Lord Mengchang

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “This section will be a picture of Warring States political culture as seen through the biographies of three of the most powerful men of the era. None was himself a ruler, but each played a pivotal role in the final century of the Classical era. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The three men are Lord Mengchang of Qi, Lord Xinling of Wei, and Lü Buwei of Qin. The tales of these three men certainly accord with the basic facts of their lives, but as you will see, the events within them suggest a great admixture of fiction. Their biographies may be read principally as loose reflections of the events of the times, and more directly as expressions of the way in which the people of the late Classical period imagined the careers of political leaders as lessons in culture, morality, and ingenuity. /+/

“All these accounts are largely based on the biographies of these men recorded in Sima Qian’s “Shiji”. But in the case of the biography of the Lord Mengchang, the tale of Feng Xuan is translated directly from the "Zhanguo ce" ("Intrigues of the Warring States"). The biographies of Lord Mengchang and Lord Xinling are more extensive than the portions summarized here, but the events selected are meant to convey the essential features that characterized the stature of each man in traditional histories of the period. /+/

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University; 2) Chinese Text Project ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization ; 4) Zhou Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ;

Lord Mengchang and His Retainers

According to 1st century B.C. Chinese historian Sima Qian, as summarized by Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University: Lord Mengchang was the title by which Tian Wen of Qi was known. He was a member of the royal Tian family which had seized the throne of Qi in the early fourth century. His uncle ruled from 319 to 301 B.C. as King Xuan. Lord Mengchang played a major role in the political life of Qi during the reign of his uncle, but he is chiefly remembered as the lord of an enormous crowd of retainers. Lord Mengchang delighted in being surrounded by men of talent as diverse as possible, and he took pride in the generosity that he displayed in supporting them. When he was in power in Qi and residing in the capital of Linzi, his retainers would stay in his great ministerial compound. At other times they lived with him in Xue, a large district which had been granted to him as an hereditary estate. [Source: Sima Qian, The Shiji, Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University Indiana University /+/ ]

“Lord Mengchang’s great stable of retainers made him a leading warlord power of Qi, but he was no ordinary warlord. He was famous for his courteous treatment of retainers, which rarely reflected his exalted rank or class standing, and he was assiduous in providing for the relatives of the hundreds – some texts say thousands – of men in his service. Moreover, Lord Mengchang had a penchant for taking in men who had so little to offer in the way of military or literary skills that they had no hope of receiving patronage from more traditional strongmen. At times, the men he accepted into his service were so outlandishly undistinguished that it damaged his reputation and made his other retainers feel resentful. For example, he accepted into his compound two men who, at their initial audience with him pretended to no skills other than the ability to make animal sounds. For this he was much criticized. /+/

“When Lord Mengchang was sent as an emissary to Qin about 302 B.C., he took with him a group of his retainers. In Qin, which had joined in an alliance with Qi, he was received with great generosity and appointed to a high ministerial position. Before he had been long settled there, however, the political situation grew tense once again. The king of Qin became convinced that having Lord Mengchang at court was a liability: he was more likely to behave as a spy than as a minister loyal to Qin. For this reason, he had Lord Mengchang placed under house arrest.” /+/

Lord Mengchang, the Concubine, the Fox Fur and the Cock

According to Sima Qian and Dr. Eno: “Lord Mengchang sent an appeal to the king’s favorite concubine, asking for her help. “I could help you,” said the lady, “but only if you fulfill my heart’s desire by procuring for me the king’s white fox fur.” This fox fur was a matchless gift that Lord Mengchang had himself brought to Qin to present to the king, who had ordered it locked in the royal storeroom. Lord Mengchang had no other, and no way of retrieving the one he had brought. [Source: Sima Qian, The Shiji, Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University Indiana University /+/ ]

“He had, however, brought with him one of his retainers who excelled at certain animal sounds. “A dog is the sound I do best,” the retainer told him. “Let me try to get the fur for you.” That night, disguised as a dog, the retainer was able to slip into the storeroom and retrieve the fur. When this was presented to the concubine, she kept her bargain and persuaded the king to release Lord Mengchang. /+/

“As soon as the guards had disappeared from his gate, Lord Mengchang gathered up his followers and they galloped east, carrying forged papers. A short time later, the king changed his mind and ordered Lord Mengchang placed under arrest once more. When he learned that his prisoner had fled, he ordered that he be pursued. /+/

“Lord Mengchang and his group reached the Hangu pass where the road eastward passed out of Qin, but night had long before fallen and the gate was closed. No one would be allowed through until the normal opening time at first cock-crow. With the king’s guard likely to be close behind, Lord Mengchang was desperate to find a way through. /+/

“As he contemplated his danger, the other retainer skilled at animal sounds said, “The crowing of the cock is the sound I do best. Let me try to open the gate for you.” At that, he gave so convincing an imitation of a rooster’s crow that in no time the guards were unbarring the gate eastward and Lord Mengchang escaped. After this, no more was heard about Lord Mengchang’s unusual taste in men’s talents. /+/

Lord Mengchang and His Loyal Retainer Feng Xuan

According to Eno: “When he returned to Qi, Lord Mengchang once again enjoyed the trust of the king and high office. But when King Xuan died in 301 B.C. and King Min took the throne, he was suspicious of Lord Mengchang’s power and influence and dismissed him as minister. Lord Mengchang returned to live on his estate in Xue. Most of his retainers deserted him, but one at least, a man named Feng Xuan, remained with him. His story proved again how useful Lord Mengchang’s patronage of obscure men could be.”

According to the Zhanguo ce: “There lived in Qi a man named Feng Xuan who was poor and unable to support himself. He asked an intermediary to arrange for him to be taken under the protection of Lord Mengchang as a retainer. When he arrived, Lord Mengchang asked him, “What is your specialty, Sir?” “I have no special art,” answered Feng Xuan. “Well then, what are you able to do?” “I am not able at anything.”Lord Mengchang smiled, and saying merely, “All right,” he accepted Feng Xuan into his entourage. [Source: Zhanguo ce, Qi ce 148, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The other retainers disdained Feng Xuan, and when he was served at table, his food was placed in bowls of woven grass. After things had gone on in this way for some time, Feng Xuan one day drew his long sword from its scabbard and, leaning against a pillar, he began to twang it and sing. “Long sword!” he sang, “shall we go home? At mealtime I receive no fish!” The other retainers reported this to Lord Mengchang. “Treat him as a regular retainer,” he said. /+/

“Not long afterwards, Feng Xuan once again plucked at his sword and sang. “Long sword! Shall we go home? When I go out I have no chariot to ride!”The other retainers reported this to Lord Mengchang. “Provide him with a chariot,” he said. “Let it be as good as those of the other retainers with chariots.”When Feng Xuan mounted his chariot he raised his sword and raced past the others shouting, “Lord Mengchang has made a true retainer of me!”But a short time later, he plucked his sword again. “Long sword!” he sang, “shall we go home? I’ve nothing to give my family!” Now the others truly despised Feng Xuan, feeling that he was greedy beyond proper restraints. But Lord Mengchang called him in. “Good Sir,” he asked, “have you then a family?” “I have an aged mother,” Feng Xuan replied. Lord Mengchang ordered that Feng Xuan’s mother be provided with food and goods to cover all her needs. “Let her lack for nothing!” Thereupon, Feng Xuan sang no more. /+/

Feng Xuan Settles Lord Mengchang’s Debts and Purchases Righteousness

According to the Zhanguo ce: ““Some time later, Lord Mengchang decided to settle his accounts and asked who among the retainers was a practiced accountant, able to manage the collection of the income due in his estate of Xue. Feng Xuan sent in a reply saying that he could do this. Lord Mengchang was puzzled. “Who is this?” he asked. His advisors replied, “It’s the fellow who sings to his long sword about going home.”Lord Mengchang laughed and said, “So he has a skill after all. How I’ve neglected him! I have not had him in to see me. Please ask him to come.” [Source: Zhanguo ce, Qi ce 148, Indiana University /+/ ]

“When Feng Xuan appeared, Lord Mengchang addressed him by saying, “I have been fatigued with work and exhausted with care, and so my spirit has grown dull and stupid. Immersed in affairs of state I have offended against you, Sir. Yet you, Sir, are nevertheless willing to demean yourself and offer to collect accounts for me in Xue, am I correct?” “Indeed,” replied Feng Xuan, “I am willing.”Thereupon Feng Xuan prepared to set off. He prepared a carriage and provisions and loaded all of the tally slips that had to be matched with those of the debtors in Xue. Then he went to bid farewell to his lord. “When I have completed the collection of the debts,” he said, “what shall I purchase with them as I return?”“Look around,” said Lord Mengchang. “See what is lacking in my household.” /+/

“Feng Xuan rode off, and when he reached Xue he ordered the local officer to summon all the people owing debts to assemble together so that their tally slips could be collected and matched with the slips he had brought. When all the slips had been matched and the debts ascertained, Feng Xuan arose and addressed the assembled people. In the name of Lord Mengchang he declared that all their debts were to be returned to them as a gift, and accordingly, he had the tallies burnt. The people all cried out, “Long live Lord Mengchang!!” Then Feng Xuan rode straight back to the capital city without stopping and sought an audience with Lord Mengchang at first light. Lord Mengchang was amazed at the speed with which Feng Xuan had returned. He put on his robes and cap and received him saying, “Are the debts all collected already? How quickly you’ve returned!” “I have collected the debts,” said Feng Xuan. /+/

““And what did you purchase with them on your way back?” Feng Xuan said, “My lord, you told me to look and see what was lacking in your household. I presumed to calculate that within your pavilions, precious jewels are piled high, dogs and horses fill your stables, beautiful women are everywhere arrayed – truly, all that my lord’s household lacked was righteousness. Hence I have presumed to purchase some righteousness on behalf of my lord.”/+/

“How does one go about purchasing righteousness?” “Well, my lord,” replied Feng Xuan, “you possess Xue, but though it is a tiny place, you do not treat your dependent people there with parental love and kindness. Rather, you treat them as a merchant would, as if they were commodities that can yield you a profit. Hence I presumed to address them on your behalf and make a gift to them of all their debts. Then I burnt the tally slips and the people all cried out, ‘Long live Lord Mengchang!!’ This is how your servant went about purchasing righteousness for you, my lord.” Lord Mengchang was displeased. “All right,” he said. “Go rest now, Sir.” /+/

“One year later, the new king of Qi addressed Lord Mengchang. “I cannot presume to employ the ministers of the former king as my own,” he said, and Lord Mengchang went off into retirement in Xue. When his entourage was still 100 li distant from Xue, the people appeared along the road, leading their children and supporting their old, all welcoming Lord Mengchang to Xue. Lord Mengchang turned round and looked back at Feng Xuan. “Your purchase of righteousness, Sir!” he said. “I finally see it today.” /+/

Lord Xinling

Lord Xingling from the film "Military Seal"

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The biography of Lord Xinling pivots on his treatment of retainers and the remarkable men he assembled in a warlord court. In this way, his story resembles that of Lord Mengchang in Qi, whose court clearly served as a model for Lord Xinling. But the nature of Lord Xinling’s entourage and the adventure that forms the center of his story reflect the strong military traditions which Wei, as a successor state to Jin, was heir to. In this way, it also serves as an excellent illustration of the cult of the warrior "shi" that became a prominent feature of Warring States society. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The heart of the following story concerns Lord Xinling’s single-handed rescue of the state of Zhao from the besieging armies of Qin in 257 B.C., but an equal portion of his biography is devoted to establishing his character and introducing the mystifying figure of Hou Ying, a “recluse living in society,” whose keen powers of understanding remain hidden from others until Lord Xinling finds the key to releasing them. /+/

“The historian Sima Qian records that when he was a young man, the First Emperor of the Qin was much taken with tales of Lord Xinling’s daring. After he had conquered the other states of China and become emperor, he would offer sacrifices at Lord Xinling’s shrine whenever he passed through Daliang. Eventually, he appointed five families to serve as guardians of Lord Xinling’s tomb, and ordered that in each of the four seasons sacrifices should be offered up to him every year forever. /+/

Story of Lord Xinling

According to Sima Qian, as summarized by Dr. Eno: “Lord Xinling was a member of the ruling clan of Wei. His name was Wuchi, and he was a half-brother of King Anxi of Wei, who came to the throne in 276 B.C. At this time, the state of Qin had placed Wei under great pressures, and the new king was grateful for the military leadership that Lord Xinling could offer. But an incident made him suspicious of his brother. /+/

“One day when the two were playing a game of chess word came that beacon fires had been lit on the northern border and the king of Zhao was launching an attack. The king leapt up, but Lord Xinling merely said, “The king is out hunting. There is no invasion,” and he continued to play. The king was unable to concentrate; he believed that an attack was imminent. But after a time another messenger arrived and reported that the Zhao armies had indeed been no more than a hunting party. “How did you know?” the king asked his brother. “I have retainers who are kept informed of all the doings in Zhao. They pass their information along to me. That’s how I knew.” The king, recognizing the craft and power of his brother, began from this time to watch him warily. /+/

Lord Xinling and the Old Man Hou Ying

According to Sima Qian:“There lived in seclusion in Wei an old man of seventy named Hou Ying. He held a sinecure as the warden of Yi Gate in the city of Daliang, where King Hui of Wei had moved the capital of that state about seventy years earlier. Hou Ying was very poor, but Lord Xinling nevertheless heard that he was a worthy man and went to see him with gifts, hoping to add him to his group of loyal men. When he arrived at Yi Gate, however, Hou Ying, rather than being overwhelmed by his largess, declined the gifts. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Lord Xinling was nevertheless impressed with Hou Ying, and he devised a plan. He arranged a great banquet and invited many distinguished guests. They had already taken their seats when Lord Xinling announced that he needed to fetch one last guest, and he drove off to Hou Ying’s narrow alley, leaving the left hand space of his chariot vacant in order to bring the old man back with him. /+/

“When he arrived at Hou Ying’s house, the old man agreed to go with him, but rather than standing at the left, he took the post of honor at the right, carefully keeping an eye on Lord Xinling. But Lord Xinling merely increased the respectfulness of his manner and took the reins. “I have a friend named Zhu Hai who is a butcher at the market,” Hou Ying said. “Would you mind stopping there on the way?”When they reached the butcher’s house, Hou Ying descended and stood chatting with his friend longer and longer, watching Lord Xinling from the corner of his eye. But Lord Xinling merely waited patiently. The people in the market began to gawk at Lord Xinling, who did not ordinarily appear in the position of a lowly charioteer, and the riders who had accompanied him out began to grumble, knowing full well how impatient the elegant assembly at the banquet must be growing. But Lord Xinling gave no sign that any of this concerned him. /+/

“When Hou Ying saw Lord Xinling’s calm manner, he bade his friend the butcher good-bye and once again mounted the chariot. Once they reached Lord Xinling’s compound, Lord Xinling introduced Hou Ying to all and made him take the seat of honor before the astonished guests. During the feast, he walked across to Hou Ying’s place and offered him a formal toast. Hou Ying looked at him and replied, “I have tested you hard today, my lord. I am merely the warden of Yi Gate, yet when you called upon me in person, I made you go out of your way and stand holding the reins in the marketplace while I stood gossiping with my friend. Yet throughout, you maintained your courtesy and composure.” And from that time on, he became an honored retainer of Lord Xinling.

Lord Xinling, the Butcher and the Battle Between the Zhao and Qin

“Later, Hou Ying recommended the butcher Zhu Hai to Lord Xinling. “He has withdrawn to the lowly position of a butcher only because none have recognized his high abilities,” he said. Lord Xinling called on Zhu Hai several times, but the butcher showed absolutely no sign of appreciation or any inclination to form a bond, and Lord Xinling puzzled over this. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

In 257 B.C., the armies of Qin routed the forces of Zhao and advanced upon the Zhao capital of Handan. The sister of King Anxi and Lord Xinling was married to the younger brother of the king of Zhao, and she sent desperate pleas to her brothers to help lift the siege. King Anxi sent 100,000 men under the general Jin Bi to rescue Zhao, but as they were setting out, an envoy from Qin appeared at the capital. “Handan will fall to us any day now,” he announced. “Should any state send armies to her aid, we will take our revenge as soon as Zhao has been taken.” The frightened king revised his orders to Jin Bi, telling him to garrison his men at the border city of Ye near Handan, so that Wei could claim to have come to Zhao’s aid without actually doing so. /+/

“Lord Xinling tried repeatedly to persuade King Anxi to change these orders and save Zhao, but the king would hear none of it. Finally, desperate to respond to his sister and her family in Zhao and save his own honor, Lord Xinling determined to set out for Handan on his own with a party of his private force of warriors and die defending his kinsmen. /+/

“As his group rode out through the Yi Gate, Lord Xinling stopped to explain to Hou Ying where he was going. “Farewell my lord,” said Hou Ying, “I am too old to go with you.” Lord Xinling set off, but as he galloped it began to gall him that after all the favors he had shown Hou Ying, the man had said hardly a word to him as he rode off to his death. He wondered whether he had somehow offended Hou Ying, and the thought became so urgent that he finally stopped his men and turned back to Daliang. /+/

““I knew you would come back,” said Hou Ying when Lord Xinling reached Yi Gate. “Here you go off throwing yourself at Qin like meat to a tiger. What’s the use of making all these friends if you don’t use them? I knew that when I responded to you so coolly after all your goodness it would start you thinking.” So Lord Xinling sent everyone away, bowed, and begged Hou Ying to advise him. “I have been told that the tally that matches Jin Bi’s orders is kept in the king’s bed-chamber,” Hou Ying began. “Now, the king’s favorite concubine owes you a great debt, for after her father was murdered, only you were willing to listen to her pleadings and avenge him. You must have her steal the tally for you, and then you can ride to the front and give Jin Bi new orders.”

“It was so arranged and the tally was taken, but as Lord Xinling prepared to ride off again, Hou Ying stopped him. “Jin Bi is a fine general, and general in the field is not obligated to follow his king’s distant commands if they endanger the state. I suggest you take my friend Zhu Hai with you, for he is a powerful man. If Jin Pi refuses to accept your orders, Zhu Hai can kill him for you.”At this Lord Xinling began to weep. “Are you afraid of dying?” asked Hou Ying. “No,” replied Lord Xinling. “It is the thought that I may have to kill a man like Jin Bi. He is utterly fearless, and unlikely to obey me.”

The Butcher Helps Lord Xinling Defeat the Qin

“When Lord Xinling approached Zhu Hai, the butcher began to smile. “You have shown me courtesies again and again,” he said, “though I am only a lowly butcher drumming my knife in the market. I have never responded to you, because petty displays of propriety are useless. Now you need me and my life is at your disposal.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“This time, Lord Xinling set off in a single chariot, alone with Zhu Hai. As he rode once more through the Yi Gate, Hou Ying said, “I truly am too old to ride with you, but I shall prove my loyalty. I will calculate the time of your journey, and when I know you have arrived at the battle, I will face north and kill myself on that day.”Jin Bi was indeed suspicious when Lord Xinling arrived with new orders and the tally that matched his own. “I command 100,000 troops here far from the capital,” he said. “My responsibilities are very grave. I must ask you to explain how it is that you have come on so critical a mission of state in a single unaccompanied chariot?” As he prepared to refuse Lord Xinling’s orders, Zhu Hai stepped forward and struck him with a heavy pestle that he had hidden beneath his coat. /+/

“Then Lord Xinling took command of the armies of Wei. He appeared before the troops and addressed them. “If there are any fathers and sons who are both in service here, the father may return home. If there are any who are brothers, the elder may go back. If any among you are only sons, they may return to their parents and care for them.” Then with 80,000 picked troops, he led an attack against the forces of Qin that surrounded Handan. The Qin armies retreated and the siege was raised. Zhao had been saved. The king of Zhao himself rode out to welcome Lord Xinling. “Among all the worthies of the ages,” he said, “none has ever equaled you!” Back in Wei, Hou Ying, facing north, swung his sword and cut off his head in loyalty to his lord. /+/

“After these events, Lord Xinling’s career took many turns. He remained for several years in Zhao in order to establish to Qin’s satisfaction that he had acted alone in seizing control of the armies of Wei, thus protecting his brother the king and the state of Wei from reprisals. Eventually he returned home and embarked on further adventures in Wei’s behalf. Ultimately, though, King Anxi became so jealous of his fame and suspicious of his motives that he dismissed him, and Lord Xinling ended his days living among his entourage. We are told that he devoted himself thoroughly to wine and women in his last years, until he ended by drinking himself to death. He died in 243 B.C., the same year as King Anxi. /+/

Lü Buwei

Lu Buewi from a Japanese anime

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Lü Buwei’s position in Chinese history is unique. According to historical gossip, he could be said to be the father of Imperial China – the rumor is that the First Emperor was actually his illegitimate son, a rumor that Sima Qian reports as fact. But Lü Buwei himself was not even a patrician. He was a member of the despised merchant class, although he rose to an eminence beyond that of any other merchant. Despite the fact that the details of his biography have clearly been shaped by the historian Sima Qian to confirm as many slanderous tales about the state of Qin as possible – with great emphasis upon sexual excess (notice which gender is depicted as the source of wild desires) – the story of Lü Buwei still gives us valuable insights into the fluid social arena of the late Warring States period, one that could allow a middle aged merchant from the weak state of Han to become the prime minister of Qin on the eve of its conquest of China. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Sima Qian wrote in The Shiji: Lü Buwei was a wealthy merchant from Yangdi in the state of Han. He traveled from place to place buying cheap and selling dear until his household had accumulated thousands of catties of gold. [Source: “Shiji” 85.2505-2514 /+/ ]

“In the fortieth year of King Zhao’s reign in Qin (267 B.C.) the heir apparent died, and two years later the king installed his second son, Lord Anguo, as the new heir. Lord Anguo had over twenty sons. Among his consorts, he was particularly infatuated with one whom he had installed as his principal wife with the title Lady Huayang, but who bore him no children. Now among Lord Anguo’s children was one named Zichu. Zichu’s mother, Lady Xia, was not much favored by Lord Anguo, and consequently, when it became necessary to send a prince to the state of Zhao as a good faith hostage, Zichu was selected. Because Qin had repeatedly attacked Zhao, Zichu was shown few courtesies there. Zichu led a wretched existence as a minor prince, hostage in an alien state. His carriage and food allowances were far from lavish, and he lived most unhappily in hard circumstances. /+/

“At this time, Lü Buwei happened to travel to Handan, the capital of Zhao, and saw the prince. He felt sorry for him and thought to himself, “This is a piece of merchandise that would be worth investing in.” He went to visit Zichu and said to him, “I can raise your state in the world.” Zichu laughed and said, “Better raise your own first, and then you can attend to mine.” “You do not understand,” replied Lü Buwei. “My state depends upon yours to rise.” Then Zichu understood what Lü Buwei was getting at. He motioned to him to sit down, and the two fell deep into talk. /+/

Lü Buwei and Lady Huayang

Sima Qian wrote in The Shiji: “Lü Buwei said, “The king of Qin is growing old. Lord Anguo will succeed him. Now I happen to know that Lord Anguo favors Lady Huayang, but Lady Huayang has no child of her own to install as crown prince. Nevertheless, I believe that Lady Huayang alone will determine who will be named as Lord Anguo’s heir. Now you are a middle son among twenty brothers, and you certainly have received no special favor. You’ve been long left stranded here as a hostage. When the old king dies and Lord Anguo ascends the throne, what chance have you to be named his heir when your brothers crowd before him day and night contending for the title?” “True,” said Zichu, “but what can I do about it?”“You are poor,” replied Lü Buwei, “and a wanderer in this place. You’ve no means to offer gifts to your father or attract retainers about you. Now I, though poor myself, ask leave to travel west on your behalf with a thousand catties of gold and lay these before Lord Anguo and Lady Huayang in order that they should designate you the heir.” Zichu fell before him and bowed his head to the ground. “If your plan succeeds as you propose,” he said, “I beg to divide the state of Qin and share it with you!” [Source: “Shiji” 85.2505-2514 /+/ ]

“So Lü Buwei took five hundred catties of gold and gave it to Zichu in order that he could outfit himself properly and begin to attract retainers for his entourage. With the other five hundred, he bought an array of rare and valuable objects which he took with him to travel west to Qin, where he sought an audience with Lady Huayang’s elder sister. Through her, he presented all of his valuable gifts to Lady Huayang. Thus gaining an interview, he praised the worth and wisdom of Zichu to her, spoke of how Zichu had attracted patrician retainers from all corners of the realm, and recounted how Zichu constantly sighed of how he regarded Lady Huayang as Heaven itself, and cried each night as he thought of her and the Lord Anguo far away. /+/

“Lady Huayang was delighted, and Lü Buwei followed this interview up by urging Lady Huayang’s sister to give the lady this counsel: “I have heard that when one courts a man’s favor by means of one’s beauty that favor will wane when the beauty fades. Now you are greatly loved by the crown prince, but you have no sons. Should you not therefore attach yourself to one among the crown prince’s sons who is worthy and filial, have him installed as the heir and then treat him as your own son? While your husband lives you will enjoy high honors, and after his death, when he whom you have adopted becomes king, you will never lose your influence. Would not my one piece of advice yield a thousand generations of profit? If you do not care for the roots while the flowers bloom, then when your beauty fades and the favor wanes, though you might wish to put in a word it will be too late! Now Zichu is a worthy man. He knows that as a middle son he is not in line to be heir, nor has his mother received particular favor. But now he has attached himself to you, and if you would truly seize this opportunity to have him appointed as heir then you will be favored in Qin as long as you live.” /+/

“Lady Huayang was persuaded and, catching her husband when he was enjoying his leisure with her, casually spoke about Zichu’s exile as a hostage in Zhao and the reports she had heard of his outstanding character from all who visited him there. Then she burst into tears. “I am so lucky to have been chosen as your concubine, and so wretched to be childless! I beg you to install Zichu as your heir and allow me to be entrusted with his care.” Lord Anguo consented to her request, and had a jade tally engraved that he divided, giving her half to witness his pledge that Zichu should succeed him. Then he and Lady Huayang sent rich gifts to Zichu and asked Lü Buwei to serve as his tutor. As a result, Zichu’s reputation began to spread among the patrician lords of all the states. /+/

Lü Buwei’s Rise to Power

Sima Qian wrote in The Shiji: “Lü Buwei had taken as a mistress a great beauty of Handan who excelled as a dancer. She lived together with him, and had become pregnant by him. One day, Zichu went to see Lü Buwei and as they were drinking, he spied this woman and wanted her. He rose to propose a toast and asked to have her. Lü Buwei was furious, but reflecting upon how he had nearly bankrupt his household with his “investment” in Zichu he decided to give him the woman. For her part, his mistress concealed the fact that she was with child. When her time came she gave birth to a boy whom she named Zheng. Zichu then decided to designate her as his principal wife. [Source: “Shiji” 85.2505-2514 /+/ ]

“In the fiftieth year of King Zhao of Qin’s reign (257 B.C.) the king ordered Wang Yi to besiege Handan. When the situation became desperate, the men of Zhao determined to kill Zichu. Zichu consulted Lü Buwei and by bribing one of the gatekeepers with 600 catties of gold, they were able to sneak out of the city and flee to the Qin encampments. In this way, Zichu was able to return home. Learning that Zichu had escaped, the people of Handan sought his wife and child, intending to kill them in revenge. But his wife was the daughter of a prominent family of Zhao, and she was able to find places to hide out long enough that in the end both she and the boy survived. /+/

“In the fifty-sixth year of his reign (251 B.C.) the old king of Qin died and his heir Lord Anguo assumed the throne with Lady Huayang as his queen and Zichu as the crown prince. At this time, Zhao permitted Zichu’s wife and son to go to him in Qin. The new king reigned only a year before dying. He was buried with the posthumous name of King Xiaowen. Prince Zichu succeeded him as King Zhuangxiang. The new king’s adoptive mother, Lady Huayang, became the Dowager Queen Huayang, while his true mother, Lady Xia, was known as the Dowager Queen Xia. /+/

“In the first year of King Zhuangxiang’s reign, he appointed Lü Buwei as a chancellor of state and bestowed an estate on him, granting him the title Lord Wenxin. The territories from which he was to draw income included areas of 100,000 households in the Henan and Luoyang districts. After reigning for three years, King Zhuangxiang died and his son Zheng ascended the throne. He raised Lü Buwei to the post of prime minister and addressed him as ‘Second Father.’ The king was still young, and without his knowledge his mother, who was now a dowager queen, resumed her old affair with Lü Buwei. Receiving favors such as these, Lü Buwei’s household grew to a staff of 10,000. /+/

“This was the era of the great warlord ministers: Lord Xinling in Wei, Lord Mengchang in Qi, Lord Chunshen in Chu, and Lord Pingyuan in Zhao. These men vied with one another in their reputations for attracting retainers and treating them with courtesies. Lü Buwei was chagrined that for all of Qin’s strength, he did not compare with these men. So he undertook to attract his own retinue of retainers and treated them with such generosity that he soon had 3,000 under his patronage. /+/

“This was also the era of the great debaters, and the patrician lords supported many such men, such as the Confucian Xunzi, all of whom composed books that spread throughout the realm. Lü Buwei ordered his protégés to gather together all that they had learned and collect a series of essays in a work of over 200,000 words, arrayed in eight surveys, six treatises, and twelve compilations. In the belief that this text included all the affairs of heaven and earth, the world of things, the present and the past, he titled it with his own name as “The Almanac of Lord Lü.” He had the text displayed at the gate by the Xianyang market and above it he hung a thousand catties of gold. He invited traveling persuaders and retainers from all states to read it and offered the gold to whoever could find a single word to add or subtract from it. /+/

Lü Buwei, the Wanton Dowager Queen, and the “Eunuch” with the Big Penis

Sima Qian wrote in The Shiji: “As Zheng, the future First Emperor, grew older, his mother’s behavior grew increasingly wanton. Lü Buwei became afraid that her conduct would be discovered and his liaison with her would bring his downfall. Through private inquiry he learned of a man named Lao Ai who was endowed with a very large penis and he took him into his household. He held entertainments of lascivious dancing and made Lao Ai parade among the dance with a wooden wheel dangling around his member, making sure that reports of this reached the dowager queen in order to inflame her. And indeed, when she heard about Lao Ai she was anxious to have him. Lü Buwei arranged that he should be presented to her so that she could see him. [Source: “Shiji” 85.2505-2514 /+/ ]

“Then Lü Buwei had Lao Ai falsely accused of a crime deserving the punishment of castration. He secretly spoke to the queen, “If it were arranged that this man’s castration were only feigned, then he would be permitted to serve as a eunuch in the inner chambers of the palace.” The queen accordingly bribed the officer in charge of castrations to issue a false report, and had Lao Ai’s eyebrows plucked so that he would appear to be a eunuch. Then he was entered into her service. The queen quickly put Lao Ai to the test and from then on she was wild about him. /+/

“Later the queen became pregnant and grew afraid that her secret would be discovered. She had it falsely reported that she had been instructed through divination that she must retire from the capital for a time and she moved to a palace in the old city of Yong, where Lao Ai was in constant attendance upon her. She rewarded him with lavish gifts and all her affairs came to be managed by Lao Ai. Soon Lao Ai had a private household of several thousands and over a thousand office seekers sought his patronage as retainers. /+/

“In the seventh year of the First Emperor’s reign (240 B.C.) the Dowager Queen Xia, the mother of King Zhuangxiang (Prince Zichu), died. The Dowager Queen Huayang had earlier died and been buried in the Shouling tomb beside her husband, King Xiaowen (Lord Anguo). King Zhuangxiang had been buried in the Zhiyang tomb, and his mother had asked to be buried separately east of Du. “That way,” she had said, “I will look east towards my son and west towards my husband. A hundred years from now, there will surely rise a city of 10,000 households.” /+/

“In the ninth year of the First Emperor’s reign, someone reported that Lao Ai was not a eunuch, that he and the dowager queen were constantly engaged in indecency, and that they had by then given birth to two sons whom they kept in hiding. The informer told the king that Lao Ai and the queen had plotted together to arrange that their son should succeed to the throne upon the king’s death. The king ordered that the magistrates should investigate the matter thoroughly and in the end, the prime minister, Lü Buwei, was implicated. In the ninth month, Lao Ai was executed along with all his kinsmen to the third degree. The two boys were killed, and the dowager queen removed to the city of Yong. All of Lao Ai’s retainers had their properties confiscated and were forcibly removed to the distant region of Shu. /+/

“The king wished to execute Lü Buwei, but in view of his great services to the late king, and in light of the vast number of retainers and learned men in his service the king could not bear to carry out the punishment. In the tenth month of the tenth year of the First Emperor’s reign, Lü Buwei was dismissed from his post as prime minister. At the persuasion of Mao Jiao of Qi, the First Emperor allowed his mother the dowager queen to return to the capital city of Xianyang, and sent Lord Wenxin, Lü Buwei, into retirement on his estates in Henan. /+/

“After a year had passed, the roads were so crowded with visitors and envoys from all corners of the realm going to visit Lü Buwei that the First Emperor became frightened that he was plotting a rebellion. He sent Lü Buwei a letter. “How great has your service to Qin been that you should have been made lord over Henan, with the revenues of 100,000 households at your disposal? How dear have you been to Qin that your title should have been ‘Second Father?’ Depart with all of your household and followers – you are banished to Shu!”Lü Buwei considered the possibility of disobeying, but he feared that he would only suffer execution. Rather than this, he chose to drink poison and die. Once both Lao Ai and Lü Buwei, who had incurred the king’s wrath, were dead, all of Lao Ai’s retainers who had been banished to Shu were allowed to return. In the nineteenth year of the reign of the First Emperor (228 B.C.) the dowager queen died. She was granted the posthumous title of Empress Dowager, and buried with King Zhuangxiang at Zhiyang. /+/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, China.or,, the Chinese film "Military Seal"

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; 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 August 2021

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