Intrigues of the Warring States: SPP

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Miching Mallecho: The Zhanguo ce and Classical Rhetoric (1.7 MB PDF), by Paul Rakita Goldin of the University of Pennsylvania. This covers the Zhanguoce (Zhànguó cè/戰國策/战国策 / Intrigues of the Warring States), from China’s Warring States period. The phrase “miching mallecho” comes from Hamlet; those interested in knowing more can refer to the first page of Goldin’s work.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Intrigues are a collection of anecdotes about people from the Warring States period and how they acquire the things they want: position, fame, revenge, glory for the state, and so on. Naturally, since advisors often find the best resource to be the king, they focus their attention to persuade the king to action–action sometimes beneficial to the king and his state, but often advantageous to the counselors themselves and their favorites. These are the rhetorical pieces. But in many of the stories, the characters use very different methods, such as conspiracy, espionage, and framing, to achieve their goals. These anecdotes always involve some sort of scheme or machination to bring about a desired end.

The Intrigues, then, are primarily about intrigue. The lively, disjointed pieces fuse together to paint an irreverent picture of Warring States politics. The entire book seems to be a glorification of mendacity and trickery. The cunning advisors live by their wits, rising and falling by their own ingenuity and that of their rivals. By contrast, the kings are continuously hoodwinked by the unscrupulous sophistry of their own ministers. Some, like Lord Mengchang (e.g. 4.35b-36b; 10.579f.; 153) accept the duplicity of their retainers and even encourage it, on a manageable scale, rather than oppose it fruitlessly. But most do not, and are deceived throughout.

The Intrigues form a document from turbulent times, and the jungle law they advocate reflects the circumstances in which they originated. Scholars have been reluctant to concede this point because of the clear anti-Confucian message it entails. But the position of the Intrigues is unmistakable: all is due to him who attains it; the more devious the plot, the more entertaining; virtue and loyalty are eminently unprofitable. They are a paean to miching mallecho.

If we must find a Western analogy for the Intrigues, let us look to the Arabian Nights and the medieval European fabliaux. All three raise trickery to an art form with pure delight. Differences in culture can explain differences in what the schemers scheme for….

This was originally published as issue no. 41 of Sino-Platonic Papers in October 1993.

Goldin’s website has bibliographies on a number of topics of possible interest to readers of this site:

  • Ancient Chinese Civilization: Bibliography of Materials in Western Languages (ca. 7,100 entries)
  • Ancient Chinese Civilization Bibliography: 2006-07 entries only (ca. 375 entries)
  • Bibliography of Materials Pertaining to the Kuo-tien and Shanghai Museum Manuscripts (ca. 1,250 entries)
  • Gender and Sexuality in Pre-Modern China: Bibliography of Materials in Western Languages (ca. 750 entries)
  • Principal Translations of the Thirteen Classics into Western Languages