Duke Wen of Jin

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Duke Wen of Jin
Duke Wen of Jin Recovering His State (晉文公復國圖) by Li Tang (李唐), 1140.jpg
Duke Wen of Jin Recovering His State by Li Tang, 1140
Ruler of Jin
Reign 636–628 BC
Predecessor Duke Huai of Jin
Successor Duke Xiang of Jin
Born 697 BC
Died 628 BC (aged 68–69)
Spouse Ji Kui
Qi Jiang
Huai Ying
Issue Botiao (伯鯈)
Shuliu (叔劉)
Duke Xiang of Jin
Prince Yong
Prince Le
Duke Cheng of Jin
Full name
Ancestral name: Ji
Given name: Chong'er
Father Duke Xian of Jin
Mother Hu Ji
Duke Wen of Jin
Traditional Chinese 晉文公
Simplified Chinese 晋文公
Chinese 重耳
Literal meaning (personal name)

Duke Wen of Jin (Chinese: 晉文公; pinyin: Jìn Wén Gōng; 697 – 628 BC) was from 636 to 628 BC the ruler of the state of Jin during the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China. His ancestral name was Ji (姬), given name Chong'er (重耳), and Duke Wen was his posthumous title. He was the son of Duke Xian of Jin. Zuo Zhuan notes that "his ribs were all grown together," a sign of strength and leadership. Under his rule, Jin expanded rapidly and became the most powerful state.


Youth and the Li Ji Unrest[edit]

Prince Chong'er was born to Duke Xian of Jin in 697 BC, and his half-brothers included Shensheng and Xiqi. While Shensheng was the original crown prince, in his later years Duke Xian favoured the concubine Li Ji, who desired her son Xiqi to be heir instead. As such, she plotted to discredit Shensheng before his father, eventually leading to Shensheng's suicide in 656 BC.

This event led to a civil war in Jin, known as the Li Ji Unrest, where Duke Xian led several campaigns against his own sons, forcing them to flee Jin. With a retinue of capable men, including Zhao Cui (趙衰), Hu Yan (狐偃), Wei Chou (魏犨), Jia Tuo (賈佗), Xian Zhen (先軫) and Jie Zhitui (介之推), Chong'er fled to the north. In 651 BC, after the death of Duke Xian led to a succession crisis, Chong'er was invited to return to Jin and assume the duchy, but declined; the throne passed instead to his half-brother Yiwu, who became Duke Hui of Jin.


In 644 BC, after failed assassination attempts by Duke Hui, Chong'er moved to the State of Qi, his mother's homeland. He remained there until yet another succession crisis in Qi in 639 BC, whereupon he fled first to the State of Cao, then the states of Song, Zheng, Chu and finally the State of Qin. Over this 19-year period of exile, Chong'er gained both prestige and talented followers; a lady of a foreign court once commented that "When I look at the followers of the prince of Jin, every one of them is fit to be a premier of a state".

In 636 BC, after the death of Duke Hui, Duke Mu of Qin escorted Chong'er back to Jin with an army, and Chong'er was installed as the Duke of Jin.

Duke of Jin[edit]

Duke Wen undertook several major reforms of the state's military and civil institutions, partly in order to fill the gaps that had been caused by the slaughter of the ducal house previously. These included the formation of a three-army system, with an upper, middle and lower army each commanded by a General and a Lieutenant-General. The state was further invigorated by the many capable leaders Duke Wen had gathered from his wanderings, who were given senior military and governmental posts.

With this army, as well as his considerable prestige, Duke Wen was able to absorb many of the states around Jin, greatly increasing its extent, while also subjecting others as vassals; its vassal states included Cao, which he attacked in reprisal for the rude treatment afforded him during his exile. At the same time, he took the political stance of supporting the Eastern Zhou court and King Xiang of Zhou. When in 635 BC King Xiang was deposed and driven out by his brother, Duke Wen led a coalition of states which re-installed him as King.

At the same time, the northward expansion of the State of Chu was also resisted by Duke Wen; the two states' conflict was mostly played out among the smaller states which lay between their territories and formed alliances with one state or another. In 633 BC, Chu invaded the State of Song, which was an ally of Jin; Duke Wen led his coalition, including troops from Qin, Qi and Song, and won a decisive victory over Chu forces at the Battle of Chengpu in 632 BC. This battle checked Chu's northern expansion for decades, while cementing Duke Wen's position; the next year, he convened a large coalition of rulers at Jiantu, and was confirmed as hegemon over the other states, becoming one of the Five Hegemons.

Duke Jin died in 628 BC, and was succeeded by his son Duke Xiang of Jin; his son also inherited the hegemony, which would stay with Jin for nearly a century.


Duke Wen's military and civil reforms created a framework of government which helped ensure the stability and preeminence of the Jin for subsequent decades. At the same time, though, it laid the framework for the political situation in the later years of Jin, when several houses of nobles came to dominate the ducal court. The houses of Wei and Zhao, for example, were consolidated by their military appointments in Duke Wen's court, setting the ground for their eventual domination and the partition of Jin two and a half centuries later.

Stories about Duke Wen[edit]

Ordering the Army to retreat three She (退避三舍)[edit]

The state of Chu, then a powerful and expansionist state in the south, was one of the states which offered asylum to Chong'er in his exile. King Cheng of Chu set banquets for Chong'er, affording him good treatment, and at a banquet asked Chong'er how he intended to return the favour. Chong'er replied that, should Jin and Chu meet on the battlefield in the future, he would order his own troops to retreat three she (舍), or 90 li (里).

When the Jin and Chu armies eventually did meet, Duke Wen realised his promise, and ordered his troops to withdraw three she; but this was as much an honouring of his promise as it was a ploy to draw the Chu commander Ziyu into pursuing him, luring the Chu army into a more favourable position for the battle. The Chu forces indeed pursued, and met with defeat on the field of Chengpu.

Jie Zhitui and the Hanshi Festival[edit]

One hot summer afternoon during the exile of Chong'er and his loyal retainers, the sun was so strong that it exhausted Chong'er and also made him hungry. His advisor and personal friend Jie Zhitui (介之推) made meat soup for him. Duke Wen drank the soup and felt revitalized but he wondered where his friend managed to find meat to make the soup. It turned out that his friend had cut a piece of flesh from his own thigh to make the soup. Duke Wen felt extremely moved by his friend's loyalty and promised to reward him one day.

After Chong'er succeeded the throne as the Duke, Jie Zhitui resigned and hid himself in a mountain, repeatedly declining invitations to serve at court. Eventually, Duke Wen ordered the hill to be set alight, hoping to force Jie Zhitui out and making him return to his service; but Jie Zhitui and his mother refused to emerge and died in the fire. Feeling guilty about his friend, Duke Wen named the mountain after him and created Hanshi Festival, meaning 'cold food festival', as a memorial period for Jie, wherein fire (and therefore cooking) was prohibited. It lasts for three days including the day before, on and after Qingming Festival (清明節).


Huan (驩). Born by Bi Ji (逼姞). He succeeded his father and was known as Duke Xiang of Jin. He was regarded as a good successor as he defeated Qin and Di, but died too early in 621 BC. His son became Duke Ling of Jin, and Duke Dao of Jin was the grandson of his another son named Jie.

Bo Ji (伯姬). Also born by Bi Ji (逼姞). She was married to Zhao Cui (趙衰), and was praised highly for returning the wifehood to the first wife Shu Wei (叔隗), thereby making herself a concubine. She bore three sons named Zhao Yingqi (趙嬰齊), Zhao Tong (趙同) and Zhao Kuo (趙括). Also known as Zhao Ji (趙姬) and Junjishi.

Yong (雍). Born by Du Qi (杜祁). He was initially sent to the State of Qin to be a minister in Qin to avoid the probable conflict among his brothers. When Duke Xiang of Jin died, Zhao Dun (趙盾) decided to let Yong succeed the throne, since he was elder and had a good reputation. Therefore, Yong was returning to Qin guarded by Qin troops. However, when Yong and the Qin troops were at border, Dun changed his mind and created Yigao (夷皋) as Duke Ling of Jin and attacked the Qin troops. Yong was killed in the attack from the State of Jin.

Le (Yue?) (樂). Born by Chen Ying (辰嬴) from the State of Qin. He was initially sent to the State of Chento avoid the probable conflict among his brothers. When Duke Xiang died, another noble minister, Hu Shegu (狐射姑), wanted to make Le the duke and secretly fetched him from Chen. However, he was ambushed and killed on the way by fellows led by Gongsun Chujiu, one of the men of Zhao Dun.

Heitun (黑臀). Born by Zhou Nü (周女). He was initially sent to Zhou. When Duke Ling was murdered, he succeeded the throne and became Duke Cheng of Jin. He died in 600 BC.


Modern reference[edit]

  • Hong Kong's TVB made a television drama series about Duke Wen in the early 1990s called The Legend of Duke Wen (晉文公傳奇), starring Leon Lai. The series was semi-fictional, with many episodes featuring wuxia ("kung fu") scenes.


External links[edit]

Duke Wen of Jin
Cadet branch of the House of Ji
Born: 697 BC Died: 628 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Duke Huai of Jin
Duke of Jin
636–628 BC
Succeeded by
Duke Xiang of Jin