Lin Xiangru (Chinese: 蔺相如; pinyin: Lìn Xiāngrú) was a politician of the Warring States period, who served the state of Zhao. He figures prominently in two stories of the period, namely the episode of "Returning the Jade to Zhao", as well as the story of "Carrying Thorned Grass and Pleading Guilt".
Lin Xiangru was born sometime in the reign of King Wuling of Zhao. Due to his intellect and superior skills, he rose quickly through the ranks of the Zhao bureaucracy.
Returning the Jade to Zhao
Emissaries from the King of Qin came over to the Zhao court one day, offering to exchange 15 cities for the He Shi Bi, a priceless jade artifact. At this stage of the Warring States period, Qin was the most powerful state, making it difficult to decline. On the other hand, the Kings of Qin had historically been untrustworthy, and King Huiwen of Zhao did not trust the King of Qin to keep his side of the bargain. Lin Xiangru volunteered to go to the Qin court with the He Shi Bi, 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.
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. Lin concluded that the King of Qin was not intending to keep his word. He stated that there was a tiny flaw in the jade, and when the King of Qin returned the jade to him so that he could point out the flaw, Lin threatened to break both the jade and his bones 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, Lin ordered his henchman to take the jade and return to Zhao in secret. Three days later, the King of Qin was furious that the jade had been returned to Zhao. However, unwilling to execute a Zhao diplomat, he could do nothing but let Lin go.
The incident made Lin famous throughout the Warring States as the man who had shamed the Qin king. His status rose and soon he was chief minister of Zhao.
Carrying Thorned Grass and Pleading Guilt
Many people were jealous of Lin's meteoric rise, most notably the old general Lian Po, one of the most experienced commanders during that time. Lian Po was so jealous that he swore enmity between the two of them.
When Lin had caught wind of this, he decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to not confront Lian at all. In one incident, Lian's and Lin's carriage met on a narrow road. Lin, as the higher-ranking minister, normally had right of passage; however, he turned and backed out of the street in order to let Lian pass.
Many saw it as a sign of weakness, not least Lian Po himself, who reckoned that Lin, an academic, was too scared to fight such a warrior as he. Lin's courtiers, too, grew dissatisfied by the subservient way Lin was behaving; many left. But when Lin's chief courtier demanded to know why he was behaving in such a manner, Lin Xiangru replied: "The feud between me and Lian Po is a personal one; but I am in charge of the nation's government, and he the nation's security: I cannot let my personal life ruin that of the kingdom!"
When Lian Po finally heard of this, all his jealousy turned into shame. Deciding to apologize to Lin, he strapped brambles to his bare back and walked from his house to that of Lin Xiangru's, begging for his forgiveness. Lin Xiangru forgave him, and from then on, they became good friends. The alliance between chief minister and general kept Zhao peaceful for years.
When Lian Po was on the verge of being replaced as overall commander in the Battle of Changping by the much younger and much more inexperienced Zhao Kuo, Lin Xiangru begged King Xiaocheng of Zhao to reconsider the move. However, his advice was not heeded, and disaster followed. Lin Xiangru died probably in the years between Changping and the annexation of Zhao by Qin.
- Sima Qian (1993). Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty II, translated by Burton Watson. Columbia University Press. p. 259. ISBN 0-231-08167-7.