Taishi Ci 太史慈 was a loyal officer whose word was law. Sun Ce 孫策 recognised this in him and allowed him to go free with only his word that he would return, and he did.
In his youth, Taishi Ci liked to study and at the age of 21 he worked in the commandery offices.[n 1] It happened that the provincial offices and the commandery offices were having a dispute; because they could not come to a compromise themselves, they dispatched emissaries to the government offices to state their cases. At that time, the provincial agent had already departed and the Grand Administrator of the commandery feared that if his report arrived second, it would carry less weight. Taishi Ci was sent from the commandery to take their report and he travelled from morning to night to catch his rival.
Having reached the capital Luoyang 洛陽, Taishi Ci went to the imperial offices and spied that the provincial official had arrived, but was still waiting to communicate his report. Ci went up to him and said: "Sir, are you wanting to submit a report?" To which the official affirmed.
Taishi Ci then asked: "Where is your report secured?"
"Aboard my carriage." Replied the official.
Ci then said: "Are you sure you have properly filled out your report? Fetch it so I can inspect it."
The official was not aware that Taishi Ci was in fact from the Donglai commandery and went to fetch his report. The moment the official produced the report, Ci produced a knife he had secreted in his bosom and cut up the report. The official panicked and started crying out: "This man has ruined my report!"
Taishi Ci pushed the official into his carriage and said to him:
- "Commisioner, if you had not volunteered your report to me, I would have had no way of destroying it, and I would not be the only one to suffer for this crime. But consider this, if we both stay silent and leave, we may be able to escape retribution, if we come forward we will both be immediately punished."
The official replied:
- "Sir, acting on behalf of the commandery, you destroyed my report, and you have already succeeded in this endeavour. What reason would you have to forfeit this advantage."
Taishi Ci replied, saying:
- "When I was dispatched from the commandery, I was merely ordered to investigate whether or not the province had been communicated. But on my own prerogative I exceeded my purview and destroyed your report. Now if I return, I fear I will be subject to condemnation and anger, hence I want to flee."
The official accepted Taishi Ci's words and that same day the pair left. But as soon as they had passed the city walls, he lost the official and doubled back, submitting his report to the government offices. When the provincial authorities heard this, they submitted a second report; but because their report had been delayed the authorities did not lend it as much credence and they found in favour of the commandery. Taishi Ci's actions earned him infamy within the province and knowing the provincial officers abhored him Ci feared he would suffer reprisal and thus fled to Liaodong 遼東.
Service to Kong Rong
- Main article: Yellow Turban Rebellion
Chancellor of Beihai 北海 Kong Rong 孔融 heard of Taishi Ci's actions at the capital and frequently dispatched men to pay respects to Ci's mother, as well as providing her a stipend. At that time, the Yellow Turban Rebellion resulted in Kong Rong being surrounded at Duchang 都昌 by the Yellow Turban Guan Hai 管亥.
Taishi Ci left Liaodong and returned home. His mother told him:
- "You and Kong Rong have never met, but after you left, he was sympathetic and attentive to my needs, he acted as though you were old friends. At this moment, he is besieged by traitors, you should attend to him."
And after three days at home, Ci left. Alone, he walked to Duchang to see that the siege was still not complete. At nightfall he looked for a chink in the encirclement and was able to slip through unnoticed.
Taishi Ci met with Kong Rong and requested soldier to go out and deal with the rebels, but Rong would not heed him, adopting a more cautious approach of biding his time until reinforcements came. However, reinforcements never came and the rebels would daily apply pressure to the city. Rong wanted to inform Chancellor of Pingyuan 平原 Liu Bei 劉備 of the emergency, but with the encirclement of the city complete, none of the men could break through. Ci requested the opportunity to go, but Kong Rong said:
- "At present the rebels' siege is impenetrable, all the men say egress is impossible, while your intentions are commendable, but in reality is it not too difficult?"
Taishi Ci replied:
- "Magistrate, in the past you showed great kindness to my aged mother, my aged mother was moved by your actions. She sent me in response to your emergency because she firmly believed I would be of benefit to you. At present, the men say egress is impossible and if I said that too, how is that taking into consideration your kindness and my aged mother's feelings? You are already in a state of emergency, it is not the time to doubt."
As a result of his unyielding attitude, Kong Rong accepted his help.
The next day, Taishi Ci strapped on his quiver, took his bow, and mounted his horse. He commanded two men to follow him each carrying a archery target. Ci opened the gate and led the two others out of the city. The rebels thought it was an attack and immediately scrambled their soldiers and cavalry in preperation, but Ci merely led the into the moat surrounding the city wall planted the targets and practised shooting before returning into the city. At daybreak, Taishi Ci left the city to practice shooting; some of the rebels braced themselves for an attack, but some just didn't bother. Once Ci had finished his archery practice, he went back into the city and closed the gate. On the third day, Ci again came out of the city, but this time the rebels had become accustomed to his actions and were lax in their preparations. Instead of heading down into the moat, Ci spurred his horse forward, straight into the encirclement. He drew his bow and each arrow he let fly hit its mark; and before the rebels even knew what was happening, several men lay dead and Taishi Ci had broken through the encirclement.
Having made it to Pingyuan, Taishi Ci met Liu Bei saying:
- "I am a common man from Donglai, I am not Kong Rong's flesh or blood, and I am not from his village either. It is only because we have the same aspirations that we share misfortunes and worry. At present, Guan Hai oppresses and disrupts Duchang; Kong Rong endures the siege; and although there danger from morning till dusk, I can do nothing to help. It is because you, sir, have a reputation for being righteous and benevolent, and are known to rescue those in trouble that Kong Rong holds his ground and looks to you. He sent me to charge through a heavy siege and entrust the fates of the myriads within the city to you, sir, because you alone could preserve them."
Liu Bei held his composure then replied: "Kong Rong knows that in this world is a Liu Bei." Liu Bei forthwith provided Taishi Ci with 3,000 elite soldiers. Hearing that reinforcements were coming, the rebels abandoned the siege and scattered.
Since bringing him succour, Kong Rong acknowledged Taishi Ci's value, and warmly greeted him, saying: "My young friend!" His mission accomplished, Ci returned home to elucidate his mother, who said: "I am glad you have recompensed Kong Rong as such."
Service to Liu Yao
Inspector of Yang Province Liu Yao 劉繇 was from the same commandery as Taishi Ci, but Ci had not yet seen him since returning from Liaodong so Ci forded the Yangzi and went to Qu'a 曲阿 to meet him. But in beginning of 195 A.D., before he left, General Who Destroys Criminals Sun Ce 孫策 arrived. Someone suggested that Liu Yao should appoint Taishi Ci as General-in-Chief, but Yao said: "If I appoint Taishi Ci to such a high position, Xu Shao 許劭 will laugh at me." And so he merely used Ci as a scout.
Taishi Ci was out scouting with one other cavalier at Shenting 神亭 when he happened upon Sun Ce himself. Despite the fact that Sun Ce had a retinue of 13 cavaliers, many of them formidable officers like Han Dang 韓當, Song Qian 宋謙 and Huang Gai 黃蓋, Ci charged forward straight to Sun Ce. Sun Ce stabbed Ci's horse and also managed to snatch a small hand-dagger Ci kept on his nape[n 2]; while Ci managed to obtain Sun Ce's helmet. It happened that additional soldiers from both sides came forth, forcing the pair to disengage and leave.[n 3]
Sun Ce managed to rout Liu Yao's forces and Taishi Ci fled with him to Yuzhang 豫章 seeking refuge in the Wuhu 蕪湖 hills. There, he proclaimed himself Grand Administrator of Danyang 丹楊. At that time, Sun Ce had already suppressed the region east of Xuancheng 宣城 and only the six counties west of Jing county (涇) were yet to submit. Ci thus advanced into Jing, set up a garrison and official residence then began to attract the Shanyue to him in great numbers.
Sun Ce personally came forth to annex the region, doing battle with Taishi Ci at Yongli 勇里. Ci was defeated, captured and bound. Sun Ce having long known of his reputation, immediately removed his fetters, took his hand and said: "Do you recall that time at Shenting? Had you caught me, what would you have done?"
Taishi Ci replied: "I couldn't possibly say."
Sun Ce then went on to ask Taishi Ci for advice, but Ci said: "A defeated army's officer is not someone who you be discussing affairs with."
Taishi Ci then said: "The provincial troops have recently been defeated, and their hearts tend to departing. If they separate and scatter, it will be difficult to bring them back together again. I want to go forth to proclaim your favour and calmly collect them, but I'm afraid that is not in concordance with your desires."
Sun Ce kneeled and said: "Actually, that is exactly in line with my own thoughts. At noon tomorrow, I look forward to your return, sir."
Many officers thought it foolish to let him go, but Sun Ce say: "Taishi Ci is a famous warrior of Qing Province, his trustworthiness and righteousness serve as a example, he will not deceive me."
The next day, Sun Ce invited many officers to a great spread of alcohol and food, and he planted a post in the ground to act as a sundial. At noon, Taishi Ci arrived and Sun Ce, much to Sun Ce's delight, and he said: "Today, I will share all my affairs and responsibilities with you."[n 5]
Sun Ce immediately appointed Taishi Ci Commander at the Gate, and he rode at the front of the army alongside Zu Lang 祖郎, another recently captured enemy combatant, which the soldiers all considered quite the honour. Having returned to Wu 吳, he was awarded a command and conferred the rank of General of the Household Who Breaks Enemy Lines.
Service to Sun Ce
In time, Liu Yao died and his forces in Yuzhang, which numbered over 10,000 had not yet found someone to serve. Therefore, Sun Ce commanded Taishi Ci to go console them, saying: "Governor Liu had resented me because I attacked Lujiang on behalf of the Yuan clan.[n 6] My late father left several 1,000 men, all of them under the service of Yuan Shu, and my aspiration was to establish a territory of my own, but I could not demand those troops in order to accomplish this without submitting to Yuan Shu. Yet he only gave me little more than 1,000 and sent me alone to attack Lujiang, but with my situation as it was, how could I refuse. However, afterwards he did not follow proper conduct of an imperial subject, he forgot his place and sought to usurp the imperial title for himself, I tried to admonish him but he would not listen. In order to achieve greatness, a man must attach himself to a great cause, I did not find this so I left. I formed an alliance, tried to admonish Yuan Shu, then severed ties with him. That is my story from start to finish."
"Now that Liu Yao has perished, I find myself regretting that I never had the opportunity to discuss these matters with him while he was alive. At present, his sons reside in Yuzhang and I do not know how Hua Xin is treating them or whether Yao's former retainers comply with Xin. You were from the same province as him, and in the past served under him. Would you go and see to his sons, and at the same time express my feelings to his retainers? And if they should volunteer to come, bring them, but if not, make them feel at peace. Investigate how Hua Xin governs and defends the region, inspect the populace of Luling and Poyang and determine whether they are confident in him or not. How many soldiers would you need to do these things?"
Taishi Ci replied: "I have committed unpardonable crimes, yet, general, I would measure you against Duke Huan of Qi and Duke Wen of Jin, and say your treatment of me exceeds expectations. Ancient men would consider the proper recompensation for the sparing of a life with service until death. At present, soldiers on both sides are at rest, so I should not require many; several dozen men should suffice."
All of Sun Ce's attendants were disturbed by this action, saying Taishi Ci had only recently signed up and was not yet dependable. Some suggested that because he and Hua Xin were from the same province, Ci would stay and plot against Sun Ce. Others suggested he would go westward to find shelter with Huang Zu 黃祖 before heading northward. The general consensus being it was not well thought out.
Sun Ce said to them: "Gentlemen, everything you have said is wrong, I alone have judged him thoroughly. Although Taishi Ci has a valiant spirit and ardent courage, he is not a turn-coat. He follows a warrior's code, his ideals steadfast and principles righteous; his words and not said in vain, and once he has made a promise to a close friend, not even death would sway him. And if Taishi Ci abandons me, whom could he then serve? Gentlemen, do not continue to fret."
Sun Ce then arranged a farewell dinner at Chang Gate, took Taishi Ci by the arm and said: "When do you expect to return?" Ci replied: "In no more than 60 days." And sure enough, in 60 days he returned and forthwith all of Sun Ce's advisors began to submit to him.
Taishi Ci met with Sun Ce and told him: "Han Xin is a man of great virtue, however, he has no talent for strategy; he does not look to rule the region, merely defend what he has, that is all. Tong Zhi 僮芝 of Danyang (丹楊) has assumed authority in Luling (廬陵), dishonestly claiming to have receive an imperial edict appointing him Grand Administrator. As for Poyang, various leaders have established separate clan groups, placed soldiers to obstruct the borders, and refuse to accept the Chiefs and officials appointed by Hua Xin, saying: "We have established a separate commandery and we will only accept a genuine Grand Administrator appointed by the Han court.""
He then continued: "Hua Xin is not merely discordant with Luling and Poyang, recently in Haihun along the Shangliao cliffs, five or six thousand families have gathered into clan groups; they supply the cloth tax to the commandery, but refuse to send a single man if summoned. Hua Xin has observed all this but does nothing."
Sun Ce let out a great laugh and thereafter plotted to annex Yuzhang.
Liu Pan 劉磐, nephew of Liu Biao 劉表, was valiant and brave, and he repeatedly invaded the various counties of Ai (艾) and Xi'an (西安). Consequently, Sun Ce divided Haihun (海昏) and Jianchang (建昌). Taishi Ci was appointed Chief Commandant of Jianchang, governing at Haihun at overseeing the various officers against Liu Pan. Due to his efforts Liu Pan was chased out and never again invaded. He remained stationed there under the authority of Sun Quan 孫權 until his death.
In 206 A.D., Taishi Ci died at age 41. Just before passing away he sighed and said: "A great man should wield a 170 cm span sword in order to elevate the Emperor's position. At present, my ambitions are incomplete, how can I die now?!". Sun Quan grieved his loss.
He was 185 cm in height[n 7], had a beautiful beard and great arm strength. He was adept at archery never missed a shot. Once he followed Sun Yu 孫瑜 to punish traitors at Mo (麻) and Bao (保).[n 8] One of the enemy soldiers had ascended a tower within the garrison and was shouting curses. With one hand, the man held on to the tower, Ci fired an arrow from his bow, penetrating the man's hand and pinning it to the tower. All the men outside praised his fine skill.
- Taishi Heng (太史享) - styled Yuanfu (元復). Served as Master of Writing, Grand Administrator of Wu commandery, and reached the rank of Colonel of Elite Cavalry.
- The SGZ says he was 21 at this time, which would make place this event in 186 A.D.
- de Crespigny says that soldiers often wore small daggers or throwing knives in a sheath at the back of their neck.
- Wuli says Taishi Ci was captured in this battle, but this conflicts with the SGZ account. Pei Songzhi notes that it is probably false.
- Han Xin was serving the warlord Xiang Yu but disappointed in his treatment, defected and joined Liu Bang. Liu Bang and Xiang Yu later fought for control of the empire.
- Considering this Wu li account begins by stating Taishi Ci was captured at Shenting, I'm not sure whether it's reliable, as Pei Songzhi notes. Although, Ci did manage to recruit large numbers of Shanyue at Wuhu and they would probably have responded if he called them back. Furthermore, later in Ci's SGZ he is again dispatched by Sun Ce much to the disbelief of the other officers, had Ci already returned once, presumedly with rounded up soldiers, so would they be so suspicious of him? Obviously the two situations are vastly different, collecting a handful of defeated and scattered troops and fleeing, compared with 10,000 and a stronghold.
- This is in reference to an attack on the Grand Administrator of Lujiang Lu Kang 陸康, where Yuan Shu "requested" supplies but was refused and so Yuan Shu dispatched Sun Ce to carry out punitive measures.
- Text says 7 chi 7 cun, 1 chi is 23.75-24.2cm and 10 cun is equivalent to 1 chi.
- The SGZ text actually says "He followed Sun Ce to punish traitors at Mo and bao." But I think this is in error, for there is no account of this in Sun Ce's SGZ. But Sun Yu's SGZ records an incident in 206 A.D. where camps at Mo and Bao were attacked.
Fact vs. Fiction
- ...he did not die at Hefei, he died almost a decade prior.
- HHS: Biography of Kong Rong
- HHS: Biography of Kong Rong
- HHS: Annals of Emperor Xian
- SGZ: SGZ Biography of Lü Fan
- SGZ: Progress of Wu quoted in the SGZ Biography of Taishi Ci
- SGZ: SGZ Biography of Sun Fu
- SGZ: Biographies from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Taishi Ci.
- SGZ: Biographies from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Taishi Ci.
- SGZ: Biographies from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Taishi Ci.
- SGZ: Biography of Sun Quan.
- SGZ: Book of Wu quoted in the Biography of Taishi Ci.
- SGZ: Biography of Sun Yu.
- Chen Shou 陳壽 (233–297). Sanguo zhi 三國志 “Records of the Three Kingdoms”, with official commentary compiled by Pei Songzhi 裴松之 (372-451).
- de Crespigny, Rafe. To Establish Peace. Vol. 1. Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 1996. 2 vols.
- de Crespigny, Rafe. To Establish Peace. Vol. 2. Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 1996. 2 vols.
- Fan Ye 范曄 (398–445). Hou Han shu 後漢書 “History of the Later Han”.