The Wise Minister Redeemed with Five Sheepskins-五张羊皮赎回的贤臣


Baili Xi, originally from the state of Chu, was a descendant of Yuzhong, the second son of Gu Gongdan, the founder of the Western Zhou dynasty. Although belonging to the Ji clan, Baili Xi’s family had fallen on hard times by the time it reached him. Despite being well-educated and highly talented, the strict feudal system of Chu prevented Baili Xi, a poor commoner, from aspiring to official positions.

Baili Xi’s wife, Lady Du, recognized her husband’s untapped potential and encouraged him to travel to various states in search of a ruler who would appreciate his talents. Facing financial hardship, Lady Du even sacrificed the family’s only hen to provide a farewell meal for Baili Xi.

During his travels to states like Song and Qi, Baili Xi struggled to find employment due to a lack of recommendations and financial resources, resorting to begging in Qi to sustain himself. However, he never abandoned his goal of serving in an official capacity. In Qi, Baili Xi encountered Jian Shu, who recognized his eloquence and welcomed him, forming a close friendship. Despite challenges, Baili Xi persisted in his pursuit of official positions.

When he arrived in the state of Yu, Baili Xi managed to secure a position as a high official. Despite knowing that the ruler of Yu was not a wise and discerning leader, Baili Xi stayed to secure the stipend that sustained his livelihood. Later, Yu’s ruler, driven by greed, borrowed a route from Qi to conquer the neighboring state of Guo, leading to his downfall. Both Baili Xi and the ruler of Yu became captives of the victorious Qi.

Upon hearing of Baili Xi’s talents, Jin Xiangong, the ruler of Jin, intended to employ him, but Baili Xi adamantly refused. Subsequently, Jin Xiangong considered Baili Xi as part of the dowry for his daughter Mu Ji, whom he married to Duke Mu of Qin. Despite becoming a slave accompanying Mu Ji, Baili Xi resisted serving Jin, managing to escape to Chu during the journey.

In Chu, Baili Xi was initially mistaken for a spy but explained that he had been a herdsman in a wealthy household in the now-destroyed state of Yu. Recognizing his age and skills, the Chu forces allowed Baili Xi to stay and tend to their cattle. Eventually, Chu King Chengwang learned about Baili Xi’s expertise in cattle farming and appointed him as the royal cattle herder.

After Duke Mu of Qin and Mu Ji’s marriage, Duke Mu learned about Baili Xi’s escape but initially paid little attention. However, a warrior named Gongsun Zhi, who had defected from Jin to Chu, praised Baili Xi’s exceptional talents. Concerned about Chu realizing Baili Xi’s true value, Duke Mu sought to bring him back and consulted Gongsun Zhi.

Gongsun Zhi suggested a strategy: buy Baili Xi as an ordinary slave using five black sheepskins, preventing Chu from suspecting his true worth. Duke Mu sent envoys to Chu, claiming that Baili Xi, now considered a fugitive slave, had committed a crime in Qin and requested his return for punishment. King Chengwang, seeing the seemingly low price for a mere slave, agreed without hesitation.

When the gray-haired Baili Xi was brought back to Qin, Duke Mu personally welcomed him, removing his shackles and treating him with respect. Despite being labeled a fugitive, Baili Xi engaged in discussions about state affairs with Duke Mu. He humbly attributed his current state to the downfall of Yu and offered his expertise to Qin’s governance.

After three days of discussions, Baili Xi and Duke Mu found great agreement on governance matters. Duke Mu, impressed by Baili Xi’s wisdom, intended to appoint him as the prime minister (Shang Dafu). However, Baili Xi declined and recommended his friend Jian Shu instead. Duke Mu, following Baili Xi’s suggestion, brought Jian Shu to Qin, appointing Baili Xi as Left Master of the Masses (Zuo Shuzhong) and Jian Shu as Right Master of the Masses (You Shuzhong), collectively known as the “Two Masters.”

Baili Xi’s presence in Qin contributed significantly to internal reforms, cultural development, and diplomatic relations. His collaboration with Duke Mu laid the foundation for Qin’s rapid advancement, transforming it from a small border state into a formidable power during the Spring and Autumn period. Baili Xi’s influence, marked by the use of five black sheepskins for his redemption, earned him the historical title of “Wugu Daifu” or “Five Sheepskin Master.” The story of redeeming a wise minister with five sheepskins became a timeless tale celebrated through the ages.