The Zhanguoce 戰國策 "Stratagems of the Warring States" is a collection of anecdotes and discourses, mostly between rulers and a minister, from the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). The stories have been collected and arranged by the early Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) scholar Liu Xiang 劉向 who selected the stories from six different books about the so-called coalition advisors (zonghengjia 縱橫家). It is not known which parts of the modern Zhanguoce are derived from such books, or from the other eleven books of coalition advisors listed in the Hanshu 漢書 (30 Yiwenzhi 藝文志). These are, including that of the Qin 秦 and early Han periods:
The terms for such books were guoshi 國事 "affairs of the state(s)", duanchang 短長 "disadvantages and advantes" or "weaknesses and strengths", shiyu 事語 "story of events", changshu 長書 "book of advantages", guoce 國策 "stratagems of the state(s)". The title Zhanguoce for the final distillate has thus been selected because a lot of the stories from different states focus on strategies to overcome their enemy, often by spontaneaous coalitions. The term ce 策 is occasionally translated as "intrigues", which has too much a moral implication.The twelve acting states are the small Eastern (Dongzhou 東周) and Western Zhou (Xizhou 西周) domains – the traditional royal dynasty whose house has been divided in 440 BC –, Qin 秦 – the coming imperial house -, Qi 齊, Chu 楚, Zhao 趙, Wei 魏, Han 韓, Yan 燕, Song 宋, Wei (Wey) 衛, and the short-lived semibarbarian state of Zhongshan 中山 in the north, all in all 33 chapters. The stories cover the time fro 490 to 221 BC.
- 蘇子 Suzi "Master Su (Qin) 蘇秦" by Su Qin in 31 chapters
- 張子 Zhangzi "Master Zhang (Yi) 張儀" by Zhang Yi in 10 chapters
- 龐煖 Pang Nuan [a general of the state of Yan] in 2 chapters
- 闕子 Quezi "Master Que"
- 國筮子 Guoshizi "Master Guo Shi" in 17 chapters
- 秦零陵令信 Qin Lingling lingxin "Orders and tallies from Lingling in the state of Qin" by Li Si 李斯
- 蒯子 Kuaizi "Master Kuai (Tong) 蒯通" by Kuai Tong in 5 chapters, according to the Shiji 史記 called Changduanshuo 長短說 “Explaining strengths and weaknesses”
- 鄒陽 Zou Yang by Zou Yang in 7 chapters
- 主父偃 Zhufu Yan by Zhufu Yan in 28 chapters
- 徐樂 Xu Le
- 莊安 Zhuang An (i.e. Yan An 嚴安)
- 待詔金馬聊蒼 Daizhao jin Ma Liao cang in 3 chapters
During the Warring States period it had become very common for members of the lower nobility to travel from court to court where they could advise the rulers how their state and armies could become stronger and crush their enemies.
The literary quality of the Zhanguoce is very high. The stories are written in a vivid manner describing background, actions and outcome in a complete style. The particular stories are therefore much more than pure records of historical events but the Zhanguoce earns to be called a collection of short stories. The acting persons, like Jing Ke 荊軻 who tried to assassinatethe king of Qin and later First Emperor (31 Yan taizi Dan zhi yu Qin 燕太子丹質於秦 "Crown prince Dan from Yan as a hostage in Qin"), or Feng Xuan 馮諼, client of Lord Mengchang 孟嘗君, who burned the peasants' certificates of debt instead of fleecing them (11 Qi ren you Feng Xuan zhe 齊人有馮諼者 "There was a certain Feng Xuan from Qi"). The detailed stories give a much better insight in the life and political habits of the late Zhou period than an annalistic history would have done. It is no wonder that Sima Qian 司馬遷, author of the Shiji 史記, the first dynastic history of China, relied on the same primary sources than seen in the Zhanguoce. Even today a lot of stories reported in the Zhanguoce are very popular. The very high amount of direct speech in the stories makes it also possible to study the art of rhetoric in ancient China. Chinese scholars found out that some of the stories, mostly the shorter ones, are more reliable because they were written down in a time not too far away from the events. The longer stories, it seems, are full of later inventions that go beyond historical reality. There are also many occasions that statements in different stories about the same fact contradict each other.
During the Sui period 隋 (581-618) already two thirds of the Zhanguoce were lost. Eleven chapters were preserved, which are today arranged in 33 chapters and 460 (other editions 497) paragraphs or stories. In 1900 a chapter of the state of Yan was discovered in the ruins of Loulan 樓蘭 in Xinjiang, dating from the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo 三國, 220-280) or Jin period 晉 (265-420). Surprisingly enough the differences to the transmitted version are marginally. This is also true for the texts from the Zhanguoce, written on silk, discovered in 1973 in a Han period 漢 (206 BC-220 AD) tomb in Mawangdui 馬王堆 with the title of Zhanguo zonghengjia 戰國縱橫家 “[Stories of] coalition advisors from the Warring States“. Of the 27 stories discovered 16 are not transmitted in the Liu Xiang version, but 11 stories are almost totally identical to the stories known.
The oldest commentary was written by Gao You 高誘 during the Later Han period (25-220 CE) which is partially lost. The two transmitted versions are that of the Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Yao Hong 姚宏 with comments, finished in 1146 and printed shortly afterwards. It contains the remainings of Gao's commentary and Yao's new commentary and is included in the collectaneum Shiliju congshu 士禮居叢書. The other version has been rearranged by the Song scholar Bao Biao 鮑彪. Bao's commentary is complemented by that of Wu Shidao 吳師道, a scholar from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368). The Bao-Wu version is the base for the reprinting in the collectaneum Sibu congkan 四部叢刊. Modern commentaries were written by Jin Zhengwei 金正煒 (Zhanguoce bushi 戰國策補釋), Zhu Zugeng 諸祖耿 (Zhanguoce jizhu 戰國策集注), and Miao Wenyuan 繆文遠 (Zhanguoce xin jiaozhu 戰國策新校注).
Sources: "Zhanguoce 戰國策", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, vol. 2, p. 1229 f. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Miao Wenyuan 繆文遠 (1992). "Zhanguoce 戰國策", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 3, p. 1495. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
1. 東周 Eastern branch of Zhou
2. 西周 Western branch of Zhou
3.-7. 秦 Qin 1-5
8.-13. 齊 Qi 1-6
14.-17. 楚 Chu 1-4
18.-21. 趙 Zhao 1-4
22.-25. 魏 Wei 1-4
26.-28. 韓 Han 1-3
29.-31. 燕 Yan 1-3
32. 宋 Song and 衛 Wei
33. 中山 Zhongshan