Lord Mengchang

Tian Wen
Full name
Family name: Tian
Given name: Wen
Father Tian Ying, Lord Jinguo

Lord Mengchang (simplified Chinese: 孟尝君; traditional Chinese: 孟嘗君; pinyin: Mèngcháng Jūn), born Tian Wen, was an aristocrat of the State of Qi during the Warring States period of China. He was born as Tian Wen, son of Tian Ying and grandson of King Wei of Qi. He succeeded to his father's fief in Xue. Lord Mengchang is well known for the size of his entourage. According to the Records of the Grand Historian, he had up to three thousand people in his retinue.[1] Lord Mengchang eventually become the Chancellor of Qi and of Wei. He was also one of the Four Lords of the Warring States.

Early childhood

Lord Mengchang was born as Tian Wen (田文). His father already had over 40 children by the time he was born and was prepared to let him to starve to death because he was born in the fifth month of the lunar calendar, which was considered a bad omen.[2][3] Tian Wen was secretly brought up by his mother. At a very young age, he showed promising signs of talent and intelligence and persuaded his father to keep him.[4] One day, the young Tian Wen warned his father that although their lives had dramatically improved over the years, the family clan was in a short supply of intelligent counselors.[5] His father took his advice and began to welcome commoners to join his clan. Everybody was welcomed, with no regard for age, physical appearance, background, or skill. The guests were given shelter, food and a salary. As a result, people flooded in from all over the province. Because the family treated everybody with respect and honor, the Tian family prospered and Tian Wen's name became well known. When Tian Ying died, Tian Wen became the ruler of the clan by popular demand. He then took the title of Lord Mengchang of Xue.

Young Lord Mengchang

As Lord Mengchang's name spread, people started to come in from all over China. Many had no specific skills or had criminal backgrounds. Lord Mengchang still treated them equally and welcomed them with open arms. The size of his entourage had become a burden for the family's livelihood over the years, but he was still determined to welcome everybody. Every night, Lord Mengchang would serve dinner in the hall with all his entourage in attendance. He would set scribes behind a screen to note every word that was said.[6] He would then study the notes and learn from his advisers, and take care of any needs. One night, during dinner, one of the guests was upset that he could not see what Lord Mengchang was eating because of bad lighting, believing that the advisers were only eating leftovers. Lord Mengchang then stood up, walked to this person’s seat and showed him his bowl. It turned out to be the same food. The guest was so ashamed that he killed himself on the spot.[7] Lord Mengchang's praises reached the king of Qin, who sent a messenger to Qi to invite the young lord to meet him. Lord Mengchang wanted to go and meet the king. As he was about to depart, his advisers told him not to, including many natives of Qin, who dissuaded him by explaining the Qin king's questionable motives.[8]

First trip to Qin

In 299 BC, Lord Mengchang was sent to Qin on an official journey. King Zhaoxiang had heard so much about the young lord that he wanted to appoint him as the new Chancellor of Qin. However, King Zhaoxiang was warned by his ministers that Lord Mengchang was still loyal to his homeland of Qi, and soon put Lord Mengchang under house arrest.[9] Desperate, Lord Mengchang sent a messenger to the king of Qin's beloved concubine for help. In exchange for her aid, the woman asked for the snow fox fur coat which Lord Mengchang had already given to the king as a gift when he first arrived in Qin. It was worth a thousand pieces of gold and there was not its like anywhere. King Zhaoxiang kept it in the royal treasury. One of Lord Mengchang's entourage in Qin was a skilled thief. He disguised himself as a dog and sneaked into the treasury under cover of darkness and retrieved the coat.[10] Within two days, Lord Mengchang was released thanks to the pleas of the concubine. Lord Mengchang hired a chariot, forged his documents and dashed to the borders. By midnight of the next day, he had reached Hangu Pass—the last checkpoint of Qin before entering the territories of Qi. King Zhaoxiang had immediately regretted letting Lord Mengchang go and a small army was chasing him to bring him back. The guards at Hangu Pass would not let anyone pass through until the cock-crow at dawn. Lord Mengchang turned to his entourage for help. One of his aides could imitate all types of sounds. He crowed like a rooster, and this woke up the rest of the roosters. Not knowing that Lord Mengchang was being hunted, the guards at the pass then allowed Lord Mengchang and his entourage to enter Qi territory to safety.[11]

Chancellor of Qi

Out of guilt, the King of Qi appointed Lord Mengchang as the Chancellor of Qi after his return. Because his experience in Qin, the new chancellor was gathering allies and asking neighboring countries like Wei and Han to return past favors and prepare for war against Qin.[12] His adviser warned him of growing power of Qi's neighboring lands, which would eventually be dangerous for Qi if Qin were not in the equation. Instead, the adviser told the chancellor that it was in the interest of Qi to allow Qin to grow in power. This would maintain the balance of power against Han and Wei so they would still rely heavily on Qi, the most powerful of the three states.[13] The chancellor agreed and proceeded as planned. As his adviser predicted, King Zhaoxiang gave Qi the land and not a single drop of blood was shed among the four states. (However, King Huai was not allowed to return home to Chu. He died in Qin.)

A crafty hare has three burrows

One of the well-known Chinese four-character proverbs is 狡兔三窟 (pinyin: jiǎo tù sān kū), or "a crafty rabbit has three burrows."[14] It means that a smart rabbit should always have several ways to escape a predator; that is, people should have more than one plan to fall back on.[15]

This chengyu came directly from Lord Mengchang.[16] A member of his entourage, Feng Xuan (simplified Chinese: 冯谖; traditional Chinese: 馮諼; pinyin Féng Xuān), had been destitute when he became Mengchang's retainer. One day, Lord Mengchang asked Feng Xuan to go to the local county to collect overdue taxes. Before he left, Lord Mengchang also asked Feng Xuan to buy and bring back some things needed for the lord's large household. In the county, Feng Xuan made all the wealthy people pay the overdue taxes, but burned all the I.O.U.s for the poor peasants. He told the peasants that Lord Mengchang cared for them and hoped that they would prosper in the coming years. Upon his return, Feng Xuan told Lord Mengchang that he had “bought” benevolence and righteousness (simplified Chinese: 仁义; traditional Chinese: 仁義; pinyin: rényì) for him, as those are the items that were most needed in his household. Lord Mengchang was not completely happy, but allowed the matter to drop. A few years later, when Lord Mengchang was forced to flee from the Qi, these people of Xue welcomed him with flowers and food. He was so touched that he turned to Feng Xuan and thanked him for “buying” him benevolence and righteousness. Feng replied he was just doing his job, and while having rényì on one's side is good, it was not enough.

Feng Xuan now told Lord Mengchang that he needed to go to the kingdom of Wei. He would need a fast chariot and much gold. Lord Mengchang agreed and sent Feng Xuan off to see King Hui of Wei. He told King Hui that the young Lord Mengchang was an unparalleled talent, who was already being scouted by many other kings. King Hui was very impressed and told Feng that he could mobilize his army to protect Xue if the young lord were willing to come serve him. Feng then dashed back to Qi in his fast chariot to meet with King Min of Qi. He told King Min that the State of Wei was ready to mobilize its army to occupy Xue, and that if King Min wanted to keep Xue within the control of Qi, he needed to send more gold and troops to Lord Mengchang. Feeling pressured, King Min of Qi complied.

Upon his return to Xue, Feng Xuan congratulated Lord Mengchang, saying, “My lord, now you can rest assured: you have three burrows.”


  1. 《史记•孟尝君列传》(Records of the Grand Historian, Biographies of Lord Mengchang)
  2. Sima, Qian (1995). The Grand Scribe's Records, vol. VII. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 189 ff and index.
  3. 《史记•孟尝君列传》:初,田婴有子四十馀人。其贱妾有子名文,文以五月五日生。婴告其母曰:“勿举也。” (At the beginning, Tian Ying had more than 40 children. His concubine gave birth to a boy on the fifth day of the fifth month, and named him Wen. Tian Ying told her: “Don’t raise him!”)
  4. 《史记•孟尝君列传》:及長,其母因兄弟而見其子文於田嬰。田嬰怒其母曰:「吾令若去此子,而敢生之,何也?」文頓首,因曰:「君所以不舉五月子者,何故?」嬰曰:「五月子者,長與戶齊,將不利其父母。」文曰:「人生受命於天乎?將受命於戶邪?」嬰默然。文曰:「必受命於天,君何憂焉。必受命於戶,則可高其戶耳,誰能至者!」嬰曰:「子休矣。」When he grew up, his mother took him to visit his father. His father angrily asked his mother, "I told you to kill this son, but you raised him. What is your reason?" Tian Wen bowed and asked, "Why does my lord not want to raise a son born in May?" Tian Ying replied, "When a son born in the fifth month grows to the door's height, he'll be a detriment to his parents." Tian Wen asked, "A man's fate is decided by Heaven or the height of the door?" Tian Ying does not have an answer. Tian Wen said, "If my lord's fate is decided by Heaven, there is no reason to worry. If my lord's fate is decided by the height of the door, then my lord can raise the height of the door so I cannot grow to its height." Tian Ying then allowed Tian Wen to stay.
  5. 《史记•孟尝君列传》文曰:“君用事相齐,至今三王矣,齐不加广而君私家富累万金,门下不见一贤者。文闻将门必有将,相门必有相。今君後宫蹈绮縠而士不得褐,仆妾馀粱肉而士不厌糟嗳。今君又尚厚积馀藏,欲以遗所不知何人,而忘公家之事日损,文窃怪之。” (Tian Wen said “Father has been in charge of this clan during three kings' reigns. Today, we have over 10,000 ounces of gold, but we can’t even find an intelligent person in the staff. I heard that Military Families have generals to train them the art of war. Administrative families have chancellors to teach them the way to become a good ruler. But all you have are wives with unlimited amount of clothes and servants with excess food in their mouths; our advisers are left out in the cold without anything. Father only believes in how to save up more and can not even name all your advisers. We are losing ground in these dangerous days. I dare to wonder at this.”)
  6. 《史记•孟尝君列传》孟尝君待客坐语,而屏风後常有侍史,主记君所与客语. (same as in the article)
  7. 《史记•孟尝君列传》孟尝君曾待客夜食,有一人蔽火光。客怒,以饭不等,辍食辞去。孟尝君起,自持其饭比之。客惭,自刭。(same as in the article)
  8. 《史记•孟尝君列传》苏代谓曰:“今旦代从外来,见木禺人与土禺人相与语。木禺人曰:‘天雨,子将败矣。’ 土禺人曰:‘我生於土,败则归土。今天雨,流子而行,未知所止息也。’ 今秦,虎狼之国也,而君欲往,如有不得还,君得无为土禺人所笑乎?”孟尝君乃止。(Su Dai 苏代 said, “This morning as I was coming in from outside, I saw a wooden scarecrow arguing with a clay scarecrow. The wooden scarecrow said to the clay one, ‘When it rains, you are doomed.’ The clay one replied ‘I was born in mud, when I die, I return to mud. If it rains today, the water will wash you away, and it's not sure where you will end up.’ Today, Qin is a tiger-and-wolf country. If you want go, and not able to come back, isn’t it just like what the clay scarecrow says?” Lord Mengchang therefore did not go.)
  9. 《史记•孟尝君列传》人或说秦昭王曰:“孟尝君贤,而又齐族也,今相秦,必先齐而后秦,秦其危矣。”於是秦昭王乃止。(人或 said to King Zhaoxiang, “Lord Mengchang has talent indeed, but he is still a member of the royal clan of Qi. If he became Chancellor, he would set Qi above Qin, and Qin would be in danger.)
  10. 《史记•孟尝君列传》孟尝君有一狐白裘,直千金,天下无双,入秦献之昭王,更无他裘。最下坐有能为狗盗者,曰:“臣能得狐白裘。”乃夜为狗,以入秦宫臧中,取所献狐白裘至,以献秦王幸姬。(same as in the article)
  11. 《史记•孟尝君列传》孟尝君至关,关法鸡鸣而出客,孟尝君恐追至,客之居下坐者有能为鸡鸣,而鸡齐鸣,遂发传出。(same as in the article)
  12. 孟尝君怨秦,将以齐为韩、魏攻楚,因与韩、魏攻秦,而借兵食于西周。(same as the article)
  13. 苏代为西周谓曰:“君以齐为韩、魏攻楚九年,取宛、叶以北以强韩、魏,今复攻秦以益之。韩、魏南无楚忧,西无秦患,则齐危矣。韩、魏必轻齐畏秦,臣为君危之。君不如令敝邑深合于秦,而君无玫,又无借兵食。君临函谷而无攻,令敝邑以君之情谓秦昭王曰‘薛公必不破秦以强韩、魏。其攻秦也,欲王之令楚王割东国以与齐,而秦出楚怀王以为和’。君令敝邑以此惠秦,秦得无破而以东国自免也,秦必欲之。楚王得出,必德齐。齐得东国益强,而薛世世无患矣。秦不大弱,而处之三晋之西,三晋必重齐。” (Su Dai 苏代, speaking for Western Zhou his homeland, where Lord Mengchang had wanted to borrow grain for his army, said : “My lord spent nine years using Qi to fight along with Han & Wei against Chu, taking Wan and Ye. Today, if we go to war with Qin, it will only profit others. Han and Wei will no longer have any danger from Chu in the south, nor from Qin in the west. Qi will be in great danger.... Instead, why don’t you send the army to Hangu Pass without attacking it. Send your envoys to tell the king[ of Qin] that you do not want war as it will make Han and Wei stronger. Instead of attacking Qin, you want the king to order the king of Chu [King Huai (the first) of Chu, who was a hostage in Qin at the time] to cut off the eastern lands of Chu and give them to Qi, and send King Huai back to Chu to make peace. King Zhaoxiang will avoid a war, King Huai will be able to return to Chu, Qi will become more powerful, and Xue will free of worries from age to age. As Qin will not be weakened, the 'three Jin' (the states of Zhao, Wei, and Han) will have to respect Qi.”)
  14. http://baike.baidu.com/view/86418.html
  15. http://wiki.mbalib.com/wiki/%E7%8B%A1%E5%85%94%E4%B8%89%E7%AA%9F%E7%AD%96%E7%95%A5
  16. http://www.epochtimes.com/b5/3/2/28/c10940.htm
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