At the beginning of his reign, Duke Ging of Tsi loved to draw heroes about him. Among those whom he attached to him were three of quite extraordinary bravery. The first was named Gung Sun Dsia, the second Tian Kai Giang, the third Gu I Dsi. All three were highly honored by the prince, but the honor paid them made them presumptuous, they kept the court in a turmoil, and overstepped the bounds of respect which lie between a prince and his servants.
At the time Yan Dsi was chancellor of Tsi. The duke consulted him as to what would be best to do. And the chancellor advised him to give a great court banquet and invite all his courtiers. On the table, the choicest dish of all, stood a platter holding four magnificent peaches.
Then, in accordance with his chancellor’s advice, the Duke rose and said: “Here are some magnificent peaches, but I cannot give one to each of you. Only those most worthy may eat of them. I myself reign over the land, and am the first among the princes of the empire. I have been successful in holding my possessions and power, and that is my merit. Hence one of the peaches falls to me. Yan Dsi sits here as my chancellor.
He regulates communications with foreign lands and keeps the peace among the people. He has made my kingdom powerful among the kingdoms of the earth. That is his merit, and hence the second peach falls to him. Now there are but two peaches left; yet I cannot tell which ones among you are the worthiest. You may rise yourselves and tell us of your merits. But whoever has performed no great deeds, let him hold his tongue!”
Then Gung Sun Dsia beat upon his sword, rose up and said: “I am the prince’s captain general. In the South I besieged the kingdom of Lu, in the West I conquered the kingdom of Dsin, in the North I captured the army of Yan. All the princes of the East come to the Duke’s court and acknowledge the overlordship of Tsi. That is my merit. I do not know whether it deserves a peach.”
The Duke replied: “Great is your merit! A peach is your just due!”
Then Tian Kai Giang rose, beat on the table, and cried: “I have fought a hundred battles in the army of the prince. I have slain the enemy’s general-in-chief, and captured the enemy’s flag. I have extended the borders of the Duke’s land till the size of his realm has been increased by a thousand miles. How is it with my merit?”
The Duke said: “Great is your merit! A peach is your just due!”
Then Gu I Dsi arose; his eyes started from their sockets, and he shouted with a loud voice: “Once, when the Duke was crossing the Yellow River, wind and waters rose. A river-dragon snapped up one of the steeds of the chariot and tore it away. The ferry-boat rocked like a sieve and was about to capsize. Then I took my sword and leaped into the stream. I fought with the dragon in the midst of the foaming waves. And by reason of my strength I managed to kill him, though my eyes stood out of my head with my exertions. Then I came to the surface with the dragon’s head in one hand, and holding the rein of the rescued horse in the other, and I had saved my prince from drowning.
Whenever our country was at war with neighboring states, I refused no service. I commanded the van, I fought in single combat. Never did I turn my back on the foe. Once the prince’s chariot stuck fast in the swamp, and the enemy hurried up on all sides. I pulled the chariot out, and drove off the hostile mercenaries. Since I have been in the prince’s service I have saved his life more than once. I grant that my merit is not to be compared with that of the prince and that of the chancellor, yet it is greater than that of my two companions. Both have received peaches, while I must do without. This means that real merit is not rewarded, and that the Duke looks on me with disfavor. And in such case how may I ever show myself at court again!”
With these words he drew his sword and killed himself.
Then Gung Sun Dsia rose, bowed twice, and said with a sigh: “Both my merit and that of Tian Kai Giang does not compare with Gu I Dsi’s and yet the peaches were given us. We have been rewarded beyond our deserts, and such reward is shameful. Hence it is better to die than to live dishonored!”
He took his sword and swung it, and his own head rolled on the sand.
Tian Kai Giang looked up and uttered a groan of disgust. He blew the breath from his mouth in front of him like a rainbow, and his hair rose on end with rage. Then he took sword in hand and said: “We three have always served our prince bravely. We were like the same flesh and blood. The others are dead, and it is my duty not to survive them!”
And he thrust his sword into his throat and died.
The Duke sighed incessantly, and commanded that they be given a splendid burial. A brave hero values his honor more than his life. The chancellor knew this, and that was why he purposely arranged to incite the three heroes to kill themselves by means of the two peaches.
Note: Duke Ging of Tsi (Eastern Shantung) was an older contemporary of Confucius. The chancellor Yan Dsi, who is the reputed author of a work on philosophy, is the same who prevented the appointment of Confucius at the court of Tsi.