Fan Li

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Fan Li

Fan Li (fl. 5th-century BCE) from the Spring and Autumn period, was a Chinese businessman, military strategist, and politician. Fan Li was an important political and military advisor to Goujian, the king of Yue. He later was known as Tao Zhu Gong (陶朱公) a name he took after achieving a decisive victory for Yue over the state of Wu and retiring to live a secluded life with his wife Xi Shi, one of the most famous beauties in Chinese history.


Along with King Goujian of Yue, Fan Li was once a hostage of the state of Wu. After three years of captivity the two of them returned to Yue where Fan Li helped Goujian carry out a host of reforms to streamline the administration of the Yue state. In 473 BCE, Yue was finally able to destroy the state of Wu. After the victory, Fan resigned and renamed himself Tao Zhu Gong (Chinese: ; pinyin: Táo Zhū Gōng). After his departure, he was said to have written a letter to Wen Zhong from Qi, advising Wen Zhong to leave Goujian's service. Wen took notice of the advice in the letter and later was able to escape to Qi, living his remaining days there.

After retiring from his ministerial post he lived with Xi Shi, one of the renowned Four Beauties of ancient China, on a fishing boat, roaming the misty wilderness of Lake Tai in the style of the Taoist immortals of old. In his later years, he became a legend for his success in business, and was posthumously worshipped as a god of money, or the God of Wealth (Cai Shen).[1]

Fan Li was an ancestor of Fan Zhongyan, a famous chancellor and historical figure from the Song Dynasty.[2]


Fàn Li's writings are lost, and only known through quotes in a compilation of works by Cai Mo (281–356). His theories on business were summarized by Ma Zong (馬摠) in the 8th-9th century, during the Tang Dynasty.

His original works include:

  • Several treatises on business management and risks
  • The Yangyu Jing (養魚經 Book of Fish Breeding), an early text on fish farming.
  • The Bingfa (兵法 Art of War), on military strategy. Not to be confused with The Art of War by Sunzi.


  1. ^ "God of Wealth".
  2. ^ Yen, L.D.H.C.H. (2013). Ethnic Chinese Business in Asia: History, Culture and Business Enterprise. World Scientific Publishing Company. p. 262. ISBN 978-981-4578-44-8. Retrieved 2017-06-25.