The Friendship of Guan and Bao-管鲍之交

In the Spring and Autumn period, there were two close friends in the state of Qi named Guan Zhong and Bao Shuya. Their friendship started in their youth.

Guan Zhong, who had lost his father early, had the responsibility of taking care of his elderly mother and lived a very poor life. Knowing about his difficult situation, his good friend Bao Shuya proposed a business partnership. However, Guan Zhong, being poor, couldn’t contribute much capital, and most of the investment came from Bao Shuya. When the business started making profits, Guan Zhong received a larger share of the dividends than Bao Shuya. Although Bao Shuya didn’t mind, his associates felt it was unfair, criticizing Guan Zhong for taking more despite contributing less. Bao Shuya explained, “Guan Zhong is poor and has the burden of taking care of his mother. I willingly gave him more.”

Guan Zhong, grateful for his friend’s support, tried to help Bao Shuya in various ways. However, his well-intentioned advice sometimes backfired, causing trouble for Bao Shuya. Despite this, Bao Shuya never blamed him, consoling Guan Zhong by saying, “Don’t be upset. It’s not that your ideas are ineffective; we just didn’t seize the right timing.” Later, both friends joined the military, but Guan Zhong stayed behind during battles, even appearing to flee. People mocked him as a coward, but Bao Shuya defended him, explaining that Guan Zhong was concerned about his elderly mother and not afraid of death.

In time, both Guan Zhong and Bao Shuya became officials in the state of Qi. At that time, Qi’s ruler was Duke Xi, who had three sons: the eldest, Zhe’er, and the younger two, Jiu and Xiao Bai. Guan Zhong and Bao Shuya were appointed as tutors for Jiu and Xiao Bai, respectively, to assist them in their education. However, Bao Shuya was dissatisfied with this arrangement, thinking Duke Xi underestimated Xiao Bai’s abilities. Guan Zhong, on the other hand, believed that even though Xiao Bai was less intelligent than Jiu, he possessed foresight, and in the long run, he could contribute to the state.

In 698 B.C., Duke Xi of Qi passed away, and Jiu ascended the throne as Duke Xiang. However, Duke Xiang’s immoral conduct and chaos in the state led to public discontent. Foreseeing a crisis, Guan Zhong advised Bao Shuya to take Xiao Bai and leave the state. Bao Shuya followed the advice, ensuring Xiao Bai’s safety in the state of Ju, while Jiu sought refuge in the state of Lu.

Duke Xiang’s rule faced opposition, and eventually, he became isolated. This provided an opportunity for Duke Xi’s nephew, Gongsun Wuzhi, to plot against Duke Xiang. Gongsun Wuzhi, along with other nobles, rebelled against Duke Xiang, leading to a chaotic situation in Qi. After Gongsun Wuzhi assassinated Duke Xiang, he briefly became the ruler, but internal conflicts and opposition from both within and outside the court arose.

Gongsun Wuzhi’s reign lasted only a little over a year before he was killed by nobles such as Yongyang. Following this, Qi was in a state of turmoil, and the ministers convened to decide on the new ruler. According to the plan, Jiu, now in Lu, would return to Qi and ascend the throne. However, Duke Xi’s widow, Lady Wenjiang, opposed this and insisted on supporting Xiao Bai. The state was divided, and both sides prepared for conflict.

Duke Xiang’s defeat in battle led to a power vacuum, and Gongsun Wuzhi seized the opportunity. Jiu, feeling slighted by Duke Xiang, reduced Gongsun Wuzhi’s privileges, creating resentment. Meanwhile, Duke Xiang’s old ministers, Liancheng and Guanzifu, harbored grudges against him. Gongsun Wuzhi used these grievances to plot against Duke Xiang, eventually assassinating him during a hunting expedition.

With Gongsun Wuzhi in power, Qi faced further unrest. Public opinion turned against him, and various factions united to oppose his rule. Gongsun Wuzhi’s reign ended abruptly when he was killed by the nobles, leading to a power vacuum once again. After Gongsun Wuzhi’s death, the Qi ministers discussed who should be the new ruler. Considering Jiu’s seniority, it was suggested that he should ascend the throne.

Qi and Lu negotiated, and it was decided that Jiu would return to Qi, escorted by Lu forces. However, the prime minister of Qi, Gao Xi, who had a close relationship with Xiao Bai, sent a secret letter to him, urging him to return and claim the throne. Fearing Jiu’s return, Gao Xi plotted against him, and tensions escalated between the two states.

Xiao Bai, informed of the situation by Bao Shuya, hurried back to Qi. On the way, he faced an attempted ambush by Jiu and Guan Zhong. Jiu, wanting to eliminate any potential threat to his claim, ordered Guan Zhong to shoot Xiao Bai with an arrow. However, Xiao Bai cleverly feigned death, and the arrow only hit his clothing clasp. Guan Zhong, thinking he had succeeded, reported to Jiu and returned to Qi.

Upon reaching Qi, Jiu and Guan Zhong were shocked to discover that Xiao Bai was alive and had successfully ascended to the throne. Public sentiment had shifted in favor of Xiao Bai, and he became known as Duke Huan of Qi. Jiu and Guan Zhong had no choice but to return to Lu, facing the consequences of their failed plan.

In Lu, Duke Zhuang of Lu learned about the failed conspiracy and decided to support Jiu’s claim to the Qi throne. Duke Zhuang led an army into Qi territory, resulting in a decisive battle between the two states. The Qi forces, under Duke Huan, defeated the Lu army, capturing Duke Zhuang. The Qi victory solidified Duke Huan’s position as the ruler of Qi, and he continued to strengthen his state’s power.

Despite the past animosity, Duke Huan, impressed by Guan Zhong’s talents, decided to offer him a position in his administration. Bao Shuya, understanding the importance of Guan Zhong’s skills, played a crucial role in convincing Duke Huan to forgive the past and utilize Guan Zhong’s talents for the benefit of Qi.

Guan Zhong, after a period of imprisonment, was released by Bao Shuya upon Duke Huan’s order. Reunited with his friend, Guan Zhong expressed reluctance to serve the ruler whom he had once considered an enemy. However, Bao Shuya convinced him that serving the greater good and achieving Duke Huan’s vision for Qi should be the primary focus.

Guided by Bao Shuya’s counsel, Duke Huan appointed Guan Zhong as his prime minister. Guan Zhong, with his exceptional governance skills, played a pivotal role in transforming Qi into a dominant state during the Spring and Autumn period. The success of Duke Huan’s reign was