Four Lords of the Warring States
|Four Lords of the Warring States|
The Four Lords of the Warring States were four powerful aristocrats of the late Warring States period of Chinese history who exerted a strong influence on the politics of their respective states in the third century BCE.
During this time, the Zhou king was a mere figurehead, and seven states led by aristocratic families competed for real power. Although they were not themselves monarchs, four aristocrats stood out because of their tremendous military power and wealth: Lord Mengchang (d. 279 BCE) of Qi, Lord Xinling (d. 242 BCE) of Wei, Lord Pingyuan (d. 251 BCE) of Zhao and Lord Chunshen (d. 237 BCE) of Chu.
All four were renowned for their activity in the politics of their era as well as being the persona of their state respectively at the time; they also wielded influence via the cultivation and housing of many talented house-guests, who often included learned men and tacticians. As such, they came to be the most prominent patrons of the shi (士) or scholar-knights, stimulating the intellectual life of the time. Their prestige became the inspiration for Lü Buwei when he created his academic analogue in Qin.
References in the Records of the Grand Historian
In the Biographies of Lord Pingyuan and Yu Qing,
At this time, [in addition to Lord Pingyuan in Zhao,] in Qi lived Mengchang, in Wei Xinling, and in Chu Chunshen. They competed to invite shi (talents).
In the Biography of Lord Chunshen,
Lord Chunshen now stood as the prime minister of the Kingdom of Chu. At this time, in Qi lived Lord Mengchang, in Zhao Lord Pingyuan, and in Wei Lord Xinling. They competed to humble themselves before shi (talents) [to hire them], invited brilliant guests, and tried to defeat each other. They sustained their states and held the real power.
At the height of his career, he was the supreme commander of the armed forces of the Kingdom of Wei. After stepping down, Lord Xinling became dispirited and died in 243 BCE.
Zhao Sheng's fief was the City of Dongwu. Lord Pingyuan was his title, and some of his famous retainers included the philosophers Xun Kuang and Gongsun Long, the Yin and Yang master Zou Yan, and the diplomat Mao Sui.
After the death of King Qingxiang, Prince Wan and Huang Xie returned to the Kingdom of Chu. Prince Wan was enthroned as King Kaolie of Chu, while Huang Xie was appointed Prime Minister and received the title of Lord Chunshen. For the next 25 years, Lord Chunshen remained Prime Minister of Chu, until his assassination by Li Yuan in 238 BCE.