Battle of Chengpu
The Battle of Chengpu took place in 632 BC between the State of Jin and the State of Chu
Chu (state)
The State of Chu was a Zhou Dynasty vassal state in present-day central and southern China during the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States Period . Its ruling house had the surname Nai , and clan name Yan , later evolved to surname Mi , and clan name Xiong...

 and its allies during the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. It was the first great battle in the protracted conflict between the states of the Yellow River
Yellow River
The Yellow River or Huang He, formerly known as the Hwang Ho, is the second-longest river in China and the sixth-longest in the world at the estimated length of . Originating in the Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghai Province in western China, it flows through nine provinces of China and empties into...

 valley, and the states of the Yangtze River
Yangtze River
The Yangtze, Yangzi or Cháng Jiāng is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the...

 (Chang Jiang) valley. The Jin victory confirmed the hegemony of Duke Wen
Duke Wen of Jin
Duke Jin Wen led the state of Jin in the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history from 636 BC to 628 BC. His ancestral name is Ji,clan name is Jin Duke Jin Wen (晋文公) (697 BC - 628 BC) led the state of Jin in the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history from 636 BC to 628 BC. His ancestral...

 and checked Chu ambitions in the north for at least a generation.


Following the death of Duke Huan of Qi in 643 BC, the state of Chu steadily extended its influence northward, absorbing half a dozen smaller states as its satellites. In 636 BC, Chong'er, a ducal prince of Jin, after spending fifteen years in exile traveling throughout numerous states, came to power as Duke Wen of Jin
Duke Wen of Jin
Duke Jin Wen led the state of Jin in the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history from 636 BC to 628 BC. His ancestral name is Ji,clan name is Jin Duke Jin Wen (晋文公) (697 BC - 628 BC) led the state of Jin in the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history from 636 BC to 628 BC. His ancestral...

 with the help of Duke Mu of Qin
Duke Mu of Qin
Duke Mu of Qin , born Ying Renhao , was a ruler of the State of Qin from 659 or 660 to 621 BC in China. One of the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period, he greatly expanded the territory of Qin during the reign of King Xiang of Zhou.He acquired many talented advisors, such as Baili Xi,...

. Duke Wen assumed a position of leadership among the states and instituted numerous domestic reforms.

In the years leading up to 632 BC, conflict between Jin and Chu became increasingly public and was characterised by frequent shifts in alliances between the various small states that lay in a narrow band of land between the two larger states.

King Cheng of Chu struck at the State of Song
Song (state)
Sòng was a state during the Eastern Zhou Spring and Autumn Period . Its capital was Shangqiu . In 701 BC, a political marriage between Lady Yong of Song and Duke Zhuang of Zheng empowered Song to manipulate the management of Zheng.- Origin :After King Wu of Zhou overthrew King Zhou of Shang,...

, the ally of Jin most accessible from the south, in the winter of 633 BCE. In retaliation, an expeditionary force under Duke Wen marched south in the spring of the following year and occupied the States of Wei
Wei (state)
The State of Wei was a Zhou Dynasty vassal state during the Warring States Period of Chinese history. Its territory lay between the states of Qin and Qi and included parts of modern day Henan, Hebei, Shanxi and Shandong...

 and Cao
Cao (state)
The State of Cáo was a vassal state in China during the Zhou Dynasty . The state was founded sometime in the 11th century BCE by Caoshu Zhènduó (曹叔振鐸), son of King Wen of Zhou and the younger brother of King Wu of Zhou. With its capital at Táoqiū , the State of Cáo covered roughly the area of...

, both satellites of Chu. The two sides sought out alliances in the following months. The States of Shen
Shen (state)
The State of Shen was a Chinese vassal state during the Zhou Dynasty ruled by the Jiāng family as an earldom. At the beginning of the Spring and Autumn Period the State of Shen was annexed by the State of Chu and became one of its counties.-Territory:Located around the states of Chén and Zhèng,...

, Xi
Xi (state)
The State of Xi was a Chinese vassal state during the Shang and Zhou Dynasties and the Spring and Autumn Period ruled by members of the Jī family . Sometime between 680 and 684 BCE the State of Xī was annexed by the State of Chu and ceased to exist as an independent state.-History:In 712 BCE the...

, Chen
Chen (state)
Chen was a minor Zhou Dynasty vassal state during the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese History. It was a relatively minor state based on a single urban centre near what is now Huaiyang County in the plains of eastern Henan province...

 and Cai
Cai (state)
The State of Cài was a Chinese state during the Zhōu Dynasty , prominent in the Spring and Autumn Period before being extinguished early in the Warring States Period .-History:...

, all immediately contiguous to Chu, sided with King Cheng, as well as the more distant State of Lu
Lu (state)
The State of Lu, was a Zhou Dynasty ducal vassal state before and during the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. Founded in the 10th century BC, its dukes used Ji as their family name. The first duke was Boqin |Qi]] and to the south by the powerful state of Chu...



As promised by Duke Wen to King Cheng during his exile in Chu, the Jin army retired "three days march" (退避三舍) (45 km) before camping on the plain of Chengpu on the border of Wei and Cao, awaiting a decisive battle The retirement also linked the Jin forces up with Qi and Qin reinforcements.

Only the central force of the Chu under Prime Minister Ziyu (子玉) was made up entirely of Chu troops. The left wing under Zixi incorporated soldiers from Chu's close satellites Shen and Xi. The right wing under Zishang comprised completely a separate detachment from the armies of Chen and Cai, perhaps numbering around a third (?) of the entire force.

The Jin force was expanded before the expedition from two armies into three: the upper, the central and the lower; these three were then regrouped into wings before the battle: the upper army at the right wing under commander Hu Mao and vice-commander Hu Yan, lower at left under Luan Zhi
Luan Zhi
Luan Zhi was a general of Jin. He served at the Battle of Chengpu, where he rode across the path of the retreating Chu, dragging tree branches to stir up a dust cloud. The trick blinded the Chu chariots and allowed the Jin forces to easily overcome their threat....

 and vice Xu Chen
Xu Chen (Zhou dynasty)
Xu Chen was a general of the state of Jin during the Spring and Autumn Period. He played a crucial role in the Battle of Chengpu, where he commanded the Jin army against the Chu army. He had the chariots on the left Jin flank clad with tiger skin to show their ferocity...

, central remained at centre under Xian Zhen and vice Xi Zhen. Duke Wen did not direct or engage in the fighting.


On the fourth day of the fourth month of 632 BC, the rival forces met.

The battle commenced with the advance of both wings of the Jin army. The Chu right wing was reckoned to be the weakest and Xu Chen, commander of the Jin left wing, attacked. Xu armoured his chariot
Chariot (Ancient China)
The ancient Chinese chariot was used as an attack and pursuit vehicle on the open fields and plains of Ancient China during the Shang The ancient Chinese chariot was used as an attack and pursuit vehicle on the open fields and plains of Ancient China during the Shang The ancient Chinese chariot ...

 horses with tiger skins and launched an urgent, vigorous assault on the Chu right wing. The attack was rapidly successful, scattering and demolishing the enemy wing completely.

The Jin left then became a holding force, fixing the Chu center and preventing it from attacking the Jin centre or aiding the Chu left wing, since in either case the Jin left would have taken it in the flank and rear. Meanwhile Hu Mao's Jin right wing had skirmished with the enemy, faked a retreat and carried with them the two great banners of the Jin commander-in-chief himself. The Chu left, made up of levies from the states of Shen and Xi, thought that the Jin right wing had lost and Ziyu ordered a pursuit. A contingent of chariots under Luan Zhi swept in front and dragged tree branches to raise a dust cloud and thereby obscure the movements of Hu Mao's men who were circling and reforming.

The Jin left aided by the Jin center continued to maintain their positions against the Chu center. Though the Jin centre was temporarily disordered by an intense whirlwind, it was effective in preventing the Chu center from supporting its left wing. As the Chu left advanced, it was caught in the flank by Duke Wen's bodyguards, composed of the sons of noble clansmen and sons of his close followers and thus flanked by the Jin central army. Meanwhile the entire force of the Jin right wing completed its recircling and was supported on its right by Luan Zhi's chariots to join the assault. The Chu left was completely destroyed. Seeing both his wings enveloped, Ziyu ordered a general retreat.


The Battle of Chengpu is probably the biggest of the Spring and Autumn Period and definitely the most detailed in the Zuo Zhuan
Zuo Zhuan
The Zuo Zhuan , sometimes translated as the Chronicle of Zuo or the Commentary of Zuo, is among the earliest Chinese works of narrative history and covers the period from 722 BCE to 468 BCE. It is one of the most important sources for understanding the history of the Spring and Autumn Period...

. Nevertheless the location of the battle remains obscure: two inconclusive possibilities are the vicinity of Chenliu County, Henan
Henan , is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country. Its one-character abbreviation is "豫" , named after Yuzhou , a Han Dynasty state that included parts of Henan...

 and the southwest area of Juan County, Shandong
' is a Province located on the eastern coast of the People's Republic of China. Shandong has played a major role in Chinese history from the beginning of Chinese civilization along the lower reaches of the Yellow River and served as a pivotal cultural and religious site for Taoism, Chinese...

. After returning to the north, Duke Wen was recognised by the King of Zhou
Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty. Although the Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, the actual political and military control of China by the Ji family lasted only until 771 BC, a period known as...

 as first among the feudal lords. A multi-state conference at Jiantu in 631 BC headed by Duke Wen confirmed their support for the Zhou royal family and swore a covenant of alliance. The battle, however, was not effective in the long term in restricting the power of Chu.
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