Wu Qi -- General with Great Achievements and Controversial Reputation

Wu Qi (440 B. C. — 381 B. C.) was one of the brightest and most controversial people in the Warring State Period in the history of China.


He was an ever-victorious general, an aggressive reformist, and an ambitious politician; however, he had been widely criticized for his unkindness and infidelity. 


Rich Guy with Strong Political Ambition 

Wu Qi was born into a rich family, but in ancient Chinese culture, businessmen obtained low social status at that time.


After he has grown up, he spent almost all of his family’s money trying to get a political position, but he was fooled by some people who took his money and didn’t get him anything he expected. Wu Qi got angry and killed around 30 people who abused or laughed at him.


He told his mother that he wouldn’t come back unless he became a powerful minister; then he left his hometown and went to study Confucianism at Kingdom Lu, the hometown of Confucius.    


Soon his teacher cut him off from Confucianism studying, since Wu Qi didn’t go home when his mother passed away, and respecting parents is an important aspect of Confucianism of Chinese culture.


A Wife Killer and An Exceptional General for the Kingdom Lu 

Then Wu started to learn the military strategy and finally got a position in an army.


When another kingdom was invading Lu, Wu thought it was a great opportunity to realize his dream; but he never gained trust from the king of Lu because Wu’s wife was from the invasive kingdom.


To become a powerful commander in the army and eliminate the king’s distrust, Wu killed his wife. 


Then he finally became a general of Lu’s army; he led his soldiers successfully defeated the invasive troop. But soon king of Lu was told about Wu’s former crimes of killing about 30 people, plus his murdering of his wife, the king expelled Wu from this kingdom. 

Wu Qi's Military Achievement in the Kingdom Wei


Soon, Wu came to the kingdom of Wei, after hearing its king was trying to hire intelligent people and expand territory. Wu impressed the king of Wei and exhibited his exceptional talent in politics and military.


As the most powerful general, Wu was quite humble and thoughtful; he ate normal food and rest on the field with his ordinary soldiers, always took care of them, and never treated himself differently.


Once, he even risked his own life to save an ordinary soldier. Though he was not a good son and husband, he indeed was a great and caring marshal. 


When kingdom Qin with 500, 000 soldiers were attacking kingdom Wei, Wu didn’t panic or try to sue for peace. Instead, he led 50, 000 infantrymen and 3000 cavalrymen, successfully defeated the powerful Qin’s troop.


This was a very famous battle in the history of China that used the few to defeat the many, which extensively influenced the political structure of kingdoms at the beginning of the Warring State Period.


When Wu Qi was in kingdom Wei, other nearby empires never dared to invade Wei again; instead, Wei successfully extended the territory because of Wu Qi. 

Wu Qi's New Journey and Great Reform in the Kingdom Chu

When Wu was almost 60 years old, the king of Wei passed away; the new king didn’t nominate Wu as the most powerful minister, despite his exceptional contribution.


Wu Qi was quite depressed and realized the new king didn’t trust him enough, so he left the kingdom he had protected and prospered, and came to the Kingdom Chu, whose king highly respected and valued him. 


Wu was nominated as the most powerful minister and then applied an unprecedented reform in the history of China, after which the Kingdom Chu became very powerful and kept expanding.


This successful reform that regulated that noble titles and lands could only be inherited for three generations, however, severely jeopardized nearly all the nobles’ benefits.


Besides Wu put an end to the aristocratic hereditary system and most of their privileges, he also persuaded his king to command many nobles to migrate to remote areas and had large numbers of virgin lands opened up. 


After his reform achieved great success and made the Kingdom Chu strong and rich, Wu immediately led armies that he trained to attack nearby regimes.


He kept winning and largely expanded Chu’s territory, and made the Chu the strongest and biggest kingdom in China at that time. 


Assassination and Vengeance of Wu Qi

However, the supportive king of Chu departed and his first son inherited the throne soon, and the new king didn’t support Wu. Consequently, Wu’s great reform was forced to abate after only five years of implementation.


After seeing him lost power, many nobles started to seek for revenge and shot lots of arrows at Wu. The great reformer and marshal Wu Qi was assassinated, next to the late supportive king’s body.


Surprisingly, before Wu passed away, he pulled out one arrow and inserted it into the late king’s body, saying those nobles were inciting a rebel and trying to seek vengeance from the dead king.


Therefore, the new king sentenced those over 70 clans of rebel nobles to death.


Wu finished his vengeance right before his death and made large numbers of Chu’s nobles buried with him. 


Achievements and Flaws of Wu Qi

Wu Qi was widely criticized for his disrespectful behavior to his mother and murdering of his wife in exchange for political ambition, sometimes also include wars and slaughters that he was responsible for.

He was extremely obsessed with power and had tried everything to gain and realize his political dreams. His flaws, indeed, were quite obvious and critical. In many people’s opinions, he was not a good person.


On the other side, he was intelligent and insightful, as a reformist and a commander who made great changes; his accomplishments were even more glorious in the history of China.


Wherever he was serving, the kingdom was safe and powerful. Among 72 big wars he participated in his entire life, he won 62, tied 10, and had never lost.


Wu Qi also wrote a book that was equally important as the Art of War; in his book, he presented his ideas of harmonizing the benevolence and training of the army. He believed that cultivation, education, and morals were all as important as the military power and expansion of the territory. 

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