Du Ji

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Du Ji
Minister of Cao Wei
Born Early 160s[1]
Died 224[note 1]
Traditional Chinese 杜畿
Simplified Chinese 杜畿
Pinyin Dù Jī
Wade–Giles Tu Chi
Courtesy name Bohou (Chinese: 伯侯; pinyin: Bóhóu; Wade–Giles: Po-hou)
Posthumous name Marquis Dai (Chinese: 戴侯; pinyin: Dài Hóu; Wade–Giles: Tai Hou)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Du.

Du Ji (early 160s[1] – 224), courtesy name Bohou, was a commandery governor who lived in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He later served as a high-ranking minister in the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. He had the reputation of being a model ruler, valiant, loyal, and wise. He was the grandfather of Du Yu, the author of the most influential Zuo Zhuan commentary, who gave the work its modern form.[2]


Early career[edit]

Du Ji was born in Duling (杜陵), Jingzhao (京兆), Metropolitan Commandery (司隸校尉部) (in southeastern present-day Xi'an). When he was nineteen, he served in the convict labour section under the magistrate of Zheng county (present-day Hua County, Shaanxi). Du Ji personally saw all of the hundreds of convicts in the county prisons, weighed the severity of their transgressions, and despatched them to their labours accordingly. Following this, he was nominated as filial and incorrupt, and appointed as an aide in the Hanzhong stores office.[3]

During the end of the Han Dynasty, Du Ji abandoned his post and fled south to Jing province. He returned north sometime between 196 and 205,[note 2] and was recommended to Cao Cao by Xun Yu. Du Ji was appointed Rectifier of the Ministry of Works, then sent west to Xiping (present-day Xining, Qinghai), as Governor and Colonel who Protects Against the Qiang.[3]

In 205, Gao Gan, a northern warlord and adopted nephew of Yuan Shao, rebelled against Cao Cao, to whom he had surrendered years earlier. Gao Gan convinced the governor of Hedong commandery, Wang Yi (王邑), to join him in rebellion. Two other men from Hedong, Wei Gu (衛固) and Fan Xian (范先), claimed to have liberated cities for Cao Cao, while conspiring with Gao Gan.

The loss of Hedong greatly troubled Cao Cao, who saw its strategic location as critical to controlling China, and worried that the rebels could cause serious harm if they were to ally with Liu Biao to their south. He asked Xun Yu to recommend him a great general, the likes of Xiao He or Kou Xun (寇恂), who substantially assisted the careers of Han dynasty emperors Gaozu and Guangwu, respectively. Xun Yu cautiously recommended Du Ji.[3]

As governor of Hedong[edit]

Cao Cao appointed Du Ji governor of Hedong, so Wei Gu and Fan Xian sent several thousand soldiers to close the ford of Shanjin (陝津),[note 3] one of the three major fords across the Yellow River, and only route into Hedong from an area still under Cao Cao's control. Du Ji was unable to cross the river, so Cao Cao sent a large force under Xiahou Dun to attack the rebel forces.[3]

Rather than waiting for Xiahou Dun's forces to crush the Hedong rebels, Du Ji chose to use subterfuge. At a smaller ford, he crossed the river alone, and granted Wei Gu and Fan Xian high military commands and civil offices in the Hedong commandery government. He proceeded to convince them that they had to move slowly in order to win over the people of Hedong, so they kept their forces in check for several weeks. Afterwards, Du Ji proposed that the generals, aides, and clerks be permitted to visit their homes to see their families, and Wei Gu and Fan Xian allowed this, for fear of alienating the populace.[4]

Thus the rebel forces in Hedong lacked all middle and lower management, and Wei Gu and Fan Xian stayed put, training their troops while rebellion spread in adjacent commanderies. Having hollowed out the effectiveness of the rebel army from inside, Du Ji took his leave, accompanied by a few dozen horsemen. In a few weeks' time he had mustered a force of over four thousand. Wei Gu's forces, along with Gao Gan and Zhang Sheng (張晟), attacked Du Ji but could not dislodge him.

When Xiahou Dun's army arrived, Gao Gan and Zhang Sheng fled, while Wei Gu and Fan Xian were executed. Du Ji pardoned their assistants and conspirators, and sent them back to their old occupations.[4] Thus it was that in the chaotic collapse of the Han dynasty, Hedong was one of the first commanderies stabilised under Cao Cao's rule, and with the least wasted effort and resources.[5]

As governor, Du Ji promoted lenience and mercy, and aided the populace by exerting as little control over them as possible. When someone impeached him or spoke out against him, Du Ji would have the person summoned and explain to them his plans, with the command to think them over thoroughly. If there was something the person still did not understand, Du Ji would summon them again to explain more clearly. The local elders were greatly amenable to this policy, and quickly accepted Du Ji as a model ruler. He would exempt particularly filial sons and dutiful wives from state labour, and taught improved farming methods to increase harvests. This achieved, he began teaching martial arts in the winters, and had the people keep their weaponry in good order. He opened a school where he personally taught from the classics.[5]

In 211, Han Sui and Ma Chao drew up armies against Cao Cao in response to a suspected invasion of their lands. Cities throughout Hongnong and Fengyi commanderies rose in support, while Hedong remained firmly loyal, despite adjacency to the rebels. When Cao Cao marched west to confront them, his army was fed entirely by grain from Hedong, and after defeating Han Sui and Ma Chao there were still in excess of 4000 hectolitres of grain left over.[5][6] Cao Cao increased Du Ji's salary after this.

When Cao Cao was created Duke of Wei in 213, he appointed Du Ji a palace secretary. Two years later, Cao Cao invaded Hanzhong, and Du Ji sent five thousand men to join the expedition. According to Records of the Three Kingdoms, his soldiers were so loyal that not a single person from the Hedong battalion fled from combat.[7] Cao Cao again compared Du Ji to Xiao He and Kou Xun, and said Hedong was like and arm or a leg to him.

For the sixteen years Du Ji governed Hedong, its stability was greatest in all China.[7]

Service under Cao Pi[edit]

When Cao Pi succeeded Cao Cao he granted Du Ji a noble title, and summoned him to the capital at Luoyang to act as a palace secretary. Upon Cao Pi's accession of the imperial throne later that year, he enfeoffed Du Ji as Local Marquess of Fengyue, with a demesne of one hundred families. More substantially, Du Ji was appointed Capital Commandant, the executive officer in charge of the area surrounding the capitals and one of the most powerful positions in the civil bureaucracy.[7]

Cao Pi personally invaded Eastern Wu in 222, and promoted Du Ji to the position of Vice Director of the Imperial Secretariat, entrusting him with carrying out government matters during the expedition. Two years later, when Cao Pi went to Xuchang, he left matters in Luoyang in Du Ji's hands again.

In 224,[note 1] Cao Pi ordered Du Ji to assist in building his fleet for attacking Wu. Du Ji was in charge of the imperial tower ship, the fleet's central flagship. While testing the ship, Du Ji's crew encountered heavy winds and the ship sank. Du Ji was drowned.[note 4] Cao Pi is said to have wept upon hearing news of Du Ji's death, and wrote that he "epitomised loyalty".[7] Du Ji was posthumously granted the office of Minister Coachman, which his son Du Shu (杜恕) inherited.


The only surviving source for Du Ji's biographical information is Records of the Three Kingdoms, in which his life history is related unusually hagiographically. Conversations with no possible recorders are presented, and Du Ji is portrayed as a perfect, sagely ruler who taught his subjects industry, culture, and loyalty to the death. This is perhaps one of the faults of Records of the Three Kingdoms inherited from the Book of Wei,[8] whose authors would have been sensitive to the fact that Du Ji's grandson was the emperor's uncle.



  • Du Chong (杜崇), held a clerical post under the Excellency of Works (司空)[1]


  • Du Shu (杜恕), 198–252, inspector of You province
  • Du Li (杜理), died at age 20
  • Du Kuan (杜寬), palace gentleman, archivist, attempted classicist[9]
  • Grandson:

Titles and appointments held[edit]

  • Hanzhong Stores Office Aide (漢中府丞)
  • Rectifier of the Ministry of Works (司空司直)
  • Colonel who Protects Against the Qiang (護羌校尉)
  • Governor of Xiping (西平太守)
  • Governor of Hedong (河東太守)
  • Palace Secretary (尚書)
  • Adjunct Marquess (關內侯), no fief
  • Local Marquess of Fengyue (豐樂亭侯)
  • Capital Commandant (司隸校尉)
  • Vice Director of the Imperial Secretariat (尚書僕射)
  • Minister Coachman (太僕), posthumous

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b According to the chronology in Du Ji's biography in Records of the Three Kingdoms, he died after Cao Pi went to Xuchang following his return to Luoyang after his first assault on Eastern Wu (Records of the Three Kingdoms, 16.497). Cao Pi attacked Wu in the winter of 222 and returned to Luoyang in the late spring of 224 (Records of the Three Kingdoms, 2.82, 84). In the autumn he went to Xuchang, and constructed a navy the following month. Since Du Ji died in a boating accident during the construction of a navy, it was probably in mid-autumn 224. In autumn 222, Du Ji was ordered to open the imperial granaries to alleviate a famine in Ji province. In winter 224, Ji province experienced another famine, but an unnamed official was tasked with issuing grain (2.80, 84). Du Ji certainly predeceased Cao Pi, who eulogised him (16.497).
  2. ^ Du Ji's biography states he returned from Jing province in the Jian'an period (196–220), after which he dealt with insurrectionists associated with Gao Gan, whose rebellion against Cao Cao began in 205. See Records of the Three Kingdoms, 16.494
  3. ^ Northeast of present-day Sanmenxia, Henan
  4. ^ Du Ji's place of death is not certain. The Base text of Records of the Three Kingdoms, at 16.497, says he was testing the imperial tower ship in the Tao River (陶河) when he drowned, then goes on to quote an elegy by Cao Pi saying Du Ji drowned at Mengjin (孟津). The crossing of Mengjin was on the Yellow River adjacent to present-day Mengjin County, northwest of Luoyang, where Du Ji was stationed during his late career. According to the Book of Wei, there was a Tao River in northern Xiuwu County, in present-day Jiaozuo, in Henan bordering Shanxi (Book of Wei, 106.2458). It is unclear what this waterway is named at present. The Tao River may refer to a Taoshui (陶水) mentioned in the Classic of Waterways, in Changzhi County, Changzhi, Shanxi (Annotated Classic of Waterways, 10.914). There is a tributary of the Zhang River there, the Taoqing River (陶清河), that appears to have preserved part of the ancient hydronym.


  1. ^ a b c de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 177. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0. 
  2. ^ Schaberg, 323
  3. ^ a b c d Records of the Three Kingdoms, 16.494
  4. ^ a b Records of the Three Kingdoms, 16.495
  5. ^ a b c Records of the Three Kingdoms, 16.496
  6. ^ Loewe, 65
  7. ^ a b c d Records of the Three Kingdoms, 16.497
  8. ^ Qu, 252
  9. ^ Records of the Three Kingdoms, 16.508


  • Chen Shou, 三國志 (Records of the Three Kingdoms), 280s or 290s. Pei Songzhi, annotation, 429. Hong Kong: Zhonghua Publishing, 1971. 5 vols.
  • Li Daoyuan, 水經注 (Annotated Classic of Waterways), annotation, 500s. Yang Shoujing (楊守敬) and Xiong Huizhen (熊會貞), ed.s, 1900s. Yin Xizhong (殷熙仲) and Chen Qiaoyi (陳橋驛), punctuation. Nanjing: Jiangsu Ancient Books Press, 1989. 2 vols.
  • Loewe, Michael, The measurement of grain during the Han period, T'oung Pao 49, pp 64–95. Leiden: Brill, 1961.
  • Qu Lindong (瞿林东), 中国史学史纲 (Outline of Chinese Historiography). Beijing: Beijing Publishing, 1999.
  • Schaberg, David, A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.
  • Wei Shou, 魏書 (Book of Wei), 554. Beijing: Zhonghua Publishing, 1974. 6 vols.