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by Liu Xiang (77 BCE - 6 BCE, Western Han Dynasty)
English translation: Zhi Yue

Zou Ji* was a handsome man with a stately appearance. When he heard that Mister Xu from the north was also a good-looking man, he asked his wife, his concubine, and his guests on separate occasions, “Is Mister Xu or am I better-looking?”

They all answered, “Mister Xu is not as handsome as you are!”

The next day, when Mister Xu came for a visit, Zou Ji was particularly attentive and scrutinous, finally admitting that he was not as good-looking as Mister Xu.

That evening, he thought to himself, “My wife said that I was handsome, because she is biased towards me. My concubine said I was handsome, because she is afraid of me. And my guest said I was handsome, because he has a favor to ask of me!”

Because of this incident, he went to the imperial court to remonstrate King Wei of Qi. “The state of Qi has a territory spanning over a thousand li**, and a hundred and twenty cities.” said Zou Ji. “There isn’t a single one of your Majesty’s concubines and attendants, who isn’t biased towards you. There isn’t a single high official who isn’t afraid of you. And there isn’t a single subject of the state of Qi who doesn’t have a favor to ask of you. As you can see, there is a lot of truth that is concealed from your Majesty!”

King Wei then issued an official order, “All those can point out my faults in person shall receive the highest rewards. Those who admonish me in writing shall receive moderate rewards. And those I have received news of voicing their complaints in public shall receive small rewards.”

Shortly after the decree was announced to the public, people swarmed to the imperial court, packing it like a crowded market place. There were queues of officials lining both inside and outside the city walls. It wasn’t until after a year later did the number of people dwindle.

Upon hearing this news, the neighboring states of Yan, Zhao, Han, and Wei all came to pay homage to King Wei. And this was how a war was won without having to use military force.

── from Zhan Guo Ce (Records of the Warring States)

* Zou Ji was a high minister of the state of Qi during the Warring States period.

** A li is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, measuring approximately half a kilometer.