Su Attempted to Persuade the King of Ch'in to Adopt the Strategy of the East-West Alliance 1

Strategies During the Warring States Period   (403 B.C-221 B.C.)

    At first, Su persuaded King Hui of Country Ch'in to adopt his specific plan for pursuing the East-West Alliance. He said, "Your country has the wealth and transport facilities of Shu in the west; furry raccoons and great horses in the north; Wu Mountain and Plateau Ch'ien as natural barriers in the south; and Yao Mountain and the deep Han Valley for strong defense in the east. The farmlands are rich; people are wealthy. Your army has 10,000 chariots and one million soldiers. The expanse of rich fields, overflowing storage facilities, and topographical advantages made your country a natural warehouse and a strong power in China. With your wisdom, multitude of people and soldiers, large number of horses and chariots, and profound knowledge of war strategy, you can easily defeat other countries in China and become the emperor. If you want to know how, I will provide you with the details."

    The King of Ch'in said, "I have heard, 'A bird should not fly high when its plumage is not fully developed. Judges should not punish people when the law contains loopholes. Those who fail to follow moral codes should not govern people. If a king's policy and teachings do not comply with the wishes of the people, he is not entitled to command his officials.' Now you come from a distance to teach me in a solemn and respectful manner. I prefer that you advise me at a different time when I am more prepared to lead."

    Su said, "I expected that you would not accept my proposal. In the past, the Heavenly King of Agriculture attacked Country B, Emperor Huang captured rebel General Ch'ih at City Cho, Emperor Yao attacked evil General Huan, Emperor Shun expelled three Miao 2 tribes, Emperor Yu attacked evil General Kung, Emperor T'ang attacked Country Hsia, Emperor Wen attacked evil General Ch'ung, Emperor Wu defeated tyrannical Emperor Chou, and most recently King Huan made Country Chyi a superpower by winning many wars. China's history shows that one cannot acquire or sustain his emperorship without declaring wars against his enemies. In ancient China, the envoys of various countries were so many and coming and going so often that the flying wheels of their carriages bumped against one another. Thus, China was united in peace by extensive communications and negotiations. Sometimes this group of countries made allies; sometimes that group of countries made allies. However, war could not be avoided. Politicians aggravated complicated situations and caused the kings to become puzzled. Thus, all kinds of problems arose and most of them were left unsolved. The more complete the laws were, the more hypocritically the people acted. As scholars proposed more diverse philosophies, people felt less and less satisfied . When a king and his officials blamed each other, common people were left with no one to rely on. More debates based on moral principles resulted in more wars. The more argumentative scholars became, the less likely it became that the war would stop. A fancy political theory alone would not lead a nation to peace. One who spoke until his tongue got tired and his audience became deaf might not succeed. A nation would not become peaceful simply by teaching people to perform good deeds. Consequently, emperors recruited soldiers rather than scholars and offered them a high salary. They also made armor and sharpened bladed weapons in order to win victories in a battlefield. The idea of reaping without sowing, or expanding the territory without using force is only a dream. Even wise emperors or kings like the Five Ancient Emperors 3, the Three Kings 4, and the Five Great Warlords 5 were not able to do this. Therefore, they solved their problems with war. When there was room between them, two armies attacked each other with careful deployment. In a close fight, their lances fiercely collided with one another. Only with such a vision could a king accomplish great work. Thus, a great king will win victories over foreign enemies and strengthen virtue inside his nation. After his royal authority is established, people will naturally follow his leadership. Now you want to defeat strong countries, conquer enemies, unify China, and have people and officials obey your orders. All these things require military force. Those who inherit the throne from their ancestors often neglect the importance of military affairs. They do not understand true leadership in politics. Various philosophies confuse them, and they drown in the argument and rhetoric of their officials. In view of this, it is natural that you reject my proposal."

    Although Su wrote ten follow-up letters to the King of Ch'in, the king did not adopt his proposal. During his long stay in Country Ch'in, his marten coat wore out. His ten pounds of gold was used up. Due to lack of funds, he left Country Ch'in and returned home. He wore puttees and straw shoes. He carried a satchel on his back and his baggage attached to a pole rested on his shoulder. He looked pale, haggard and ashamed. When he entered his house, his wife did not arise from her loom to welcome him back. His sister-in-law did not cook for him. His parents did not want to talk to him. Su lamented, "My wife does not treat me as her husband. My sister-in-law does not treat me as her brother-in-law. My parents do not treat me as their son. I am to blame for this mistreatment."

    On the night he returned home, he rummaged through all fifty of his book boxes and found a classic of Taoism written by Prime Minister Jiang. Then he sat at a table and studied the strategies in the book. After mastering a chapter, he summarized it and applied his findings to contemporary politics. When he got tired, he stabbed his buttocks with a awl. The blood ran down to his foot. He said to himself, "If I continue to study this hard, I will soon be able to convince a king of my talent. I will surely become a prime minister."

    After a year, he completed his study. He said to himself, "Based on my knowledge of politics, I can persuade any king in China to offer me a high-ranking position." Then he traveled through Country Yen, right past the court's watch tower with its many ravens. He went on to Country Zhao and met the king of Zhao in his palace. Su was eloquent and animated during the interview. The king was impressed by his ideas, so he offered Su the title of Duke and appointed him as his prime minister. He also gave Su 100 chariots, 1000 bolts of colorful silk, 100 coupled jade pieces, and 100 pounds of gold. The king arranged these gifts to follow Su wherever he went. Backed by the King of Zhao, Su executed his plan and united the six of the countries in China to oppose the seventh, Country Ch'in which was very strong. While Su was the Prime Minister of Country Zhao, all the check points of the six countries would not allow the officials of Country Ch'in to pass. During this time, the size of a country's territory, the number of people in each country, the prestige of kings, and the power of important officials were all determined by Su's policies. Su was able to make the six countries more intimate than brothers without hiring additional troops, sending soldiers to battle, damage any bow strings, or breaking any arrows. When a wise man is in power, people obey him. Only one talented individual need be appointed because all the people in China will follow him. Consequently, there is a saying, "To make a country powerful, it is unnecessary to send troops to attack neighboring countries. It is more important to have well-planned policies in the king’s court." When Su was at the peak of his career, his entourage, a long procession of horses and carriages, illuminated the streets. All the six countries, east of Mountain Yao, admired and followed him. This alliance greatly increased the importance of Country Zhao in China.

    Su was nothing but a scholar who lived in a poor neighborhood, dug a hole from a wall for his door, and used a crooked mulberry tree as his door jamb 6. After completing his studies, he rode a carriage and traveled across China to persuade the kings to accept his proposal. Su was so confident and eloquent in debates that no one in any king's court was able to defeat him.

    Su was about to pass his hometown, Lo-Yang, on his way to persuade the King of Country Chu. After his parents heard this news, they quickly cleaned their house and swept the neighboring streets. They hired a music band and held a party three miles from the city to welcome him. Su's wife did not dare to face him when Su spoke to her. His sister-in-law crawled on the ground like a snake when she approached him. She fell to her knees four times to beg for his forgiveness. Su asked his sister-in-law, "Why were you so proud before but so humble now?" She replied, "This is because you are now powerful and wealthy." Su said, "Well, if one is poor, his parents disown him. If one is wealthy and powerful, even his relatives fear him. How can one ignore wealth and power while living in this world?"

1 During the Warring States Period, there were seven countries in China. Ch'in was the strongest one. Strategists were divided into two groups. One group advocated uniting eastern and western China (six countries) under the sovereignty of country Ch'in. The strategy was called the East-West alliance. The other group advocated uniting northern and southern China (six countries) to resist Ch'in. The strategy was called the North-South Alliance.

2 Miao tribes are one of the minority tribes in China.

3 Emperors Huang, Juan-Shiuh, Kuh, Yao, and Shun.

4 Emperor Yu of the Hsia dynasty, Emperor T'ang of the Shang dynasty, and Emperor Wu of the Chou dynasty.

5 During the Spring and Fall Period: King Huan of Country Chyi, King Wen of Country Chin, King Mu of Country Ch'in, King Chuang of Country Ch'u, and King Hsiang of Country Sung.

6 A door jamb should be made of straight wood. The last phrase emphasizes his extreme poverty.