Shang Yang 商鞅

A reformer who reward farming and strengthen the country


Chinese Name: 商鞅

English Name: Shang Yang

Other Names: Gongsun Yang 公孙鞅, Wei Yang 卫鞅

Born: 390 B.C.

Died: 338 B.C.


Carry out Shang Yang’s Reform 推行商鞅变法

Lead the Qin army to recover Hexi 率领秦军收复河西

Main Works:


The Laws of Qin Dynasty《秦律》

Shang Yang 商鞅
Shang Yang 商鞅

Brief Biography of Shang Yang

Shang Yang, a statesman, reformer, thinker, strategist, and representative of Legalists in the Warring States Period 战国, is a descendant of the monarch of the State of Wei 卫国.

Shang Yang (about 390 B.C. – 338 B.C.), surnamed Ji 姬, was born in Wei 卫. He assisted Duke Xiao of Qin 秦孝公 and actively carried out the reform, making Qin a rich and powerful country, which is known as the “Shang Yang Reform 商鞅变法” in history.

Shang Yang 商鞅
The statue of Shang Yang 商鞅塑像

Politically, he reformed the registered residence, military titles, land system, administrative divisions, taxation, weights and measures, and folk customs of the state of Qin, and formulated harsh laws; Economically, he advocated attaching importance to agriculture and restraining commerce, and rewarding farming; In terms of military affairs, he commanded the Qin army to recover the Hexi area, and was granted fifteen towns by Duke Xiao of Qin, known as “Shang Jun 商君” in history.

In 338 BC, after the death of Duke Xiao of Qin, Shang Yang was falsely accused of treason by Qian 虔, and died in Tongdi 彤地 (southwest of Huazhou District 华州区, Weinan City 渭南市, Shaanxi Province 陕西省 today) after his defeat. His body was transported to Xianyang 咸阳 and the whole family was killed.

Personal Life and Major Contributions

Early life experience

Shang Yang was born in the Duke of Wei. Some scholars speculated that he was the person of the capital of Wei. However, the corresponding place name of this place is still controversial. There are mainly two kinds of statements: Neihuang County 内黄县 in Anyang City 安阳市 and Puyang County 濮阳县 in Puyang City 濮阳市.

When he was young, he liked the study criminal and magic techniques. He was greatly influenced by Li Gui 李悝 and Wu Qi 吴起. It is said that when he went to the State of Qin, he took the Book of Laws written by Li Gui and served as the commoner of the Duke of Wei.

Shang Yang 商鞅
Shang Yang’s Reform 商鞅变法

When Gongshu Cuo 公叔痤 was seriously ill, he recommended Shang Yang to King Wei Hui 魏惠王, saying, “he is young and talented, and can serve as the minister of state to govern the country”. He also said to King Wei Hui, “If you don’t need him, you must kill him, and don’t let him go to other countries.”

King Wei Hui thought that Gongshu Cuo 公叔痤 had become incurably ill and incoherent, so he didn’t accept it. Gongshu Cuo 公叔痤 then asked him to leave the State of Wei quickly. Shang Yang understood that King Wei Hui did not accept Gongshu Cuo’s words of using or killing him, so he did not leave the State of Wei immediately.

Go to the State of Qin

In 362 BC, Duke Xiao of Qin succeeded to the throne. At that time, the Six Heroes of the Warring States to the east of the Yellow River 黄河 and Xiao Mountain 崤山 had been formed, and there were more than ten small countries between Huai River 淮河 and Si River 泗水. The power of the Zhou royal family declined, and the princes conquered and annexed each other by force.

The State of Qin is located in the remote Yongzhou 雍州. It does not participate in the alliance of the princes in the Central Plains. It is alienated by the princes and treated like barbarians. After taking the throne, Duke Xiao of Qin took it as his own duty to restore the hegemony of Duke Mu of Qin 秦穆公‘s time and issued a famous order of seeking talents, ordering his people and ministers to offer the policy of enriching the country and strengthening the army.

After Gongshu Cuo’s death, Shang Yang heard that Duke Xiao of Qin had issued an order of merit in China, so he went to the State of Qin and met him through Jing Jian 景监, his favorite minister. Shang Yang lobbied Duke Xiao of Qin with the emperor theory for the first time. After hearing this, he dozed off and accused Shang Yang of being an arrogant man through Jing Jian. Five days later, Shang Yang met with Duke Xiao of Qin again and lobbied him with kingly skills. Duke Xiao of Qin could not accept it and blamed Shang Yang again through Jingjian.

Shang Yang 商鞅
Duke Xiao of Qin 秦孝公

When Shang Yang met with Duke Xiao of Qin for the third time, he lobbied with overbearing tactics, which was affirmed by Duke Xiao of Qin but not adopted. However, Shang had understood the intention of Duke Xiao of Qin at this time. Finally, when Shang saw Duke Xiao of Qin, he talked about how to make the country rich and build a strong army.

Duke Xiao of Qin was fascinated when he listened to him. His knees moved towards Shang Yang unconsciously. They talked for several days without any tiredness. Jing Jian doesn’t understand this and asks Shang Yang why. Shang said that Duke Xiao of Qin’s intention was to dominate the world, so he was not interested in the imperial doctrines that took too long to achieve results.

Defeated and killed

In 338 BC, Duke Xiao of Qin died and Prince Si ascended the throne, that is, King Hui of Qin 秦惠王.

Shang Yang’s reform involved the redistribution of interests. “Rewarding farming and fighting, and implementing the military merit system” allowed civilians to enter the upper ranks, making Qin prosperous and increasingly powerful. However, it broke the hereditary system of the aristocrats that had lasted for hundreds of years, thus offending the aristocratic forces. During the severe illness of Duke Xiao of Qin, Shang Yang monopolized military and political power, which intensified the internal power struggle of Qin.

Therefore, after the death of Duke Xiao of Qin, such aristocratic forces as Gongzi Qian 公子虔 made accusations and falsely accused him of treason. King Huiwen of Qin ordered to pursue. Shang Yang fled to the border and wanted to stay in the guest house. The owner of the guest house did not know that he was the Lord of the Shang Dynasty. Seeing that he did not carry a voucher, he told Shang Yang that staying in the guest house without a voucher was a crime. Shang Yang wanted to go to the State of Wei, but the State of Wei refused him to enter the country because he had cheated Prince Ang.

Shang Yang 商鞅
Duke Mu of Qin 秦穆公

After returning to the Qin Dynasty, Shang Yang was forced to sneak back to the manor of Shang Yu and launch the manor troops to attack Zheng County 郑县 (now Huazhou District 华州区, Weinan City 渭南市, Shaanxi Province 陕西省). King Huiwen of Qin sent troops to fight, but Shang Yang died in defeat in Tongdi 彤地 (now southwest of Huazhou District (Yuanhua County), Weinan City, Shaanxi Province). His body was taken back to Xianyang and put on public display after being cracked. At the same time, King Huiwen of Qin ordered to kill Shang Yang’s family.

Although Shang Yang was killed, the new law was not repealed.

Video: Lord Shang Yang

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