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Wu Qi (simplified Chinese: 吴起; traditional Chinese: 吳起; pinyin: Wú Qǐ; Wade–Giles: Wu Ch'i, 440-381 BC) was a Chinese military leader, Legalist philosopher, and politician in the Warring States period.
Born in the State of Wey (衞), he was skilled in leading armies and military strategy. He had served in the states of Lu and Wei (魏, not to be confused with Wèi, as in previous note). In the state of Wei he commanded many great battles and was appointed Xihe Shou (Mayor of Xihe county). Xihe was the area between the Yellow and Luo Rivers that Wei had just taken from Qin. Later, after he became estranged from the lord of Wei and was forced into exile, Wu Qi went to the State of Chu where he was appointed Prime minister by King Dao of Chu (楚悼王). His reforms made Chu a strong state at that time. The reforms he instituted enraged the old nobility of Chu and he was killed after the death of King Dao.
Wu's reforms, which started around 389 BC, were generally aimed at changing the corrupt and inefficient government. The nobility and officialdom were terribly corrupt and the government was burdened with the costs of paying them and a horde of other minor officials. Wu first lowered the annual salary of Chu officials, then dismissed officials who were useless or incompetent. He also eliminated hereditary privileges after three generations. The money saved by cutting costs was used to create and train a more professional army.
Another of Wu's actions was to move all the nobles to the borders on the frontier, away from the capital, in order to reduce their power and at the same time populate those areas, making them more useful to the state government. He is also credited with devising a set of building codes in Ying, in order to make the city look less "barbaric", and more in line with 'civilized' Chinese architectural aesthetics.
Although his reforms soon started to make Chu a powerful country, the nobles and Daoists of Chu hated him. Nobles accused him of trying to change the old ways, and even managed to find fault with the building codes. Daoists accused him of being a "warmonger" and an "admirer of force and weaponry", even going as far as to say that he was "a threat to humanity". He was accused of not returning for the mourning period of his mother's death and for murdering his own wife (who was the daughter of a noble from the rival state of Qi) in order to gain trust from the ruler of the state of Lu. There is no definitive evidence to the truth of these accusations, and it is possible they were manufactured by Wu Qi's political enemies to slander him.
In the wake of Wu Qi's reforms, Chu's prowess was quickly manifest: Chu defeated the Yue state in the south and the Wei in the north, dealing with each in quick succession. However, King Dao died that same year. The old nobles plotted to assassinate Wu Qi at King Dao's funeral, where he would be separated from the army. Wu Qi spotted the assassins armed with bows, and rushed to the side of King Dao's body. He was killed, but many arrows struck the dead King. The new King Su (楚肃王), furious at his father's body being mutilated, ordered all nobles involved to be executed, along with their families.
Depictions in Popular Culture
He and Sun Tzu are often listed in the same sentence (Sun-Wu,孙武) as great military strategists.