Beacon Tower Legend - Tricking the Marquess with Beacon Fires

On the Great Wall, around every 3-5 km (2-3 mi), you can see a beacon tower. It was a device used for military alarm. When there was a danger of invasion, the fire would be lightened on the tower to send alarming messages. In Chinese history, there is a widely known story related to the beacon tower. It is about a king tricking his marquesses with beacon fires.

Legend of Great Wall Beacon Tower

King You, the last king of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC - 771 BC), was a foolish and self-indulgent ruler so addicted to beautiful ladies. He seldom handled the national affairs, but only asked his marquesses to search for top beauties in the whole state for him. Once someone persuaded him to care more about the affairs of the state, but was dismissed by the fatuous king. A marquess called Bao Xiang proposed the same and was sent to the jail.

In order to save his father, Bao Xiang’s son offered King You a very beautiful young lady named Bao Si, gaining the king’s great satisfaction. He was attracted by Bao Si and stayed with her all day long. However, the beautiful lady never smiled after she was brought to the palace. No matter how hard the king entertained her, she never gave a single smile, which made King You quite frustrated.

Knowing what was troubling the king, a minister named Guo Shifu came up with an idea. He suggested the king, “The beacon towers built before on Mt. Lishan to send alarm messages no longer have any use in such a peaceful age. However, you can use this to gather marquesses in a very short time. Only if you lighten the alarming fire of the beacon towers, they will hurry to save you. Afterwards, you can just tell them that it is a joke and dismiss them then. Bao Si must be entertained by the reactions of the marquesses.” King You thought it reasonable and adopted the “great” idea.

A Beacon Tower on Jinshanling Great Wall
A Beacon Tower of Great Wall

As expected, the marquesses and soldiers assembled immediately and got prepared for the fight as soon as they saw the alarming fire lightened by their king. However, to their disappointment, they found there was no enemy invading at all. Then the king said that it was just a joke and there was no battle or danger. The marquesses and soldiers were so angry knowing they were teased but could say nothing. Seeing the scene, Bao Si was delighted with the response of the marquesses and burst into laughter for the first time.

King You was glad to find the idea came into effect. He rewarded Guo Shifu with 1,000 liang (an ancient Chinese unit of measurement) gold, which left an idiom of Yixiao Qianjin in Chinese, meaning “a smile costs 1,000 liang gold”. The king took advantage of his marquesses’ trust and played the trick several times, making the soldiers and marquesses irritated. Later in 771 BC, the state was invaded by an ethnic group called Quanrong and the capital was surrounded. King You hurried to lighten the alarming fire to gather his troops. Nonetheless, no one came to his recue. Nobody believes the liar any more. The Western Zhou Dynasty got finally demised.

Further Reading:

Stories of Badaling Great Wall
Legends of Jiayuguan Great Wall
Legend of Shanhaiguan Great Wall
Legend of Yumenguan Great Wall
Generals of the Yang Family – Yanmenguan Great Wall Story
Zhaojun Going out of the Frontier Pass
More Stories of Great Wall 

- Last updated on Jan. 04, 2024 by Brenda Lian -
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