Ximen Bao

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Ximen Bao
Traditional Chinese西
Simplified Chinese西

Ximen Bao was a Chinese hydraulic engineer, philosopher, and politician. He was a government minister and court advisor to Marquis Wen of Wei (reigned 445–396 BC) during the Warring States period of ancient China. He was known as an early rationalist, who had the State of Wei abolish the inhumane practice of sacrificing people to the river god He Bo.[1] Although the earlier statesman Sunshu Ao is credited as China's first hydraulic engineer (damming a river to create a large irrigation reservoir), Ximen Bao is nonetheless credited as the first engineer in China to create a large canal irrigation system.


Ximen Bao became well known in his lifetime and posthumously for his grandiose works in hydraulic engineering during the 5th century BC. He organized a massive diversion of the Zhang River, which had formerly flowed into the Yellow River River at Anyang. The new course that the river took under his diversion project brought the river to meet the Yellow River further down its course at a bend near modern-day Tianjin.[1] The Zhang River rises in the mountains of Shanxi province, flowing southeastwards, and at the time added to the burden of overflow for the Yellow River. Ultimately though, the purpose of this enormous project of engineering was to irrigate a large agricultural region of Henei (in the left lower Yellow River basin) by providing it with a natural contour canal.[1][2]

When Ximen Bao took up office at Ye (鄴城), he met with the elders and ask them what the people suffered from. The elders said "The suffer from having to provide a wife for the River God. That is why they are poor. The local elder sanlao (三老) and inspector (廷椽) heavily taxed the people. They use the money to find a wife and divide the rest for themselves. If no girl's been sacrificed, the county would be submerged in flood. Then the government would take the girl away, dressed her up when the day came, and sank her into the river following a ceremony. Families with pretty daughters, fearing they be taken flee the area. When the ceremony came, Ximen Bao met then on the river. The elder, subordinate official, and female disciple came. Ximen Bao said the maiden is not pretty. He ask his soldiers to throw the witch on the river and report to the River God that we will search for a prettier maiden. Sometime after he said why is the witch taking so long, so he threw the disciples one by one. He said again the witch and disciples have not come back, he wanted the inspector and local powerful men to fetch them, but all of them kneel before him. The people of Ye was terrified, no one dared to bring up the idea of finding a bride for the River God.

Work on the canal system began sometime between 403 BC and 387 BC, when Marquis Wen and his successor Marquis Wu reigned over the State of Wei. Due to several setbacks (including some temporary local resistance to corvee labor service) it was not fully completed until a century later, during the time of Wen's grandson, King Xiang (襄王) (r. 319–296 BC).[1] It was during this time that the Wei engineer Shi Chi completed the work of Ximen Bao.[1]


In honor of the Zhang River diversion project, the local populace made a popular song about it, as recorded in the historical work of the later Han Dynasty historian Ban Gu.[1]

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  1. ^ a b c d e f Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 271.
  2. ^ Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 371.


  • Needham, Joseph; et al. (1971), Science & Civilization in China, Vol. IV: Physics and Physical Technology, Pt. III: Civil Engineering and Nautics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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