An Authentic Record of Retribution: Yelu Chucai Obtained Good Rewards for Stopping Killing

Xiao Hui

PureInsight | August 31, 2007

[] Yelu Chucai
was a descendant of Khitan and the imperial lineage of the Liao
dynasty. He was born in 1190. His father, Yelu Lu, was an official of
the Jin dynasty. The Jin dynasty had started to decline at that time.
Yelu Lu told others with emotion, "I had my son when I was sixty and he
has shown great promise. He will be a man of great ability later on and
will be used by a different country." He thus named his son Yelu
Chucai. Chucai was based on an allusion to the fact that talented
people from Chu country were being employed by Jin, according to Zuochuan, a ancient writing in the annalistic style of historical records and a classic of the Confucian school.


After growing up, Yelu Chucai was well read, having particularly
mastered classics of Buddhism. He had profound understanding of the
doctrines of magical calculations and Daoism. In 1218, he joined
Genghis Khan and became the head of his secretariat, a rank equivalent
to prime minister. Prior to a military deployment, Genghis Khan would
ask him to perform divination to determine the successes and failures
of the campaign. His forecasts were correct so often that Genghis Khan
had tremendous confidence in him.

When the Mongolian army marched to the Irongate Pass in the East
Indies, a wild animal with a horn on its head, a body shaped like a
deer, and a horse's tail, said to them: "You shouldn't attack this
place. Please call off the battle as soon as possible."  Upon
hearing this, Genghis Khan was so greatly shocked that he sought the
advice of Yelu Chucai immediately. Yelu Chucai said to him: "It is a
good omen animal and is called the Good Omen Horn. It can speak many
local languages. And it exceedingly cares for lives and detests killing
indiscriminatingly. His appearance is a warning to the Great Khan from
Heaven. I hope that you will follow Heaven's will." Genghis Khan
therefore withdrew his troops and returned home.

During the early days of the Mongolian reign, government officials
often killed people willfully, committed sexual assaults on women and
took others' goods and properties. Yelu reported these affairs to
Genghis Khan when he heard about them. Genghis Khan then ordered his
official to stop killing casually and all capital punishments had to be
reported to him. Otherwise, the official who violated the rule would be
executed. Thus, the situation of killing the innocent at will slowly

Genghis Khan was an emperor who was devoted to territorial expansion.
When he attacked the southern regions, Yelu Chucai made hundreds of
little flags that were distributed to the people who surrendered and
pledged loyalty to him. They not only preserved their lives but were
also able to return to their hometowns with these flags.

When the Mongolian army attacked Bianliang (today's Kaifeng City, Henan
Province), they encountered stubborn resistance. After the Mongolian
army won the battle, some military officers advocated burning down the
whole city and killing all citizens to retaliate for their resistance.
Yelu Chucai advised Genghis Khan: "The purpose of your military
operations was to acquire territory and people. If we kill all the
people in the whole city, you will gain only the territory but without
people. How good would that be?" "Besides, all the exquisite
engineering works and the wealthy families who hid their valuables are
all inside the city. If we burn and kill the people in the whole city,
we will end up with nothing. Wouldn't that be a pity!" Genghis Khan
thus gave up idea of massacring the city and so the lives of tens of
thousands were saved. At the time, so many people who had been taken
prisoner escaped that a military order was issued: All those who take
in or provide financial assistance to those escaped people, will have
their whole families executed. After Yelu advised Genghis Khan, that
order was abolished.

Yelu Chucai had served three generations of the Yuan dynasty. When he
died, many literati moaned, even the Mongolian citizens were choked
with tears. The posthumous title of Guangning Lord was conferred on
him.  His son, Zhu, occupied an official position as vice premier.
Most of his eleven grandsons served in high government position.  

From Lishi Ganying Tongji

Translated from:

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