Duke Xiao of Qin

Duke Xiao of Qin (秦孝公)
Reign 361–338 BC
Full name

Duke Xiao of Qin (Chinese: 秦孝公; pinyin: Qín Xiào Gōng, 381–338 BC), given name Quliang (Chinese: 渠梁; pinyin: Qúliáng), was the ruler of the Qin state from 361 to 338 BC during the Warring States period of Chinese history. Duke Xiao is best known for employing the Legalist statesman Shang Yang[1] from the State of Wei (衛),[2] and authorizing him to conduct a series of ground breaking political, military and economic reforms in Qin. Although the reforms were controversial and drew violent opposition from many Qin politicians, Duke Xiao supported Shang Yang fully and the reforms did help to transform Qin into a dominant superpower among the Seven Warring States.


Duke Xiao ascended to the throne of the Qin state in 361 BC at the age of 21, succeeding his father, Duke Xian. Duke Xiao was determined to restore the Qin state to its former glory as one of the Five Hegemons during the reign of his ancestor, Duke Mu. Hence, the duke sent out an announcement, calling for men of talent to aid him in strengthening Qin, promising them rewards of high offices and lands in return for their service. Wei Yang (later known as Shang Yang), a scholar from the Legalist School, responded to the duke's call as he had been unsuccessful in attempting to start his career in other states.

Wei Yang was introduced to Duke Xiao by Jing Jian and had two audiences with the duke, during which he proposed ideas on governance based on the principles of Confucianism, Taoism and other schools of thought, but the duke was not impressed. During the third meeting, Wei proposed his ideas on strict governance, based on ideas from Legalism, and captured the duke's attention. Duke Xiao and Wei Yang had a discussion that lasted for three days and three nights, after which they drafted plans for reform. The plans were put into effect in 363 BC, but several Qin politicians objected strongly to the reforms.[3] However, Duke Xiao supported Wei Yang fully and ensured that the reforms were implemented as planned.

The reforms caused ground breaking changes in the Qin state and transformed it into a strict, controlling,[4] militaristic state, which governed by using tough and oppressive laws. Agriculture was expanded through forced migration to new regions,[5] and citizens were rewarded or punished based on their military or agricultural achievements.[6]

In 366 BC, the Qin armies defeated the allied forces from the states of Han and Wei at the Battle of Shimen.[7] The Qin soldiers and officers were promoted to higher ranks based on the number of enemy heads they collected during battle.[8] The Qin state pushed on to seize lands from the Wei state, which managed to survive only with the help of the Zhao state, and Wei was drastically weakened by its losses and defeats.


Duke Xiao ruled Qin for 24 years and died at the age of 44 in 338 BC. He was succeeded by his son King Huiwen of Qin. Duke Xiao was given the posthumous name of "Xiao", which means "filial". The reforms that took place during his reign helped to lay a strong foundation for Qin's eventual unification of China under the Qin Dynasty, under the leadership of Duke Xiao's descendant, Zheng, who became Qin Shi Huang (First Emperor of Qin).[9]

Duke Xiao was also the last ruler of Qin to be addressed as "duke" (Chinese: ; pinyin: gōng), as his successors titled themselves "kings" (Chinese: ; pinyin: wáng). The change was an indication of the loss of authority of the central government (Zhou Dynasty), as rulers of several other feudal states had begun to call themselves "kings" instead of "dukes".


  1. Harvard University reference page for a 2006 class called Moral Reasoning; includes a useful map
  2. Not to be confused with the similarly named State of Wei (魏)
  3. Records of the Grand Historian, by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson, chapter "Basic Annals of Qin." Pub. Chinese University of Hong Kong (1993), pp. 23-24
  4. Herbert Giles, Chinese Biographical Dictionary on Shang Yang (Wei Yang)
  5. National Institute of Informatics (Japan) English-language abstract of Japanese article by Ochi Shigeaki
  6. Encyclopædia Britannica article on Shang Yang
  7. The Cambridge History of Ancient China (1999/2007), v. 1, p. 618 (ch. "Warring States Political History" by Mark Edward Lewis)
  8. The Cambridge History of Ancient China (1999/2007), v. 1, p. 612 (ch. "Warring States Political History" by Mark Edward Lewis)
  9. University of Cumbria article

External links

Duke Xiao of Qin
Born: 381 BC Died: 338 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Duke Xian of Qin
Duke of Qin
361–338 BC
Succeeded by
King Huiwen of Qin
as King of Qin
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