Si Li 1 Asked the King to Abolish the Edict Requiring Foreigners
Li, Si (?-208 BCE)
The officials of the royal family told the King of the State of Qin, "The
immigrants from the other countries are spies. They serve Qin in name and work
only for the kings of their home countries. They strive to sow dissension and
divide the State of Qin into factions. We should expel these immigrants." In a
royal meeting, they passed an edict ordering all immigrants to leave the State
of Qin. Si Li was one who would be banished.
Consequently, Si Li sent a letter to the King of Qin. It said, "I have heard
that the officials in the emperor's court proposed to banish immigrants. I think
it is wrong. In the past King Mu-gong 2 searched for talented people. He
took Yu You 3 from the State of Rong in the west, obtained Xi Bo-li
4 from Wan City in the east, welcomed Jian-shu
5 from the
State of Song, and recruited Bao Pei 6 and Zhi Gong-sun
from the State of Jin. These five wise men were foreigners, but King Mu-gong
appointed them. As a result, Qin annexed twenty other countries and became a
superpower in West China 8. King Xiao-gong
9 adopted the new
code of law proposed by Yang Shang 10 to transform social traditions.
People became diligent and flourished. Our country became wealthy and strong.
Everyone in the State of Qin loved to serve the government. Foreign countries
solicited our friendship and followed our orders. While Yang Shang was the prime
minister, we defeated the army of the State of Chu, and then the army of the
State of Wei. 11 King Hui-wang 12 used Yi Zhang's strategy
13 to seize the lands along the Yellow River, the Luo-he
River and the Yi-he River
14; in the west to
annex the states of Ba and Shu 15; in the north to gain the Upper
State 16; in the south to capture Han-zhong
various minority ethnic people, and control Forts Yan and Ying; and in the east
to hold the strategic point Cheng-gao City 18, which was difficult for the
enemy to attack and would facilitate the conquest of a rich piece of land. Our
status of superpower forced the six other states in China to break their
alliance and come west to serve us. Today we still benefit from Yi Zhang's
legacy. King Zhao-wang 19 gave a court position to Ju Fan
who persuaded the king to depose the prime minister, Duke Rang
banish Duke Hua-yang 22, strengthen the king's authority, prevent
private officials from gaining too much power, conquer other countries like a
silkworm eating mulberry leaves, and lay the foundation for the State of Qin to
unite China. These four kings all relied on foreigners to accomplish great work.
In view of this, how can it be said that immigrants have harmed the State of Qin.
If these kings had refused foreign applicants and had distanced themselves from
talented people, then the State of Qin would not have been able to acquire great
wealth and become a superpower in China.
"Currently you acquire jade produced from Kun Mountain 23, possess
the treasure of He Bian 24 and that of the King of the State of Sui
25, wear a pearl that shines at night, carry the sword called Tai-e
26, ride great horses, erect flags with the green feather of a
phoenix, and make drumheads from the skins of alligators. None of these
treasures is made in the State of Qin. Why do you love them? Suppose you refuse
to use any foreign product. Then the jade that shines at night should not
decorate the court; rhinoceros horns and elephant tusks should not be in your
collections; beautiful foreign women should not fill your harem; great foreign
horses should not be kept in your stable; gold and tin from south of the Yangtze
River should not be used. The paint produced from the west part of the State of
Shu should not color your wall. If the objects that decorate your inner palace
and the women you choose to be your concubines must come from the State of Qin,
then the hairpins with pearls from Wan City 27, the jade attached to
the earrings, the white silken clothes from Dong-a-xian City 28, and other
foreign decorations should not be allowed to appear in your presence. In
addition, the serene, beautiful and graceful foreign girls who please you should
not stand by your side. The indigenous music of the State of Qin consists of
nothing but tapping bottles, drumming pottery containers, playing zithers,
clapping buttocks, and whooping for entertainment. The music of the State of
Zheng, the State of Wei, Sang-jian City and Pu-shang City 29 as well
as Shao 30 and Xiang 31 is foreign. Now you abandon the
drumming of pottery containers and choose the music of the States of Zheng and
Wei, discard the playing of zithers and take up Shao. Why do you act this way?
This is because this type of music entertains you and gives you immediate
pleasure. However, you appoint people in a different manner: You decree that no
matter whether one is talented or not, no matter whether it is right or wrong,
any immigrant should be dismissed and any guest should be banished. Then what you
pay attention to is women, music and jewelry and what you neglect is talented
people. This is not a tactic that can be used to conquer other states and unify
"I have heard, 'A bountiful harvest requires many fields. A country becomes
great when it enjoys a large and diverse population. A strong army is built by
the spirit of each individual soldier.' Consequently, Tai-shan Mountain stands
tall because it welcomes each bit of earth. The sea reaches great depth because
it isn't too snobbish to accept the water from even the smallest rivulet. The
only way that a king can reveal his virtue is to accept all the people who
support him. If a country constantly pursues virtue without being divided into
factions by regions or origins, then the Creator will bless its people. This is the reason why
the Five Emperors 32 and the Three Emperors
invincible. Now you expel your immigrants, who then move to enemy countries and
bolster their economies. You banish your guests, forcing them to serve other
countries. From now on talented people in China will not dare travel westward
and will hesitate to move to the State of Qin. Thus, your edict has the effect
of lending weapons to the enemy and delivering food to robbers.
"Valuable imported objects in the State of Qin are plentiful. There are many
talented people who are not natives of Qin but would like to be loyal to you.
Now you send away your guests to assist your enemy and banish your immigrants to
benefit your foes. Thus, your edict actually weakens the State of Qin and forces
your immigrants to work for new kings who are against you. Under such
circumstances, it will be impossible for the State of Qin to avoid danger."
After the King of Qin read Li's letter, he abolished the edict requiring foreigners to
leave, and reinstated Li's position.
1 Si Li was born in Shang-cai City (north of present day Ru-nan-xian City in Henan Province) of the State of Chu. He was a student of Qing
Xun. After finishing his studies, he went to the State of Qin. Li planned to ask
King Zhuang-xiang-wang for a position, but the king died before he could ask him.
Consequently, he turned to Prime Minister Bu-wei Lü
for work. Thus, Li had the chance to speak with the new king, Zheng, and later
acquired a position from him. After King Zheng unified China and became the
emperor, Li became his prime minister. Li abolished the system of fiefdoms and
established the system of states and cities. In addition, he simplified Chinese
characters and made the width of streets uniform. He clearly stipulated the law
and most of the official code came from his suggestions. His requirement that
all books be written in the same dialect and all carriages have the same width,
greatly facilitate China's later unification. After Emperor Zheng died, his son
succeeded to the throne. Si Li remained prime minister. Later, Gao Zhao brought
a false charge against Li's son by saying that he collaborated with robbers.
Administering the customary punishment, Zhao cut Li in half at the waist in the
capital, Xian-yang City, and killed all his extended family.
2 King Mu-gong of the State of Qin was one of the Five Overlords during the
Spring and Autumn Period.
3 Yu You originally was the State of Rong's ambassador to the State of Qin.
After talking with Yu, King Mu-gong of Qin recognized his talent and wanted to
appoint him. Therefore, King Mu-gong executed a plan to cause distrust between the
King of Rong and Yu. As a result, the King of Rong suspected that Yu secretly
worked for King Mu-gong. Yu responded by switching allegiance to the State of Qin.
4 Xi Bo-li was born in Wan City of the State of Chu. Later, he became an
official of the State of Yu. After King Xian-gong of the State of Jin conquered the
State of Yu, he captured Xi and sent him as a part of the dowry when King Xian-gong's
daughter married King Mu-gong of the State of Qin. Xi considered it shameful to be a
woman's servant, so he escaped to his hometown where he was later kidnapped by a
gang of the State of Chu. King Mu-gong had heard of his talents from his wife, so he
ransomed Xi with a black goat skin. After interviewing Xi, King Mu-gong appointed him
as his prime minister. His seven years as prime minister propelled the State of
Qin to become a superpower in China.
5 After King Mu-gong appointed Xi Bo-li as his prime minister, Xi told the King,
"I am not as talented as my friend, Jian-shu. He is clever, but people fail to
recognize his talents." Consequently, King Mu-gong sent for Jian-shu and offered him
a high-ranking position.
6 Bao Pei was the son of Zheng Pei. After King Hui-gong of the State of Jin killed
Zheng, Bao fled to the State of Qin.
7 Zhi Gong-sun was originally an official of
the State of Qin. When the State of
Jin suffered a severe drought, he suggested that King Mu-gong send food to them.
Later, he moved to the State of Jin for a short time and then returned to Qin.
8 Annotations of Chinese History, written by Zhen Si-ma during the Tang dynasty, mentions many important events that occurred in
the State of Qin. One section says, "King Mu-gong adopted Yu You's plan to attack the
King of the State of Rong, captured the twelve small countries that comprised
Rong, gained twenty thousand square miles of land, and became a superpower in West
China." Here the annexation of twenty countries refers to the total
contributions of the five wise men.
9 King Xiao-gong of the State of Qin was the son of King Xian-gong
and a descendent of King Mu-gong to the fifteenth generation.
10 Yang Shang was born in the State of Wei in the Warring States Period. He
was also known as Yang Wei. While he was King Xiao-gong's prime minister, he reformed
political systems, taxes, and social traditions. Later, he was offered the title
of duke and the land of Shang.
11 In 352 BCE, Yang Shang of the State of Qin led troops to besiege An-yi City of the State of Wei. The commander of Wei surrendered. In 340 BCE, Yang
invaded the State of Chu in the south, then attacked the State of Wei again, and
captured Prince Ang of Wei. The State of Wei offered the land west of the Yellow
River in exchange for peace.
12 King Hui-wang was the son of King Xiao-gong.
13 Yi Zhang was born in the State of Wei. Later, he moved to the State of Qin
and became King Hui-wang's prime minister. He persuaded the six other states in China
to break their alliance established by Qin Su, the prime minister of the State
of Zhao, and to serve the State of Qin.
14 Today these lands along the Yellow River, the Luo-he River, and
the Yi-he River are on both sides of
the Yellow River in Henan Province.
15 Today the land of the State of Ba is the east part of Sichuan Province. In
316 BCE, the State of Qin captured the State of Shu, which is located in the
middle part of Sichuan Province today.
16 Today the land of the Upper State is the northwest part of Shaanxi
Province and the Autonomous Region of Nei Monggu.
17 The State of Qin established Han-zhong as a state. Today the land of this
state is the southeast part of Shaanxi Province and the northwest part of Hubei
18 Cheng-gao City was also called Hu-lao (tiger trap) City.
19 King Zhao-wang was the son of King Hui-wang.
20 Ju Fan was born in the State of Wei in the Warring States Period. Later he
moved to the State of Qin and became King Zhao-wang's prime minister.
21 Duke Rang was the step-brother of Queen Mother Xuan, the mother of King Zhao-wang. He
was originally the prime minister and held absolute power. Fan persuaded the
king to depose him.
22 Duke Hua-yang was the brother of Queen Mother Xuan, the mother of King Zhao-wang. He
allied himself with Duke Rang. Fan asked the king to banish him north of the
23 Kun Mountain was located fifty-seven miles northeast of the State of Yu-tian.
24 He Bian of the State of Chu acquired a jade stone from Jing-shan Mountain. Bian
presented it to King Li-wang, but the king thought he was a swindler and cut off his
left leg. When King Wu-wang inherited the throne, Bian presented the stone to him
also. King Wu considered him a swindler too and cut off his right leg. When Wen-wang
became the king, Bian held the stone close and cried at the foot of Jing-shan
Mountain. King Wen sent some people to ask him why he cried. Bian replied, "I do
not feel sorry for my severe sentences. I am sad only because a valuable jade is
considered a worthless stone and a loyal person is considered a swindler."
Consequently, the king ordered a jeweler to work on the stone. As Bian had
predicted, the jeweler found jade inside the stone.
25 Sui was a small country east of the Han River. The Man from the South
of the Huai River says, "After the King of Sui found a wounded serpent, he
applied some medicine to its wound. Later, the serpent dove to the bottom of a
mighty river and returned with a pearl in its mouth to repay the king's
26 The King of the State of Chu summoned Qu-ye and Gan-jiang to make three
swords. Two of them were called Tai-e.
27 Wan City produced pearl and jade. Today Wan City is Nan-yang City.
28 Dong-a-xian City was in the State of Qi.
29 The chapter about music in The Book of Rites says,
"The music of
the States of Zheng and Wei was the type of music which could throw a nation
into chaos; the music of Sang-jian City and Pu-shang City was the type of music
which could destroy a nation." Sang-jian City and Pu-shang City were cities of
the State of Wei.
30 Shao was a style of music during Emperor Shun's reign in the Yu dynasty.
31 Xiang was a style of music during Emperor Wu-wang's reign in the Zhou dynasty.
32 Emperors Huang-di, Zhuan-xu, Di-ku, Tang-yao and Yü-shun.
33 Emperor Yu of the Xia dynasty, Emperor Tang of the Shang dynasty, and
Emperor Wu-wang of the Zhou dynasty.