The ruler and his ministers speak freely to achieve the hegemony of Duke Huan of Qi

Duke Huan of Qi, the first of the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period (? -643 BC) once invited Guan Zhong, Bao Shu Ya and NING Qi to a banquet. These ministers were all the officials who had assisted the Duke of Huan to become a hegemon. When they were in the midst of drinking, the Duke of Qi asked Bao Shu Ya to rise and make a toast to all of them.

Bao Shu Ya’s toast

Bao Shu Ya held up his cup and made a toast, saying, “Let the Duke not forget that he ran away to Ju, let Guan Zhong not forget that he was bound to Lu, and let NING Qi not forget that he had a meal and lived under a chariot.” He said, “I hope that Duke Huan of Qi will not forget his escape to Ju; I hope that Guan Zhong will not forget his imprisonment in Lu; I hope that NING Qi will not forget his feeding cows under the chariot.

Immediately, Duke Huan of Qi left his seat, worshiped Bao Shu Ya respectfully, and said, “If the widow and all the great officials can not forget your words, then the Qi state and society will be spared from defeat!”

There are several touching stories behind this short toast.

The Duke of Qi Huan disregarded an arrow’s revenge, and the prisoner Guan Zhong became an important minister

Duke Huan of Qi, named Xiaobai, was the twelfth generation grandson of Jiang Ziya and the fifteenth ruler of Qi during the Spring and Autumn Period.

During the reign of Duke Xiang of Qi, civil unrest broke out in the state of Qi. Guan Zhong was the master of Duke Zheng (the brother of Duke Xiang and the brother of Duke Huan) and protected him to Lu; Bao Shu Ya was the master of Duke Xiaobai and protected him to Ju.

In the twelfth year of Duke Xiang (686 BC), Gongsun Wu Zhi killed Duke Xiang of Qi and made himself ruler, and was killed the following year by Yong Gao, a great official of Qi. When the state of Qi was left without a ruler, the great officials discussed the reappointment of a new ruler.

The great minister Yong GANG, together with the great minister GUO and Gao servant, informed Duke Xiao Bai to return to his country and assume the throne. When Lu learned of the news, he also sent troops to escort Duke Zheng back to his country, and sent Guan Zhong with troops to block the road from Ju to Qi.

When Guan Zhong saw Xiao Bai’s carriage, he immediately opened his bow and shot an arrow at Xiao Bai. Xiao Bai fell to the ground, but he was not hurt because Guan Zhong only shot the hook on his clothes.

Thinking that Xiaobai would surely die, Lu sent Duke Zheng back to his country without panic, arriving in Qi six days later, only to find that Duke Xiaobai had arrived early and became the ruler of the country, as Duke Huan of Qi.

Fearing the Duke of Qi Huan, Lu therefore imprisoned Guan Zhong and escorted him to Qi. Bao Shu Ya advised Duke Huan of Qi, “If your majesty wants to make Qi a strong state, having Shu Ya and Gao servant will be enough. If your majesty wants to achieve hegemony, Guan Zhong is the only one who can do it.” The Duke of Qi Huan listened to Bao Shu Ya’s advice, forgave Guan Zhong, and entrusted him with important duties.

The Duke of Qi Huan’s wise eye recognized the talent, and the man who pulled the cart and fed the cattle became a member of his staff

The Duke of Qi Huan was able to achieve hegemony, and NING Qi was one of the meritorious officials. NING Qi was a native of the state of Wei, who came from a poor background and was of humble status. In his early years, he worked in the countryside pulling carts and feeding cows.

The Duke of Qi Huan recruited wise men and women, regardless of their origins and qualifications. So NING Qi came to the capital of Qi and proposed himself.

The Duke of Qi recognized his talent and promoted NING Qi to be the official in charge of agricultural affairs. NING Qi promoted the cultivation of farmland, water conservancy, fishery and salt industry, and the reduction of rents, so that the state of Qi developed rapidly and became a rich and powerful state. NING Qi later became the chief minister of Duke Huan of Qi.

At the banquet, Bao Shu Ya made a toast, hoping that the Duke of Qi would not forget his flight to Ju, reminding him of the hardships of starting his own business. In the past, Guan Zhong shot at Duke Huan and was imprisoned in Lu, but he was fortunately pardoned by Duke Huan, so Bao Shu Ya hoped that he would not forget the hard-won righteousness of his ruler and minister. NING Qi was in the countryside, pulling carts and feeding cows, doing humble chores, but now he has become an important minister of Qi.

Regarding this allusion, the Lü’s Spring and Autumn Annals comments, “It is because the ruler and his subjects can speak freely and put their hearts into their mouths that the subjects can achieve hegemony with him (Duke Huan of Qi).”