Chao Gai

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Chao Gai
Water Margin character
First appearance Chapter 14
Nickname "Pagoda-Shifting Heavenly King"
Also known as "Heavenly King Chao"
Leader of Liangshan
Origin Village Ward Chief
Ancestral home / Place of origin Dongxi Village, Yuncheng County, Heze, Shandong
Simplified Chinese 晁盖
Traditional Chinese 晁蓋
Pinyin Cháo Gài
Wade–Giles Ch'ao Kai

Chao Gai is a fictional character in Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. He is not one of the 108 Stars of Destiny because he dies before the Grand Assembly of the 108. However, after his death, he serves as a spiritual guardian of the outlaws and ceremonial sacrifices are made in his honour.


Chao Gai earned his nickname "Pagoda-Shifting Heavenly King" after carrying a pagoda miniature from the west side of a creek to the east, where his village stood, to deter malevolent spirits. He was popularly referred to as "Heavenly King Chao" (晁天王) by his fellows. Born into a wealthy family, he is the Ward Chief (保正) of Dongxi Village (東溪村; or Eastern Creek Village) in Yuncheng County, Heze, Shandong. He is a close friend of Wu Yong, Gongsun Sheng, Liu Tang and the Ruan brothers. He maintains close relations with the constables Zhu Tong and Lei Heng as well.

Robbing the convoy of birthday gifts[edit]

Liu Tang overhears news that a convoy escorting some birthday gifts for the Imperial Tutor, Cai Jing, will be passing by Dongxi Village. He falls asleep in a rundown temple after getting drunk and is mistaken for a wanted fugitive by Lei Heng, who arrests him. Lei Heng and his men stop by Dongxi Village to have a short break. Chao Gai surreptitiously goes out to meet Liu Tang, whose original intent was to inform Chao Gai about the convoy. Afterwards, Chao lies to Lei Heng, telling him that Liu is his nephew. Lei releases Liu, but the latter is still unhappy with him for arresting him earlier without reason. He tracks down Lei Heng and fights with him, but Chao Gai arrives and stops them.

Liu Tang tells Chao Gai and the others about the convoy and they decide to rob it. The seven men take an oath of fraternity and disguise themselves as date traders. They succeed in robbing the convoy by following Wu Yong's plan and with some help from Bai Sheng. The authorities send the constable He Tao to investigate the incident and arrest the robbers. Bai Sheng is caught after he unknowingly reveals himself as one of the robbers. Despite being subjected to torture, Bai Sheng refuses to name his accomplices even though the authorities have already confirmed that Chao Gai is one of the robbers.

Joining Liangshan[edit]

Song Jiang alerts Chao Gai and the others that they are wanted by the government for the robbery and they prepare to flee the village. Zhu Tong and Lei Heng are assigned to arrest Chao Gai and his companions but they help Chao and company escape instead, on account of their friendship. Chao Gai and his companions defeat soldiers led by He Tao and flee to Liangshan for refuge. Wang Lun, chief of Liangshan, only allows them to stay at his stronghold temporarily as he is worried that Chao Gai and his friends will pose a threat to his position as chief. Wang Lun tries to send them away with valuable gifts but Chao Gai protests that they have nowhere else to seek refuge and begs Wang to allow them to stay. Wu Yong instigates Lin Chong to kill Wang Lun and Chao Gai is then selected to be the new chief. Chao Gai recruits Wang Lun's former deputies Song Wan, Du Qian and Zhu Gui.

Death and legacy[edit]

Chao Gai participates in some battles against the enemies of Liangshan but most of the time he lets Song Jiang lead the outlaws into war while he stays behind to defend their base at Liangshan and provide reinforcements. Once, he decides to personally lead a campaign against the Zeng Family Fortress after the Zengs provoked Liangshan. The Zengs have robbed a precious steed known as the "Jade Lion" (玉獅子) from Duan Jingzhu, which was originally intended to be presented as a gift to Chao Gai. The Zengs have also injured Liu Tang in a skirmish and provoked Liangshan through insulting slogans. Chao Gai is infuriated and leads his forces to attack the fortress. After being tricked into an ambush, he is struck in the forehead by an arrow whose arrowhead is coated with poison. The arrow was fired by Shi Wengong, a martial arts instructor of the fortress. Chao Gai dies from poisoning shortly after. His dying words are: "Whoever captures Shi Wengong shall succeed me as chief." Song Jiang succeeds Chao Gai as chief of Liangshan eventually although Lu Junyi turned out to be the one who captured Shi Wengong.

Chao Gai's character is entirely consistent with the ideas presented in the Liangshan outlaws' eventual manifesto, "delivering justice on Heaven's behalf". His personal history as an official-turned-outlaw also portends the way of life and recruitment policy of Liangshan.

See also[edit]