Qu Yuan, the Poet in the People’s Hearts (Part 1)

“Great! A job well done, Qu Yuan (屈原), my loyal officer! Thanks to you, I was able to see to it that those corrupt officers in my service were appropriately punished for their corrupt dealings with the people!”

“It was merely my bounden duty to see to it that Your Majesty’s administration is clean and free from corrupt and unscrupulous dealings. Only then will Your Majesty’s government be able to run effectively for the benefit of the people and the state of Chu (楚) as a whole.”

“You deserve a handsome reward from me. Ask me for anything that you wish for, and I give you my word that I’ll take it into consideration.”

“No, Your Majesty. To see the corrupt ones brought to justice and the government of Chu in absolute stability is satisfaction enough for me. I require nothing more than this, Your Majesty.”

“Very well, then. If that’s the case, then by the power vested in me as the Supreme King of the state of Chu, I hereby appoint you, Qu Yuan, as my right-hand minister, Chief Advisor and Chief Counselor in the Chu imperial court. The vast piece of land at the outskirts of the city, which is by far the richest piece of land in the entire city, will also be yours with immediate effect.”

“No, Your Majesty. I do not deserve such riches and honour. Your Majesty, I…”

“Say no more, my most loyal and trusted of ministers, for this is what you have earned for yourself.”

And so, the King of Chu left the court, escorted by a few attendants, leaving the minister Qu Yuan bowing down before the empty throne, not realizing that the King had already left. Upon rising from his position, he, too, took departure from the court and went on his way back home.

Map of the feudal state of Chu in ancient China

Indeed, satisfaction beyond words was clearly drawn on his face – satisfaction not because of the rewards that he had just earned for himself, but because he had done a service to his beloved state of Chu by advancing another step in eradicating corruption and injustice in the Chu government. Above all, there was one thing that he loved the most, and that was the state of Chu itself, his motherland. However, if there was something that he loathed the most, it would be corruption, injustice and disloyalty to the state of Chu and its government. To him, these three things would do nothing but severely harm the Chu sovereignty and hegemony, all the more when the state of Chu, along with all the other neighbouring states, was in the midst of incessant threats of domination from the nearby state of Qin (秦).

Within the circles of the imperial court, the very mention of Qu Yuan would bring about both reverence and indignation. To the upright and moral in court, who pledge full and undivided allegiance to the King and state of Chu, Qu Yuan was perceived as the ultimate defender of all that they believed in and held true to. Nevertheless, to the corrupt and immoral in court which, in actual fact, outweigh the upright in number by leaps and bounds, the very mention of this name would stir both resentment and envy – resentment because they have been suppressed from their corrupt ways by Qu Yuan’s quick actions in dragging them to justice, and envy because Qu Yuan had frequently earned the favour and attention of the King of Chu for his righteous actions. No doubt, whenever a corrupt action or dealing occurred amongst the court ministers, Qu Yuan would be the first to sense it and take the culprit to justice without hesitation. Even the most hidden and minute of corrupt cases and acts of disloyalty had never crossed his eyes, as all who worked in the name of corruption and disloyalty would be destined for punishment from the King of Chu, as long as Qu Yuan was still in the imperial court. Tirelessly he would fight against corruption, injustice and disloyalty to the state of Chu, even if it would cause him the world and his life. He considered such a mission as his very purpose of existence.

Besides being a highly favoured minister serving in the King of Chu’s imperial court and a guardian of justice in the Chu imperial court, Qu Yuan was also a highly gifted poet. He considered writing Chinese poetry as another one of his ultimate pursuit and always found some time to do it. He would often sit down during his quiet times, think, and pick up his brush to write poems on various matters, patriotism towards the state of Chu and Confucian teachings being his most favourite themes. Nevertheless, it was neither his poetry nor his high position in the imperial court which marked him above the rest…

It was his popularity amongst the people in the state of Chu that marked him above almost everyone in the state. In every corner of the state, people would revere him and look up to him as the defender of justice and law in the state. Being constantly suppressed by the corrupt ways of the other Chu ministers, the people, especially the villagers, would turn to Qu Yuan to cry for help. His tireless efforts in fighting against injustice and corruption in the Chu government, along with his overwhelming concern for the welfare of the common people, earned him the due respect and admiration from the people of Chu. In fact, the people adored Qu Yuan very much, and he would always be welcomed warmly into the house of any commoner – something he could only dream of attaining if it were the abodes of any of his fellow ministers.

Qu Yuan (屈原)

Nonetheless, righteous and just as he was, Qu Yuan was definitely unable to foresee the raging maelstrom that was waiting before his path to devour him ferociously, as malicious thoughts and scandalous plans were concocted in the hearts and minds of his fellow ministers…

* * *

It was an absolutely fine morning, with the sweet morning rays shining through the windows of the room and the fresh morning breeze puffing gently into the spacious room, when a servant came calling his master’s name and knocking the door outside the room. Upon obtaining the permission to enter, he did so, and presented a brief message to his master.

“Sir, I have just received word from messengers sent from the imperial palace that His Majesty The Supreme King of Chu requires your immediate presence there. His Majesty has sent word that the matter is of utmost importance and His Majesty would like to see immediate justice done,” said the servant.

“What matter would be of so much importance that His Majesty requires my immediate presence? Would I not arrive at the palace at the appointed daily time? Can the matter not wait until then? Very well, thank you for the message,” replied Qu Yuan to his servant.

It was half an hour later before the renowned minister, favoured the most by the King of Chu, made his entrance into the presence of the King. Everything seemed extremely queer in the imperial court, thought Qu Yuan, as if some bad omen was going to befall upon him. He could sense that something was amiss, yet he could not identify exactly what was it. He tried looking around, putting on as courageous a face as possible in order to hide his anxiety and bad feeling about the whole matter.

Firstly, there were far too many people in the court. Even on occasions when the King was about to pronounce a judgment or punishment on a person, there would not be as many people as he saw there, as the presence of only a few important officials, witnesses and guards would suffice to keep things smooth. Secondly, upon closer scrutiny on the faces of the important ministers and officials present there, Qu Yuan could not help but notice that their countenances wore weird and sinister smiles, as if they were utterly satisfied with something that he could not imagine in their hearts. Thirdly, well, he saw the countenance of the King and somehow, there was an odd twinkle in the King’s eyes, something that did not give Qu Yuan the sense of appreciation that he had always enjoyed from the King.

“Perhaps I’m just thinking too much. Perhaps the King is faced with an extremely perplexing case that requires my immediate assistance,” Qu Yuan muttered to himself.

Map of the ancient states of China during the Warring States Period (战国时代) (475 - 221 B.C.)

Qu Yuan stepped forward, covered his fisted right hand with his left hand (in a traditional Chinese gong xi manner), lifted his hands in this manner to above his head and bowed down before the King of Chu. “A thousand apologies, Your Majesty, but I have received an important message from Your Majesty that my presence is required here in this court with immediate haste.”

“My most trusted of advisors, wisest of counselors, and most capable of ministers, Qu Yuan. Indeed! I have summoned you here with immediate haste on a matter that must be resolved before it worsens and causes the downfall of the entire state of Chu!” uttered the King of Chu with such clarity, as if to impress those words upon the minds of everyone present.

“To serve the state and King of Chu would be my utmost pleasure. If Your Majesty would be so kind as to fill me in with the details of the matter at hand, then I would be able to assist Your Majesty in any way that I can.”

“Very well, you have uttered your words well. GUARDS, SEIZE THIS MAN!”

Without delay, the group of guards standing at a corner of the court advanced towards Qu Yuan and grabbed his arms tightly. Qu Yuan was dumbfounded at such a command from the King of Chu that he could not even flex a muscle for a few minutes. When he realized the reality of what was happening to him, Qu Yuan tried to swing his limbs aggressively to break free from the guards, but to no avail. Then, seeing that he could not overpower the guards in any way whatsoever, he opened his mouth to speak.

“Your Majesty, the Great and Honourable King of Chu, what is the meaning of this? May I know what wrong have I committed against the King and sovereign state of Chu?”

The King rose up from his throne and spoke with an air of absolute authority. “As of late, I have been hearing far too many reports regarding your misconduct and corrupt ways in dealing with the administration.”


“SILENCE! As I was saying, I have been hearing far too many reports, and I am obliged to take immediate action to purge the evil from my court. As of late, almost all my ministers and advisors have come to me, bringing similar reports that you have been harshly treating my subordinates in the imperial court, treating them with arrogance and contempt all along.”

“NO, Your Majesty, I would never do such a thing!”

“On top of that, they have brought serious charges of corruption against you. They have informed me that your acts of dragging ministers to justice on charges of corruption all along have only been to hide your true corrupt nature and acts of dishonesty, putting the guilt of your corrupt ways on others while YOU escape justice. DO YOU DENY ALL THESE?”

“Your Majesty! Surely I would not even dream of doing such things! I have been wronged!”

“Then why is it that almost all my ministers and advisors are bringing the same charges against you? If it were only one or two of them, I would have still believed in your innocence, but to have the whole court bringing charges against you? This is preposterous, unless, of course, they have a basis for their claims.”

“Your Majesty! Believe me; I would not do such things! I have been wronged!” exclaimed Qu Yuan.

“Moreover, I have been hearing these complaints for many days already,” continued the King. “I have been fed up to hear of such complaints over and over again, from different people each time. I have questioned everyone in the imperial court and palace, but to my utter disappointment, I have found not little proof that you have indeed betrayed the trust and faith that I had in you.”

“Your Majesty! I have never done such things! I have been victimized!”

“SILENCE! Even my most trusted of subordinates and servants in the palace have bore witness to your misconduct and arrogance. I am totally ashamed and grieved at the thought of me placing so much trust in one who turns out to be the actual sting within my courts.”

“Please, Your Majesty! Listen to what I have to say! I have been wronged! I would never do such a thing against the King and sovereign state of Chu! Please, listen to me, Your Majesty!”




* * *

Statue of Qu Yuan in China
Part 2

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