Wu Can

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Wu Can
Crown Prince's Tutor (太子太傅)
In office
? (?) – 245 (245)
MonarchSun Quan
Minister Steward (少府)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchSun Quan
Administrator of Kuaiji (會稽太守)
In office
222 (222) – ? (?)
MonarchSun Quan
Personal details
Huzhou, Zhejiang
Nanjing, Jiangsu
Courtesy nameKongxiu (孔休)

Wu Can (died 245),[1] courtesy name Kongxiu, was an official of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China.[2]

Early life and service under Sun Ce[edit]

Wu Can was from Wucheng County (烏程縣), Wu Commandery (吳郡), which is part of present-day Huzhou, Zhejiang.[3] He was born sometime in the late Eastern Han dynasty. When he was still a child, a woman saw him and told his mother, "Your son will become a high-ranking government official in the future."[4]

Around the 190s, Wu Can served as a minor officer under Sun He (孫河), the Chief (長) of Qu'e County (曲阿縣) and a relative of the warlord Sun Ce, who controlled Wu Commandery and many territories in the Jiangdong region. Sun He felt that Wu Can was an extraordinary person. When Sun He was elevated to the status of a general and was allowed to set up his own office, he appointed Wu Can as the Assistant (丞) of Qu'e County and promoted the latter to a Chief Clerk (長史) later. Although he was of humble origin, Wu Can became known for being very competent in his duties and his fame was on par with other officials who were also from Wu Commandery, such as Lu Xun and Bu Jing (卜靜). Sun Ce died in 200 CE and was succeeded by his younger brother, Sun Quan, who maintained control over the Jiangdong lands.[5]

Service under Sun Quan[edit]

In 209,[6] after Sun Quan was nominally appointed General of Chariots and Cavalry (車騎將軍) by the Han central government, he named Wu Can as his Registrar (主簿). Wu Can was later given greater responsibilities, serving as the Prefect (令) of Shanyin County (山陰縣; present-day Shaoxing, Zhejiang) and as Colonel Who Advises the Army (參軍校尉).[7]

Battle of Dongkou[edit]

In 222, Wu Can participated in the Battle of Dongkou against Eastern Wu's rival state, Cao Wei. He accompanied the Wu generals Lü Fan, He Qi and others to resist the Wei forces led by Cao Xiu. There was stormy weather at the time so the Wu ships became separated from each other when the connecting ropes broke. Some of the ships drifted towards the Wei base and ended up being captured by the enemy while others capsized and threw their sailors overboard. Wu Can and another officer, Huang Yuan (黃淵), were on one of the larger ships which managed to prevail in the storm. The sailors on the ship refused to allow the survivors in the water on board because they feared that their ship would sink due to overloading, so they brandished their weapons at the survivors who were attempting to climb on board. However, Wu Can and Huang Yuan gave orders to their men to save as many survivors as possible. When the men were reluctant to follow orders due to fear of overloading, Wu Can said, "If the ship sinks, we'll all die together! We shouldn't abandon those who are in need of help." Through their efforts, Wu Can and Huang Yuan succeeded in rescuing more than 100 survivors.[8]

Later career[edit]

After the Battle of Dongkou, Wu Can was appointed as the Administrator (太守) of Kuaiji Commandery along the southern shore of Hangzhou Bay. He wanted to recruit a reclusive hermit, Xie Tan (謝譚), to serve in the Wu government but Xie refused, claiming that he was ill. Wu Can remarked, "The Dragon displays its divine power through its movements; the Phoenix proves its worth through its cries. Why should one remain hidden in the far reaches of the sky or remain submerged in the depths of the sea?" In 229, Sun Quan declared himself emperor and established the state of Eastern Wu. Throughout the remaining years of his career, Wu Can held the following offices consecutively: General of the Household of Illustrious Righteousness (昭義中郎將), Colonel of a Cavalry Garrison (屯騎校尉), Minister Steward (少府) and Crown Prince's Tutor (太子太傅). He also joined the Wu general Lü Dai in attacking Shanyue rebels.[9]

Downfall and death[edit]

In the 240s, a power struggle broke out between Sun Quan's sons Sun He and Sun Ba; both of them fought for the succession to their father's throne. Wu Can sided with and spoke up for Sun He, whom he regarded as the legitimate heir apparent. He attempted to persuade Sun Quan to have Sun Ba relocated away from the imperial capital Jianye to Xiakou (夏口; in present-day Wuhan, Hubei) and have Yang Zhu (楊笁), an official who supported Sun Ba, reassigned to another position outside Jianye. Wu Can also maintained close contact with the senior general Lu Xun, who was stationed in Wuchang (武昌; present-day Ezhou, Hubei). Both Wu Can and Lu Xun vehemently objected to Sun Quan's idea of deposing Sun He and replacing him with Sun Ba, and constantly wrote memorials to Sun Quan to dissuade him from doing so. Wu Can lost his job after Sun Ba and his supporters slandered him in front of Sun Quan. He was subsequently arrested, imprisoned and eventually executed.[10][11]


Chen Shou, who wrote Wu Can's biography in the Records of the Three Kingdoms, appraised Wu and Zhu Ju as follows, "Wu Can and Zhu Ju met with unlucky fates and died in the name of righteousness. What a pity!"[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b (邵陵厲公正始六年(乙丑、二四五年) ... 太子太傅吾粲請使魯王出鎮夏口,出楊竺等不得令在京師,又數以消息語陸遜;魯王與楊竺共譖之,吳主怒,收粲下獄,誅。) Zizhi Tongjian vol. 74.
  2. ^ de Crespigny (2007), pp. 865-866.
  3. ^ (吾粲字孔休,吳郡烏程人也。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
  4. ^ (吳錄曰:粲生數歲,孤城嫗見之,謂其母曰:「是兒有卿相之骨。」) Wu Lu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 57.
  5. ^ (孫河為縣長,粲為小吏,河深奇之。河後為將軍,得自選長吏,表粲為曲阿丞,遷為長史,治有名迹。雖起孤微,與同郡陸遜、卜靜等比肩齊聲矣。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
  6. ^ ([建安]十四年, ... 劉備表權行車騎將軍, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 47.
  7. ^ (孫權為車騎將軍,召為主簿,出為山陰令,還為參軍校尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
  8. ^ (黃武元年,與呂範、賀齊等俱以舟師拒魏將曹休於洞口。值天大風,諸船綆紲斷絕,漂沒著岸,為魏軍所獲,或覆沒沈溺,其大船尚存者,水中生人皆攀緣號呼,他吏士恐船傾沒,皆以戈矛撞擊不受。粲與黃淵獨令船人以承取之,左右以為船重必敗,粲曰:「船敗,當俱死耳!人窮,柰何棄之。」粲、淵所活者百餘人。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
  9. ^ (還,遷會稽太守,召處士謝譚為功曹,譚以疾不詣,粲教曰:「夫應龍以屈伸為神,鳳皇以嘉鳴為貴,何必隱形於天外,潛鱗於重淵者哉?」粲募合人衆,拜昭義中郎將,與呂岱討平山越,入為屯騎校尉、少府,遷太子太傅。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
  10. ^ (遭二宮之變,抗言執正,明嫡庶之分,欲使魯王霸出駐夏口,遣楊笁不得令在都邑。又數以消息語陸遜,遜時駐武昌,連表諫爭。由此為霸、笁等所譖害,下獄誅。) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
  11. ^ (太子太傅吾粲坐數與遜交書,下獄死。) Sanguozhi vol. 58.
  12. ^ (評曰: ... 吾粲、朱據遭罹屯蹇,以正喪身,悲夫!) Sanguozhi vol. 57.
  • Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
  • de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms 23-220 AD. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004156050.
  • Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).
  • Sima, Guang (1084). Zizhi Tongjian.