The Chinese translation of my history of assassination, Assassins’ Deeds (Reaktion Books) is out. So Chinese readers can now marvel at the astonishing story of the assassin who cut off his own hand.
About two and a half thousand years ago, Helu, ruler of the Chinese kingdom of Wu, decided to book an assassin to kill off a rival who wanted to steal his throne. He was surprised when a trusted adviser recommended Yao Li, who was barely four feet tall, but the king was assured that anything the assassin lacked in stature he would more than make up for in commitment.
And that seemed to be confirmed when Yao’s first demand was that the king should cut off his hand and kill his entire family. The assassin argued that this would convince Helu’s rival that Yao Li was the king’s sworn enemy. And sure enough, the now one-handed assassin was able to worm his way into the rival’s confidence and, once there, use his surviving hand to plunge a spear into his back as he tried to mount his bid for the throne.
The story goes that the victim was so impressed, he congratulated Yao on his daring and with his dying breath, ordered his soldiers not to punish the killer, but Yao was overcome with remorse at what he had done to his own family, and threw himself into the Yangtse River never to be seen again.
Or if Chinese readers prefer, there is the giant assassin who learned the skills of haute cuisine to open up a path to his target, but that is another story.