During the reign of King Wei of Chu (r. 339-328 BCE), a nobleman named Zhuang Qiao was selected to lead an army of Chu warriors into the regions west of the kingdom. As the story goes, he trekked without much difficulty into the ancient western provinces of Ba, Shu and Qianzhong, then began campaigning downward against the so-called Southwestern Barbarians. Zhuang Qiao reportedly did not halt his army’s march until he reached Lake Dian in Yunnan Province. It was there, at that lake, where Zuang Qiao was said to have stopped to contemplate a return trip to Chu.
As the army at Lake Dian prepared for their homeward journey, they began to receive troubling news from the warring kingdoms back in the ancient Chinese heartland. They learned that Chu and other kingdoms had come under increasing pressure from an expanding state—Qin. King Huiwen (r. 337-311) of Qin and his successors were expanding their kingdom’s power and influence at an alarming rate, setting their dynasty on a path to eventually subjugate all of China by the late 3rd century BCE.
When Zhuang Qiao heard of the pressures and troubles faced by the kingdom of Chu, he had a selfish and opportunistic reaction. Instead of rushing home with his army to aid in the defense of Chu, Zhuang Qiao was said to have convinced his army to stay with him in the region of Lake Dian and to create their own dominion. Grand Historian Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE) commented on this, writing that Zhuang Qiao “returned to Lake Dian and with the men under his command made himself ruler of Dian, adopting native dress, following the customs of the people, and acting as their chief” (Shi Ji 116).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image painted by Li Gonglin (1049–1106), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.