Chinese Idiom Stories
Retreating about Thirty Miles as Condition For Peace
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.), Duke Xian of the State of Jin Killed the crown prince Sheng because he had heard slanders about Sheng and believed them. He also sent his men to arrest Chong Er, Shen Sheng and believed them. He also sent his men to arrest Chonh Er, Shen Sheng's brother. Hearing the news, Chong Er escaped from the state of Jin, remaining a fugitive for more than ten years.
After innumerable hardships, Chong Er arrived at the State of Chu at last. King Cheng of the State of Chu treated him with high respect as he would have treated the ruler of a state, believing that he would have a vright fuure.
One day, King Cheng of the State of Chu gave a banquet in honoudr of Chong Er. Suddenly, amid the harmonious atmosphere of drinking and talking, King Cheng of the State of Chu asked Chong Er. "How will you repay me when you return to the State of Jin and become its ruler one day?" After thinking for a moment, Chong Er said, "You have plenty of beauties and attendants as well as jewelry and silk cloth, and the state of Chu abounds in rare brides and animals. What treasure can the State of Jin boast having to present to your majesty?" King Cheng of the State of Chu said, "You are too modest. Nevertheless, you still have to show your gratitude to me in one way or another, I presume?" Smiling, Chong Er answered, "If I should be fortunate enouge to return to the State of Jin and become its ruler, the State of Jin would be friendly to the State of Chu. If, one day, there should be a war between the two states, I would definitely order my troops to retreat three SHE (one SHE is equivalent to thirty LI. The LI is a Chinese unit of length equivalent to half kilometre. And, therefore, three SHE is about thirty miles.) as a condition for peace. If, under that condition, you were still not reconciled, I would have to fight with you."
Four years later, as might be expected, Chong Er returned to the State of Jin and became its ruler. He was none other than Duke Wen of the State of Jin famous in ancient Chinese history. Ruled by him, the State of Jin became increasingly powerful.
In the year 533 B.C., the Chu troops and the Jin troops confronted each other in a battle. Faithful to his promise, Duke Wen of the State of Jin ordered his troops to retreat about thirty miles. After retreating, the Jin troops were stationed at Chengpu. Seeing that the Jin troops were retreating, the Chu troops thought that the enemy troops were afraid, and began chasing them. Taking advantage of the Chu troops' arrogance and their talking the Jin troops lightly, the Jin troops concentrated their forces and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Chu troops, thus winning the victory of the battle of Chengpu.
This set phrase, "retreating about thirty miles as a condition for peace," is derived from the Chapter "The Twenty-second Year of Duke Xi" in ZuoZhuan, the famous commentary by Zuo Qiuming on The spring and Autumn Annals. The idea of this set phrase is to give way to somebody in order to avoid a conflict.