Chen Ping (Han dynasty)
Chen Ping (died 178 BCE) was a politician who served as a chancellor in the early Western Han dynasty. He was an advisor to Liu Bang, the founding emperor of the Han dynasty, and helped Liu overcome his rival Xiang Yu in the Chu–Han Contention (206–202 BCE).
Chen Ping was a native of Huyou Town (戶牖鄉), Yangwu (陽武; present-day Yuanyang County, Henan). He was born in a peasant family and his parents died when he was still young so he lived with his elder brother. His elder brother worked as a farmer on the 30 mu of land that their family owned while Chen Ping spent his time reading. As a child, Chen Ping had an ambition to serve his country. Chen Ping remained single until his 30s, when he met a wealthy man called Zhang Fu (張負). Zhang Fu had a granddaughter who married five times, but all her husbands died not long after they married her, so other men did not want to marry her. One day Zhang Fu followed Chen Ping to the latter's residence and saw that although Chen's house was quite rundown, there were many carriages outside his house (which implied that Chen Ping was popular in town as many people visited him). Zhang Fu was pleased and when he returned home he discussed with his son about marrying his granddaughter to Chen Ping. Zhang Fu's son was reluctant to marry his daughter to Chen Ping because he felt that Chen was too poor, but Zhang Fu claimed that Chen Ping had good relations with people. Chen Ping eventually married Zhang Fu's granddaughter and he gradually became more affluent with support from his wife. Not long later, the townsfolk nominated Chen Ping to be their shezai (社宰; a local leader). Chen Ping distributed meat equally to his fellow townsfolk and they praised him for being just and fair. Chen Ping once said, "If I can manage the world, I'll manage it in the same manner as I distribute meat, so that all people in the world will not need to be poor and hungry."
In 209 BCE, during the reign of Qin Er Shi, rebellions erupted throughout China to overthrow the Qin dynasty. Chen Ping pledged his service to Xiang Yu, a prominent rebel leader. After the fall of the Qin dynasty in late 207 BCE, Xiang Yu marched his army into the Qin capital Xianyang and plundered and pillaged the city. It was around this time when Chen Ping defected from Xiang Yu's side to Liu Bang, another prominent rebel leader. Liu Bang appointed Chen Ping as "Lieutenant Who Protects the Nation" (護國中尉).
During the Chu–Han Contention, a power struggle for supremacy over China between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, Chen Ping served Liu Bang as an advisor, conceiving strategies to help Liu Bang overcome his rivals and eventually unify China under his rule. Liu Bang founded the Han dynasty and became historically known as "Emperor Gaozu of Han". Chen Ping was conferred the title of Marquis of Huyou (戶牖侯) in recognition of his contributions, and he later received another title, Marquis of Quni (曲逆侯). He was appointed as Left Chancellor (左丞相) and Right Chancellor (右丞相) respectively during the reigns of Emperor Hui and when Empress Lü Zhi was in power.
After Emperor Gaozu's death, Chen Ping and Zhou Bo (周勃) worked together to put an end to the Lü Clan Disturbance and restore the Liu clan to power, installing Liu Heng on the throne as Emperor Wen. Chen Ping felt that Zhou Bo's contributions were greater than his so gave up his position as Right Chancellor to Zhou Bo. Emperor Wen once asked Zhou Bo, "How many cases do the courts see in a year?" Zhou Bo was unable to give an answer. Emperor Wen then asked again, "What is the net amount of money and grain the national treasury takes in in a year?" Zhou Bo could not answer the question. Chen Ping, who was serving as Left Chancellor then, replied to the emperor's queries, "The answers lie with the respective persons in charge. For the number of cases, Your Majesty should ask the Minister of Justice. For the net amount of money and grain, Your Majesty should ask the Accountant of Revenue." Chen Ping also added that he felt that as a chancellor, he should not be in charge of everything, and that the chancellor's role was to assist the emperor by "pacifying all those outside the empire, maintaining peace within the empire and ensuring that all office holders perform their roles well." Zhou Bo was ashamed and felt that he was not as competent as Chen Ping, so he claimed that he was ill and resigned from his post, leaving Chen Ping solely in charge of both left and right chancellors' duties.
Chen Ping died of illness in Chang'an in 178 BCE and was posthumously granted the title of "Marquis Xian" (獻侯). He was buried at Chenyan Slope (陳宴坡), Kushang Village (庫上里), Huyou Town (戶牖鄉). His tomb and a shrine built for him existed until the Ming dynasty. They were destroyed later in a flood by the Yellow River. Chen Ping's son Chen Mai (陳買) inherited his marquis titles after his death. During the reign of Emperor Wu, Chen Ping's great-grandson Chen He (陳何) was executed for committing a crime and the titles he inherited from his ancestors were stripped off him.
Chen Ping's six strategies
Throughout his service under Liu Bang, there are six well known strategies that Chen Ping came up with to help his lord in overcoming his rivals and pacifying the empire.
The six strategies were:
- Sowing discord between Xiang Yu and his advisor Fan Zeng. Fan Zeng was angered and he left Xiang Yu. He died of illness on the journey home. (See Chu–Han Contention#Battle of Chenggao) The loss of Fan Zeng was one of the factors that contributed to Xiang Yu's defeat.
- Helping Liu Bang escape from danger during the Battle of Xingyang by diverting the enemy's attention away through disguise.
- Advising Liu Bang to grant Han Xin the title of a vassal king and a fief. Han Xin's loyalty to Liu Bang was strengthened, and Han Xin did his best to help Liu Bang overcome his rivals and claim the throne.
- Advising Liu Bang to form an alliance with the Qi kingdom against Xiang Yu.
- When Liu Bang heard rumours that Han Xin was plotting against him and harbouring a fugitive Zhongli Mo (one of Xiang Yu's generals), Chen Ping suggested to lure Han Xin into a trap and capture him. Han Xin fell for the ruse and was taken captive when he came to meet Liu Bang. Liu Bang pardoned Han Xin later but still demoted him from a vassal king to a marquis.
- Suggesting to Liu Bang to bribe Modu Chanyu's wife with gifts and ask her to request for her husband to lift the siege during the Battle of Baideng.
- Sima Qian. Records of the Grand Historian, Volume 56, House of Chancellor Chen.
- Ban Gu et al. Book of Han, Volume 40, Biography of Chen Ping.