Bo Cai 波才 was a leader of Yellow Turbans who participated in the 184 AD Yellow Turban Rebellion. He was located in Yingchuan commandery where he was attacked by Han general Zhu Jun 朱儁 in the fourth lunar month of 184 AD, but surprisingly Bo Cai defeated him and went on to besiege another Han general, Huangfu Song 皇甫嵩. The victory was short-lived; Huangfu Song, Zhu Jun and Cao Cao 曹操 combined their forces and killed Bo Cai.
Bo Cai was from Yingchuan commandery in Yu province. It’s assumable he joined the religious brothers Zhang Jue 張角, Zhang Bao 張寶 and Zhang Liang 張梁 somewhere between the early 170's and 184 AD among hundreds of thousands other men. Bo Cai became leader of a force in Yingchuan commandery. We learn later that Bo Cai commanded a very large force, which suggests he was one of the thirty-six Division leaders, though he is never mentioned as such in any historical text.[n 1]
Possible co-operation with Ma Yuanyi
The Large Division leader, Ma Yuanyi 馬元義, was a leader in planning rebellion against the Han dynasty. He and his followers visited the capital city of Luoyang several times and claimed adherents even among the palace eunuchs. They agreed to strike Luoyang from within and without on the fifth day of the third month (3 April 184).
The attack from outside Luoyang was intended to be an attack co-operated with the strongest centre of rebellion; the Yellow Turbans from Runan commandery, Nanyang commandery and Yingchuan commandery, where Bo Cai was active. In the spring of the year 184 A.D. the renegade Yellow Turban disciple Tang Zhou 唐周 betrayed Zhang Jue and his followers by informing the Han of his master’s plans and Ma Yuanyi was arrested and executed. Zhang Jue was forced to launch his rebellion earlier than planned and the Yellow Turbans from Runan, Nanyan and Yingchuan now lost an important, if not vital, co-operator.
Soon after, the rebellion broke out and the Yellow Turbans scored some immediate successes. Han’s response was quick and the two generals Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun combined their force to have a total of over 40.000 men and were sent to Yingchuan commandery. There, Zhu Jun engaged in battle with Bo Cai, but surprisingly in the 4th lunar month the experienced Han general was beaten and forced to retreat. When Huangfu Song learned of Zhu Jun’s defeat he must’ve realized he was up against a formidable opponent capable of beating an army the size of his own. Instead of attacking Bo Cai he went forward to hold Changshe city.
Bo Cai followed and besieged Huangfu Song at Changshe city. He outnumbered Huangfu Song[n 2] and everyone in his army was afraid. Huangfu Song, though, had noticed that Bo Cai and his men had built a camp out of grass and bushes. Huangfu Song awaited the night and when a strong wind came to blow he told his men to mount the wall with tinder grass in their hands. A party of his strongest men were sent to sneak outside the siege-lines using hidden paths. When they did so, they set great fires to the enemy camp and then sounded their battle-cries. The men on the walls raised their torches in reply. Huangfu Song and his men then rushed towards the enemy lines, supported by drums and shouts from the city. Bo Cai and his men were terrified and fled in disorder.
Around this time the Chief Commandant of Cavalry, Cao Cao arrived with reinforcements. In the fifth lunar month Zhu Jun, Huangfu Song and Cao Cao combined their armies and returned to the attack on Bo Cai’s force, who had retreated westward to Yangdi. The rebels were completely defeated and Bo Cai was killed. Apparently “several tens of thousands rebels were killed”, but this is hardly tenable. Because of the sizes of the forces committed to this battle it is very likely that reported enemy casualties were multiplied.
- If Bo Cai was indeed a Division Leader then he also had the allowance to appoint a gang leader to a sub-Division of his force. Zhang Bo was a gang leader active in Yingchuan and could’ve been Bo Cai’s gang leader. The History of the Later Han, especially the biographies of Zhu Jun and Huangfu Song, do not tell of any Yellow Turban force in Yingchuan that was larger than Bo Cai's, which may also indicate that Bo was the force in Yingchuan and perhaps a Division Leader and that other Yellow Turban men in that region were underneath him.
- The fact that Bo Cai had Huangfu Song outnumbered gives a bit of an impression of how large Bo Cai’s force must’ve been. Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun together had 40.000 men, arguably Huangfu Song alone must’ve had around 20.000. Arguably Bo Cai had at least a little over 20.000.
- Since the Yellow Turbans were spread over Large Divisions and Small Divisions, with Large Divisions being 10.000+ men large and Small Divisions being 6.000~7.000 men large, Bo Cai might've been a leader of a Large Division, though in History of the Later Han he is never called as such. Only Ma Yuanyi is mentioned as leading a Large Division.
- de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms, biography of Bo Cai, page 23
- Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, page 112
- de Crespigny, Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Zhongping 1
- Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, page 76
- de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kigndoms, biography of Ma Yuanyi, page 661
- de Crespigny, Generals of the South, page 88
- Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, page 112
- Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 100
- Leban, Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei, page 102
- de Crespigny, Rafe. A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23 - 220 AD). Leiden: BRILL, 2007.
- —. Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling. Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1989.
- —. Generals of the South: the foundation and early history of the Three Kingdoms state of Wu. Canberra: The Australian National University, 1990.
- Fan Ye 范曄 (398–445). Hou Han shu 後漢書 “History of the Later Han”.
- Leban, Carl. Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei: The Early Years. Columbia University, Ph. D., 1971.
- Michaud, Paul. „The Yellow Turbans.” Monumenta Serica, vol. XVII (1958): 47-127.
- Sima Guang 司馬光 (1019–1086). Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒 “Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government”.