Submitted by AlwaysBored10711 t3_10np1gw in history

Hi everyone, I’m hoping someone here is knowledgeable on ancient Chinese history- specifically Warring States Period, and can explain why exactly Wu Tzu Hsu was executed. I’ve been studying this period out of pure interest. I have no scholar study or anything like that which is probably required to really understand the events. I also have no prior knowledge on Chinese names so admittedly it can be confusing keeping track of who’s who haha.

If I’m understanding the text correctly, Wu Tzu Shu had an assassination attempt the first time (by the Ch’u?) but merely escaped thanks to a ferry man who had recognized him- but didn’t want to cash in on the reward (of capturing him). I take it once he was back in Wu, there was discussion to attack Ch’u but both the King and Prince feared his desire to attack was out of revenge for his father/brothers executions at Ch’u hands. They waited until King P’ing died to attack Ch’u 5 years later and then I take it several wars happens through the years proceeding. I take it during one of these battles years later is when Wu invaded Ch’u capital, Wu Tzu Shu dug up the now dead kings body (the king who executed his father and brother) and proceeded to mangle the corpse, which everyone viewed as a disgrace, especially considering he once served said Ch’u king. Years later after Fu-Ch’ai became king, he made peace with Yüeh instead of assassinating him like Wu Tzu Hsu recommended, out of fear they wouldn’t get the chance again. He also suggested not to go to war years later, which did in fact end up being a victory however. Wu Tzu Hsu realizing Wu is doomed for not heeding his word, he tells his son to flee Wu. I take it P’i had issues with Wu Tzu Hsu and would slander him to the king and named off multiple reasons why he should be removed from the party out of fear he would cause them misfortune. The king later saying he was suspicious even prior to P’i warnings.

Probably a terrible summary haha, but is that essentially why he was executed? Because they found success without his advice which led to the assumptions that his suggestions were therefore “wrong” and “could have” led the Wu to defeat, along side the fear that he was making decisions based on his own desire for revenge for his family and not in the best interest of Wu (attacking the kings dead corpse being what ultimately did him in?). His head was dumped in the river, and civilians erected a status and renamed the river in honor of him so he must of been generally liked. I guess about 9 years late the Wu would finally fall. So he wasn’t entirely wrong?

Again, I have no prior knowledge at all so I may not 100% be understanding the text correctly.



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vnth93 t1_j6aibqi wrote

The king believed that Wu got embarrassed because of his advice not panning out and would sabotage the state to make it look like they couldn't succeed without him. The charge was that he was acting on his own interest, not the state's.


whyyoutookmyname t1_j6b2x52 wrote

Wu Zixu (伍子胥) did not suggest the assassination. He helped Fu Chai (夫差), the King of Wu, by reforming their kingdom and building a formidable army. They defeated the Kingdom of Yue in the Battle of Fujiao (夫椒之战), and broke into the capital city of Yue. Gou Jian (勾践), the King of Yue, was trapped on the Kuaiji Mountain (会稽山) with his remaining force of 5000 soldiers.

At this point, Wu Zixu insisted on forming an alliance with the Kingdom of Qi, so they could wipe out the Kingdom of Yue and sentence the King of Yue to death. However, Gou Jian bribed Bo Pi (伯嚭), who managed the royal affairs in the Kingdom of Wu. Though Wu Zixu had more power in the kingdom, Bo Pi was much closer to the king.

Fu Chai was already content with the victory, so he followed Bo Pi's advice. Ignoring Wu Zixu's warning, Fu Chai accepted Gou Jian's surrender and withdrew from the Kingdom of Yue. Later, Bo Pi framed Wu Zixu and accused him of treason. Convinced by Bo Pi and deemed Wu Zixu guilty, Fu Chai sent Wu Zixu a sword and ordered him to commit suicide. Filled with anger, Wu Zixu took his own life.

In the end, Wu Zixu was correct. In 482 BC, Fu Chai defeated the Kingdom of Jin, the most powerful kingdom at the time. However, after Fu Chai brought most of his force to the war, the Kingdom of Wu was undefended. Gou Jian, after keeping his profile low for ten years, saw the opportunity and attacked the Kingdom of Wu. In 473 BC, Fu Chai was defeated in battle, and the Kingdom of Wu fell.


AlwaysBored10711 OP t1_j6bew2w wrote

Thankfully not haha. I’m just reading The Art Of War by Sun Tzu because I wanted to get into reading. I get it’s not exactly a beginner read but so far I’ve understood enough of it except for this section. The translator was describing Wu Tzu Hsu’s life in the introduction but the way he summarized all the wars and events into just a few pages kind of made it confusing for someone who has never studied that time period. I found his “character” interesting enough that I was curious why he was executed. Hence this post.

I plan on reading “On War” by Carl Von Clausewitz next just for fun. Again- probably not a beginner read either but whatever haha. I think they make you read it if you join military or something (don’t quote me on that) so I suppose you could say I’m doing someone’s homework for fun 😂


AlwaysBored10711 OP t1_j6bhdc2 wrote

First of all- thank you for the explanation. The text said:

“Then he cut his throat and died. When the king of Wu heard about it he was enraged and seized his corpse”.

After reading what you said and rereading that part it makes a lot more sense now. He says the following before dying:

“You must plant my grave with catalpa trees in order that they may be used for vessels. And gouge out my eyes and suspend them above Wu East gate so that I may see Yüech invaders enter and destroy Wu”.

So I figured he was physically talking to the executioner who had the blade already on his throat or something. That’s why I thought it was an execution.

Was that considered an honorable death? I know WW2 Japanese forces carries daggers they’d use to commit seppuku as it was considered honorable. Obviously there’s a MASSIVE time difference between those two periods haha.

Thanks again for the assistance!


whyyoutookmyname t1_j6brep5 wrote

Sort of, but it's a little bit different from Japan. The Chinese term 赐死 roughly translates to "ordered/forced suicide" in English.
Seppuku was mostly voluntary and often considered honorable.
On the other hand, only the king or the Emperor in China had the power to order someone to commit suicide. Unlike seppuku, the ordered suicide in China was not exactly honored, but it was certainly better than execution.

For example, if Wu Zixu was ordered to be executed,  he would be treated like a criminal with no dignity. He had to spend his time in jail eating terrible or even spoiled food, wearing dirty clothes, living in a filthy cell room, etc. When the time came, the peasants would watch his execution in public. And worse, since he was considered guilty of treason, his family and relatives could also be exiled or executed.
So when Fu Chai ordered him to commit suicide, it more or less sent a message like this:

"Look, Wu Zixu, you have committed a terrible crime. Normally, you and your children will be executed, your siblings and parents will be exiled, and your grandchildren will be known as the desendents of the traitor. But since you have made significant contributions to our kingdom, I'm giving you the choice to end all of this with dignity. I promise you, everything will be resolved once you end your life, and your family will be spared. If you don't do it now, then I have to do it myself. Things will get really ugly, for me, for you, and for your family."

When the Emperor ordered you to commit suicide, you would usually receive one or more of the following: a long strip of white silk (for hanging yourself), a cup of poisoned wine, or a sword. Before ending yourself, you would need to thank the emperor for allowing you to keep your (and your family's) dignity. You will not be honored, but you will not look too bad in history record and your family will be saved.