Ma Teng

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Ma Teng
Ma Teng Qing illustration.jpg
A Qing dynasty illustration of Ma Teng
Warlord of Eastern Han dynasty
Born (Unknown)
Died 212
Traditional Chinese 馬騰
Simplified Chinese 马腾
Pinyin Mă Téng
Wade–Giles Ma T'eng
Courtesy name Shoucheng (simplified Chinese: 寿成; traditional Chinese: 壽成; pinyin: Shòuchéng; Wade–Giles: Shou-ch'eng)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Ma.

Ma Teng (died 212),[1] courtesy name Shoucheng, was a warlord who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty. He controlled Liang Province (涼州; covering parts of present-day Shaanxi and Gansu) with another warlord, Han Sui. Ma Teng and Han Sui were involved in efforts to gain autonomy from the Han central government.


Ma Teng was from Maoling, Fufeng (扶風茂陵; present-day Xingping, Shaanxi). His father, Ma Ping, was a minor official in Tianshui Commandery, but because of some dispute he was dismissed from his post, and went to live among the Qiang people.

When Ma Teng was young, he lived in extreme poverty and it is said that he collected firewood in the mountains and sold it to make money. When he grew up, his height was said to have been over eight chi, (roughly 1.84 meters). It is also said that although he was fierce in appearance, he was kind to others and wise, and was respected by many.

In 184, during the final years of Emperor Ling's reign, the Qiang people in Liang Province rose up against the local government under Beigong Yu (北宫玉) and Li Wenhou (李文侯). They were joined by members of the local gentry Han Sui and Bian Zhang. The official Han governor of Liang Province, Geng Bi (耿鄙), gathered forces to put down the rebellion, and Ma Teng volunteered as a foot soldier. His skills in battle against the rebels were recognized, and he rose through the ranks of the soldiery. However, when Geng Bi was killed in battle by the rebel army, Ma Teng switched sides and joined Han Sui. The rebellion would eventually be put down by the Han general Huangfu Song, but Ma Teng escaped along with the rebels. Eventually, the central government granted those involved in the rebellion military titles in order to appease them.

When Li Jue and Guo Si seized power over Chang'an after Dong Zhuo's assassination, Ma Teng and Han Sui at first pledged allegiance to them, and were given the titles of "General who Suppresses the East" (征東将軍) and "General who Guards the West" (鎮西将軍) respectively. However, the relationship between the two sides quickly soured, and Ma Teng and Han Sui led their armies in an attempt to seize Chang'an. They allied themselves with the warlord Liu Yan, but suffered defeats from the hands of Li's generals, Guo Si, Fan Chou and Li Li. Not only was the loss of ten thousand soldiers a heavy blow to the morale of the allied forces, they also faced a supply shortage at the time, so the eloquent Han Sui asked Fan for a private talk, during which Han successfully persuaded Fan to abort the pursuit because they shared the same hometown. The allied force then retreated back to Liang Province safely.

Although Ma Teng was initially on good terms with Han Sui, the two went to war against each other over control of Liang Province. The fighting escalated to a point where they were killing each other's wives and children. Cao Cao, who at this point had decisively defeated Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu, brokered peace between Ma and Han, who then pledged allegiance to the Han dynasty and sent troops to assist Cao Cao in defeating Yuan Shao's successors and remnants. After this, Ma Teng was summoned to Ye city with most of his family, and was appointed Minister of the Guards (衛尉). His eldest son, Ma Chao, remained behind in Liang Province with Han Sui.

Around early 211, Ma Chao secretly formed a coalition with Han Sui and other minor warlords in Liang Province and started a rebellion against the Han dynasty. While persuading Han Sui to join him, Ma Chao said, "[...] Now, I abandon my father, and I'm willing to acknowledge you as my father. You should also abandon your son, and treat me like your son."[2] Ma Chao and his coalition were defeated by Cao Cao at the Battle of Tong Pass in September 211. Sometime in the summer of 212, Emperor Xian issued an imperial decree ordering the execution of Ma Teng and the rest of his family who were with him in Ye city at the time.[3][4]


Appointments and titles held[edit]

  • Commandant of Tianshui and Langan (天水蘭干尉)
  • Major (司馬)
  • Lieutenant General (偏將軍)
  • General Who Attacks the West (征西將軍)
  • General Who Attacks the East (征東將軍)
  • General of the Vanguard (前將軍)
  • Marquis of Huaili (槐里侯)
  • Minister of the Guards (衛尉)
  • Inspector of Xu Province (徐州刺史)
  • Counsellor Remonstrant (諫議大夫)

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Ma Teng was portrayed as a loyalist of the declining Han dynasty. He participated a plot with Liu Bei and Dong Cheng to assassinate Cao Cao, who, in the novel, was depicted as a villain monopolising power and holding Emperor Xian hostage. However, the plot was not successful and Ma Teng returned to Liang Province.

When Ma Teng was later recalled to the imperial capital Xuchang, he decided to again join a plot to assassinate Cao Cao, this time with Huang Kui (黄奎). However, the plot was discovered and he is executed along with his sons Ma Xiu and Ma Tie. Upon hearing of his father and brothers' deaths, Ma Chao becomes filled with rage and goes to war with Cao Cao to avenge his family, starting the Battle of Tong Pass.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 650. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0. 
  2. ^ (及約還,超謂約曰:「前鍾司隸任超使取將軍,關東人不可複信也。今超棄父,以將軍為父,將軍亦當棄子,以超為子。」行諫約,不欲令與超合。約謂行曰:「今諸將不謀而同,似有天數。」乃東詣華陰。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 15.
  3. ^ (超至安定,遂奔涼州。詔收滅超家屬。超復敗於隴上。) Dianlue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 36.
  4. ^ (十七年夏五月癸未,誅衞尉馬騰,夷三族。) Houhanshu vol. 9.