The Battle of Changping and the Bloody Night

In 260 B.C., the army of the Qin State invaded the Han State and attacked Shangdang Jun of the Han State. In order to save their city, the defenders of Shangdang sent messengers to the Zhao State. They said they were willing to give Shangdang to the Zhao State, not the Qin State. They hoped the army of the Zhao State could save their city. At that time, the Zhao State was still a strong country. So the king of the Zhao State sent four hundred thousand and fifty thousand armymen to aid Shangdang.

The commander of the Zhao's army was Lian Po, a famous old general. His army was stationed in Changping, an area of Shangdang. In modern times, this would be Gaoping of Shanxi Province. The army of Qin attacked and defeated the army of Zhao several times. Lian Po knew the army of the Qin State was very strong and couldn’t be defeated easily, but he thought the army of Qin couldn’t stay a long time because they were distant from their state. He ordered his army to strengthen the defences and avoid conflicts. Qin’s army didn’t dare to attack the army of Zhao rashly, and they also didn’t dare to attack Shangdang.

Wang He, the commander of the army of the Qin State, thought if the situation lasted a long time, his army would have to withdraw. He reported to the Qin State. The prime minister of the Qin State sent spies to defame Lian Po in Zhao State. The spies said this old general was a craven, and the army of Qin didn’t fear him. If the Zhao State sent Zhao Kuo to be the general, Qin’s army would be scared. Zhao Kuo was the son of Zhao She who was an excellent general of the Zhao State. Zhao Kuo loved to read military works since his childhood, and sometimes his father couldn’t argue with him because he was always right. Zhao She knew his son could only fight on paper. In the article of his death, Zhao She warned his wife not to let Zhao Kuo command the army of Zhao, or his family and country would be catapulted into catastrophe. The king of Zhao believed the words of the spies and wanted Zhao Kuo to take the place of Lian Po, Zhao Kuo’s mother told the king the last words of Zhao She. Zhao’s king still appointed Zhao Kuo to take the place of Lian Po. Zhao Kuo’s mother requested the king not to punish the family of Zhao Kuo if her son put an end to Zhao’s army. The king promised and Zhao Kuo went to command the army. Lian Po then left the army. When the king of the Qin State heard Zhao Kuo took the place of Lian Po, he let Bai Qi who was a valiant general take the place of Wang He.

Zhao Kuo was young, and he didn't know how strong and insidious the army of Qin was. He ordered his army to attack the army of Qin. But his army was lured and became besieged by the army of Qin. Bai Qi sent twenty thousand armymen to cut off the route of retreat of Zhao’s army. He sent five thousand cavalry men to separate Zhao’s army into two parts. The path for transporting food of the Zhao's army was cut off by the Qin's army. Zhao’s army counterattacked but failed. So they had to build ramparts and strengthen the defenses, and they waited for reinforcements and supplies. The king of Qin heard the supply route of the Zhao's army was cut off. He then personally went to Henei Jun and enlisted all men who were above the age of 15 for the army to help Bai Qi to cut off the reinforcements and supplies of the Zhao's army.

The Zhao's army couldn't get supplies for forty-six days. Zhao's armymen tried to counterattack many times, but failed. During the past several ten days, fifty thousand armymen of the Zhao State died for fight. Zhao Kuo decided to fight desperately. By himself, he led selected armymen to try and break through the army of Qin. Unfortunately he was killed by arrows. The four hundred thousand armymen of the Zhao State lost their commander. They had to decide what to do by themselves. They thought that, if they surrendered, they wouldn't die. So the four hundred thousand armymen gave up resistance and they surrendered to Bai Qi.

The decision of the Zhao's armymen was unwise. They were not aware that the Qin State had bet all on a single throw for this battle. Bai Qi, the commander of the Qin's army, thought that, if he took such a large number of people to the Qin State as captives, these people would be a heavy encumbrance to the Qin State, and they were very dangerous if they rebelled; if these men were released to the Zhao State, such a large number of people were enough to form a very strong army again. Bai Qi decided to kill all of them. He divided his two hundred thousand armymen into ten parts, and every part killed forty thousand people. In Changping, the army of Qin massacred the four hundred thousand people of the Zhao State during only one night! Only two hundred and forty very young men were spared because Bai Qi needed these terror-struck young men to bring the news to the Zhao State and make this country horribly scared. When the horrible news came to the Zhao State, all the people of every family put on mourning apparel and cried their hearts out. Parents lost their sons, children lost their father, and wives lost their husband. The king of Zhao didn't punish Zhao Kuo's mother and his family, because he had given a promise to Zhao Kuo's mother. In the battle of Changping, the Zhao State lost all their excellent troops. After this disastrous setback, the Zhao State would never recover.

The army of Qin had many losses because of the fighting of Zhao's army. According to the words of Bai Qi, half of Qin's armymen died in battle and all supplies were depleted. If the four hundred thousand armymen of Zhao fighted to the death instead of surrendering, the Qin's army would have sustained heavy losses and would have had to withdraw. In later times, when people referred to the battle of Changping, they regretted that the four hundred thousand armymen of the Zhao State didn't fight to the end.

Three years later, Bai Qi had to kill himself because he offended the prime minister of the Qin State who wanted to grab the exploits of Bai Qi. The prime minister spoke slanderous talk to the king. Bai Qi thought he had great exploits, but the Qin State didn't trust him. Several times he refused to lead the army to attack other states. Finally the king was very angry, and the prime minister took the chance and slandered Bai Qi. So the king gave Bai Qi a sword and forced Bai Qi to kill himself. When Bai Qi heard the order, he cried, “Did I offend the Heaven? Why do I get this fate?”But after a long while, he sighed, “I should die. Did the surrendered four hundred thousand armymen of the Zhao State have any fault? I massacred all of them. The evil doings were enough to cause me to die.” So he killed himself. The death of Bai Qi was caused by the calumny of the prime minister, so the people of Qin yearned for him and offered sacrifice to him.

The people of the Han and Zhao States never forgot Bai Qi. They hated him deeply. Nowadays in the area where was Changping in the Pre-Qin Period, there is a kind of traditional food called “baiqi-doufu” (白起豆腐). “Baiqi-doufu” is white bean curds which are cut into parts. The name is symbolic of the people in this area wishing to cut Bai Qi into parts. In this same area, there is a memorial temple for Zhao Kuo and his wife. Though the people think the army of Zhao was destroyed because Zhao Kuo only knew how to fight on paper, the people still think Zhao Kuo died during fight, not during surrender. If Zhao Kuo was not killed by the arrows, he wouldn’t have surrendered. He would have led his army to fight to the death for the honor of his family. His memorial temple was called “the Temple of Zhao’s King”. Though Zhao Kuo wasn’t a king, the people respected him as a king of Zhao. In the area, a large number of bones of the victims of the Zhao State were found. When the people see these bones, they recall the bloody night of this battle which was more than two thousand years ago.

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