Tao Qian (Han dynasty)

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Tao Qian
Warlord of Han Dynasty
Born 132[1]
Died 194 (aged 62)[1]
Traditional Chinese 陶謙
Simplified Chinese 陶谦
Pinyin Táo Qiān
Wade–Giles T'ao Ch'ien
Courtesy name Gongzu (Chinese: 恭祖; pinyin: Gōngzǔ; Wade–Giles: Kung-tsu)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Tao.
Provinces ruled by Tao Qian in the late 180s

Tao Qian (132-194),[1][2] courtesy name Gongzu, was a warlord and the governor of Xu Province in the late Eastern Han Dynasty.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in the Danyang (丹阳) region, Tao was known as a young man for his integrity and for being just. Also, at a young age he had an affinity to learning. In the service of the Han Dynasty, he led the Danyang armies in many regions to suppress rebellions.

When the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out he was appointed governor of Xu Province and he succeeded in clearing the area of rebels. He was sent to the northwestern frontiers during the Liang Province Rebellion, where Tao was serving under Zhang Wen. During the expedition he insulted Zhang and made him very angry. However, Sun Jian and Dong Zhuo served on the same campaign, and both of them also were unhappy with Zhang Wen's leadership as well. In the chaos of Dong Zhuo's coup d'état and the battles that followed, Tao, having returned to Xu Province, gained control of the neighboring Yang Province. However, after that he showed no ambition to expand his territory any further.

Tao was responsible for starting the careers of Wang Lang, Zhu Zhi, and Chen Deng, all of whom would play fairly important roles in politics of that time later. However, at the same time he was prone to joining forces with unscrupulous characters, such as Ze Rong, Cao Hong (曹宏), and Que Xuan (闕宣), and on the other hand not appointing Zhao Yu (趙昱), who was a very loyal and able servant, to a position of trust. Those who did not respond to his requests to serve him, such as Zhang Zhao and Lü Fan, he had imprisoned, and he also attempted to harm the family of Sun Ce, who was serving Yuan Shu at the time.

Cao Cao's invasion of Xu Province[edit]

In 193, Cao Cao's father Cao Song was travelling through Xu Province to join Cao Cao in Yan Province. Tao Qian's subordinate Zhang Kai (張闓) attacked the baggage train, killing Cao Song and running away with the money. The death of his father prompted Cao Cao, then Governor of Yan province, to personally lead an army into Xu Province, devastating the territory and leading to civilian massacres. Tao Qian requested aid from his allies in Qingzhou, and was joined by Tian Kai and his subordinate Liu Bei, and with the reinforcements Tao Qian was able to resist Cao Cao's army. Because of the devastation to the territory, Cao Cao's army ran out of supplies and had to withdraw.

Tian Kai returned north, but Tao Qian provided Liu Bei with several thousand troops from Danyang (丹阳兵), and so Liu Bei switched his service to Tao Qian.

Cao Cao launched a second invasion in 194, but was forced to turn back when Zhang Miao and Chen Gong rebelled and invited Lü Bu to take control of Yan province.

In 194, Tao Qian died. His subordinates Mi Zhu and Mi Fang offered the succession of the Governorship to Liu Bei. Initially Liu Bei refused and suggested offering the succession to Tao Qian's ally Yuan Shu, but Kong Rong convinced Liu Bei to accept.

In fiction[edit]

In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Tao Qian offers Liu Bei the governorship of Xu province many times, but Liu Bei, with his kind heart, declines every time, saying "I shall never take advantage of one's situation, especially when he is so close to passing over." In 194, on his death bed, Tao attempted one last time to ask Liu to take over, and Liu accepted it as Tao's last wish. Tao Qian died peacefully a few moments later.


  • Sons:
    • Tao Shang (陶商)
    • Tao Ying (陶應)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Tao Qian's biography in Records of the Three Kingdoms stated that Tao died in the first year of the Xingping era (194-195) in the reign of Emperor Xian of Han. (興平元年, ... 是歲,謙病死。) An annotation from the Wu Shu further mentioned that he was 63 years old (by East Asian age reckoning) when he died. (吳書曰:謙死時,年六十三, ...) By calculation, his birth year should be around 132.
  2. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 788. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0.