Ji Zou Suggested That the King of Qi Accept Advice 1

Strategies During the Warring States Period 2 (403-221 BCE)

    Prime Minister Zou was six feet one inch tall. His shape and face were fair. One day he dressed up, put on his hat, looked in the mirror and asked his wife, "
Compare me with Mr. Xu from the north part of town. Who is more handsome?" His wife replied, "You are much more handsome than Mr. Xu. How can Mr. Xu compete with you?"

    Mr. Xu from the north part of town was the most handsome man in the State of Qi at that time. Zou did not believe his wife's words. So he then asked his concubine, "Who is more handsome, Mr. Xu or I?" His concubine answered, "It is impossible for Mr. Xu to compete with you."

    The next day a guest came, sat down, and conversed with Zou. Zou asked his guest, "Who is more handsome, Mr. Xu or I?" The guest replied, "Mr. Xu is not as handsome as you."

    The day after that, Mr. Xu came to see Zou. Zou watched him continuously and felt that he was not as handsome as Mr. Xu. When he looked into the mirror, he found that he was much less handsome than Mr. Xu. When he lay on his bed that evening, he thought, "My wife said that I was handsome because she is partial to me. My concubine said that I was handsome because she is afraid of me. My guest said that I was handsome because he wanted to ask a favor of me."

    Consequently, next morning he went to see King Wei-wang of Qi. Zou told the king, "In truth, I understand that I am not as handsome as Mr. Xu. However, my wife is partial to me; my concubine is afraid of me; my guest wanted to ask a favor of me. Therefore, they all said that I was more handsome than Mr. Xu. Now there are 50,000 square miles of land and 120 cities in the State of Qi. Your wives and eunuchs are all partial to you. The officials in your court are all afraid of you. The people in the entire State of Qi all want to ask favors of you. In view of this, you can hardly listen to any truth."

    The king said, "You are absolutely right." Therefore, he decreed, "Anyone who points out my faults in front of me will receive a large prize. Anyone who writes to me and criticizes my mistakes will receive a medium prize. If I hear someone criticize my policy in public, I will give him a small prize."

    When the decree first went into effect, the officials who came to the king's court to give advice numbered as many as the people in a market. After a few months, there were many fewer people coming to give advice than before. After a year, those who wanted to receive prizes by giving advice found that they had nothing to say. After the kings of the States of Yan, Zhao, Han, and Wei heard this event, they all sent envoys to pay homage to King Wei-wang of Qi. This victory was won in the king’s court rather than on a battlefield.


1 Many people believe that if one destroys others, he will automatically become the winner. In fact, this strategy cannot lead him anywhere. The above story tells us, "A real victory is won by changing an enemy's heart rather than by force. A true winner is the one who fights against his drawbacks and fights for his ideals."

2 Strategies During the Warring States Period is a collection of 33 essays written between 403 BCE and 221 BCE by several authors. Xiang Liu (77-6 BCE) compiled these essays into a book. Later Gong Zeng (1019-1083) revised it. Most people during the Warring States Period did not care about loyalty or morality. They only worked for personal gain. Scholars went to each country to persuade the king to offer them positions. Therefore, strategists were very active during this period. Various schools of Chinese philosophy grew and bloomed like flowers in spring. The competition made every scholar eloquent. During a critical conversation, a quick and proper response may have prevented a country from suffering the disasters of war. The honed wits of these strategists created the characteristic of contemporary philosophy: They skillfully used favors and threats as their diplomatic means; their analyses were interesting and to the point; their arguments were lively and convincing. It is said that Chinese philosophy was most productive during the Warring States Period. Actually, Strategies During the Warring States Period greatly influenced many Chinese writers' approaches to literature.