King Fuchai of Wu

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King Fuchai of Wu (simplified Chinese: 吴王夫差; traditional Chinese: 吳王夫差; pinyin: Wú Wáng Fūchāi) (reigned 495–473 BC) was the last king of Wu, a state in ancient China; he reigned towards the end of the Spring and Autumn Period.

Biography[edit]

Fuchai of Wu, was the son of King Helü of Wu. He became king in 495 BC following the death of his father. In 494 BC, he defeated the armies of Yue in Fujiao (now Wu County, Jiangsu) and captured the capital city of Yue. Instead of annexing Yue, as suggested by his advisor Bo Pi, he made peace with the king of Yue, Goujian.

After this battle, he built the Han Canal (邗溝) and pushed his army northward. In Ailing, his army defeated the state of Qi. In 482 BC Fuchai successfully challenged the state of Jin for the status of hegemon in the regional lords' meeting in Huangchi.[1]

However, during the latter part of his reign, his extravagance and obsession with a Yue beauty, Xi Shi, led to the weakening of his state. King Goujian of Yue took advantage of this situation to invade Wu and was able to defeat the Wu armies. Following his victory, Wu was destroyed in 473 BC and King Fuchai was forced to commit suicide.[1]

Fuchai had at least four sons, three of whom were You, Hong and Hui. You was his heir but was killed in the battles leading to the defeat of Wu. So Hong became the new heir. After the abolition of the state, the other three sons of Fuchai were exiled. They and their descendants took Wu as their clan name. Wu Rui, Prince of Changsha created by Emperor Gaozu of Han, was a descendant of the House of Wu. He was also said to be descended from Fuchai.

The battle of Fujiao[edit]

In 494 BC, King Goujian of Yue heard that Fuchai was planning to attack Yue to avenge the death of his father. Fan Li, a senior minister of Yue, advised Goujian to await developments but Goujian decided to strike first. Fuchai received information about Goujian's plans and sent his armies to attack Goujian's forces. The battle occurred in Fujiao and Yue’s army suffered a major defeat with only five thousand surviving.

Yue’s army fell back to Guiji Shan (now south Shaoxing, Zhejiang). Fuchai occupied the Guiji town (now Shaoxing) and surrounded the Guiji Shan. Goujian had to adopt Fan Li’s suggestion and sent Wen Zhong to bribe the Wu’s Prime Minister Bo Pi to make peace. Bo Pi accepted the gifts and promised to help Goujian. As Fuchai was anxious to send his armies north to challenge the state of Qi, with Bo Pi's encouragement Fuchai made peace with Goujian and his forces returned to Wu.

Comment: In the battle of Fujiao, although King Fuchai of Wu was victorious, he made peace with King Goujian of Yue. It allowed an opportunity for Yue to develop and then extinguish Wu.

wòxīn-chángdǎn (臥薪嚐膽)[edit]

The Chinese idiom, wòxīn-chángdǎn (臥薪嚐膽 "sleeping on sticks and tasting gall") is a famous idiom which can be interpreted to mean "enduring hardship and plotting revenge". The idiom came from the story of King Goujian of Yue after he was defeated by Fuchai in 494 BC. [2]

After Fuchai withdrew his forces troops from Yue, Goujian took his wife and Fan Li to Wu to serve Fuchai. Goujian did his utmost to serve Fuchai and was able to gain Fuchai’s favour and trust. After three years, Goujian was permitted to return to Yue.

After returning home, Goujian determined to work hard and prepare for his revenge on Fuchai. To avoid immersing himself in the comforts of life and this reducing his aspiration for revenge, Goujian slept on straw with his head on his sword. He also hung a gall bladder in his house and tasted it every morning. He appointed Wen Zhong to administer government affairs and appointed Fan Li to manage his army. He worked with farmers in the field while his wife was weaving and doubling thread. Yue’s people were moved by Goujian’s action and Yue transformed from a weak to strong state after ten years.

King Fuchai of Wu lived an extravagant and dissipated life after defeating Yue. He was full of conceit and started war with his neighbours frequently. He believed Bo Pi’s advice and executed Wu Zixu, who was Fuchai's faithful minister. As a result, the state of Wu's power declined.

In 482 BC, Fuchai led his troops north to contest hegemony with the state of Jin. Goujian heard the news and is army advanced into Wu. Wu’s army was defeated and Fuchai’s heir, named You, was killed. Fuchai hastily withdrew his army and sent an emissary to make peace with Goujian. Goujian determined that it was impossible to fully defeat Wu with a single expedition, so he agreed to Fuchai’s offer. In 473 BC, Goujian attacked Wu again and Wu’s armies suffered repeated defeats. Fuchai had to ask Goujian for peace again but failed thanks to Fan Li’s opposition. Fuchai finally committed suicide and Wu was subjugated.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Cho-Yun Hsu, "The Spring and Autumn Period" in The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilisation to 221 BC, edited by Edward L. Shaughnessy and Michael Loewe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 564
  2. ^ The King of Yue's Revenge.(n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2013, from shanghai guide, culture and legend website, The King of Yue's Revenge
  3. ^ King of Wu-Fu Chai.(n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2013, from culture China, Historical Figures website, King of Wu-Fu Chai
King Fuchai of Wu
Died: 473 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Helü
King of Wu
495–473 BC
Conquered by Yue