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Su Qin 蘇秦

Nov 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Su Qin 蘇秦 (late 4th cent. BCE) was a political advisor of the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). He is counted among the group of coalition strategists or "diplomatists"(zonghengjia 縱橫傢).

Su Qin hailed from Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan), the capital of the old dynasty of the Eastern Zhou 東周 (770-221 BCE) and received first instructions from Guiguzi 鬼谷子, the Master of the Spirit Valley, in the state of Qi 齊. He devoted himself to the study of the Daoist secrets.

His first appointments as a political advisor were with king Xian of Zhou 周顯王 (r. 368-321), with King Hui(wen) of Qin 秦惠文王 (r. 337-311), and with Marquis Su 趙肅侯 (r. 349-326) of Zhao.

Quite unsuccessfully in his professional achievements, he traveled on to the state of Yan 燕 in the northeast. Duke Wen 燕文公 (r. 361-333) sent him out to persuade the rulers of Zhao 趙, Han 韓, Wei 魏, Qi, and Chu 楚 to unite in a coalition against the growing power of Qin. The six rulers did in fact followed Su's suggestion for a coalition.

King Yi of Yan 燕易王 (r. 332-321) had discrepancies with Su Qin, for which reason Su had to escape to Qi. But here, too, were some enviers that assassinated him. Dying, he suggested to King Min of Qi 齊湣王 (r. 323-284) to accuse him of high treason posthumously, and that his corpse might be torn apart. This procedure would make it easier to find out the real treators that had killed him.

Not all of the stories told about Su Qin in the histories Zhanguoce 戰國策 and Shiji 史記 are trustworthy. It is also plausible that Su Qin worked in Qi as a spy of Yan. He suggested to King Min, for example, to attack the smaller state of Song 宋. While occupied with this campaign, Qi would not harass Yan. Yan then dispatched an army under Yue Yi 樂毅 that defeated the army of Qi. Su Qin was thereupon executed as a traitor. He had acted as sacrificial lamb for the state of Yan.

Su Qin was the most famous of the political advisors of his times. There was even a 30-chapters long book called Suzi 蘇子, which might have contained strategems by him, his brothers Su Dai 蘇代 and Su Li 蘇厲, or some of their "disciples". The book has unfortunately not survived the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE).

Yet in the Han period tomb of Mawangdui 馬王堆, some chapters of a text called Zonghengjia shu 縱橫家書 "Book of the coalition advisors" were discovered. 11 chapters in this book rendering stories about Su Qin are not to be found in the transmitted Zhanguoce nor the Shiji, while 13 chapters are also included in the received version of the Zhanguoce. The find proves the Su Qin still enjoyed an important position in writings on government long after his death.

Source:
Wu Rongceng 吳榮曾 (1992). "Su Qin 蘇秦", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1027.