This story was a famous event of assassination in the Spring-Autumn Period.
Before I tell the story, I have to tell the background of the story. Shoumeng (壽夢), the old king of the Wu (吴) State, reigned from 585 B.C. to 561 B.C. He had several sons, but he liked a young son named Zha (札). Zha was very clever and kind. Shoumeng thought highly of this son. He wanted to appoint Zha to be his heir, but Zha refused firmly.
In ancient China, a man could have one wife and many concubines. In the Spring-Autumn Period, there was a strict patriarchal system. Generally the wife’s eldest son could be the heir, who would be the future patriarch of his family. Unless the wife had no son, a concubine’s son couldn’t be the heir, even though he might have been older than the wife’s eldest son.
We can’t exactly know which sons of Shoumeng were born by his wife. The old king finally let his eldest son be his heir, but he also hoped Zha could get the throne in the future.
The brothers of Zha became the king of the Wu State one after another. Zhufan (諸樊) reigned from 560 B.C. to 548 B.C., Yuji (餘祭) reigned from 547 B.C. to 544 B.C., and Yimo (夷末, 夷眜 or Yumo 餘眜) reigned from 543 B.C. to 527 B.C. After the death of Yimo, ministers hoped Zha to be the new king. However, Zha wanted to be a scholar instead. He left the capital. Then ministers supported Liao (僚) to be the new king.
About the origin of Liao, ancient scholars had different views. Sima Qian, the author of a historical work “Shiji” (史記), regarded Liao as the son of Yimo. But some scholars thought that Liao was not the son of Yimo according to the description of “Zuo’s Explanation” (左傳), a historical work written between the fifth century B.C. and the fourth century B.C.. And they thought that Liao was an elder brother of Yimo, but he was born by a concubine.
Guang (光), the son of Yimo (some scholars’ view based on “Zuo’s Explanation”) or Zhufan (Sima Qian’s view), thought he was the proper heir to the throne. So Guang plotted to take the place of Liao.
Guang was supported by Wu Zixu (伍子胥) who was from the Chu State. Wu Zixu’s father and elder brother were killed by Chu Ping-King (楚平王) who was the king of the Chu State and believed others’ calumny. Wu Zixu wanted revenge. He came to the Wu State, and became a friend of Guang. Wu Zixu was good at sociality. He knew a brave and faithful man named Zhuan Zhu (專諸) who was called Zhuan Shezhu (鱄設諸) in “Zuo’s Explanation”. Wu Zixu introduced Zhuan Zhu to Guang. Guang treated Zhuan Zhu and his family very well, so Zhuan Zhu wanted to repay him.
In 515 B.C., it was the twelfth year that Liao ruled the Wu State. He sent his army to invade the Chu State, but his army was besieged by the Chu’s army. Guang believed it was a great chance to realize his ambition. He told his plan to Zhuan Zhu, and asked for his help. Guang said to him, “We are the same person.” It meant that Guang would treat the family of Zhuan Zhu as his own family. Zhuan Zhu understood the words, and promised to assassinate Liao for him.
Guang then held a banquet and invited Liao. Liao ordered many warriors to follow and safeguard him. Before servants who brought in dishes entered the banquet room, they were ordered to get naked and put on new clothes offered by the warriors. In the room, servants were ordered to kneel and move ahead by their knees between vigilant warriors.
Guang pretended that his foot was hurt, and left the banquet room. He entered a basement, and there were his loyal warriors. Zhuan Zhu started his action. He hid a dagger inside a large fish. Then he took this dish to the banquet room. When he was close to Liao, he suddenly took the dagger out from the fish. Liao had no time to dodge the blade, and the dagger caused a fatal wound. Almost at the same time, the blades of the king’s warriors pierced into the thorax of Zhuan Zhu. It was too late, and Liao died. The warriors of Guang entered the room, and killed all of Liao’s followers.
Guang achieved what he wished and ascended the throne. He named himself Helu (闔廬). He didn’t forget his promise, and the son of Zhuan Zhu became one of high rank ministers. Helu was militant as former kings. According to the records of “Shiji”, an excellent strategist Sun Wu (孫武) helped Helu to defeat the Chu State, and a famous book “Art of War” (孫子兵法) was his work.
This assassination event became well known. In 500 B.C., Shusun Wushu (叔孫武叔), a minister of the Lu (魯) State, ordered Hou Fan (侯犯) to assassinate Gongruo Miao (公若藐). It was because Gongruo Miao formerly advised Shusun Chengzi (叔孫成子), who was the father of Wushu, to not let Wushu be the heir. After Wushu became the patriarch of his family, he wanted to kill Gongruo Miao. Hou Fan had no idea how to do. A servant who kept horses for him came forward to accomplish this task. The servant took a sword and walked by Gongruo Miao. Gongruo Miao was curious about his sword, and wanted to have a close look at the sword. The servant drew out the sword, held the hilt and the sharp edge pointed to Gongruo Miao. Then Gongruo Miao became aware of the man’s purpose. However, he had no time to evade, and he said to the servant, “Do you regard me as the king of Wu?” The servant answered nothing, and killed him.