Translation of “An Investigation of Qin General, Li Xin”

When most people google about Kingdom’s main Character (Li) Xin, the result is usually about his infamous battle in Chu and not much else. There was an academic journal article that a Chinese Kingdom tieba forum user shared in 2013 about Li Xin and I figured this would be a good place to sharpen my translation skills and do a translation for those interested. Some of the quoted text are from historical books and they are in ancient Chinese, so do pardon me as I can’t really translate some of the text due to the different grammar and meaning of words the ancient Chinese use. I am also quite bad a translating nobility titles so…yeah… I did not write the original article in Chinese. It was written by someone else. All i did here was translate it into english. Most ancient Chinese people had 2 given names, a personal names and a courtesy name. If you are confused by all the “names” in the translation, do refer to this post: Difference of Ancient Chinese Personal names(名) and Courtesy names(字)

Warning: Long wall of text below. Read only if you are really interested.

tl:dr Li Xin was not that famous in history mainly because of ShiJi. In actual fact, he isn’t as bad as he most people think. Do also refer to Li Xin’s entry in the historical facts and information section.

Original tieba post:
Black text=Original text Red text=Translated text Green text=Annotations


An Investigation of Qin General Li Xin


1. The origins of Li Xin’s family

《北史.序传》叙说李氏得姓之由及战国前世系,固属传说之辞,渺茫难稽。其渐可征信者,当自战国始。其载:   子孙散居诸国,或在赵,或在秦。在魏者为段干大夫,段干木其后也。别孙悝为魏文侯兴富国之术焉。在赵者曰昙,以功封柏人,武安君牧其后也。在秦者名兴族,为将军。生子伯?,建功北狄,封南郑公。伯?生二子,平燕、内德。子信为秦将,虏燕太子丹。

The origin of the Lee family and their family lineage before the Era of the Warring States recorded in “History of the Northern Dynasties–Preface”* was largely considered a legend and hard to find evidence for their validity. However, records starting from the Era of the Warring States onwards in the same book is much more reliable. The recorded text is as follow: (His) children were scattered in different states, some in Zhao, some in Qin. Those in Wei were given the land of Duan and were appointed as an official for woodworks(?) there. (His) grandson, Li Kui(李悝) helped Count Wen of Wei(魏文侯) strengthened the state of Wei. (His) son(?) in Zhao is Li Tan(李昙). He was given the title/rank of BoRen for his feats and one of his descendants is Li Mu(李牧). (His) son(?) in Qin is Li XinZhu(李兴族) and was a general there. XinZhu’s son is Li Bo(李伯) who fought against the Northern Di’s** and given the title of the Duke of Southern Zheng. ZiBo had 2 sons, PingYan and NeiDe. Son, Li Xin, was a general of Qin who captured the Crown Prince Dan of Yan.

*”History of the North” is one of the 24 official history records of China history, recording history from the 1st year of the Northern Wei dynasty(386AD) to the end of the Sui dynasty(618AD)
**Ancient China gave barbarians names according to the place they live in. All barbarians from the north of China were called the Northern Di(北狄) in general, irregardless of their actual origins.

李氏“子孙散居诸国,或在赵,或在秦。”在赵、在秦者即后世赫赫有名的赵郡李氏和陇西李氏之先祖。之后又有《新唐书.宗室世系表》叙述李氏世系云: 其后有李宗,字尊祖,魏封于段,为干木大夫。生同,为赵大将军。生兑,为赵相。生跻,赵阳安君。二子:曰云,曰恪。恪生洪,字道弘,秦太子太傅。生兴族,字育神,一名汪,秦将军。生昙,字贵远,赵柏人侯,入秦为御史大夫,葬柏人西。生四子:崇、辨、昭、玑。崇为陇西房,玑为赵郡房。崇字伯?,陇西守、 南郑公。生二子:长曰平燕;次曰瑶,字内德,南郡守、狄道侯。生信,字有成,大将军、陇西侯。

The Li family’s “children were scattered in different states, some in Zhao, some in Qin”. Those in Zhao and Qin were respectively the ancestors of the two most famous branches of the modern Li family, the Zhao county Li branch and LongXi Li branch. Later, in “New Book of Tang–Table of the Imperial Clan and Genealogy”*, the records of the Li genealogy is as follow: (His) children include Li Zong(李宗), courtesy name ZunZu. He was given the land of Duan in Wei and was in and official of woodworks(?). His son, Li Tong(李同),was a great general of Zhao. His son Li Dui(李兑), was the chancellor of Zhao. His son, Li Ji(李跻), was the Lord of YangAn in Zhao. He had two sons, Li Yun(李云) and Li Ke(李恪). Li Ke’s son is Li Hong(李洪), the teacher of Qin’s crown prince. His son is Li XingZu(李兴族), courtesy name YuShen, aka Li Wang, general of Qin. His son, Li Tan(李昙), courtesy name GuiYuan was given the title of Count Bo Ren of Zhao and later became the Head official of Qin. He was later buried in the west of Bo Ren after his death. He had 4 sons, Li Chong(李崇), Li Bian(李辨), Li Zhao(李昭) and Li Ji(李玑). Li Chong was a ??? and Li Ji was a ???. Li Chong, courtesy name Bo, is the Mayor of LongXi and the Duke of Southern Zheng. He had 2 sons, the older is Li PingYan(李平燕) and the younger is Li Yao(李瑶), courtesy name NeiDe. Li Yao was also the Mayor of Sourthern County and Count of Di Dao. His son, Li Xin(李信), courtesy name You Cheng, was a great  general and the Count of LongXi.

*”New Book of Tang”, similar to the “History of the North”, is one of the 24 official history records of China history compiled in the Song dynasty recording the history of the Tang dynasty(618-907AD)

这个世系不仅比《北史.序传》清晰详尽,如《北史.序传》没有明言李信为谁子,此世系则明言李信为李瑶(内德)之子。二者所记也多有不同。如《北史.序 传》以李昙、李兴族分别为在赵、在秦者之祖,不言二人之关系。《新唐书.宗室世系表》则以为李昙乃李兴族之子。《北史.序传》以李崇(伯?)为李兴族之 子。而《新唐书.宗室世系表》则以李崇为李昙之子、李兴族之孙。《北史.序传》只叙伯?(李崇),不言其兄弟。《新唐书.宗室世系表》则记李崇、李辨、李 昭、李玑兄弟四人。

The genealogy recorded here is clearer than that in “History of the Northern Dynasties–Preface”. For example, “History of the Northern Dynasties–Preface” did not mention who fathered Li Xin but the genealogy here mentioned that Li Xin is Li Yao(NeiDe)’s son. Some parts recorded in the two records were also different. For example, “History of the Northern Dynasties–Preface”, it was recorded that Li Tan and Li XingZhu were ancestors of the Li family in Zhao and Qin respectively but did not state their relationship. In “New Book of Tang–Table of the Imperial Clan and Genealogy”, it was stated that Li Tan is the son of Li Xing Zhu. “History of the Northern Dynasties–Preface” stated that Li Chong(Bo) is Li Xing Zhu’s son but “New Book of Tang–Table of the Imperial Clan and Genealogy” stated that Li Chong is the son of Li Tan. “History of the Northern Dynasties–Preface”also only talk about Li Bo(Li Chong) without mentioning any of his brothers, if any. However, “New Book of Tang–Table of the Imperial Clan and Genealogy” recorded that Li Chong, Li Bian, Li Zhao and Li Ji were brothers.

又《陇西李氏四修族谱》之《卷首.源流系考》也叙述了李信家世,与《新唐书.宗室世系表》相比较,二者亦略有不同。《源流系考》述李宗之子,除李同 外,还有李德,多出一子;又《源流系考》说李洪生李注,《宗室世系表》则云李洪生李兴族,一名汪。注当为汪字之讹。就多种叙述来看,比较可信的还是《新唐 书.宗室世系表》。兹表列李信世系如下: 李宗―李同―李兑―李跻―李恪---李洪―李兴族(汪)---李昙―李崇---李瑶---李信

Li Xin’s family genealogy was recorded in “Chapter 1-Investigation of Origins” from  the book ” The Genealogy of The Li Branch in LongXi”. This record was slightly different from the records in “New Book of Tang–Table of the Imperial Clan and Genealogy”. “Investigation of Origins” recorded that Li Zong had 2 sons, Li Tong and Li De, instead of 1; “Investigation of Origins” stated that Li Hong’s son is Li Zhu(李注) while “New Book of Tang–Table of the Imperial Clan and Genealogy” stated that Li Hong’s son is Li XingZhu, aka Li Wang(李汪). Zhu could be an erroneous  word*. Therefore from these comparisons, the records from “New Book of Tang–Table of the Imperial Clan and Genealogy” seems to be more reliable. Therefore, we can assume that the genealogy of Li Xin’s family is as below: Li Zong李宗―Li Tong李同―Li Dui李兑―Li Ji李跻―Li Ke李恪―――Li Hong李洪―Li XingZhu(Li Wang)李兴族(汪)―――Li Tan李昙―Li Chong李崇―――Li Yao李瑶―――Li Xin李信

*Zhu(注) and Wang(汪) are very similar in appearance and therefore the author of this article deduced that copywriter in the past could have made an error when copying the text.

李崇曾封南郑公,秦既封其爵,其军功当有可观。之后,李瑶(字内德),为南郡守,狄道侯;李瑶子李信,为秦将军,陇西侯,均以军功封爵。又《新唐书.宗室世系表》记李信至李广世系云: (信)生超,一名伉,字仁高,汉大将军、渔阳太守。生二子:长曰元旷,侍中;次曰仲翔,河东太守、征西将军,讨叛羌于素昌,战没,赠太尉,葬陇西狄道东川,因家焉。生伯考,陇西、河东二郡太守。生尚,成纪令,因居成纪。弟向,范阳房始祖也。尚生广,前将军。

Li Chong was given the title of Duke NanZheng in the past. Since Qin gave him this title, it is safe to say that he had a good number of significant military achievements. Later, Li Yao(NeiDe), was the mayor of Southern County and Count DiDao; Li Yao’s son Li Xin, a Qin general and the Count of LongXi were all given nobility titles based on their military achievements. In “New Book of Tang–Table of the Imperial Clan and Genealogy”, the genealogy from Li Xin to Li Guang(李广) is as below: (Li Xin) fathered Li Chao, aka Li Kang(李伉), courtesy name RenGao(仁高), great general of Han* and mayor of YuYang. He had two sons, older being Li YuanKuang(李元旷),(court official title i can’t translate…); younger being Li ZhongXiang(李仲翔), mayor of HeDong, general of western campaigns, defeated the rebelling Qiang tribe at Su Jing. He was then awarded the rank/title of (another title i can’t translate…). He was buried in LongXi’s Didao’s eastern river, ???. His son, Li BoKao(李伯考), mayor of LongXi and HeDong, ???, ???. His brother Li Xiang(李向) is the ancestor of FanYang’s Li branch. Li Shang fathered Li Guang(李广), ex-general.

*Han here refers to the dynasty 汉,which was built after the fall of Qin.


As we can see, it was 7 generations from Li Chong, the ancestor of the LongXi branch of the Li family, to the Li Guang. The LongXi branch of the Li family mostly were generals or tacticians, given titles and ranks based on their military achievements and were mayors of counties at the borders of China. Therefore, “Li Guang’s family practiced archery for generation” which was written in “Records of the Grand Historian–Biography of General Li”*, seems to be true. Li Xin is Li Guang’s great-great grandfather and was also the most famous Li from the LongXi branch of the Li family before Li Guang.

*Records of the Grand Historian aka ShiJi. General Li refers to Li Guang.


2. Events involving Li Xin by year

自《史记》以来,素无李信传记。马非百《秦集史》始作五百余字的《李信传》,粗见李信生平。但这个传记没有系年, 且有阙讹之处,故兹再加辑考,冀存其实。据现有材料,唯知李信逐得燕太子丹时“年少壮勇”,而具体生年则无从考定。今所能考见之李信事迹,均在始皇十七年 (前230年)至始皇二十年(前221年)的十年统一战争期间。

There were no records of Li Xin outside of “ShiJi”. There was a 500 word “Biography of Li Xin” from Ma FeiBai’s “A collective history of Qin” which gave the readers a rough insight on Li Xin’s life. However, the biography did not record the events by year and had errors, therefore it is merely for reference. According to the materials we have now, all we know about Li Xin was that he was “young and brave” when he captured the Crown Prince Dan of Yan but we do not have any records of his exact birth year. The events involving Li Xin today can be found between 17th year of Qin Shi Huang(230BC) and 26th year of Qin Shi Huang(221BC)*, which is the 10 year war of unification.

*The author made a typo error by stating that it was between 17th year of Qin Shi Huang to 20th year instead of 26th year. I corrected this in my translation.

○始皇十七年(辛未,前230年),内史胜灭韩,虏韩王安,以其地置颖川郡。 按,事见《史记.秦始皇本纪》及《韩世家》。韩是秦最先灭掉的六国之一。此后,秦的统一进程加快。

○17th year of Qin Shi Huang(230BC), Mayor Teng* destroyed Han, captured King An of Han and annexed the lands of Han into Ying Chuang county. Refer to “Shiji–Annals of Qin Shi Huang” and “Aristocratic Family of Han”. Han was the first of the 6 states to be destroyed by Qin and later, the speed of Qin’s unification accelerated.

*The original text wrote “Mayor Sheng” instead of “Teng”, the author probably had a typo.

○始皇十八年(壬申,前229年),李信与王翦、端和等将兵伐赵。 按,《史记.秦始皇本纪》载此年,“大兴兵攻赵,王翦将上地,下井陉,端和将河内,羌瘣伐赵,端和围邯郸城。”没有言及李信攻赵事。而《史记.刺客列传》记太子丹对荆轲言有云:“今秦已虏韩王,尽纳其地。又举兵南伐楚,北临赵。王翦将数十万之众距漳、邺,而李信出太原、云中。赵不能支秦,必入臣,入臣则祸至燕。”则李信亦领军参与攻赵明甚。

○18th year of Qin Shi Huang(229BC), Li Xin, Wang Jian, (Yang) DuanHe and co. invades Zhao with armies.  It was recorded in”Shiji–Annals of Qin Shi Huang” that this year, “(Qin) mobolized a huge army to invade Zhao, Wang Jian commanding the troops at ShangDi and attacked JinJing, (Yang) DuanHe commanded the troops of HeNei. Qiang Lei attacked Zhao while DuanHe layed siege on HanDan.” There was no mention on Li Xin’s attack of Zhao. In “ShiJi–Biographies of Assassins”, it was recorded that Crown Prince Dan told Jin Ke that: “Today, Qin had already captured the King of Han and annexed its land. They also sent armies south against Chu and north against Zhao. Wang Jian led a few hundred thousands to attack the castles of Zhang and Ye while Li Xin also departed from TaiYuan and YunZhong. Since Zhao cannot handle Qin, they will have to give in to Qin’s demands, which will then cause problems for Yan.” From this, we can see that Li Xin leading an army against Zhao is obvious.

○始皇十九年(癸酉,前228年),王翦等大破赵军,虏赵王迁。燕太子丹遣荆轲入秦。 按,事见《史记.秦始皇本纪》、《赵世家》及《刺客列传》。

○19th year of Qin Shi Huang(228BC), Wang Jian crushed the Zhao army, capturing King Qian of Zhao. Crown Prince Dan of Yan sent Jin Ke into Qin. The above can be found in “Shiji–Annals of Qin Shi Huang”, “Shiji–Aristocratic Family of Zhao” and “Shiji–Biographies of Assassins”.

○始皇二十年(甲戌,前227年),荆轲刺秦不果。秦军破燕易水之西。 按,事见《史记.秦始皇本纪》、《燕召公世家》及《刺客列传》。

○20th year of Qin Shi Huang(227BC), Jin Ke failed to assassinate the king of Qin. The army of Qin defeated Yan west of Yi river. The above can be found in “Shiji–Annals of Qin Shi Huang”, “Shiji–Aristocratic Duke Zhao of Yan” and “Shiji–Biographies of Assassins”.

○始皇二十一年(乙亥,前226年),李信以兵数千逐燕太子丹至于衍水中,卒破得丹。李信答秦王问伐齐、楚事。 按,李信逐得燕太子丹,事见《战国策.燕三》及《史记.刺客列传》。《战国策.燕三》记荆轲刺秦后,“于是,秦大怒燕,益发兵诣赵,诏王翦军以伐燕。十月而拔燕蓟城。燕王喜、太子丹等,尽率其精兵东保于辽东。秦将李信追击燕王,王急,用代王嘉计,杀太子丹,欲献之秦。秦复进兵攻之。”《史记.王翦列传》记李信、王翦答秦王问伐楚事:“秦始皇既灭三晋,走燕王,而数破荆师。秦将李信者,年少壮勇,尝以兵数千逐燕太子丹至于衍水中,卒破得丹,始皇以为贤勇。于是始皇问李信:‘吾欲攻取荆,于将军度用几何人而足?’李信曰:‘不过用二十万人。’始皇问王翦,王翦曰:‘非六十万人不可。’始皇曰:‘王将军老矣,何怯也!李将军果势壮勇,其言是也。’遂使李信及蒙恬将二十万南伐荆。王翦言不用,因谢病,归老於频阳。”《史记.秦始皇本纪》所记与此同。

21th year of Qin Shi Huang(226BC), Li Xin led a few thousand soldiers and pursue Crown Prince Dan of Yan to Yan river, defeated them and capture Dan. Li Xin gave his opinion on the question posted by the king of Qin on whether to invade Qi or Chu. The event of Li Xin capturing Crown Prince Dan of Yan can be found in “Intrigues of the Warring States–Chapter 3 of Yan”* and “Shiji–Biographies of Assassins”. In “Intrigues of the Warring States–Chapter 3 of Yan”, after the records of Jin Ke assassination attempt on the King of Qin, it was recorded that “Therefore, Qin was infuriated by the actions of Yan, sent armies to the lands of Zhao and summoned Wang Jian’s army to invade Yan. It took 10 months to capture the capital of Yan, the castle of Ji**. King Xi of Yan, Crown Prince Dan and co. led the elite soldiers east to defend LiaoDong. Qin general Li Xin pursue the king of Yan and made him very anxious. He then used the idea provided by King Jia of Dai***, killed Crown Prince Dan and send his head to Qin. “Shiji–Biographies of (Bai Qi and) Wang Jian” recorded the opinions provided Li Xin and Wang Jian on the matter of invading Chu:” Qin Shi Huang destroyed the Three Jins****, chased the king of Yan away and defeated Chu in multiple battles. As General Li Xin of Qin was a young and brave man who led a few thousand men to pursue Crown Prince Dan of Yan to Yan river and capturing Dan in the process, Qin Shi Huang thinks that he is wise and brave. Therefore he asked Li Xin:’ I wish to attack and capture Chu, how many men do you think will be necessary for this?’ Li Xin answered:’Only 200,000′. Qin Shi Huang then asked Wang Jian the same question, and Wang Jian replied:’ No less than 600,000.’ Qin Shi Huang said:’ Looks like General Wang is old, what is there to be afraid of! General Li is indeed brave and I agree with him.’ He then instructed Li Xin and Meng Tian to lead 200,000 soldiers south to invade Chu. As Wang Jian’s opinion was not being considered, he gave the excuse of having an illness and went to PinYang for retirement.” The same story was recorded in “Shiji–Annals of Qin Shi Huang”

*”Intrigues of the Warring States”(Zhan Guo Ce)
**This sentence might also mean “The capital of Yan, Ji, was captured in October”.

***Dai was a new, but short-lived, state built by King Jia, the brother of the now captured King Qian of Zhao with the remaining Zhao men.

****Three Jins refers to Zhao, Wei and Han, which were once a single state called “Jin”.


There was another record on Li Xin’s answer to the question posed by the king of Qin: “Qi and Chu, which to invade first?”. In the book written by Yan You, “A discussion on the Three Generals”, wrote that:” General Wang Jian, King Xi of Yan escaped to Eastern Yi. The king of Qin asked:’ Qi and Chu, which to invade first?” Li Xin answered:”Chu’s territory is big while the Qi territory is small. The men in Chu are brave while the men in Qi are timid. Please start with the easier task.” This wasn’t recorded in other historical records. It was the same year that the king of Qin asked about the numbers needed to invade Chu. The record of Li Xin’s answer  in “A discussion of the Three Generals” on the question:”Qi and Chu, which to invade first?” should happen around the same time. From his answer, Li Xin seems to know that “Chu’s territory is big” and “their men brave”, not showing signs of underestimating Chu, and therefore he said “Please start from the easier task”, suggesting that they should invade Qi which had a small territory and timid men before invading Chu. However, from the events that happend later, it seems that the king of Qin did not follow Li Xin’s suggestion and did the opposite by attacking Chu first before Qi. Mr Ma FeiBai said:” Though Li Xin knows the difficulty of invading Chu, why did he only asked for 200,000 men? If it was me, as someone who led only a few thousand men and successfully captured Crown Prince Dan of Yan tens of thousands of miles away, leading 200,000 men to destroy Chu is because I am the first to tackle this hard problem with no prior experience of such task.* Who would have expected a loss from the start? However, a loss is the seed of the next success. Xin learnt his lesson from Chu and later captured Yan and Qi, making up for his mistake.” This is indeed true. Most of the people today thinks that Li Xin loss in Chu was because of his underestimation of Chu but in fact it was his lack of experience.

*My translation of this sentence might be wrong as it is hard to understand the ancient Chinese grammar of this sentence.



○22nd year of Qin Shi Huang(225BC), Wang Ben attacked Wei and captured King Jia of Wei. Li Xin and Meng Tian attacked Chu in the south. Li Xin attacked the castle of PingYu while Meng Tian attacked the castle of Qing, both scored great victories. Xin then attacked YanYin and successfully capturing it. He then led his army west to rendezvous with Meng Tian at ChengFu. The soldiers of Chu followed them for 3 days and 3 nights without sleep and defeated Li Xin’s army, breaching 2 walls, killing 7 lieutenants. Li Xin escaped and returned to Qin.

This can be found in “ShiJi–Annals of Qin Shi Huang”, “ShiJi–Aristocratic Family of Wei” and “ShiJi–Biographies of (Bai Qi and) Wang Jian”.


按,事见《史记.秦始皇本纪》、《楚世家》、《王翦列传》及《蒙恬列传》。马非百说:“遂使信及蒙武(原文作恬,误。此据《蒙恬列传》校改。)将二十万南 伐荆。信攻平舆,蒙武攻寝,大破荆军。信又攻鄢郢,拔之。於是引兵而西,与蒙武会城父。”而据《史记.王翦列传》及《蒙恬列传》,第一次伐楚是李信和蒙 恬。马非百的校改其实是错误的。而且马非百所说的“蒙武攻寝”、“与蒙武会城父”之“蒙武”都应该是蒙恬。马非百以为前后伐楚的副将都是蒙武,误。从《王 翦列传》和《蒙恬列传》所叙伐楚战役来看,秦始皇先用李信、蒙恬,失败后易为王翦、蒙武(蒙恬之父),可推知秦始皇开始的策略是欲用年少壮勇之将,凭借锐 勇之师,一鼓作气,攻下楚国,低估了楚国军队的实力和抵抗精神。而后,李信失利,秦始皇果断易将,换上了两个沉稳持重富于韬略的老将王翦和蒙武,采取深沟 高垒和观敌候变的策略,经过多月的等待,抓住战机,终于击败楚军。

○23rd year of Qin Shi Huang(224BC), Wang Jian replaced Li Xin as general, together with Meng Wu as his lieutenant, attacked Chu. Chu was defeated and General Xiang Yan of Chu committed suicide.

This can bee found in “ShiJi–Annals of Qin Shi Huang”, “ShiJi–Aristocratic Family of Chu”, “ShiJi–Biographies of (Bai Qi and)Wang Jian” and “ShiJi–Biography of Meng Tian”. Mr Ma FeiBai said:” Xin and Meng Wu(Original text mentioned Meng Tian, which is wrong. This was later corrected in “Biography of Meng Tian”) led 200,000 to attack Chu. Xin attacked PingYu, Meng Wu attacked Qing, both scoring victories. Xin later attacked YanYin successfully capturing it. He then led his men west to rendezvous with Meng Wu at ChengFu.” In both “ShiJi–Biographies of (Bai Qi and)Wang Jian” and “ShiJi–Biography of Meng Tian”, it was recorded that Meng Tian was the general that accompanied Li Xin in the first invasion of Chu. Mr Ma FeiBai did a wrong correction of the text. Moreover, the “Meng Wu” in the events that Mr Ma FeiBai’s mentioned, including “Meng Wu attacking Qing”, “rendezvous with Meng Wu at ChengFu” should all be changed to “Meng Tian” as he thought Meng Wu was involved in both invasion of Chu. From the records of the Chu invasion in “ShiJi–Biographies of (Bai Qi and)Wang Jian” and “ShiJi–Biography of Meng Tian”, Qin Shi Huang decision to use Li Xin and Meng Tian at first, and later Wang Jian and Meng Wu(father of Meng Tian) after their loss, we can deduce that Qin Shi Huang’s strategy was to let the young generals lead a strong and brave army to destroy Chu in one attack. However, he underestimated the strength and determination of the Chu army. However, after Li Xin’s loss, Qin Shi Huang made a rapid decision to send the more reliable and experienced older generals, Wang Jian and Meng Wu, to employ the strategy of building a fortress and waiting for the enemy to make a move. After months of waiting, they seized the chance for the decisive battle and finally defeated the Chu army.


○24th year of Qin Shi Huang(223BC), Wang Jian and Meng Wu attacked Chu, capturing Fu Zhou, the King of Chu, annexing the land of Chu in the the Chu county(of Qin).

This can be found in “ShiJi–Annals of Qin Shi Huang”, “ShiJi–Aristocratic Family of Chu”, “ShiJi–Biographies of (Bai Qi and)Wang Jian” and “ShiJi–Biography of Meng Tian”.


按,事见《史记.秦始皇本纪》、《燕召公世家》及《王翦列传》。《秦始皇本纪》载此年,“大兴兵,使王贲将,攻燕辽东,得燕王喜。还攻代,虏代王嘉。”不 言李信定燕、代。而《王翦列传》则载:“王翦子王贲,与李信破定燕、齐地。”明言李信参与了王贲为主将的最后破定燕、代、齐的战争。李信当为裨将。又《王 翦列传》只说王贲“与李信破定燕、齐地”,不言“代”地者,乃略举而言之。

○25th year of Qin Shi Huang(222BC), Li Xin and Wang Ben destroyed the rest of Yan, capturing King Xi of Yan. They also destroyed Dai, capturing King Jia of Dai.

This can be found in “ShiJi–Annals of Qin Shi Huang”, “Shiji–Aristocratic Family of Duke Zhao of Yan” and “ShiJi–Biographies of (Bai Qi and)Wang Jian”. In”Annals of Qin Shi Huang”, it was recorded that this year, “(Qin) mobilized a huge army, sent Wang Ben to attack LiaoDong of Yan, capturing King Xi of Yan. He also attacked Dai, capturing King Jia of Dai.”, with no mention of Li Xin’s participation.



按,事见《秦始皇本纪》、《田敬仲完世家》及《王翦列传》。至此年,六国皆灭,秦统一天下。《史记》不载李信封陇西侯事。据《新唐书.宗室世系表》载: “(瑶)生信,字有成,大将军、陇西侯。”①此陇西侯当秦统一天下后对李信的封赏。自此之后,李信事迹绝无考见。

○26th year of Qin Shi Huang, (221BC), Li Xin and Wang Ben attacked Qi from the south of Yan, capturing King Jian of Qi.

Qin unified China. Li Xin was given the title of Count of LongXi.

This can be found in “ShiJi–Annals of Qin Shi Huang”, “Shiji–Aristocratic Family of Tian Jin and Zhong Wan” and “ShiJi–Biographies of (Bai Qi and)Wang Jian”. This year, all 6 states were destroyed and Qin unified China. It was not recorded in Shiji that Li Xin’s was given the title of Count of LongXi. It was recorded in “New Book of Tang–Table of the Imperial Clan and Genealogy”:” Li Yao fathered Li Xin, courtesy name You Cheng, Great General, Count of LongXi. The title of Count of LongXi was given to Li Xin as a reward for him after Qin unified China. There were no other records of Li Xin after this.


3. On evaluating Li Xin

与其四世孙、汉朝有名的“飞将军”李广相比,历史上对李信的评价明显过低了。就军事才能和实际战功而言,李信要远远大于李广。但由于司马迁的私见和偏爱, 《史记》中没有李信的专传,他的事迹杂附于他人传记中,不仅叙写不成系统,而且缺少许多必要的材料。除了答秦王问伐楚及将兵伐楚败还二事所记稍多外,其它 事迹均是语焉不详。而且除了秦十年统一战争中的一些事迹外,其它均付阙如。而记述李广生平的《李将军列传》则洋溢着司马迁寄予的一种独特的深深的同情与感 慨,非常成功地塑造了一个骁勇善战、智勇双全而又怀才不遇的的飞将军形象。其实,这位深受后人尊敬的飞将军李广,有名将之称而无良将之实。综观自言“结发 与匈奴大小七十余战”的李广实在是鲜有胜绩,殊少战功,有的只是个人神勇和“力战”的花絮,不如其先祖李信远甚。但历史就偏偏对李广推崇有加,长期视之为 西汉名将,甚至与卫青、霍去病并肩而立,“李广”一词也几乎成为名将的代称,文人墨客们每每在辞章中驱使。

As compared to his great-great grandson, the “Flying General”, Li Guang of the Han dynasty , it seems that history has underevaluated Li Xin. From his military talents and actual military achievements, Li Xin definitely achieved much more than Li Guang. However, due to Sima Qian’s own prejudice and favourtism, there was no biography on Li Xin in ShiJi and his stories can only be found in biographies of other people, leading to a problem in systematic writing and the lack of essential materials. Other than his answer to the king of Qin and his loss in Chu, the other records on Li Xin were very brief. Moreover, other than from the records of Qin’s 10-year unification war, there were no other relevant records on him. On the other hand, in “Shiji–Biography of General Li” seems to be filled with Sima Qian’s sympathy and lament on Li Guang, giving the readers an impression that Li Guang the “Flying General” is a experienced in combat, having both the brain and the brawn for it but unappreciated despite his talents. In fact, the renown Li Guang is actually a general with nothing but a good name. From the records: “Fought the XiongNu for at least 70 major and minor battles”, we can see that Li Guang had many victories with very little achievements, with only individual might and details of his “close battles”, which are not as magnificent as his ancestor Li Xin’s. Despite this, history has praise highly of Li Guang, regarding him as one of the best generals of the Western Han dynasty, on par with big names such as Wei Qing and Huo QuBing. Li Guang’s name has also became the synonymous with “famous general” and future generations of writers and poets used his name in their works to depict famous generals.

反观李信,则寂寥冷落,与李广的 历来备受推崇,歌咏叹惋之声不绝于耳的盛况,反差甚大。不仅赫赫战功少人提起,即丝毫不输李广的骁勇之名也只是偶而被人齿及。如杜牧《田克加检校国子祭酒 依前宥州剌史制》说田克加“枭俊无敌,感激轻生,李信之气盖关中,陈安之勇闻陇上”。所谓“李信之气”,与“陈安之勇”,互文兼义。杜牧乃借李信勇气过人 褒赞田克加。张彦远《法书要录》卷八评论阮研书法,也曾以李信、王离之攻伐为喻。姑且也算是对李信的褒奖揄扬。

On the other hand, Li Xin’s historical treatment seems to be much colder, which is a huge contrast to Li Guang’s historical treatment, who is highly praised and his feats recorded in poems and verses. Not only did people rarely mention his glorious military achievements, his bravery, which definitely is not any paler compared to Li Guang’s, was also rarely mentioned. For example, poet Du Mu’s “(name of poem i can’t translate, but it seems like it was written for his friend, Tian KeJia)”, it was written that: “(a line in poem i also can’t really fully understand or translate)”. In this line, “Li Xin’s might” was comparable to “Chen An’s bravery”. As we can see, Du Mu used Li Xin’s bravery to praise Tian KeJia in this poem. In Chapter 8 of Zhang YanYuan’s “Records and Abstracts of  Calligraphy” where he commented on Ruan Yan’s calligraphy, he used Li Xin and Wang Li’s attacking strategy as a metaphor, which we can consider as a praise to Li Xin.


The well known loss of Li Xin in Chu and Wang Jian replacing him later is indeed a fact, and this has both intentionally and unintentionally gave Li Xin a negative image. (The author then listed a whole list of poems and works throughout history that quoted this event as a metaphor or mention this event for different purposes. I wont translate them one by one here.)


Some even compared Li Xin to Zhao Kuo, who caused Zhao to suffer a great loss due to his impractical military strategies. (The author then quoted a few examples for this)


In fact, Li Xin has contributed greatly in the unification war. From the events quoted above that invovled Li Xin, we can see that during Qin’s unification war, he attacked Zhao, captured Crown Prince Dan of Yan, attacked Chu and destroyed Yan, Dai and Qi. His achievements and contributions are significant and he is definitely an important general in Qin’s unification war to unify China.



Despite his loss in Chu, Qin Shi Huang continued to admire him and continued to employ him to destroy the remaining states. In the entire unification war, other that the most significant contribution by the Wang and Meng family, Li Xin’s contribution is also significant and comparable to theirs.

However, due to his loss in Chu, the strong contrast of his loss with the victory scored by Wang Jian, the most outstanding veteran Qin general of his time, and the historic significant of the loss in Chu, Li Xin’s status in the eyes and writing brush of critics and writers of the future generation is very low. Conversely, his loss in Chu became a negative example for critics to use, which end up covering most of his other achievements in his life as a great general of his generation.


3 thoughts on “Translation of “An Investigation of Qin General, Li Xin”

    • That loss was Qin’s one and only failed campaign in the unification war. Qin was on a rampage ever since the fall of Han until then and was seen as impossible to defeat. While the author of the article didn’t elaborate on the significance of the defeat, I think Li Xin’s failure showed that even the supposedly undefeated Qin army can be defeated in the hands of an amateur and overconfident general, which is what gave him a negative image.


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