Consort Ruji – The theft of the King’s military seal




consort ruji
Ruji as portrayed in Legend of the Military Seal (Screenshot/Fair Use)

Consort Ruji has captured the hearts of China for many centuries. She has been praised for being a hero and saving the Zhao state from the powerful Qin state. She saved them by stealing the military seal from her husband, King Anli of Wei. Stealing the King’s military seal was an act of high treason. However, Consort Ruji thought the consequences were worth the risk in order to save the Zhao people.

Consort Ruji was born around 276 B.C.E.[1] Her early life is unknown. She became a concubine of King Anli of Wei, who ruled from 276-244 B.C.E.[2] She was the King’s favourite, and this special position helped save the Zhao state from falling into the Qin state’s hands.

During Consort Ruji’s lifetime, Qin was the most powerful state in China. It had a goal to conquer its neighbours: Wei, Han, Zhao, Chu, Qi, and Yan.[3] When the Qin army invaded a state, the state would often request help from one of its neighbours. Wei and Zhao were allies through a marriage alliance.[4]  The Prince of Pingyuan, the younger brother of the King of Zhao, was married to King Anli’s sister.[5]

Therefore, in 258 B.C.E., the Qin state invaded the Zhao kingdom. They attacked Handan, the capital city.[6] The Princess of Pingyuan wrote letters to her brothers, King Anli and the Prince of Xinling, requesting Wei to come to Zhao’s aid.[7] King Anli immediately sent his troops under the leadership of General Jin Bi to aid Zhao. However, Qin threatened Wei that if they aided Zhao, then they too would be invaded.[8] This threat frightened King Anli, and he told General Jin Bi not to act until he gave further instructions to do so.[9] Thus, the Wei army waited while Handan grew dire. Both the Prince and Princess of Pingyuan and the Prince of Xinling asked King Anli to help, but the King did nothing.[10]

It was not until one of the Prince of Xinling’s advisors suggested to get Consort Ruji to go into King Anli’s bedchamber, where he kept all his military and state documents, to steal his military talisman.[11] Consort Ruji was indebted to the Prince of Xinling. When her father was killed, the Prince of Xinling killed her father’s murderer.[12] Consort Ruji did not hesitate to repay the Prince of Xinling. During one of her visits, she stole his military talisman and gave it to the Prince of Xinling.[13] As soon as it was in his hands, he immediately went to General Jin Bi and showed him the talisman. He told General Jin Bi that the King put him in charge of the army.[14] When General Jin Bi saw the talisman, he refused to believe it was the King’s orders.[15] However, the Prince of Xinling had the general killed immediately.[16] The Prince of Xinling took control of the army and saved Zhao.[17] 

The King of Wei was mad at his brother’s deception, and the Prince of Xinling was forced to remain at Zhao for many years.[18] Consort Ruji’s fate remains unknown, for after the role she played in the important event, she is no longer mentioned in historical records.[19] However, her memory has not been forgotten. She is the subject of the popular play “The Military Credential” by Guo Moruo, where she is depicted as a woman of immense courage.[20] She is also the main subject in the popular China television series, The Legend of the Military Seal, where she is portrayed by the famous Yang Mi. However, her courageous, and possibly fatal treasonous act, saved a valued ally of the state of Wei and repaid a debt Consort Ruji owed to the leader who killed her father’s murderer.

Sources:

Eno, R. (2010).  1.7. Spring and Autumn China (771-453). Indiana University, PDF.

Fanzhong, Y. (2015). Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century (B. B. Peterson, Ed.; Z. Zhongliang, Trans.). London: Routledge.

Lee, L.(2015). Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity Through Sui, 1600 B.C.E. – 618 C.E (L. X. H. Lee, Ed.; A. D. Stefanowska, Ed.; S. Wiles, Ed.). NY: Routledge.


[1] Lee, p. 69

[2] Lee, p.69

[3] Eno, p. 2

[4] Lee, p. 69

[5] Lee, p. 69

[6] Fanzhong, p. 34

[7] Lee, p. 69

[8] Lee, p. 69

[9] Fanzhong, p. 34

[10] Lee, p. 69

[11] Lee, p. 69

[12] Fanzhong, p. 35

[13] Lee, p. 70

[14] Lee, p. 70

[15] Lee, p. 70

[16] Fanzhong, p. 35

[17] Fanzhong, p. 35

[18] Lee, p. 70

[19] Lee, p. 70

[20] Fanzhong, p. 36






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