Guan Zhong

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Guan Zhong
Chancellor of State Qi
Born 720
Died 645
Traditional Chinese 管仲
Simplified Chinese 管仲
Pinyin Guǎn Zhòng
Wade–Giles Kuan Chung
Guan Zhong
Chinese 管仲

Guan Zhong (Chinese: 管仲; Wade–Giles: Kuan Chung, c. 720–645 BC) was a chancellor and reformer of the State of Qi during the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history.[1] His given name was Yíwú (夷吾). Zhong was his courtesy name. Recommended by Bao Shuya, he was appointed Prime Minister by Duke Huan of Qi in 685 BC. Through Guan Zhong's reforms and skilful diplomacy Qi became the most powerful of the feudal states and Duke Huan lord protector over the feudal lords. Though knowledge of his reforms is limited, in particular he instituted a famous fiscal policy known as "balancing the light and the heavy", associated with salt and iron monopolies.[2] Though otherwise a diverse work, the Guanzi compilation making use of his name makes similar such recommendations.[3]


Guan Zhong was disparagingly identified with the Legalist school as a result of his administrative reforms.[4] Though actually legalistic philosophy did not develop until hundreds of years later, R. Eno of Indiana University does consider that "If one were to trace the origins of Legalism as far back as possible, it might be appropriate to date its beginnings to the prime ministership of Guan Zhong, chief aide to the first of the hegemonic lords of the Spring Autumn period, Duke Huan of Qi (r. 685 - 643)."[5]

He is said to have indulged in a luxurious lifestyle.[6] Guan Zhong held that the ruler's love for luxury would not harm his hegemony. It would only be harmed through inappropriate staffing and misuse of talent.[7]

Despite all this, he might be considered, "at least in most respects" an "ideal Confucan minister".[8] Guan Zhong is reported to have advised Duke Huan: 'Summon the wavering with courtesy and cherish the remote with virtuous conduct. So long as your virtuous conduct and courtesy never falter, there will be no one who does not cherish you.'" When Duke Huan was approached to dethrone the ruling clans of his state, Guan Zhong advised him that he had won their adherence through politeness (li) and trustworthiness (xin).

When Confucius's students criticized Guan Zhong as lacking propriety, Confucius said of him that "Through having Guan Zhong as his minister Duke Huan became protector over the feudal lords. He brought unity and order to the entire realm so that even today people enjoy his gifts to them" and that "It was due to Guan Zhong that Duke Huan was able to assemble the feudal lords on numerous occasions without resorting to the use of his war chariots. Such was his goodness!"[9]


Guan Zhong started multiple reforms in the State of Qi. Politically, he centralized power and divided the state into different villages, each carrying out a specific trade. Instead of relying on the traditional aristocracy for manpower, he applied levies to the village units directly. He also developed a better method for choosing talent to be governors. Under Guan Zhong, Qi shifted administrative responsibility from hereditary aristocrats to professional bureaucrats. He is also credited for creating the first official government sponsored brothel known as "女市" which funded the government treasury.

Under Guan's guidance several important economic reforms were introduced . He created a uniform tax code and also used state power to encourage the production of Salt and Iron. Historians usually credit Guan Zhong for introducing state monopolies controlling salt and iron.

During his term of office, the state of Qi became much stronger. The Zuo Zhuan records that in 660 BC, Guan Zhong urged Duke Huan of Qi to attack the small neighboring State of Xing which was under attack from Quan Rong nomads. Later, in 652 BC he advised the duke not to ally with a vassal ruler's son who wished to depose his father. Duke Huan often listened to Guan Zhong's sound advice such that his status amongst other Zhou vassal states rose. As a result, the duke came to be recognized as the first Hegemon or leader of the vassal alliance.[1]

He is listed as the author of the Guanzi encyclopedia, actually a much later (of the late Warring States period) compilation of works from the scholars of the Jixia Academy.

Guan Zhong advised the Duke of Qi to aid the small neighbouring state of Xing, which was under attack by non-Chinese Rong tribes.[10]

In recognition of Guan Zhong's service, Duke Huan gave him the honorary title of "Godfather" 仲父. Same title was later given to Lü Buwei by Prince Zheng, the future Qin Shi Huang.

In popular culture[edit]

Guan Zhong is one of 32 historical personages featured in the Koei game Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI, where he is referred to as Guan Yiwu.


  1. ^ a b Ebrey, Patricia; Walthall, Ann; Palais, James (2009). East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-547-00534-8. 
  2. ^ Ricket, Guanzi (1985) p.9
  3. ^ Ricket, Guanzi (1985) p.3
  4. ^ Paul R. Goldin. "Persistent Misconceptions about Chinese Legalism" (PDF). Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  5. ^ R Eno, Indiana University
  6. ^ Griet Vankeerberghen 2001 p.10, The Huainanzi and Liu An's Claim to Moral Authority
  7. ^ Baogang Guo 2008 p.38. China in Search of a Harmonious Society.
  8. ^ Ricket, Guanzi (1985) p.10
  9. ^ Ricket, Guanzi (1985) p.11
  10. ^ Ebrey, Patricia, Anne Walthall, and James Palais. Pre-Modern East Asia To 1800. A Cultural, Social and Political History, Second Edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009.

External links[edit]