Wang Jian — General of Unification and Politician of Wisdom

Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 BC — 210 BC), one of the greatest monarchs, defeated the other six kingdoms of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC) and established the first unified feudal empire in Chinese history, the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC).

 

During that epic era, Wang Jian played quite an influential role.

 

Besides being respected as the master by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, among those six kingdoms that had perished by Qin, five of them were eliminated by General Wang Jian and his son Wang Ben. 

 

After having assisted his emperor achieved unparalleled success, however, he gave up all power and quietly disappeared from history.

 

He was an exceptional militarist, a sly strategist, a wise politician, an excellent psychologist, a great friend, and an insightful person. 

Figurine of the Highest Rank General Among Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Unearthed Terracotta Warriors

Sculpture of the Highest Rank General Among Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Unearthed Terracotta Army — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Early Life in the Army

Wang Jian was a descendant of a royal family member of the Zhou Dynasty; but when he was born, his family had already moved to State Qin and lived as normal civilians. 

After joining the army of Qin, he was highly appreciated and quickly promoted by the current general Bai Qi

Great Marshal Bai Qi once told others that if he didn’t lead Qin’s armies to unify the whole of the nation, then Wang would be the only one who was able to accomplish that.

After Bai Qi had displeased the current King of Qin and committed suicide, Wang also was demoted to an ordinary officer.

Bronze Arrow Bolts of the Qin Dynasty

Bronze Arrow Bolts of the Qin — Shaanxi Museum (Photo by Professor Gary Lee Todd)

Assisting King of Qin and Powerful Minister

When King Ying Zheng (the future Qin Shi Huang) ascended to the throne, he was only 12. Many other forces were competing over the actual authority of Qin when Ying Zheng tried to make friends of his age.  

During that period, teenage king Ying Zheng met young officer Wang Jian.

 

Since then, he had been the king’s brave guard, intelligent teacher, loyal general, and, maybe, a great friend.

When a coup against the king was initiated, Wang successfully defeated the king's political enemies and assisted him gained centralized power.

Besides being a brave general, he was also a smart politician, who designed a perfect scheme that helped prime minister Fan Ju successfully finish vengeance.

Since then, he had gained the trust and full support of both the king and the powerful prime minister of the State Qin.

When King Ying Zheng retrieved all power and started his wars of unification, he nominated his trusted master Wang Jian as the chief commander of Qin’s army.

Unearthed Sword of the Qin Dynasty
Unearthed Armour of the Qin Dynasty

Unearthed Sword and Armor of the Qin Dynasty — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum

Intense War against Great General Li Mu of the State Zhao

After Qin had perished the State Han, Wang Jian led Qin's army and planned to defeat the State Zhao, where he encountered another outstanding general named Li Mu (? — 229 BC).  

The State Zhao was a powerful kingdom in the east; after General Bai Qi massacred 450,000 of their fine soldiers, the people of Zhao hold great hatred toward Qin. Hence, Zhao's soldiers were highly consolidated and aggressive and had been fighting bravely on the battlefield.

Moreover, Zhao’s commander Li Mu was another extraordinary marshal in the Warring States Period.

Li Mu, a marshal who had never failed before, was the first general that had led an infantry army and annihilated the same scale cavalry troop of the Xiongnu (or the Huns).

The State Zhao had lost such a great deal of soldiers before, however, thanks to Li Mu, it was still well defended and stayed strong, even kept expanding.  

Consequently, Wang Jian and Li Mu, two extraordinary, invincible commanders leading two strong troops, were at a stalemate for over a year, and no one could achieve an effective success.

Even after the State Zhao had encountered a big earthquake that made Li Mu’s army lack many resources, they were still in a deadlock.

Unearthed Chariot Sculpture of Terracotta Army

Unearthed Chariot Sculpture of Terracotta Army — Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum

Stratagem that Perished the State Zhao

Then, Wang Jian wrote a letter to Li Mu and pretended to ask for a truce. Li Mu believed him and started to negotiate the armistice.

At the same time, he bribed other officials of the State Zhao and gave them some of the letters that Li Mu wrote him, saying that Li Mu was planning to surrender to Qin.

The King of Zhao believed in the conspiracy and had the loyal and remarkable general Li Mu assassinated. 

Great marshal Li Mu, who dedicated his entire life to protecting his country, and had never failed at war before, in the end, was pathetically murdered by his own people. 

Then, another ordinary commander was assigned to lead Zhao’s army. 

As expected, no matter how brave and strong Zhao’s soldiers had been fighting, without the outstanding commander Li Mu, they collapsed very soon.

Within the next few months, Wang Jian led the Qin’s army and defeated Zhao’s main troops, occupied their capital city, captured the King of Zhao, and perished his kingdom.

This former powerful empire was destroyed, by its fatuous monarch and the resourceful marshal of Qin. 

Ruins of Former Prosperous Capital City of the State Zhao

Ruins of Former Prosperous Capital City of the State Zhao — Handan of Hebei Province

The Fall of State Yan

Seeing the former strong State Zhao having perished, the State Yan, another kingdom nearby felt threatened. Hence, their crown prince sent some assassins to Qin. 

One of them named Jing Ke had almost succeeded; he had a close fight with King Ying Zheng but was captured later.

Ying Zheng was furious and used this as an excuse to attack this country. 

Wang Jian led Qin’s troops, and successfully occupied almost all of State Yan’s land, but its king escaped northward far away.

Later, his son Wang Ben, another excellent general, captured the King of Yan and completely perished this empire. 

In a few years, Wang Ben, as the chief commander, also wiped out State Wei (in 225 BC) and State Qi (in 221 BC). 

Bronze Food Container (Gui) of A Princess of the Yan State

Bronze Food Container (Gui) of A Princess of the State Yan — Shanxi Shanxi Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Political and Psychological Preparations of Conquering Chu

Soon, Qin already expanded the territory to most of the cultivated places in the north. 

There was only one huge and powerful kingdom in the south named the Chu, which had been a difficult obstacle to Qin’s unification. 

When King Ying Zheng started planning the annexation war against the strong State Chu in the south, a young general proposed that he could accomplish this mission with only 200, 000 soldiers, while Wang Jian confirmed that he needed at least 600, 000.

Then, Ying Zheng chose the young general as the commander to fight against the Chu and approved Wang's retirement.

But this war ended up as the biggest failure that Ying Zheng had ever encountered after he ascended the throne.

He realized that Wang Jian had been always right in military judgments, and was the only one who could help him defeat the State Chu.

So the king came to Wang's home in person, apologized and begged him to lead the Qin’s army, and promised him a strong army with 600, 000 fine soldiers.

At that time, these 600, 000 soldiers were almost the entire armies of the State Qin. This would be huge gambling for the King of Qin. 

An invincible marshal leading a country's all soldiers marching toward another kingdom maybe would last for years, it could be quite suspicious and worrisome for a king.

Hence, before Wang Jian set off to the Chu, he had pleaded several times, to make the king promise him lots of farmlands and money. 

He did this to show the king that he was only interested in being wealthy and having a happy life with his family, instead of any political or military power at all.  

Gold Currency (Ying Yuan) of the State Chu

Gold Currency (Ying Yuan) of the State Chu — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Long-term Decisive Battle Against the State Chu

Based on careful analysis of the commander and the complicated geological condition of the State Chu, Wang Jian adjusted the arrangement of his army and made another perfect military plan.

To avoid being ambushed by the Chu’s army in such an unfamiliar, huge kingdom, he commanded his army to build a strong base and stayed here for over a year. 

This behavior confused but attracted most of Chu’s armies to march forward, and to station right in front of Qin's military base. 

When Chu’s army loosened their guards and tried to relocate, Wang Jian led his 600, 000 soldiers, and ferociously attacked Chu’s army out of a sudden, which perished almost Chu’s entire main force.

Then, he divided his troop into two armies to chase and kill the rest of the Chu’s forces, separately.

Finally, they occupied the Chu’s capital and perished this powerful kingdom.

A Letter for Family Written by A Common Soldier in Wang Jian's Army, During the War Against the State Chu

A Letter for Family Written by A Common Soldier in Wang Jian's Army, During the War Against the State Chu. This Soldier Named Hei Fu Greeted to His Family, and Described this War — Hubei Museum 

Retiring After Tremendous Success and Leaving the Unified Qin Dynasty and Power

 

In the year 221 BC, King Ying Zheng established the first united feudal imperial regime, the Qin Dynasty, and claimed himself the first emperor, the Qin Shi Huang Di, in the history of China.

Since Wang Jian and his son Wang Ben led Qin’s army and defeated five kingdoms and unified the whole of the nation, they had been given countless rewards, noble titles, and political power.

However, after the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, they immediately resigned from their political and military positions.  

He and his family left the powerful Emperor Qin Shi Huang, whom he had served for decades, gave up their political power, and lived in seclusion.

Wang Jian also forbade his descendants to join the military anymore, because he believed that he and his son had already taken away many people’s lives on the battlefields, and this should not become a family tradition.

There were no records regarding him or his son’s retirement life, where they ended up, or when he was born and departed. 

But with his exceptional intelligence, we could assume that they had quite a happy, wealthy, and light-hearted life.

General Wang Jian's Retired Life