With Lips Gone, Teeth are exposed to Cold
(From: Spring and Autumn Annals)
Re-written by BoSt
Long ago, Duke Xian of the state of Jin wished to expand his realm and power; the Duke hence, bade Xun Xi to launch an expedition against the powerful State of Guo. The great distance however was of some concern and the campaign’s success depended on traversing the State of Yu. At the time there was a tentative alliance with Yu so Duke Xian asked Xun Xi for his counsel on this matter.
“In order to secure Duke Yu’s promise to let our army pass …. Hmm…” Xun Xi remained hesitant for a moment, before resuming, “The surest way My Lord, would be to present Duke Yu with our Chuji Jade and good number of Quchan steeds.”
(Note: Xhuji in Xhanxi Province was famous at the time for producing excellent jade stones and Quxhan in Shanxi Province was renowned for its fine breed of horses.)
“Is there no other way?” The Duke Xian was displeased with the suggestion. “The stone is an inherited treasure and should remain so for the next generations. And the idea of losing my steeds to that loathsome, pompous Lord is quite unacceptable. “Duke Xian grumbled, “Perchance, what if Duke Yu accepted our gift but refused our request, what then?”
Xun Xi braved Lord’s fury with this quick riposte: “Well my Lord, if Lord Yu refuses the fine gifts, we can be certain of his veiled hostility and look elsewhere for the safe passage. If however, his Lordship does accept it, we’d only be allowing his Lordship temporary custody of the treasures. What is there to be worried about?”
Duke Xian nodded with approval and soon after sent Xun Xi to the State of Yu to negotiate the army’s safe passage.
Xun Xi was quick to gain admittance to the Yu court. He presented a splendid figure in his fineries holding the large precious stone before him. Many courtiers gasped witnessing the magnificent steeds that were corralled into the courtyard, dazzling everyone.
Duke Yu greedy for the fine gifts, was about to make the emissary of Jin Xun Xi a rash promise when one of his loyal subjects, Gong Ziyi, came forward to protest: “My Lord, I beg a private council with you, if you please.”
“What, now?” Duke Yu was annoyed.
“How preposterous an intrusion! Has propriety and good sense left Gong Ziyi” Many courtiers grumbled under their breath.
Nevertheless Guo Ziyi was a well respected, loyal minister and Lord Yu was bit intrigued. He signalled Guo to advance and gave him permission to speak his mind.
Guo Ziyi was most direct. “There shall be no promise of any kind, your Grace.” His strong, resounding voice simply ripped through the stone cold silence that had enveloped the court.
“What Yu is to Guo is like gums to the cheeks. Gums are closely related to cheeks and cheeks to gums; which is exactly the present situation of Yu in relation to Guo. As the old ancestral saying goes, ‘If the lips are gone, the teeth will be exposed to cold.’ The fact that Guo is able to exist depends on Yu while Yu’s ability to survive hinges on Guo. This inter-dependency will be jeopardized, if we make way for Jin army, allowing Guo to perish. Their demise will transpire in the morning to be followed by Yu in the evening.”
Guo again spoke in good strong voice: “Why should we ever let Jin pass? Why seek a small gain, only to harm vital interests?”
Duke Yu, however refused to listen to reason and, blinded by greed, in the end still gave the Jin army convenient access to Guo.
Thus Xun Xi attacked Guo and conquered it, and on the way back attacked Yu and conquered it too.
Xun Xi then triumphantly returned to Jin. The jade and the horses were once again restored to Duke Xian who, greatly pleased, said in good humor: “The jade remains the same, but he horses have got some more teeth!”