Sleep on firelogs and lick gall-bladder
During the Chunqiu time (770–476 B.C.), the emperor of Wu state, Helu, attacked the state of Zhao. Helu’s right foot was severely wounded in the battle and he soon died. His son Fuchai succeeded the throne. Fuchai swore to take revenge on the state of Zhao. Three years later, he took his army to attack Zhao and occupied Zhao’s capital Huiji. The emperor of Zhao, Goujian, was forced to surrender. Goujian and his wife were taken to Wu state. They were jailed in a stone cabin next to Helu’s tomb, where they looked after the tomb and fed horses for Fuchai.
Fuchai’s advisor Wu Zixi suggested to him to kill Goujian. But Fuchai would rather have a submissive Goujian than a dead one. He enjoyed watching Goujian suffer from the captivity and humiliation. Goujian showed absolute obedience in the face of hardship. When Fuchai came to inspect the horse farm, Goujian kneed down to serve as the mounting step for him. When Fuchai was sick, Goujian came to taste his feces and gave him the diagnosis. Over time Goujian gained trust and favor from Fuchai. After three years, despite the strong objection from his advisor, Fuchai sent Goujian back to his home state Zhao.
Goujian became the emperor of state Zhao. But he spent no time to celebrate. His ultimate goal was revenge. He led the citizens to work hard and build up the army. In order to stay alert, he set up two life routines. One was sleeping on the firelogs every night. He wanted to tell his people that there was no comfort until they completed the revenge for their state. The other one was hanging a gall-bladder in his room. He kept it in his mouth for a moment every morning and night. He wanted to remind himself of the bitterness and humiliation he had in the state of Wu.
Goujian often worked on the farm, his wife did weaving all the time. They lived a very stringent life with their people. Sixteen years later, Goujian took his army to attack Wu. The war lasted for five years. Finally, Wu was defeated and its emperor Fuchai was surrounded at the top of the mountain Gushu. Fuchai sent his delegation to beg for peace. Goujian denied. “I didn’t listen to Wu Zixi. I can never see him,” cried Fuchai in great shame. He covered his face with a cloth and killed himself.
This story is not only about revenge. It’s about goal is bigger than dignity. The dignity will come back when the goal is achieved, when the purpose is driven by self-motivation.