Places: Tung-chou lieh-kuo chih

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Xin Lieguo Zhi, Ming edition, after 1627; C’ing edition, after 1644

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 770-220 b.c.e.

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Xi’an

*Xi’an Tung-chou lieh-kuo chih (shee-AN). Walled city on the right bank of the Wei river, about eighty miles west from its confluence with the Huang He. The old capital of what later became known as the western Zhou Dynasty. From this city, the Zhou ruled their vast domain by granting their vassals hereditary rights to rule the lands adjacent to their individual fortified towns. This inadvertently led to the foundation of new local states on the Zhou lands.

The epic dramatizes the fall of Xi’an to a coalition of neighboring lords and “barbarians,” which all non-ethnic Chinese of the region were called, in 770 b.c.e. The story turns the destruction of Xi’an into a moral lesson. Xi’an’s magnificent lighthouse fails to summon loyal defenders, because the last king turned on its light merely to entertain his favorite concubine. After the city’s destruction, it loses importance until the new Qin (Ch’in) Dynasty builds its capital there at the end of the epic. Thus, narrative closure comes when power returns to the place from which foolish human behavior had driven it five centuries earlier.


*Luoyang (lew-oh-YANG). Capital of the eastern Zhou, who move there after the fall of Xi’an. Roughly two hundred miles east of Xi’an and on the southern bank of the Huang He, the new location provides more safety from raiders and lies in the fertile river plain, with floods presenting a major natural danger. As the eastern Zhou gradually lose real power, their capital also loses importance and splendor.


*Qi (kee). Duchy based in the current province of Shandong, beginning two hundred miles southeast of present-day Beijing. There, the Huang He River flows into Bo Hai Bay at the northern tip of the Yellow Sea. The Dai Shan Mountains rise over the river plains. In the novel, Qi is the first duchy to eclipse the central power of the king of Zhou. Crafty treaties and alliances with its neighboring states help Qi to defend itself from the rising power to its southwest.


*Chu. State located in the present provinces of Hubei and Henan (Hunan) between the rivers Huang He and Chang Jiang. In the novel, its inhabitants are regarded as half-barbarian and fierce. Through politics and warfare, Chu increases its area of control until all smaller fiefdoms along the Han River are conquered, and its power reaches into the fierce Huashang mountains.

*Jiangsu Province

*Jiangsu Province. Area of the kingdom of Wu, which rose in the southeast along the coast of the Yellow Sea, and defeated the Chu. Ironically, Wu falls to the Yueh, conquerors out of the present Zhejiang Province, south of modern Shanghai. The novel’s moral reading of history takes delight in the historical fact that the place of the conquerors from Zhejiang later becomes part of an invigorated state of Chu.

*Warring states

*Warring states. The feudal system of allocating land not only to great lords of the Zhou Dynasty but also to the ministers and warriors of the lords themselves leads to the creation of smaller and smaller fiefdoms. A large number of local hereditary potentates are created, each of whom rules a domain of his own. This disintegration leads to the division of the large state of Jin, which splits into the three states of Zhao, Wei, and Han in today’s province of Shanxi. During this period of the warring states, from 403 to 221 b.c.e., what the Chinese considered their homeland is divided into seven powerful states fighting and scheming against one another.


*Qin (keen). Westernmost Chinese kingdom whose streams and forbidding mountains create a stronghold from which large armies can issue forth into the plains of the Huang He bordering the state to the east. Qin expanded by conquering the non-Chinese people to its west. The novel closes when the king of Qin defeats all six rival states and proclaims himself Shi Huangdi, or First Emperor of the new Qin Dynasty. During his subsequent reign, he would build the Great Wall of China.

BibliographyFeng Menglong. Tung Chou lieh-kuo chih. Tai-pei shih: Hua I Shu Chu, 1985. A selection of 23 chapters. In finely written Chinese script with beautiful colored illustrations.Giles, Herbert A., trans. Excerpt from Lieh-kuo chih chuan, by Yü Shao-yü. In A History of Chinese Literature. New York: Grove Press, 1958. Useful for comparison.Lu, Sheldon Hsiao-peng. From Historicity to Fictionality: The Chinese Poetics of Narrative. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994. Proposes that history is the ground of narrative and ties it inevitably to time and space as well as to ideology and relativity.
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