Taishi Ci

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Taishi Ci
General of Sun Quan
Born 166
Died 206 (aged 40)
Names
Traditional Chinese 太史慈
Simplified Chinese 太史慈
Pinyin Tàishǐ Cí
Wade–Giles T'ai-shih Tz'u
Courtesy name Ziyi (traditional Chinese: 子義; simplified Chinese: 子义; pinyin: Zǐyì; Wade–Giles: Tzu-i)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Taishi.

Taishi Ci (166–206),[1] courtesy name Ziyi, was a military general who lived in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He served under various warlords, including Liu Yao, Sun Ce and Sun Quan.

Early life[edit]

Taishi Ci was born in Huangxian of Donglai commandery (東萊, present day Shandong) where he studied hard, looked after his mother and was known throughout the province for his fealty, bravery, loyalty, and ingenuity. According to the Records of the Three Kingdoms, he was an excellent archer with a beautiful beard and long arms, his height was 7'7" according to ancient Chinese measurement (about 183 cm). When Taishi Ci was 21 (a baby is considered as 1 year old in ancient China, so he can be considered as 20 in reality), he served as a low ranking official in Donglai. In 186, the Administrator of Donglai, Taishi Ci's superior, was at odds with his own superior, the provincial office of Qing Province (青州). Both sent letters of complaints to Luoyang, the imperial capital, to directly voice their discontent against each other. However, the Han government by that time was so corrupt and weak that it was no longer capable of conducting a thorough and unbiased investigation on its own. Instead, the imperial court often made the decision based on whoever sent the news to the imperial court first, as the incompetent court assumed that the first one was usually the good one. The Administrator of Donglai learned that the provincial office had already sent his envoy to the imperial capital and he was obviously anxious, so the others recommended Taishi Ci to deliver their own letter of complaint to Luoyang, even if their adversary's envoy reached the capital first.

Just before the city gate, Taishi Ci caught up with the provincial envoy. It was impossible to beat the opposite side and the use of force was out of question. Instead of competing with the envoy to deliver the letter to the imperial court, Taishi Ci confidently walked over to the envoy and asked him if he was an envoy delivering the letter and if he was indeed an envoy, where the letter was. Mistaking Taishi Ci for an imperial court official, the envoy gave him the provincial court's letter, and Taishi Ci immediately took out a knife and cut the letter into pieces. The envoy realized that he was fooled and attempted to call out for help to arrest Taishi Ci, but Taishi Ci took him away to a remote area and calmed him down, suggesting that they both run for their lives since the envoy was also guilty for so foolishly handing over the letter to be destroyed. The envoy questioned why should he trust Taishi Ci since he had successfully destroyed the letter and would be rewarded by his superior, and there was no reason for Taishi Ci to run away. Taishi Ci answered that his superior never told him to destroy the letter, and now he committed a serious crime and must also flee. The envoy agreed, but once they were some distance away from Luoyang, Taishi Ci dumped the envoy and successfully delivered his own letter to the court. The provincial office tried to send another letter afterwards, but the imperial court refused to acknowledge it since it arrived later than the commandery's letter.

The success made Taishi Ci famous, but he also became the province's enemy. Fearing retribution, Taishi Ci fled to Liaodong.

Under Gongsun Du[edit]

In Liaodong, Taishi Ci became a good friend of a famous local scholar Bing Yuan (邴原), who introduced him to Gongsun Du, the local governor. Taishi Ci was liked and respected by the locals. Because of his criminal fugitive status, Gongsun Du was unable to offer him any official positions immediately, but the prospect was bright and he was expected to play an important role sometime later. However, this was not meant to be when Taishi Ci's stay in Liaodong was further cut short when he got involved in the affair of Liu Zheng (劉政), a friend of Bing Yuan. Gongsun Du disliked Liu Zheng and tried to execute him, but Liu Zheng was barely able to escape, leaving his followers to be arrested. Bing Yuan, for a time, sheltered Liu Zheng, but Gongsun Du announced that anyone hiding or helping Liu Zheng would be executed as well. In turn, Bing Yuan asked Taishi Ci to take Liu Zheng back to China proper, which Taishi Ci agreed to. After their successful escape, Bing Yuan convinced Gongsun Du to release all of Liu Zheng's followers.

Service under Kong Rong[edit]

Taishi Ci came to the attention of Kong Rong, a descendant of Confucius, and the Chancellor of Beihai Commandery (北海, present day Weifang). Kong Rong admired Taishi Ci's fidelity, and so regularly provided food and financial assistance to his mother during Taishi Ci's exile. When Kong Rong was besieged by the tens of thousands Yellow Turban rebels headed by Guan Hai, Taishi Ci's mother implored him to lend aid to Kong Rong as soon as he returned from Liaodong in 193. Originally, Taishi Ci planned to raise a small army, but as a brilliant military commander, he soon realized that there was not enough time, so he walked to Duchang (都昌) by himself, and sneaked into the city before the siege was fully completed. Taishi Ci immediately asked Kong Rong for an army so that he could fight his way out of the castle in an effort to reinforce Kong Rong and fight off his would-be murderers by defeating them first before the siege completed. However, Kong Rong refused Taishi Ci's suggestion, fearing that his strength was not strong enough and waited for reinforcement. As a result, not only did the reinforcement not arrive, the enemy completed the siege.

As supplies ran low, a messenger was necessary to request any reinforcement they could get. Taishi Ci pointed out that Liu Bei of Pingyuan (平原) was the only possible source of help, and got Kong Rong's permission to breakout as the messenger. Kong Rong worried that since the siege was completed, nobody could get out, but Taishi Ci developed a plan in which he would courageously ride out of the castle's gates each day to practice his archery with only two horsemen. On the first day, one hundred men pursued him and Taishi Ci returned to the safety behind city walls. He repeated this for the next few days and the enemy began to believe he had no intention to breakout, and thus reduced their force watching Taishi Ci. Taishi Ci continued doing this until the Yellow Turbans lost interest. Then, with a small escort, Taishi Ci dashed out of the castle, successfully breaking through the enemy lines on the fourth day. When the enemy realized what was happening, it was too late, and the few that were fast enough to follow Taishi Ci were all shot dead by his arrows. Riding on, Taishi Ci returned with Liu Bei's three thousand crack troops, finally scattering the Yellow Turban forces surrounding Kong Rong's castle. Unlike what was depicted in the Romance of Three Kingdoms where Liu Bei's famous general such as Guan Yu were also sent to help, none of Liu Bei's commanders went. Instead, Taishi Ci himself was the sole commander leading the three thousand strong army that defeated the enemy.

Service under Liu Yao[edit]

After this accomplishment and the subsequent suppression of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Taishi Ci returned south to Jiangdong and offered his services to Liu Yao, a warlord born and raised in the same village as Taishi Ci himself. During his service under Liu Yao, Sun Ce was rapidly expanding his forces and reclaiming lands he perceived as the rightful property of the Sun family. Sun Ce had been successful, due to the fact that he had earlier traded the Imperial Seal in his possession to the warlord Yuan Shu, in exchange for several thousand of his troops. Alongside his father's already impressive army, Sun Ce and his childhood friend Zhou Yu invaded the lands of Jiangdong, which were under the protection and rule of Liu Yao at the time. Sun Ce had gained a tremendous advantage through the capture of a local city which he could now use to rally and support his army. Unfortunately, Liu Yao was not a good military commander. When Sun Ce attacked him, many of his advisors suggested to him that he should name Taishi Ci as the commander-in-chief of his force to defend themselves against Sun Ce, but Liu Yao refused, fearing that giving Taishi Ci the command would tarnish his reputation, since Taishi Ci was once a criminal. Taishi Ci was instead tasked to guard the army's baggage. One day, Taishi Ci came across Sun Ce in Shenting (神亭), but the two duelled to a standstill. As Sun Ce's officers rode to his assistance, Taishi Ci was forced into a hasty retreat. Sun Ce had been impressed with Taishi Ci abilities and held him in good stead, noting him as one of very few men of honour in a chaotic and treacherous period.

Taishi Ci later was forced to break allegiance with Liu Yao after they fled their separate ways, with Liu Yao fleeing to Yuzhang (豫章) and Taishi Ci to Wuhu, resulting from Liu Yao's refusal to heed Taishi Ci's strategic advice and was subsequently overrun. Taishi Ci established a guerrilla base in the mountains and earned support of many locals, and from 195 to 198, Taishi Ci waged war against Sun Ce and eventually expanded to include the region of Danyang, a position of strategic military importance since the time of Sun Tzu, where he proclaimed himself Administrator, with supporters ranging from the ordinary civilians to high ranking local officials. Taishi Ci had become too much of a threat after defeating Yan Baihu, Sun Ce targeted Taishi Ci instead of Liu Yao. Taishi Ci's remnant forces were quickly besieged by Sun Ce's army at Jin (泾) County and were consequently overrun and captured.

Taishi Ci was tied up and brought before Sun Ce, where Sun Ce, recalling their encounter at Shenting, immediately unbound him. Sun Ce persuaded Taishi Ci to join him, saying that his talents were unrecognized by his previous masters; Sun Ce even said that Taishi Ci was a dragon among people and to fly to the sky the dragon must have a good base, and Sun Ce himself was very honored to be that base. Although initially hesitant, Taishi Ci eventually succumbed to Sun Ce's requests, accepting highly ranked positions within Sun Ce's army. He asked Sun Ce to let him go for a day to collect his remnant troops to pacify the area, and Sun Ce agreed. Answering the suspicion from his advisors, Sun Ce retorted, "Taishi Ziyi is a famed man of Qing province, bound by honour, he will not lie to me", and indeed, Taishi Ci came back the next day. He was appointed as Commander Under the Gate (門下督) and General of the Household (中郎將).

Service under the Sun family[edit]

Taishi Ci remained a loyal and staunch supporter of the Sun family for the rest of his life, feeling an obligation towards Sun Ce for placing such confidence in his abilities. Taishi Ci came to be well reputed amongst his troops and colleagues and was held in high regard by Sun Quan, younger brother of Sun Ce. During his service under Sun Ce, Sun Ce gave him three important tasks which he completed successfully.

The first was to visit the remnant of forces of the recently deceased Liu Yao, informing them that they were all welcome to Sun Ce's side and if they chose not to, they were free to go. Everyone of Liu Yao's remnant force surrendered to Sun Ce and Liu Yao's son even excelled under Sun Quan later on. Unlike what was depicted in the novel Romance of Three Kingdoms where it only took a day for Taishi Ci to return at the exact time, Taishi Ci actually told Sun Ce that it would take at most 60 days when he left, and he did return within the 60 day limit despite suspicions that he would defect.

The second task assigned to Taishi Ci by Sun Ce was to perform a reconnaissance mission on Hua Xin, the Administrator of Yuzhang in the name of paying a visit. Taishi Ci returned and told Sun Ce that Hua Xin would not be able to defend his turf because the local people did not obey him, so Sun Ce marched his force to Yuzhang like Taishi Ci had suggested, and peacefully incorporated the region when Hua Xin surrendered.

The third task was that Sun Ce named Taishi Ci as Jianchang Duwei (建昌都尉), taking charge of six counties including Haihun (海昏) and Jianchang (建昌) to defend the local areas from attacks from Liu Pan, nephew of the Jing province governor Liu Biao. Taishi Ci had successfully checked the attacks of Liu Pan, and Liu Pan ceased to be a threat.

After Sun Ce's death, Cao Cao felt that this was an opportunity and asked Taishi Ci to surrender. However, Taishi Ci refused. Taishi Ci later died of natural causes in 206 at the age of 41 by East Asian age reckoning. His last words were: "A man in life should take a sword of seven feet, and rise to the rank of the son of heaven. Now my goals have not been realized, but yet I helplessly die!"

Taishi Ci had at least a son named Taishi Xiang (太史享).

In fiction[edit]

In the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Taishi Ci is instead slain by one of Cao Cao's most feared and talented generals, Zhang Liao, during the Battle of Hefei in 208. Although this event never actually occurred, the author of the novel, Luo Guanzhong, altered the deaths of several renowned "Three Kingdoms" generals whom he believed deserved a much more dramatic and courageous death.

Modern references[edit]

  • The character Taishiji Shigi of the anime series Ikki Tousen is based roughly on Taishi Ci.
  • He is also called Taishiji Shigi in the 2007 anime Koutetsu Sangokushi (loosely based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms) in which he is a general of the "barbaric" Go (Wu).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 781. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0.