese in light of Japan's aggressive foreign policy during the early 20th century and the Woxin Changdan (臥薪嚐膽) idiom was frequently used as a nationalist slogan. Chiang Kai-Shek, born in Zhejiang which was the same place that Yue was situated, similarly saw the connections between Goujian and himself. He ordered the compilation of Goujian's biography in two versions (one in literary, the other as colloquial) and his personal diaries note how he used Goujian's story to convince himself not to respond to Japanese provocations even in the face of harsh vocal opposition. After defeat in the Civil War to the communists, Chiang and the Nationalists still holding out in Taiwan once again evoked Goujian's story to nurture hope. For more detailed information, I recommend reading History and Popular Memory: The Power of Story in Moments of Crisis.
Meanwhile in Japan, Woxin Changdan (pronounced as Gashin Shoutan in Japanese) was famously evoked regarding the Triple Intervention to settle the First Sino-Japanese War. Japan saw the foreign diplomatic intervention as an under-handed Russian scheme which robbed Japan of greater gains from the war. As Japan was in no shape to confront a Russia backed by France and Germany at the time, it endured the humiliating conditions only to later have its revenge in the Russo-Japanese War.
Now regarding Wu Zixu, the Shiji chapter on his life is notable for concluding with a commentary from Sima Qian:
The poison of resentment in man is extreme indeed! A king cannot provoke it in a minister, much less in a peer! If previously Wu Zixu had been made to follow Wu She in death, how would he differ from an ant? But he rejected a small principle to wipe away a great shame, and his name is passed on to later generations. Now, whether hard-pressed on the Yangtze River or begging food along the road, how could his mind, even for a moment, forget Ying? Therefore, he silently endured and obtained merit and fame. If not a man of virtue, how could he have reached to this?
If you recall the very first chapter of this manga which covered Sima Qian's life, you'll remember that Sima Qian also chose to endure shame by being castrated in order to complete his father's dream of writing the Shiji. It's clear that Sima Qian saw himself in the story of Wu Zixu, but as historian Stephen W. Durrant notes in The Cloudy Mirror, their methods of revenge are different in style. Wu Zixu violated ethical norms by whipping a corpse while Sima Qian simply slaved away in the imperial archives and wrote a book. So if Sima Qian concludes that Wu Zixu "silently endured and obtained merit," then it's more likely a case of Sima Qian becoming carried away by his own biases and describing his own situation instead of Wu Zixu's life.
Hope you enjoyed the short history lesson. I'll do volume 3 in late summer/early fall.
Shiji v02: MegaShiji v02 c01: Mega
Shiji v02 c02: Mega
Shiji v02 c04: Mega
Previous volumes: Mega