The Qi (齐) State and the Lu (鲁) State were two feudal countries of the Zhou (周) Dynasty. Both of them were in modern-day Shandong Province, and they were neighbors. The Lu State once supported Gongzi Jiu (公子纠, the younger brother of Qi Huan-Gong) to be the monarch of the Qi State, so Qi Huan-Gong (齐桓公) wanted to retaliate after he ascended the throne. In order to improve the relationship between two states, Lu Zhuang-Gong (鲁庄公), the monarch of the Lu State, killed Gongzi Jiu. Guan Zhong (管仲), the teacher of Gongzi Jiu, was repatriated back to the Qi State. Qi Huan-Gong admired the wisdom of Guan Zhong, and appointed him to his important assistant. Since then, Qi Huan-Gong and Guan Zhong became golden partners.
Qi Huan-Gong didn’t forgive the Lu State. His first war was given to the Lu State. Cao Mo (曹沫), the general of the Lu State, led the army to resist against the Qi’s aggression. However, the military power of the Qi State was accumulated by generations. The Lu’s army was defeated in three battles, and a big part of the Lu’s land was occupied by the Qi State. Lu Zhuang-Gong didn’t blame his general, because he was soberly aware of the actual strength of his country.
Now, we should clarity whether Cao Mo and Cao Gui (曹刿) were two names of the same person, because the book “the Zuo’s Explanation of the Spring-Autumn Classic” (春秋左氏传), an annalistic historical work written in the early days of the Warring-States Period, doesn’t mention Cao Mo, but Cao Gui. However, “the Gongyang’s Explanation of the Spring-Aumtumn Classic” (春秋公羊传) written in the early days of the Westery Han Dynasty, and the historical work “Records of History” (史记) written in the middle period of the Western Han Dynasty, mention Cao Mo, but no Cao Gui.
According the Zuo’s Explanation, Cao Gui was a poor man, and recommended himself to the monarch. In the battle of Changshuo (长勺), with the resourcefulness of Cao Gui, Lu Zhuang-Gong led his army to defeat the Qi’s army in 684 BC and broke down the march of the Qi’s army. According the Gongyang’s Explanation, the Lu’s army defeated the Qi’s army in 684 BC, and Cao Mo held Qi Huan-Gong under duress in 681 BC.
Many scholars thought that Cao Gui and Cao Mo were the two names of the same person. However, according to the Zuo’s Explanation, after the Lu’s army was defeated and the Qi’s army invaded the Lu State, a citizen named Cao Gui recommended himself to Lu Zhuang-Gong and brought the victory of the Changshuo Battle. Cao Mo was a defeated general, so I have to doubt the conclusion that Cao Gui was Cao Mo. Because of the discrepancy of different historical materials, perhaps the truth was covered in the far history.
Anyway, let me continue to tell the story of Cao Mo.
Cao Mo was deeply grateful to the magnanimity of the monarch, and he was strongly ashamed of his defeats. He decided to wipe out his disgrace.
The war couldn’t solve many problems, so the statesmen of the two countries decided to solve the problems at the conference table. In 681 BC, Qi Huan-Gong and Lu Zhuang-Gong met in a site named Ke (柯). Qi Huan-Gong demanded Lu Zhuang-Gong to obey him, and he refused to return the land of the Lu State. Cao Mo was angry. He held Qi Huan-Gong under duress with a short sword, and said to Huan-Gong, “Return our land back!” Qi Huan-Gong said nothing. Guan Zhong said to him, “Please promise him.” Qi Huan-Gong trusted Guan Zhong, so he promised to return the occupied land to the Lu State. The two monarchs signed a formal agreement. Then Cao Mo threw down his short sword and returned to his position.
Qi Huan-Gong felt very ashamed and angry, and he wanted to break the agreement and kill Cao Mo. Guan Zhong advised him and said, “You can’t break the agreement. If you just covet a temporary satisfaction, you will lose the trust from the monarchs of other countries and lose the support from other countries. So, you can’t go back on your word.” Qi Huan-Gong was moved by the words. After the meeting, he returned all of the occupied land to the Lu State. The monarchs of other countries thought that Qi Huan-Gong was a trustworthy leader, so they followed the lead of the Qi State more firmly. Lu Zhuang-Gong became the friend of Qi Huan-Gong, and their states became close allies. Qi Huan-Gong started to strive for his ideal, the union of all states of the Chinese people.