Qiao Xuan

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Not to be confused with Qian Xuan.
Qiao Xuan
Official of Han dynasty
Born 110[1]
Died June 6, 184 (aged 74)[1]
Traditional Chinese 橋玄
Simplified Chinese 桥玄
Pinyin Qiáo Xuán
Wade–Giles Ch'iao Hsüan
Courtesy name Gongzu (Chinese: 公祖; pinyin: Gōngzǔ; Wade–Giles: Kung-tsu)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Qiao.

Qiao Xuan (110–June 6, 184), courtesy name Gongzu, was an official who lived in the Eastern Han dynasty.

Family background[edit]

Qiao Xuan was born in the Eastern Han dynasty during the reign of Emperor An (r. 106–125 CE). He was from Suiyang County (睢陽縣) in the Liang State (梁國; south of present-day Shangqiu, Henan) and came from a scholar-gentry background. His ancestor Qiao Ren (橋仁), who lived seven generations before him, served as a Minister Herald (大鴻臚) during the reign of Emperor Cheng (r. 33–7 BCE). Qiao Ren also wrote 49 volumes of the Li Ji Zhangju (禮記章句; Verses from the Book of Rites), and was nicknamed "Scholar Qiao" (橋君學). Qiao Xuan's grandfather Qiao Ji (橋基) served as the Administrator (太守) of Guangling (廣陵), while Qiao Xuan's father Qiao Su (橋肅) served as the Administrator of Donglai (東萊).[2]

Early career[edit]

In his youth, Qiao Xuan served as an "Officer of Merit" (功曹) in the local county office. When Zhou Jing (周景), the Inspector (刺史) of Yu Province, visited the Liang State, Qiao Xuan reported to him the crimes of Yang Chang (羊昌), the Chancellor (相) of the Chen State (陳國). Zhou Jing ordered Qiao Xuan to conduct an investigation so Qiao detained Yang Chang and wrote a thorough list of Yang's offences. However, as Yang Chang was favoured by the General-in-Chief (大將軍) Liang Ji, Liang sent an urgent letter to Zhou Jing, asking him to release Yang. Zhou Jing feared Liang Ji so he obliged and instructed Qiao Xuan to set Yang Chang free. However, Qiao Xuan returned the letter and had Yang Chang escorted to the capital as a criminal in a prison cart. Qiao Xuan became famous after this incident.[3]

Qiao Xuan was later nominated to be a xiaolian and he was appointed as a "Left Commandant" (左尉) in the capital Luoyang. His superior was Liang Buyi (梁不疑), the Intendant of Henan (河南尹) and Liang Ji's brother. Liang Buyi made life difficult for Qiao Xuan because of Yang Chang's case and he often humiliated Qiao. Qiao Xuan eventually resigned and returned to his hometown.[4]

Mid career[edit]

Qiao Xuan later became the Chancellor (相) of the Qi State (齊國; in present-day Shandong). Once, he committed an offence and was stripped off his post and sent to perform hard labour. After serving his sentence, he was allowed to rejoin the civil service and was appointed as the Administrator (太守) of Shanggu (上谷) and later as the Administrator of Hanyang (漢陽). While he was in office, Qiao Xuan heard that Huangfu Zhen (皇甫禎), the Prefect (令) of Shanggui (上邽), was guilty of corruption, so he had the latter arrested. Huangfu Zhen was flogged, had his head shaved bald, and he later died in Ji County (兾縣). This incident shocked everyone in the region. Around the time, Qiao Xuan heard of a famous man called Jiang Qi (姜岐) who lived in Shanggui and he wanted to recruit Jiang into the civil service but Jiang declined, claiming that he was ill. Qiao Xuan was angered, so he sent an Investigator (督郵) called Yin Yi (尹益) to force Jiang Qi into service. He threatened to make Jiang Qi's mother marry another man if Jiang refused again, and Yin Yi conveyed the threat to Jiang Qi but Jiang still declined, claiming that he was sick. The Counsellors (士大夫) in the commandery came to see Qiao Xuan and managed to persuade him to stop forcing Jiang Qi. This incident became the subject of jokes at that time. Qiao Xuan later resigned on the grounds that he was ill, but later entered service again as a "Chief Clerk" (長史) to the Excellency of Works (司徒). He was later promoted to "Court Architect" (將作大匠).[5]

Towards the end of the reign of Emperor Huan (r. 146–168), the Xianbei and Southern Xiongnu tribes and the Korean kingdom Goguryeo often made incursions into Liaodong in northeastern China. Qiao Xuan was selected to be "General Who Enters Liao(dong)" (度遼將軍) and commissioned to defend the northeastern border. He served there for three years and repelled intrusions by the foreign invaders, maintaining peace in the area.[6]

In the early reign of Emperor Ling (r. 168–189), Qiao Xuan was summoned to the capital Luoyang, where he served consecutively as the "Intendant of Henan" (河南尹), "Minister Steward" (少府) and "Minister Herald" (大鴻臚). In 170, he was promoted to "Excellency of Works" (司空), one of the Three Ducal Ministers – three high ranking positions in the imperial court – and later to "Excellency over the Masses" (司徒, also among the Three Ducal Ministers). He could not get along well with Chen Qiu (陳球), the Administrator of Nanyang (南陽), but when he was in the two top positions, he recommended Chen to be the "Minister of Justice" (廷尉). Qiao Xuan saw that the nation was too weak as the government was plagued by corruption and he felt he could not do much to help, so he claimed illness and resigned.[7]

Later life and death[edit]

In his later years, Qiao Xuan entered office again as an "Imperial Secretary" (尚書令). Around the time, he discovered that the Palace Counsellor (太中大夫) Gai Sheng (蓋升), to whom Emperor Ling's predecessor, Emperor Huan, was indebted, had abused his power when he was serving as the Administrator of Nanyang (南陽), and had amassed a large fortune from corrupt dealings. Qiao Xuan wrote a memorial to Emperor Ling, requesting for Gai Sheng to be stripped off his post and his property confiscated, but Emperor Ling refused. Qiao Xuan's appointment was then changed from "Imperial Secretary" to "Palace Attendant" (侍中) but he delayed assuming office by claiming to be ill again. He was reassigned to be a "Household Counsellor" (光祿大夫). In 178, he was appointed "Grand Commandant" (太尉) but he rejected on the grounds that he was sick. He remained as a "Household Counsellor" while receiving medical treatment.[8]

Qiao Xuan died in 184 at the age of 75 (by East Asian age reckoning).[1]

Kidnap of Qiao Xuan's son[edit]

Once, Qiao Xuan's youngest son, who was ten years old at that time, travelled out alone and was kidnapped by three robbers. The robbers, holding the boy hostage, broke into Qiao Xuan's house and demanded a ransom but Qiao refused. Yang Qiu (陽球), the Colonel of the Capital Province (司隷校尉), along with the Intendant of Henan (河南尹) and the Prefect of Luoyang (洛陽令), led several soldiers to surround Qiao Xuan's house. Yang Qiu did not order his men to advance further because he was worried that the robbers might harm Qiao Xuan's son. However, Qiao Xuan shouted, "Such criminals have no humanity! I'll not let these criminals have their way just for the sake of my son!" He then instructed the soldiers to force their way in and attack the robbers. The robbers were killed but Qiao Xuan's son also died in the struggle. Qiao Xuan later submitted a memorial to the imperial court, requesting for the following law to be implemented: "Any person who takes another person hostage should be killed. No ransom is to be paid, so as not to open up a channel for criminals to make pecuniary gains." The court approved. Since after the reign of Emperor An (r. 106–125), law enforcement had been weakening: many kidnapping and hostage-taking incidents occurred in the capital and even the family members of government officials and influential persons had become victims. However, after the case of Qiao Xuan's son, such incidents never happened again.[9]

Relationship with Cao Cao[edit]

When Cao Cao, a warlord who rose to prominence in the final years of the Han dynasty and became the de facto head of the Han central government, was still relatively unknown to others, he once visited Qiao Xuan. Qiao Xuan was surprised to see Cao Cao and he told the latter, "Tianxia is about to enter a state of chaos. You're the person who will restore peace and order!" At the time, Qiao Xuan and He Yong were the only two persons who felt that Cao Cao was extraordinary.[10] Cao Cao later often said that Qiao Xuan was someone who really understood him.[11] The Wei Shu (魏書) recorded that Qiao Xuan said to Cao Cao, "I've seen many famous persons but I've never seen someone like you before! You should work hard. I'm old already! I hope to be able to entrust my family to you." Cao Cao's fame increased after his meeting with Qiao Xuan.[12] The Shishuo Xinyu recorded that when Qiao Xuan met Cao Cao, who was still a youth then, he told the latter, "Tianxia is in chaos and warlords are fighting for supremacy. Aren't you the person who will eliminate all of them and restore order? You're actually a hero in chaotic times but a villain in times of peace. It's a pity that I'm old already because I won't be able to see you become wealthy and powerful. I entrust my descendants to you."[13] Qiao Xuan also recommended Cao Cao to see Xu Shao, a well-known commentator and character evaluator.[14]

After Qiao Xuan's death, whenever Cao Cao passed by Qiao's grave, he would mourn Qiao and pay his respects.[15] He wrote a eulogy for Qiao Xuan, which read:

The late Grand Commandant Qiao Xuan was a man of principles and virtues, one who was kind and compassionate. The nation is grateful for his sermons while scholars learn from his lessons. Rest his soul in Heaven, we have fond memories of him. In my younger days, when I was stubborn and obstreperous, I visited him and he received me well. The encouragement he gave me was equivalent to that of Confucius remarking that none of his other students could replace Yan Hui, and that of Li Sheng (李生) praising Jia Fu (賈復). As the saying goes, 'a scholar would die for someone who understands him', I've never forgotten what he said to me. I remember that he once told me, "After I die, if you pass by my grave and do not offer a jar of wine and a chicken as sacrifices to me, you'll get a stomachache after your carriage moves another three steps. Do not blame me if that really happens." Although that was light hearted humour, if we weren't very close at that time, how would he have cracked such a joke? Now, as I recall these old memories, I feel grief and sorrow. I'm now on an eastern campaign and my army is garrisoned in this village. I'm looking at the lands in the north, but my thoughts are at his grave. I hereby offer him these sacrifices and I hope he enjoys them! [16]


One of Qiao Xuan's sons, Qiao Yu (橋羽), served as the Chancellor (相) of Rencheng (任城).[17]


Qiao Xuan was known to be an impatient and impulsive person who did not take the overall perspectives of issues into consideration. However, he led a humble and simple life, and treated people with respect. He did not abuse his status and power by helping any of his family members and relatives to obtain high-ranking positions in the civil service. When he died, his family did not own much property and no funeral was held for him. His humility earned him praise at that time.[18]

The historian Fan Ye, who wrote Qiao Xuan's biography, commented on Qiao as follows: "Qiao Xuan established his authority and was known for his sternness, but he was lacking in his personal relations with others." When commenting on Qiao Xuan spotting Cao Cao's talent, Fan Ye wrote: "Qiao Xuan had the privilege of being the first to recognise a hero."[19]

In fiction[edit]

In Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Qiao Xuan was the father of the two Qiao sisters, and was referred to as "Qiao Guolao" (喬國老; lit. "State Elder Qiao"). He appears in chapter 54 in the events leading to the marriage between Liu Bei and Sun Shangxiang.[20]


Zhou Yu's biography in the historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms did not state the name of the Qiao sisters' father, who was simply referred to as "Qiao Gong" (橋公; lit. "Elder Qiao"). Historically, Qiao Xuan died in 183[1] while the Qiao sisters married Sun Ce and Zhou Yu in 200, so it was not possible that Qiao Xuan was still living when the marriages took place. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Qiao Xuan was the "Qiao Gong" mentioned in Zhou Yu's biography.

The marriage between Liu Bei and Lady Sun took place sometime in 209 or 210, so Qiao Xuan's role in the events leading to the marriage is purely fiction as he was already dead for over 20 years then.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d The Houhanshu stated that Qiao Xuan died in the 6th year of the Guanghe era (178–184) in the reign of Emperor Ling of Han at the age of 75 (by East Asian age reckoning). Quote from Houhanshu vol. 51: (玄以光和六年卒,時年七十五。) By calculation, his birth year should be around 109. However, a tablet Cai Yong wrote for Qiao Xuan stated that Qiao Xuan died on June 6, 184.
  2. ^ (橋玄字公祖,梁國睢陽人也。七世祖仁,從同郡戴德學,著禮記章句四十九篇,號曰「橋君學」。成帝時為大鴻臚。祖父基,廣陵太守。父肅,東萊太守。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  3. ^ (玄少為縣功曹。時豫州刺史周景行部到梁國,玄謁景,因伏地言陳相羊昌罪惡,乞為部陳從事,部猶領也。窮案其姦。景壯玄意,署而遣之。玄到,悉収昌賔客,具考臧罪。昌素為大將軍梁兾所厚,兾為馳檄救之。景承旨召玄,玄還檄不發,案之益急。昌坐檻車徵,玄由是著名。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  4. ^ (舉孝廉,補洛陽左尉。左部尉也。時梁不疑為河南尹,玄以公事當詣府受對,恥為所辱,弃官還郷里。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  5. ^ (後四遷為齊相,坐事為城旦。刑竟,徵,再遷上谷太守,又為漢陽太守。時上邽令皇甫禎有臧罪,玄收考髡笞,死于兾巿,兾,縣名,屬漢陽郡。一境皆震。 ... 郡人上邽姜岐,守道隱居,名聞西州。玄召以為吏,稱疾不就。玄怒,勑督郵尹益逼致之,曰:「岐若不至,趣嫁其母。」趣音促。益固爭不能得,遽曉譬岐。岐堅卧不起。郡內士大夫亦競往諫,玄乃止。時頗以為譏。 ... 後謝病免,復公車徵為司徒長史,拜將作大匠。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  6. ^ (桓帝末,鮮卑、南匈奴及高句驪嗣子伯固並畔,為寇鈔,四府舉玄為度遼將軍,假黃鉞。玄至鎮,休兵養士,然後督諸將守討擊胡虜及伯固等,皆破散退走。在職三年,邊境安靜。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  7. ^ (靈帝初,徵入為河南尹,轉少府、大鴻臚。建寧三年,遷司空,轉司徒。素與南陽太守陳球有隙,及在公位,而薦球為廷尉。玄以國家方弱,自度力無所用,乃稱疾上疏,引衆災以自劾。遂策罷。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  8. ^ (歲餘,拜尚書令。時太中大夫蓋升與帝有舊恩,前為南陽太守,臧數億以上。玄奏免升禁錮,沒入財賄。帝不從,而遷升侍中。玄託病免,拜光祿大夫。光和元年,遷太尉。數月,復以疾罷,拜太中大夫,就醫里舍。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  9. ^ (玄少子十歲,獨游門次,卒有三人持仗劫執之,入舍登樓,就玄求貨,玄不與。有頃,司隷校尉陽球率河南尹、洛陽令圍守玄家。球等恐并殺其子,未欲迫之。玄瞋目呼曰:「姦人無狀,玄豈以一子之命而縱國賊乎!」促令兵進。於是攻之,玄子亦死。玄乃詣闕謝罪,乞下天下:「凡有劫質,皆并殺之,不得贖以財寶,開張姦路。」詔書下其章。初自安帝以後,法禁稍[],京師劫質,不避豪貴,自是遂絕。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  10. ^ (... 惟梁國橋玄、南陽何顒異焉。玄謂太祖曰:「天下將亂,非命世之才不能濟也,能安之者,其在君乎!」) Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  11. ^ (初,曹操微時,人莫知者,甞往候玄,玄見而異焉,謂曰:「今天下將亂,安生民者其在君乎!」操常感其知己。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  12. ^ (魏書曰:太尉橋玄,世名知人,覩太祖而異之,曰:「吾見天下名士多矣,未有若君者也!君善自持。吾老矣!願以妻子為託。」由是聲名益重。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  13. ^ (曹公少時見喬玄,玄謂曰:「天下方亂,羣雄虎爭,撥而理之,非君乎?然君實亂世之英雄,治世之奸賊。恨吾老矣,不見君富貴,當以子孫相累。」) Shishuo Xinyu ch. 7.
  14. ^ (世語曰:玄謂太祖曰:「君未有名,可交許子將。」太祖乃造子將,子將納焉,由是知名。) Shiyu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 1.
  15. ^ (及後經過玄墓,輒悽愴致祭。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  16. ^ (自為其文曰:「故太尉橋公,懿德高軌,汎愛博容。國念明訓,士思令謨。幽靈潛翳,[]哉緬矣!操以幼年,逮升堂室,特以頑質,見納君子。增榮益觀,皆由獎助,猶仲尼稱不如顏淵,李生厚歎賈復。士死知己,懷此無忘。又承從容約誓之言:『徂沒之後,路有經由,不以斗酒隻雞過相沃酹,車過三步,腹痛勿怨。』雖臨時戲笑之言,非至親之篤好,胡肯為此辭哉?懷舊惟顧,念之悽愴。奉命東征,屯次郷里,北望貴土,乃心陵墓。裁致薄奠,公其享之!」) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  17. ^ (玄子羽,官至任城相。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  18. ^ (玄性剛急無大體,然謙儉下士,子弟親宗無在大官者。及卒,家無居業,喪無所殯,當時稱之。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  19. ^ (橋玄厲邦君之威,而衆失其情。夫豈力不足歟?將有道在焉。橋玄之舍姜岐,以道不可違,故不得以威力逼也。如令其道可忘,則彊梁勝矣。 ... 贊曰: ... 橋公識運,先覺時雄。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  20. ^ Sanguo Yanyi ch. 54.