Wu Qi Kills His Wife for Glory- 吴起杀妻求荣

Wu Qi, a native of the State of Wei during the early Warring States period, was a renowned military strategist of his time, often mentioned in the same breath as “Military Sage” Sun Tzu, collectively known as Sun Wu. Although he was on par with Sun Wu in military prowess, Wu Qi’s reputation ultimately suffered due to his eagerness for quick success and his questionable character, making him overshadowed by Sun Tzu.

Wu Qi had a penchant for military strategy and was determined to make a name for himself and achieve glory. Despite coming from a well-off family in his youth, he was dissatisfied with a mundane life and squandered his wealth in pursuit of career advancement, earning ridicule from his neighbors. Enraged and humiliated, Wu Qi impulsively killed over thirty people who had mocked him. To evade punishment, he fled the State of Wei and headed east. Before parting ways with his mother, he bit his arm in a show of determination, vowing not to return unless he could attain a high-ranking position.

Subsequently, he became a disciple of Zeng Shen, a student of Confucius. However, when his mother passed away, Wu Qi failed to return to Wei to mourn her, prioritizing his quest for fame and fortune over filial piety. Disapproving of his character, Zeng Shen severed ties with him. Wu Qi then traveled to various states to study military tactics, eventually serving the Duke of Lu in the State of Lu.

In 412 B.C., the State of Qi launched an attack on Lu. Although the Duke of Lu wished to appoint Wu Qi as a general, his marriage to a woman from Qi raised suspicions about his loyalty. Determined to prove his allegiance to Lu and seize the opportunity for glory, Wu Qi decisively killed his wife, severing ties with Qi. This act, known as “Killing One’s Wife to Serve as a General,” earned him the trust of the Duke of Lu, who appointed him as a general to lead the army against Qi.

Wu Qi commanded respect and loyalty from his soldiers by treating them with compassion and sharing their hardships. His strategic prowess was evident when he employed deceptive tactics against the Qi army, feigning weakness before launching a surprise attack, resulting in a decisive victory for Lu. However, his success aroused jealousy among the officials of Lu, who criticized him for killing his wife to gain favor.

Despite his achievements, Wu Qi faced skepticism from the Duke of Lu due to the officials’ accusations, leading to the termination of his service. He then sought employment from the wise ruler of Wei, Duke Wen. Although Duke Wen’s advisor Li Kui expressed reservations about Wu Qi’s character, acknowledging his military prowess, the imminent conflict with the State of Qin prompted Duke Wen to appoint Wu Qi as the chief general to lead the war effort.

Wu Qi’s leadership and military reforms significantly strengthened Wei’s position, culminating in the victory over Qin forces at the Battle of Yique in 389 B.C. His achievements earned him great prestige and favor from Duke Wen. However, the nobles of Wei, envious of his influence, conspired against him, leading to his departure from Wei to the State of Chu.

In Chu, Wu Qi was appointed as a chancellor by King Dao, where he implemented reforms that bolstered Chu’s power and expanded its territory. His policies, aimed at reducing the influence of aristocratic families, provoked their resentment and ultimately led to his downfall. In 381 B.C., following King Dao’s death, the aristocrats rebelled against Wu Qi, resulting in his assassination alongside King Dao’s corpse.

Wu Qi’s legacy as a brilliant military strategist and reformer endured despite his tragic end, leaving a lasting impact on the states of Wei, Lu, and Chu during the tumultuous Warring States period.