Author: Feng Menglong
First published: Xin Lieguo Zhi, Ming edition, after 1627; C'ing edition, after 1644
Time: 770–220 b.c.e.
King Yu of Chou, a cruel and foolish man. He is ungrateful and impassive, as well as unscrupulous in political intrigue. He spends much of his time eating, drinking, and engaging in lechery. Ignoring the difference between a wife and a concubine, he degrades his consort and elevates his favorite concubine, Pao-ssu. He attempts to make her child his heir and sends another of his sons, the heir apparent, into exile. His foolish effort to amuse his concubine by tricking his vassals with misleading signal fires results in his death and the downfall of his regime.
Kuan Chong, or Kuan I-wu, a master archer, philosopher, and outstanding statesman who becomes prime minister under Duke Huan of Ch'i. He is a close friend of Pao Shu-ya, who recommends him to the duke. He becomes a model of the later idealization of the Chinese ministry.
Duke Huan of Ch'i, originally named Hsiao-po, the first forceful leader to emerge in China during the Ch'un-ch'iu period. He and his brother Chiu are sons of Duke Hsi by concubines, and they contend the succession between themselves, with Hsiao-po winning. He appoints Kuan as prime minister on Pao Shu-ya's advice even though Kuan tried to assassinate him.
Duke Hsiang of Sung, an ambitious man with a delusional concept of reality. He attempts unsuccessfully to bring various princes together in a covenant respecting him as leader. He loses a battle with the army of Ch'u State because he refuses to take the advice of his minister of war regarding tactics; he believes that the minister's tactics violate Confucian principles of love and duty.
Duke Wen of Chin, originally named Ch'uang-êrh, a fugitive for nineteen years after he declines to take a dukedom because he considers the terms dishonorable. He performs a service for a duke and is himself confirmed a duke by imperial decree. He tries to smoke an old friend out of a forest by setting fire to it and inadvertently burns his friend to death.
Po-li Hsi, a native of Yü State. He becomes prime minister in the Ch'in court under Duke Mu.
Duke Mu of Ch'in, a feudal ruler. His fame rests on subjugation of the Jung barbarians who live along the border of China.
King Chuang of Ch'u, the aggressive but conciliatory brother of King Ting of the Chou line. He invades Chêng repeatedly and defeats the Chin State in the Battle of Pi in 597 b.c.e.
Wu Tzu-hsü, also known as Wu Yüan, a native of Ch'u. His father and brother are executed by Prince P'ing, and he flees to Wu State, where he becomes a general.
Prince Shên Pao-hsü of Ch'u, the grandson of ruler Prince Liao. He helps Wu Yüan avenge his relatives' deaths at the hands of Prince P'ing.
Prince Kung-tzu Kuang of Lu, an unscrupulous and ambitious man who hires Chuang Chu to assassinate his sovereign, Prince Liao. After the assassination, he takes the throne under the title of Prince Ho-lu.
Kung Fu-tzu, also known as Kung Chiu and Confucius (the Latinized form of his name), a government official whose principles clash with the behavior of the ruling class. He goes into exile for thirteen years, teaching and acquiring disciples.
King Kou Chien of Yüeh, who is at first immature but who acquires maturity through experience and spiritual self-training. He attacks Wu State unsuccessfully, failing to heed the advice of his minister. He later gets his revenge by having an ambassador send a concubine to the ruler of Wu State. She so distracts the ruler that he neglects his duties, allowing Kou Chien to conquer Wu State.
Ho Po, Count of the Yellow River, a deity depicted as having a man's head and torso but the tail of a fish. The river is important to commerce and to many people's livelihoods, so Ho Po is worshiped.
Wei Yang, also known as Shang Yang and whose real name is Kung-sun Yang, a statesman. His talents go unrewarded in Wei State, so he becomes a minister for Duke Hsiao of Ch'in State. He executes reforms in law, military affairs, agriculture, taxation, and family life. He helps to combine the forces of Han and Ch'i to defeat Wei State.
Sun Pin, also known as Sun Tzu or Sun Wu, a native of Ch'i State and a professional soldier, one of the world's greatest military strategists. He plans two major victories over Wei State.
Su Ch'in, who at first is a political failure but who later conceives the idea of forming a federation of Chinese states.
King Nan of Chou, the last true Chou ruler. His reign is characterized by warfare among the feudal states. He seeks to unite the states in league against Ch'in. In response, the Duke of Ch'in invades Chou, forcing Nan to surrender most of his land, his army, and himself. Nan is freed but dies soon afterward.
Ching K'o, an adventurer and hired assassin who is killed in an attempt to kill Prince Chêng.
Shih Huang-ti, ruler of Ch'in State for twenty-five years and of all of China for twelve years. He abolishes nobility of birth, substituting nobility based on gifts and services. He creates the Great Wall by unifying defensive barriers.