Duke Xian of Qin (424–362 BC)

Duke Xian of Qin (Chinese: 秦獻公; pinyin: Qín Xiàn Gōng, 424–362 BC) was from 384 to 362 BC the 29th ruler of the zhou dynasty state of Qin that eventually united China to become the qin dynasty. His ancestral name was Ying (嬴), and Duke Xian was his posthumous title. His given name was Shixi (师隰) or Lian (連).

Ascension to the throne

Duke Xian was the son of Duke Ling of Qin, the 25th ruler of the state of Qin. However, when Duke Ling died in 415 BC, the throne was passed to Duke Ling's uncle Duke Jian, instead of his son. Duke Jian reigned for 15 years and was succeeded by his son Duke Hui II, who died 13 years later in 387 BC, and was then succeeded by his son Chuzi II. As Chuzi was only a baby, the power was controlled by his mother, the duchess dowager. In 385 BC, the second year of Chuzi's reign, the minister Jun Gai (菌改) rebelled against Chuzi and the duchess. He led his force to escort Duke Xian, who was at the time exiled in the State of Wei, back to Qin, killed Chuzi and his mother, and installed Duke Xian on the throne.


By the time Duke Xian finally became the monarch of Qin thirty years after the death of his father, decades of internal turmoil had greatly weakened the formerly powerful state of Qin. The neighbouring state of Wei, on the other hand, grew stronger and annexed Qin's Hexi territory (west of the Yellow River).

Abolition of human sacrifice

As soon as he ascended the throne, Duke Xian started to make a series of reforms. In 384 BC, the first year of his reign, he abolished the practice of funeral human sacrifice started nearly three centuries before by Duke Wu, the tenth ruler of Qin, who had 66 people buried with him in 678 BC. The fourteenth ruler Duke Mu had 177 people buried with him in 621 BC, including several senior government officials. Afterwards the people of Qin wrote the famous poem Yellow Bird to condemn this barbaric practice, later compiled in the Confucian Classic of Poetry, but the practice would still continue for more than two centuries until Duke Xian abolished it. Modern historian Ma Feibai considers the significance of Duke Xian's abolition of human sacrifice to Chinese history comparable to that of Abraham Lincoln's abolition of slavery to American history.

Moving the capital

In 383 BC, the second year of his reign, Duke Xian moved the Qin capital from the long-time capital Yong (in present-day Fengxiang, Shaanxi ) several hundred kilometers east to Yueyang (櫟陽, in present-day Yanliang District of Xian). The move shifted the center of Qin closer to other states such as Wei, Han, and Zhao, facilitated commerce, and weakened the powerful aristocratic clans that were entrenched in the old capital.

Establishing counties

Duke Xian expanded the practice of establishing counties, which were administered by bureaucrats appointed by the central government. This was a major departure from the then prevalent practice of enfeoffing territories to hereditary aristocrats who ran their fiefs like mini-states. Duke Xian established several counties in Pu, Lantian, Pumingshi, and even in the new capital Yueyang. The reform strengthened the power of the central government, and would be further expanded to the whole state by the famous reformer Shang Yang under Duke Xian's successor Duke Xiao, contributing to Qin's rise and eventual unification of China.

War with Wei

In 364 BC, Qin and the State of Wei fought at Shimen (in present-day Yuncheng, Shanxi ), and the Qin army for the first time inflicted a major defeat on Wei, until then the strongest power of the warring states period, reportedly killing 60,000 Wei soldiers. King Xian of Zhou, the nominal ruler of China, congratulated Duke Xian and Duke Xian declared himself the Hegemon of China.

Two years later, Qin attacked Wei again at Shaoliang (少梁, in present-day Hancheng, Shaanxi ), and captured Wei general Gongsun Cuo (公孙痤).

Death and succession

Duke Xian reigned for 23 years and died in 362 BC at the age of 62. He was succeeded by his son Duke Xiao of Qin. He was buried in Xiaoyu, near his capital Yueyang.

In popular culture

Duke Xian appeared in the 2009 Chinese TV series The Qin Empire. He was played by the actor Xu Huanshan (许还山).

Last update 20-06-2012

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