Xian Gao rewards the army, and Zhi withdraws the Qin forces-弦高犒师智退秦军


During the Battle of Chengpu between the states of Jin and Chu, Jin achieved a major victory and established its dominance in the Central Plains. Subsequently, Jin convened several meetings with the feudal lords, and states like Chen, Cai, and Zheng, originally aligned with Chu, witnessed Jin’s strength and chose to join the alliance. However, Zheng remained indecisive, fully aware of its alliance with Jin yet secretly forming an alliance with Chu due to fear.

Upon learning of Zheng’s double-dealing, Jin Wengong (Duke Wen of Jin) sought to gather the feudal lords to campaign against Zheng. His ministers believed that Jin’s own forces were sufficient to deal with Zheng and that involving other feudal lords was unnecessary. Jin Wengong had a prior agreement with the state of Qin for mutual assistance in case of war. Therefore, he informed only Qin about the upcoming campaign.

Qin Mugong (Duke Mu of Qin) eagerly sought to expand eastward. Upon receiving the news, he personally led his troops to Zheng and stationed them on both the east and west sides of Zheng’s capital. With the two most powerful states, Qin and Jin, at its doorstep, Zheng Muxu (Duke Mu of Zheng) was in a state of panic and quickly dispatched Zhu Zhiwu, known for his eloquence, to persuade the Qin forces to withdraw. Zhu Zhiwu analyzed the situation, stating that if Qin and Jin jointly destroyed Zheng, Jin would become even more powerful. He also emphasized that if Qin and Zheng made peace, Qin could benefit from future interactions between Jin and Zheng. Qin Mugong found the argument reasonable, unilaterally made peace with Zheng, and sent three generals with two thousand soldiers to stay in Zheng, helping them defend the northern gate. Qin Mugong then quietly returned to Qin with the remaining forces.

Upon discovering that the Qin forces had silently departed, Jin Wengong, though angered, refrained from pursuing them to honor the previous favor from Qin Mugong. Nevertheless, Jin continued its intense assault on Zheng’s capital. Witnessing Qin’s withdrawal but Jin’s persistence, Zheng had no choice but to send emissaries to Jin’s military camp seeking surrender. Jin Wengong, seeing Zheng’s surrender, brought Zheng to his side, concluded an alliance, and withdrew his forces. Qin Mugong, upon hearing that Zheng had once again submitted to Jin, was upset but chose not to damage the relationship with Jin.

In 628 BCE, after the death of Zheng Wengong (Duke Wen of Zheng), his son Lian succeeded to the throne, becoming Zheng Mugong (Duke Mu of Zheng). In the same year, during winter, Jin Wengong also passed away, and his son, Jin Xiangong (Duke Xiang of Jin), ascended to power. Qin Mugong saw this as an opportunity to contend with Jin for supremacy. A letter from the general Qi Zi, who had remained in Zheng, informed Qin Mugong that Zheng was in a vulnerable position and suggested a surprise attack. Despite the warnings from Jianshu and Baili Xi, who believed that attacking a distant state would likely fail, Qin Mugong remained determined, disregarding their advice. He appointed Meng Mingxi, son of Bai Li Xi, as the chief general, with Xiqi Shu, son of Jianshu, and Bai Yibing as deputy generals, leading four hundred chariots to launch a surprise attack on Zheng.

Qin’s army proceeded eastward through Zhou territory, entering the territory of Hua, approximately eighty kilometers away from Zheng. A savvy merchant named Xian Gao, who frequently conducted business between various states, encountered the advancing Qin army while driving cattle to Luo. Recognizing the intention of Qin to launch a surprise attack while Zheng was unprepared, he realized that it was too late to report to Zheng. Instead, he sent someone back to Zheng urgently to report to Duke Mu of Zheng, and he drove the cattle to the camp of the Qin army, falsely claiming to be an envoy from Zheng seeking an audience with the Qin military commander.

Surprisingly, the Qin general Meng Mingxi welcomed Xian Gao and received the gifts of four sheets of dried cattle hide and twelve fat cattle. Seeing this, Meng Mingxi changed his plans, abandoning the idea of attacking Zheng. He led the army back to Qin, impressed by the cleverness of Xian Gao.

Upon receiving the news of the Qin army’s intended surprise attack, Duke Mu of Zheng had quickly prepared for defense and sent someone to observe the Qin forces guarding the northern gate. Upon confirming that they were armed and ready for battle, the Duke issued an order to expel the three Qin generals. Aware that their plan had been exposed and that they could not remain any longer, the three generals left during the night.

Due to the clever actions of Xian Gao, Zheng avoided the fate of being conquered by Qin. Duke Mu of Zheng and the people were grateful to him, and even though Duke Mu wanted to reward him with high honors, Xian Gao declined, stating that loyalty to one’s country was a natural duty, and accepting rewards would make him an outsider. Thus, he refused to accept any rewards. The story of Xian Gao’s patriotic actions has been passed down through generations.