Zhang Yi’s Dissolution of the Alliance-张仪拆散联盟

During the Warring States period, with continuous warfare, various feudal states adopted the strategy of “vertical and horizontal alliances” to strengthen or preserve their power. In this context, a group of outstanding strategists emerged, and Zhang Yi was one of them.

Zhang Yi was from the state of Wei, born into a noble family, and learned the art of strategy alongside Su Qin under the guidance of Guiguzi. Well-versed in literature and filled with strategies, even the eloquent Su Qin admitted his inferiority. After both completed their studies, Su Qin introduced his vertical alliance strategy, quickly gaining fame among the feudal lords, while Zhang Yi remained an inconspicuous attendant under the Prime Minister of Chu. However, six months later, his reputation equaled Su Qin’s, and he gained the favor of King Huiwen of Qin, assuming high office. His rapid rise to fame was closely related to an event that occurred.

Once, upon winning a battle, the Prime Minister of Chu was rewarded with a jade bi by the king. During a feast with his attendants, the jade bi went missing. Someone accused Zhang Yi, citing his poverty as the motive. Despite severe torture, Zhang Yi refused to confess to a crime he didn’t commit. Eventually, fearing for his life, the Prime Minister released him. Upon returning home, Zhang Yi asked his wife if his tongue was intact. When she confirmed it was, he declared that as long as he had his tongue, he had a chance to rise again.

In 329 B.C., Zhang Yi arrived in the State of Qin, where King Huiwen appointed him as a guest official. That year, Qin attacked the State of Wei, seizing Puyang. Zhang Yi proposed his strategy of horizontal alliances, advising the king to win over Wei. He suggested returning Puyang to Wei and sending the prince as a hostage. Upon arrival in Wei, Zhang Yi persuaded the king by emphasizing Qin’s goodwill and the benefits of reciprocation. The king readily agreed, granting Qin 15 counties and a strategic town.

Upon returning to Qin, Zhang Yi was swiftly promoted to Prime Minister. Soon after, King Huiwen ordered Zhang Yi to attack Wei again, causing panic in Wei. The following year, Wei allied with other states to resist Qin. However, Zhang Yi instigated conflicts, leading to the alliance’s dissolution. Seeking aid from Qi, Wei fell into Zhang Yi’s trap again. In 323 B.C., Zhang Yi persuaded the King of Wei to reconcile with Qin, leading to further submission and eventually making Wei his stronghold.

With Qi’s victory over Zhao and Wei, it became a powerful eastern state and formed an alliance with Chu. As this alliance threatened Qin, Zhang Yi was once again tasked with dismantling it. In 313 B.C., he resigned from his position in Qin and went to Chu. By befriending the king’s confidants and gaining the king’s trust, Zhang Yi persuaded Chu to break ties with Qi and ally with Qin instead. Despite warnings from his ministers, the king appointed Zhang Yi as Prime Minister and severed relations with Qi.

Three months later, Zhang Yi claimed illness, causing Chu to insult Qi, leading to a permanent rift between the two. Zhang Yi then denied his promise to grant Chu 600 miles of land, causing Chu to prepare for war with Qin. However, Zhang Yi’s manipulation had already led to a weakened Chu. With the help of Han and Wei, Chu was defeated, and Chu had to cede territory to Qin.

Afterwards, Wei, Qi, and Chu submitted to Qin, leaving only Han, Zhao, and Yan. Zhang Yi visited these states, further weakening them. Despite brief alliances, the states remained divided due to Zhang Yi’s meddling. Eventually, they succumbed to Qin’s onslaught.

Upon the death of King Huiwen, his successor, King Wu, disliked Zhang Yi. Zhang Yi fled to Wei, where he was appointed Prime Minister by the king. He passed away the following year. With his exceptional eloquence and wisdom, Zhang Yi thwarted Su Qin’s vertical alliance strategy, contributing significantly to Qin’s unification of China.