Cuo Si-ma Argued for Attacking the State of Shu

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

    Cuo Si-ma argued with Yi Zhang in front of King Hui of the State of Qin. Si-ma wanted to attack the State of Shu. Zhang said, "Attacking Shu is not as good as attacking the State of Han." The king said, "I would like to hear both of you explain your reasoning."

    Zhang responded, "We should befriend the States of Wei and Chu, and then send an army to occupy the region along the Three Rivers, block the entrance of Mountains Huan-yuan and Gou-shi, and set checkpoints on the road to Chun-liu City. We should then have Wei blockade Nan-yang City, and Chu send an army to Nan-zeng City. Our own army should attack Cities Xin-cheng and Yi-yang in order to reach the suburbs of Eastern Zhou and Western Zhou. Then we can denounce the Emperor of the Zhou dynasty and invade the lands of Chu and Wei. The emperor will know that he does not have enough military strength to fight against us, and hand over his governing symbol, the Jiu-ding 1. According to imperial court documents, once we have the Jiu-ding, we will be able to coerce the emperor and exercise power over all the other kings in China. Then all these kings dare not disobey. This plan would be the work of a great king. Now Shu is a remote and undeveloped country, and the leader of barbaric nations. If we attack Shu, it will tire our soldiers and people. The small gain in our reputation is not worth the cost. Furthermore, it is not profitable to capture their land. It is said, 'One must go to the capital city to compete for emperorship and go to a market to compete for profit.' The Three Rivers are the food market and the palace is the seat of government of our world. Si-ma suggested that your Majesty not compete with other kings in China, but compete with barbaric tribes instead. If you follow his advice, then your approach will be far from the goal of great kings."

    Si-ma said, "I do not agree with Zhang. It is said, 'A king who wants to enrich his country must expand its land; who wants to strengthen his army must enrich his people; who wishes to be an emperor must broaden his virtue. Once a king has met these three conditions, the emperorship will follow.' Now our land is small and our people are poor. Therefore, I would like to suggest that we start with an easy goal. Shu, a remote western country and the leader of the barbaric nations, is now ruled by a king who is as debauched as Jie and Zhou 2. If we attack it, we would be like jackals and wolves scattering a flock of sheep. Capturing their land is sufficient for expanding our territory. Acquiring their wealth is sufficient for enriching our people. Simply mobilizing our troops without wounding crowds will cause Shu to surrender. Therefore, our conquest of Shu will not make the world think of us as a bully. Confiscating the wealth of Shu will not make the other kings in China consider us greedy. This single act will boost our reputation and make us more prosperous. Furthermore, we will be praised for overthrowing tyranny and bringing order to chaos. If we were to attack Han and coerce the emperor, we would become infamous. This action would be illegal and would not necessarily benefit us. It would be dangerous to attack an emperor who all the other kings in China respect. Let me explain why. Zhou symbolizes the central government recognized by all the people in China. The State of Han is Zhou's ally. If Zhou knew they would lose Jiu-ding and Han knew they would lose the Three Rivers anyway, these two countries would surely unite their forces and plan together to fight against us. By seeking reinforcements from the States of Qi and Zhao, they could break through the siege of Chu and Wei. Then they could give Jiu-ding to Chu and the land along the Three Rivers to Wei. You could not prevent them from doing so. This is why I say attacking Han would be dangerous and is not as good an option as attacking Shu."

    King Hui said, "Great! I will follow your advice." Eventually, the king dispatched his troops to attack Shu. After ten months, they captured it. Thus, Shu was conquered. Qin demoted Shu's king to a duke and sent Zhuang Chen to be its prime minister. After annexing Shu, Qin increased its strength and prosperity, and looked down upon other countries in China.

The Jiu-ding was a sacrificial caldron with a tripod. During Emperor Yu's reign, the neighboring countries sent the drawings of beasts to the palace and all the nine governors sent metals to the capital city. The emperor ordered his artisan to build the Jiu-ding with these metals and inscribe the drawings of beasts so that people could be wary of their attack.

2 Jie was the last emperor of the Xia dynasty and Zhou was the last emperor of the Shang dynasty. Both of them are tyrannical and profligate.