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Marquis Wen of Wei Wishes to Destroy Zhongshan



Marquis Wen of Wei[1] wished to destroy Zhongshan. Chang Zhuangtan[2] spoke to Zhao Xiangzi[3], saying, "If Wei annexes Zhongshan, then Zhao will cease to exist. Why do you not request Lady Qing[4] for your principal wife, and seize the opportunity to secure a domain for her in Zhongshan? Then you will be able to reestablish Zhongshan's position."

[1] Marquis Wen of Wei (424-396 BCE) was son of Wei Huanzi, who secured the independence of the state of Wei. He was noted for having employed Li Kui to reform the legal system, thus strengthening the state.

[2] Chang Zhuangtan was originally from Zhao, but served as a politician in Wei. 

[3] Bao suggests that this is intended to be a reference to Wei Huanzi. Zhao Xiangzi (458–425 BCE) was also known as Zhao Wuxu. He was the first leader of Zhao as an independent state. Wei Huanzi was his equivalent in Wei.

[4] Lady Qing was the daughter of Marquis Wen of Wei.

The Xishou General Establishes Five Kings


Shou Xi[1] established five kings[2], and the last and least among them was the King of Zhongshan. Qi spoke to Zhao and Wei, saying, "We should be ashamed to be ranked on a level with the King of Zhongshan. I hope your great states will join me in an attack on Zhongshan and compel its lord to renounce his royal titles."

Zhongshan heard about this and panicked. The King summoned Zhang Deng[3] and reported it to him, saying, "Since our recent elevation to the royal estate Qi has been speaking to Zhao and Wei, saying that it would be ashamed to be ranked on a level with us, and thus it wishes to attack us. We are afraid that our state will be exterminated and care nothing for royal titles. If you cannot come up with a plan to help me then no one can."

Deng replied, "If your Lordship will supply me with enough carriages and sufficient strings of cash, I beg permission to seek an audience with Tian Ying[4]."

The Lord of Zhongshan[5] sent him to Qi, where he secured an audience with Tian Ying and said, "Your servant has heard that you wish to strip the King of Zhongshan of his title, and will join with Zhao and Wei to attack him. This is a mistake. If, taking advantage of Zhongshan's small size, all three of you attack at once, and then even a much bigger state than Zhongshan would renounce its royal titles and fall into line. Zhongshan is so afraid now that it will surrender its royal titles to Zhao or Wei, in an effort to be accepted within their suite[6]. In that case, you will be nothing more than a shepherd to Zhao or Wei, and Qi will not benefit at all. Would it not be better to have Zhongshan renounce its royal titles in favour of Qi?"


Tian Ying said, "How should I manage this?"

Zhang Deng said, "If Your Lordship will now extend an invitation to Zhongshan, meet its delegation and promise to recognise their King, then Zhongshan will be delighted and sever its relations with Zhao and Wei. Zhao and Wei will be outraged and will attack Zhongshan,

which will be left in a desperate situation. If Your Lordship then criticises its adoption of royal titles, its lord will be frightened enough to abandon his kingship on your account and serve Qi. Fearing the extermination of his state, you will be able to rob him of his royal title while propping up[6] his state. This is much wiser than becoming a shepherd for Zhao and Wei."

Tian Ying said, "I will do so."

Zhang Chou[7] said, "Impossible. Your servant has heard that those who desire the same things hate one another, while those who share the same grievances grow closer. Now there are four states that have agreed to recognise one another's royal titles[8], and the only one refusing to join them is the one with its back to the sea[9]. Thus their common desire is to remain kings, and their shared grievance is against us. If you now extend an invitation to Zhongshan and go out to meet its delegation at the border, then you will be stealing from four[10] states to benefit the one on the coast. You will be able to deliver Zhongshan into our hands and alienate it from the other states, but the four states' sentiments towards us will also cool. You will first be forced to approach the King of Zhongshan as an equal in order to stage a rapprochement, but by approaching Zhongshan you will lose the backing of the other four. Moreover, given the kind of person Zhang Deng is - one who has long demonstrated his skill in creating subtle strategies for the Lord of Zhongshan - it is hard to believe that he is acting for our benefit."




Tian Ying would not listen. Consequently, he extended an invitation to the Lord of Zhongshan, promising to recognise his royal title. Zhang Deng took advantage of this to speak to Zhao and Wei, saying, "Qi wishes to launch a strike east of the Yellow river[11]. How do I know this? Qi is profoundly embarrassed to be ranked equal to Zhongshan[12], but now it has invited a delegation from Zhongshan, intending to meet them at the border and recognise their King. If Qi has done this, it must be because it wants to make use of Zhongshan's troops. Can you not ensure that your own mighty states will be the first to recognise Zhongshan's royal title, and thereby prevent its meeting with Qi?" Zhao and Wei agreed with this, and consequently recognised Zhongshan's royal titles, thereby staging a rapprochement. As a result of this, Zhongshan severed its relations with Qi and followed Zhao and Wei.  

[1] The Xishou General was also known as Gongsun Yan, and worked as a politician in Qin, Wei and Han.

[2] The commentaries disagree regarding the precise list of kings: Qi, Wei, Yan, Zhongshan and either Zhao or Han. The Xishou General's role in the process is similarly unclear. 

[3] Zhang Deng is known principally via this story.

[4] Tian Ying was a member of the Qi royal family, and the father of Lord Mengchang.

[5] King Cuo of Zhongshan (323-309 BCE) was the first leader in Zhongshan to elevanted to a royal title. He was a successful leader, doubling the size of Zhongshan's territory.

[6] Reading 立 for 亡, per the commentaries.

[7] Zhang Chou crops up repeatedly through the book, and may have been a member of Tian Ying's entourage, but he is not otherwise well-known.

[8] Reading 四 for

[9] I.e. Qi. Chou's insitence upon this term likely implies that it was under a naming taboo for him at the time. Possibly "Qi" was a component of his father or grandfather's name.

[10] Reading 四 for 五, per the commentaries.

[11] This land belonged to Wei at the time.

[12] Reading 並 for 之, per the commentaries. 

Zhongshan, Yan and Zhao Adopt Royal Titles



Zhongshan, Yan and Zhao adopted royal titles[1]. Qi closed its borders and refused to allow Zhongshan's envoys entry, saying, "We are a state of ten thousand chariots. Zhongshan is a state of a hundred chariots[2]. How can they have the same rank as us?" Qi decided to cede land in Pingyi[3] to Yan and Zhao and thus bribe them to dispatch troops to attack Zhongshan.



Lord Lanzhu[4] was worried about this. Zhang Deng[5] spoke to him, saying, "Why worry about Qi?"

"Qi is strong, a state of ten thousand chariots, and regards being ranked equal to Zhongshan as such a humiliation that it will happily cede land to Yan and Zhao to bribe them to dispatch troops to attack Zhongshan. Yan and Zhao love titles and are greedy for land[5], so I am afraid that they will not be a support I can lean on. In the worst case they will endanger the state and in the best case we will have to renounce our royal titles. How would you handle this so as to eliminate my worries?"

Zhang Deng said, "Allow me to reinforce Yan and Zhao's support for Zhongshan. Thus I can secure your situation, if this is what you want?"

Lord Lanzhu said, "It is."

​Zhang Deng said, "Please act the part of the King of Qi[6], and I will try to persuade you. If this is acceptable to you, I will proceed."

Lord Lanzhu said, "I would like to hear your persuasions."



Deng said, "If Your Majesty can, with equanimity, cede land to Yan and Zhao to bribe them to dispatch troops to attack Zhongshan, you must really wish to deprive Zhongshan of its royal titles."

The 'King' said, "That is so."

"Such a course will will be expensive and - moreover - dangerous to Your Majesty. If you cede land to Yan and Zhao as a bribe, you will be strengthening your enemies, and thus the mobilisation of troops to attack Zhongshan will only be the beginning of your troubles. If you do these two things, you will certainly never get what you want from Zhongshan. If you apply my methods, however, then with no loss of land and no use of military force, Zhongshan agree to renounce its royal titles... Then the King will certainly say, 'How would you apply your methods to handle this matter[7]?'"

Lord Lanzhu said, "This being so, then how would you apply your methods to handle this matter?"

Zhang Deng said, "If Your Majesty appoints a plenipotentiary ambassador, he can report this to the Lord of Zhongshan[8], saying, 'If we closed our border and did not let your envoys pass, it was only because we had not yet heard that Zhongshan had adopted royal titles along with Yan and Zhao. Therefore we prevented their onward travel. If Your Majesty would honour our land with your illustrious footsteps and attend an audience with us[9], I will beg the King to offer our assistance.' Zhongshan is afraid that it will not be able to depend upon Yan and Zhao's support. If Qi now says, 'We will assist Your Majesty instead', then Zhongshan will go behind the backs of Yan and Zhao, and seek an audience with you. When Yan and Zhao hear of this, they will sever their relations with Zhongshan[10]. If you then also sever your relations, Zhongshan will be left isolated. Once isolated, what can it do but surrender its titles?[11] If I thus persuade the King of Qi, will he listen?"

Lord Lanzhu said, "If you do it thus, he will certainly listen, but this is a method that will force us to surrender our titles. Do you have one that would enable us to retain them?"

"Here is how the King can preserve his title: When Qi comes and repeats this to you, you should seize your chance and report its envoys' words to Yan and Zhao rather than going along with their suggestions. Zhongshan's relations with Yan and Zhao will thus improve, such that Yan and Zhao will certainly say, 'If Qi wants to bribe us with land in Pingyi, it is not because it wants to make Zhongshan surrender its royal titles, rather it is because it wants to disrupt our own relations with Zhongshan and thereby improve its own.' Then even if Qi were to offer a hundred Pingyis, Yan and Zhao would certainly not accept them."  

Lord Lanzhu said, "Very well."




He dispatched Zhang Deng to Qi, where he deployed the above-mentioned arguments as planned. Zhongshan then reported them to Yan and Zhao rather than going along with their suggestions. Consequently, Yan and Zhao came together to support Zhongshan, thus permitting it to keep its royal titles and secure the King's position.

[1] I.e. their leaders titles were elevated from Duke to King. 

[2] Reading 百 for 千 here, per the commentaries.

[3] Pingyi was in modern Changle County, Shandong.

[3] Lord Lanzhu was the Chancellor of Zhongshan.

[4] Zhang Deng appears repeatedly in the Stratagems but his background is not otherwise well-known.

[5] The commentaries suggest that this may be intended to read 倍 for 位, in which case the sentence would be "Yan and Zhao delight in deception".

[6] King Min of Qi (300–284 BCE) 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] Here and below there is no indication in the original text to show when Zhang Deng is breaking character.

[8] King Cuo of Zhongshan (323-309 BCE) was the first leader in Zhongshan to elevanted to a royal title. He was a successful leader, doubling the size of Zhongshan's territory. 

[9] Reading 玉趾 for 趾 here, per the commentaries.

[10] Reading 必怒 for 怒, per the commentaries.

[11] Zhang Deng seems to break character at this point.


Sima Xi Serves as an Envoy in Zhao



Sima Xi[1] was serving as an envoy to Zhao, and he intended to request that Zhao secure him the position of Chancellor in Zhongshan. Gongsun Hong[2] found out about this via clandestine means. When the Lord of Zhongshan[3] went out with Sima Xi as his driver and Gongsun Hong riding in his chariot, Hong said, "A public servant who recruits a large state for its capacity to intimidate and uses it to request that he be made Chancellor of his home state, what does Your Lordship think of such a person?"

The Lord of Zhongshan replied, "I would eat him alive, and not share the meal with anyone else."

Sima Xi bowed his head over the crossbar of the chariot, and said, "I now know that the moment of my death is nigh."

The Lord of Zhongshan said, "Why so?"

"You just said that your servant merits such a sanction[4]."

The Lord of Zhongshan said, "Duly noted. Drive on." After some time, an envoy from Zhao arrived in Zhongshan to request the position of Chancellor for Sima Xi. The Lord of Zhongshan thus grew suspicious of Gongsun Hong, and Gongsun Hong fled[5].  

[1] Reading 司馬喜 for 司馬两, per the commentaries. Sima Xi was a politician in Zhongshan.

[2] Gongsun Hong was a politician in Zhongshan. He may later have moved to Qi and joined the entourage of Lord Mengchang.

[3] Probably King Zici of Zhongshan (309-299 BCE). He suffered repeated incursions and lost a large amount of land, finally dying in Qi.

[4] Reading 曰臣 for 臣, per the commentaries.  

[5] Presumably because - thanks to Sima Xi's preemptive confession - he thinks Hong orchestrated it to get Sima Xi into trouble.


Sima Xi Serves as Chancellor of Zhongshan Three Times



Sima Xi[1] had served as Chancellor of Zhongshan three times, and Yin Jian[2] detested him. Tian Jian[3] spoke to Sima Xi, saying, "An envoy has come to serve as Zhao's ears here. Could you not simply speak to him of Yin Jian's beauty? Zhao will certainly request her. If your Lord hands her over, then you yourself will have no more problems here. If he does not hand her over, then you can take the opportunity to recommend that he establish her as his principal wife. Yin Jian will be indebted to you forever more."

As a result of this, Sima Xi had Zhao request Yin Jian[4], and the Lord of Zhongshan refused to hand her over. Sima Xi said, "If you do not hand her over you will enrage the King of Zhao[5], and if you enrage the King of Zhao then Your Lordship will certainly be in danger. This being so, you should establish her as your principal wife, since no one would ever request a principal wife or, upon not obtaining her, bear a grudge."

[1] Reading 司馬喜 for 司馬两, per the commentaries. Sima Xi was a politician in Zhongshan.

[2] Yin Jian was a concubine belonging to King Cuo.

[3] Tian Jian may be Yin Jian's father.

[4] Reading 請之 for 請 here, per the commentaries.

[5] King Wuling of Zhao (325–299 BCE), who oversaw Zhao's transition to light cavalry tactics, a move that won them several significant victories and was rapidly followed by the other states. The commentaries suggest that it was Marquis Su, but he died before King Xiang of Wei took the throne.


Consort Yin Competes with Consort Jiang to become Queen


Consort Yin[1] was competing with Consort Jiang[2] to be appointed queen[3]. Sima Xi[4] spoke to Consort Yin's father[5], saying, "If she can carry this affair off, then Zhongshan's citizens will be in your power[6]; if she cannot, then I am afraid that your life will be forfeit. If you seek to make her success certain, why not secure me an audience with the King?"

Consort Yin's father bowed down to the ground and said, "If you can really do as you say, how could I ever repay you for this service?"

Sima Xi thus offered a memorial to the King of Zhongshan[7], saying, "Your servant has heard of a means by which you could weaken Zhao and strengthen Zhongshan."

The King of Zhongshan was delighted, and accorded him an audience, saying, "To hear such a thing would please me greatly."

Sima Xi said, "Your servant would like to go to Zhao and observe its terrain, its mountains and its passes, to see whether its people are poor or rich and whether its lords and their advisors are worthy or contemptible. I will compare our resources with our enemy's, information that we have not yet been able to collate." Thus the King of Zhongshan sent him off.



Sima Xi secured an audience with the King of Zhao[8], at which he said, "Your servant has heard that Zhao is the homeland of the most skilled musicians and the greatest beauties. Now I have crossed your border and entered your capital, heard the songs and witnessed the customs of your citizens[9]. I noted their figures and their faces, but I an yet to see any exceptional beauties. Your servant has travelled a great deal, wandering unceasingly[10], and I have not yet seen anyone equal to Consort Yin of Zhongshan. If I did not know better, I would have thought her something supernatural. Human speech lacks the power to measure her beauty[11] - her form and face entirely surpass those of other mortals. Her nose and cheekbones, like her eyebrows, are perfect, and the moon itself should pay homage to her forehead. She should be an emperor's queen, not simply the concubine of a feudal lord."

The King of Zhao's interest was piqued. Delighted, he said, "I would like to request that he give her to me. What do you think?"

​Sima Xi said, "Having stolen a glance at her beauty, I was unable to prevent myself speaking of it. Nevertheless, it is not a matter that I would dare discuss formally. I hope that Your Majesty will not allow this to leak out."



Sima Xi made his excuses and left. He returned and made his report to the King of Zhongshan, saying, "The King of Zhao is not a wise sovereign. He cares nothing for honour, preferring sweet voices and blushing cheeks. He cares nothing for duty or benevolence, preferring force and bravado. Your servant has also heard that he wishes to request the concubine that goes by the name of Yin." The King's expression fell; he was not pleased. Sima Xi said, "Zhao is a strong state, and its requests may as well be commands. If Your Majesty does not hand her over, then the altars of earth and grain will be at risk, but if you give her to him then you will be a laughing stock among the sovereign lords."

The King of Zhongshan said, "How would you handle this?"

Sima Xi said, "If you make her your queen, that would dash his hopes. There is no one on earth who would request a queen as a gift. Even if he is so inflamed with desire that he puts in a request, his neighbours would never permit her to be handed over[12]." The King of Zhongshan thus made Consort Yin his queen, and the King of Zhao did not say another word about her."

[1] Yin Jian was a concubine belonging to King Cuo.

[2] Consort Jiang appears to have been a favourite of King Cuo.

[3] I.e. to be designated the King's chief wife.

[4] Reading 司馬喜 for 司馬两, per the commentaries. Sima Xi was a politician in Zhongshan.

[5] Possibly Tian Jian, a politician in Zhongshan.

[6] Reading 得 for 子 here, per the commentaries.

[7] King Cuo of Zhongshan (323-309 BCE) was the first leader in Zhongshan to be elevated to a royal rank. He was a successful leader, doubling the size of Zhongshan's territory. 

[8] King Wuling of Zhao (325–299 BCE), who oversaw Zhao's transition to light cavalry tactics, a move that won them several significant victories and was rapidly followed by the other states. The commentaries suggest that it was Marquis Su, but he died before King Xiang of Wei took the throne.

[9] 謠 refers to both folk songs and gossip, reflecting a tradition dating back to the early Zhou Dynasty, whereby popular songs were noted down by officials as a means of gauging public opinion. 

[10] Reading 至 for 通, per the commentaries.​

[11] Reading 人 for 力 here, per the commentaries.

[12] For fear of the precedent it would set.


The King of Zhao's Father Attacks Zhongshan


The King of Zhao's father[1] wished to attack Zhongshan, and sent Li Ci[2] ahead to scout out the situation. Li Ci said, "It is possible to attack. Indeed if you do not strike now, I am afraid others in All-Under-Heaven will preempt you."

The King's father said, "Why so?"

Li Ci replied, "The Lord of Zhongshan removed the awning from his carriage[3] and went to pay his respects to scholars in poor villages and back alleys[4], visiting seventy households."

The King's father said, "Such is the mark of wise lord. Why would I attack him?"

Li Ci said, "Not so. When scholars are elevated, then the people work to gain renown rather than concentrating on the primary industries[5], and when sages are summoned to the royal court farmers grow lazy and soldiers timid. There has never yet been a ruler who acted thus and survived." 

[1] King Wuling of Zhao (325–299 BCE), who oversaw Zhao's transition to light cavalry tactics, a move that won them several significant victories and was rapidly followed by the other states. He later abdicated in favour of his son, while continuing to command Zhao's armies and participate in politics.

[2] Li Ci was a politician in Zhao.

[3] Reading 車者 for 車 here, per the commentaries.

[4] Some commentaries suggest that this was because the awning was wider than the carriage and would not fit in the narrow alleys inhabited by poor scholars.

[5] Agriculture, mining and production of basic goods. 


The Lord of Zhongshan Holds a Banquet for the Officials of His Capital



The Lord of Zhongshan[1] held a banquet for the officials of his capital at which Counsellor Sima Ziqi[2] was present. He was not offered any of the mutton soup, and was so annoyed that he left for Chu to persuade its King[3] to attack Zhongshan. When the Lord of Zhongshan fled[4], two of his partisans moved to follow him, their halberds in their hands. He glanced back and spoke to them: "What are you doing?"

The two men said, "We are brothers. Once, when our father was starving, you gave him a pot of dumplings[5]. Later, when he was dying, he said, 'If ever Zhongshan is embroiled in any contention, you must be ready to die for it.' Therefore we have come to die for Your Lordship."

The Lord of Zhongshan sighed and gazed up to the sky, saying, "The quality of a gift is measured not by its size, but whether it arrives when most needed. The intensity of a grudge is determined not by the significance of the slight, but by the hurt suffered. I was forced to flee my state on account of a bowl of mutton soup, but have gained two partisans in return for a pot of dumplings[6]." 

[1] This leader seems to have ruled before Zhongshan attained full independence.

[2] Sima Ziqi was a brother of King Zhao of Chu, as well as a politician in Zhongshan.

[3] Possibly King Zhao of Chu (515-489 BCE), who suffered repeated incursions, being defeated by the troops of King Helü of Wu under Sun Tzu, and later killed attempting to defend Chen against King Fuchai of Wu.

[4] Presumably the people of Zhongshan were still at least semi-nomadic at this point, so the departure of the King is not necessarily as significant an event as it would have been elsewhere.

[5] There seems to be a character missing here, but it is not clear what it is. Bao suggests that 壺餌 is an error for 臣父. This may be a reference to a pot of some other unspecified food (dumplings had not yet become a staple at the time this story took place).

[6] There is a character missing between 壺 and 得. The commentaries suggest 龪.

Yue Yang Leads Wei's Army



Yue Yang[1] led Wei's army in an attack on Zhongshan. His son[2] was in Zhongshan at the time, so the Lord of Zhongshan[3] cooked him and delivered the resulting soup to Yue Yang, whereupon Yue Yang drank it. Thenceforth it was said[4], "Yue Yang ate his son to preserve his credibility, clearly he was willing to suffer as a father if his military doctrine required it." 

[1] Yue Yang originally came from Zhongshan, but served in Wei.

[2] Yue Shu (樂舒) served as a General in Zhongshan, defeating and killing one of Marquis Wen of Wei's sons, but he is known principally via this story. 

[3] Duke Wu of Zhongshan (414-406 BCE) established a new capital for Zhongshan in Gu.

[4] Reading 稱之曰 for 稱之 here, per the commentaries.


King Zhao Lets his People Rest and his Troops Recuperate



King Zhao[1] had let his citizens rest and his soldiers recuperate, intending to renew his attack on Zhao[2], but Lord Wu'an[3] said, "It cannot be done."

The King said, "Two years ago the state was barren and its citizens starving. Your Lordship, without bothering to assess the capacity of the hundred clans, demanded that they provide your army with grain supplies for the purpose of exterminating Zhao. Now we have rested our citizens and increased our officers' stipends, we have accumulated extensive grain reserves[4], and the wages of the three armies have been doubled, but you say it cannot be done. Why do you argue thus?"



Lord Wu'an said, "In the contention at Changping[5] Qin's army routed its adversaries[6], and Zhao's army was decisively broken. Qin's partisans were overjoyed and Zhao's were terrified. Qin's dead received lavish funerals, while the wounded received generous pensions. Those who had laboured for our victory celebrated one another's successes; they ate and drank and poured libations to the dead, dissipating their resources. Zhao's partisans could not retrieve their dead and their wounds will never heal; they wept among themselves in their sorrow. In their shared grief, they redoubled their efforts, giving all their strength to till their fields and thereby augment their resources. If Your Majesty dispatches the army now, even having doubled its size, your servant believes that Zhao will be ready to protect itself with ten times the number of defenders. Since Changping, Zhao's lords and their servants have been troubled and fearful. At dawn they make their way to the palace and in the evening they return home[7]. They speak humbly, distribute heavy strings of cash, and make marriage alliances in all directions. They have formed close connections with Yan and Wei, and fond ties with Qi and Chu. They store up schemes in their hearts and devote themselves to making preparations against Qin. Their state is thriving internally and perfecting its diplomacy abroad. At the present moment, there is no way we can attack Zhao."



The King said, "We have already raised troops for this purpose." Thus he ordered Counsellor Wang Ling[8], Chief of the Five Garrisons[9], to lead the attack. Ling fought and ceded the advantage, losing all five of his garrisons.

The King wished to appoint Lord Wu'an in his place, but Lord Wu'an claimed to be sick and would not go. Accordingly, the King sent Marquis Ying[10] to seek an audience with Lord Wu'an and rebuke him, saying, "Chu has five thousand square li of land and millions of halberdiers, but Your Lordship previously led a group just a few tens of thousands strong into Chu, overwhelming Yan[11] and Ying[12] and burning their ancestral temples, proceeding east as far as Jingling[13]. Chu's partisans trembled in fear and fled eastwards, not daring to glance behind them. Han and Wei both sent reinforcements, raising as many battalions as they could. The forces under Your Lordship's command could not have totalled half their numbers[14], but you fought them at Yique[15], inflicting devastating destruction upon the armies of the two states. The blood flowed deep enough to float a shield and two hundred and forty thousand were beheaded. Thus Han and Wei were brought to such a point that they are now[16] forced to call themselves our eastern border guards. Such were Your Lordship's achievements, and there is no one in All-Under-Heaven who has not heard of them. Seven or eight out of every ten of Zhao's troops already died at Changping, and its state is barren and weak. This being so, if we[17] send out our entire army, it will be several times the size of Zhao's battalions. We would like be sure of wiping them out, which is why we wish to appoint you as its general. You have already attacked with smaller forces and secured godlike victories. How much more will you achieve when you are using a strong force to strike a weaker one, a large army to attack a smaller one?"



Lord Wu'an said, "At that time, the King of Chu[18], relying upon the size of his state, paid no heed to political matters. His private secretaries were all avid to scupper one another's successes and pursued their own interests by means of flattery[19]. Faithful advisors were neglected, the hundred clans were alienated, and the its walls and moats left in a state of disrepair. Having thus lost his best servants, there was no one to make any preparations for Chu's defence. Therefore, I was able to lead my troops deep into his state, skirting multiple fortified cities. I severed the bridges behind us and burnt our boats to concentrate the minds of our people[20], ransacking Chu's hinterlands for food sufficient to feed my army. At that time, both Qin's officers and its troops regarded the army as their home and their superiors as their parents. Even when there were no covenants between us we acted in solidarity[21], even when we had made no advance plans we were able to depend on one another[22]. With one mind we achieved our shared successes, not shrinking in the face of death. Chu's people were fighting on their own territory, constantly glancing backwards towards their homes, the mind of each distracted, lacking any fighting spirit. This is why I was able to achieve some success. During the Battle of Yique[23], Han was isolated and thus turned to Wei, not wanting to have recourse to its own battalions as a first resort, while Wei was dependent upon Han's elite troops, and wanted them to serve as its vanguard. The two armies were so busy struggling to take advantage of one another that they were unable to coordinate their forces. This being so, your servant was able to deploy decoy troops to hold off[24] Han's columns while regrouping our elite forces to take Wei by surprise. Thus Wei's army was defeated, and Han retreated of its own accord. Riding high on this victory and the subsequent rout, we were thereby able to consolidate our success. In all of my strategies I took advantage of contingent circumstances, following their natural logic. What is godlike about that? Qin has now broken Zhao's army at Changping, but we did not pursue them at the moment of victory and wipe them out when they were still shaken. We frightened them and let them go, allowing them to return to their ploughing and their harvesting, thus replenishing their stores, to raise their orphans, thus replenishing their battalions. They are repairing their armour and training their troops to bolster their strength, reinforcing their walls and deepening their moats to consolidate their positions. The Lord of Zhao has abased himself before his advisors and his advisors have humbled themselves before their front-line officers. Some have even gone as far as Lord Pingyuan[25], who ordered all his wives and concubines to go among the troops to mend their armour. Zhao's citizens are all of one mind. Superiors and subordinates have united their forces, just as when Goujian[26] was surrounded at Kuaiji[27]. If we attack now[28], they will certainly mount a robust defence. If we try to provoke their army to a pitched battle, they will be unwilling to advance. If we surround their capital, we will not be able to overrun it. If we attack their fortifications, we will never bring them down. If we ransack their countryside, we will gain nothing. If we dispatch troops and do not achieve anything, the sovereign lords will start to get ideas, and reinforcements from abroad will arrive. Your servant can foresee the potential harm in this, but is yet to identify any profit. So, once again, I am sick and I cannot go." 



Marquis Ying was embarrassed and withdrew to tell the King. The King said, "Never mind Bai Qi, can I not wipe Zhao out myself?" Reinforcements were raised and sent to join Qin's army. Meanwhile, the King appointed Wang He[29] to replace Wang Ling and launch another attack. He besieged Handan[30] for eight or nine months, and many of his troops were killed or injured, but the city did not fall. The King of Zhao[3!] dispatched his elite light units to harass Qin's rear. Qin did much and gained nothing.

Lord Wu'an said, "You did not listen to your servant's strategies; how did that turn out for you[32]?"

The King heard about this and was so irritated that he went to see Lord Wu'an, forcing him to get up, and said, "However ill you may be, you will just have to grit your teeth lead our troops from your sickbed. If you succeed and achieve our aims, we will elevate your position even higher. If you do not go, you will truly have earned our resentment." 

Lord Wu'an bowed his head and said, "I know that if I go - even if I do nothing of any merit - then I will be able to avoid censure. If I do not go - even if I do nothing deserving of censure - there will be no evading a capital sentence. Nevertheless, I hope that Your Majesty will glance over your servant's simple-minded plan: to abandon Zhao and take care of our own citizens in order to better to deal with the tumults among the sovereign lords[33]. By calming the fearful, attacking the proud, and wiping out the unprincipled, we will be able to command the sovereign lords and pacify All-Under-Heaven. Why must we attack Zhao first? Following such a plan could be described as abasing oneself to a subordinate to secure victory over All-Under-Heaven. If Your Majesty is not willing to consider my humble strategy, then it must be because you wish to please Zhao by convicting me on this pretext. This is can be described as vanquishing a subordinate only to abase oneself before All-Under-Heaven. Is managing to subdue a subordinate really as impressive as winning a victory over All-Under-Heaven? I have heard that a devoted servant cherishes his reputation just as an enlightened sovereign cherishes his state. A ruined state can never be made whole again, and dead troops cannot be brought back to life. I would be happier to bow my head, accept the ultimate penalty and go to my death, rather than endure life as the general of a humiliated army. I hope that Your Majesty will consider this." The King left without giving any reply.  

[1] King Zhaoxiang of Qin (306–251 BCE) 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.

[2] This refers to the aftermath of the siege of Handan, between 259 and 257 BCE.

[3] Bai Qi, also known as Lord Wu'an, was a Qin General famous for his mass murders. At the time of this story he has just returned from the Battle of Changping.

[4] Reading 實 for 食, per the commentaries. 

[5] Changping was in what is now Gaoping, in Shanxi.

[6] The commentaries suggest 克 for 剋. 

[7] The commentaries suggest 罷 for 退. Arriving at the office at dawn and leaving at dusk implied that a state's bureaucrats were industrious and uncorrupt. 

[8] Wang Ling is known principally via this story.

[9] It is not entirely clear to what this referred at the time.

[10] Fan Ju, also known as Marquis Ying, was Chancellor of Qin.

[11] Yan was in modern Yicheng, Hubei. It was the capital of Chu for a time.

[12] Ying was in modern Jingzhou, Hubei. It was also the capital of Chu for a time.

[13] Jingling was in modern Zhongxiang, Hubei.

[14] Reading 之卒 for 之, per the commentaries. 

[15] Yique was in modern Luoyang, in Henan.

[16] According to some of the commentaries, the 至今 here may be superfluous.

[17] This speech uses royal pronouns, implying that Fan Ju is simply reporting King Zhaoxiang's words.

[18] King Qingxiang of Chu (298–263 BCE) was the son of King Huai, and ascended the throne while his father was still held prisoner in Qin.

[19] Reading 諛諂 for 諂諛, per the commentaries.   

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

[21] This probably refers to the collective responsibility contracts that had, in fact, been in use at least since the days of Shang Yang. Under these agreements soldiers were grouped in units of five, with the members being obliged to ensure each other's compliance with official orders.

[22] I.e. they knew each other well enough to be able to anticipate colleagues' movements even when out of contact or when no plans to act in concert had been made.

[23] The Battle of Yique was a key step in Qin's expansion, and took place in 293 BCE.

[24] Reading 持 for 待, per the commentaries. 

[25] Lord Pingyuan​ was also known as Zhao Sheng, and was a successful Zhao general, having helped to lift the siege of Handan and push back Qin's forces.

[26] King Goujian of Yue (496–465 BCE) 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.  

[27] Kuaiji is now called Shaoxing, and it is in modern Zhejiang.

[28] Reading 今 for 合, per the commentaries. 

[29] Wang He was a Qin general.

[30] Handan was the capital of Zhao. It is still called Handan, and is in Hebei.

[31] King Xiaocheng of Zhao (265-245 BCE) inherited the throne at a young age, and almost immediately oversaw Zhao's greatest defeat by Qin at the Battle of Changping. While the state survived, it never regained its previous status.

[32] Reading 如何 for 何如, per the commentaries.

[33] The commentaries are not sure if this sentence is correct. 

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