c. 720 BC | Qi

Good Taste

Sima Qian on the art of selecting friends.

Guan Zhong was born at Yingshang. When he was young, he often played with Bao Shuya, who knew how wise he was. Being very poor he often cozened Bao Shuya, who nevertheless was always kind to him and never bore him a grudge for his mean tricks.

When they grew up to manhood, Bao Shuya served Xiaobei, the Duke of Qi, while Guan Zhong served the Duke of Jiu (also a prince of Qi). When Xiaobei was established as Duke of Huan, Duke Jiu died in the struggle and Guan Zhong was imprisoned. Bao Shuya, however, introduced him to the Duke of Huan, who employed him, subsequently, to govern his country. By his help and policy, the Duke of Huan gained the supremacy and united all the feudal princes under one rule. The whole empire was united under one head, the emperor of the Zhou dynasty.

“When I was in distress,” said Guan Zhong, “Bao Shuya and I often did a little business together. But in dividing the gains, I often got more than he, but he did not set me down as avaricious, because he knew that I was poor. When I consulted him about my affairs, especially in times of adversity, he did not look down on me as a fool, knowing well that fortune both smiles and frowns on men. Several times during my official career, I lost my post. He did not, however, conclude that my character was bad, knowing well that I had fallen on inauspicious times. When I was routed in war, he did not set my defeat down to cowardice but to the thought that I bestowed on my old mother at home. When the Duke of Jiu was conquered, Shao Hu died for him, but I only underwent imprisonment and insult. Bao Shuya did not, however, conclude that I was therefore without a sense of shame but rather considered that I was only regardless of trifles, and that the only shame I feared was lest my merit and name were not known over the whole world. My parents gave me birth, but it is Bao Shuya alone who understands me.”

Bao Shuya recommended Guan Zhong to Duke Huan and was willing to appear his inferior. Afterward the descendants of Bao Shuya received a city as a hereditary pension from Qi and held it for over ten generations. Moreover, they not infrequently became famous magistrates. Very few men praise the wisdom of Guan Zhong, but many say that Bao Shuya possessed the art of selecting men.


Sima Qian

From Records of the Grand Historian. Born around 145 bc, Sima inherited the office of Han court grand historian from his father, spending much of his life composing his Records, an exhaustive history of China. Widely known by Sima’s day, the friendship of Guan Zhong and Bao Shuya had become a common cultural reference. Impressed by a pair of Californian friends he met during a visit to the United States around 1870, a Qing-era envoy wrote, “I did not expect to see in this foreign land friendship of the kind between Guan Zhong and Bao Shuya, and to such a degree!”