Fan Ju seeks distant alliances while attacking nearby-范雎远交近攻

Fan Ju, a native of the state of Wei during the Warring States period, initially intended to achieve success within Wei. He became a retainer in the household of Minister Xu Jia. On one occasion, when the King of Wei dispatched Xu Jia on a diplomatic mission to the state of Qi, Fan Ju accompanied him. In Qi, Fan Ju demonstrated eloquence and received recognition from the Qi king. The Qi king bestowed lavish gifts upon him and sought to retain him as a guest official, but Fan Ju declined. However, upon returning to Wei, Xu Jia not only failed to praise or employ him but also slandered him to the Prime Minister of Wei, accusing him of accepting bribes from the Qi people and betraying the state. Consequently, Fan Ju was thrown into prison and subjected to severe torture, only managing to escape by feigning death.

Upon his return home, Fan Ju, in order to conceal his identity, adopted the name Zhang Lu and arranged for his family to hold a funeral for him, giving Wei reason to believe he was dead. Six months later, an envoy from the state of Qin named Wang Ji arrived in Wei, and Fan Ju managed to meet him through a friend’s introduction. The two hit it off, and Wang Ji, impressed by Fan Ju’s talent, brought him to Qin, seeking to introduce him to King Zhao of Qin.

At that time, the political affairs of Qin were controlled by Queen Dowager Xuan and her brother, the Marquis of Rang. In 270 B.C., the Marquis of Rang, in order to expand his territory, planned to march beyond the states of Han and Wei to attack the state of Qi. Seeing an opportunity, Fan Ju submitted a petition to King Zhao of Qin, offering vital strategies and requesting an audience with the king.

The eager king welcomed him into the palace with a chariot. After repeated requests from the king, Fan Ju finally spoke: “The people of Qin only know that there is a queen dowager and a marquis in the palace, but they do not know that there is also a king.” These words struck a chord with the king, who immediately regarded Fan Ju as someone worth entrusting. Fan Ju then delivered his prepared speech:

“Qin is surrounded by advantageous terrain, with Mount Ganquan and the Gu Pass to the north, the Jing and Wei Rivers to the south, the Long Mountains and the land of Shu to the southwest, and the Xiong Mountains and the Han Gu Pass to the east. With such favorable conditions and a considerable number of war chariots and soldiers, it should be effortless for Qin to conquer other states. However, why has Qin not advanced further to the east?”

“You are crossing the territories of Han and Wei to attack the powerful state of Qi, which is unwise. With fewer troops, you cannot harm Qi; with more troops, Qin’s internal defenses weaken. Your intention may be to deploy fewer troops yourself and encourage Han and Wei to deploy more troops, but they are unwilling. Knowing these two states are unreliable, you still invade their territories to wage war. Isn’t this reckless? When Qi attacked the state of Chu in the past and won, they did not gain an inch of land. Did they not desire land? Was their territory not extended to that area? Other states saw Qi’s troops exhausted and their internal affairs in disarray, so they collectively attacked it, defeating Qi and seizing its land. Qi became a laughingstock. Isn’t this akin to arming robbers with weapons and feeding thieves with provisions?”

“Instead, you should establish alliances with distant states and attack nearby states. Every inch of land you acquire will be your own. When Zhao annexed the former state of Zhongshan, it did so without facing any repercussions. Currently, Han and Wei are situated in the heart of the vassal states, acting as the key hubs. If you wish to achieve hegemony, you must first control these hubs. When Chu and Zhao perceive the threat, regardless of which is stronger, the weaker will inevitably submit to Qin. Once these two states submit, Qi will undoubtedly panic and also submit. If all three states submit, then dealing with Han and Wei will be much easier.”

King Zhao said, “I originally wanted to win over Wei, but its attitude is constantly changing, making it difficult to understand. What should I do?” Fan Ju replied, “First, use wealth to lure them. If that fails, cede territory to them. If that still fails, then attack them.” King Zhao followed Fan Ju’s advice, and two years later, Qin launched an attack on Xingqiu. After Xingqiu fell, Wei requested to submit to Qin.

After Wei’s submission, Fan Ju said, “The border areas of Qin and Han are too intertwined. With Han situated beside Qin, it poses the greatest threat. It would be better to have Han submit to Qin.” King Zhao said, “I have also thought about it, but what if Han does not listen?” Fan Ju said, “You should first attack Yongyang, the political, economic, transportation, and military stronghold of Han. This will not only block the route to Chenggao but also obstruct the route north to Taihang. The Han army in Shangdang will no longer be able to advance south. Once Han is divided into three parts, unable to communicate with each other, how could they not listen to Qin’s orders and obediently submit? With Han’s submission, unifying the realm will be much easier.”

According to Fan Ju’s plan, Qin first allied with the distant states of Qi and Chu, sandwiching the central states of Han and Wei, forcing them to submit. Then, Qin advanced north and south, breaking through the northern and southern wings of Zhao, Yan, and Chu. After consolidating the strength of the three states, Qin turned to eliminate Han and Wei, and finally, with overwhelming superiority, subdued Qi. This strategy of “seeking distant alliances while attacking nearby” proposed by Fan Ju became the fundamental strategic thinking of Qin’s annexation of other vassal states. Guided by the “seeking distant alliances while attacking nearby” strategy, Qin waged wars for over forty years, eventually unifying the entire country and dominating the Central Plains.