Soul of China

The value of a converted enemy

The State of Qi (齊) under the reign of Xiang Gong (襄公 697-686 B.C.) was chaotic, depraved, immoral, degenerate and ineffectual. Some of the heirs of its aristocrats were forced to take refuge in other states.

In 686 B.C., Qi Xiang Gong was slain by his own cousin Wu Zhi (無知), a trusted court official whom Xiang Gong had demoted. The senior official then sent people to Ju (莒) State to bring Prince Xiao Bai (小白) back to Qi and succeed the throne.

When Prince Jiu (糾) learned about his older brother Qi Xiang Gong’s death, he too prepared to rush home to take the throne. He ordered his henchman, Guan Zhong (管仲), to lead an army to intercept and kill Xiao Bai.

Guan Zhong shot Xiao Bai with an arrow and thought he had killed the latter. He informed Prince Jiu that he had accomplished his mission.

But it turned out that the arrow merely hit Xiao Bai’s belt hook. The prince had played dead to deceive Guan Zhong. Xiao Bai was able to return home ahead of Prince Jiu and became king or Qi Heng Gong (齊恒公).

After succeeding to the throne, Qi Heng Gong defeated the invading army of the State of Lu (魯) in Gan Yang, Shandong province. He forced the Lu State to kill Prince Jiu and surrender Guan Zhong to him.

Bao Shuya (鮑叔牙) and Guan Zhong were good friends. When Bao Shuya became Qi Heng Gong’s minister, he spared no effort to endorse Guan Zhong to take charge of military and state affairs.

But Qi Heng Gong simply could not forget that Guan Zhong had attacked him. He wanted revenge; he wanted to eliminate Guan Zhong.

Bao Shuya, however, persisted, emphasizing to Qi Heng Gong that Guan Zhong was a person of extraordinary ability who excelled in politics, foreign relations, military, governance and in uniting people of various sectors. If only Qi Heng Gong would set aside his hatred and pardon Guan Zhong, Guan Zhong would be eternally grateful and would serve and be loyal to Qi Heng Gong.

Qi Heng Gong finally came around. He sent Bao Shuya to Lu to bring Guan Zhong to Qi.

When Guan Zhong arrived in the capital, Qi Heng Gong personally received him and assured him that he need not worry about the arrow shooting incident. Guan Zhong was deeply moved.

Surely, a monarch who is open-minded enough to overlook the harm he had suffered at an enemy’s hand must be an able and a virtuous one, Guan Zhong thought to himself.

So Guan Zhong stayed in Qi and helped Qi Heng Gong run state and military affairs.

Political reforms he initiated eventually turned the State of Qi into one of the five hegemonic states of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.). — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 4 (July 21-August 3, 2015): 5.