Fan Ju — A Remarkable Strategist and A Vengeful Politician

Fan Ju (? — 255 BC), courtesy name Fan Shu, used to change his name to Zhang Lu, was one of the most influential strategists during the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC). 

 

From a humiliated criminal to powerful prime minister of the State Qin, Fan Ju used his exceptional talent and insightful decisions. 

 

He alienated king and empress dowager of State Qin, disintegrated the alliance of the other six kingdoms, assisted General Bai Qi won the largest-scale war, and contributed significantly to State Qin’s further expanding.

 

Besides, with him obtaining more power and achievements, Fan Ju avenged every one that had humiliated or offended him, while empowered those who helped him.  

 

His vengeful activities, meanwhile, also influenced the fates of many states and people.

Silver Tiger of the Warring States Period — Shenmu Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Escaping from Humiliation and Lethal Crisis in State Wei

Fan Ju (? — 255 BC), born into an impoverished family. Hence, he had been working for a noble named Xu, wishing that someday Xu could recommend him to the King of State Wei.

Once, when Xu was serving as an emissary to State Qi, however, his follower Fan Ju impressed the King of Qi and got big rewards. 

Fan Ju didn’t take anything, but Xu and many other jealousy officials suspected if Fan Ju sold any valuable info to the King of Qi.

Hence, Wei Qi, prime minister of the State Wei, commanded to beat Fan Ju to death, wrapped him up in a shabby grass mat, threw him to the toilet, and asked people to pee on him. 

Wei Qi wanted to alert everyone to not betray their country, the State Wei. Otherwise, they would end up being humiliated and dead.

Fan Ju faked to be dead during the entire humiliation and survived. 

Afterward, he changed his name to Zhang Lu, escaped and hid in a small village. 

Inlaying Gold and Silver Cart Decoration of State Wei — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Obtaining Power in State Qin

Sometime later, envoy Wang Ji of State Qin was visiting the State Wei. One of his waiters named Zheng was a friend of Fan Ju, who found a good opportunity to recommend Fan Ju.

Soon, Fan Ju sneaked into the hotel in the middle of the night with Zheng’s help, met and impressed Wang Ji, who decided to take him back to Qin. 

Fan Ju hid in Wang’s carriage and successfully arrived at the capital city of State Qin, but never got a chance to meet the king. 

He was treated badly for over a year, with poor food and unpleasant living condition.

But Fan Ju never gave up. 

After careful observation, he wrote an impressive letter to the king of Qin, who finally agreed to meet him. 

As expected, he impressed the king of Qin during that meeting. 

Dragon Shaped Jade Decoration of Warring States Period — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Fan Ju obtained the king’s respect by brilliant analyses of the current situation and the strength and disadvantages of each warring state. 

Ying Ji (325 BC — 251 BC), respected as King Zhaoxiang of Qin, was one of the most extraordinary, ambitious kings of the State Qin. 

Under Fan Ju’s suggestion and assistance, King Zhaoxiang removed power from his mother, also the powerful Queen Dowager Xuan (? — 265); later, four honored noble clans that supported her were all abolished and forced to migrate to remote places.  

After having assisted the king to obtain centralized power, Fan Ju was trusted and nominated as the prime minister of State Qin.

Using his power, Fan Ju nominated and empowered his former friend Zheng and Wang Ji, and gave money and treasure to everyone that had helped him before.

 

Meanwhile, he humiliated his former master Xu in public and forced Wei Qi the prime minister of the State Wei to commit suicide. 

Breaking the Alliance of Six Warring States

After Shang Yang’s great reform made State Qin strong and powerful, the other six kingdoms felt threatened and then allied to fight against the Qin.

This strong alliance brought peace for over a decade, but it was a worrisome threat to King Zhaoxiang of Qin.  

Fan Ju promised the king to tear it up.

He concluded the shortcomings and vulnerabilities of kings and powerful officials of these six states and used them smartly. 

Fan Ju paid tributes to those who were poor and greedy and sent beautiful women to those who were romantic or dissolute.

The extremely smart point, however, was that he only bribed part of people in the alliance, which then led to more internal suspicions and infighting.

Soon, this strong alliance in the history of China became only an empty title. 

Bronze Pliers of the State Qin — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Fan Ju's Successful Diplomatic Policy

Then Fan Ju implemented the principle of “befriending the far and attacking the near” for State Qin. 

Since the alliance of the other six countries was collapsed, Qin successfully built good relationships with far and big kingdoms, while continuously attacking nearby ones.

Afterward, State Qin kept expanding because of its strong and aggressive army, until they were confronted with the State Zhao. 

Commander of State Zhao was Lian Po (327 BC — 243 BC), a famous and talented general with remarkable military achievements. 

Hence, even Qin’s general and army were quite strong and aggressive, Qin and Zhao were at a stalemate for over three years.

This was the largest-scale war of the Warring States Period, the Battle of Changping.

 

Around one million warriors of Qin and Zhao were participated in this war, and two-thirds of them lost their lives there. 

Restored Crossbow of the Warring States Period — Hubei Museum

The Large Scale, Cruel Battle of Changping

Seeing Qin couldn’t win, Fan Ju sent many spies to State Zhao and spread rumors that General Lian Po has been taking Qin’s bribes and didn’t want to organize a big fight, that was why this war had been lasting for years; the only general that Qin’s army would feel threatened was a young one named Zhao Kuo. 

Those spies did a great job, they made the King of Zhao believed all those rumors and replaced great commander Lian Po with the young Zhao Kuo.

After hearing this, Fan Ju sent the young and aggressive general Bai Qi secretly to the battlefield. 

Certificate (Hu Fu) of the King of Qin to Deploy Forces — Shaanxi History Museum

Zhao Kuo was the son of a talented general that had defeated State Qin before. He did hear many stories from his brilliant father, and had read many military books; however, he had zero experiences on real battlefields. 

He led Zhao’s army rashly attacked Qin’s troops, but ended up with a huge failure. Zhao Kuo sacrificed, while more than 400, 000 fine soldiers were killed and buried alive by Qin’s general Bai Qi.

Since then, the former prosperous State Zhao never had a chance to fully recover from this enormous loss until it was finally perished by State Qin decades later. 

Site of the Changping Battlefield, the Place That Bai Qi Led Qin's Troop Besieged Armies of the State Zhao.

Disagreement with and Slander of General Bai Qi

The huge failure of State Zhao in the Battle of Changping shocked everyone. Losing about half a million soldiers in one war was too astonishing. 

General Bai Qi strongly suggested the king continue the fight and to perish the State Zhao when every one of them was in shock and not prepared, but Fan Ju persuaded Qin’s king not to because recovering of agriculture and the economy was more important.  

The King Zhaoxiang of Qin listened to Fan Ju. 

The State Qin did need to recover from such a large-scale war, so did to perish the State Zhao. Hence, it was not easy to know whose suggestion would lead to a better result from a historical perspective. 

However, some rumors saying that Fan Ju took a large amount of money from other states that wanted Qin to stop attacking Zhao. Also, others were regarding Fan Ju didn’t want Bai Qi to obtain more achievement and power. 

Anyway, Bai Qi was upset, and quite angry with Fan Ju, after hearing those rumors.  

Fan Ju was fully aware of Bai Qi’s hatred and military talent. Therefore, Fan Ju found a good opportunity to slander Bai Qi to the King of Qin, who then commanded Bai Qi to commit suicide. 

Bai Qi, one of the most exceptional generals that brought his people countless victories and honors, gained plenty of sympathy from Qin’s civilians.

Unearthed Terre Cotta Warriors of the Qin — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum 

Regret and Departure of Prime Minister Fan Ju

After invincible Bai Qi departed, Qin still needed a marshal to lead its army. 

Hence, Fan Ju’s trusted friend Zheng was trusted to lead the Qin’s army. Ironically, Zheng not only lost the war but also led his army and surrendered to the State Zhao.

 

A few months later, Wang Ji, another official that was empowered and promoted by Fan Ju, was accused of treason and executed.  

The King Zhaoxiang of Qin didn’t blame Fan Ju, and still respected and trusted him. 

But Fan Ju felt frustrated and regretful. So he recommended another statesman to be the prime minister and resigned.

 

Afterward, he lived quietly in seclusion, until he passed away old and sick.

Silver Shoe Sole of Warring States Period — Gansu Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Bai Qi and Fan Ju’s disagreement and departure slowed down Qin’s expansion and gave other kingdoms some time to unite and develop.  

But their efforts set a solid foundation for the State Qin’s hegemony. 

Four years after King Zhaoxiang of Qin passed away, his great-grandson Ying Zheng (259  BC — 210 BC) ascended to the throne, defeated the other six states, and established the unified Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC). 

Jade Goblet Unearthed From Site of Royal Palace (Epang Palace) of the Qin Dynasty — Xi'an Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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