In ancient China, the country of Zhao was second in power to the country of Qin. The Emperor of Zhao recently appointed a new minister named Lin Xiangru (蔺相如) to his personal council of advisors. General Lian Po (廉颇) was very unhappy with this decision because he felt Lin didn’t deserve the position. General Lian earned his position in the council by rising his life out on the battlefield, whereas Lian simply studied books.
General Lian would often publicly show disrespect to the Lin, such as by having his horse carriage purposefully bump into Lin’s horse carriage. Lin always yielded to General Lian.
One time, Lin’s servant asked, “Why are you always yielding to General Lian? Isn’t that cowardly?”
Lin replied, “Today, the country of Qin is the most powerful. Why do they not invade our country? It’s because they know the country of Zhao has two powerful and wise people: General Lian and myself. If they knew that General Lian and I have conflict, then they wouldn’t hesitate to invade us.”
When General Lian heard about this, he felt extremely ashamed and said, “I act in the heat of the moment, but Lin is able to remain calm and think of the whole country’s citizens!” He wanted to express his sincere apologies to Lin, so he took off his coat and got a bramble branch*. He carried the branch full of thorns to Lin’s house.
(Note: the act of bring a bramble branch to someone was a customary way of showing humble apology. General Lian taking off his coat was also a sign of sincerity.)
When Lin saw General Lian carrying the bramble branch, with thorns cutting at his skin, he immediately rushed to his side and helped him carry the branch. Later, they became extremely good friends who would die for each other.