Qiao Xuan

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Qiao Xuan
Household Counsellor (光祿大夫)
In office
? (?) – 6 June 184 (6 June 184)
MonarchEmperor Ling of Han
Minister over the Masses (司徒)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Ling of Han
Minister of Works (司空)
In office
170 (170) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Ling of Han
Minister Herald (大鴻臚)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Ling of Han
Minister Steward (少府)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Ling of Han
Intendant of Henan (河南尹)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Ling of Han
Personal details
Shangqiu, Henan
Died6 June 184 (aged 74)[1]
RelationsQiao Mao (relative)
  • Qiao Yu
  • at least one other son
FatherQiao Su
Courtesy nameGongzu (公祖)

Qiao Xuan (110 – 6 June 184),[1] courtesy name Gongzu, was an official who lived during the Eastern Han dynasty of China.

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, who was nicknamed "Scholar Qiao" (橋君學), also wrote 49 volumes of the Li Ji Zhangju (禮記章句; Verses from the Book of Rites). Qiao Xuan's grandfather, Qiao Ji (橋基), served as the Administrator (太守) of Guangling Commandery (廣陵郡), while Qiao Xuan's father, Qiao Su (橋肅), served as the Administrator of Donglai Commandery (東萊郡).[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; around present-day Zhoukou, Henan). Zhou Jing ordered Qiao Xuan to conduct an investigation so Qiao Xuan detained Yang Chang and wrote a thorough list of Yang Chang's offences. The general Liang Ji, an influential figure in the central government, favoured Yang Chang, so he wrote an urgent letter to Zhou Jing, asking him to release Yang Chang. Zhou Jing feared Liang Ji so he obliged and instructed Qiao Xuan to free Yang Chang. However, Qiao Xuan returned the letter and ordered his men to escort Yang Chang as a prisoner to the imperial capital, Luoyang. Qiao Xuan became famous after this incident.[3]

Qiao Xuan was later nominated as a xiaolian and appointed as a Left Commandant (左尉) in Luoyang. His superior, the Intendant of Henan (河南尹), was Liang Ji's brother, Liang Buyi (梁不疑). Liang Buyi made life difficult for Qiao Xuan because of Yang Chang's case and often found excuses to humiliate Qiao Xuan. 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; around present-day Zibo, Shandong). On one occasion, he committed an offence and stripped of his post and sent to perform hard labour. After serving his sentence, he was allowed to rejoin the civil service and appointed as the Administrator (太守) of Shanggu Commandery (上谷郡; around present-day Yanqing District, Beijing) and later as the Administrator of Hanyang Commandery (漢陽郡; around present-day Tianshui, Gansu). While he was in office, Qiao Xuan heard that Huangfu Zhen (皇甫禎), the Prefect (令) of Shanggui County (上邽縣; in present-day Tianshui, Gansu), was guilty of corruption. He had Huangfu Zhen arrested, flogged, and head shaved bald. Huangfu Zhen later died in Ji County (冀縣; present-day Gangu County, Gansu). This incident shocked everyone in the region. Around the time, Qiao Xuan heard of Jiang Qi (姜岐), a famous man who lived in Shanggui County, and wanted to recruit him to join the civil service. Jiang Qi claimed that he was ill and declined. Qiao Xuan was angered, so he sent Yin Yi (尹益) to pressure Jiang Qi into agreeing. He threatened to make Jiang Qi's mother marry another man if he refused again. Yin Yi conveyed Qiao Xuan's threat to Jiang Qi but Jiang still declined and claimed 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 the time. Qiao Xuan resigned on the grounds that he was ill. Shortly after, he joined the civil service again as a Chief Clerk (長史) to the Minister over the Masses (司徒). He was subsequently promoted to Court Architect (將作大匠).[5]

Towards the end of the reign of Emperor Huan (r 146–168), the Xianbei, Southern Xiongnu and Goguryeo often made incursions into Liaodong. Qiao Xuan was appointed General Who Enters Liao(dong) (度遼將軍) and put in charge of defending Liaodong. He served there for three years, repelled intrusions by the invaders, and maintained peace in the area.[6]

In the early reign of Emperor Ling (r 168–189), Qiao Xuan was summoned to the imperial 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 Minister of Works (司空) and later to Minister over the Masses (司徒). He could not get along well with Chen Qiu (陳球), the Administrator of Nanyang Commandery (南陽郡; around present-day Nanyang, Henan), but when he was in the two top ministerial positions, he recommended Chen to serve as the Minister of Justice (廷尉). Qiao Xuan saw that the Han dynasty was too weak because the government was plagued by corruption. He despaired as he felt that he could not do anything, so he claimed to be ill and resigned.[7]

Later life and death[edit]

In his later years, Qiao Xuan entered office again as the Prefect of the Masters of Writing (尚書令). Around the time, he discovered that Gai Sheng (蓋升), to whom Emperor Huan was indebted, had abused his power when he was serving as the Administrator of Nanyang Commandery (南陽郡; around present-day Nanyang, Henan), and had amassed a large fortune from corrupt dealings. Qiao Xuan wrote a memorial to Emperor Ling, requesting the emperor to remove Gai Sheng from office and confiscate his property, but Emperor Ling refused. Qiao Xuan was subsequently reassigned to be a Palace Attendant (侍中), but he delayed the process as he was ill. Emperor Ling then ordered him to be a Household Counsellor (光祿大夫) instead. In 178, he was appointed Grand Commandant (太尉) but he rejected the position because 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]

When Qiao Xuan's youngest son was ten years old, he ventured 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 Xuan refused to pay them. Yang Qiu (陽球), the Colonel-Director of Retainers (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 would 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 wrote 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 to deny an opportunity for criminals to make pecuniary gains." The imperial court approved. Since after the reign of Emperor An (r 106–125), law enforcement had weakened. Many kidnapping and hostage-taking incidents occurred in the imperial capital and even the family members of government officials and influential persons became 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 power towards the end of the Han dynasty, was still a relative nobody in his early years, he visited Qiao Xuan on one occasion. Qiao Xuan was surprised to see Cao Cao and he told him, "The world 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 recognised Cao Cao's extraordinary talents.[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 told 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 him, "The world 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 Xuan's tomb, he would mourn Qiao Xuan and pay his respects.[15] He wrote a eulogy for Qiao Xuan:

The late Grand Commandant Qiao Xuan was a man of principles and virtues, one who was kind and compassionate. The State is grateful to him 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 will die for someone who understands him', I have never forgotten what he said to me. I remember he once told me, "After I die, if you pass by my grave and don't offer a jar of wine and a chicken as sacrifices to me, you'll get a stomachache after your carriage moves another three steps. Don't blame me if that really happens." Although that was light-hearted humour, if we were not 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 am now on an eastern campaign and my army is garrisoned in this village. I am 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 the Rencheng State (任城國; around present-day Zoucheng, Shandong).[17]


Qiao Xuan was known to be an impatient and impulsive person who did not take the big picture 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 gain 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 the time.[18]

The historian Fan Ye, who wrote Qiao Xuan's biography, commented on him 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 Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Qiao Xuan is said to be the father of the two Qiao sisters, and is referred to as "Qiao Guolao" (喬國老; literally "State Elder Qiao"). He appears in chapter 54 in the events leading to the marriage between Liu Bei and Sun Shangxiang.[20]

The 3rd-century 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; literally "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 the Records of the Three Kingdoms.

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 fictitious as he was already dead for over 20 years then.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Houhanshu recorded that Qiao Xuan died in the 6th year of the Guanghe era (178–184) of Emperor Ling's reign at the age of 75 (by East Asian age reckoning).[1] By calculation, his birth year should be around 109. However, a tablet Cai Yong wrote for Qiao Xuan stated that Qiao Xuan died on 6 June 184.


  1. ^ a b c d e (玄以光和六年卒,時年七十五。) Houhanshu vol. 51.
  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.