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King Kuai is Enthroned in Yan



King Kuai[1] was enthroned in Yan as Su Qin[2] was being killed in Qi[3]. While Su Qin was in Yan he had contracted a marriage alliance[3] with Chancellor Zizhi[4] thus forming a tie between Zizhi and Su Dai[5]. After Su Qin's death, King Min of Qi[6] brought Su Dai back to replace him.



In the third year of King Kuai's reign, he joined Chu and the three Jin[7] in an attack on Qin. They could not prevail and had to retreat. Zizhi was still Chancellor of Yan at this time; he was noble and influential and his decisions were sovereign. Su Dai was serving as Qi's envoy to Yan, and the King of Yan questioned him, saying, "And how are things with the King of Qi[8]?"

He replied, "He will certainly never be a hegemon."

The King of Yan said, "Why is that?"

Su Dai replied, "Because he does not trust his advisors." By this, Su Dai hoped to encourage the King to increase Zizhi's responsibilities. It had the desired effect: the King placed ever more trust in Zizhi, who had a hundred gold pieces delivered to Su Dai and henceforth obeyed any order coming from him."



Lu Maoshou[9] spoke to the King of Yan, saying, "The best thing you could do would be to abdicate in favour of Zizhi. If people call Yao[10] a sage, it is because he stepped back and offered the rule of All-Under-Heaven to Xu You[11]. You was certainly not going to accept, so Yao gained the renown due to one having given away All-Under-Heaven without actually losing possession of it. If you now give the state away to Chancellor Zizhi, he will certainly not dare accept it. This being so, you will have followed in Yao's footsteps." Consequently the King offered up his state to become Zizhi's own dominion, thus making him immensely powerful.




Someone said, "Yu[12] bestowed his state upon Yi[13], and appointed Qi[14] to serve him[15]. In his old age he had formed the opinion that Qi lacked the capacity to take responsibility for the affairs of All-Under-Heaven, and so he willed it to Yi. Qi, along with his friends[16] and acolytes, attacked[17] Yi and seized control of All-Under-Heaven. Thus Yu gained the distinction of having left All-Under-Heaven to Yi, while in fact he had simply ensured that Qi himself would seize it. You are saying that the state will be Zizhi's domain while appointing no official that is not one of the Crown Prince's[18] partisans. Thus you have made the state over to Zizhi in name only; it is the Crown Prince who is directing affairs." As a consequence of this, the King took back the seals of all officials earning more than three hundred shi[19], and gave them to Zizhi. Zizhi took the throne and assumed all royal duties. Kuai grew old and ceased to pay attention to government matters, leaving them to his advisors; thus all affairs of state were all decided by Zizhi.



By Zizhi's third year in power Yan had fallen into a state of insurrection, and the hundred clans grew bitter on account of their suffering. General Shi Bei[20] and Crown Prince Ping plotted an attack on Zizhi. 




Chu Zi[21] spoke thus to King Xuan of Qi[22]: "If you take advantage of this to compel Yan's submission, its collapse will be inevitable." 

As a result of this, the King sent someone to speak to Crown Prince Ping, saying, "We have heard Your Majesty's discourses[23] - that you intend to abolish private interests and serve the public good, to establish proper distinctions between lords and servants and rectify relations between fathers and sons[24]. Our state is small, inadequate to serve as your van or your rear guard. Even so, your word is our command."



As a consequence of this, the Crown Prince assembled his numerous partisans and General Shi Bei encircled the palace. They launched their attack against Zizhi but failed to overcome his defences. General Shi Bei then turned and joined the hundred clans in an attack on the Crown Prince, finally surrendering his life in the attempt[24]. The state was plunged into disorder for several months, and the dead numbered in the tens of thousands. The people of Yan lived in terror[25], and its leaders lost the sympathies of the hundred clans.



Meng Ke[26] spoke to King Xuan of Qi, saying, "If you seize the opportunity to attack Yan now you could become a Wen[27] or a Wu[28]. You cannot let it slip." Consequently the King ordered Master Zhang[29] to lead an army of troops from the five capitals[30]. He seized the chance to lead his batallions into the lands to the north and attack Yan. They met no armed opposition and no city barred its gates against them. King Kuai of Yan was killed, Qi won a great victory against Yan, and Zizhi too was doomed. After two years[31], the people of Yan set Prince Ping[32] on the throne. Thus he became King Zhao of Yan.

[1] Su Qin worked for almost all of the states during a long and successful career as the principal proponent of the anti-Qin alliance. He was assassinated by political enemies in Qi. 

[2] King Kuai of Yan (320 - 318 BC) seems to have believed in Mohist meritocracy, and abdicated in favour of his Chancellor Zizhi. 

[3] The implication is that the former event was not unrelated to the latter, as Su Qin was reputed to have enjoyed a romantic liaison with the consort of Kuai's grandfather. However, this account does not tie in with the dates assigned to the historical Su Qin.  

[4] Zizhi served as Chancellor under King Kuai of Yan, who later abdicated in his favour, provoking a civil war that ended in his death and that of Zizhi, with Kuai's son Zhao taking the throne. 

[5] Su Dai was Su Qin's younger brother and shared his anti-Qin position. 

[6] Reading 閔 for 宣, following the commentaries. King Min of Qi (300–284 BC) was famously bad at managing his subordinates, and almost lost his state following an invasion by Yan. His own generals eventually turned upon him and one of them, Nao Chi, killed him.

[7] I.e. Han, Wei and Zhao. 

[8] According to the commentaries, the 宣 is superfluous.

[9] Lumao Shou was a politician from Yan. 

[10] Yao (c. 2188-2089 BC) was a semi-legendary Chinese founder. 

[11] Xu You was a celebrated recluse.

[12] Yu the Great was another semi-legendary founding father.

[13] Yi, also known as Boyi, served as an advisor to Yu.

[14] Qi was Yu's son. 

[15] The commentaries suggest 啟人 for 啟 here.

[16] Reading 友 for 支, per the commentaries. 

[17] The commentaries suggest 益也 for 益 here. 

[18] Prince Ping, King Kuai's eldest son. 

[19] The commentaries suggest 里石 for 石 here. A shi was a dry weight measurement equivalent to around 60 kilos. It was used to assess the salaries of officials, who were paid in grain.

[20] Shi Bei was a general in Yan.  

[21] Chu Zi was a politician in Qi. He is also mentioned in the Mengzi. 

[22] King Xuan of Qi (319–301 BC) is best known for receiving advice from Mencius and establishing the Jixia Academy.

[23] Following modern Chinese translations.

[24] I.e. he will return to a Confucian hereditary system.

[25] The text implies but does not say that Prince Ping also died in this encounter - the verb used to describe Shi Bei's death is usually used to describe someone being sacrificed to accompany a superior to the afterlife. This is, in fact, what happens. However, in this version of the story Prince Ping is later mentioned as having been made King following Zizhi's death (a role that in fact went to his brother, Prince Zhi). Modern translations ignore this incongruity, for some reason.

[26] Reading 恫恐 for 恫怨 here. 

[27] Mencius was a Confucian philosopher and an advisor to King Xuan.

[28] King Wen of Zhou (1112–1050 BC) began a rebellion against King Zhou of Shang that was completed by his son, King Wu.

[29] King Wu of Zhou (1046–1043 BC) defeated King Zhou of Shang to become one of the founders of the Zhou Dynasty.

[30] Kuang Zhang was a politician and general in Qi.

[31] Linzi and other former capitals of Qi. 

[32] The commentaries suggest 年而 for 年 here. 

[33] In fact Ping was killed by Shi Bei's popular rebellion, as described above, and Prince Zhi became King under the name King Zhao. 

Su Qin's Younger Brother Li Takes Advantage of Yan's Offer of Hostages To Qi to Seek an AUdience WIth the King



Su Qin's[1] younger brother Li[2] had originally taken advantage of Yan's offer of hostages to Qi[3] to seek an audience with the King[4]. The King of Qi bore a grudge against Su Qin[5] and wished to imprison Li, but the Yan hostages begged forgiveness on his behalf. As a result of this he was given responsibility for the hostages and made their representative.



Chancellor Zizhi of Yan[6] had contracted a marriage alliance with Su Dai[7] and wished to take power in Yan. As a result of this he sent Su Dai to wait upon the Yan hostages in Qi[8]. Qi then sent Dai to report back in Yan[9].

King Kuai of Yan[10] questioned him, saying, "Will the King of Qi ever exert hegemony?"

He said, "He will not."

The King said, "Why is that?"

Su Dai said, "He does not trust his advisors." This being so, the King of Yan handed all of his responsibilities to Zizhi[11], finally surrendering the throne to him and throwing Yan into chaos. Qi attacked Yan, killing King Kuai and Zizhi. Yan then placed King Zhao[12] upon the throne, and neither Su Dai nor Su Li dared enter Yan. Both ended up returning to Qi, where their service was appreciated. 



While Su Dai was crossing Wei[13], Wei arrested him on Yan's behalf. Qi sent an envoy to speak to the King of Wei[14], saying, "Qi has begged Song to grant Lord Jingyang[15] a domain, but Qin would not accept such a thing. It is not that Qin would not benefit from having Qi on its side or from obtaining lands in Song, rather it does not trust the King of Qi or Master Su. Now Qi and Wei are at odds, and things are reaching such a pass that Qi will no longer have the option to betray Qin[16]. If Qin feels it can rely upon Qi, then they will form an accord and Lord Jingyang will have his lands in Song. This will not be to Wei's benefit. Thus Your Majesty would do better to send Master Su east[17]. This will reinforce Qin's suspicions and it will refuse to believe Master Su[18]. Qi and Qin not reach an accord and nothing will distrub the equilibrium of All-Under-Heaven. Thus circumstances will favour an attack on Qi." As a result of this, Su Dai[19] was sent to Song, where he was well-received.

[1] Su Qin worked for almost all of the states during a long and successful career as the principal proponent of the anti-Qin alliance. He was assassinated by political enemies in Qi. 

[2] Su Li was Su Qin's younger brother and shared his anti-Qin sympathies. 

[3] The commentaries read 質 for 自, which implies one or more children of the King of Yan serving as hostages in Qi. I personally suspect that this is an error for Zizhi, the Chancellor of Yan who will be mentioned later.

[4] King Min of Qi (300–284 BC) was famously bad at managing his subordinates, and almost lost his state following an invasion by Yan. His own generals eventually turned upon him and one of them, Nao Chi, killed him. 

[5] In one version of the story of Su Qin's death he was executed for espionage by King Min.

[6] Zizhi served as Chancellor under King Kuai of Yan, who later abdicated in his favour, provoking a civil war that ended in his death and that of Zizhi, with Kuai's son Zhao taking the throne. 

[7] Su Dai was another brother of Su Qin and Su Li. 

[8] The commentaries suggest 侍 for 持 here. 

[9] I.e. to assure them that the hostages - who would likely be close relations of King Kuai - were being well-treated. 

[10] King Kuai of Yan (320 - 318 BC) seems to have believed in Mohist meritocracy, and abdicated in favour of his Chancellor Zizhi. 

[11] In an effort to demonstrate that he trusts his advisors. This story is told in more detail in the previous chapter.

[12] King Zhao of Yan (311 - 279 BC) took power following an internal power struggle that resulted when the previous ruler, King Kuai, attempted to pass the throne to his Chancellor, and provoked an invasion by Qi. 

[13] Some versions treat this as a separate chapter.

[14] King Xiang of Wei (318 - 296 BC) he spent his entire reign switching between anti-Qin and anti-Chu alliances in an attempt to preserve his territory against larger neighbours.

[15] Lord Jingyang was also known as Ying Fei. He was a son of King Huiwen of Qin and Queen Xuan, and a brother of King Zhaoxiang.

[16] Because it will then be left without allies. 

[17] I.e. to Qi.

[18] Because Wei's favourable treatment of him implies that Qi and Wei may be forming a secret alliance.

[19] Reading 代 for 伐, per the commentaries. 


King Zhao of Yan Accepts the Broken State of Yan and Immediately ascends the Throne


King Zhao of Yan[1] accepted the broken state of Yan and immediately ascended the throne[2]. He was humble and generous, and summoned the worthy to his court, wishing to use them to take revenge upon his enemies. Therefore he went for an audience with Professor Guo Wei[3], saying, "Qi is taking advantage of disorder within an isolated state and raiding Yan because it is broken, but only I know how minor a power Yan is, being incapable of exacting any revenge. This being so, I must appoint wise officials within the state in order to wash out the shame of the former kings. This alone is my wish. I am taking the liberty of asking you how I should take revenge on my state's enemies."


Professor Guo Wei replied, "An emperor relies upon experts, a king upon friends, a hegemon upon ministers and a dying state upon servants. If you can bow and serve your advisors, and face north[4] to receive their teachings, then people worth a hundred of you will arrive. First hurry forward then rest; first ask questions and then remain silent, then people worth ten of you will arrive. Go where others go, then people like you will arrive. Rely upon others as if you were leaning on a cane, glaring suspiciously as you give them your orders, then the servile will come. Strive for superiority and stamp your feet while berating people, then slavish followers will arrive. This was how the ancients brought themselves into accordance with the correct path, and the method that they followed for attracting officials to them. If you honestly wish to attract the pick of the wise to your state, then you must wait respectfully at your own gate. All-Under-Heaven will hear that you are inviting wise advisors to your court, and the officials of All-Under-Heaven will certainly hurry to Yan."


King Zhao said, "Who would it be appropriate to bring to my court?"

Professor Guo Wei said, "Your servant has heard that in ancient times the lord of men set aside a thousand gold pieces to buy a thousand-li horse[5], and for three years could not get one. A palace servant spoke to him, saying, 'Please allow me to request one for you.' The lord agreed. After three months, the servant got hold of a thousand-li horse, but the horse immediately died. He bought the horse's head for five hundred gold pieces and returned it with his report to his lord. The lord was enraged, and said, 'What I was asking for was a living horse, and you expect me to give away five hundred gold pieces for a dead one?' The palace servant replied, 'If you are willing to spend five hundred gold pieces on a dead horse, what would you pay for a live one? All-Under-Heaven will certainly be trying to procure horses on Your Majesty's behalf, and now you will get your horse.' This being so, not a year had passed before he had three thousand-li horses. If Your Majesty now sincerely wishes to attract officials, you must first make me your follower. Once I have been entrusted with your affairs, then what sage will not want to join me? Who would find a thousand li too far to travel?" 


This being so, King Zhao had apartments constructed for Wei and made him his preceptor. Yue Yi[6] came from Wei, Zou Yan[7] came from Qi, and Ju Xin[8] came from Zhao. Officials vied with one another to assemble in Yan. The King of Yan paid tribute to the dead and was solicitous for the living, sharing the joys and sorrows of the hundred surnames. After twenty-eight years, Yan was wealthy and flourishing, and its officials and troops were so contented that they regarded battle lightly. This being so, Yue Yi was thus made the chief general of the army and an accord was made with Qin, Chu and the Three Jin[9] to attack Qi. The soldiers of Qi were defeated, and King Min[10] fled abroad. The troops of Yan alone pursued him north and entered Linzi[11], capturing all of Qi's treasures and burning its palaces and ancestral temples. Of Qi's fortified cities, only Ju and Jimo[12] remained unconquered.

[1] King Zhao of Yan (311 - 279 BC) took power following an internal power struggle that resulted when the previous ruler, King Kuai, attempted to pass the throne to his Chancellor, and provoked an invasion by Qi. 

[2] The 燕昭王收破燕後即位 is superfluous, per other versions. 

[3] Guo Wei was a politician in Yan. 

[4] An indicator of subordination. 

[5] A li was around a third of a mile. A thousand-li horse was one with speed and stamina. 

[6] Yue Yi was from Zhongshan. He later became a politician and general in Yan.

[7] Zou Yan was a philosopher belonging to the Jixia Academy.

[8] Ju Xin was a general in Yan, originally from Zhao. 

[9] Han, Wei and Zhao. 

[10] King Min of Qi (300–284 BC) was famously bad at managing his subordinates, and almost lost his state following an invasion by Yan. His own generals eventually turned upon him and one of them, Nao Chi, killed him.

[11] Linzi is still called Linzi, and is in modern Shandong.

[12] Jimo was in modern Pingdu County, Shandong.

Qi Attacks Song and Song is Hard Pressed



Qi had attacked Song, and Song was growing desperate. Consequently, Su Dai[1] sent a memorial to King Zhao of Yan[2], saying, "Though you rank among the ten-thousand chariot states, you have nevertheless appointed hostages to be sent to Qi. This degrades your name and diminishes your power. Levying troops[3] to assist in Qi's attack on Song, will exhaust your citizens and squander your weath, and after Song is broken, Qi will proceed to threaten Chu's lands north of the Huai River[4]. Thus your work will serve to will fatten Qi up, thus making your enemy's state stronger and yours weaker. Each of these three things can be considered a great failure as far as your state is concerned. If you are conducting yourself thus it must be because you wish to win Qi's trust by ridding it of encumbrances, but Qi itself has done nothing to earn your trust in return - indeed its antipathy towards Yan has only grown deeper[5]. This being so, putting yourself at Qi's service is an approach destined for failure. You will exhaust your citizens and squander your weath for no advancement at all. Breaking Song will merely fatten up your enemy, and bring all the troubles of the earth down upon you. Whoever would unite the lands of Song and those north of the Huai would have the strength of a state of ten thousand chariots. If Qi does it, it will be as if it had gained a second Qi. The lands of the northern Yi[6] are seven hundred square li, and if these were added to those of Lu and Wey, then they could reasonably be said to have the strength of a state of ten thousand chariots. If Qi annexes them, then it will be as if it had gained two more Qis. Yan cannot stand against the strength of a single Qi. If three Qis were now to move against you, that would be a disaster indeed. 



"In such circumstances, your servant has heard that when a perceptive individual handles affairs he can transform curses into blessings and seize victory from the jaws of defeat. The people of Qi changed their white clothes for purple, and their value increased tenfold[7]. King Goujian of Yue[8] was forced to seek refuge in Kuaiji[9], but went on to destroy Wu and become a hegemon within All-Under-Heaven. They both transformed curses into blessings, seizing victory from the jaws of defeat. Do you now wish likewise to transform your curses into blessings and seize victory from the jaws of defeat? Then you could do no better than to encourage Qi to pursue its desire for hegemony far from your own borders, praising it fulsomely while sending envoys to[10] negotiate an alliance with court of Zhou. Under this, all the states of All-Under-Heaven will burn their treaties with Qin and join your agreement, which will read: 'The goal is to destroy Qin; the next best thing would be to separate it from its vassals[11].' Since Qin relies upon its vassals to ensure that others either submit or are destroyed[12], this will be a disaster for its King[13]. For five generations Qin has been creating alliances with the sovereign lords, but it remains Qi's inferior. The King of Qin seeks nothing less than Qi's ruin, and he would not hesitate to sacrifice a city to achieve this. This being so, why do you not send one of your partisans in simple dress to use this argument about ruining Qi to persuade Qin over to your side? He can speak to the King of Qin, saying, 'If Yan and Zhao destroy Song, this will serve to fatten Qi up and increase the respect paid to it, thus they will become its underlings. Yan and Zhao will gain no benefit from this, but they are forced by their circumstances to do it. Why? Because they do not trust Your Majesty. Now why do you not send someone to build trust and thereby bind Yan and Zhao to you? If Lord Jingyang[14] and Lord Gaoling[15] are first sent to Yan and Zhao[16], and succeed in changing the attitudes of Yan and Zhao towards Qin, you can then take the opportunity to offer up Lord Jingyang and Lord Gaoling as hostages[17]. Then Yan and Zhao will trust Qin. Qin will be overlord in the West, Zhao will be overlord in the Centre, Yan will be overlord in the North. Three emperors will have been established, and together you will be able to command the sovereign lords. If Han and Wei do not obey you then Qin will attack them. If Qi does not obey you then Yan and Zhao will attack it. Who in All-Under-Heaven will dare disobey you? When All-Under-Heaven submits and obeys[18], you can then spur[19] Han and Wei to attack Qi. At your say-so Qi will return the lands it took from Song as well as Chu's land north of the Huai[20]. This will be to Yan and Zhao's common benefit, while establishing three emperors is their shared wish. To gain weath that will benefit them while obtaining the reputation they desire, Yan and Zhao will abandon Qi as though they were casting away a worn-out sandal[21]. If you do not now gain the backing of Yan and Zhao, Qi will certainly achieve hegemony. If the other sovereign lords pay their respects to Qi and you alone do not join their alliance, then your state will certainly be attacked[22], while if they pay respects to Qi and you join them, then your reputation will be ruined. Thus if you cannot get the backing of Yan and Zhao your reputation will be ruined and your state at risk. If you can, however, your name will be respected and your state will be at peace. To reject honour and tranquility and pursue dishonour and danger is not the act of an intelligent individual.' When the King of Qin hears such an argument it will hit him like a knife to the heart, so why not send a knowledgeable official so deliver this self-same speech in Qin[23]? Qin will surely attack Qi. If you obtain Qin's backing you will have acquired a high-level friendship. If Qin attacks Qi you will certainly profit. To pay due respects to one's friends and work to accrue profit, such is the work of a sage king."



King Yan of Zhao liked this memorial, and said, "My predecessor paid tribute to Su, but he fled Yan during Zizhi's[24] insurrection. If Yan wishes to avenge itself upon its enemies in Qi, it can do nothing without him." Accordingly, he summoned Su back and waited upon him solicitously once more. Together they plotted an attack on Qi, crossing the border and destroying it. King Min[25] fled.  

[1] Su Dai was a brother of Su Qin and shared his anti-Qin sentiments. 

[2] King Zhao of Yan (311 - 279 BC) took power following an internal power struggle that resulted when the previous ruler, King Kuai, attempted to pass the throne to his Chancellor, and provoked an invasion by Qi. 

[3] Reading 奉 for 秦, per the commentaries. 

[4] The Huai River runs between the Yellow River and the Yangtze.

[5] Modern translations interpret this in different ways, this is a best guess interpretation. 

[6] The Yi was a non-Chinese people in Eastern China.

[7] This comes from an anecdote from the Han Feizi, describing how the people of Qi dyed their clothes purple in imitation of Duke Heng, and increased their value as a result.

[8] King Goujian of Yue (496–465 BC) was captured by King Fuchai of Wu early during his reign and forced to serve him for three years. When he was finally released, he set about political and military reforms in Yue, making it strong enough to attack and wipe out Wu, forcing Fuchai to kill himself.  

[9] Kuaiji is now Shaoxing, in Zhejiang.

[10] Reading 使之 for 使使, per the commentaries. 

[11] The commentaries suggest 客 for 之 here. 

[12] Modern translations disagree regarding the interpretation of this sentence. This is a best guess.

[13] King Zhaoxiang of Qin (306–251 BC) began life as a relatively minor prince, and served as a child hostage in Zhao before being sneaked out by Queen Xuan (his mother), her brother Wei Ran, and King Wuling of Zhao to assume the throne following the premature death of his brother, King Wu. Upon coming of age, he exiled Queen Xuan and Wei Ran, and worked with a succession of important figures of the age (Gan Mao, Fan Ju, Bai Qi...) to expand Qin's territory during the course of a long and successful reign.

[14] Lord Jingyang was also known as Ying Fei. He was a son of King Huiwen of Qin and Queen Xuan, and a brother of King Zhaoxiang.

[15] Lord Gaoling, also known as Prince Kui, was another son of King Huiwen. 

[16] The commentaries give 令 for 今 here. 

[17] There was seemingly little love lost between Zhaoxiang, Jingyang and Gaoling. 

[18] Yao suggests 德 for 聽 here.

[19] Yao suggests 馳 for 驅 here. 

[20] Reading 而歸 for 歸 here, per the commentaries. 

[21] The commentaries disagree regarding the precise reading of this sentence, but the general sense is clear. 

[22] Zeng suggests 代 for 伐 here. 

[23] Liu suggests that 此 here is superfluous. 

[24] Zizhi served as Chancellor under King Kuai of Yan, who later abdicated in his favour, provoking a civil war that ended in his death and that of Zizhi, with Kuai's son Zhao taking the throne. 

[25] King Min of Qi (300–284 BC) was famously bad at managing his subordinates, and almost lost his state following an invasion by Yan. His own generals eventually turned upon him and one of them, Nao Chi, killed him.


Su Dai Speaks to the King of Zhao



Su Dai[1] spoke to King Zhao of Yan[2], saying, "Now if you had someone who was as devoted to his family as Zeng Shen[3], who was as dependable as Wei Sheng[4], and who was as honest as Bao Jiao[5] or Shi Qiu[6], someone who would unite the ethos of all three in service of your interests, how would that be?"

The King said, "If such a person existed, he would be adequate to my needs."

Su Dai replied, "If Your Majesty believes that such a person would suffice, then I shall withdraw my own service. Even if I were to stay, I can apparently be of no service to you. I will return to plough my fields in northern Zhou, growing my own food and weaving my own clothes."

The King said, "How did you reach such a conclusion?"

Su Dai replied, "To be devoted to one's family as Zeng Shen, one has simply to support one's nearest and dearest[7]. To be as dependable as Wei Sheng one has simply to avoid disappointing others's expectations. To be as honest as Bao Jiao or Shi Qiu one has simply to refrain from depleting others' fortunes[7]. Your servant is one who strives to progress, and for me honour is untenable in the struggle for advancement; morality untenable in the struggle for survival. Righteous benevolence is an end in itself, not a technique by which to advance."



The King said, "Is self-cultivation not a sufficient end?"

Su Dai replied, "If self-cultivation were a sufficient end, then Qin would not have crossed the border at the Yao Pass[8], Qi would not have crossed the border at Yingqiu[9], and Chu would not have crossed the border at Shuzhang[10]. When the Three Sovereigns succeeded one after another and the Five Hegemons each installed their own governments, it was not on account of their self-cultivation. If self-cultivation were sufficient, then I would pack my bags and return to Zhou. Why would I trouble Your Majesty's court any further? In the past, when Chu took Zhangwu[11], the sovereign Lords headed south[12] to pay respects in Chu's court. When Qin took the western mountains, the sovereign Lords all headed West to pay respects in Qin's court. If, in former times, Yan had not been forced to leave the northern territories of the Zhou, then the sovereign Lords would not have galloped away to pay their respects elsewhere[13]. Your servant has heard that when a skillful individual handles affairs he first assesses the size of his state and estimates the strength of his troops; thus his efforts may meet with success and his reputation may be established. When an incompetent[14] handles affairs he does not assess the size of his state or estimate the strength of his troops; therefore his efforts will never meet with success and his reputation will not be established. Now Your Majesty has a mind to turn east and attack Qi, and I - simple though I may be - am aware of this."



The King said, "How did you learn this?"

Su Dai replied, "Holding a halberd or a sharpened sword you wander up into the hills to gaze eastwards and sigh. This being so, even a fool like me could guess. Now even Wu Hao[15], who could lift a weight of a thousand jun, needed a shoulder to lean on once he passed eighty. Qi may once have been a strong state, but now it has been left fatigued by Song in the west and worn down by Chu to the south. Thus Qi's army can be defeated and its lands by the Yellow River taken.



The King of Yan said, "Very well. I humbly beg you to become one of our courtiers. If we were to give you a hundred carriages for the purpose of travelling east to Qi on our behalf, how would that be?"

Su Dai replied, "If you are making this offer out of personal sympathy, why do you not give them to your beloved sons and uncles and your grandsons still in their cradles instead[16]? They have not received any such things, but your ineffectual servant will. Why is this? You have spoken to me, what kind of person do you believe me to be? Now I have come to serve you out of devoted fidelity, but I am afraid that on account of this devoted fidelity I will be traduced by your entourage."



The King said, "Why, if someone exerts all his strength on behalf of another and exhausts his capacities, would he be traduced?"

Su Dai replied, "I beg permission to offer a comparison. One such incident occurred in the past in northern Zhou: there was a man who served as an official in the capital for three years without returning[17] and his wife took a lover. The lover said, 'When your husband comes back, how shall we handle it?' The wife said, 'Worry not. I have already prepared some poisoned wine and it is waiting for his return.' Her husband subsequently returned, and thus she took the opportunity to have a maid decant the poisoned wine and take it to him. The maid knew about the plot, and so stopped halfway. She considered things, saying to herself, 'If I give this to my master to drink, then I will have killed him, but if I tell my master about this affair then he will cast out my mistress. Rather than killing my master[18] or casting out my mistress, my mind would be at peace if I could pretend to fall and spill it.' This being so, she seized her chance and pretended to trip, dropping the wine. The wife said to her husband, 'I brewed a fine wine to celebrate your return from your long voyage, and now the girl bringing it to you has spilled it.' The husband knew nothing of the affair, so he tied up the maid and flogged her. Thus it was on account of her devoted fidelity that the maid was beaten. If I am now to serve as your envoy in Qi, I am afraid that my devoyed fidelity will not be made clear to your entourage. Your servant has heard that a lord of ten thousand chariots should not be governed by his servants, a family with ten chariots should not be governed by its hangers-on, and an ordinary man who goes about on foot should not be governed by his wives and concubines. Is this not all the more true of the wise sovereigns of the present age? I beg permission to depart on my mission, and hope that you will not allow yourself to be governed by your private secretaries."

[1] Su Dai was a brother of Su Qin and shared his anti-Qin sentiments. 

[2] King Zhao of Yan (311 - 279 BC) took power following an internal power struggle that resulted when the previous ruler, King Kuai, attempted to pass the throne to his Chancellor, and provoked an invasion by Qi. 

[3] Zeng Shen was one of Confucius' followers and an exemplar of filial piety. 

[4] Wei Sheng drowned under a bridge while waiting for a girl who stood him up.

[5] Bao Jiao was a celebrated hermit during the Zhou Dynasty, preferring to live in the wilderness than serve a ruler he disapproved of.

[6] Shi Qiu was also known as Shi Yu. He was a bureaucrat in Wey and died of despair at the behaviour of Duke Ling of Wey.  

[7] Reading 耳 for 其, as in other versions. 

[8] Mount Yao is in Henan. At the time it marked Qin's border.

[9] It is not clear where this was. 

[10] It is not clear where this was. 

[11] Various locations have been suggested for this place. 

[12] The original has "north". We follow Crump in judging this an error. 

[13] This could be a reference to the Duke of Shao, Yan's first ruler, who spent most of his time on government business in the west, thus neglecting his own territories in the north. 

[14] Yao suggests 其 for 為 here. 

[15] Wu Hao was a celebrated strong man in Qin. 

[16] Bao suggests 則 is superfluous here.

[17] The commentaries suggest 宦 for 官 here.

[18] Reading 主父 for 父, per the commentaries. 


The King of Yan Speaks to Su Dai



The King of Yan[1] spoke to Su Dai[2], saying, "We take no pleasure in the speeches of liars."

Su Dai replied, saying, "In the lands of Zhou, matchmakers are despised because sing the praises of both sides[3]. To the man's family they say, 'She's a very beautiful lady,' and to the woman's family they say, 'He's a very rich man.' Nevertheless[4], Zhou customs dictate that no one shall choose a wife on his own behalf, so if a woman has no matchmaker she will grow old with no family of her own. If a girl puts her matchmaker aside and takes charge of her own self-promotion she degrades her repuation such that she will never make a sale[5]. No one but a matchmaker - who unfailingly goes along to get along - can promote her without destroying her reputation, thus ensuring a sale. Someone who pursues political affairs without the requisite influence will never establish himself; one who carries no weight will never succeed. No one but a liar can allow you to enjoy success in your affairs while sitting in idleness."

The King said, "Well said!"

[1] It is not clear which King of Yan is indicated here.

[2] Su Dai was a brother of Su Qin and shared his anti-Qin sentiments. 

[3] The commentaries suggest 謂 for 為 here. 

[4] The commentaries disagree regarding the precise reading of this sentence, but the general sense is clear. 

[5] The commentaries suggest 敝 for 弊 here. 

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