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Zichan 子產

Dec 19, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Zichan 子產 (d. 522 BCE) was a high minister of the state of Zheng 鄭 during the late Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (5th cent.-221 BCE). His personal name was Ji Qiao 姬僑, and he was a grandson of Duke Mu of Zheng 鄭穆公 (r. 627-606), and a son of Duke Cheng 鄭成公 (r. 584-571), for which reason he is also called "Ducal Grandson" Gongsun Qiao 公孫僑. He was a member of the house of Guo 國, one of the Seven Houses of Zheng (Qimu 七穆).

In 565, Zichan's father, Prince Fa 姬發 (Gongzi Fa 公子發), had successfully led a campaign against Cai 蔡, but he warned that the success would probably incite the states of Chu 楚 in the south and Jin 晉 in the north, to press upon Zheng from two sides. Shortly after, Fa was assassinated by some envious nobles, and Duke Jian 鄭簡公 (r. 565-530) was forced to retire.

Zichan prepared a backslaugh that was successfully conducted. Prince Jia 嘉, the new regent, proclaimed a new law strengthening the central government, against which the nobles rebelled. Zichan suggested the Prince openly burning the law in order to appease the rebels.

When Prince Jia was assassinated in 554, Zichan was appointed minister. Under the pressure of the state of Jin, Zichan tried to keep a balance between obeyance and resistance, without giving up the suzerainty of Zheng. In a campaign against Chen 陳, Zichan exhibited a generous treatment of the defeated troops of Chen.

When the army of Chu attacked to conquer the small state of Xu 許, Zichan relied on a tactic of defence, which brought the commander of Chu a feeling of success and made him return without encroaching on the territory of Zheng. In 543, a deathly quarrel among the princes engangered the ducal house, but Zichan, whom they wanted to kill, boldly resisted the rebels and was supported by the army. "Without him, the state of Zheng would not any more exist," was the argument of his supporters.

In a dangerous time, Zichan was able defend the suzerainty of the state of Zheng against two larger powers, and at the same time managed to save the ducal house from internal quarrels. With a right sense for weaknesses and strengths, he curbed the powerful families and saved the central government by a series of legal reforms he successfully enforced. Zichan had the new law code cast into a bronze vessel that was presented in public (see Zichan xingding 子產刑鼎).

Confucius 孔子 admired him as a representative of the old nobility that had still kindheartedness and benevolence in their minds. When a fire blaze had destroyed a part of the land, the duke wanted to undergo expensive sacrificial offerings, but Zichan admonished him to exert a more virtous government.

There is another person with the name of Zichan. His personal name was Ran Ji 冉季, and he came from the state of Lu 魯. He is counted among the disciples of Confucius.

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