An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

The Regional State of Zhao 趙

Nov 1, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhao 趙 was a regional state of the Zhou period 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE). It emerged as a separate state when several noble families of Jin 晉 extinguished the ducal house and divided its territory into three, namely Wei 魏, Han 韓, and Zhao 趙. Zhao played an important role during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) as one of the large regional states fighting against the state of Qin 秦. The territory of Zhao was located in the modern province of Shanxi.

Map 1. The regional state of Zhao 趙 (403 - 222 BCE)
Map according to Tan Qixiang 谭其骧 (1987), Zhongguo lishi ditu ji 中国历史地图集. Zhao was located in the northern parts of what is today the province of Shanxi, in mountaineous area, and therefore relatively safe against attacks from Yan, Wei or Qin. In the north, Zhao built defensive walls against raids of native tribes. Those belong to the presurcors of the Great Wall built during the Qin and Han periods. Click to enlarge.

The ruling house of Zhao was related to the house of Qin. The ancestor of Qin was Wu Lai 惡來, who served the last ruler of the Shang dynasty 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE) and was killed, when King Wu 周武王 founded the Zhou dynasty. His brother Ji Sheng 季勝 is the ancestor of the house of Zhao. Strangely enough, both the annals of the state of Qin and those of Zhao mention Zao Fu 造父 as ancestor of their houses. In the annals of Zhao it is said that Zao Fu was the chief charioteer (yu 御) of King Mu of Zhou 周穆王 (10th cent. BCE) when the latter paid visit to the mythological Queen Mother of the West 西王母. Zao Fu was for his participation in the campaign against the Xu tribes 徐 in the southeast rewarded with the territory of Zhao 趙 (near modern Hongdong 洪洞, Shanxi), from which the dynastic name is derived.

Zao Fu's descendant Yan Fu 奄父 rescued King Xuan of Zhou 周宣王 (r. 827-782 BCE) during his battle with the Rong tribes 戎 at Qianmu 千畝. His son Shu Dai 叔帶 left Qin and became a noble under Marquis Wen of Jin 晉文侯 (r. 781-746).

His descendant Zhao Su 趙夙 participated in the campaign against the statelets of Huo 霍, Wei 魏, and Geng 耿 under Duke Xian of Jin 晉獻公 (r. 677-651). The duke of Huo was reinstated into his position when "evil spirits" on Mt. Huotai 霍太山 caused a draught. Zhao Su was rewarded with the territory of Geng (near modern Hejin 河津, Shanxi).

Zhao Su's grandson or younger brother was Zhao Shuai 趙衰 (posthumous title Viscount Cheng 趙成子). Zhao Shuai made an oracle that predicted that it was better to serve Prince Chong'er 重耳 than the other pretenders to the throne. He therefore accompanied the Prince when he had to flee to the Di tribes 翟. In the land of the Di, Prince Chong'er and Zhao Shuai became brothers-in-law by marrying sister princesses of the Qiangjiuru 廧咎如 tribe. Yet Zhao Shuai had three sons of a former spouse that were called Zhao Tong 趙同, Zhao Kuo 趙括, and Zhao Yingqi 趙嬰齊. The son of the Di princess was called Zhao Dun 趙盾 (posthumous title Viscount Xuan 趙宣子). After nineteen years in exile Prince Chong'er returned to Jin and was made duke of Jin (Duke Jin 晉文公, r. 637-628). Zhao Shuai was appointed grand master (dafu 大夫) of Yuan 原 (near modern Jiyuan 濟源, Henan). He continued advising the duke and so helped him to become hegemonial lord (ba 霸).

When Duke Xiang 晉襄公 (r. 628-621) died, Zhao Dun was involved in the succession struggle. The Heir Apparent Prince Yigao 夷皋 was still very young, and Zhao Dun preferred Prince Yong 雍, a brother of late Duke Xiang, but the duchess dowager persuaded him to enthrone Prince Yigao, who is known as Duke Ling of Jin 晉靈公 (r. 621-607). Zhao Dun was an important advisor of the Duke and had great influence on his political decisions. Duke Ling was arrogant and cruel and Zhao Dun feared for his life after the Duke had killed his cook, and planned to flee. Zhao Chuan 趙穿 killed Duke Ling and enthroned late Duke Xiang's brother Prince Heitun 黑臀 (Duke Cheng 晉成公, r. 607-600). The other nobles criticized Zhao Dun for planning to flee, and some chronicles therefore recorded that Zhao Dun had killed the Duke.

Zhao Dun's son Zhao Shuo 趙朔 (posthumous title Viscount Zhuang 趙莊子) commanded military campaigns against the states of Zheng 鄭 and Chu 楚. He was married to a sister of Duke Cheng of Jin. Grand Master and Minister of Justice (sikou 司寇) Tu'an Gu 屠岸賈, a minion of late Duke Ling, planned taking revenge for the murder of the Duke and prepared the extinction of the house of Zhao. Han Jue 韓厥 (Han Xianzi 韓獻子) informed Zhao Shuo about the coming massacre, yet Zhao Shuo, as a loyal subject, refused to flee. He was killed, along with his relatives Zhao Tong, Zhao Kuo and Zhao Yingqi. Fortunately enough the wife of Zhao Shuo was pregnant and gave birth to a son. Ducal Grandson Gongsun Chujiu 公孫杵臼 and Cheng Ying 程嬰 rescued the baby.

While Prince Chujiu sacrifed his life, Cheng Ying raised the baby in a mountain village. The child was later hidden in the palace by Duke Jing himself, and Han Jue. The Duke won over the generals who had been ordered by Tu'an Gu to extinguish all members of the family Zhao, and in return executed the murderer. The rescued boy, called Zhao Wu 趙武 (posthumous title Viscount Wen 趙文子), was reinstalled in the old honours the family Zhao had enjoyed. Having fulfilled his mission, Cheng Ying killed himself to report to the soul of Prince Chujiu the success of their fight for the orphan of Zhao.

Under Duke Ping of Jin 晉平公 (r. 558-532), Zhao Wu was appointed minister-commander (qing 卿). In 545, Prince Jizi 季子 of Yanling 延陵 from the state of Wu 吳 visited Jin. He predicted that Zhao, Han, and Wei would extinguish the Jin dynasty. When Zhao Wu died he was granted the posthumous title Zhao Wenzi 趙文子 "Viscount Wen of Zhao". His son was Zhao Jingshu 趙景叔 "Uncle Jing". During his life Yan Ying 晏嬰, a famous advisor of Duke Jing 齊景公 (r. 547-490) of Qi 齊, visited Jin. While Yan Ying admitted that the rule of Qi would one day fell into the hands of the family Tian 田, Shu Xiang 叔向 (Yangshe Xi 羊舌肸) was well aware that the six ministers-commander had ever greater influence on the government of Jin.

Jingshu's son was Zhao Yang 趙鞅 (Zhao Jianzi 趙簡子), who was given the posthumous title of Viscount Jian 趙簡子 (r. 517-458). Viscount Jian compelled the regional lords to protect King Jing of Zhou 周敬王 (r. 520-476) against his usurpatorious brother and escorted him back to the royal capital Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan).

In 514, the six ministers-commander extinguished the noble houses of Qi 祁, and Yangshe 羊舌 and occupied their lands. Viscount Jian also received Yang Hu 陽虎 in his residence who had been expelled after usurping the power in the state of Lu 魯.

Viscount Jian fell ill and lost conscience for a couple of days. He was examined by the famous physician Bian Que 扁鵲, who said that once Duke Miu of Qin 秦繆公 (i.e. Duke Mu 秦穆公, r. 659-621) had been affected by a similar disease and during his coma dreamt of future events. The same happened to Viscount Jian, and he had a vision of the destitute future of Jin and the system of regional states of the Zhou dynasty.

The diviner Gubu Ziqing 姑布子卿 announced that of all the Viscount's sons, only Wuxu 毋卹 would become a worthy, albeit he was only the son of a slave girl of the Di tribes. The Viscount thereupon hid a seal (baofu 寶符) on Mt. Changshan 常山 (Hengshan 恆山), and of all his sons only Wuxu was able to find it. Moreover, he had inspected the country of Dai 代 from the heights of Mt. Changshan and taxed it as a region worth being occupied. Viscount Jian named Wuxu thereupon his Heir Apparent.

In 498, the lords of Fan 范 and Zhonghang 中行 rebelled against the duke of Jin. Viscount Jian of Zhao played a very ambiguous role in this rebellion and was only pardoned because the lords of Han and Wei interceded in favour to him. Viscount Wen of Zhi 知文子 (Zhi Bo 知伯; Zhi 知 is also written 智) urged Viscount Jian to betray Dong Anyu 董安于, who had also participated in the rebellion. Dong Anyu was honest enough to offer his own life for the survival of the house of Zhao. The residence of the viscounts of Zhao was at that time Jinyang 晉陽 (near modern Taiyuan 太原, Shanxi).

In 494, Viscount Jian besieged the lords of Fan and Zhonghang at Chaoge 朝歌 and forced Viscount Wen of Zhonghang 中行文子 (Xun Yin 荀寅) to flee to Handan 邯鄲 (modern Handan, Hebei). He also tried interferring into the succession struggles in the state of Wei 衛. Viscount Wen of Zhonghang and Viscount Zhao of Fan 范昭子 (Fan Jiyi [sic] 范吉射) fled to Qi, and their territories were confiscated by the duke of Jin. As a loyal subject Viscount Jian accompanied the Duke of Jin to Huangchi 黃池, where Duke Wen successfully obtained the title of hegemonial ruler over the regional rulers (zhuhou 諸侯), while his opponent King Fucha 夫差 of Wu returned without success and even faced the destruction of his kingdom.

During a campaign against Zheng, Zhi Bo 知伯 was drunk and smutched the clothes of Wuxu. Wuxu abstained from killing him immediately but began to hate him as his future enemy. Six years later, when his father died, Wuyi became Viscount of Zhao, with the eventual posthumous title of Viscount Xiang 趙襄子 (r. 458-425).

As soon as he had become viscount he invited the king of Dai (probably of the people of the Di), killed him and occupied his country. The sister of Viscount Xiang who was married to the king of Dai, killed herself. Viscount Xiang made nephew Zhou 周 ruler of the land of Dai. With the conquest of the land of Dai the territory owned by the viscount of Zhao had considereably expanded.

In 454, the lords of Zhao, Zhi, Han, and Wei occupied the former territory of the lords of Fan and Zhonghang and divided it among themselves. The duke of Jin was enraged about this insolence and asked the states of Qi and Lu for help. The four ministers-commander thereupon attacked their own lord and forced him to fleed to Qi, yet the duke of Jin died on the road to exile (he is therefore called Duke Chu 晉出公 "who died abroad", r. 475-457).

Zhi Bo was at that time the strongest and most arrogant of the four ministers-commander. When asked to cede territory, Viscount Xiang of Zhao refused. Zhi Bo attacked, and Viscount Xiang fortified Jinyang 晉陽 to defend himself against Zhi, Han, and Wei. The chronicles report that the viscount of Zhao was protected by supernatural forces, yet the decisive action was made when he secretly plotted with Han and Wei. The two lords consented, attacked Zhi, destroyed its house, and the territory of Zhi was divided among Zhao, Han, and Wei. Zhao so became the largest and strongest of the three states.

Viscount Xiang decided not to make his own sons heirs to the throne, but Prince Wan 浣, a grandson of his older brother Bo Lu 伯魯. Prince Wan is posthumously known as Viscount Xian 趙獻子 or Marquis Xian 趙獻侯 (r. 424-409, the title of marquis was bestowed posthumously). He was dethroned by late Viscount Xiang's younger brother (or son) Viscount Huan 趙桓子, but he died after one year of reign, and Marquis Xian could return. Marquis Xian moved the capital to Zhongmou 中牟 (near modern Hongbi 鴻壁, Henan). He was succeeded by his son Prince Ji 籍, who is known posthumously as Marquis Lie 趙烈侯 (r. 409-400).

In 403, the rulers of Zhao, Wei and Han mutually recognized as full regional lords and adopted the title of marquis (hou 侯) instead of viscount (zi 子). The advisors of Marquis Lie were his counsellor Gongzhong Lian 公仲連, as well as the preceptor Niu Chu 牛畜, central commandant (zhongwei 中尉) Xun Xin 荀欣, and chief secretary (neishi 內史) Xu Yue 徐越.

After the death of Marquis Lie his younger brother Duke Wu 趙武公 (r. 400-387) ruled for thirteen years. He was succeeded by the son of Marquis Lie, Prince Zhang 章, who is known as Marquis Jing 趙敬侯 (r. 387-375). He chose Handan as capital of Zhao and so moved the centre of the state of Zhao to the east, into a more secure position.

In 376, the marquesses of Zhao, Wei, and Han decided to divide the territory of Jin among themselves. This alliance (meng 盟) would continue during the early Warring States period, even after Zhao, Wei, and Han had become independant states. Marquis Jing of Zhao, who had waged numerous wars with the states of Wei 魏, Wei 衛, and Qi, was succeeded by his son Prince Zhong 種, who is known as Marquis Cheng 趙成侯 (r. 375-350).

In 369, the king of Zhongshan 中山 erected a fortification wall to protect his territory against intrusions by Zhao. There were annually military campaigns between the states of the region, in ever-changing constellations. Zhao waged war with Qi and Wei and found support in the southern state of Chu. It also fought in the battles of Fangzi 房子 and Zhongren 中人 with the state of Zhongshan that had reemerged after a first conquest by Wei. Most important is perhaps the siege of the capital Handan by Wei in 354, after which both states concluded a peace treaty and fixed their borders anew. This was possible because Zhao was supported by Qi in the battle of Guiling 桂陵.

During his succession to the throne, Marquis Cheng was challenged by another pretender, Prince Gongzi Sheng 公子勝. Marquis Cheng's own son Prince Yu 語 was likewise challenged, in his part by Prince Gongzi Xie 公子緤. The family relation of these princes and the main line is not clear. Prince Yu is known as Marquis Su 趙肅侯 (r. 350-326). He erected a fortified wall in the north of his territory, towards the land of the nomad tribes. Prince Yong 雍 succeeded his father, Marquis Su. He is posthumously known as King Wuling 趙武靈王 (r. 326-299).

King Wuling's Counsellor-in-chief was Zhao Bao 趙豹, who was granted the title of Lord Yangwen 陽文君. In 317, Zhao allied with Wei and Han against Qin, but Qin prevailed and massacred 80,000 troops of the three allies. It was not only the large regional states that encroached on the territory of Zhao, but also the tribes of the Eastern Hu 東胡, the Forest Hu 林胡, and the Loufan 樓煩, all roaming in the lands north of Zhao. The King of Zhao therefore planned to transform part of his army into archer batallions (ji she 騎射) to encounter their cavalry attacks more successful. The commanders of these armies had to wear "barbarian clothes" (hufu 胡服), presumably short tunics and trousers better suited to cavalry warfare. In 305, 303 and 300, King Wuling attacked the kingdom of Zhongshan and each time forced the king of Zhongshan to cede more territory.

In 299, King Wuling decided to retire and to hand over the throne to his son Prince He 何, yet without fully leaving the political stage. The new ruler is posthumously known as King Huiwen 趙惠文王 (r. 299-266). His Counsellor-in-chief was Fei Yi 肥義. The "father of the sovereign" (zhufu 主父), King Wuling, himself took over the task to supervise the northwestern border towards the land of the wild tribes. He also undertook an adventurous reconnaissance tour into the territory of Qin.

In 296, the King Father annihilated the state of Zhongshan and so consiberably enlarged the territory of Zhao. Prince Gongzi Zhang 公子章 was given the title of Lord of Anyang 安陽君. He was advised by Tian Buli 田不禮, who also had to see it that the prince did not rebell against his brother, King Huiwen. While Counsellor Fei Yi secretly planned to eventually eliminate the threat posed by Prince Zhang, the latter observed an adequate conduct as subject of his younger brother, the king. The king father therefore considered dividing the territory of Zhao and making Prince Zhang king of Dai.

Yet Prince Zhang soon took action and killed Counsellor Fei Yi. The king was defended by Prince Gongzi Cheng 公子成 and Li Dui 李兌 who killed the rebel Prince Zhang and his advisor Tian Buli. Prince Cheng was rewarded with the title of Lord of Anping 安平君 and was made Counsellor, while Li Dui was appointed Minister of Justice.

A political problem had erupted because Prince Cheng had besieged the palace of the King Father in Shaqiu 沙丘, where the rebellious Prince Zhang had fled to. In order to avoid being executed for insulting the king's father, they continued the siege, so that in the end King Wuling starved to death. Because King Huiwen was still young, Prince Cheng and Li Dui took over all governmental affairs as regents for the king. Supported by the famous coalition advisor Su Qin 蘇秦, Li Dui decided to found an alliance with Qi, Chu, Wei and Han to attack the state of Qin in the west.

In 284, the troops of Zhao participated in the alliance against the state of Qi, in which Yan occupied almost the whole territory of Qi. In the next years general Lian Po 廉頗 had the highest command of the army of Zhao and successfully waged war against Qi and Wei. Zhao and Wei were defeated by Qin in the battle of Huayang 華陽 after which 150,000 troops were massacred by Qin. Yet four years later Zhao was able to defeat Qin at Eyu 閼與.

In 266, Prince Dan 丹 succeeded to the throne. His is known as King Xiaocheng 趙孝成王 (r. 266-245). Because he was still young the Queen Dowager reigned for him. When Qin attacked the heartland of the state of Han around Shangdang 上黨, its ruler offered the territory to the king of Zhao in the hope that King Xiaocheng would better be able to defend it. In 260, Qin besieged the town of Changping 長平 that was already being defended by general Lian Po for several years. It was decided to replace him with Zhao Kuo 趙括, but the latter was not able to defend himself. He surrendered, and the general of Qin, Bai Qi 白起, allegedly buried alive all 400,000 surrendering troops. In the aftermath Qin was able to advance and besieged the capital of Zhao, Handan. The siege was lifted when a joint army of troops from Wei and Chu forced the army of Qin to withdraw. This coalition had been initiated by Lord Xinling 信陵君 from Wei and Lord Chunshen 春申君 from Chu.

In 251, the king of Yan considered attacking Zhao because the army had been decimated in the battle of Changping. While Counsellor Li Fu 栗腹, who had inspected the situation in Zhao, advocated a war against Zhao, Yue Xian 樂閒 (Yue Cheng 樂乘) argued that Zhao was experienced with fighing and could not easily be brought down. The king of Yan nevertheless decided to wage war against Zhao, and his army, commanded by Li Fu and Qing Qin 卿秦, was heavily defeated by Lian Po. In the following year Zhao was even able to besiege the capital of Yan.

Prince Yan 偃 succeeded to the throne. He is known as King Daoxiang 趙悼襄王 (r. 245-236). General Pang Nuan 龐煖 continued harrassing the state of Yan, but in 241 he functioned as highest commander of an allied army of troops from Zhao, Chu, Wei, Yan and Han in a campaign against Qin. King Daoxiang was succeeded by his son, Prince Qian 遷, who is known as posthumously as King Youmiu 趙幽繆王 (r. 236-228). When Zhao attacked Yan in the northeast, the troops of Qin under general Wang Jian 王翦 used this chance and resumed their attacks. They seized the towns of Eyu, Liaoyang 橑陽, Ye 鄴, and Anyang 安陽, and then, instigated by these successes, launched a large campaign against Zhao. Two times the troops of Zhao were able to ward off the intruders, but Zhao was utterly exhausted by the long decades of war, and the generals Li Mu 李牧 and Sima Shang 司馬尚 were not further able to defend the territory of Zhao. All the more, a terrible earthquake shook the region of Dai in 231.

In 228, the troops of Wang Jian and Xin Sheng 辛勝 finally conquered Handan, the capital of Zhao, and captured King Youmiu. Prince Gongzi Jia 公子嘉 fled to the region of Da,i where he proclaimed himself king of Dai. In 222, general Wang Ben 王賁 of Qin conquered this last stronghold of the house of Zhao.

The name of the old state of Zhao was only rarely used as name for a dynasty (two of the Sixteen Barbarian Kingdoms Shiliuguo 十六國), buy quite often for imperial princedoms. The same is true for the name Dai, which was used by the early Tuoba state of Dai 代 (315-376), and for princedoms.

Table 1. Rulers of the regional state of Zhao 趙
Capitals: Zhao 趙 (near modern Huoxian 霍縣, Shanxi), Jinyang 晉陽 (near modern Taiyuan 太原, Shanxi), Zhongmou 中牟 (near modern Hebi 鶴壁, Hebei), Handan 邯鄲 (modern Handan, Hebei)
dynastic title personal name time
Ji Sheng 季勝, brother of Wu Lai 惡來, chieftain of Qin
Meng Zeng 孟增
Gao Lang 皋狼
Heng Fu 衡父
Zao Fu 造父
Yan Fu Gongzhong 奄父公仲
Shu Dai 叔帶
Zhao Su 趙夙, Lord of Geng 耿
Ying Gongmeng 嬴共孟
Zhao Chengzi 趙成子 Ying Shuai 嬴衰 (Zhao Shuai 趙衰)
Zhao Xuanzi 趙宣子 Ying Dun 嬴盾 (Zhao Dun 趙盾)
Zhao Zhuangzi 趙莊子 Ying Shuo 嬴朔 (Zhao Shuo 趙朔)
Zhao Wenzi 趙文子 Ying Wu 嬴武 (Zhao Wu 趙武)
Zhao Jingzi 趙景子 Ying Cheng 嬴成 (Zhao Cheng 趙成)
Zhao Jianzi 趙簡子 Ying Yang 嬴鞅 (Zhao Yang 趙鞅) 517-458
Zhao Xiangzi 趙襄子 Ying Wuxu 嬴無卹 (Zhao Wuxu 趙無卹) 458-425
Zhao Huanzi 趙桓子 Ying Jia 嬴嘉 (Zhao Jia 趙嘉) 425-424
Zhao Xianzi 趙獻子 Ying Wan 嬴浣 (Zhao Wan 趙浣) 424-409
Marquis Lie of Zhao
(Zhao Liehou 趙烈侯)
Ying Ji 嬴籍 (Zhao Ji 趙籍) 409-400
Marquis Wu of Zhao
(Zhao Wuhou 趙武侯)
Marquis Jing of Zhao
(Zhao Jinghou 趙敬侯)
Ying Zhang 嬴章 (Zhao Zhang 趙章) 387-375
Marquis Cheng of Zhao
(Zhao Chenghou 趙成侯)
Ying Zhong 嬴種 (Zhao Zhong 趙種) 375-350
Marquis Su of Zhao
(Zhao Suhou 趙肅侯)
Ying Yu 嬴語 (Zhao Yu 趙語) 350-326
King Wuling of Zhao
(Zhao Wulingwang 趙武靈王)
Ying Yong 嬴雍 (Zhao Yong 趙雍) 326-299
King Huiwen of Zhao
(Zhao Huiwenwang 趙惠文王)
Ying He 嬴何 (Zhao He 趙何) 299-266
King Xiaocheng of Zhao
(Zhao Xiaochengwang 趙孝成王)
Ying Dan 嬴丹 (Zhao Dan 趙丹) 266-245
King Daoxiang of Zhao
(Zhao Daoxiangwang 趙悼襄王)
Ying Yan 嬴偃 (Zhao Yan 趙偃) 245-236
King Youmiu of Zhao
(Zhao Youmiuwang 趙幽繆王)
Ying Qian 嬴遷 (Zhao Qian 趙遷) 236-228
Jia, King of Dai 代王嘉 Ying Jia 嬴嘉 (Zhao Jia 趙嘉) 228-222
222 Zhao (Dai) conquered by Qin
Shiji 史記, 43, Zhao shijia 趙世家.
Li Ling 李零 (1992). "Zhao 趙", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1515.