Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

Jia Xu 賈詡 was a cunning strategist who usually gravitated towards those in positions with the most power. Jia Xu often favoured the long game, he preferred to find advantage in the future and would offer advice which would promote peaceful solutions over military ones.


When he was young, Jia Xu's talent was not recognised by those around him; only Yan Zhong of Hanyang (漢陽) thought differently. Yan Zhong said Jia Xu was of unique talent and could equal the likes of Zhang Liang or Chen Ping.[n 1] Jia Xu was later nominated as Filially Pious and Incorrupt and was appointed as a Gentleman Cadet. However, due to illness he left office and returned home.

On his way home, Jia Xu found himself at the mercy of a rebel Di tribe. Dozens of those travelling with him were executed by the Di and Jia Xu knew he would be next. He said: "I am the grandson of Lord Duan on my mother's side. Do not bother burying my body, my family will pay ransom for it." Now, Grand Commandant Duan Jiong (段熲) had long served protecting the border from invaders, his prestige shook the western lands, thus the Di were fearful of doing harm to one of his descendants. In truth, Jia Xu had no relation to Duan Jiong, but his cunning wit kept him from being killed by the Di and he alone survived, while all others were killed.

When Dong Zhuo entered Luoyang (洛陽), Jia Xu was appointed Commandant of Pingjun (平津) by Grand Commandant Yuan. He was later assigned as Colonel Who Exterminates Caitiffs. Jia Xu was assigned to serve Dong Zhuo's son-in-law, Gentleman of the Household Niu Fu, and garrisoned with him at Shan (陝).

When Lü Bu and Wang Yun assassinated Dong Zhuo, Lü Bu then set out to destroy Dong Zhuo's more loyal subordinates, who at that time were pillaging the commanderies around Luoyang. Lü Bu's failed attempt to kill Niu Fu resulted in Niu Fu panicking and getting himself killed, and coupled with Wang Yun's obstinate refusal to issue a pardon to Dong Zhuo's subordinates, they were greatly concerned about their safety.[1]

Service to Li Jue[]

Dong Zhuo's subordinates still withstanding, Colonel Li Jue, Guo Si, Zhang Ji et al., were all situated in Shan. They had the remnants the Coalition Against Dong Zhuo to the east, and their homes in Liang province far to the west were obstructed by Lü Bu and Wang Yun in Chang'an. They wanted to disband their forces and flee separately to try and reach their homes, but Jia Xu said to them: "The rumour within Chang'an is that they are planning on killing all the Liang forces. If you leave your troops and travel alone, then the chief of a single village can arrest you. The best thing to do is move west together, attack Chang'an and avenge Lord Dong. If you are successful you can serve the royal house and set the empire to rights. If you fail, there will still be time to run away."[2] Jia Xu's plan was followed and Chang'an was seized.

With the Emperor and the capital in the hands of Li Jue and Guo Si, they were able to award title as the saw fit. Li Jue wanted to ennoble Jia Xu for proposing the plan which led them to the capital. But Jia Xu said: "My proposal was just a plan to save our skins. What have I done to deserve a reward?" So he refused the marquisate. But Li Jue kept trying to push rewards on Jia Xu, he next tried to make him Deputy Director of the Secretariat, but Jia Xu said: "Supervisor of the Masters of Writing is a senior appointment. The whole empire looks to it. My name has not been well-known before, and people will not respect it."[3][n 2]

Eventually, Li Jue managed to force the position of Master of Writing upon Jia Xu. In his position, Jia Xu was able to influence the selection of officials; he was able to ensure many offices were correctly appointed. Many of those appointed had formerly held office, but were displaced by Dong Zhuo or the eunuchs.[4]

Li Jue and his cohorts were all close to Jia Xu, yet they were also in awe of him. Around 195 A.D., Guo Si and Fan Chou were on bad terms with Li Jue, they would frequently argue and intend to do violence against one another. Jia Xu would often reproach them, and so a level of civility was maintained.[5] Jia Xu's mother then died, so Jia Xu left office temporarily; he later returned and was appointed as Household Counsellor.

The conditions within Chang'an continued to deteriorate as the fighting between Dong Zhuo's former subordinates intensified. Fan Chou was killed by Li Jue and his forces absorbed. Li Jue and Guo Si engaged in open conflict within Chang'an, dividing the capital in two. Li Jue wanted to relocate the Emperor from the palace to within his camp; Jia Xu tried to reproach him saying: "To hold the Son of Heaven hostage is immoral. You cannot do this." But Li Jue would not heed his words and took the Emperor anyway.[6]

Zhang Xiu[n 3] wanted to get out of Chang'an before there was complete civil war, so he said to Jia Xu: "We cannot remain here long while ministers behave so recklessly, why do we not go?" But Jia Xu said: "I have accepted kindness from the state, to abandon her would be unjust. Go by yourself, but I cannot follow."[7]

Li Jue appointed Jia Xu as General Who Proclaims Righteousness. Li Jue wanted to bolster his forces so he recruited thousands of people from the Qiang and Hu tribes. Li Jue gave them imperial treasures and silks and promised them servants and women from the palace to gain their support against Guo Si. The tribesmen would frequently come to the gates of the imperial residence and say: "Is the Son of Heaven in there? General Li promised us the palace maidservants. Where are they all?"[8] The Emperor began to worry about the tribesmen and asked Jia Xu for aid. Jia Xu thus arranged a feast for the chieftains, where he plied them with food and drink. Jia Xu promised them noble ranks and valuable treasure if they would lead their forces away. The chieftains accepted his proposal and took their forces from Chang'an; this weakened Li Jue's position and forced him to call a truce with Guo Si.[9]

The Emperor managed to break free from Li Jue and Guo Si and flee east with his imperial escort. Li Jue and Guo Si reconciled and joined forces in pursuit. The imperial escort was utterly destroyed. Li Jue held resentment towards several of the Emperor's ministers, including: Excellency Over the Masses Zhao Wen, Minister of Ceremonies Wang Wei, Zhou Zhong and Director of Retainers Rong Shao, and wanted to kill them. Jia Xu interceded and said: "These men are all great ministers serving the Son of Heaven, how can you do them harm?" Thereupon Li Jue let them go.[10]

The Emperor managed to escape Li Jue's clutches and fled to Luoyang, later to be rescued by Cao Cao. With the Emperor gone, Jia Xu relinquished his seal and tassel and parted company with Li Jue. Jia Xu brought his family to stay with General Duan Wei stationed at Huayin (華陰). Duan Wei was from the same commandery as Jia Xu, so Jia Xu thought he could rely on him. On the surface, Duan Wei welcomed Jia Xu and treated him with the utmost courtesy, however, underneath Duan Wei was uneasy. Duan Wei knew Jia Xu was had great renown and was well-respected by his troops, Duan Wei thought they might perhaps abandon him to join Jia Xu.

Service to Zhang Xiu[]

After Zhang Xiu left Chang'an, he had gone to Nanyang (南陽). Jia Xu knew Duan Wei was uncomfortable with him around and so secretly sent messengers to Zhang Xiu asking to join him. Zhang Xiu accepted and sent people to receive him. As he was leaving, someone asked Jia Xu why he wanted to leave. Jia Xu replied: "Duan Wei has a mistrustful nature and fears I have some secret designs. Although he treats me with great courtesy now, in time he will plot against me. However, should I go, he will be relieved and he will take care of my family for he hopes I can secure strong allies for him. On the other hand, Zhang Xiu has no capable advisors so he will desire my services. In this way, both me and my family will be secure." Zhang Xiu received Jia Xu in a manner befitting a son or grandson, and Duan Wei treated Jia Xu's family with great regard, so all was as Jia Xu thought.

Jia Xu advised Zhang Xiu to seek service with Liu Biao. Liu Biao accepted and stationed Zhang Xiu at Wan castle. Liu Biao treated them well, but Jia Xu observed: "For times of peace, Liu Biao has abilities worthy to rank with the three Excellencies, but he has not realised how things change. He leaves many matters uncertain and few decided. He will gain no real achievement."[11][12]

In the early months of 197 A.D., Cao Cao launched an attack against Zhang Xiu, but by the time his forces had reached Yu (淯) river, Zhang Xiu brought his forces in surrender. However, the surrender didn't last long. Cao Cao took Zhang Ji's widow as a concubine and also bribed Zhang Xiu's best general, Hu Che'er (胡車兒)[13], so Zhang Xiu was angry and suspicious. Zhang Xiu followed a plan proposed by Jia Xu to defeat Cao Cao. First Zhang Xiu asked to relocate his camp to the high road, which ran through Cao Cao's camp. Next, Zhang Xiu sent Cao Cao a message saying he didn't have many carts so he needed his men to wear their armour in order to transport it all, Cao Cao believed him and did not suspect that Zhang Xiu's armed troops were a threat. As a result, Cao Cao was taken by surprise and badly defeated.[14][15]

Cao Cao may have been defeated once, but he soon returned to settle the score. However, due to reports of Yuan Shao attacking Cao Cao's rear, he soon retreated. Zhang Xiu wanted to lead his forces in pursuit, but Jia Xu said: "You must not go after him. If you chase him you will surely be defeated." But Zhang Xiu did not listen and gave chase anyway and he was indeed defeated. As soon as Zhang Xiu returned, Jia Xu said: "Turn back after him at once. If you fight this time you are sure to win." Zhang Xiu was hesitant and said: "I did not use your advice earlier, and this is the result. Now I am defeated, how can I go in chase again?" Jia Xu again urged him on, saying: "War has its changes. Follow him quickly."[16] So Zhang Xiu collected his scattered forces and went back in pursuit.

Zhang Xiu's second battle was a great success and he returned victorious as Jia Xu had said. Zhang Xiu was curious as to how Jia Xu could be so omniscient, so asked: "I pursued a retreating army with good soldiers and you said I would suffer a loss. I attacked a victorious army with defeated men and you said I would win. Both times you were right. How did you do it?" And Jia Xu said: "Quite easily. You are good at using troops, but no match for Lord Cao. Since Lord Cao's army had only just begun its withdrawal, he was sure to command the rear-guard. That is why I knew you would be defeated. Lord Cao had come to attack you, nothing had gone wrong with his plans and he was still at full strength. When he suddenly drew back, therefore, it could only be for some reason of his state. In that case, once he had defeated you he would hurry on to Xu city with light-armed troops, leaving his officers to hold the rear. His officers are brave, but they are not as good as you, so despite the fact that you were using beaten men you could fight and be sure to win."[17]

In 200 A.D., Cao Cao engaged with Yuan Shao at Guandu (官渡). Yuan Shao was looking for allies to attack Cao Cao's rear and knew Zhang Xiu had fought with Cao Cao in the past, so he sent envoys to Zhang Xiu to form an alliance. Zhang Xiu was willing to accept, but Jia Xu said to the messenger: "Go back and present our apologies to Yuan Benchu. If he could not remain on good terms with his own cousin[n 4], how can he cope with the leaders of the empire?"" And he ushered the envoy out. Zhang Xiu was shocked, he said: "There was no call to go so far as that!"[18]

Having burned the bridge with Yuan Shao, Zhang Xiu asked Jia Xu what they were supposed to do now. "The best thing is to go to Lord Cao," Jia Xu replied. Zhang Xiu did not understand how that was wise and asked: "Yuan Shao is strong, Cao Cao is weak, and I have quarrelled with him. How can we join him?" To which Jia Xu replied: "These are the reasons you should follow him, Lord Cao holds the Son of Heaven and so commands the empire, that is one. Yuan Shao is strong, and if we offer support with our small force he will certainly not treat us with respect. Cao Cao is weak, so if he gets us he will certainly be pleased; that is a second reason. A man with the ambition of a ruler will certainly forget private enmities in order to display his virtue before all the four seas; that is a third reason for us to join him. Don't you worry." Zhang Xiu trusted him and brought his forces to Cao Cao to form an alliance.[19]

Service to Cao Cao[]

When Zhang Xiu allied with Cao Cao, he was given greater honours than any other in Cao Cao's service[20], so Jia Xu's advice had once again proven valuable for him.

When Cao Cao saw Jia Xu, he was elated and grasped Jia Xu's hand and said to him: "There is one man who made my trustworthiness be exulted by the world; and good sir, you are he!"[21] Cao Cao made Jia Xu Bearer of the Gilded Mace, Marquis of a Chief Village and Governor of Ji province. At this time, Ji province was still controlled by Yuan Shao, so Jia Xu took office as the Excellency of Works and Advisor to the Army.

Yuan Shao surrounded Cao Cao at Guandu, and Cao Cao's supplies were nearly exhausted so Cao Cao asked Jia Xu whether he should stay the course. Jia Xu said: "Duke Cao, in clear-sightedness, you are superior to Shao; in courageousness, you are superior to Shao; in management of your army, you are superior to Shao; in acting on advantages, you are superior to Shao. You have these four superiorities yet have remained besieged for half a year only because you have not acted. Once you find your opportunity and act, you will certainly win." Cao Cao's anxiety was alleviated and soon he had scored a great victory against Yuan Shao and the north of the river was pacified. Cao Cao wanted the Governorship of Ji province for himself[n 5], so Jia Xu was instead appointed as Palace Counsellor.

In 208 A.D., Cao Cao received the surrender of Jing province and was planning to continue south to subjugate the southern lands. Jia Xu tried to remonstrate with him, saying: "Illustrious Lord, in former times you destroyed the Yuan clan and today you have received the region south of the Han. Your prestige is known far and wide and your army's influence great. Take advantage of the bounty of former Chu[n 6], give tribute to the officials and soldiers, foster security among the common people, give your soldiers peace and let them find good jobs. Do not fatigue the masses, instead wait for the south lands to submit to you." Cao Cao decided to attack anyway and was defeated.

In 211 A.D., Cao Cao headed west to annex Hanzhong, but his progress was blocked by the rebellious force of Liang province at Tong Pass. Cao Cao's forces had scored several victories over the forces of Ma Chao and Han Sui and the rebels have proffered several truces. Cao Cao was confident that he would eventually be victorious so was unwilling to accept a truce, Jia Xu, however, thought he should feign acceptance. Cao Cao asked if he had a plan, "Dissension, that is all," replied Jia Xu. Cao Cao meets with Han Sui publicly and makes it seem as though they are in alliance. Jia Xu's stratagem succeeds and with the rebels suspicious of one another, they are heavily defeated.

In 217 A.D., Cao Cao was trying to decide upon his heir. The two front-runners were General of the Gentlemen of the Household for All Purposes Cao Pi and Marquis of Linzai (臨菑) Cao Zhi. Cao Pi was the older brother, but Cao Zhi's talent was widely recognised; both also had associates trying to help them secure the throne. Cao Pi sent someone to Jia Xu to ask him how he could secure his position. Jia Xu said: "I suggest you pay attention to the measure of your virtue, observe the manners of a simple scholar, be diligent day and night, and do not offend against the proper conduct of a son. That is all."[22] Cao Pi heeded his advice and improved himself as Jia Xu suggested.

One day after dismissed his attendants so he could speak to Jia Xu in private. He asked Jia Xu of his thoughts about the succession, but Jia Xu made no reply. Cao Cao asked him why he wasn't responding, and Jia Xu said: "I was thinking of something, so I did not respond immediately." Cao Cao pressed him on what was keeping him preoccupied. "I was thinking of Yuan Shao and Liu Biao, fathers and sons," replied Jia Xu.[n 7] Cao Cao understood and started to laugh. Cao Pi was then named heir.

Service to Cao Pi[]

Because Cao Pi benefited from Jia Xu's advice, as soon as Cao Pi acceded the throne he elevated Jia Xu to the position of Grand Commandant[n 8][23], enfeoffed him as Marquis of Weishouxiang (魏壽鄉) and his fief increased to 800 households, 200 of those he gave to his sons. His younger son Jia Fang (賈訪) was enfeoffed as Marquis of Lie (列) and his elder son Jia Mu (賈穆) was appointed as (駙馬) Grand Commandant.

In 222 A.D., Cao Pi was wanting to continue his father's work and unify China. He went to Jia Xu and asked whether he should attack Wu or Shu-Han first. Jia Xu answered: "One who wishes to seize an empire prioritises military might, one who wishes to build an empire induces virtuous conduct. Your Majesty has received the abdication of the throne and you bring comfort to the lands, if you foster security and righteousness now, in time peace can be assured. Although Wu and Shu-Han are small states, they are protected by natural defences. In Shu-Han, Liu Bei has heroic talent and Zhuge Liang gives good governance. In Wu, Sun Quan is a discerning politician and Lu Xun knows how to utilise soldiers. They guard strategic passes and occupy the waterways with boats, neither can be easily attacked. The way to use soldiers is to ascertain victory first, then battle; take measure of the enemy, then discuss generals; act like this and then your plans will not go awry. My opinion is that among your vassals, none are equal to Sun Quan or Liu Bei, and despite possessing Heaven's might, I see no surefire solution. In former times, Emperor Shun brandished his shield and axe and the Youmiao submitted.[n 9] I believe you should first foster civil governance, then military matters." Cao Pi did not listen and was later defeated.[n 10]

On 11 Aug. 223 A.D., Jia Xu passed away. He was posthumously titled "Solemn" (肅) Lord of Weishouxiang. His son, Jia Mu was his heir.



  • Jia Mu (賈穆)
  • Jia Fang (賈訪)


  • Jia Mo (賈模) - Son of Jia Mu. Appointed Cavalier Attendant-in-Ordinary and General Protector of the Army by Jin Emperor Hui.

Great Grandson

  • Jia Yin (賈胤) - Son of Jia Mo. Was a great official and held power under Jin.
  • Jia Kan (賈龕) - Younger brother of Jia Yin. Was a great official and held power under Jin.
  • Jia Pi (賈疋) - Younger brother of Jia Kan. Was a great official and held power under Jin.


  1. Both served Liu Bang and helped him found the Han dynasty.
  2. Jia Xu may genuinely have meant his words, but he may also have been distancing himself from the situation. Li Jue and the others were not humble in appointing themselves high ranks, thus they classified themselves as rebels forever after; whereas Jia Xu lived a long life and earned great position in Wei.
  3. Zhang Xiu was a relative of Zhang Ji, who at this point was still stationed at Shan.
  4. The cousin is Yuan Shu, the pair were fighting around 190 A.D.
  5. Cao Cao uses Yuan Shao's stronghold, Ye city in Ji, as his stronghold.
  6. Jing province.
  7. Both Yuan Shao and Liu Biao had problems regarding succession. They both passed over their eldest sons to name their favourite sons as heirs. Yuan Shao's succession in particular was bad and resulted in the complete collapse of the Yuan clan's power.
  8. The Three Excellencies had actually been abolished by Cao Cao.
  9. The Youmiao (a.k.a. Three Miao) did not pay tribute. Instead of fighting, Shun worked on improving the conditions of his state and it worked so well that the Youmiao wanted to submit voluntarily, all Shun had to do was dance with his axe and shield to get them to surrender.
  10. This is similar advice to what he offered Cao Cao back in 208 A.D.

Fact vs. Fiction[]


  1. SGZ: Biography of Dong Zhuo.
  2. de Crespigny. Chapter 60 in To Establish Peace Vol 1, Chuping 3, section Q
  3. de Crespigny. Chapter 60 in To Establish Peace Vol 1, Chuping 3, section AA
  4. SGZ: Annals of Emperor Xian in SGZ Biography of Jia Xu.
  5. SGZ: Annals of Emperor Xian in SGZ Biography of Jia Xu.
  6. SGZ: Annals of Emperor Xian in SGZ Biography of Jia Xu.
  7. SGZ: Annals of Emperor Xian in SGZ Biography of Jia Xu.
  8. de Crespigny. Chapter 61 in To Establish Peace Vol 1, Xingping 2, section R
  9. SGZ: Annals of Emperor Xian in SGZ Biography of Jia Xu.
  10. SGZ: Annals of Emperor Xian in SGZ Biography of Jia Xu.
  11. de Crespigny. Chapter 62 in To Establish Peace Vol 1, Jian'an 1, section HH
  12. SGZ: Fu Xuan's annotations in SGZ Biography of Jia Xu.
  13. SGZ: Fu Xuan's annotations in SGZ Biography of Zhang Xiu.
  14. SGZ: Book of Wu in SGZ Biography of Zhang Xiu.
  15. SGZ: Biography of Zhang Xiu.
  16. de Crespigny. Chapter 62 in To Establish Peace Vol 1, Jian'an 3, section F
  17. de Crespigny. Chapter 62 in To Establish Peace Vol 1, Jian'an 3, section F
  18. de Crespigny. Chapter 63 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 4, section O
  19. de Crespigny. Chapter 63 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 4, section O
  20. SGZ: Biography of Zhang Xiu.
  21. SGZ: Translation by Lady Wu.
  22. de Crespigny. Chapter 68 in To Establish Peace Vol 2, Jian'an 22, section K
  23. SGZ: Wei Lue in SGZ Biography of Jia Xu.