Wang Xiu (Han dynasty)

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Wang Xiu
Minister of Cao Cao
Born before 173[1]
Yingling, Beihai (present-day Changle County, Weifang)
Died after 216[2]
Traditional Chinese 王脩 / 王修
Simplified Chinese 王修 / 王脩
Pinyin Wáng Xiū
Wade–Giles Wang Hsiu
Courtesy name Shuzhi (Chinese: 叔治; pinyin: Shūzhì; Wade–Giles: Shu-chih)

Wang Xiu (birth and death dates unknown), courtesy name Shuzhi, was an official at the end of the Han dynasty, rising to the highest echelon of government under Cao Cao in the lead up to the Three Kingdoms period. He was known for being compassionate and daring.

Early life[edit]

Wang Xiu was born in Yingling, in Beihai, Qing province.[3] His mother died when he was a young boy. At nineteen, he travelled away to study, and sometime between 190 and 193 was drafted by Kong Rong to administer the district of Gaomi (高密), about sixty kilometers from his hometown.[4] As District Magistrate, Wang Xiu declared collective responsibility for harbouring criminals, helping to restore central authority over local magnates. Kong Rong nominated him as filial and incorrupt, although Wang Xiu several times tried to bow out of the nomination in favour of Bing Yuan (邴原).

As central authority continued to erode, robbery and pillage increased. At one point Kong Rong was under some duress from brigands, and when Wang Xiu heard he rode out at night to assist. Noting Wang Xiu's bravery, Kong Rong shortly thereafter appointed Wang Xiu district magistrate of Jiaodong,[5] which had been experiencing a rash of banditry. He arrived to find that a local named Gongsha Lu (公沙盧) had fortified and entrenched the grounds of the Gongsha clan ancestral temple, and was refusing to come out and submit to local authority. Wang Xiu, with some few mounted guards behind him, broke through the enclosure's gate and executed Gongsha Lu and his brothers. Satisfied with punishing the ringleader, Wang Xiu mollified the rest of the family. Banditry thereafter decreased.[4]

Kong Rong often relied on Wang Xiu to assist with rebellion and other such difficulties, and Wang Xiu would always heed the call immediately, even if he was on leave, resting in his hometown.[4]

Service under Yuan Tan[edit]

Yuan Shao attacked Qing province in 196, and ousted Kong Rong. His son Yuan Tan was made Inspector of Qing province, and he employed Wang Xiu as an attendant.[6] One coworker, Liu Xian, often spoke ill of Wang Xiu and slandered him. When Liu committed an offence deserving of death, Wang argued on his behalf and secured his reprieve.

After being shuffled around a bit more, Wang Xiu found himself a mounted escort of Yuan Tan in 202, at the time of Yuan Shao's death. Due to unclear succession, a rift immediately developed between Yuan Tan and his youngest brother, Yuan Shang. Shang attacked and defeated Tan, and Wang Xiu led a cadre of officials and conscripts to save Yuan Tan from capture.[6]

Yuan Tan wished to launch a counterattack against his brother Shang, but Wang Xiu cautioned against it. When asked directly how to proceed with the campaign, Wang Xiu advocated concord, a recommendation which Yuan Tan rejected.[7] Following some more internecine strife, Yuan Tan sought help from, then ran afoul of Cao Cao. In 205 Cao Cao attacked Yuan Tan at Nanpi.[8] Wang Xiu was in Le'an[9] supervising grain shipments when he heard Yuan Tan was in trouble, and straight away gathered his guards and all the officials in his office, some several dozen men, and rode away to assist.

Without reaching him, Wang Xiu learned that Yuan Tan had been killed.[10] He sent word to Cao Cao requesting permission to bury Yuan Tan's body, saying that he only wished to repay his former master with a proper burial, so that he could stand for execution without regrets.[6] Impressed, Cao Cao granted permission and further took Wang Xiu into his employ, keeping him in his same position, supervising grain shipments in Le'an for Cao Cao's prodigious army.

Later career[edit]

Following Yuan Tan's defeat, every unit of Qing province surrendered to Cao Cao except the Administrator of Le'an, Guan Tong (管統). One of Cao Cao's first orders to Wang Xiu was to retrieve the head of Guan Tong. Wang Xiu saw Guan Tong's behaviour as an excess of loyalty to his old lord,[11] and rather than executing him, instead cut his bonds and brought him before Cao Cao to submit. Cao Cao, pleased, pardoned Guan Tong.[12]

Wang Xiu was attached to the Ministry of Works, and appointed as Superintendent of Treasury Officials, working with gold and silver instead of grain. In 212, following a memorial to Cao Cao complaining that his life was too easy, Wang Xiu was appointed Administrator of Wei.[13][14] After Cao Cao's enfeoffment in 213, he made Wang Xiu Minister of the Treasury, one of the Nine Ministers, amongst the highest civil positions in the bureaucracy.[15] Following an exhortation against the establishment of corporal punishment, Wang Xiu moved laterally to the post of Minister for Ceremonies, another of the Nine Ministers.

Not long after, Yan Cai (嚴才) led a palace revolt against Cao Cao in 216, attacking the inner gates with a force of some scores of men. Wang Xiu heard the commotion, and before his horse and carriage could be fetched led his subordinates on foot to the palace gates in great haste to assist. After the revolt was suppressed, Prime Minister Zhong Yao mildly chastised Wang Xiu, reminding him that it was customary for the Nine Ministers to remain in their offices whenever there was trouble in the capital. Wang Xiu replied that it may be customary, but lacked the righteous dignity of assisting those in danger.[12] Wang Xiu died soon after, leaving behind works of literature and scholarship.[2]


  • Wang Zhong (王忠), son.[12] Superintendent of Donglai (東萊, on the tip of the Shandong peninsula) and Cavalier Attendant-in-ordinary, an honorific title indicating favour and companionship of the ruler.[16]
  • Wang Yi (王儀), courtesy name Zhubiao (朱表), son, d. 252.[17] Colonel in Sima Zhao's army, executed by same for criticism following the Battle of Dongxing.[18]
    • Wang Pou (王裒), courtesy name Weiyuan (偉元), grandson, d. 311.[19] Never took government office under the Jin dynasty due to his father's unfair execution. Became a famous recluse due to his steadfast refusal to enter service.[20] Never married, and slain by Han Zhao invaders, both because he could not bear to part with the ancestral tombs of his native soil.

Titles and appointments held[edit]

  • Recorder (主簿) under Kong Rong
  • Magistrate of Gaomi (高密令) under Kong Rong
  • Magistrate of Jiaodong (膠東令) under Kong Rong
  • Attendant (治中從事) of Yuan Tan
  • Magistrate of Jimo (即墨令) under Yuan Shao
  • Mounted Escort (別駕) of Yuan Tan
  • Supervisor of Army Supplies (督軍糧) under Cao Cao
  • Superintendent of Treasury Officials (司金中郎將) under Cao Cao
  • Administrator of Wei (魏郡太守) under Cao Cao
  • Minister of the Treasury (大司農)[15] under Cao Cao
  • Minister for Ceremonies (奉常)[21] under Cao Cao

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Records of the Three Kingdoms, 11:345 has Wang Xiu at nineteen at least a year before the end of the chuping regnal period, i.e. 193, giving an upper bound of 173 for his birth.
  2. ^ a b de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 1009. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0. 
  3. ^ Yingling: 營陵, in present-day Changle County, Weifang, Shandong.
  4. ^ a b c Records of the Three Kingdoms, 11:345
  5. ^ Jiaodong: 膠東, in present-day Pingdu, Qingdao, Shandong.
  6. ^ a b c Records of the Three Kingdoms, 11:346
  7. ^ Book of the Later Han, 74:2410
  8. ^ Nanpi: 南皮, in present-day Nanpi County, Cangzhou, Hebei.
  9. ^ Le'an: 樂安, in present-day Guangrao County, Dongying, Shandong.
  10. ^ Records of the Three Kingdoms (11:346), followed by Zizhi Tongjian (64:2060), has Wang Xiu learning of Yuan Tan's death at Gaomi. Historical geographical works (Tan, 2:44–5 & 2:47–8) do not place Gaomi between Le'an and Nanpi, but in fact in the opposite direction.
  11. ^ The base text of Records of the Three Kingdoms (at 11:346) carries a story about Guan Tong, alone of Yuan Tan's subordinates, abandoning his family to bandits in the northeast to come and aid Yuan Tan against rebellion. In this vignette, Wang Xiu correctly predicts Guan Tong's actions, establishing a relationship between the two.
  12. ^ a b c Records of the Three Kingdoms, 11:347
  13. ^ Records of the Three Kingdoms, 11:347–8 n 2.
  14. ^ Wei (魏) at this historical juncture refers to Wei Commandery, not the totality of Cao Wei, which had yet to be established.
  15. ^ a b Wang Xiu's precise appointment following Cao Cao's enfeoffment is unclear. Records of the Three Kingdoms (at 11:347) contains the text "為大司農郎中令". This could be interpreted as "became Minister of Works and Chamberlain for Attendants" by assumption of a dropped listing comma (、) on the part of the punctuators of the modern edition. This interpretation is followed by the Japanese Wikipedia. Both positions were ranked at 2000 dan, and carried a good deal of responsibility and power, thus quite unlikely to be assigned to one person. (See Hucker at 301.3570 and 471.6042). Another interpretation is that Wang Xiu was appointed to a hitherto and henceforth unknown position unique to Cao Cao's early government. The third interpretation is that the base text includes an error. Zizhi Tongjian (at 65:2124) states that Wang Xiu was appointed Minister of the Treasury, while Yuan Huan was appointed Chamberlain for Attendants, after Records of the Three Kingdoms 11:335. This article follows the interpretation of Zizhi Tongjian.
  16. ^ Hucker, 395.4834
  17. ^ Records of the Three Kingdoms, 11:348–9 n 3.
  18. ^ Wang Xiu's son Wang Zhong is recorded in the base text of Records of the Three Kingdoms, whilst Wang Yi is recorded in a note by Pei Songzhi, citing a Book of Jin by Wang Yin (王隱). Both records agree that Wang Xiu had a single son, but disagree on the son's name and career. This article includes both for completeness, with the caveat that one or more sons may be misattributed.
  19. ^ Book of Jin, 88:2277–9
  20. ^ Records of the Three Kingdoms, 11:349 n 3.
  21. ^ The title 奉常 is realised as 奉尚 in Records of the Three Kingdoms, 11:347