Ching K'o Assassinating the King of Ch'in
Ching K'o/Ch'in Wu-yan /this is [The King of Ch'in]
Ching K'o Assassinating the King of Ch'in
Ching K'o/Ch'in Wu-yan /this is [The King of Ch'in]
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“Alas, the Martyr has Gone Never to Return”

Name: Ching K'o Assassinating the King of Ch'in 
Register No.: 12766-11 
Location: The Wu shrine, Chia-hsiang, Shantung 
Date: Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25-220) 
Size: Gross height 66.0, gross width 92.5 cm 
Description: The first panel depicts Ching K'o trying to assassinate the King of Ch'in: Ching K'o raises his right hand while a man attempts to stop him from the front; the dagger is plunged deeply into the pillar of the palace, and the torn sleeve of the King float nearby; Ch’in Wu-yang, who accompanied Ching K'o to the court, is so frightened that he has collapsed to the floor. The box holding the head of Fan Yu-chi is already open, revealing the human head inside. The King, holding a piece of jade in his hand, hastily runs toward the other side of the pillar. The words inscribed on the stone read “Ching K'o,” “Ch'in Wu-yan,” and “this is [The King of Ch'in].” 

“Ching K'o assassinating the King” is the most common motif of reliefs in Han-tombs and shrines. Three such carvings can be found (in the left stone chamber, front stone chamber and the shrine of Wu Liang) in the famous Wu shrine of Chia-hsiang, Shantung, but each depicts the story somewhat differently. The story of Ching K’o assassinating the King of Ch'in is noted both in “Schemes of Ch'in” of The Schemes of the Warring States Period and in “Biographies of Assassins” in the Records of the Historian. Yet though the descriptions in the two books are similar, the story is presented quite differenty in the reliefs. 

According to textual sources Ching K'o was born in Wei, but his ancestors came from Ch'i. Fond of reading and fencing, he traveled to Yan, where the crown prince Tan treated him as his honored guest. Later when occupied the south of Yan, and the frightened prince asked Ching K'o to assassinate the King of Ch'in. Ching K'o in return requested the head of a surrendering Ch'in general Fan Yu-chi; together with the administrative map of Yan and a sharp dagger, accompanied by Yan warrior Ch'in Wu-yang, he set off to assassinate the King, using the excuse that he wished to offer the King the lands of Yan.

While giving the map to the King, Ching K'o held the box containing the head of Fan Yu-chi, and Ch'in Wu-yang held the box with the administrative map inside. When they reached the bottom of the stairs leading to the throne, Ch'in Wu-yang turned pale with fear. Officials in the court found this rather suspicious, but Ching K'o only smiled and said, “ he is a bumpkin from the North who has never seen a king. That is why he is frightened. Please tolerate his bad manners and let him complete his mission.” When that King asked for the map Ch’in Wu-yang carried, Ching K'o took it and presented it to him. The King then unfolded the map slowly; revealing the dagger. Ching K'o quickly seized the sleeve of the King in his left hand and grabbed the dagger in his right to stab the King. The flustered King struggled to escape; in this effort his sleeve was torn. The King sought to draw his sword out of its sheath, but he was too frightend and the sheath was tight so that he could not remove. Astonished, officials at the court did not know how to react and were of no help to the King: According to Ch'in's law, no one was allowed to carry weapons in the court; the palace guards with weapons could only wait outside the courtroom unless they received orders from the King. Amid the chaos, the imperial doctor, Hsia Wu-chu struck Ch'ing K'o with a sack of medicine he was carrying. The officials at the moment called out to remind the King that he could use this distraction to pull out his sword. This time, the sword came out successfully and the King struck Ch’ing K'o's left thigh. Losing his mobility, Ching K'o threw his dagger at the King but missed. The dagger only hit the bronze pillar. The King then used his sword to strike Ching K'o eight times. Ching K'o, knowing he would fail, laughed and said to the King, “I did not succeed because I wanted to capture you alive, and force you to sign a treaty to return the land you occupied in Yan. This was the only way I could repay crown prince.”

This is what textual sources tell us about Ching K'o's attempt to assassinate the King of Ch'in. But looking at the relief from the Wu shrine, firstly, there is no depiction of the administrative map; secondly, there is no such a person as Hsia Wu-chu, the imperial doctor. There is only a man holding Ch’ing K'o's waist, with no certainty that he might be the doctor. It can be said then that this story was told in the Han dynasty with great variation. The box holding Fan Yu-chi's head may be the key point in the version of the story this relief was based on, since we may be expected to understand that the dagger was hidden inside the box. In fact, books such as The History of the Three Ch'ins, T'ai p'ing yu-lan or Yen tan-tsu tell versions of the story that differ from the one with which people are familiar. Many such popular stories were not included in the Records of the Historian.

One more fact depicted in the relief differs from the account in the Records of the Historian. The piece of jade the King held was “the jade disk of the Hos'.” The tale goes that at the time of King Hui-wen of Chao, someone sent the king a rare and extremely beautiful piece of jade called “the jade disk of the Hos';” the King of Ch'in heard the news and desired the jade so badly that he told King Hui-wen he would exchange the jade for fifteen of Ch'in's cities. Lin Hsiang-ju later returned the jade disk to Chao with a cunning scheme. Did the craftsman, who made the relief, simply mix up the two stories to create this scene? Or was there a story familiar to the Han people but unheard of in modern times? The truth is difficult to determine. In short, this relief shows that not every historical motif in Han arts matches the story told in historical documents. 
(by Shih Ping-qu)


1. 信立祥,《漢代畫像石綜合研究》(北京:文物出版社,2000年)。 
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