Soul of China

Sacrificing self for the country

In April 313 A.D., Liu Cong (劉聰), emperor of Han Zhao of the Sixteen Kingdoms, installed his highest concubine Liu E (劉娥) as queen and decided to build a palace for her.

After learning about this, Chen Yuanda (陳元達), military officer of the court, declared that the construction would not only drain the treasury but also the people. It was not, he said, an urgent task.

His remark made the emperor furious.

He told Chen Yuanda: “I am the son of the heaven who wants to build a palace. I never consulted you on that, yet you dare rant to mislead the people. My palace cannot be built if I do not kill you!”

The emperor ordered Chen Yuanda, his wife and children beheaded at the east market.

Artist: Zhu Wenyu (Chinese)
Title: 陈元达锁谏图 (Chen yuanda adviging liu cong) , 1617
Medium: ink and color on paper, on handscroll
Size: 25 x 221.5 cm. (9.8 x 87.2 in.)

Upon hearing the news, Queen Liu E immediately sent people to tell the beheader to hold the execution.

She then wrote to the emperor: “The opinion of Chen Yuanda is for the good of the country. He deserves to be awarded, but instead you want to kill him. How will people regard you as emperor?

The loyal official did not consider himself when he made the suggestion frankly. Yet you not only object against a right opinion, but you also don’t even value the life of loyal official. If you kill such a loyal official, who among the loyal officials would dare speak anymore? Building a palace will indeed make our country and people poor, and put our country in danger. I cannot afford this serious consequence. If you insist on building a palace for me, you better kill me first!”

The letter shocked Emperor Liu Cong. He abandoned his plan and released Chen Yuanda and his family.

He told Chen Yuanda: “With loyal officials like you to assist me and Queen Liu E as a wife, what else should I have to worry about?” — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 29, no. 10 (October 18-31, 2016): 5.