Home China Insights General Han Xin: A Shining Symbol of Tolerance

General Han Xin: A Shining Symbol of Tolerance

Han Xin (231-196 B.C.) is listed as a hero from the early Han Dynasty. Han Xin was an ingenious military leader. The general’s contribution to the founding of the Han Dynasty was paramount. Han Xin is known in Chinese folklore as having been a remarkable person of tolerance.

A gifted strategist 

Han Xin’s early childhood was marked by sadness and hardship. Orphaned at a young age, he relied on handouts and fishing to survive. As a result, Han Xin was often shunned. Nevertheless, the young man was keen on military strategy.

Han Xin also had an extraordinary gift. During his entire military career, he never lost a single battle. What’s more, he was never arrogant. There is a famous story about how Han Xin demonstrated his great ability to forbear.

In those days, people practicing martial arts, like Han Xin, would often carry around a sword. One day he was stopped by a local thug who demanded that Han Xin kill him with his sword. If he could not do so, then Han Xin would have to crawl between his legs. Han Xin considered the proposition and then proceeded to crawl between the legs.

Han Xin (231-196 B.C.) is a hero from the early Han Dynasty. (Image: Qiushufang via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

He reasoned that, otherwise, he would have to face the death penalty for taking a life. The bystanders exploded with laughter, but Han Xin was not fazed. Later in life, he always reminded himself of this incident and used it to encourage himself. To this day, this story of Han Xin’s example of forbearance continues to win the admiration of people who read about him.

A brilliant military strategist

In 209 B.C., Han Xin joined the most powerful rebels of Western Chu. However, he was given a low position as a guard. He left the Chu for the Han state, ruled by Liu Bang. One of Liu Bang’s chief advisors called Xiao He took notice of Han Xin’s potential and recommended him to Liu. But Liu rebuffed him.

Disheartened, Han Xin departed, but Xiao persuaded him to return and went to Liu and told him: “Han Xin has unparalleled talent. If you wish only to remain king of Han, then you do not need him. But if you wish to rule all of China, only Han Xin can devise a way to do so.”

Lui finally granted Han Xin the position of a senior general. Han Xin proved his worth as a formidable military strategist by scoring tactical victories one after another. The five years of war between the Chu and Han ended with Liu Bang conquering all of China with Han Xin as his right-hand man.

Treachery, tragedy, and death

China was unified under Liu Bang’s rule, and Liu granted Han Xin the title of “King of Chu” in recognition of his contributions. Months later, Liu Bang was proclaimed emperor. But Liu became extremely jealous of Han Xin’s military genius.

After the states were unified, Liu had no need for Han Xin anymore. The Emperor secretly seized Han Xin’s military command and began demoting him. Xiao He, the advisor who originally recognized Han Xin, with the help of Emperor Liu’s wife, had Han Xin arrested, tortured, and then executed. Han Xin’s entire clan sadly was also put to death.

Han Xin was arrested and thrown into jail. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Some Chinese idioms and sayings originated from Han Xin’s life. The most famous one is: “The shame of crawling through between someone’s legs.” (胯下之辱) It describes a humiliating incident. This idiom originated from the story when Han Xin was tyrannized by a troublemaker.

Han Xin achieved incredible victories and built the Han dynasty before he was 30 years old. Later generations called him the “God of War.”

And do you know what happened to the ruffian who humiliated Han Xin? When Han Xin became general, he went to his hometown where he encountered the person. The thug grew mortally afraid and begged Han to let him live. Han Xin, being the man he was, did one better; he forgave him and made him a lieutenant in charge of security in the capital of Chu.

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  • Simone Jonker worked in NTD Inspired for two years. She wrote light articles and inspiring stories.

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