Zhou-era jade

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The eighth century was a chaotic period when the royal structure of the Western Zhou dissolved into a multi-state polity and no stable new structure emerged; the seventh century was a period when the states of China came to terms with the dissolution of Zhou unity and developed coherent patterns of interaction. It was the policies and actions of the ruler of the state of Qi, Duke Huan (r. 685-643 B.C.), which effected this new order, and the career of Duke Huan and his brilliant Prime Minister, Guan Zhong (also known as Guan Yiwu and Guanzi), became a focal point of the narrative history of ancient China. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

The predecessor of Duke Huan,Duke Hsiang (r. 697-686 B.C.), was not an exemplary individual. As a youth, he had maintained an incestuous relationship with his sister. Later, this sister was given in marriage to the duke of the smaller neighboring state of Lu. In 693 B.C. she accompanied her husband on a state visit to Qi, and Duke Xiang welcomed her in the manner to which they had formerly been accustomed. The duke of Lu learned of this and impetuously confronted his wife while they were still in Qi. She sent word to her brother that their secret was discovered and Duke Xiang thereupon held a magnificent state banquet in honor of the delegation from Lu. He made sure that his brother-in-law was toasted until he was thoroughly drunk and defenseless, and then had him killed as he made his way back to his camp. When the members of the party from Lu objected to this form of diplomacy, Duke Xiang expressed his remorse by executing his own hired assassin, a man named Peng Sheng. /+/

“Several years after his execution, Peng Sheng took his revenge. In the form of a large boar, he attacked Duke Xiang while he was leading a royal hunting party. The duke’s followers realized that the boar was Peng Sheng and warned the duke. Furious, Duke Xiang shot an arrow at the boar, but the boar only reared upon its hind legs like a man and shouted. The terrified duke toppled his chariot, injuring his foot and losing a sandal. When he returned to his palace, he ordered that the sandal master, a man named Fu, be whipped. Fu left the palace nursing his wounds and a grudge, and joined with a pretender to the throne to plot against the duke’s life. Fu returned to his office as sandal master, but only as an agent for the plotters, who gathered an insurgent band and stormed the palace. The duke, true to character, faced this crisis by hiding behind an open door. But once again, he was tripped up by his feet; an insurgent spotted them under the door, and the duke met his end. The pretender proclaimed himself duke, but was himself assassinated shortly thereafter.

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; 4) Zhou Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ;
Books: "Cambridge History of Ancient China" edited by Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (1999, Cambridge University Press); "The Culture and Civilization of China", a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); "Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties" by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996); “Early Chinese Religion” edited by John Lagerwey & Marc Kalinowski (Leiden: 2009)

Succession Struggle after the Death of the Duke of Xiang

Dr. Eno wrote: “Two men were in a position to bid for the vacant throne. Both were younger brothers of Duke Xiang who had gone into exile years earlier. The elder was Prince Jiu. He had fled to Lu, where he had been treated well. Two patricians had accompanied him into exile: Guan Zhong and Shao Hu. These were men of high birth who, by standing with the prince, were in line to become his chief ministers were he to take power in Qi. The younger brother was named Xiaobo. He was living in the small state of Ju south of Qi with his chief-of-staff, a patrician named Bao Shuya. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“After the death of Duke Xiang and his assassin, the leaders of several powerful clans in Qi met to arrange a succession to their liking. Xiaobo had excellent connections among these men and they sent an invitation to him to return from Ju and take the throne. Messengers friendly to Prince Jiu sped to Lu to warn him, and the governing lords in Lu, anxious to have their own candidate placed on the throne of Qi, sent an army to attack Xiaobo as he proceeded north towards the Qi capital. The army was led by Guan Zhong. /+/

“The forces of Lu fell upon Xiaobo’s entourage and routed them. Guan Zhong himself shot Xiaobo in the belly, and seeing his master’s rival fall dead, he whipped his chariot back towards Lu to report his victory. But Xiaobo was not dead. The arrow had struck the buckle of his belt and he had merely feigned death. He reassembled the scattered remnants of his party and proceeded to rush north to the capital, while Prince Jiu, certain that his rival was dead, dawdled along at a stately pace, accompanied by forces from Lu who expected to coerce the patrician leaders of Qi into installing Jiu as duke. Xiaobo arrived at the capital first and was instantly enthroned by his supporters in the capital. They dispatched an army to fall upon Prince Jiu’s forces. The prince and his two henchmen retreated to Lu. /+/

“Now that Xiaobo was securely installed as Duke Huan of Qi, he sent an ultimatum to Lu demanding that Prince Jiu be killed and that Guan Zhong and Shao Hu be flayed, diced, and pickled. Lu, eager to please, murdered Prince Jiu. Shao Hu did what was required of a patrician warrior whose lord has been slain: he committed suicide. Guan Zhong, however, proved to be no gentleman. He requested that he be imprisoned rather than pickled and Lu temporarily complied with his wish. /+/

“Duke Huan now sent a force against Lu with the aim of capturing and killing his enemy, Guan Zhong. But Bao Shuya, his advisor and confidant, advised him otherwise. “If it is your wish merely to rule Qi,” he said, “then my aid will be sufficient. If, however, you wish to rule as a hegemon or a king, then you must have Guan Zhong!”After hesitating to rescue the man who had almost killed him, the duke decided to follow this advice. Rather than invading Lu, his forces reached the border area between Lu and Qi and sent a demand that Guan Zhong be delivered up to them for execution. Some within Lu, recognizing Guan Zhong’s exceptional abilities and fearful of the consequences to Lu if he were to join the court in Qi, suspected the truth and advised the duke of Lu to execute him on the spot. But most could not believe that Duke Huan could put away his personal grudge against Guan Zhong, and so he was sent in shackles to the border. As soon as Guan Zhong was escorted into the ranks of the Qi troops, Bao Shuya himself appeared and removed the shackles. He informed Guan Zhong that the duke had decided that rather than execute him, he would make him Prime Minister. Guan Zhong was pleased.” /+/

Path to the Hegemony: the Covenant at Ke

Zhou-era bird, dragon, snake

Dr. Eno wrote: “All historical sources agree that under Duke Huan, the state of Qi became enormously strong domestically and powerful in war. The strength of Qi became so great, and Duke Huan came to command such respect among the patrician lords of the various states, that he came close to becoming the de facto ruler of China. The lords of almost all of the states came to acknowledge him, explicitly and in assembly, as chief among them. This prestigious role was denoted by a new title, “Hegemon.” Although the title was unofficial, the “office” of hegemon became the pivot around which multi-state politics revolved during the remainder of the Spring and Autumn period. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The basis of Qi’s success was an extensive reorganization of the administration of Qi that was chiefly engineered by Guan Zhong. Guan Zhong was a man with many innovative ideas. Among the new and original policies that he is said to have implemented in Qi were the registration of all households into neighborhood units, which became the basis of military conscription, the standardization of coinage, regulation of fishing and of salt production, welfare policies to protect the poor and disabled, and the recruitment of talented men into state offices that provided regular salaries. Guan Zhong is also credited with being the first to develop a set of laws that were publicly announced in writing for all to know (and beware of). /+/

“Guan Zhong’s reforms resulted in dramatic increases in agricultural production, commerce, and in the strengthening of the armies of Qi. With such resources at his back, Duke Huan was able to accomplish most of his “international” goals. Up until Duke Huan, Qi had been no more than a regional power: the strongest state in the east. Early in his reign, the duke continued along these lines by raiding Lu and extracting from it the regions of several border cities. Having by military force coerced this concession, Duke Huan demanded that the duke of Lu attend a meeting at the town of Ke and perform the blood rituals of a covenant to confirm the land transfer. Traditional historians identify this meeting as the turning point of the duke’s career and of Spring and Autumn politics. /+/

“When the meeting at Ke had convened, at a point in the ritual when Duke Huan stood with the duke of Lu upon the ceremonial dais, a minister of Lu assaulted him and held him at swordpoint, demanding that he swear to return the border lands to Lu. Duke Huan’s followers were helpless, and he was forced to take an oath. When he was released, he immediately announced to Guan Zhong that he would not fulfill this coerced agreement. Guan Zhong, however, counseled otherwise. The lands, he argued, were a minor affair, something of consequence only to a small state. If the duke were to consider a broader picture, he said, he would see that demonstrating that he would abide by an oath, regardless of the circumstances surrounding it or the cost to him, might purchase him something much greater than a few towns. It might gain him the trust of the patrician lords. /+/

“Whether or not the events at Ke took place as they are described, the story expresses an essential feature of what made the ministry of Guan Zhong so significant in Chinese history. Since the fall of the Western Zhou and the unplanned dissolution of China into a multi-state cultural sphere, the only political vision that had developed was territorial expansion through border wars. This had been the policy of the rulers of Zheng in the eighth century, and while it had gained them much, it was a fatally limited approach. The China of this period was a huge area – traveling from one end of it to the other could require months, and there were literally hundreds of patrician states, major and minor, spread out over the area. While one’s territories might be enlarged or diminished through wars with one’s neighbors, no lasting changes could be effected in the political map on the basis of such limited warfare, or even through ad hoc alliances. Force alone could not create the conditions for political change. What was required was strategy: economic strategy to strengthen the state; military strategy to strengthen the armies; and, most of all, diplomatic strategies that could create stable power structures among several states, under a single center of control. This seems a straightforward idea from our perspective, but it was a brilliant and original idea in seventh century B.C. China. /+/

“For the traditional historians who crafted whatever bare facts were available to them into a narrative with dramatic and cultural meaning, the essential matter was not that the events reflected a new strategic consciousness, but that the pivot of that strategy was use of moral behavior as a tool of political policy. By all accounts, the real Guan Zhong was a man who tempered honor with expediency. But the achievements of his regime could be presented as reflecting an underlying strategy that honorable government was expedient, and that is what they meant to later Confucian historians.” /+/

Duke Huan Creates the Hegemony

Dr. Eno wrote: “At the time that Duke Huan emerged, the state of Chu was making steady progress campaigning against minor lords on the southern periphery of the Central States, either removing them from their thrones and incorporating their territories into Chu or coercing them into alliance. The Central States were looking for a protector, and Qi seemed the most viable.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

In 680 B.C., “one year after the meeting at Ke, Duke Huan issued a call to the patrician lords to travel to the town of Juan in Lu and confer on the balance of power in China. At this meeting, which was attended by a great number of rulers and also by an envoy from the Zhou king at Luoyang, Duke Huan was acknowledged as occupying a foremost role as overlord, qualified to issue orders to other lords in the enterprise of stabilizing the political balance. Although the rulers of the other three great states were not present at the Juan convocation, the cooperation of so great a number of rulers was unprecedented, and the presence of a royal envoy, who confirmed Duke Huan’s role, gave legitimacy to the proceedings. Duke Huan’s position as hegemon, leader of the allied patrician lords, protector of the Zhou royal house and the entire territory of the Eastern Zhou “dynasty,” dates from the meeting at Juan. /+/

“The meeting at Juan initiated a new political practice, sometimes referred to as the “alliance system,” although it was something short of a system. Henceforth for the remainder of the Spring and Autumn centuries, the patrician lords of China ruled in the expectation that there should exist a hegemon who would periodically summon them all to meetings at which, ranked according to strict order of precedence, they would join in covenants aimed at maintaining a balance of power among the states of China. While rulers who were severely disaffected with the hegemon might decline to participate, they always did so at the risk that armies levied by the allies could be directed against them in consequence. /+/

“The alliance system not only granted to the hegemon the implicit right to coordinate efforts to curb states outside the alliance, it was also the case that the hegemon frequently became the arbiter of conflicts between alliance members. The precedent was set for this only two years after the meeting at Juan, when Zheng attacked the state of Song, both being alliance members. Duke Huan, judging Zheng the aggressor and assuming his role as protector of the peace, led troops in aid of Song and so forced Zheng to withdraw. /+/

Duke Huan as a Political Ideal

Zhou-era pair of tigers

Dr. Eno wrote: “Duke Huan’s many acts as hegemon may all be validly interpreted as acts of self-interest. However, a rich body of tradition grew up around the figures of the duke and his prime minister that celebrated their identification of self-interest with honorable, ritual-governed behavior. One particularly good example concerns the following tale concerning the state of Yan, the large but relatively unimportant peripheral state north of Qi. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Yan was attacked from the far north by a raiding party of the nomad Di tribes. Yan applied to Qi for aid, and Duke Huan himself came, accompanying a rescuing army which easily routed the Di. Afterwards, the grateful duke of Yan personally escorted Duke Huan’s entourage as it returned home. Presently, Duke Huan became aware that the party had long since crossed the borders into Qi, and he went to Guan Zhong to ask whether it was consistent with ritual propriety for the ruler of Yan to accompany them so far. No, replied Guan Zhong, only the Zhou king, the Son of Heaven, is permitted to cross a border when escorting a fellow ruler. It is he alone for whom there are no boundaries. /+/

“Duke Huan was concerned that far from having helped Yan, he would now have disgraced it by permitting its ruler to commit so grave a breach of etiquette. He stopped the entourage of the duke of Yan and, on the spot, made a gift to Yan of all the lands that they had crossed, ordering that a ditch be dug to mark the new boundary. Accounts of the tale invariably add that once this act was known, the loyalty of all the other lords was secured.” /+/

Duke Huan’s Death and the Decline of Qi

Dr. Eno wrote: “In all, Duke Huan convened the patrician lords in assembly seven times during the period of his hegemony. In time, even Chu submitted to his ascendancy, but grudgingly, and its continued provocations eventually led Duke Huan to lead an invasion force against it in 656 B.C. The outcome was a standoff – no battle was fought and Qi withdrew. Nevertheless, Duke Huan’s influence did not wane, and five years later, at a subsequent assembly of the lords, a messenger from the Zhou king signaled the high point of Huan’s prestige when he brought gifts from the king: dried sacrificial meats, a carriage, and a crimson bow with arrows. These were accompanied by a pointed message that Duke Huan need not bow when receiving them. This was an unsought honor of the highest order, one which implied that Duke Huan was now the equal rather than the subject of the Zhou king. The duke was delighted, but Guan Zhong, it is said, sharply cautioned him to decline the honor and to make the usual prostrations. The duke, long accustomed to disciplining himself with his minister’s admonitions, did as Guan Zhong counseled. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The historical accounts of Duke Huan’s reign agree in dating the effective end of his personal success to the death of Guan Zhong, which came in 645 B.C. Duke Huan, himself now an old man, visited Guan Zhong on his deathbed, and consulted with him about the future: whom should he appoint to succeed Guan Zhong as Prime Minister? Guan Zhong clearly understood well the state of the duke’s mind and the Qi court. He made three negative recommendations, cautioning the duke against relying on any of his favorites. Among these was one man who had abandoned his home state of Wey, where he was a prince, and come to Qi to link his fortunes to the hegemon’s; a second had castrated himself to please the duke by being able to serve him in the harem; a third had, according to legend, had hisrebellious son boiled in order to please the duke. Guan Zhong warned the duke against the flattery of these sycophants, but after he was dead, the duke’s will failed him and he appointed the last of these to succeed Guan Zhong. /+/

“The decay of the duke’s final years is symbolized by the end of his story. In 643 B.C. he died, the most celebrated political leader since the Zhou founders. Yet upon the instant of his death, his sons and ministers burst into a furious battle over the ducal succession, with the toadies against whom Guan Zhong had warned leading factions to the dispute. So intense was the infighting that no one gave a thought to the ritual embalming of the late duke’s corpse. He lay in the open of a palace room for 67 days, until it was reported that the maggots had crawled from his body and were streaming out beneath the chamber door. Only once a new ruler was installed were the remains prepared for burial – and then at night – but before the interment could occur, fighting broke out again and the new duke was murdered by his own followers. A permanent successor was not installed until forces from the state of Song entered Qi to place their favorite upon the vacant throne. An ironic end to the reign of the first hegemon! Eight months after his death, after the troops from Song had gone home, Duke Huan was buried. /+/


Dr. Eno wrote: “Our attention has been fixed on the state of Qi. But when we examine the Spring and Autumn period as a whole, it is only during the reign of Duke Huan that Qi was preeminent among the four great powers. Afterwards, it is generally the case that the state of Jin was the foremost of the powers, though occasionally the rulers of Chu dominated for short periods, and in one instance the upstart state of Wu overwhelmed the more established states for a decade or two. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“After the death of Duke Huan of Qi, there was immediate competition to see who might succeed him as hegemon. So compelling was the experience of the preceding four decades, that never again were the great powers content to allow a vacuum of authority to remain unattended. Although the major rulers might dream of somehow exerting their will unchecked, the idea of greatest influence continued to picture the order appropriate to those troubled times as an alliance of lords, led by a hegemon, coordinating an acceptable balance of powers owing symbolic allegiance to a figurehead Zhou king. /+/

“With the sudden collapse of Qi into a succession war, the first ruler to attempt to succeed him was the duke of Song, a powerful central state whose ruling clan members were the direct descendants of the Shang royal house. He was unable to establish stable authority, and during the decade that ensued, the state of Chu, returning to its former practice of threatening the smaller south-central rulers, made considerable headway towards coercing an acknowledgment of its hegemony. However, the rise of a charismatic ruler in the state of Jin put a stop to Chu’s adventures and established a true second hegemony, though a brief one lasting only four years (632-628). This was the rule of Duke Wen of Jin, whose story is one of the great historical romances of ancient China. His story also allows us to illustrate the distinctive character of the political dynamic of Jin, which, among the four powers, was probably most representative of the patterns of Eastern Zhou patrician states. /+/

“In the retelling below, the dry facts of Jin politics are intermixed with a literary atmosphere of romance. There is some justification for this. When we explore the literary history of ancient China, we generally find that the most developed form of literature was historical narrative; it was around a factual core that early Chinese authors seemed most able to express their imaginative powers. If the history of the legendary past was an interweaving of myths with a touch of fact, the written history of the more recent past combined facts and romance to make history a stage for the examination of human character, near supernatural coincidence, and the evaluation of right and wrong.” /+/

Background Behind Chong’er, Duke Wen of Jin

Zhou era mirror

Dr. Eno wrote: “The state of Jin began the Spring and Autumn period with greater advantages than any other state. It was the only great power located in the traditional heartland of the Zhou cultural sphere. It was a branch lineage of the Zhou royal house. It commanded a long and strategic stretch of the left bank of the Yellow River. And it early on earned the favor of the royal house by sending armies to destroy the competing Zhou house in Hui in 750. But in 745, the ruler of Jin made a fatal mistake. He granted his powerful uncle a patrimonial estate in a river valley only twenty-five miles distant from his own capital of Yi – a river valley that possessed a walled settlement, Quwo, of greater size than the capital itself. For generations, the hereditary lords of Quwo, greedy to displace the established line in Yi, arranged the assassination of duke after duke. Each time a duke was killed, the lord of Quwo would lead a force to seize the capital and install himself as duke of Jin, and each time the citizenry of the walled capital would raise a force sufficient to forestall an effective siege and repel the insurgent. “At last, in 678 B.C, the strongman of Quwo arranged the fifth and last such ducal assassination (the second he had managed personally) and achieved the dream of the lords of Quwo: he became duke of Jin. His joy was lethal – he died a year later, his son succeeding him as Duke Xian (r. 676-651 B.C.). Duke Xian was the father of Duke Wen. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Duke Xian began his reign on a positive note. Correctly convinced that the problems Jin had faced in the past were due to unproductive competition among the various lineage branches of the ducal clan, he resolved to return harmony to the clan and to the state. His method was to murder all the princelings of lineage branches other than his own. Having done so to the best of his ability (a few uncooperative youngsters escaped to other states), he moved the capital to a new site to continue this upbeat tone. /+/

“One consequence of this was that Jin thereafter possessed a truncated ruling lineage. Where in other states strong rulers could rely on a vast network of senior clan leaders for economic, military, and political support, rulers of Jin were unusually dependent upon coordination with senior members of clans other than their house of Ji. While this provided a certain strength by diversifying political participation and broadening the base of government, it ultimately brought down the state. /+/

“In 672 B.C., Duke Xian led an attack against the nomadic Lirong tribe, and took two women from the tribe to be his consorts. One, Liji, became his favorite, although she could not be his principal wife. By Liji the duke had a son, whom he wished to install as his heir. However, the duke had already begotten seven other sons, many of whose mothers and their families would not be pleased to see their offspring passed over in favor of the younger child of a “barbarian” concubine. Three of the other sons were grown and politically prominent: the heir apparent, Shensheng, and two brothers, Yiwu and Chong’er (a name which means “double eared”). Only the heir apparent was of good background. He was a grandson of Duke Huan of Qi. The other two were the sons of women of the nomad Di tribe. /+/

“The historians’ portrait of Liji, the duke’s favorite, is not complimentary. They tell us that when the duke first suggested that he might change the line of succession to place her son first, she protested strongly. At the same time, she successfully orchestrated a plot to frame the heir apparent for the crime of trying to poison the duke. Shensheng responded honorably by killing himself. Then Liji slandered Yiwu and Chong’er, who fled. Yiwu fled to the small state of Liang, while Chong’er escaped to the Di nomads in the north. Liji did not protest further when her son was installed as the new heir apparent.” /+/

Chong’er in Exile

Dr. Eno wrote: “Upon the death of Duke Xian, it was Yiwu, rather than Chong’er, who returned to take the throne. Yiwu was under the protection of Duke Mu of the neighboring great power of Qin, a man whose influence in western China was so great that he is sometimes viewed as a type of counter-hegemon to Duke Huan of Qi. In light of Qin’s support for Yiwu, Chong’er prudently declined to struggle for the throne. Yiwu ruled for over a decade (650-638), and he is handled roughly by the historians. He is known for the impolitic ingratitude he repeatedly displayed towards Qin, against the advice of his highest advisor. This ultimately led to a disastrous battle in which Yiwu was captured by Qin, having been abandoned in the field by his virtuous high advisor, whose eloquent parting words could best be translated as, “Nyah, nyah, na-nyah.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Where had Chong’er, the hero of this story, been during the years of his brother’s ill rule? Throughout this period, Chong’er had wandered in exile, accompanied by a small group of loyal followers, including a man named Hu Yan, who became to him what Guan Zhong was to Duke Huan of Qi. It is this portion of his story, which includes the romantic theme of exile followed by return and triumph, that inspired the wealth of legends that came to be associated with Chong’er. Many of these tales are variations on a popular theme: the recognition of exceptional charisma in a person whose position is below his abilities. In the records of Chong’er’s career, as Chong’er wanders from state to state, the qualities of those states and their rulers is revealed by their ability or inability to detect in this refugee the signs of future greatness. In many of these stories, the sign of a patrician lord’s sensitivity to Chong’er’s virtue is his willingness to add to Chong’er’s traveling harem one of his own daughters, and both Duke Huan of Qi, whom Chong’er visited after Guan Zhong’s death, and Duke Mu of Qin responded in this way. The chief of the Di nomads among whom Chong’er lived for twelve years provided him with his first wife. He left her behind when he returned to China, but instructed her, “Wait for me for twenty-five years and if I have not returned, you may remarry.” “Remarry!” she laughed. “In twenty-five years tall trees will stand on my grave! Still, I’ll wait for you.” She later rejoined him in Jin. /+/

“It was in the state of Qi that Chong’er almost lost his chance at greatness. There he fell in love with a woman of Qi and refused to travel further. Hu Yan and another of his followers plotted beneath a mulberry tree, trying to figure out a way to coax Chong’er from Qi. A serving maid of the woman Chong’er loved was eavesdropping in the branches of the tree, and when the men left, she rushed off to report to her mistress. The woman was furious at the actions of her maid, and had her killed. Then she went to Chong’er and urged him to be on his way. /+/

““If in life one finds peace and happiness,” replied Chong’er, “what more could one wish for? A man lives only once and I will die here. I could not bear to go on.” “You are a prince of Jin,” said the woman. “You have come here with neither office nor wealth, but with a group of men who have staked their lives on you. If for the love of a woman you fail to hurry back to your home and reward these men who labored on your behalf, I will be ashamed for you. If you don’t strive for achievements, when will they ever come?”She then plotted with Chong’er’s followers to get him drunk and send him off asleep in a carriage. When Chong’er awoke, they were already far along. He drew his sword in a rage and moved to kill Hu Yan. /+/

““If by killing me you will attain your destiny,” said the quick witted Hu Yan, “you will have fulfilled my deepest wish.” Chong’er paused. “Uncle, if things don’t turn out well, I’ll eat your flesh!” “If things don’t turn out,” answered Hu Yan, “my flesh will be left out to rot anyway. Not worth eating!” And so Chong’er continued on the journeys that led him to the Jin throne.” /+/

Duke Wen Reorganizes the Structure of Jin

Dr. Eno wrote: “Eventually, Chong’er became Duke Wen of Jin. His final return was engineered with the aid of Duke Mu of Qin, who had been treated so disrespectfully by Yiwu. The newly installed Duke Wen faced a double problem. The internal politics of the state of Jin, which had for so long crippled Jin’s ability to play a leading role among the patrician states, had once again dissolved into civil war. In addition, the state of Chu, now that Duke Huan of Qi was dead, had resumed its policy of expansion into the Central States. If left unchecked, Chu would eventually force even those states closest to Jin to form alliances with it, leaving Jin without an effective buffer region to the south. Jin, of course, no longer had an extensive ruling clan upon which Duke Wen might rely in strengthening the state: his father had wiped out all collateral branches. And the many other patrician warrior clans with estates and armed retainers in various valleys of Jin’s hilly terrain had thus far proved a disintegrating force in Jin politics. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Duke Wen’s major achievement in Jin was to invent a device by means of which Jin’s intrinsic political structure could become a constructive force. Focusing on outward threats to effect internal changes, the duke set in motion orders to build a new style army for the inevitable conflict with Chu. He structured this army in a unique fashion. Instead of creating two or three divisions and appointing generals to each, as was the custom at the time, he sorted his army into six divisions, each with a major general and lieutenant general. The twelve available commands were skillfully distributed among the warlord clan leaders, along with the right of hereditary succession to these military offices. In this way, each major clan found its fortunes linked to those of the others. Moreover, in practical terms, each general found himself in charge of what was effectively a private army, but with personnel that had been raised by the duke and which was charged with service to the Jin state, rather with a duty to be loyal to the general. /+/

“The way in which these armies were deployed in battle and the ways in which the various generals were ranked, along with the relation between military and civil titles and duties – all these were left at the discretion of the duke. In this way, Duke Wen turned the nature of Jin as a decentralized warlord state to the benefit of his central rule. This model successfully mediated between centrifugal and centripetal tendencies in the clan-based societies of later Zhou states, and allowed Jin to become the dominant military power of the later Spring and Autumn period. /+/

“As time went on, however, the system began to work increasingly against Jin. By the mid-sixth century, the role of the duke had diminished so far that both the armies and the state itself were largely in the control of the generals and their clans. Over the following century, an endemic struggle for power developed among these groups which grew so intense that at last, in 453 B.C., the greatest of them simply divided Jin into separate states under their direct control, and Jin ceased to exist.” /+/

Duke Wen as Hegemon

Dr. Eno wrote: “In 632 B.C., Duke Wen engaged the troops of Chu near the city of Chengpu in Lu in one of the great battles of ancient China. Two of Jin’s generals employed an innovative strategy. They led detachments of troops in a pre-planned retreat, and when the Chu armies fell into the disorder that was characteristic of hot pursuit, they suddenly found themselves lured into the midst of the main body of the Jin army. The result was a resounding Jin victory. The commander of the Chu armies, whose success of the preceding years had thrown the Central States into a panic, committed suicide upon receiving a message of severe rebuke from his king, and the military might of Chu was crippled. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The Jin victory was most welcome to the lords of the Central States. That it had earned Duke Wen the hegemon’s role was made clear at once, when no less a personage that the Zhou king himself journeyed to the duke’s field camp to present congratulations. The king presented Duke Wen with various gifts, including 300 members of his personal bodyguard, and charged him with the following words: “Uncle! Obey the orders of the king and bring peace to the states of the four quarters. Drive away all who are ill-disposed towards the king.” Several days later, the duke called an assembly of the patrician lords, thus formally reviving the office of hegemon. /+/

“Like Duke Huan of Qi, Duke Wen achieved the office of hegemon only after undertaking a major reorganization of his state which provided him with a much strengthened power base. However, the reforms of the two hegemons were dramatically different in structure. Whereas Duke Huan, with the guidance of Guan Zhong, had strengthened the centralized structures of Qi and encouraged the growth of commerce, Duke Wen had made the best of Jin’s centrifugal tendencies and devised a system that would allow decentralized power to bring out the contributions of a highly militaristic warlord elite. Jin and Qi represented alternative models for the other states, and when political theory emerged in China during the Warring States period, most schools of thought reflected different admixtures of these two approaches. /+/

“During the four years that he was hegemon, Duke Wen followed the example of Duke Huan of Qi and used his powers to adjust the balance of influence among the Central States. After Chengpu, there was no need to launch a major battle against a great power, and the duke’s initiatives were all successful and not particularly demanding. In effect, Chong’er’s installation as hegemon represents the dramatic end to his story. He died peacefully in 628 B.C. at the height of his prestige, and his son succeeded him without incident. /+/

“A year after the death of Duke Wen, the long-reigning Duke Mu of Qin, determined to seize what would surely be his own last opportunity to attain supreme power, marched his troops into Jin. However, Jin was able to mount an effective defense, and the troops of Duke Mu retreated in defeat. From this point on, a triangular balance of power emerged in the western portion of China. Qin and Jin, which shared borders near the bend of the Yellow River, engaged in repeated periodic war. Qin, however, was never able to devote itself wholeheartedly to the defeat of Jin because of the ever present threat of Chu, which lay on Qin’s southeast border. On the other hand, Jin was hampered by the gradual re-emergence of civil strife, and so could not gain the upper hand against Qin. At the same time, Jin was able to retain a great deal of its influence over the central states and effectively fulfill a hegemon role, thus preventing Chu from coercing a critical mass of the Central States into its sphere of influence. This situation persisted for forty years, until the sudden rise of the state of Wu introduced a dramatic destabilizing element.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, University of Washington

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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