Prince Jiu of Qi (公子糾) would have become the ruler of the state if an arrow fired at his younger brother Prince Xiaobai (公小白) had struck home as intended. But instead of sitting triumphantly on the throne, the prince ended up being executed at the orders of his sibling who was consolidating his power over the state and later became known as Duke Huan of Qi (齊桓公).
As the second and third sons of Duke Xi of Qi (齊僖公), neither Prince Jiu nor Prince Xiaobai were directly in line to succeed their father to the throne. When Duke Xi died in 698 BCE, their oldest brother Zhuer (諸兒) assumed power. He ruled until 686 BCE and was given the posthumous title of Duke Xiang (齊襄公).
Such was Zhuer’s depravity and violence that the officials looking after his two younger siblings feared for their lives and led them out of Qi into exile. Jiu took refuge to the state of Lu with his retainers Shao Hu (召忽) and Guan Zhong (管仲) while Xiaobai went to the state of Ju with his tutor Bao Shuya (鲍叔牙).
Duke Xiang’s reign was riddled with political infighting and scandals, including the incestuous affair he had with his younger half-sister Wen Jiang (文姜) and the gruesome murder of her husband Duke Huan of Lu on a visit to Qi in 694 BCE when he learned about the relationship.
In 686 BCE, Duke Xiang’s disastrous rule came to an end when he was killed by his cousin Wuzhi (無知), who bore a long-time grudge against him for reducing his status in court. Following the murder, Wuzhi took over the throne himself, only to be killed by a minister called Yong Lin (雍廩) just a few months later in the spring of 685 BCE.
As soon as Jiu heard the news of the death of Wuzhi, he set his plans to return to Qi and assume the crown in motion. Concerned that his younger brother would attempt to steal his thunder, he ordered Guan Zhong and Shao Hu to stop Xiaobai on the way to back to his homeland and kill him.
When the two men came across Xiaobai, Guan Zhong shot him on the buckle of his girdle with an arrow. Fooled into thinking that he was dead, he and Shao Hu returned to Jiu and reported the successful accomplishment of their mission.
Secure in the knowledge that his younger brother was no longer a threat to him, Jiu made a leisurely journey back to Qi – only to discover upon his arrival there that Xiaobai was already installed on the throne.
Following a failed attempt to seize power, Prince Jiu and his two retainers fled back to the state of Lu. Although the ruler, Duke Zhuang (魯莊公), supported Jiu’s claim to the throne, he was forced to execute him after Duke Huan sent an army to attack his state. As part of the peace settlement, the duke was also required to send Guan Zhong and Shao Hu back to Qi as well.
The grief-stricken Shao Hu committed suicide out of loyalty to his dead master, but Guan Zhong returned to Qi. After being appointed as chief minister, Guan Zhong helped Duke Huan become one of the most powerful and famous rulers during the entire Spring and Autumn period – with memories of his former loyalty to the dead Prince Jiu of Qi no doubt buried along with his remains.
Zilu said: “When Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, Shao Hu took his own life but Guan Zhong chose to keep his. Should we say that Guan Zhong was a man without goodness?” Confucius said: “Duke Huan was able to bring the rulers of all the states together nine times without having to resort to military force because of the power of Guan Zhong. Such was his goodness! Such was his goodness!”
Zigong said: “Guan Zhong wasn’t a good person, was he? After Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, he not only chose to live but also served as the duke’s chief minister.” Confucius said: “By serving as Duke Huan’s chief minister, Guan Zhong imposed his authority over all the states and brought order to the world; the people still reap the benefits of his actions until this day. Without Guan Zhong, we would still be wearing our hair loose and folding our robes on the wrong side. Or would you prefer it if he had drowned himself in a ditch like some wretched husband or wife in their petty fidelity and died with nobody knowing about it?”