Jiang Gan

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Jiang Gan
Born (Unknown)
Died (Unknown)
Traditional Chinese 蔣幹
Simplified Chinese 蒋干
Pinyin Jiǎng Gàn
Wade–Giles Chiang Kan
Courtesy name Ziyi (Chinese: 子翼; pinyin: Zǐyì; Wade–Giles: Tzu-i)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Jiang.

Jiang Gan (birth and death dates unknown), courtesy name Ziyi, was a debater and scholar who lived in the late Eastern Han dynasty. He is best known for his attempt to persuade Zhou Yu, a general serving under the warlord Sun Quan, to defect to Sun's rival Cao Cao after the Battle of Red Cliffs in the winter of 208–209. In the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the entire incident not only took place before the battle, but also received a dramatic makeup with the inclusion of some fictitious elements.

In historical records[edit]

The only known information about Jiang Gan in history was recorded in the Jiang Biao Zhuan (江表傳) and was later added as an annotation by Pei Songzhi to the historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi) written by Chen Shou.[1]

Jiang Gan was from Jiujiang Commandery (九江郡; covering parts of present-day Anhui around the Huai River region), which is not to be confused with the modern city of Jiujiang in Jiangxi province. He was good-looking and was known for being an excellent debater in the Jiangnan and Huai River regions.[2]

In 209, after the Battle of Red Cliffs,[3] Cao Cao heard of Zhou Yu's talent and hoped to recruit the latter to serve under him, so he secretly travelled to Yang Province and sent Jiang Gan to persuade Zhou to join him. Jiang Gan dressed simply and carried his luggage by himself when he went to meet Zhou Yu.[4]

Zhou Yu personally welcomed Jiang Gan and said to the latter, "Ziyi, you've tried hard. You travelled all the way here just to be a spokesman for the Caos?" Jiang Gan replied, "I'm an old friend of yours but we've not been in contact for years. When I heard that you've become famous now, I travelled here to visit you and reminisce our past days, as well as to tour the region. Are you suspecting my intentions when you called me a 'spokesman'?" Zhou Yu said, "I may not be as good as the musicians of ancient times, but I can still recognise a beautiful piece of music." Zhou Yu then invited Jiang Gan to dine with him. After the meal, before he left, Zhou Yu told Jiang Gan, "I've something confidential to attend to, and I need to leave now. I'll treat you to another meal again after I'm done with that."[5]

Three days later, Zhou Yu brought Jiang Gan on a tour of his camp, including his granaries and armouries. After that, Zhou Yu invited Jiang Gan to a feast, and he instructed the servants to bring out some expensive items to show Jiang. He said to Jiang Gan, "In his life, when a man meets a lord who truly appreciates him, he should fulfil his duty as a subordinate and forge a close relationship with his lord. He should follow his lord's orders faithfully and share weal and woe together with his lord. Even if Su Qin, Zhang Yi and Li Yiji were to return from the dead, they will not be able to affect his loyalty towards his lord. So, how can you ever hope to make someone switch his allegiance?"[a] Jiang Gan laughed but did not reply.[6]

When Jiang Gan returned from his trip, he praised Zhou Yu in front of Cao Cao, claiming that Zhou's magnanimity was too great to be described in words.[7]

In fiction[edit]

Jiang Gan was featured as a character in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, which romanticises the history of the Three Kingdoms period and its prelude. He appears in chapters 45 and 47[b] during the events leading to the Battle of Red Cliffs, and he commits two major blunders which are instrumental to Cao Cao's catastrophic defeat in the battle.

In Chapter 45, Jiang Gan volunteers to persuade Zhou Yu to surrender to Cao Cao and he travels to Zhou's camp. Zhou Yu understood Jiang Gan's purpose in visiting him, so he tricks Jiang into believing that two of Cao Cao's naval commanders (Cai Mao and Zhang Yun) were planning to kill their lord and defect to his side. Jiang Gan also got hold of a fake letter from Cai Mao and Zhang Yun addressed to Zhou Yu, in which the "treachery" of Cai and Zhang was clearly apparent. He steals the letter while Zhou Yu is asleep, returns to Cao Cao's camp, and shows Cao the letter. Cao Cao falls for the ruse and has Cai Mao and Zhang Yun executed.[8]

Later, in Chapter 47, Jiang Gan crosses the river again to spy on Zhou Yu's camp, but is sent away from the camp by Zhou Yu. On his way home from Eastern Wu, Jiang comes across Pang Tong, who is working with Zhou Yu but had disguised himself as a rustic. Pang follows Jiang back to Cao Cao's camp, where he advises Cao to chain his boats together to help his soldiers avoid seasickness. This is in fact part of a ruse organised by Zhou Yu, the chained-together boats being vulnerable to the fire attack which Zhou and Zhuge Liang had been planning.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Su Qin and Zhang Yi were famous political strategists who lived in the Warring States period, and were known to be very persuasive speakers who succeeded in convincing rulers to form or break alliances with other states. Li Yiji was an advisor to Liu Bang (the founder of the Han dynasty) and was also known to be an excellent lobbyist. Zhou Yu was indirectly affirming his allegiance towards the Sun family and hinting to Jiang Gan that he cannot be persuaded to defect to Cao Cao's side.
  2. ^ See Pang Tong#In fiction for the story in Chapter 47.


  1. ^ (江表傳曰: ...) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  2. ^ (幹有儀容,以才辯見稱,獨步江、淮之閒,莫與為對。) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  3. ^ (曹操密遣九江蔣幹往說周瑜。 ... 還白操,稱瑜雅量高致,非言辭所能間也。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 66.
  4. ^ (初曹公聞瑜年少有美才,謂可游說動也,乃密下揚州,遣九江蔣幹往見瑜。乃布衣葛巾,自託私行詣瑜。) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  5. ^ (瑜出迎之,立謂幹曰:「子翼良苦,遠涉江湖為曹氏作說客邪?」幹曰:「吾與足下州里,中閒別隔,遙聞芳烈,故來叙闊,并觀雅規,而云說客,無乃逆詐乎?」瑜曰:「吾雖不及夔、曠,聞弦賞音,足知雅曲也。」 ... 因延幹入,為設酒食。畢,遣之曰:「適吾有密事,且出就館,事了,別自相請。」) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  6. ^ (後三日,瑜請幹與周觀營中,行視倉庫軍資器仗訖,還宴飲,示之侍者服飾珍玩之物,因謂幹曰:「丈夫處世,遇知己之主,外託君臣之義,內結骨肉之恩,言行計從,禍福共之,假使蘇張更生,酈叟復出,猶撫其背而折其辭,豈足下幼生所能移乎?」幹但笑,終無所言。) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  7. ^ (幹還,稱瑜雅量高致,非言辭所間。) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  8. ^ Sanguo Yanyi ch. 45.