Gongsun Qiao (Chinese: 公孫僑; died 522 BC), better known by his courtesy name Zichan (Chinese: 子產) (WG: Tzu Ch'an), was a statesman of the State of Zheng during the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China. His ancestral surname was Ji (姬), and clan name Guo (國). Zichan served as prime minister of Zheng from 544 BC until his death. Under Zichan, the Zheng state managed to grow and prosper. Zichan was responsible for many reforms that strengthened the state of Zheng.

Portrait of Zichan from Sancai Tuhui

Career profileEdit

A grandson of Duke Mu of Zheng, Zichan served as prime minister of Zheng from 544 BC until his death. Under Zichan, the Zheng state managed to grow and prosper. It expanded its territory. This was a difficult task for a small state surrounded by several large states, accomplished toward the end of the Spring and Autumn period.

Zichan reformed the government to emphasise the rule of law. At the time, the traditional lineage system by which rule was effected by powerful local clans was weakening in general. The various states began a process of replacing clan rule and assuming direct control of the population. In 536 BC, Zichan had the legal statutes of his Zheng state cast in bronze ding, and so made public, a first among the Zhou states.[1]

As a philosopher, Zichan tended to separate the distant domains of Heaven and the near domain of the human world. He argued against superstition and acted to curb the authority of the Master of Divination. He counseled the people to follow their reason and experience. Heaven's way is distant and difficult to grasp; while the human way is near at hand.[2]

Zichan was responsible for many reforms that strengthened the state of Zheng. A realist, Zichan was heavily involved in all aspects of the state, reforming agricultural and commercial laws, setting the borders, centralising the state, ensuring the hiring of capable ministers, and changing social norms. He prohibited the hanging and later deliver of pamphlets,[3] but is also recorded as having prevented other ministers from executing a man for criticising the government, arguing that it was in the best interests of the state to listen to the opinions of the common people.

From the Shiji of the Han dynasty historian Sima Qian:

Tzu-ch'an[4] was one of the high ministers of the state of Cheng. ... [T]he state [had been] in confusion, superiors and inferiors were at odds with each other, and fathers and sons quarreled. ... [Then] Tzu-ch'an [was] appointed prime minister. After... one year, the children in the state had ceased their naughty behavior, grey-haired elders were no longer seen carrying heavy burdens... . After two years, no one overcharged in the markets. After three years, people stopped locking their gates at night... . After four years, people did not bother to take home their farm tools when the day's work was finished, and after five years, no more conscription orders were sent out to the knights. ... Tzu-ch'an ruled for twenty-six years, and when he died the young men wept and the old men cried... .[5]

The Zuo Zhuan records that he drafted penal laws to protect private property.[6] He also enacted harsh punishments for criminals. Because of his focus on laws, historians often classify him as a Legalist.

Zichan was also highly skilled in state-to-state politics. When the State of Jin tried to interfere in Zheng's internal affairs after the death of a Zheng minister, Zichan was well aware of the danger, arguing that if Jin was allowed to determine the successor of the deceased minister in the state of Zheng, Zheng would then have lost its sovereignty to Jin. He then proceeded to convince Jin not to interfere in Zheng's internal politics.


  1. ^ Li Feng (2013), p. 174-175.
  2. ^ Kaizuka (1956, 2002), pp. 84-85.
  3. ^ Zhenbin Sun 2015. p.15. Language, Discourse, and Praxis in Ancient China. https://books.google.com/books?id=MLx_BAAAQBAJ&pg=PA15
  4. ^ 'Zichan' using the Wade-Giles romanization.
  5. ^ Sima Qian, Records (1961), v.II, p.415 (quote).
  6. ^ Xing Lu 1998. Rhetoric in Ancient China, Fifth to Third Century, B.C.E.. p.264. https://books.google.com/books?id=72QURrAppzkC&pg=PA264


  • Zuo Zhuan, translated as The Tso chuan. Selections from China's Oldest Narrative History (Columbia University 1989) by Burton Watson; and as The Zuo Tradition (University of Washington 1989), 3 vols., by Stephen Durrant, Li Wai-yee, David Schaberg; Cf., Zuo Tradition/Zuozhuan Reader (2020).
  • Lunyu of Kong Fuzi, translated as the Analects of Confucius, by Legge (1861, 1893), Waley (1938), Ames (1999); Couvreur (1895), Wilhelm (1945).
  • Shiji by Sima Qian, translated as Records of the Grand Historian of China or the Shih Chi of Ssu-Ma Ch'ien (Columbia University 1961), by Watson; and as The Grand Scribe's Records (University of Indiana 1994-[2020]), [X] volumes, edited by William H. Nienhauser, Jr.
  • Ch'ũ T'ung-tsu, Law and society in traditional China (Paris: Mouton & Co. 1961).
  • Creel, Herrlee G., The Origins of Statecraft in China (University of Chicago 1970).
  • Creel, Herrlee G., Shen Pu-hai. A political philosopher of the fourth century B.C. (University of Chicago 1974).
  • Fung Yu-lan (Shanghai: Shen Chou 1931), translated as A History of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 1 (Princeton University 1937, 2d 1952) by Bodde.
  • Head, John W. & Wang Yanping, Law Codes in Dynastic China (Durham: Carolina Academic Press 2005).
  • Hsu Cho-yun, Ancient China in transition. An analysis of social mobility, 722-222 B.C. (Stanford University 1965)
  • Kaizuka Shigeki, Koshi (Tokyo 1951); translated as Confucius: His life & thought (New York: Macmillan 1956; Dover 2002), by Bownas.
  • Lewis, Mark Edward, Honor and Shame in early China (Cambridge University 2021).
  • Li Feng, Early China. A social and cultural history (Cambridge University 2013).
  • Schwartz, Benjamin I., The World of Thought in Ancient China (Harvard University 1985).
  • Walker, Robert Louis. The Multi-state System of Ancient China. (Hamden: Shoestring 1953; Greenwood 1971).
  • Zhang Jinfan, The tradition and modern transition of Chinese Law (Heidelberg: Springer 1997, 2d 2005, 3d 2008).
  • Zhao Dingxin, The Confucian-Legalist State. A new theory of Chinese history (Oxford University 2015).

See alsoEdit