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, five of the six kingdoms that had perished by Qin were eliminated by General Wang Jian and his son Wang Ben.
After assisting his emperor in achieving unparalleled success, 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.
Early Life in the Army
Wang Jian was a descendant of a royal family member of the Zhou Dynasty; however, when he was born, his family had already moved to State Qin and lived as ordinary 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 Jian also was demoted to an ordinary officer.
Bronze Gear of the Warring States Period —Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Assisting the 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 an intelligent politician who designed a perfect scheme that helped prime minister Fan Ju finish his vengeance.
Until then, he gained the trust and full support of 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 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 held 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 of the Warring States Period.
Jade Mythical Animal of the Warring States — The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Li Mu, a marshal who had never failed before, was the first general to lead an infantry army and annihilated the same-scale cavalry troop of the Xiongnu (or the Huns).
Though the State Zhao had lost a great deal of soldiers before, thanks to Li Mu, it was still well-defended and stayed strong, even 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 effective success.
Even after the State Zhao had encountered a giant earthquake that made Li Mu’s army lack many resources, they were still in a deadlock.
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 assassinated the loyal and remarkable general Li Mu.
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 people.
Bronze Arrow Bolts of the Qin — Shaanxi Museum (Photo by Professor Gary Lee Todd)
Then, another ordinary commander was assigned to lead Zhao’s army.
As expected, no matter how brave Zhao’s soldiers were fighting, they collapsed very soon without the outstanding commander Li Mu.
Within the next few months, Wang Jian led the Qin army, 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 — Handan of Hebei Province
The Fall of State Yan
Seeing the former strong State Zhao have perished, the State Yan, another kingdom nearby, felt threatened. Hence, their crown prince sent some assassins to Qin.
One of them, 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 lands, but its king escaped northward far away.
Later, his son Wang Ben, another excellent general, captured the King of Yan and altogether 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 State Yan — Shanxi Shanxi Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Political and Psychological Preparations of Conquering Chu
Soon, Qin expanded the territory to almost all the cultivated places in the north.
Only one vast and powerful kingdom in the south named the Chu 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 as the biggest failure Ying Zheng had ever encountered after ascending the throne.
Gold Currency (Ying Yuan) of the State Chu — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
The king realized that Wang Jian had always been right in military judgments and was the only one who could help him defeat the State Chu.
So he came to Wang's home in person, apologized, begged him to lead the Qin's army, and promised him a strong military with 600,000 fine soldiers.
At that time, these 600,000 soldiers were almost the entire army 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 probably for years could be 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.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Certificate (Hu Fu) to Deploy Forces Garrisoned in Yangling — National Museum of China
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 there 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 suddenly, which perished almost Chu's entire main force.
Then, he divided his troop into two armies to simultaneously chase and kill the rest of the Chu's forces.
Finally, they occupied the Chu's capital and conquered this powerful kingdom.
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
Since Wang Jian and his son Wang Ben led Qin’s army, defeated five kingdoms, and unified the nation, they were 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.
Ritual Jade Artifact (Huang) with Double Dragon Heads — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Wang Jian and his family left the powerful Emperor Qin Shi Huang, whom he had served for decades, gave up their power, and lived in seclusion.
Wang Jian also forbade his descendants from joining the military anymore because he believed that he and his son had already taken away many people’s lives on the battlefields. This should not become a family tradition.
There were no records regarding his or his son’s retirement lives, where they ended up, or when he was born and departed.
But with his exceptional intelligence, we could assume they had quite a happy, wealthy, and light-hearted life.
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