Warring States Era: Part 3: Qi: A Fire Reborn : 战国 3: 齐: 重生之火
Music: The Great Invasions
"Your Highness, his army's broken, just like his body. Soon his kingdom too. Allow me to shatter him."
In 342 BC. At the the height of the Warring States period in China's Central Plains, the Generalissimo of Wei- general to perhaps the most formidable kingdom of the period requested permission to race after his fleeing nemesis, the man who he once confidently thought he had already raped in both mind and body. The friend he was once content to have left in madness and without legs. For indeed, the fleeing shadow he was pursuing cannot even walk.
Little did the most powerful general of Wei know- merely only hours away, he would be at the very eye of the storm of an inferno where the Warring States age would be irrevocably changed. He would have a front row seat- placed by none other than his crippled former friend who, even though crippled, as a descendant of Sun Tzu* can do nothing less.
This chapter will cover most of the eastern front of Wei's Central Plains war. In the previous chapter we have covered the western front of the war ~ and Shang Yang's radical reforms in Qin, this chapter will be mostly concerned with the major rearmament and restrengthening of Qi under the able rule of the Tian clan and its new maimed guiding star Sun Bin. Although vital context will be provided in this chapter and can be read in isolation, more detailed expository info could readily be found in the previous chapter for reference.
After nearly 2 centuries of irrelevance and internal chaos, the 4th century would see a new clan in power inside Qi- with them, the once- vast coffers of Qi would be replenished, and Qi would reenter the political world of the Warring States period to become one of mid Warring States period's major players.
LAST DAYS OF THE EARLY WARRING STATES
The chess board of early Warring States period- the Hegemony of Wei (Blue) in the Central Plains. After the Partition of Jin- it was split up into the 3 states of Wei (Blue,) Han (Yellow,) and Zhao (White.) Wei became the first major state to carry out a vast array of meritocratic reforms which abolished the traditional aristocracy and without regard to noble ranks or station elevated talented governors and generals to key posts, Wei became a state that can far outpunch itself, crushing both Qi and Qin for some 30 years in battle.
In diplomacy it was able to briefly wield their former comrades of Han and Zhao to ravish Qi (Red) in the east, and also violently take the vital Hexi corridor from Qin (Purple) in the west. Wei's ability to far out perform despite its initial small size served as a blueprint for the other kingdoms to emulate. The ability to carry out vital reforms became a matter of survival, and those unable to keep pace risked not only the loss of their freedom but their lives. For some 70 years until this time, Wei remained a hegemonic player in the realm's affairs.
THE SECOND FLAME IN QI UNDER THE TIAN CLAN
By this era, the eastern Duchy of Qi- once a major state during the Spring and Autumn era came under new able management. For over 600 years the Jiang clan~ whose able patriarch Jiang Ziya founded the Zhou dynasty with the Zhou royal family, and whose descendants later became the 1st Hegemon of the Spring and Autumn era presided over the east. However, in time, their control became severely weakened. Qi's influence was eclipsed by Jin and it had suffered several defeats at its hands. The Jiang clan was also notoriously prong to fratricidal palace intrigue, and as a result, the governing of the duchy was largely left to a caste of powerful vassal lords who became a deep state in their own right.
The Tians 田, were merchant princes. For over a century they courted the suffering Qi citizenry by lending out generous sums of grain at the clan's own expense. Using the Dou 斗 ~ trapezoidal container boxes with an upper and lower lid, Tian lords made sure to explicitly loan out more generous portions at their own expense with the thinner bottoms, while during repayments willingly accepted the wider bottoms, again, at their own expenses. At every major crisis, the Tian lords opened up their own granaries to the public.
Worse for Qi it was also ineptly held together, although it was rich, its laws were labyrinthine and the state's policies were not uniform and not enforced- leaving many pockets of cyclical inequity. Salaries and wages were unfair and unevenly distributed. Inequality was both ubiquitous and very prominently noted even to outside observers. What's more its taxes were heavy and laws were severe. Protestations against taxes or minor offenses often could result in leg cutting, where one lower leg of the offenders was cut off. It was in this state of misery where the top echelon of Qi were in chaos/ will neglect and lower echelons were left in destitution and freedom curtailed that the Tian clan made their bid for power. Descended from a refugee clan of princes who fled from Chen, they quickly proved their worth in being great financiers and merchant magnates in this chaotic time.
However, instead of merely hoarding generational wealth like the other great clans in Qi. The Tian instead leveraged their wealth to court the anxious subjects of the duchy. For over a century they courted the suffering Qi citizenry by lending out generous sums of grain at their own expense. At every major crisis, the Tian lords opened up their own granaries to the public. This long courtship paid off, in 485 BC, the Tian- by then the highest ministers within Qi killed the ducal heir and crushed several rival clans. In 481 BC, the Tian patriarch deposed his puppet duke, most of the ducal family, and a number of rival claimants. He then took control of most of the Qi and left the Duke with only the capital of Linzi and the area around Mount Tai. By 386 BC, the House of Tian fully replaced the House of Jiang as rulers of Qi. Despite the change of management, the duchy's name remained unchanged.
TO BE WORTHY OF THE WORLD
Although King Wei of Qi 齊威王 was one of the most remarkable sovereigns of the middle Warring States era, sources concerning his reign ranged from mixed to outright contradictory. He reigned from 356 to 320 BC. or according to another source from 378 to 343 BC. Going forward whenever there are contradictions in regards to his reign and biography, an interpretation will be provided as explanation.
By the middle of the 4th century, to the external world Qi remained in many ways- as it always was for the last few centuries: a middling power languishing in its mediocrity, having long been eclipsed by its more ambitious and influential neighbors, merely content to make a quiet profit taxing its subjects. It's lands, corresponding almost entirely to modern Shandong were mostly flat, with vast plains perfect for raising cattle and also long tracks of marshlands so dense in evil times it conceals bandits at every corner.
For thousands of years the marshes of what is today's Shandong (Qi) were infamous for its dangers. During times of chaos from Han to Song, to even the early 20th century without fail bandits and rebels often lurked in its shivering marsh reeds. The famous outlaws from the epic "The Water Margin" (alternatively "Outlaws of the Marsh") made their home in these marshes, and so goes the famous novel Red Sorghum (film) by Nobel Prize Winner Mo Yan. During the warlord era the brutal & flamboyant "Dogmeat General" Zhang Zongchang- who rose from an outlaw to the governor of Shandong, made these lands his haunt. The people here are fiery and headstrong, yet bold and honest, even sometimes in their villainy.
However near the opulent capital of Linzi under the foot of the perilous mount Tai which rose steeply out of the otherwise flat heartlands, one find riches almost undreamed off in other parts of the realm. Indeed, the area consisting of what is today's Shandong, Hebei, Henan, areas are the most concentrated population centers of the Chinese civilization all the way until the late Tang dynasty. Though Qi's size was not remarkable compared to the other major powers of the time, its wealth was vast. It was in this environment that Tian Qi's most noteworthy duke was born. A duke that one day would become a king. A king, who, when we are first introduced to him almost completely did not look the part.
Upon the Qi throne, a tempestuous wastrel sat at this time, with a wicked temper that cannot take any displeasing news and spent all his time idling in heavy wine and the lustful caresses of his concubines.
The account from Sima Qian's "Records of the Grand Historian" recorded that for the first nine year of his rule, Duke Tian Yinqi 田因齊 (the future King Wei of Qi) barely attended court and spent all his time in his neglectful pleasures, that ministers dared not to approach him to correct his ways for fear that in his violent temper the fatuous ruler would take their lives. Much of the border territories stolen from Qi by Wei, and Zhao during his father's disastrous rule remained in foreign hands and the Qi leadership was paralyzed. However, one brave minister named Chunyu Kun 淳于髡 came to Duke Yinqi and asked him a riddle about a wondrous bird that for some reason refused to sing nor fly for 3 years, then asked he cannot fathom why the bird does not do so. Duke Yinqi understood the veiled question inferring to him immediately, and after a brief consideration responded with that the "bird" has not done so for his own reasons. However, if the bird should decide to do so, he shall astonish the world and pierce the sky with one cry 一鸣惊人.
Music: Blazing Red Tassel
Historians are still puzzled as to if this part of Duke Yinqi's story was merely a shorthand pasted from King Zhuang of Chu's story or if the story the minister cited was an allusion using King Zhuang's life as a example for Duke Yinqi to learn from.
And from that day Duke Yinqi changed his ways and made a 180 degrees transformation to become a diligent and sagacious ruler. ...and if that part sounded familiar, so eerily familiar it was almost the exact copy of the biography of King Zhuang of Chu's origin story from 2 centuries ago where a young up-to-no-good king led an irresponsible life, and where a lone faithful minister brave the culture of silence and woke him from the slumber with a question you are correct. Regardless, it would seem that something major stirred up Duke Yinqi from his long wine- addled slumber, and the ruler that emerged after this awakening seemed as if he was a completely transformed person. To be worthy of a truly great sovereign, Duke Yinqi tackled 2 of his greatest demons- his reckless alcoholism as well his volatile temperament.
The reformed bad boy troupe is after all~ a troupe, ubiquitous in many cultures, including Shakespeare's Prince Hal (future Prince Henry V.) It was from this wayward mold, that one day would take the shape of a paragon king.
There were 2 parables that told of his life lessons. One was how Duke Yinqi rid of his drinking. During the 8th year of Yinqi's rule when the vast southern kingdom of Chu invaded Qi with a massive army, the Chu invasion was thwarted by the ploy of the Qi's polymath minister Chunyu Kun (the same who roused him from slumber) who bribed the neighboring state of Zhao into intervening on Qi's behalf and force Chu to back off. For his miraculous delivery of Qi from Chu, to reward his diplomat, the Duke invited him in a heavy round of drinking.
As an aside, the eloquent Chunyu Kun- who also questioned the Duke with the riddle of the bird was one of the foremost scholars/ philosophers of Qi's renowned Jixia Academy 稷下学宫. A contemporary of Mencius who often quibbled with many of the academy's scholars. Kun was extremely persuasive and blessed with a rapier wit, he was one of Qi's preeminent comedians and a peerless diplomat.
During their banquet, the clever Kun made a off handed observation that he's been holding back his bottomless capacity for drink in front of the Duke, when this naturally piqued the amusement of the Duke, Kun pointed out that because he is with the Duke in an official capacity he cannot go beyond a point in drinking, a few cups only, the next level was when Kun's father was hosting guests at the estate and he cannot forget himself, a few merry cups and some more. However, if he is in a festive holidays with celebrants, he will easily drink half a dozen. Finally, if he is meeting with a old great friend or a soul mate, he would drink almost under the table and continue overnight into later rounds. Kun then noted that the quintessential need for human to drink is for the sake of happiness, additionally that: "酒极则乱，乐极则悲，万事尽然" ~ extreme drinking becomes disorder, and extreme happiness turns into sorrow. When things are used in excess, they no longer performs its natural function and instead leads to the opposite perversion of the desired effect.
Having heard this and realizing that for so long, the drink had been controlling him and making him dependent of it, the grateful Duke thereafter instituted laws that heavy drinking be forbidden from official palace banquets and diminished it for the gatherings of the various lords.
Another example was the Duke's cultivation of equanimity. When one of the Duke's trusted advisors Zhou Ji- an abundantly confident minister pointed out that when he hosted an extremely handsome scholar named Xu Gong, he felt inadequate of his own appearances and asked his wife which of the two of them was more handsome. The wife answered that it was her lord husband, but this puzzled him greatly, for he knew that despite his presentable looks he was nothing compared to Xu Gong. Zhou Ji then asked several of his visiting guests this same question, and without mistake, all of his guests said it was him as well. Zhou Ji then explained to the Duke that this puzzled him even more, and he was so dumbfounded that he began to check himself in bronze mirrors. Then~ he confessed his realization to his Duke, that the reason that his lady wife, and his guests gave him the answer he so desired, was because of his station over both, he was both the patriarch thus master of his family and the host of his guests. Again, the clever Duke gleamed the subtle point raised in this story, and internalized this upon himself.
From tempestuous wastrel to a sagely king wise in council, discerning with talents, and immoveable in equanimity. Duke Tian Yinqi's story is a highlight of his eventual kingly virtues. But he is still in many ways shrouded in mystery. Despite his wisdom and dynamism, the complex character was largely packaged in a series of Confucian morality parables. By his middle reign, Qi was seen as a respected problem solver and many nearby states sought the Qi Duke for his mediation.
The Duke then offered a broad sweeping proclamation across the duchy that "To all ministers, officers and citizens who criticize my faults in front of me, they will get the highest reward; those who remonstrate with me in writing will be given the next highest reward, and to those who overhear criticism of me and convey it to my ears will recieve the least reward." Following this it was said that initially, after 9 years of repressed silence, "the doorway to the king's chamber looked like a marketplace" (overfilled with in person petitioners, since they will be paid the most,) which the Duke listened to patiently. After several months the crowd lessened to his doors, then after a year, "none who spoke to the king had petitions to present" for the problems have been mostly solved. "When [the states of] Yan, Zhao, Han and Wei heard of this they all came to court at Qi." as a token of their approval.
THE GREAT GOVERNANCE
Beyond the Confucian morality tales that stitched up his early biography, it was sufficient to say that after the 1st phase of his rule, he began to govern in stride, presiding over a court of talented wits and a brimming coffer. What's more, his rule was noted by the nearby sovereigns who send their representatives to him and feted him on interstate conferences. The sparks of Qi prestige was slowly shaping into geopolitical respect and influence. Later Song historian Sima Guang noted that at this time: 齐国大治 强于天下 "Qi's great governance was preeminent under Heaven." It was here when a dragon came to ply its talent at his court.
Duke Yinqi's subsequent reign was marked by 2 key traits, his equanimity in temperament and personal resourcefulness. In one instance recorded in Sima Guang's Zizhi Tongjian, when his immediate courtiers unanimously began to defame one of his ministers while praising another in unison, the Duke bought time and sent out his own trusted investigators to locally examine the matter. The reality was the opposite of what the courtiers have presented, and the Duke discovered that the propped up rich lord of the whisper campaign was corrupt. In the end, the Duke summoned the much- praised magnate to court and told him that he knew the man had been bribing the courtiers with his vast coffers, and for purposely deceiving the sovereign he would be executed.
It was with this man's sagely advices that Qi able to reborn into a great hegemon, transforming a state that was known primarily as one ruled by inconspicuous merchants into one ruled by bold sagacious kings. With his guidance, Qi would soar. The man was a refugee, broken and can only be ferried around upon a wheel chair.
They were two sworn brothers- when Sun Bin was young, his brilliance was noted and he studied military strategy under the tutelage of the hermit Guiguzi (literally 'The Sage of Ghost Valley') with his friend and fellow student Pang Juan. The identity of Guiguzi's identity and biography are much debated, with many interpretation that he was either one great sage who either lived in the state of Wei or according to some historians that the moniker was actually a collective name for a group of intellectuals who escaped the war and did not want to be an official and lived in seclusion in Guigu 'Ghost Valley' in the region of Mt. Qingxi 清溪山. Traditional (but much later) accounts named at least 4 great Warring States era statesmen who were educated in this school and who later led entire kingdoms in the stormy wars of this age that was defined by wars, Sun Bin, Pang Juan, Su Qin, and Zhang Yi. Part modern NGO think tanks, part martial artists of the mind who studied with sages in seclusion, these mercenary philosophers debated their augments with the clashing armies of millions.
Context: The personal relationship angle between Sun Bin and Pang Juan was presumed from the later eras and shaded by the hindsight of their later encounters as 2 of the most prominent military advisers of this era, as was the claim they were particularly close under the master's tutelage. If we go by the interpretation that the "old master" was instead a school then they were more likely mutual acquittances who trafficked and excelled in similar circles.
THE MASTER OF GHOST VALLEY
The published teaching attributed to Guiguzi listed important methodology and application of these teachings in matters of governance and diplomacy. Much of the master's of Ghost Valley's teachings revolved around accurately collect information, assess its worthy, internalize it and formulate a plan according to these factors, keep them reserved until the perfect time the enact them, then judiciously apply them in ways that cannot be aptly resisted (by others.) These teachings blends graceful diplomacy and conversational ease with discerning personal judgement in assessing others- be they friends, foes, and extends to friendly or enemy states.
Hatch a plan accordingly, and when openings present themselves, launch forth in ways that none could stop your goals from being realized. According to traditional accounts, Guiguzi's teaching were vital for later Warring States philosophers like Su Qin in formulating great coalitions and welding many disparate factions into one grand alliance.
Regardless, in this traditional narrative, Sun Bin displayed remarkable aptitude for his teacher's lessons and~ because of his own lineage was able to effortlessly cite the * "Art of War" written by his famous ancestor *Sun Tzu from his mind.
Pang Juan, another talented fellow student of Guiguzi, became friends and then sworn brothers with Sun. After some years of studying together under Guiguzi, Pang eventually left the master's school early and went to serve the Wei state as a military general, making his name after scoring victories in a few battles. Sun Bin, who was still studying with their teacher then, was then invited to enter the service of Wei and he became Pang's colleague. The very fact that 2 graduates from this hermit- academy were able to be quickly employed in the upper ranks of Wei's war machine showed both Wei's openness for capable staff and also the pedigree of this vaunted master/ academy.
SERVICES FOR WEI
Music: Fairytale and Heroes
During this time, Wei's strength was formidable and was one of this era's most preeminent states. During its first 2 energetic Marquis Wen and Wu Wei riveted the nearby states of Zhao and Han (all once part of Jin) into an unstoppable coalition and bullied the much larger and more populous Qi in the west and Qin in the east, taking Hexi in the west from Qin for itself and taking many Qi cities in the east.
Wei was the first formidable hegemonic great state in early Warring States period, its bureaucracy was open to many ranks, including foreign advisors and its military were led by proven meritorious officers. Its best troops consisted some 50,000 heavily armored Wei zuzu 魏武卒 (lit, "Wei Martial Troop"- professional armored infantry) who were equipped and drilled as crossbow men, halberdiers, and also swords and shield men.
In the lopsided battle of Yin Jin where Qin threw some 500,000 soldiers against the Wei occupied Hexi Corridor, the paltry 50,000 Wei defenders that largely revolved around the Wei wuzu repelled the overwhelming Qin onslaught, cementing Wei's hold of Hexi in the west and its preeminence in the Central Plains.
But its strength was marred upon the death of Marquis Wu and Zhao and Han intervened in Wei in a war of succession forwarding rival claimants. At this time, both Han and Zhao deeply hated and distrusted each other so even though their armies occupied parts of Wei they loathed the prospect of the other having Wei. The result was the elevation of Marquis Hui of Wei as a compromise candidate. The newly elevate Marquis Hui knew well that his position was conditional so early on during his reign he concentrated on agricultural and bureaucratic reforms.
However after 8 years of his rule on April of 361 BC he relocated his capital to the east, from the exposed narrow strip that bordered Han to the new site more tucked in the mountains to the east. This move was a declaration. Wei had been lying low and hiding its claws, content to act as a conduit and passive participant in the realm's affairs. But the move that relocated the capital to a much more militarily defensible interior showed to all that Wei had every intention to restrengthen itself. It was in this context that Wei began to aggressively reform its government apparatus and military- and that all talents were welcomed in. For comparison, when this move was made, Shang Yang was still one of many able talents hosted under Wei's roof. 2 years after this move, Shang Yang entered service in Qin in 359 BC and began a series of break- neck reforms. In the later part of that decade, our wine- loving Duke Yinqi took over in Qi and also began to reorganize Qi into a respectable power. Sun Bin, Pang Juan, Shang Yang, etc all would eventually become guiding stars for 3 respective states in this great power contention.
Discreet, forbearing, yet ambitious. Marquis Hui (the future King Hui) of Wei came to power as a compromise candidate btw Zhao and Han and must play his expected role as a matter of survival. His early reign was marked by prosperous agricultural reforms and apt repelling of a Qin invasion in the west. After relocating his capital to the east at Daliang (modern Kaifeng, eastern Henan). He showed his true colors and (like Qin and Qi) also began a series of ambitious reforms of its government and military.
It was during this time something tragic happened that would left Sun Bin broken. Despite having served Marquis Hui with distinction- Sun Bin was charged with treason and arrested. Because the charges were grievous, Sun Bin was ordered to be executed. Against these alleged crimes, Sun Bin protested furiously, and his friend Pang Juan also interceded on his behalf, and his eloquent argument against these charges were such that it placated Marquis Hui who then commuted the sentence to a lower level. However- it was still harrowing. Marquis Hui had Sun Bin's cheek tattooed- which literally branded him as a criminal to all, then ordered that Sun Bin's kneecaps be cut off, rendering him a cripple for life, what's more, he was left to rot in the prison. Over night, he became nothing.
During this time, Pang Juan visited Sun Bin often, and provided him with delicious food. Sun Bin was touched by Pang’s behavior. Pang Juan even consoled the despondent Sun Bin by persuading him to write down all he knows, both his own knowledge and that of his illustrious ancestor* into writing for future generations. It was said that Sun Bin initially was heartened by this and his spirit restored, and even set to work beginning to write these wisdom down on pieces of provided bamboo slips. He wrote vigorously, and committed what he knew from memory and personal reflections down on many bundles. However, one night, while a page was delivering food to Sun Bin he let something slip. It was then that Sun Bin realized the truth.
In reality, Pang Juan had orchestrated the whole plot. The evidence that was arranged for Marquis's proxies to find were laid out by Pang Juan and he was deeply jealous of Sun Bin's career and influence in court. To remove this thorn by his side, he framed Sun Bin for treason and then allowed Marquis Hui to break his former sworn brother. But not wanting all of Sun Bin's knowledge to go to waste, and wanting to personally make use of all that Sun Bin knew, he convinced Hui to spare him. Just so that the despondent Sun Bin would now disgorge all of his keen skills to Pang Juan alone. Naturally, when the grand task was done and Sun Bin was of no use to Pang Juan anymore, Sun would definitely be eliminated.
This characterization was very much derived from Sima Qian's record on the matter. According to Sima Qian's "Record of the Grand Historian", Pang Juan cannot compete with Sun Bin so had him undone by conspiracy.
Having realized the full extent of this deeply personal betrayal, it was said that Sun Bin broke down and wept, and that night burned up all of his already written bamboo slips. What's more, began to act insane like a raving mad man. When Pang Juan and others came again to look over him they discovered him unhinged. Pang Juan was both angered and suspicious of this "turn" to and tested him in different ways. So he had Sun locked up in a pigsty. Sun appeared to enjoy himself there and he even consumed animal feces, remarking that it was delicious. Pang believed that Sun was really mad and lowered his guard. Sima Qian's original records did not elaborate what happened next, except that after having lulled Pang Juan into complacency, Sun Bin was smuggled out of Wei and resurfaced at Qi under Duke Yinqi's wing.
Several hypothesis of Sun Bin were supposed, the original version recorded by Sima Qian only mentioned that Sun Bin was brought away in secret. Interpretations suspected that a visiting Qi dignitary who was one of the important clan generals of Qi: Tian Ji 田忌 took pity on Sun Bin, who after Tian Ji had earned his genuine trust revealed his true circumstances in tears and then Tian Ji- with the other diplomats arranged for the crippled Sun Bin to be smuggled away and slip into Qi boarders.
At Qi- the broken and tattooed Sun Bin was greeted and welcomed in by none other than Duke Yinqi. Sun Bin took up residence with none other than his personal savior Tian Ji- who smuggled him out of Wei. After conversing long with the Duke, who immediately appreciated Sun's talents, the Duke wanted to promote Sun Bin to the position of supreme general in Qi. However Sun Bin refused this offer- citing both his crippled state and also that his own status as a face- tatooed convict erodes both discipline for the Qi soldiery, dilutes the authority of the general, and also diminish Qi's legitimacy in the eyes of the other states.
Despite this polite refusal, Sun Bin agreed to take up the position as chief military advisor for Tian Ji, Tian Ji would be the supreme general of Qi, while Sun would always be close by. As Tian Ji's shadow, Sun Bin would be his thoughts and stratagems, while Tian Ji would lead the men into the fray. From this day forward, Sun Bin and Tian Ji would be inseparable, and Duke Yinqi often deploys them both on important campaigns.
"Although Qi's troops are numerous, their organization is unstable...The people of Qi are by nature unyielding and their country prosperous, but the ruler and officials are arrogant and care nothing for the people. The state's policies are not uniform and not strictly enforced. Salaries and wages are unfair and unevenly distributed, causing disharmony and disunity. Qi's army is arrayed with their heaviest hitters at the front while the rest follow behind, so that even when their forces appear mighty, they are in reality fragile. To defeat them, we should divide our army into three columns and have two attack the left and right flanks of Qi's army. Once their battle formations are thrown into disarray, the central column should be in position to attack and victory will follow." - Wu Qi
Though these words were written a full century before Sun Bin's Qi (certainly added on by Wu Qi's students) at this time the reputation for Qi was still accurate. Despite being a fiery and direct people, at this time Qi was seen by others as merchants, its leaders cloistered and out of touch, its laws Byzantine and scandalously uneven, its society and the wealth of its classes greatly stratified. It would be up to Sun Bin to remold and sharpen the atrophied Qi war machine.
THE QI SHOCK TROOPS
Qi Jiji Troops: Qí jìjī zhī shì 齐技击之士, (lit. "Qi Warrior Retainers") or more aptly "Qi Assault Warriors" were drilled by Sun Bin to become the best Qi could put into action at this time. These crack troops already existed in Qi centuries before Sun Bin, armored and well skilled with the sword and at times, halberds, the Jiji were given large bonuses as incentives for enemies they personally slew in battle, but at a flat initial rate. In Sun Bin's subsequent battles he very likely used them as shock troops to great effect.
Knowing that to reassert Qi's position and have sway in the central plains it was inevitable that a war with Wei will break out, these troops were likely expertly drilled so that can contend with the best Wei could offer- their Wei wuzu. With these troops, Qi was able to stand in the same arena as the best trained body of soldiers in the realm.
The Qi Jiji were emblematic of the state of general mass mobilization during the mid and late Warring States period. By this time war (especially when compared to early Zhou and Spring and Autumn periods) were no longer the purview of a small handful of feuding chariot- borne aristocrats. But rather, with more and more meritocratic and statist reforms: large swaths of the society began to be mobilized for war. Networks of large state funded armories were build and instead of conditional musterings, troops began to be withheld and drilled in a semi professional to fully professional capacity. With the build up of these war machines, specialized elite crack troop units were created by each of the remaining major powers.
Music: Classic of Mountains and Seas
THE JIXIA ACADEMY
Concurrent to the ample stride Qi made in restrengthening its hard power under its military advisers like Sun Bin, one of the prominent reasons Duke Yinqi- (later King Wei of Qi's) reign was so remarkable was because Qi excelled in soft power in this age as well. Notably, Qi hosted much of the realm's foremost intellectuals. Scholars have often attributed to the flourishing of many philosophical schools during the late Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period (the Golden Age of Chinese Philosophy) as 諸子百家 "Hundred Schools of Thought," and of these scintillating Thoughts, so many schools bloomed under this garden's roof.
Sun Bin and Plato are contemporaries of each other, and the Jixia Academy 稷下学宫 in Qi was founded around the time as the Platonic Academy (and later Lyceum of Athens.) Build in mid 4th century by Duke Huan of Tian Qi (Duke Yinqi's father- not to be confused with the eponymous 1st Hegemon) The academy was located outside the west gate of Qi capital of Linzi's 13 gates and likely named after it, it was made up of chosen scholars who received a prodigious stipend from the government in return for advising the king on government, rites and philosophy.
Famous philosophers such as the Daoist Shen Dao, and possibly Zhuangzi (who dreamed he was a butterfly dreaming it was him); Bian Que, the famous physician and miraculous wandering doctor. Zou Yan, the founder of the School of Naturalists- or the School of Yin- Yang; the Mohist philosopher Song Ying; and the Confucian philosophers Mencius, later Xun Zi, and the eloquent wit and polymath Chunyu Kun^ all stayed and lodged in the academy, what's more, were given space and resources to compile their vast canons of teachings here. There were also immemorable syncretic philosophers who attempted to meld several of the leading philosophies together: including in fostering renunciation of vices by blending Mohism with Confucianism, and in warfare even melding divergent schools of thoughts like Daoism with Legalism. The academy was the "Hundred School of Thoughts Contention" in miniature.
Any scholar who came to visit the academy could host a session and openly discuss his teachings in one of the audience halls. The discussions were free with no restrictions of national origin, ideological sects, nor age, and freedom of movement was not restricted. Those who were officially inducted became Bachelors, those who mastered the curriculums became teachers (Masters) and those who became experts of their respective schools became designated as Doctors. The number of the attending scholars in the academy is said to range from several hundred to a thousand. At times the Doctors were invited or assembled by the Qi government to make political decisions.
The school hosted many polymath of the age and has many rooms and quarters for its residing scholars. What's more, aside from great audience rooms, the academy boasted libraries that hosted vast collection of bamboo slips from nearly all the great masters. At all times, several canons of different schools were copied, edited and expounded in the academy in writing. Learning lived and continued furthered on.
The Jixia Academy is located in the western outskirt of the Qi capital of Linzi outside the western gate of the city. At that time, Linzi has 2 walled cities, the original walled urban metropolises as well as a new inner citadel where the Tian 田 ducal house resided and held court. Eastern and Central Zhou China were also prime real estates for the foremost intellectuals of the era, and the vast majority of the age's greatest founding philosophers were born from this largely urban, confidently Sinicized and more literate cluster. By contrast, western states like the Qin boasted nearly none of such sages and had to invite talented foreigners like Shang Yang to reform its own ways.
THE BLOSSOMS- AGE OF PROFESSIONAL SCHOLAR- BUREAUCRATS
The Jixia Academy was the fabric of the larger deepening of scholar tradition in China. It was during this era that the Shi 士 (retainer) class- who were originally knightly attendants of their feudal lords (and whom many of the great intellectuals of the period were born from: including Confucius, Laozi*, Sun Tzu,* Sun Bin, and Mencius were born from) became a fully dedicated class of literati scholars.
The site of the Jixia Academy was rediscovered and confirmed recently in 2022, and although its stonework and body of teacher and students were broken in the final days of the Warring States period, its immortal scholar traditions persisted arguably for millenniums since.
In contrast to the hereditary nobility of many states, the Shi class by contrast was 1 of the "4 Occupations" 四民 and not hereditary. By contrast, the Shi was instead distinguished by their meritocratic achievements or bodies of written works. Thus the Shi 士 could be thought of as knights of the mind (as able advisors, ministers) or in the future, imperial China's scholar bureaucrats (士大夫 Shi Da Fu) meritocratic and not hereditary civil servants who attained their position through Imperial Exams and then elevated to great appointments. It's a tradition that would persist through all of China's remaining dynasties and sped along into the 20th century, and arguably, even in modern China today in the rigorous rote- and STEM focused Gaokao national examination system.
GREAT WAR FOR THE CENTRAL PLAINS
In those intervening years, Pang Juan was made the supreme commander of Wei's military while Sun Bin the most influential military adviser of Qi's. Wei's ambitious rearmament unnerved all of the nearby states to drastically focus on defense as well. All knew that if an eventual war broke out in the Central Plains, it would be a titanic one that will likely involve all major powers.
In 356 BC, the State of Zhao met with Qi, Song and Yan and formed a coalition. This united north eastern pact meant Wei faced the possibility of being besieged by several countries, so Wei put pressure on Han, Lu, Wey (the smaller state that Shang Yang was born in) and other small countries, forcing these small states to swear oath to Wei and pay tribute to Wei.
Sides were drawn for the Central Plains, Zhao drew up an alliance with Yan, Qi, and Song and reliable set north and eastern flanks of Wei against it. Meanwhile, Wei roped in the smaller states of Han, Wey, and Lu on its side. Having Han securing its underbelly while squarely focusing on the small states in the east that's both beside its new capital and beside Zhao and Qi. Qin meanwhile watches hungrily in the west for any opportunity to pounce.
However this did not deter Wei's more powerful distrustful neighbors. In 355 BC Zhao to Wei's north took advantage and invaded Wei's small vassal of Wey with an massive overwhelming force. Wei soon sent troops personally led by Pang Juan to assist their small vassal and decisively crushed the Zhao army, then Wei sent some 100,000 soldiers and surrounded Handan, the capital of Zhao (now Handan City, Hebei Province). Duke Yinqi opined that Tian Ji and Sun Bin should strike at Pang Juan to rescue Zhao.
Instead, Sun Bin did the totally unexpected. In the north, Pang Juan ably surrounded the Zhao capital at Handan and the next year, Handan's outer walls almost fell and Wei was at the brink of taking the entire city and conquer and absorb Zhao. However, just as Pang Juan was only weeks from breaching into the Zhao capital, desperate Wei messengers raced to Pang Juan and informed him of harrowing news.
The Qi army had appeared right outside of Wei capital's walls at Daliang, surrounded it and was ready to besiege it, the exasperated Marquise Hui of Wei sent a priority order that Pang should abandon his siege and race back to Wei and rescue the capital. With no choice to disobey his sovereign and patron, and right on the cusp of crushing Zhao, Pang Juan abandoned his lengthy siege in a cold rage, rushing back with 80,000 of his 100,000 soldiers back to the Wei heartlands and have the rest to act as a skeleton crew to keep Zhao pinned down. Of course, this too was anticipated by Sun Bin.
THE BATTLE OF GUILING
Without being dragged into a major battle and with little to no losses, Sun Bin had completely changed every piece at play.
"Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities. - Sun Tzu* "The Art of War."
Having forced Pang Juan's hand to abandon this project which he had poured so much sweat and blood into, the 80,000 strong Wei army raced back toward Wei. Zhao was saved, Pang Juan was put in a foul mood and blind haste, and the next phase of Sun Bin's plan was readied. Anticipating the direction of Pang's hasty arrival, Sun Bin advised Tian Ji to set up a Qi ambush at the pass of Guiling 桂陵 (now northeast of Heze, Shandong) with around 80,000 soldiers. Though both belligerent's numbers were comparable, Sun had calculated that this lap would exhaust much of Pang's troops because they needed to cross the Yellow River. When Pang Juan's exhausted army's morale nearly collapsed due to its forced march, the Qi army attacked it and routed it, Pang Juan himself was captured in the fray while his army escaped.
Guiling proved to be a humiliating loss for Wei, however it was not a catastrophic loss. Despite the forced retreat, the main body of the Wei army was not slain and Wei's strength was not broken. However, the Qi advantage which tied down Wei in the east did cause a compounding problem for the tied up Wei, namely, Qin- long holding a bitter grudge over its losses of Hexi to Wei in the previous century, and having been rigorously strengthened by the Legalist Shang Yang's reforms invaded from the west.
Wei had found itself in a 3 front war simultaneously with 3 of the major powers.
Now Pang Juan and Sun Bin became mortal life and death rivals. Previously, 1 had dashed the other's dreams and deprived him of his freedom, now the other have done the same back. The next time they would see each other it would be another war and another battlefield.
END OF THE CENTRAL PLAINS WAR- WEI HEGEMONY MAINTAINED
After Guiling (353 BC) - the war in the central plains became more inconclusive, despite the enthusiasm of all the players that jumped into the great war early on, Wei- beset as it was, deftly regained its footing with a combination of decisive diplomatic ploys and military ripostes. Despite having being invaded in the west by Qin and the losses of several key fortresses and even its old capital and Anyi taken by Shang Yang when he personally led the Qin army in 352 BC, Wei beseeched its southern ally Han and Han answered Wei's pleas with a great relief force which stood by Wei in the field.
Geniuses: Shang Yang and Sun Bin. Despite being surrounded by sharks from all sides, Wei faired better than anyone might give them credit for. Wei suffered the nightmare of many central powers, that is, being ganged up from multiple directions. But it still concluded a peace that allowed it to retain much of its strength. Despite this, Wei's neighbors were simply on another tier, and Qin and Qi were each led by a vigorous ruler with a once- in a generation genius.
Despite the capture of Pang Juan at Guiling, Wei continued its siege at Handan and redoubled the effort for its capture and occupied it. Then in the east, the Wei and Han army repelled the Qi and Song army at Xiangling. After this, the eastern front quieted down, Qi requested the great power of Chu to mediate a peace with Wei, and Wei- now itching to restabilize the Qin occupied west agreed to peace. Pang Juan was released back to Qi and Wei turned its attention fully westward.
Like Qi- Chu at this time was also a resurgent power. Like Qi- Chu was also once a hegemonic power centuries prior but had fallen. It was able to regain its strength by strengthening its arch rival Wu's vassal Yue to rebel against it, then after splitting Wu apart with Yue, turn its full might on a mostly isolated Yue in the next few centuries in a series of grinding wars. Territorially Chu was immense, and would soon be so large that it was comparable to if all of the northern states cobbled together. However it was sparsely populated and saddled with muddled leadership.
After trapping the Qin army and Shang Yang in the west, Qin too sued for peace with Wei, and the Qin Duke Xiao personally met with Marquis Hui of Wei and agreed to the term of peace. In the peace treaty of 350 BC. Qin agreed to relinquish part of its gains in Hexi. Both side (including Shang Yang) would withdraw from each other's territories, while both sides divided their borders along the natural bend of the Yellow River, both sides built defensive fortresses along their respective banks. Finally there was peace again in the Central Plains- but it was a extremely tension filled peace where each side remained armed to the teeth.
STIRRING UP WEI AMBITIONS- DIPLOMATIC REALIGNMENT
Although indispensable to Qin and Duke Xiao, as a pledge of good will, Duke Xiao sent Shang Yang to Wei to pay respect to Marquis Hui of Wei. Before making his name Shang Yang had served Wei as an inconspicuous minor minister. Reportedly that the Chancellor of Wei saw such potential in a man like Shang Yang that on his deathbed he begged the duke to "either appoint Shang Yang as chancellor" after his death, "or have him killed" so no other states, especially rivals would have him. Upon his return to Wei, Shang Yang began to fan the flame of vainglorious ambition in the discontent Marquis who was by all rights more powerful than Dukes, yet have to be settled as their lesser in rank.
Despite insurmountable odds and attacked by opportunistic powers from 3 directions, Wei still prevailed. Its occasional defeats were humiliating, yes, but its victories preserved its position against all of its challengers. Having survived this brutal ordeal, Wei redoubled its efforts to restrengthen itself. Marquis Hui's first priority turned his attention to the west at Qin, and having calculated that Qin was the greater threat, around 344 BC, Hui held a great conference with the great lords of twelve states in Fengze, supported by them, he was even brought before the Zhou King Xian to plead his cause for a warpath against Qin. When Duke Xiao of Qin heard of this, he was very frightened and ordered to strengthen the fortresses around the Wei borders and sent Shang Yang to placate Marquis Hui personally.
Wei zuzu 魏武卒 (lit, "Wei Martial Troop") A versatile crack force that could transform into halberdier, crossbowmen, or swords and shields men. And despite their expensive armor, their rigorous training in long marching (with days of rations) allowed them to threaten afar and redeploy even during extreme duress with great order. Aside from the unit's immense cost, training and upkeep, it was one that virtually has no weaknesses.
Shang Yang- an astute reader of people immediately sniffed out a critical yet hidden side to his host, the great ambition and deep insecurity that bubbled in Marquis Hui. His state had just withstood 3 crashing waves and stood unmoved like a jagged cliff, Wei was stronger and militarily proven itself to be one of the most capable of the age for a century, but in rank Wei's sovereign was lower than the Dukes of Qi and Qin that Wei repelled in both directions. So instead Shang Yang proposed an alternative. If~ hypothetically that the great Marquis would declare himself to be King, Shang Yang gave the impression that Qin would recognize this claim. The secretly ambitious Marquis, who had been read like an open book became ecstatically delighted by this promise, and began to have ideas.
Shang Yang's ploy worked to perfection, now all of the 6 major powers to Qin's east would be set against each other. Wei's selfish pursuit for its own transparent aggrandizement invariably would set other anxious nearby powers against it. Once Qin was faced with a united coalition led by a vengeful Wei, but after this masterstroke, Wei painted a target on its own back.
Shang Yang was so persuasive that Marquis Hui was greatly emboldened, he went on to build palaces worthy of the Zhou king's prestige, made red silk royal robes befitting a king, and also began to assemble regalias like the 9 gifts and royal 7 star flags. Predictably, Wei's singular ambitions began to rub off the wrong way on its coalition allies. In 344BC the Marquis held a great conference in the Wei capital and summoned the various heads of the nearby states to attend, from the highest to the lowest, of them, many showed up, including Zhao (now made a junior vassal) and Qin. However, already long suspicious that the Wei Marquis was bidding to declare himself a King, Han (its vital rescuer in the 1st Central Plains war) and Qi both did not attend. Taking this cold shoulder as a grievous offense, the Marquis invaded Han with intention to crush and vassalize it. The frightened and isolated Han immediately cried for help for Qi to join the war.
Music: The Great Invasions
THE SECOND GREAT CENTRAL PLAINS WAR
Han was easily defeated on the field 5 times and its capital was swiftly invested.
Han- never more than a middling power at best and never close to the foremost of the 7 great powers was soon overwhelmed, after its armies were scattered from the field 5 times, the Wei army led by Pang Juan surrounded and besieged the Han capital. The situation became grimly similar to the siege of Handan over a decade prior. Not wanting Wei to become paramount in power, to find the best solution on prosecuting the unavoidable war with Wei, Duke Yinqi summoned Qi's council and scholars, Sun Bin in particular recommended a cold but advantageous strategy- Qi then replied to Han's request and promise it aid. However in reality Sun Bin advised Qi to wait and withold its intervention until both Wei and Han are bloodied and Han was at the brink of destruction and Wei at the cusp of total victory.
The advice worked as intended and Han held on and mustered a ferocious, but bloody defense against the Wei onslaught. Soon both side became bloodied.
“If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
After a year of fanatical resistance, Han was near collapse and again petitioned to Qi deploring that they are on their last legs and the walls will soon be breached and they have no more reserves of men nor food. This time, Sun Bin again advised attacking the Wei capital and Tian Ji and Sun Bin raced to the Wei capital with a great army of some 120,000 soldiers. Again, right on Pang Juan's cusp of taking the Han capital, Marquis Hui ordered Pang to retreat in order to defend against the oncoming army of Qi. Having been dreadfully provoked twice this way Pang Juan was furious at the news, and again abandoned his siege right within days of taking the capital.
Marquis Hui then appointed Prince Shen of Wei as chief commander and Pang Juan as commander, and ordered an army of 100,000 to mobilize against Qi. However, Pang Juan had learnt from his previous lesson at Guiling and fearful of another ambush became very cautious. He ordered scouts to explore ahead and avoided predictable routes towards the capital. This ploy worked, but it also worked to Sun Bin's advantage. Sun had anticipated Pang's anticipation. Sun Bin ordered his main force at a great distance away from the body of Pang's 100,000 army and instead sought to dangle something before Pang for him to snatch at.
“Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
When Pang Juan finally found what his scouts reported to be the Qi army, he only found a smaller army that he expected. However he did receive confirmation this was the one personally commanded by Tian Ji and Sun Bin, Pang Juan then drew his force close and arrayed for battle. However before engagement could began, the Qi army became disorganized and began to hastily pull back, eventually it became a head long retreat eastward back to Qi. Pang Juan's commander Crown Prince Shen was encouraged by this apparent Qi rout, and asked what should be done about it. But Pang Juan- much more cautious now, did not offer pursuit. Instead, Pang ordered that scouts venture ahead and report back what they found having shadowed the Qi army and examined its wake. After each night, Wei scouts reported interesting observations the next day.
On the first night of pursuit, the scouts reported that a the Qi army had dug enough pit stoves for the size of an army around 100,000. However, on the second day of pursuit, the numbers became noticeably lower, to only at most enough for 50,000 in total. What's more, Qi baggage and packed expensive siege equipments were abandoned and clumsily littered along the wake.
Music: Across the Savage Lands
This was a major revelation for Pang Juan, and having seen armies loose manpower through desertion it looks like the Qi army was loosing cohesion by desertion. Then, on the third night, the stoves dug in Qi camp was so pathetic that it looked like the Qi army was reduced to only some 20,000- 30,000 men.
After hearing these reports now both Prince Shen and Pang Juan became delighted. The Qi were- and have long been seen as cowardly merchants after all. Thus Pang Juan beseeched Prince Shen the permission for a head long pursuit with the best crack cavalry of Wei. The prince agreed and Pang Juan set off after the Qi army like a loosened arrow.
Around Maling, the woody paths became narrower. Though at least 2 version of Maling's exact location were proposed, both were hilly, and has ample woods and gulch around the narrow passage. When Pang Juan arrived in the area it was already dark, and wild birds began to hoot and gibe at the mounted men in armor. In the traditional version, what happened next was both dramatic in the extreme and must have been exaggerated for storytelling effect.
According to traditional versions, as Pang Juan led his cautious cavalrymen slowly along the wooded trail, it was so dark that his men could barely see anything, especially considering their headlong chase had prevented them from lighting their torches. Then, as they stumbled around in the dark hilly forest path scouts reported to Pang Juan there was a pale beam ahead. Curious, Pang then raced forward, and it turns out the beam was actually a recently sliced open patch of bark from a tree. Pang Juan then drew close and lit up his torch to examine the bark of that truck closeup and, to his horror, upon the pale- milky canvas which the moonlight shone, was written the words 庞涓死于此树之下 "Pang Juan dies beneath this tree."
And before Pang Juan knew it, or fully contextualized this message, which was carved upon the tree explicitly for him by Sun Bin, a storm of steel assaulted his spooked horsemen. Bolts and arrows, a hailstorm of whizzing arrows struck them from both their left and right from the woods and within minutes hundreds of them were shot down from their horse and killed.
Then, to his horror, legions of Qi soldiers charged out from both sides of the woods and raced down at the paralyzed Wei column, the full bulk of the Qi army that Sun Bin had sent back and hidden along this special chosen path. The best of Qi were unleashed here as well and ripped through the Qi defenders. The Wei- who both did not expect to fight here and also did not expect this full brunt of the entire Qi army to have trapped them soon were all overrun. It was not even a battle but immediately turned into a lopsided massacre.
In this traditional version, Sun Bin was said to have timed exactly the distance and time table of Pang Juan's arrival, and knowing that by the time Pang Juan arrived it would be after sunset, he carved a bright white patch on a great tree in the middle of the path and then told the massed archers and crossbowmen that "when they see torch flames" fire continuously and do not stop. And when they saw the torches being lit, they immediately began to fire at the area they have been trained on with murderous volleys.
What Pang Juan saw in his last was a picture of the destruction of his whole fighting force. Qi vanguards closed in and slaughtered all Wei soldiers in their way. Wei soldiers tried to charge out of the encirclement but they were fully surrounded. Seeing no way of escape and no way of retuning empty handed to his patron, Pang Juan, likely grievously wounded by this time and suffering from multiple arrow and crossbow wounds committed suicide by slitting his throat right under the tree that became his perverse funeral stele. Sun Bin had revenged manifolds upon his once- tormentor, but this was only the beginning. This entire age would change in the next few hours. Sun Bin was nowhere near done yet.
MALING- THE MUCH MORE PLAUSIBLE VERSION
Knowing how nearly impossible it is to see anything in the night outside of urban cities even in modern times without the assistance of torches and flashlights, it was very unlikely the tree bark part was true. This version was very likely made in later centuries- what's more, the placement of the tree-stele was almost definitely a clever literary device to have a closeup scene to "let Pang Juan see" his whole army and his own destruction at the hand of his rival to really twist in the knife of his bitter defeat home.
Artwork by Chris Reed Tattoo
The more historically plausible version was that Sun Bin did deduce the site and timing of the battle (a truly impressive feat) and then bid his entrenched shooters to wait until enough of the riders (marked by their lit torches, because why would they not be in this darkness, especially in the woods which could fatally trip their mounts?) And use these torches to mark where their volleys would go. After enough length of Wei soldiers have entered into the 2 flank's designated kill-zone, order was then given to launch an endless barrage of bolts and arrows until nothing moves anymore. More likely that Pang Juan was either killed very early on by many bolts or that after surviving for a while he did kill himself by cutting his neck and was discovered in that state. Regardless, Maling snowballed into a catastrophic calamity. The prey now became the pursers.
Having slew Pang Juan and hobbled their pursuers, Qi then launched an all out attack with its 120,000 racing back toward where Prince Shen was encamped. When the Qi army reappeared before the prince's camp it was already over. Reportedly the whole (or at least the overwhelming vast majority) of the 100,000 strong Wei army was slaughtered, and Prince Shen taken prisoner and then executed.
After this point most historians agreed that Wei Wuzu was entirely destroyed as a unit and perished with the whole Wei army. Qi losses were astronomically low by comparison, only some 2,100 soldiers after having utterly destroyed Wei's 100,000.
THE NEW DAWN
Unlike the previous battle of Guiling, Maling was a cataclysmic defeat for Wei. The destruction of a whole Wei army- which included a dedicated number of its best crack units was a disaster that Wei would never recover from. What's even more distressing, things became much worse for Wei.
For while Wei was focused on the east, Qin invaded Wei from the west again- this time personally led again by Shang Yang, and the exasperated Marquis had to send another great Wei army under the charge of another prince- Prince Ang to deal with the invaders.
The western front also devolved into a catastrophic calamity for Wei as well. When the prince faced against Shang Yang and the 2 armies readied themselves, Shang Yang made a bid for sympathy with the young prince. While Shang was staying at Wei during his stay, Shang had made sure to personally befriend the young prince and form a good rapport. Shang then sent him a letter expressing his remorse at what he was made to do and his intention to withdraw back to Qin, however he invited the prince for a drink as old friends before he pull his forces out.
"War is a matter of vital importance to the state the province of life or death the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied."- Sun Tzu
Prince Ang came but was immediately arrested and taken hostage by Shang, and after capturing the Wei leadership, Shang then ordered an all out assault on the Wei soldiers and dealt the Wei army a crushing victory. Through this well timed treachery, Qin retook the vital Hexi region back with minimal losses. Maling and Hexi broke the back of Wei and from this time on Wei was never a major power again. In the following century and until its extinction, Wei would be at the total mercy of either Qin or Qi- 2 of the victors here.
Here, the early phase of Warring States transformed and saw the fall of its first hegemon, geopolitically, the Central Plains was transformed from a place where the polities had initiative to outwardly dictate the fate of its neighbors to become almost entirely at the mercy of the great powers to either its east or west. The contentious relationship between Qin and Qi- and by extension Qin and the rest of the remaining 6 major states would mark the key political dynamics for the next half century.
THE HEGEMONY OF QI- A FIRE REBORN
From this point on, Duke Yinqi elevated himself as King Wei of Qi (Wei spelled differently than the state he defeated.)
After this age defining battle, Qi would go on to become the hegemon of the east, becoming a key mediator in the affairs of the the 3 "Jins" of Wei, Zhao, and Han, who mostly became junior partners to Qi's designs. Duke Yinqi then played his cards deftly and brought Wei fully under Qi's fold by granting the despondent Marquis Hui's life long and pained wish- that of becoming King. Later on, both Qi and Wei held a great conference among several of the east's great sovereigns and in the meeting both Duke Yinqi and Marquis Hui acknowledged each other as respective Kings: King Wei of Qi and King Hui of Wei.
Rare Eastern Zhou (Spring & Autumn + Warring States period) 2 piece jade disk.
The elevation of 2 Kings and transformation of 2 states into full on kingdom was solved through clever logic. Because the Zhou Kings had been seen for centuries as "Son of Heaven" favored by the stars through the Mandate of Heaven. He was also the gatekeeper who enfeoffed the great nobles titles and lands. To circumvent this anointed status, where only Kings can bestow titles: Marquis Hui and Duke Yinqi simultaneously declared themselves kings and then recognized the other as a king also. In this manner, the Zhou realm had several new kings, and Qi gained an ally in the placated Wei. Although Qi had brought Wei low, it also fulfilled Wei's long held wishes and provided it with a stable shared front. By the time Duke Yinqi- now King Wei of Qi died, Qi was the foremost state of the era and likely the most influential among the major powers.
齐国大治 强于天下 "Qi's great governance was preeminent under Heaven."
And although Sun Bin and Tian Ji were both vital in meritorious service to Qi their later careers were marred by court intrigue, with Sun Bin eventually implicated in a plot to topple either King Wei or his successor King Xuan and be forced into early retirement and live the rest of his life as a reclusive hermit, while Tian Ji was also implicated by court intrigue and was forced to flee to Chu for a while before being brought back to Qi by King Xuan.
And so passed the man who briefly but irrevocably changed the world. Who while disabled, outfought the strongest state in the realm twice, and its most formidable general twice, and whose mind alone shaped not only the battlefield, several kingdoms, but the world order. And who was briefly very much likely the real Sun Tzu we all thought we knew. Who- despite death, is still talking us today.
"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness." - Master Sun
It was likely during Sun Bin's retirement that he wrote "Sun Bin's Art of War" - and by some accounts, the original "Art of War" itself~ . Yes, Sun Bin might have in fact actually been the true writer of the Art of War or literally in Chinese 孙子兵法 "Master Sun's Military Treatise" that was attributed to a fabled ancestor that Sun Bin invented, but that's a discussion for another time. After all, 孙子 Sun Tzu- merely means "Master Sun."
Join us the next chapter as we discus the new political order that was born in the wake of the major war in the Central Plains and the diverse diplomacy the remaining major powers employed for their survival. Watch as the grandest coalitions began to form and the major wars began to take on a truly "international" character. Watch as if bewitched like a herd of frightened animals- all of the major powers threw their weight against the newly consecrated Qin kingdom in its cradle, and how it aptly dealt with this unimaginable assemblage. In this new age, words and promises were as deadly as whole armies. The Desperate Alliance awaits.
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