Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen – 28 The Righteous Xia

No. 28 The Righteous Xia: Killing you would be unconscionable, [I] will repay your kindness.

Wuyizidi: For this illustration I will not translate from Jian Xia Zhuan, but rather the true incident it is based on as documented in official history (see last section), so the second part of the accompanying text above would not make sense.

This drawing was inspired by a true event in the life of Li Mian 李勉. Directly related to the ruling family, Li Mian (717-788) was a prominent statesman and highly successful general during the middle period of Tang Dynasty.

When he was the mayor of Kaifeng, Li met a prisoner that had an bold, impressive air about him. The prisoner asked to be spared, so Li granted him freedom.

Several years later, after his mayoral term was over, Li Mian was touring Hebei on vacation, and ran into his former prisoner. The prisoner was ecstatic upon seeing him. He invited Li back home, and treated him to an extravagant banquet.

The prisoner pulled his wife aside to discuss how to repay Li’s kindness:

Prisoner: The benefactor saved my life, how should we repay him?
Wife: Would one thousand pi (one pi = four yard) of satin be enough?
Prisoner: No.
Wife: How about two thousand?
Prisoner: That still wouldn’t be enough.
Wife: If that’s the case, we might as well kill him.

The former prisoner, after some deliberation, took his wife’s novel suggestion. One of the servants, a young boy, felt great pity for Li and tipped him off.

Upon hearing the shocking development, Li immediately got up and rode away on his horse. He did not even pause to put on his outer jacket. He rode over 50 km before stopped by a river. By that time it was already midnight and the ferry is not running, so he had to stay over at the inn nearby.

The innkeeper was curious: “this area is very dangerous as there are many wild predators around, why were you taking a huge risk traveling at night?” So Li Mian told the man what happened. But before he could finish his last sentence, a voice rang out from high in the room: “I almost killed a good man!” There was a man a man crouching on the beam, observing them from above. They barely saw him before the shadow disappeared.

The man returned before 4am, bringing Li Mian the heads of the ungrateful couple.


頃有土人為畿尉,常在賊曹。有一賊系械,獄未具。尉獨坐廳上,賊乘間告曰:“某非盜,公若脫,奉報有日。”尉視其貌,且异其言,意已許之,佯若不 知,夜呼獄吏放之,仍令吏逃竄。及明,獄中失囚,獄吏又走,府司譴罰而已。


一日歸,其妻問曰:“公有何客,十日不入內耶?”宰曰:“某得此人大恩,性命所保,至今未能報之。”妻曰:“公不聞大恩不報,何不看時為机?”宰不 語,久之,乃曰:“卿言良是。”。尉偶廁中,聞其言,急呼重仆,乘馬便走,衣袋悉不暇取。至夜,已行五六十里,出縣界,止宿村居。仆人怪其奔走,乃問其 故。尉歇定,乃言此宰負思之狀,言訖吁嗟,仆人亦泣下。忽見一人從床下持匕首出立,尉眾悉惊倒。其人曰:“我義士也。宰使我來取君首。适聞說,方知此宰負 恩,不然,枉殺義士也!不舍此人矣!公且勿睡,當取宰頭,以雪其冤。”尉心懼,愧謝而已。


Original Text from “Supplements to Tang National History”:


Wuyizidi: other interesting anecdotes from Li Mian’s life:
When Li Mian became governor of Gongzhou, only 4 or 5 foreign ships visited the port per year. This was because the previous governors were so corrupt, that they demanded so much payback/blackmail, merchants were afraid to come. Li Mian, in contrast to his predecessors, put a stop to all “inspections”. So that by the end of his terms, the port was visited by no less than 4,000 ships per year. As he was packing up to go home, he ordered all gifts (ivory, rhinoceros horns, etc) thrown into the river.

Emperor Dezong bestowed favors on a most corrupt, treacherous official named Lu Qi. The emperor asked Li Mian “Everyone says Lu Qi is evil, but I don’t see him as evil. Do you know what the truth of the situation is?” Li Mian replied “When everyone under the heaven knows someone is evil, but the emperor alone does not know it, that is the very definition of work of great evil.” Li Mian’s brilliant and courageous reply has served as the standard for judging such matters ever since.


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