Here is a tale of stone-cold Warring States badassery I first encountered in ITŌ Gingetsu 伊藤銀月's Nihon keigo shi 日本警語史 ("History of Japanese wit [sort of]" — there's probably a whole post lurking in the translation of 警語, to be honest). I pieced the whole story together from what appears to be the original and some commentary scattered here and there around the web.

So we're in China, specifically in Qin, at the end of the Warring States Period (late 3rd C BCE). The king of Qin, soon to become first emperor of a unified China, noticed that despite his prolonged conquerings, there's a fifty-li holdout fief called Anling 安陵 which remains independent, like "a firefly before the sun," as Itō puts it. (They may or may not have had a druid brewing them magic potions with which to go on wacky adventures.)

So the king of Qin sends a messenger to the lord of Anling and says "I would exchange five hundred li of land for Anling. Will you accept my offer?"

"Great king, you are generous," replies the lord of Anling. "To trade large for small would be most magnanimous. However, I received this land from my king, and I must defend it to the last. I will not make the exchange."

The king of Qin isn't happy with this, so the lord of Anling sends a diplomat called Tang Qie 唐且, or maybe Tang Ju 唐雎, to Qin. "Diplome the place up a little, see if you can bring back some booze," he no doubt said.

"I offer to exchange five hundred li of land for Anling," says the king of Qin to Tang Qie, "But the lord of Anling refuses me. Why? Qin has crushed Han and destroyed Wei. Your lord remains on his fifty li of land only because I consider him a worthy man, and have yet to turn my attention to him. And yet, when I offer to embiggen his holdings tenwise, he defies me. Is it to insult me that he does this?"

"No," Tang Qie replies, "It is not. My lord received the land from his king, charged with its defense. He would not make the exchange even for a thousand li; why then should he for five hundred?"

The king of Qin flies into a rage. "Have you heard of the Wrath of Heaven's Son?" he asks.

"I have not," replies Tang Qie.

"A million corpses, a thousand li of flowing blood: such is the Wrath of Heaven's Son!"

"Great king," Tang Qie replies, "Have you heard of the Wrath of the Common Man?"

"The Wrath of the Common Man?" The king of Qin sneers. "He throws off his cap, he goes barefoot, he beats his head against the ground."

"Such is the wrath of the man in the street," Tang Qie concedes, "But not the wrath of the warrior, which rather is Zhuan Zhu's assassination of King Liao, heralded by comets covering the moon; Nie Zheng's assassination of Han Kui, declared by a white rainbow piercing the sun; Yao Li's assassination of Qingji, as a blue eagle savaged the roof of his quarters. These three were all unexalted warriors, nursing their wrath within themselves until an eerie sign descended from heaven — and, once I am added to their number, there will soon be four such men.

"Two corpses, five paces of flowing blood, all under heaven in mourning clothes: such is the Wrath of the Common Man, which falls upon you today!" And Tang Qie's blade appears in his hand as he leaps to his feet.

The king of Qin goes pale, and he kneels in apology. "Be seated, sir, I implore you," he says. "There is no need to go to such extremes; I understand now. The reason that Anling retains its fifty li even as Han and Wei crumble is because it is served by men like you."

(Note: "Wrath of the Common Man" is literally "Wrath of the [People who Wear] Garments of Cloth", 布衣之怒. This requires a bit of cultural interpretation to dig, but the opposition to "Son of Heaven" is, I think, quite clear. I toyed with other terms, like "Wrath of the Unexalted," "Wrath of the Unfancy," but ultimately went for the Copland reference because I'm populist like that.)

Popularity factor: 16


Sounds like the Chinese Damocles.


I wonder if there isn't a better term for 白虹, but admittedly I'm not as up as I should be on my meteorology. (It's not sun dogs, definitely, and it seems like nimbus is semantically separate. In terms of times of day, it seems like it's a ice-crystals in the sky sort of phenomenon. I should start by checking the illustrations in the Chinese sources I have.)


So what happened to Anling? Such cliffhangers!

there's probably a whole post lurking in the translation of 警語, to be honest

Considering how much this usage perplexed me, if such a post would ever be forthcoming at least one reader would be appreciative.


MMS: By all means! I knew I had no hope on that one when trying to look it up led me mostly to similar prophecies.

Carl: Yeah, except there's a second sword suspended below the first one, and if the first one falls, they both do.

RDS: It sank into virtual ungooglability, presumably after it ran out of Batmen to expend on assassination missions.


白虹: It's not in the 日月星災異卜記, which is what I had off-hand (pity, that has illustrations--strange illustrations, yes, but still illustrations). I can check the 乙巳占, which is really the only other encyclopedic divination work I have here, but I can't chase it through Morohashi until I'm cleared by the doctors to go back to work. Hmph.

language hat:

I was going to suggest Morohashi; a dear friend of mine used to rely on it as the answer to pretty much all life's problems (granted, she was a grad student at the time, so her problems were restricted in scope). At any rate, I'm looking forward to any scraps of information about the fate of Anling.


I didn't realize you were out sick, MMS. Take care. Try to move rooms if you notice purple clouds gathering overhead outside. Or inside, which would be a lot worse as portents go.

(And when you get well, Morohashi the shizzle out of that kanjizzle.)

Sgt Tanuki:

I know I'm late to the party, but I can't believe nobody gave you props for the awesome Asterix reference. So: These Qinese are crazy!

language hat:

*waits for Morohashi*

language hat:

Rien à faire.

language hat:

Je commence à le croire.

language hat:

J'ai longtemps résisté à cette pensée, en me disant, Vladimir, sois raisonnable.


Maybe those clouds got MMS after all...

(Sgt Tanuki: Thanks! Now that it has been acknowledged I can finally put the next post up.)




Okay, Morohashi just has "white rainbow", and a sub-entry for the "piercing the sun" omen. Perhaps the 和名類聚抄 would be the next step for my purposes (although better would probably be a Han-era dictionary).

In terms of atmospheric optics, there is a fogbow which could fit--it's known as the "false white rainbow"--but whether it does requires checking weather conditions (as best as can be determined from the sources) against incidents. I'm perhaps overly cautious about assuming a translation based on the modern information. However, I can say that since these 白虹 tend to "pierce" the moon or sun, they tend to be observed straight on. (How they then differ from "sun dogs"--which I do have pictures of in 日月星災異卜記--probably has to do with shape.)

How and why rainbows appear below trees in a few 12th century Japanese examples, I don't understand very well yet either.

(And Morohashi needs to make a back surgery-friendly edition. Certainly I know enough scholars in Japan who've had problems too. Ow.)


Well, thanks for the research, anyway. I learned the word "fogbow" and am currently trying to think of ways to work it into conversation, so it was not in vain.

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