The Tang Dynasty tomb mural Feast in the Wild, portraying the lavish feasting scene of the Tang Dynasty nobility, was excavated from the burial site of the Wei family in Chang'an District, Xi'an. (Photo credit: Gucheng Culture/FOTOE)

The term "feast (fan ju)" originated in the Song Dynasty and has a history of over a thousand years. "Ju" originated as a chess term, evolving to signify "situation" or "position". Over time, it extended to convey meanings such as "gambling", "gatherings", or "traps". In Chinese history, there have been numerous thrilling and intricate feasts, far from simple dining occasions. Strategies and responses played a pivotal role in those gatherings, significantly influencing historical developments.


In 606 BC, King Zhuang of Chu gifted Duke Ling of Zheng a large softshell turtle. Duke Ling had the turtle made into soup and shared it with his courtiers. During the feast, he teased Prince Song by arranging for the chef not to serve him the turtle soup. However, Prince Song approached Duke Ling's table, dipped his index finger into the turtle soup, and tasted a mouthful by putting the finger into his mouth. Duke Ling was furious and almost killed Prince Song. Fearing Duke Ling's revenge, Prince Song pressured Prince Guisheng to join forces in staging a coup, ultimately leading to the assassination of Duke Ling.


In 604 BC, King Zhuang of Chu decided not to investigate the general who had flirted with his favourite concubine at a feast, greatly moving the general. In the following years, Chu and Jin engaged in battle, with both sides evenly matched and unable to make progress. Thanks to the courageous actions of this general who valiantly slayed the enemy by charging into their ranks five times and presenting the head of the enemy general to King Zhuang of Chu, the State of Chu achieved a decisive victory.


In 515 BC, Prince Guang hosted a feast to entertain King Liao of Wu, during which an assassin named Zhuan Zhu was assigned to present grilled fish to King Liao. Zhuan Zhu concealed a dagger within the fish. As he neared King Liao, he deftly retrieved the dagger from the fish and swiftly plunged it towards King Liao, causing him to fall and meet his end. After the successful assassination, Prince Guang seized the throne and rose to power as the dominant ruler of his time.


In 457 BC, Zhao Xiangzi invited his brother-in-law, the King of Dai, to a feast at the Xiawu Mountain, and the King of Dai willingly accepted the invitation. Amidst the festive atmosphere of singing and dancing at the feast, a warrior disguised as a wine server raised a long-handled golden wine vessel and used it to strike and kill the King of Dai. Following this incident, Zhao Xiangzi dispatched troops to swiftly conquer the state of Dai, incorporating it into the territory controlled by the Zhao clan.


In 206 BC, Xiang Yu invited Liu Bang to the Hongmen Feast. Fan Zeng arranged for Xiang Zhuang to perform a sword dance during the banquet, aiming to assassinate Liu Bang. Xiang Bo drew his sword to shield Liu Bang and danced to protect him. Later, Liu Bang feigned using the restroom to flee to his camp, sending Zhang Liang to handle the situation and narrowly avoiding the assassination. Xiang Yu failed to kill Liu Bang and finally took his own life at the Wujiang River.


In 131 BC, during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han, Guan Fu, a close friend of the Marquis of Weiqi Dou Ying, was arrested and sentenced to death by the Marquis of Wu'an Tien Fen for his disrespectful comments at a feast. Tien Fen used a prior offence as grounds for his arrest and execution. Dou Ying made every effort to save Guan Fu by arguing with Tien Fen at a court session, but due to Empress Dowager Wang's intervention, Guan Fu was sentenced to familial extermination, while Dou Ying was publicly beheaded.


In 884 AD, Zhu Wen hosted a feast at Shangyuanyi to entertain Li Keyong. When Li Keyong drunkenly insulted Zhu Wen, the latter sent troops to surround Shangyuanyi and attempted to kill Li Keyong by setting fire. Luckily, heavy rain extinguished the flames, enabling Li Keyong to lead his forces in a daring escape from the encirclement. This banquet sparked a lasting enmity between Li and Zhu, resulting in three decades of ongoing conflict.


In 962 AD, after his court duties, Emperor Taizu of Song Zhao Kuangyin shared a drink with generals including Shi Shouxin, Gao Huaide, Wang Shenqi, Zhang Lingduo, Zhao Yanhui, and Luo Yangui. At the feast, Emperor Taizu of Song advised the generals to relinquish their military authority, live in peace and prosperity, and consider forming alliances through marriage with him. In this manner, both the emperor and courtiers can foster mutual trust, ensuring a successful and harmonious outcome from inception to conclusion. After the banquet, out of concern for their lives, the generals all requested to give up their military power. Emperor Taizu of Song readily agreed, a moment later known as the "surrender of military power over a cup of wine".


In 1641 AD, Li Zicheng's forces seized Luoyang, capturing the wealthy and callous Prince of Fu, Zhu Changxun. Following the execution of the Prince of Fu, Li Zicheng instructed the preparation of a feast. Several roe deer from the courtyard were slaughtered and cooked in a large iron pot. The body of the Prince was washed, placed in the pot, and seasoned with spices. This dish, named "Fulu Wine", was then shared among them. The immensely wealthy yet insatiable Prince of Fu ended up becoming a "dainty dish" for others, leaving a brutal chapter in the history of the Ming Dynasty.

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