An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhanguoce 戰國策

Jul 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhanguoce 戰國策 "Stratagems of the Warring States" is a collection of anecdotes and discourses, mostly between rulers and a minister, from the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). The stories have been collected and arranged by the early Former Han-period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) scholar Liu Xiang 劉向 who selected the stories from six different books about the so-called coalition advisors or "diplomatists" (zonghengjia 縱橫家). It is not known which parts of the modern Zhanguoce are derived from such books, or from the other eleven books of coalition advisors listed in the Hanshu 漢書 (30 Yiwenzhi 藝文志). These are, including that of the Qin 秦 and early Han periods:

Table 1. Books of coalition advisors as listed in the Hanshu yiwen zhi 漢書藝文志
蘇子 Suzi "Master Su (Qin) 蘇秦" by Su Qin in 31 chapters
張子 Zhangzi "Master Zhang (Yi) 張儀" by Zhang Yi in 10 chapters
龐煖 Pang Nuan [a general of the state of Yan] in 2 chapters
闕子 Quezi "Master Que"
國筮子 Guoshizi "Master Guo Shi" in 17 chapters
秦零陵令信 Qin Lingling lingxin "Orders and tallies from Lingling in the state of Qin" by Li Si 李斯
蒯子 Kuaizi "Master Kuai (Tong) 蒯通" by Kuai Tong in 5 chapters, according to the Shiji 史記 called Changduanshuo 長短說 "Explaining strengths and weaknesses"
鄒陽(書) Zou Yang (shu) by Zou Yang in 7 chapters
主父偃(書) Zhufu Yan (shu) by Zhufu Yan in 28 chapters
徐樂(書) Xu Le (shu)
莊安 Zhuang An (Yan An shu 嚴安書) (i.e. Yan An 嚴安)
待詔金馬聊蒼 Daizhao jin Ma Liao cang in 3 chapters

The terms for this type of literature were guoshi 國事 "affairs of the state(s)", duanchang 短長 "disadvantages and advantes" or "weaknesses and strengths", shiyu 事語 "story of events", changshu 長書 "book of advantages", guoce 國策 "stratagems of the state(s)". The title Zhanguoce for the final distillate has thus been selected because many of the stories focus on strategies to overcome enemies, often by concluding coalitions with other states, or by diplomatic tricks. The term ce 策 is occasionally translated as "intrigues", which has too much a moral implication.

The twelve states involved into the stories of the Zhanguoce are the small Eastern (Dongzhou 東周) and Western Zhou (Xizhou 西周) domains – the traditional royal dynasty whose house has been divided in 440 BCE –, Qin 秦 – the eventual imperial house -, Qi 齊, Chu 楚, Zhao 趙, Wei 魏, Han 韓, Yan 燕, Song 宋, Wei (Wey) 衛, as well as the the short-lived semibarbarian state of Zhongshan 中山 in the north, all in all 33 chapters. The stories cover the time fro 490 to 221 BCE.

During the Warring States period it had become very common for members of the lower nobility to travel from court to court where they could advise the rulers how their state and armies could become stronger and crush their enemies.

The literary quality of the Zhanguoce is very high. The stories are written in a vivid manner describing background, actions and outcome in a complete style. The particular stories are therefore much more than pure records of historical events but the Zhanguoce earns to be called a collection of short stories. The acting persons, like Jing Ke 荊軻, who tried to assassinate the king of Qin and later First Emperor (31 Yan taizi Dan zhi yu Qin 燕太子丹質於秦 "Crown prince Dan from Yan as a hostage in Qin"), or Feng Xuan 馮諼, retainer of Lord Mengchang 孟嘗君 of Qi who burned the peasants' debentures instead of fleecing them (11 Qi ren you Feng Xuan zhe 齊人有馮諼者 "There was a certain Feng Xuan from Qi").

The detailed stories give a much better insight in the life and political habits of the late Zhou period than an annalistic history would have done. It is no wonder that Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145-c. 86 BCE), author of the Shiji 史記, the first dynastic history of China, relied on the same primary sources than seen in the Zhanguoce. Even today a lot of stories reported in the Zhanguoce are very popular. The very high amount of direct speech in the stories makes it also possible to study the art of rhetoric in ancient China. Chinese scholars found out that some of the stories, mostly the shorter ones, are more reliable because they were written down in a time not too far away from the events. The longer stories, it seems, are full of later inventions that go beyond historical reality. There are also many occasions that statements in different stories about the same fact contradict each other.

During the Sui period 隋 (581-618), two thirds of the Zhanguoce were already lost. Eleven chapters were preserved, which are today arranged in 33 chapters and 460 (other editions 497) stories. In 1900, a chapter on the state of Yan was discovered in the ruins of Loulan 樓蘭 in Xinjiang, dating from the Three Empires (Sanguo 三國, 220-280) or Jin 晉 (265-420) period. Surprisingly enough, the differences to the transmitted version are marginally. This is also true for the texts from the Zhanguoce, written on silk, discovered in 1973 in a Han-period 漢 (206 BC-220 AD) tomb in Mawangdui 馬王堆 near Changsha 長沙, Hunan, with the title Zhanguo zonghengjia 戰國縱橫家 "[Stories of] coalition advisors from the Warring States". Of the 27 stories discovered in Mawangdui, 16 are not transmitted in the Liu Xiang version, but 11 stories are almost totally identical to the stories known.

The oldest commentary was written by Gao You 高誘 (fl. 205) during the Later Han period (25-220 CE) which is partially lost. The two transmitted versions are that of the Song-period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Yao Hong 姚宏 (c. 1120) with comments, finished in 1146 and printed shortly afterwards. It contains the remainings of Gao's commentary and Yao's new commentary and is included in the series Shiliju congshu 士禮居叢書. The other version has been rearranged by the Song scholar Bao Biao 鮑彪 (jinshi degree 1128). Bao's commentary was complemented by that of Wu Shidao 吳師道 (1283-1344), a scholar from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368). The Bao-Wu version is the base for the reprinting in the series Sibu congkan 四部叢刊. Modern commentaries were written by Jin Zhengwei 金正煒 (Zhanguoce bushi 戰國策補釋), Zhu Zugeng 諸祖耿 (Zhanguoce jizhu 戰國策集注), and Miao Wenyuan 繆文遠 (Zhanguoce xin jiaozhu 戰國策新校注).

Table 1. Contents of the Zhanguoce 戰國策
1. 東周 Eastern branch of Zhou
2. 西周 Western branch of Zhou
3.-7. Qin 1-5
8.-13. Qi 1-6
14.-17. Chu 1-4
18.-21. Zhao 1-4
22.-25. Wei 1-4
26.-28. Han 1-3
29.-31. Yan 1-3
32. Song and 衛 Wei
33. 中山 Zhongshan
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Li Yaming 李亞明 (1996). "Zhanguoce 戰國策", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, ed. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 428.
Miao Wenyuan 繆文遠 (1986). "Zhanguoce 戰國策", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1229 f.
Miao Wenyuan 繆文遠 (1992). "Zhanguoce 戰國策", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1495.
Tsien Tsuen-hsuin (1993). "Chan kuo ts‘e", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 1-11.
Wang Songling 王松齡, ed. (1991). Shiyong Zhongguo lishi zhishi cidian 實用中國歷史知識辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 699.
Wang Yuguang 王余光, Xu Yan 徐雁, ed. (1999). Zhongguo dushu da cidian 中國讀書大辭典 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 1153.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1994). Zhongguo gudai wenxian da cidian 中華古文獻大辭典, Vol. Wenxue 文學卷 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 477.
Xibei shifan xueyuan Zhongwen xi Yishu lilun jiaoyanshi 西北師范學院中文系文藝理論教研室, ed. (1985). Jianming wenxue zhishi cidian 簡明文學知識辭典 (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe), 279.
Zhu Shunlong 朱順龍 (1994). "Zhanguoce 戰國策", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Lishi 歷史卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 297.
Further reading:
Tsien, Tsuen-Hsuin (2011). "Strategies of Warring States", in Cheng, James, et al., ed. Collected Writings on Chinese Culture (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press), 33-46.
Crump, James I. (1996). Chan-kuo Ts'e (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan).
Crump, James I. (1998). Legends of the Warring States: Persuasions, Romances, and Stories from Chan-Kuo Tse (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan).