Tao Qian (Han dynasty)

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Tao Qian
Warlord of Han Dynasty
Born 132[1]
Died 194 (aged 62)[1]
Simplified Chinese 陶谦
Traditional Chinese 陶謙
Pinyin Táo Qiān
Wade–Giles T'ao Ch'ien
Courtesy name Gongzu (Chinese: 恭祖; pinyin: Gōngzǔ; Wade–Giles: Kung-tsu)
Provinces ruled by Tao Qian in the late 180s

Tao Qian (132-194),[1][2] courtesy name Gongzu, was a warlord and the governor of Xu Province in the late Eastern Han Dynasty.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in the Danyang (丹阳) region, Tao was known as a young man for his integrity and for being just. Also, at a young age he had an affinity to learning. In the service of the Han Dynasty, he led the Danyang armies in many regions to suppress rebellions.

When the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out he was appointed governor of Xu Province and he succeeded in clearing the area of rebels. He was sent to the northwestern frontiers during the Liang Province Rebellion, where Tao was serving under Zhang Wen. During the expedition he insulted Zhang and made him very angry. However, Sun Jian and Dong Zhuo served on the same campaign, and both of them also were unhappy with Zhang Wen's leadership as well. In the chaos of Dong Zhuo's coup d'état and the battles that followed, Tao, having returned to Xu Province, gained control of the neighboring Yang Province. However, after that he showed no ambition to expand his territory any further.

Tao was responsible for starting the careers of Wang Lang, Zhu Zhi, and Chen Deng, all of whom would play fairly important roles in politics of that time later. However, at the same time he was prone to joining forces with unscrupulous characters, such as Ze Rong, Cao Hong (曹宏), and Que Xuan (闕宣), and on the other hand not appointing Zhao Yu (趙昱), who was a very loyal and able servant, to a position of trust. Those who did not respond to his requests to serve him, such as Zhang Zhao and Lü Fan, he had imprisoned, and he also attempted to harm the family of Sun Ce, who was serving Yuan Shu at the time.

Cao Cao's invasion of Xu Province[edit]

In 193, Cao Cao's father Cao Song was killed while travelling through Tao's territory. Tao had assigned Zhang Kai (張闓) to guard Cao Song, and it was said that Zhang killed him in order to steal the riches that he was carrying with him. The death of his father prompted Cao Cao to personally lead an army into Xu Province. As a result, a very large number of common people living there were massacred by Cao's army. Rebellion by Zhang Miao within Cao's own territory forced him to retreat before he could do conclusive battle with Tao.

Tao was instrumental in the rise of Liu Bei in that when Liu came to his help, Tao provided Liu with several thousand troops of Danyang (丹阳兵), the crack troop among all warlords. Danyang troops were famous for their fighting capabilities and it was due to this exceptional capability, Tao was able to maintain a stalemate with Cao Cao. Most of these troops remained loyal to Liu Bei and followed him for years until he finally established himself, a rather rare occurrence at the time when loyalty was not honored to the extreme when warlords came and went. This is especially remarkable since Liu was the loser on the run for most of time in his early years in the power struggle against other warlords. Tao had offered Liu Bei the governorship of Xu province many times, but Liu Bei, with his kind heart, declined the offer. He once quoted, "I shall never take advantage of one's situation, especially when he is so close to passing over". Tao had suffered a great shock, because of his recent stalemate with Cao Cao. In 194, on his death bed, Tao attempted one last time to ask Liu to take over, luckily for him, Liu accepted it as Tao's last wish. Tao Qian died peacefully a few moments later.


  • Sons:
    • Tao Shang (陶商)
    • Tao Ying (陶應)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Tao Qian's biography in Records of the Three Kingdoms stated that Tao died in the first year of the Xingping era (194-195) in the reign of Emperor Xian of Han. (興平元年, ... 是歲,謙病死。) An annotation from the Wu Shu further mentioned that he was 63 years old (by East Asian age reckoning) when he died. (吳書曰:謙死時,年六十三, ...) By calculation, his birth year should be around 132.
  2. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 788. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0.