Fan Li Achieves Success and Retires-范蠡(li)功成身退


King Goujian of Yue Destroys Wu, then advances northward, crossing the Huai River, and forms an alliance with the princes of Qi and Jin in the Central Plains in Xuzhou (present-day Tengzhou, Shandong), paying homage to King Yuan of Zhou. King Yuan sends envoys with sacrificial meat to him and grants Goujian the title of “Marquis”, recognizing the hegemonic status of Yue. Yue relocates its capital to Langya, where all the princes come to pay their respects, making him the last hegemon of the Spring and Autumn period. Goujian rewards his officials according to their merits and appoints Fan Li as the General-in-Chief.

Fan Li, styled Shaobo, was a native of Chu during the Spring and Autumn period. He came from humble beginnings but was knowledgeable and talented. In the aristocratic-dominated society of Chu, those not born into nobility had no chance to participate in politics, so despite his talents, Fan Li had no one to appreciate him. Similarly, Wen Zhong, despite his wisdom, could only serve as a local official in Chu. After the two met, they quickly became close friends, leaving Chu together to seek refuge in Yue. Goujian valued them highly, considering them important advisers.

When Goujian ignored Fan Li’s advice and attacked Wu, he found himself besieged by the King of Wu at Mount Kuaiji, with no way out. At this critical moment, Fan Li suggested surrendering to Wu to save their strength. Goujian then left Wen Zhong in charge of the country and went to Wu with Fan Li. Enduring humiliation in Wu for three years, Fan Li remained loyal to Goujian, using his strategies to save him from danger. After returning to Yue, he and Wen Zhong devised nine strategies to strengthen Yue and destroy Wu, working together to develop and expand the country. One of these strategies was the Beauty Scheme, in which Fan Li personally searched for a suitable candidate, eventually finding Xi Shi, a woman washing silk by the river. Xi Shi, understanding the greater good, sacrificed herself to Wu, continuously passing information to Yue. With Fan Li and Wen Zhong’s assistance, Goujian persevered, ultimately making Yue powerful enough to defeat Wu, avenge Mount Kuaiji, and eventually dominate the Central Plains.

Afterwards, Fan Li was appointed as the General-in-Chief, but feeling uneasy about his fame and knowing Goujian’s suspicious and jealous nature, he decided to retire. Despite Goujian’s reluctance, Fan Li packed his valuables and left with Xi Shi and his family. Before departing, he wrote a letter to his close friend Wen Zhong, advising him to leave Goujian. However, Wen Zhong remained unable to let go of his ambitions and eventually committed suicide at Goujian’s command.

Taking on the name Chi Yizi Pi, Fan Li settled with his family and disciples in Tao, a region surrounded by various states, known as the “center of the world.” There, he engaged in agriculture and business, using his wisdom to become immensely wealthy. Revered as a god of wealth by the locals, Fan Li was admired by merchants and considered a saint among Chinese businessmen. After three successful retirements, indifferent to fame and fortune, Fan Li passed away peacefully around 448 BC, nearly a hundred years old.