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Bian He's Jade Disc (He Shi Bi)

Bian He was a jade master from the state of Chu. He was entrusted with the task of finding the best jade for Chu. He climbed many a mountain and turned over every stone that he came across. One day he came to Mount Jin, where, according to legends, a pair of phoenixes frolicked on slate. Bian He believed that there must be treasure in this mountain. After an exhaustive search, he came upon a large piece of stone that looked unremarkable at first. But upon close inspection of its grains and veins, Bian He was convinced that it was a rare piece of jade. He brought it back to King Li of Chu.
King Li asked his court workmen to check it out. The king’s men told the king that it was an ordinary stone not deserving the attention of a king and Bian He was a cheat. Emperor Li ordered the men to chop off Bian He’s left foot and dump him onto the street.

Bian He dragged himself back to Mount Jin. In spite of the tremendous pain, he never lost the conviction that the stone was jade. He waited patiently for the opportunity to reveal it to the world.
Three years later, King Li died. King Wu succeeded the throne. Bian He took the stone to the capital and presented it to the new king. King Wu summoned his workers to evaluate it and they came to the same conclusion—an ordinary stone! This time Bian He lost his right foot. He crawled back to Mount Jin, and wept for three days and three nights. When his tears dried up, his eyes shed blood.

Years passed. King Wu also died. Then came the time of King Wen. King Wen heard about a footless man weeping over a stone and wondered if he had been wronged. King Wen sent his man to question Bian He, asking, "Why, when many had their feet cut off, are you grieving so?" He replied, "I'm not grieving for my feet. I'm grieving for the wrongs that a precious jade is called a stone, and an honest man a liar." Again, the stone was brought to the king’s court. King Wen found it looking like one out of a pile on any hills. Reluctantly he summoned his workmen to have a look. The workmen knocked off bits of the stone and one of them said that perhaps the matter could be put to rest by opening it.
Opening a stone took great amount of work, as it had to be done by grinding with hard sand. As the last bit of the shell was worn off, light shone. The workmen dropped their tools and knelt. They came upon something that the world had never seen--the jade was so large and pure that it drew the beholders in like an unfathomable spring. It was as if the beauty in the whole universe had condensed into this handful of green. As people congratulated the king, Bian He felt to the ground. He gave out a piercing howl that vibrated in the corridor of history.

This Bian He’s Jade Disc was coveted by the kings and dukes all over China, and later stolen from Chu and eventually sold to the state of Zhao.

The King of Qin offered 15 cities to the State of Zhao in exchange for the jade. Qin was then the most powerful state, making it difficult for the stake of Zhao to decline the offer. On the other hand, the Kings of Qin had historically been untrustworthy, and King of Zhao did not trust the King of Qin to keep his side of the bargain. One of King’s Minister Lin Xiangru volunteered to go to the Qin court with the Bian He’s Jade Disc, promising to trade the jade for the cities if the King of Qin kept his word, and to return the jade safely if he did not.

Thus, Minister Lin was dispatched to send the jade to Qin. At the Qin court, the King of Qin passed the He Shi Bi among his ministers and concubines, making no mention of the promised 15 cities.  It became clear that Qin would not uphold its side of the bargain, Minister Lin then tricked the king of Qin, claiming that the jade had a small defect on it. The Marquis of Qin said he could not find it, and asked Lin to show him where the scar was. The moment Lin took the jade, he threatened to smash the Jade Disc and his own head on the court pillar if the King of Qin tried to take it back by force. He demanded the King of Qin fast for three days and receive him with proper ceremonies before surrendering the jade. The Qin king, unwilling to see such a thing ruined, agreed. That night, still not trusting the King of Qin, Minister Lin ordered his henchman to take the jade and return to Zhao in secret.

When the king of Qin found out, he was very furious and threatened to execute Minister Lin. However, unwilling to execute a Zhao diplomat, he could do nothing but let Lin go. After Lin returned to the stake of Zhao, he was made a high adviser.

Later, Qin conquered the other six Warring States and founded the Qin dynasty; the Bian He’s Jade Disc was then taken from the last duke of Zhao by the Emperor of Qin, who ordered it made into his imperial seal. The words, "Having received the Mandate from Heaven, May the Emperor lead a long and prosperous life” were written by the Prime Minister Li Si, and carved onto the seal by a Jade master named Sun Shou.

When Colonel Liu Bang attacked the capital of Qin a decade later, the Qin General Zi Ying handed the jade over as a way of surrendering. This seal was to be passed on even as the dynasties rose and fell, but was lost between forever the Tang and Ming dynasties.


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