WeY Yang Defects from Wei to Qin


Wey Yang[1] defected from Wei[2] to Qin. Duke Xiao[3] made him Chancellor and gave him the domain of Shang[4], from which he took the name Lord Shang. Lord Shang governed Qin, set out laws and perfected conduct. Public affairs were handled impartially and there were no conflicts of interest; power was not a means to escape punishment, nor family ties a means of securing emoluments. The law reached even to the Crown Prince[5], whose tutors suffered the punishments of tattooing and mutilation. After one year, if people saw something of value lying in the road they would not pick it up, nor was there any theft, the army had been reformed and grown strong, and the feudal lords lived in fear. In such a state, restrictions cut deep and kindness was rare; strength alone served to compel submission. Duke Xiao ruled for eight years[6] and then fell sick and could not get up. He wished to honour Lord Shang further, but Lord Shang opposed it and would not accept the title.



Duke Xiao died and was replaced by King Hui[7], who had barely been in power for a moment before he ordered Lord Shang to return to his own domains.

People swayed King Hui's views, saying, "When great ministers carry too much weight, the state is at risk. When the ministers of the left and right are held too close, then the risk is profound. Now even the women and children of Qin talk about Lord Shang's laws, and never mention Your Majesty. This being so, Lord Shang has become the King, and Your Majesty has become a minister. Thus, Lord Shang has taken up position as your enemy; I hope your Majesty has a plan to deal with this." Lord Shang fled, but King Hui had him torn apart by chariots[8], and the people of Qin showed no sympathy."

[1] Wey Yang later wrote the essays that would become the core of the Book of Lord Shang, which has served as a guide for Chinese leaders ever since.

[2] Wey Yang, as his name suggests, was born into the royal family of Wey (衛), but left to work for Wei (魏).

[3] Duke Xiao is now known principally for having employed Wei Yang, though evidence suggests that his position was tending toward legal reform even before Wei Yang defected.

[4] Shang is now a part of Shangluo, in Shaanxi. 

[5] The Prince who would later become King Hui was caught breaking the law, and both he and his tutors were prosecuted. He was banished from the palace, Prince Qian (one tutor) had his nose cut off, and Gongsun Gu (the other) was tattooed with details of the offence.

[6] This should read "eighteen".

[7] Or Huiwen, the Prince who had previously suffered the penal sanctions decribed above.

[8] Lord Shang died in a battle between his forces and those of King Hui, so this would have been a desecration rather than an execution, though the same treatment was occasionally applied to live offenders. 


Su Qin Begins Advocating for a Horizontal Alliance


Su Qin[1] began advocating for a horizontal alliance[2], and came to persuade King Hui of Qin[3], saying: "Your Majesty's Kingdom has the wealth of Ba, Shu and Hanzhong[4] in the West; in the North are the Hu barbarians[5] and you have use of their Dai horses[6]; in the South you are shielded by the Wu Mountains[7] and Qianzhong[8]; in the East the Xiao Mountains[9] and Hangu[10] protect you. Your arable fields are beautifully fecund, your population flourishing and wealthy, your war chariots number in the tens of the thousands and your soldiers in the hundreds of thousands; you have rice fields covering thousands of li[11] and abundant stores of supplies; your terrain is advantageous for military manoeuvres. All these things combine to produce a paradise, outstanding among the states of All-Under-Heaven.[12] With Your Majesty's wisdom, the size of the population, the efficacy of the cavalry and the teaching of proper tactics, you can be the equal of all the other feudal lords, swallowing up All-Under-Heaven and taking the name of Emperor to rule over all. But please pause a second, and allow your servant to make a useful suggestion.


The King of Qin said: "Your humble servant has heard it said that it is not by buying a few feathers that one learns to fly[13]. If decrees are not written down, then no sentences can be imposed; if a man is not replete with honours, then he cannot lead the masses; if theories do not fit in with the spirit of the age, then great ministers will not trouble themselves with them. Now, professor, you seem to be a respectable individual, and did not consider a thousand li too far to travel to enlighten our court; some day we may make use of your advice." Su Qin said: "I had my doubts about whether Your Majesty would be able to. In ancient times, Shennong[14] attacked the Busui[15], Huangdi[16] fought at Zhuolu[17] and captured Chiyou[18], Yao[19] attacked Huandou[20], Shun[21] attacked the Sanmiao[22], Yu[23] attacked Gonggong[24], Tang[25] attacked the Xia sovereign[26], King Wen[27] attacked Chong[28], King Wu[29] attacked Zhou[30], and Duke Huan of Qi[31] used his army to dominate All-Under-Heaven. Having observed as much, how could one possibly have an army and not use it?


Those ancients who unleashed charging war chariots, also bound themselves together with words,[32] 

To unify All-Under-Heaven, their treaties tied the centre to the borderlands, and emptied their armories.

And scholars were the ornaments of their courts, but the feudal lords caused chaos and disorder;

And ten thousand factions sprang up, and reason could not win out;

And rules were written and records kept, but the masses followed a multitude of false customs;

And political handbooks proliferated, but the people lived in penury;

And those above and below lived in mutual hostility, and the people had no one upon whom they could rely. 

And clarity shone through in speech and writing, as troops were raised and equipped,

And rhetoricians earned magnificent robes, while the clash of armies never ceased;

And complicated verbiage proliferated, and All-Under-Heaven went ungoverned;

And they talked until their tongues wore out and listened until their ears fell deaf, and still nothing was done;

And those who pursued right conduct and kept their word went unloved by All-Under-Heaven.


Things being thus, literary skills were rejected, as only military means could be relied upon, and lavish resources were poured into supporting soldiers destined to die. Mail was forged and weapons sharpened for the troops, that they should win on the battlefield. To pursue immobility and profit, to sit in silence and extend one's domains, is something that not even the Five Emperors, the Three Sovereigns, the Five Hegemons, or any of the sages[33] could achieve. While everyone wishes to succeed through non-action, when they lack the capacity they pursue their goals using military means[34], watching from a distance as armies clash or closing in and striking with staves and halberds[35]. Then they set down their great achievements for posterity. Thus it is that when armies conquer abroad, righteousness is strengthened at home, and when military affairs are given prominence by those at the top of the state, the people below grow docile. Now you wish to be the equal of All-Under-Heaven, 


To capture states of ten thousand chariots,

To make the enemy states grovel,

To control all within the four seas,

To have your descendants populate the world,

To make servants of the feudal lords,

Is impossible without the use of troops.

Now the heirs of the great lords ignore the path to success and follow ignorant teachings, 

Chaotic in government,

Bewitched by words,

Confused by speeches,

Drowning in dialectic,

Sunk in disputations.


Thus when everything is subject to debate, a great king cannot act."[36]



To persuade the King of Qin, Su Qin presented ten or more memorials to the throne, but to no avail. His black sable coat wore thin and his hundred catties[37] of shining gold were exhausted; his resources had been depleted by the journey to Qin and back. He wound up his puttees and put on his straw sandals[38], putting his books into a case and carrying it himself. Aged and tired, with dark circles under his eyes and an abject expression, he returned home. His wife did not break off from her sewing, nor did his sister-in-law[39] cook him any food, and his parents refused to speak to him. Su Qin sighed and said:,"I am no husband to my wife, no brother-in-law to my sister-in-law, and no son to my parents. This is all Qin's fault."



And so that night he took out his books, taking them from their cases and unrolling them[40], learning the strategies of the Secret Book of Tai Gong[41], reciting it in secret, he practiced, memorised and polished his knowledge. When he grew tired from reading, he would stab himself in the leg with a needle until the blood ran down to his feet. At first he said, "Who could succeed in swaying a ruler without being able to spend his money buying fine brocades to win the respect of the ministers?" But after a year spent refining his knowledge, he said, "Now I can truly persuade any of the lords of this world!"


He tried out his expertise at the Palace of Gathering Swallows and Crows, obtaining an audience in the gilded hall of the King of Zhao[42], he raised his hand and spoke with ease. The King of Zhao was delighted an awarded him with the title Lord of Wu'an[43]. With it, he received the seal of the Chancellor[44], a hundred chariots for his entourage, a thousand soft embroidered robes, two hundred pieces of white jade[45], and ten thousand yi[46] of gold, to take with him and distribute and form alliances with the aim of repressing Qin. So Su Qin served as Chancellor in Zhao and did not traverse the Hangu Pass[47]. At the time, the grandees and the swarming masses of All-Under-Heaven, the nobility in their magnificence and the ministers in the power, all wanted to pass judgement on Su Qin's strategising. Though he had not yet used a peck of grain in provisions, nor yet troubled a single soldier, nor given orders to any officers, nor pulled back any bowstrings, or loosed off an arrow, the feudal lords treated him as if he were family, and the wise like a brother. When a sage takes his place All-Under-Heaven submits, and one man can be deployed so that All-Under-Heaven follows him.



So is it said that a man with a system is a politician, a man without is a thug; a place with a system is a civilisation, a place without is a wasteland. Thus, of Su Qin's good fortune, the ten thousand yi of gold was put to use, the chariots sent out, shining and splendid on the roads, heading for all of the states east of Mount Hua[48]. These states felt the way the wind was blowing and fell into line, strengthening the King of Zhao's position. So Su Qin - who came from a humble cottage in a dark alley, nothing more than a scholar with a mulberry-wood gate hanging from broken hinges[49], who had once held his superiors' horses[50] - crossed All-Under-Heaven, deploying his persuasions in the courts of feudal lords and kings, silencing the ministers of the left and the right, such that none in All-Under-Heaven could compare with him.


On his way to exercise his persuasions against the King of Chu[51] he passed through Luoyang[52]. His parents heard, and tidied up the house,  hired musicians and prepared a banquet, before traveling thirty li to greet him. His wife could not meet his eyes, but lent an ear to everything he said. His sister in law prostrated herself before him, bowing humbly four times. Su Qin said, "Sister, how can it bee that you were so haughty before and are so humble now?"

She said, "It is to your position and money that I pay my respects."

Su Qin said, "Alas, when I was poor I was no one's son, now I am prosperous and important my family lives in fear of me. What person born on this earth can see power, wealth and titles and pay them no heed?"[53]

[1] Su Qin was later the principal proponent of the vertical alliance, aimed at bringing together the other states to oppose Qin's expansion. At the point at which this story begins, however, he is still angling for employment in Qin, which involved arriving at court and pitching some sort of policy innovation calculated to appeal to the sovereign and/or his ministers - hence he is arguing for the opposite of the position that he would eventually make his own, in the hope of securing a job.

[2] Opinion at the time was divided on how to deal with Qin's aggressive expansion, whether via a vertical alliance (whereby the other states would cooperate to contain Qin using military means) or a horizontal alliance (whereby the other states would ally with Qin to share the rewards of its conquests and/or be eaten last). 

[3] We first met King Hui in the previous chapter, having Shang Yang torn apart by chariots. Despite any personal antipathy, he maintained Lord Shang's reforms and began an intensive campaign of military expansion into the area that is now Sichuan.

[4] Hanzhong is still called Hanzhong, and is in Shaanxi. At the time it would have been between Qin and Chu, and seems at one point to have been home to an independent state, Bao.

[5] Huhao (or Hu) was a general term for all Northern nomadic tribes.

[6] Steppe horses of better quality than those bred in China.

[7] The Wu Mountains surround what is now the Three Gorges dam system, near Chongqing.

[8] Qianzhong Commandery, now Yuanling County, Hunan.

[9] Also written 崤, 殽 or 肴, the Xiao Mountains are in modern Henan.

[10] The Hangu Pass separated Qin from the other states.

[11] The precise length of a li varied, but it was usually about a third of a mile.

[12] This most striking aspect of this description is that it is complete nonsense, as any contemporary reader would recognise. The entire reason for Qin's expansionary policy lay in the inadequacy of its own land and population. Much of Qin's territory was sparsely inhabited, being rocky or vertical or both. The region is boiling in summer and freezing in winter, and the dusty Loess soil is difficult to farm and hell to conduct military operations upon. 

[13] Other versions have 羽不豐滿者不可以高飛, which would be read as "if a bird's feathers are not thick and lush, it cannot fly high".

[14] Shennong was the semi-mythical farmer-king and later god of agriculture, said to have introduced various technological innovations to China in the distant past.

[15] An ancient tribe; the story of Shennong's conflict with them has been lost, and this is the only source attesting to their existence.

[16] The Yellow Emperor, another semi-mythical ancestral god-king.

[17] The Battle of Zhuolu is supposed to have taken place in the mid third millennium BC at Zhuolu in Hebei between the embryonic Chinese nation led by Huangdi and the Yanhuang  tribes lead by Chiyou. 

[18] Chiyou was the leader of the Yanhuang tribes, possibly ancestors of the Miao people.

[19] Yao was another semi-legendary sovereign, conventionally supposed two have ruled during the Great Flood (either 2300 BC or 1900 BC depending on whether one follows traditional or archaeological records).

[20] Huandou was another early Miao leader.

[21] Shun took over from Yao either as his chosen successor or by overthrowing him.

[22] Another name for the Miao.

[23] Yu the Great succeeded Shun, being venerated for having dealt with the Great Flood.

[24] Gonggong was a mythical water god blamed for causing natural disasters; the story is obviously a metaphor for Yu's struggle to deal with the Yellow River's regular floods.

[25] Tang of Shang, the first ruler of the Shang Dynasty, defeated the Xia forces at the Battle of Mingtiao and forced Jie, the last ruler, into exile.

[26] Jie was the tyranical and debauched last ruler of the Xia Dynasty, deposed by Tang of Shang.

[27] King Wen was the father of King Wu, the first sovereign of the Zhou Dynasty. Wen began the rebellion that led to the defeat of the Shang Dynasty by Wu's troops at the Battle of Muye in 1046 BC.

[28] Chong was a feudal domain under the Shang Dynasty. King Wen attacked it after the Marquis of Chong insulted him. 

[29] King Wu of Zhou, the son of King Wen, founded the Zhou Dynasty after defeating Shang troops at the Battle of Muye in 1046 BC

[30] Zhou (紂) was the final ruler of the Shang Dynasty, defeated by King Wu to found the Zhou (周) Dynasty.

[31] Duke Huan successfully transformed Qi into China's most powerful state, and was recognised as sole hegemon during the seventh century BC.

[32] This section follows a poetic metre which I have not made any great effort to reproduce. The technique is not uncommon in political texts of the era.

[33] The membership of each of these groups varied according to who was doing the listing, but they all contained the individuals listed above.

[34] Other versions give 坐 for 佐 here, which seems reasonable. The sentence contains references to Shang Yang - 坐而致 ("success in stillness") was his take on the concept of wuwei - and Lao Tzu

[35] A 戟 (translated here as "halberd") looked like this. A 杖 is just a stick.

[36] This speech is such a devastatingly on-point parody that it seems unlikely that it was actually made by Su Qin, though he may well have tried something in a similar vein and been knocked back as a result. It is intended to be technically impeccable but nevertheless subtly off-pitch. The idea is that Su Qin is attempting to imitate the brutal legalist reasoning that prevailed in Qin at the time, but because he clearly doesn't believe any of it, the effort has a "How do you do, fellow kids?" quality to it that would have been immediately apparent to a contemporary audience. For an example of the sort of discourse Su Qin is trying to mimick, see Zhang Yi's speech on a similar topic.

[37] A catty was about 600 grams or one an a half pounds.

[38] The implication is that he arrived in a carriage and walked home.

[39] 嫂 refers to an elder brother's wife; the chatelaine, in other words.

[40] Su Qin's books would have been written on strips of wood or bamboo, tied together and rolled up in fabric covers, something like this.

[41] The Secret Book of Tai Gong no longer exists, and may be an entirely fictional title chosen purely because it sounds suitably ancient and occult.

[42] Marquis Su of Zhao.

[43] 武安君 or "Lord of Martial Peace", a vague mark of appreciation that had existed throughout the Chinese kingdoms for centuries. Bai Qi was another 武安君. 

[44] That is to say, he was appointed Chancellor.

[45] Or rather, a hundred pairs of bi. These circular pieces of polished jade have been conveyors of value since the neolithic and remain popular today as key-chains, jewelry and on rear-view mirrors, though no one quite knows why.

[46] A yi varied between one and a half and two pounds, or 750 and 900 grams.

[47] Given the high risk involved in any dealings with Qin, even going through the Hangu Pass into the country was often seen as a drastic decision, liable to sever all ties with one's former life. 

[48] All states except Qin were east of Mount Hua.

[49] Historically, the magnificence of the the gateway leading to one's courtyard home was a crucial indicator of status.

[50] The etiquette for dealing with differences in status when one person was riding and the other walking were a subject of great attention, and figures of speech involving leading, walking by or bowing before someone else's carriage were standard terms for displays of inferiority. The Salt and Iron Discourses employs a similar set of contrasts to describe Li Si's rise to power.

[51] King Wei.

[52] Luoyang still exists and is in Henan. Su Qin was born nearby and his family still lived in the area.

[53] This is one of the most famous stories in the book, and the source of many proverbs and sayings. Su Qin's diligent study has become an example with which to berate lazy or academically uninclined children ever since.


King Hui of Qin Addresses Han Quanzi


King Hui of Qin[1] addressed Han Quanzi[2], saying, "Su Qin[3] has betrayed us; one man's expertise has succeeded in turning the heads of the lords East of Mount Hua[4], and now they are following him in his betrayal of Qin. Zhao has consolidated its forces, and now will send Su Qin out to bribe the feudal Lords into coming to an agreement[5]. They will never be unified - one cannot turn a flock of chickens into a military alliance simply by forcing them to share a perch - that much is clear, but I am growing exasperated. I have swallowed my irritation for many a day, and now I wish to send Master Wu'an, Bai Qi[6], to present him with an expression of my opinions."

Han Quanzi said, "It cannot be done that way. If you wish to lay siege to their cities, send Master Wu'an. If you wish to  send someone to speak to the feudal lords who will benefit our state, send your noble guest Zhang Yi[7]."

King Hui said, "Your wish is my command."

[1] The same King Hui who was unconvinced by Su Qin's arguments in the previous chapter.

[2] Han Quanzi is traditionally supposed to have studied at the Guiguzi School at the same time as Su Qin and Zhang Yi.

[3] Su Qin was introduced in the previous chapter.

[4] "East of Mount Hua" refers to non-Qin China. Mount Hua is in modern-day Shaanxi.

[5] The vertical alliance, first mentioned in the previous chapter.

[6] Bai Qi was a Qin General famous for his mass murders. Confusingly, both he and Su Qin used the title Wu'an - see the previous chapter for an explanation.

[7] Zhang Yi  was a Qin diplomat and another Guiguzi alumnus, and will reappear frequently in the forthcoming chapters.


Ling Xiang Addresses the King of Qin


Ling Xiang[1] addressed the King of Qin[2], saying: "I propose to use Qi in the service of your majesty's interests, by having them attack Song. When Song falls, Jin[3] will be in danger, and then Anyi[4] will be yours. Yan and Zhao are opposed to the Qi-Qin alliance, but a desire for good relations can be instilled in them by offering them land. Qi already has great respect for Your Majesty, so when I launch an attack on Song they will be even more impressed. How could Your Majesty oppose my invasion of Song? I was under the assumption that a man of your intelligence would already have understood the whole plan, without me needing to go into detail."

[1] Ling Xiang will crop up later in the Han chapters, still working for Qin. He is not otherwise well-known.

[2] King Hui.

[3] Han, Wei and Zhao, the region formerly occupied by Jin.

[4] Anyi is now Yuncheng in Shanxi. At the time it was the capital of Wei, on the border with Han. 


Zhang Yi Persuades the King of Qin


Zhang Yi[1] came to persuade the King of Qin[2], saying: "Your servant has heard that those who do not know but speak are not wise, while those who know but do not speak are not loyal. A disloyal minister merits death, as does one whose words cannot be relied upon. This being so, Your Servant wishes to put all he has heard into words, and may Your Majesty sit as judge, jury and executioner.


Your servant has heard that All-Under-Heaven - from Zhao in the North to Wei in the South - have linked themselves with Jing[3] and declared solidarity with Qi, absorbing Han in their wake, to face the Southwest and cause trouble for Qin. I laughed to myself when I heard this. In this world there are three causes of state collapse, and they have ticked off every one, as I can demonstrate. Your servant has heard of "collapse that results when chaos attacks order", "collapse that results when evil attacks virtue", and "collapse that results when disobedience attacks conformity". In these days, the armouries of All-Under-Heaven are no longer full, and the granaries have been emptied. Officers and men are drawn up into armies millions strong.[4] But even when facing shining blades in front and axes behind, they flee, unable to face death. The fault in this cannot be attributed to a fear of death on the part of the people, but rather an inability on the part of their superiors to give them a reason to face it. Words and not deeds are rewarded; words and not deeds are punished; when rewards and punishments are applied incorrectly, then the masses will not die for their country.


Now Qin issues decrees and follows them with the appropriate rewards and punishments; no action is not followed by an equal and opposite reaction. From the moment people leave the arms of their parents, even before they have had a taste of life or encountered an enemy, as soon as they hear the sound of battle, they stop in their tracks, abandon their civilian dress, and throw themselves upon the enemy swords, running through the fire, judging the death that lies ahead more precious than all else. It is not that they see no difference between death and life, merely that the people making the choice understand the value of their efforts. Thus, one man can defeat ten, ten can defeat a hundred, one hundred can defeat a thousand, a thousand can defeat ten thousand, and ten thousand can defeat All-Under-Heaven. Now Qin's territory, if it were rounded off, would be reckoned at a thousand square li[5], and your celebrated troops number in the tens of thousands. With your implementation of rewards and punishments and the benefits of your territorial situation, All-Under-Heaven has nothing to compare. This being so, if you decide to move against All-Under-Heaven, then even together the others are no match for you, and you will conquer them. They are well aware that Qin's army has never tasted defeat, has never made an attack that did not take its objective, that its targets have never avoided destruction.


But while opening up thousands of li of new land[6] is a profound achievement, as a result the army is on its knees with fatigue, the officials and the populace are falling sick, stores are running low, fields are falling fallow and the granaries are empty; the feudal lords of the four directions refuse to submit, and you have not gained the name of Hegemon. For this there can be no other reason: your advisors are not all entirely loyal.


Your servant begs leave to speak of ancient things: In olden times, Qi defeated Jing in the South and Song in the centre; it made Qin submit in the West and defeated Zhao in the North; in the centre it used the Lords of Han and Wei as its officials. Its territories were wide and its soldiers strong, in battle it was victorious and conquered; All-Under-Heaven followed its orders, the clear Ji River[7] and the muddy Yellow River sufficed as its boundaries, and the Great Wall for its defence. Qi fought five wars and won, but lost one and was destroyed. Having observed as much, it can be said that in war even a state of ten thousand chariots exists between life and death. Therefore your servant says: 'it is only by chopping down the trunk and digging out the roots of misfortune - and not by skirting around it - that it is prevented from growing'. Qin has brought war to the people of Jing, and Jing has been shattered; you have raided Ying[8] and taken Lake Dongting[9], the Five Capitals[10] and Jiangnan[11]. The King of Chu has fled for his life, crawling for mercy from Chen. If, at that time, you had sent your troops onward into Jing then Jing could have been unified with Qin; if Jing had been unified then its people alone would have been an enviable asset, and its land sufficient to make the enterprise a profitable one. You could have used your strength against Qi and Yan in the East, and in the centre to overrun the Three Jin[12]. From there uniting all under the title of Hegemon would have been an achievable goal, and the feudal lords of the four directions would have paid homage in your court. But your advisors did not act, they pulled back their troops and retreated, making peace with the people of Jing. Now the people of Jing have taken back a dying state, and must collect their scattered population, rebuild their altars and reestablish their ancestral shrines, before once again leading All-Under-Heaven Westwards to trouble Qin. This was undoubtedly the first step on the route to losing hegemony.


All-Under-Heaven, with one mind, sent its army against the walls of Hua[13]. The King[14] used deceit to defeat them and march as far as the outskirts of Liang[15], laying siege to Liang for several weeks[16]; at that point Liang could have been razed. If Liang had been razed[17], the Wei could have been unified with Qin. If Wei had been unified, then the common purpose between Jing and Zhao would have been broken, and Zhao in danger. With Zhao at risk, Jing would have been alone. You could have used your strength against Qi and Yan in the East, and in the centre to overrun the Three Jin, and from there uniting all under the title of Hegemon would have been an achievable goal, and the feudal lords of the four directions would have paid homage in your court. But your advisors did not act, they pulled back their troops and retreated, making peace with the people of Wei. Now the people of Wei have taken back a dying state, and must collect their scattered population[18], rebuild their altars and reestablish their ancestral shrines[19]. This was undoubtedly the second step on the route to losing hegemony.


Previously, when Marquis Rang[20] governed Qin, he successfully used the troops of one state to do the work of two, with their soldiers leaving their bodies and surrendering their souls abroad[21], and officials and citizens growing hungry and ill at home[22], but still the name of Hegemon was not achieved. This was undoubtedly the third step on the route to losing hegemony.


The Zhao clan rules a country inhabited by diverse peoples. Their citizens are frivolous and difficult to employ, decrees are not followed, rewards and punishments are not reliable, and the terrain is unfavourable for military manoeuvres; the leadership is incapable of getting the  best out of their citizens. It has every appearance of a doomed state, and yet with no concern for the people or their vassals, the leadership mobilised officers and men and dispatched the army to lay siege to Changping[23] to fight in Han for the control of Shangdang[24]. The King[25] used deceit to defeat them and razed Wu'an[26]. With the situation as it stood at the time, there was no affection or unity between the leaders and citizens of Zhao, and no mutual trust between the elites and the poor. They could not have defended Handan[27]. If Handan were razed, then Hejian[28] could have been used to rest the troops, before pushing on into Xiuwu[29], crossing Mount Yangchang[30], then up to Dai[31] and Shangdang. Dai Commandery has thirty-six counties and Shangdang twenty-seven. Without wearing out one suit of armour or troubling a single man, all could have been Qin's to possess. Dai and Shangdang would have come over to Qin without a fight, without a fight Dongyang and Hewai[32] would have gone to Qi, and without a fight the territory North of Zhongshan and the Hutuo River would have gone to Yan[33]. When the whole of Zhao had been thus dealt with, Han too would have been doomed, and with Han finished, neither Jing nor Wei could stand alone. Since neither Jing nor Wei could stand alone, the entire territory would have been be taken, with Han in ruins, Wei eaten away, and Jing looted. In the East this would weaken Qi and Yan, and allow the Baima Barrier[34] to be breached to flood the lands of the Wei clan. With the unification complete, the Three Jin[35] would have been finished, and their followers defeated. The King could have folded his hands and waited for All-Under-Heaven to come crawling to him, and the name of Hegemon would have been achieved. But his advisors did not act. They pulled back their armies and retreated, making peace with Zhao. 


For all the King's intelligence and the strength of the army, the title of Hegemon was not achieved, nor his lands extended[36], instead he was imposed upon by a series of failed states. If such a thing could happen, it is entirely due to the stupidity of his advisors. So while Zhao should have died and did not, Qin should have achieved hegemony and did not, and All-Under-Heaven may thus judge the quality of Qin's advisors: this is the first point. When Qin could have renewed its troops' attack on Handan, it failed to take the city as the troops discarded their armour and their fighting spirits, trembling and fleeing at the prospect of battle, and All-Under-Heaven was able thus to judge Qin's strength: point two. When the army was retreating, even as far as Lixia[37], the King arrived to take charge with additional supplies, and could not favour them with a victory, merely stop the chaotic retreat, All-Under-Heaven could thus judge Qin's strength: point three.


At home I am assessed by the quality of my advisors; externally my reach is limited by the strength of my troops. Having observed as much, your servant is not surprised that All-Under-Heaven should be able to form an alliance with such little difficulty, if at home my troops are prostrated, the officials and the populace are sick, the stores are exhausted, the fields have fallen fallow, the granaries are empty, and abroad the enemy is affirming its purpose and consolidating its position. I beg Your Majesty to give this due consideration.[38]


For your servant has heard 'We must approach every battle with trepidation[39], and every new day with caution, for it is only through exercising caution that All-Under-Heaven can be ours.' How is it that I know this to be the case? In ancient times[40], when Zhou[41] was the Son of Heaven, he summoned the armies of All-Under-Heaven , numbering millions of men - so many that when the left flank drank from the Qigu River[42] and the right flank drank from the Huanshui River[43], the Qigu River was exhausted and the Huanshui River ceased to flow - they were nevertheless brought to grief by the forces of Zhou[44]. King Wu[45], having only three thousand men and still in white mourning dress[46], fought for a day and destroyed Zhou's state[47], captured the sovereign, and took possession of his land and people, with no one in All-Under-Heaven feeling any regret. Zhi Bo[48] led a three-state[49] horde to attack Lord Zhao Xiang[50] in Jinyang, provoking a flood that lasted three years, until his city was destroyed[51]. Lord Xiang read the omens, casting bones into the fire before deciding his strategies[52] to see what profit could be gained, and how the state could be overcome, and finally appointed Zhang Mengtan[53] as his envoy, who departed in secret to disrupt Zhi Bo's alliances and win the other two states' populations over, in order to attack Zhi Bo's state[54], and complete the records of Zhao Xiang's victories[55].


Now Qin's territory, if it were rounded off, would be reckoned at a thousand square li, and your celebrated troops number in the tens of thousands. With your implementation of rewards and punishments and the benefits of your territorial situation, All-Under-Heaven has nothing to compare. This being so, if you decide to move against All-Under-Heaven, then even together they are no match for you, and you will conquer them. Your servant has risked death to gain an audience with Your Majesty, that these words may be used in the destruction of the vertical alliance, to unify Zhao and destroy Han, to make servants of Jing and Wei, and friends of Yan and Qi, and thereby earn the name of Hegemon, ensuring that the feudal lords of the four directions will make their way to your court. If Your Majesty tests and follows this advice, and no unification follows, and the vertical alliance is not broken, if Zhao is not unified and Han not destroyed, if Jing and Wei are not made servants and Yan and Qi friends, if the name of Hegemon is not earned and the feudal lords of the four directions do not pay homage at your court, may I be executed as a warning to the rest of the state, for having advised the ruler disloyally."

[1] Zhang Yi was among Qin's most famous diplomats; like Su Qin he was a Guiguzi alumnus. This speech would be an excellent introduction to his oratory, were it not for the fact that it is actually the first chapter of the Han Feizi, and makes reference to events that happened after Zhang Yi's death in 309 BC. At the time it was not uncommon to interpolate entire chapters from one work into another if it was felt that they had something to contribute. It is possible that the original record of Zhang Yi's speech was lost, but as it was known to be similar in tone and content to this one, Liu Xiang simply substituted this in as a useful point of comparison: it is precisely the sort of discourse Su Qin's pastiche was mimicking two chapters ago.

[2] In the context of the Stratagems this implies King Hui. The speech was in fact given to King Zheng around a hundred years later.

[3] Jing was an alternative name for Chu. At the time, the character for Chu (楚) was under a naming taboo in Qin, having been a part of King Zhuangxiang's given name, explaining why Jing is used throughout this text.

[4] The Han Feizi version has 其頓首戴羽為將軍,斷死於前,不至千人,皆以言死 between 百萬 and 白刃. This reads "They bow low and put on their plumed helmets to lead their armies, and those able to look death in the face do not number a thousand, though all men talk of it."

[5] Other versions give 方數千里 for 方書千里, which seems to make more sense. A li was around a third of a mile.

[6] As before, other versions give 開地數千里 instead of 開地書千里.

[7] The Ji River flows through Henan and Shandong.

[8] Ying was the capital of Chu. The location changed over time, but at the time it would have been near the modern-day city of Jingzhou in Hubei. 

[9] Lake Dongting is a flood basin surrounding the Yangtze River.

[10] The precise cities featuring on the Five Capitals list changed over time, and it is not entirely clear which cities were intended here.

[11] Jiangnan refers to the area South of the Yangtze River. 

[12] Han, Wei and Zhao.

[13] Huayang was South of Mount Hua on the border of Qin.

[14] Daliang was the capital of Wei, it is now Kaifeng in Henan.

[15] King Zhaoxiang.

[16] A 旬 was actually a period of ten days.

[17] Other versions give 拔梁 for 拔代碼, which seems reasonable.

[18] Other versions have 聚散民 for 聚散年 as in the Jing passage above.

[19] The Han Feizi version inserts 令率天下西面以與秦為難 here, mirroring the Jing passage.

[20] Wei Ran, who served as Chancellor under King Zhaoxiang.

[21] The Han Feizi version gives 兵終身暴露於外 for 兵終身暴靈於外, which would be translated something along the lines of "gave their lives facing the assaults of man and nature".

[22] The Han Feizi version has 士民疲病於內 for 士民潞病於內. 疲病 means "tired and ill"; 潞病 was a disease associated with malnutrition. Some sources suggest rickets, but it seems an unlikely candidate in this case, given that it is a childhood disease and therefore would be unlikely to afflict bureaucrats as a result of prolonged military action. 

[23] The Battle of Changping, fought against Qin on Han territory, was a famously bloody defeat for Zhao, and the country never really recovered.

[24] Shangdang Commandery was an important strategic area on the boundary of several states. At the time a part of Han's territory had been cut off by Qin troops and they offered it to Zhao if Zhao could succeed in pushing back Qin.

[25] King Zhaoxiang. 

[26] Wu'an still exists, and is in Hebei.

[27] Handan is in modern Hebei, and was the capital of Zhao at the time.

[28] Hejian is in Hebei.

[29] Xiuwu is in Henan.

[30] Mount Yangchang was somewhere in modern Shanxi, but the precise location is uncertain.

[31] Dai Commandery, an area in Zhao formerly occupied by the state of Dai.

[32] This may possibly refer to the area occupied by the Hedong Commandery.

[33] The Han Feizi version spells this out more clearly, giving it as 中山呼沱. The area formerly occupied by the state of Zhongshan and the Hutuo River were in central Zhao, North of modern-day Shijiazhuang.

[34] Baima was on the border of Wei, in modern Hua County, Henan.

[35] Han, Wei and Zhao.

[36] In modern Chinese Lixia (literally "under the plum tree") is a euphemism for being spotted behaving suspiciously, however, this usage is not recorded until the Three Kingdoms period, and in this case the word seems to refer to an actual place. I am not sure where it was.

[37] This refers to personal gifts of land presented as a demonstration of respect, rather than territory won by right of conquest, which would belong to the state of Qin rather than to the sovereign and his family.

[38] The use of the first person singular to introduce a generalisation (much as "you" is used to stand in for "one" in modern English) is a distinctive stylistic technique used by Han Fei to great effect. Modern English and Chinese translators tend to skim over it where it occurs, because it often comes across awkwardly in both languages. While I would normally follow their expert lead on any point of doubt, in this case I have attempted to preserve it, since it is such an instantly recognisable idiosyncrasy in the original. 

[39] Other versions give 戰戰栗栗 for 戰戰慄栗, but given that 栗 is a simplification of 慄, the sense remains unchanged. The reference is to the Book of Poetry, in which the phrase used is 戰戰兢兢 (featuring in the Xiao Min and Xiao Wan verses). By this point it had become a standard literary expression.

[40] Following the other versions of the text, taking 昔 for 茜.

[41] Zhou (紂) was the final ruler of the Shang Dynasty, defeated by King Wu to found the Zhou (周) Dynasty. The fact that all of the key players and one of the states involved in this story had names that transliterate as "Zhou" makes it difficult to render into English.

[42] This probably refers to a stream in modern day Qi County, Henan, which, coincidentally, runs through the Gui Valley, from which the Guiguzi school would (much) later take its name. Qi County was the location of one of the Shang Dynasty capitals, making the location a plausible one.

[43] The Huan River in Northern Henan. It is a little to the South of Qi County and passes nearby Yinxu, the final Shang capital before the overthrow of the dynasty.

[44] I.e. the nascent Zhou (周) Dynasty.

[45] King Wu of Zhou (周), founded the Zhou (周) Dynasty after defeating Shang troops under King Zhou (紂) at the Battle of Muye in 1046 BC.

[46] King Wu was still in the official mourning period for his father, King Wen, so he and his troops would have worn coarse white jackets under their armour. 

[47] I.e. the Shang state ruled by Zhou (紂).

[48] Zhi Bo was also known as Zhi Yao or Zhi Xiangzi, and was a member of the ruling house of Jin, and its last Chancellor before it was split up by Han, Wei and Zhao.

[49] The army contained contingents from Han, Wei and Zhao.

[50] Or Zhao Xiangzi, who led the partition of Jin by convincing the Han and Wei clans to join his revolt against Zhi Bo.

[51] Zhi Bo destroyed the Fen River dam, flooding Jinyang. Other commentators have suggested that this passage should probably read "months" instead of "years".

[52] The Han Feizi version has 鑽 for 錯, which seems reasonable. 鑽龜 and 占兆 refer to the use of oracle bones.

[53] Zhang Mengtan was a sort of Chinese Cincinnatus, winning this victory before retiring to live as a farmer, returning the next time Zhao was in danger.

[54] I.e. Jin.

[55] The Han Feizi version has 以復襄主之初 (and return Lord Xiang to his position) for 以成牒子之功 (complete the records of Zhao Xiang's victories).


Zhang Yi Wishes to Lend Qin Troops to Wei


Zhang Yi[1] wished to lend Qin troops to Wei. Zuo Cheng[2] said to Gan Mao[3]: "Why not give them to him?[4] Wei will not return them, and then Zhang Yi will not return to Qin either. Even if Wei returns them, it just proves that Zhang Yi is capable of obtaining his ends in Wei, and if that were known he would not dare to return to Qin[5]. If Zhang Yi does not leave Qin, he will be more powerful than you are."

[1] Zhang Yi was among Qin's most famous diplomats; like Su Qin he was a Guiguzi alumnus.

[2] We previously met Zui Cheng in the Death of the Crown Prince of Zhou chapter. This is his last appearance.

[3] Gan Mao was a successful Qin General and politician, involved in the siege of Yiyang.

[4] Assuming 子不予之 to be an error for 子不如予之. 

[5] Because he would be suspected of working for Wei

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