During the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history, there was a bow maker in the state of Jin. His wife was the daughter of an official. Duke Ping of Jin instructed the bow maker to make a bow, and he spent three years completing the task.
However, the arrow shot from the bow was unable to pierce through one layer of armour at the trial session. Duke Ping was furious and gave an order to put the bow maker to death.
The bow maker’s wife asked to see the duke and was granted an interview. She told the duke three short stories about kings.
First, she asked Duke Ping whether he had heard about the story of Gong Liu, an ancestor of the founder of the Zhou Dynasty, King Wen.
She said: “Gong Liu loved his people. When he saw that the people’s crops had been trampled by cattle, his heart went out to them. A virtuous man who even cared for his people’s crops would not take innocent lives.
“When Duke Mu of Qin lost one of his favourite horses, he looked for it and found a group of thieves slaughtering his horse, ready to have a good meal. He asked the thieves, ‘Are you just going to have the horse meat without wine? I hear eating horse meat without wine may cost a person his life.’ Instead of killing the thieves, he gave them wine. Three years later, the state of Jin attacked the state of Qin, and the duke was under siege. To repay his kindness, the thieves who ate the horse risked their lives to get him out.
“And at a banquet that King Zhuang of Chu held, the candle lights went out all of a sudden. Someone tugged at the queen’s clothes. The queen’s response was quick. She grabbed the person by the chin strap of his hat, pulled hard, and broke it. She asked King Zhuang to punish the person.
“However, the king said, ‘I gifted my courtiers and officials with mellow wine, and they got drunk and behaved inappropriately. I cannot insult them for that.’ He gave the order, ‘We’ll pull off the chin straps of our hats and drink to our hearts’ content today.’ And everybody did as they were told.
“When war broke out between the two states of Chu and Jin, there was a person who always fought bravely at the forefront of every battle against the Jin. King Zhuang could not figure out why this person would go all out to fight the enemy. The person answered, ‘I was the one whose chin strap of my hat was pulled off by the queen.’ Since the king did not punish him, he was ready to give up his life for the king to repay his kindness.”
The bow maker’s wife went on.
“These three sage kings were benevolent and have enjoyed a good reputation until today. Emperor Yao lived in a thatched cottage and led a simple life. But he still felt that the life of the cottage builders was too hard and that the life of the people living in the cottages was too comfortable.
“My husband worked just as hard for you. He picked a tree from Mount Tai to make the bow and used ox horns to make ornaments. He then used the sinews of an elk to make the bowstring before binding everything together with fish gelatin. Those were the four best materials he could find. You were unable to pierce through even one layer of armour because you did not have the skills. Isn’t it ridiculous to want to kill my husband for that reason?
“I hear that when you shoot an arrow, you have to clench your left fist as if you were going to hit a rock, while your right hand should hold the bow like holding a twig. When the right hand releases the arrow, the left hand should not feel anything. Such is the art of archery.”
Duke Ping followed her instructions, and the arrow pierced through seven layers of armour. He set the bow maker free and rewarded him with three taels of gold.
The bow maker’s wife was bright and wise. Not only did she manage to save her husband, but she also taught Duke Ping the importance of benevolence.