The Battle of Changping, historically, was Bai Qi’s last battle.
In this battle, Bai Qi defeated Zhao Kuo and the amassed army of Zhao, slaughtering four hundred thousand enemy troops in less than two months. It is considered the most famous army annihilation in history.
It is also because of this war that Bai Qi’s military merit began to overshadow the King’s authority. In his jealousy, he had Bai Qi commit suicide by sword several months later.
According to legend, before his death, Bai Qi held the sword and asked the heavens what he had done wrong. And after a while, he muttered to himself. The sin of killing hundreds of thousands of prisoners results in divine punishment.
After Bai Qi’s death, it’s reported that his family was also implicated. However, records said that Bai Qi’s son, Bai Zhong, did not die and later would be given Taiyuan by Emperor Qin Shihuang as part of his land reforms.
The Battle of Changping…
Just from hearing those words, Gu Nan's chest seemed to miss a beat. Her hand holding onto her sword felt numb and tense.
She then realized one of the most important points. In history, Bai Qi never died a normal death, it was a death in vain.
After this battle, Bai Qi will die.
This cannot be changed!
Such thoughts flashed through her mind.
Clenching her teeth, she said, “Master—”
But she was quickly interrupted by Bai Qi’s wave of the hand.
“Nan’er, do you wish to say that this battle should not be fought?” Bai Qi’s voice was gentle and calm, but it also carries a great tiredness.
Her hand clenched the sword tighter. She lowered her head and said solemnly, “Yes.”
“Haha.” Bai Qi chuckled a few times and turned around to see a nervous-stricken Gu Nan standing behind him.
He sighed. “Nan’er, you are a smart child. Sometimes I think it’s strange. You are a child born in chaos, without even reading and education, you are so wise. Is it possible for someone to be born with such knowledge? Would you have a seven-chambered heart?" [TL: Possessing aptitude for wisdom]
Gu Nan wanted to interject but was once more stopped by Bai Qi.
“I know what you are afraid of. Too much merit, too much prestige. The king will become wary of me, right?”
As he spoke, he walked up to a seat in the room and sat down with a smiling expression.
“If you can see it so clearly, of course I could as well.”
After another long period of silence, he said slowly, “The winter has begun. Nan’er do you know how many people will soon die from famine or cold?”
His question came out of the blue and Gu Nan didn’t know how to answer.
Bai Qi has stretched out three fingers. “Our state of Qin will have no less than 30,000 deaths this winter. And how many people lived in Qin?”
Gu Nan was at a slight loss for words, and she was unsure why Bai Qi suddenly brought this up.
During the Warring States period, winter is perhaps the most peaceful time of the year. For such a disastrous winter and so many deaths, it would still be very uncommon.
Bai Qi continued to look at Gu Nan intently. “Let me ask you this, do you know how many have died so far in this warring period? How many people have been displaced? How many shattered families are left to wander?”
She couldn’t find a suitable answer, only bowing her head down in silence.
“As your teacher, I will tell you.” Bai Qi faintly smiled, but his voice reflected some of his helpless dejection. “These wars have claimed and will claim no less than a million lives. Households will break apart, and like you were, they will become wandering refugees.”
“Through my experiences, I have seen many acts of desperate brutality. Mass-cannibalism, even of children. All to persist ever longer in the face of death.” Bai Qi’s voice turned dull with each further line, but each sentence resounded the terrible truths of the world.
Gu Nan’s eyes were still blankly looking at the floor. Deep in thought, it was only after a while that she formulated her thoughts.
Without hesitation, she steeled herself again.
“Master, I really suggest that you don’t go to Changping.”
Bai Qi lifted up his cup of tea and gently shook it, watching the minute waves ripple across its surface. He began to speak in an even graver tone.
“The old Zhuo Dynasty exists only in name. Qi appears sturdy, but their interior is wilted. Han is too small to be relevant. Yan’s ruler is useless. Wei’s king avoids talent out of jealousy. Chu’s presence has fallen even since they lost King Huai. The only one capable of waging war against Qin in the next thirty years is Zhao.”
“Ever since the late King Wuling of Zhao implemented those military reforms, their military might has prospered with focus on mounted troops and archers.”
“The battle at Changping. Qin has 600,000 men and Zhao has fielded 400,000. This does not include the hundreds of thousands of men in logistics and supplies.”
“It can be considered the brunt of each nation’s military power.”
“Changping, then the Taihang Mountains, and after that is the Zhao capital, Handan.”
“Zhao can travel east near Anyi. After the city is taken, they can cross over the Qinling Mountains. And once the Yellow River is crossed, they will have a direct passage to the Qin capital, our current city of Xianyang.”
“If we win at Changping, Zhao will fall within twenty years. At most, in fifty years, Qin can conquer the other six states and unite the world.”
“If we lose at Changping, Qin will not be immediately threatened. However, we will be so weak that we cannot spare troops for border skirmishes. Our enemies can inch away at our lands.”
Saying all of this, Bai Qi placed down his cup, not bothering to take a drink.
“For your master to render high merits, it’s nothing you need to concern yourself over. If I die because of it, how different will it be from the million deaths on the battlefield?”
“Your master is tired. In this troubled world, lives are cheap as grass. Is such a life better than death?”
“Have you ever thought about a world without wars and fighting? A place without shortages of food and clothing, a comfortable life? The males farm, the women weave, and the children play. An old man like me could peacefully sit under a tree and drink tea.”
“Only those people could count as truly living.”
His voice was just a whisper, and almost as if he just like talking to himself. His eyes still retained that spark of a dream.
“Nan’er.” He raised his gaze, but his eyes were filled with a resolute determination. “And so, do you think Changping should be fought or not?”
“…” Gu Nan’s lips trembled slightly, and she was on the verge of speaking before closing her mouth again. After all, she didn’t know how to respond.
So what if she knows the course of history?
Bai Qi already has the determination to die.
For Gu Nan, the concept of a righteous world, one without suffering is an impossibility.
If she could choose, she would definitely choose to not fight.
What about order? What about peace? It’s not being hypocritical. It is idiotic to believe in such high ideals.
But as she looked at the aged, old man’s determined gaze, she felt a sense of defeat fall upon her. She could not bear say her thoughts.
She can feel that Bai Qi looked towards a grand future. One that even she would sigh in wonder over.
It is hard to imagine such an infamous general in history was a dreamer that detested battle.
“I know you hate war, but the chaos will come to you regardless.” Bai Qi said calmly. “But, you have to understand, this world can only calm down after the fighting stops.”
After he finished speaking, he stood up and walked slowly outside. The old man’s figure seemed thin and feeble.
“If something happens and I die, I will have a letter sent to the king and beg for his mercy on your behalf. You can feel at ease.”