Biography (SGYY): Cai Yong

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Cai Yong
蔡邕
(AD C.135–192)

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by SlickSlicer

Cai Yong

Cai Yong was born in AD 135 , the father of the famous poetess Cai Wenji (I), and held the rank of Court Counselor in the times when the Han dynasty began to crumble and weaken from corruption. While he was a minister of the Han court he worked busily on compiling an encyclopedia of the Han dynasty with other scholars. (II) In his illustrious career, Cai Yong was known as an able writer, court official and historian. He befriended Cao Cao, had a good reputation and was generally held in high esteem. He was also good at spotting talent and he showed the greatest deference to Wang Can, who later advised Liu Cong to surrender to Cao Cao, when the young adolescent once went to visit Cai Yong. When Wang Can visited Cai Yong’s residence, many guests of high-ranks also were present and asked why Cai Yong respected Wang Can so much, even though Wang Can at this time was only a short, young and meek individual. Cai Yong merely said, “He is a young man with the highest gifts.”

I: Wenji was the style name of Cai Yan and her pen name that she was better known by. Some sources claim that Cai Yong’s wife was barren and that Cai Yan was adopted while others state that she was his real daughter. In any case it is unclear whether she was adopted by Cai Yong or was his actual child. Cai Yong was 42 years old at the birth of his daughter. Credit to Jonathan Wu for this information.
II: Namely Ma Midi, Yang Biao and Lu Zhi.

During the era of Established Calm (AD 168), as the Emperor walked through the palace, a rushing whirlwind arose in the corner of the hall and a monstrous black serpent floated down from the rooftops and onto the Emperor’s throne. Although the creature vanished, a storm soon followed, lasting till midnight and battering the Imperial Court. Two years later an earthquake violently shook the capital and a giant tsunami swept over the coasts of China. 10 years passed and the Emperor changed the reign title to “Radiant Harmony” but more calamities ensued. Hens began to crow, a part of the magnificent Yuan Mountains collapsed, a rainbow appeared in the Dragon Chamber and a long, murky cloud flew into the Hall of Virtue.

Baffled and frustrated by these signs of fury and irritation from the heavens, Emperor Ling issued a proclamation asking his staff for reasons for these marvelous omens. Cai Yong replied frankly: “Falling rainbows and changes of fowls’ sexes are brought about by the interference of empresses and eunuchs in state affairs.” The Emperor sighed deeply after reading this statement, an analysis placing blame for these supernatural events on the corrupt eunuchs of the court and weakness of the Emperor. The head eunuch at the time noted the Emperor’s dissatisfaction and remorse after hearing Cai Yong’s explanation. Soon after this incident, the eunuchs drove Cai Yong from the capital and Cai Yong was forced to retire to his home in the country. When the eunuchs were later killed, Cai Yong returned to the palace (III). Dong Zhuo, during the time of the eunuchs’ demise and fall from power, retrieved the Emperor and set him back up in Luoyang. Dong Zhuo patrolled the streets with armed soldiers and walked in and out of the palace. The common people were in constant fear of him and none dared to oppose his might.

III: Although the novel does not explicitly say that Cai Yong returned to the palace, it can be assumed that he did at some point because he was present at Dong Zhuo’s banquet later on.

Dong Zhuo summoned a multitude of guests to a banquet after taking control of the capital and spoke. “The emperor is lord of all. If he lacks dignity and behaves in an unseemly manner, he is no fitting inheritor of the ancestral prerogatives. He who is now on the throne is a weakling, inferior to the Prince of Chenliu in intelligence and love of learning. The Prince is in every way fitted for the throne. I desire to depose the Emperor and set up the Prince in his place,” said Dong Zhuo. None dared to speak otherwise except Ding Yuan who hastily disagreed. This enraged Dong Zhuo and Ding Yuan’s fellow guests at the assembly persuaded Ding Yuan to leave. After he took off, Dong Zhuo inquired, “Is what I said just and reasonable?” An official named Lu Zhi piped up to speak and argued why it was unjust to depose the Emperor and set up the younger son of Emperor Ling on the throne. Angrily, Dong Zhuo drew his sword but Cai Yong remonstrated with him, along with Court Counselor, Peng Bo. “Minister Lu Zhi is the cynosure of the whole country, and his violent death would stir the hearts of all people!” cried Cai Yong. Dong Zhuo, realizing the truth of this statement, sheathed his sword and steadied his hand.

In the future Dong Zhuo deposed the Emperor and set up Liu Xian, the second son of Emperor Ling, as the Emperor in place of the former Emperor Shao. The new Emperor created a new reign-style and named it ‘Inauguration of Tranquility.’ He also gave Dong Zhuo the position of Prime Minister. Although Cai Yong was an esteemed court official he resigned from his post as minister when Dong Zhuo rose to power and began taking over court affairs. Following Dong Zhuo’s rise in authority however, an advisor of Dong Zhuo’s named Li Ru recommended that Dong Zhuo appoint people of reputation and esteem to high ranks and positions. Dong Zhuo ordered Cai Yong to come to the palace to receive such a title. At first Cai Yong opted not to appear but after Dong Zhuo threatened to murder his family, Cai Yong decided to show up. Dong Zhuo graciously received Cai Yong and acted kind and respectful towards him. In the following month Dong Zhuo generously promoted him three times. Thus, Cai Yong once more became a Court Counselor.

Lü Bu slew Dong Zhuo, and the Han forces executed Dong Zhuo’s entire family; even Dong Zhuo’s elderly mother. Dong Zhuo’s head and corpse were publicly on show in a parade through the marketplace in AD 192, where people kicked his body as they passed by. Only a single person, Cai Yong, mourned for Dong Zhuo. Wang Yun, another Han official, held a party commemorating the death of the tyrant in the Ministry Hall. He invited many officials and the whole group of them drank and celebrated. In the middle of this joyous occasion however, somebody reported that a man in the marketplace was crying over Dong Zhuo’s exposed dead carcass in the marketplace. “Dong Zhuo has been put to death. Everybody is glad to be rid of him, and yet one is found to lament over him. Who is this?” asked Wang Yun. Wang Yun then ordered that the mourner be arrested and brought before them. Cai Yong was arrested and brought to the assembly. Everybody was shocked to see that the mourner was Cai Yong. “Dong Zhuo has been put to death as a rebel, and all the land rejoices. You, a Han minister, instead of rejoicing, weep for him. Why?” asked Wang Yun furiously.

Cai Yong admitted his error in crying after seeing Dong Zhuo’s dead body, saying, “I am without talent, yet know what is right. I am not the man who turns my back on the dynasty and toward Dong Zhuo. Yet once I experienced his kindness, and I could not help mourning for him. I know my fault is grave, but I pray you regard the reasons. If you will leave my head and only cut off my feet, you may use me to continue the History of Han, whereby I may have the good fortune to be allowed to expiate my fault.” Everybody there felt sorry for Cai Yong and one of Cai Yong’s peers, named Ma Midi, pleaded for Cai Yong and beseeched Wang Yun to excuse him for this minor misdemeanor. “Cai Yong is famous as a scholar, and he can write glorious history, and it is inadvisable to put to death a man renowned for rectitude without consideration.” said Ma Midi. Wang Yun had become stubborn about the matter though. “Centuries ago, Emperor Wu spared Sima Qian and employed him on the annals, with the result that many slanderous stories have been handed down to us. This is a trying period of great perplexity, and we dare not let a specious fellow like this wield his pen in criticism of those about the court of a youthful prince and abuse us as he will.” stated Wang Yun bluntly.

After hearing Wang Yun’s retort, Ma Midi gave up on trying to persuade the obstinate minister to have mercy on Cai Yong. Before leaving though he said to his colleagues, “Is Wang Yun then careless of the future? Worthy people are the mainstay of the state; laws are the canons of action. To destroy the mainstay and nullify the laws is to hasten destruction!” Wang Yun commanded guards to imprison Cai Yong and strangle him. His only child, a daughter named Cai Yan who became a famous poetess and a concubine of a Xiongnu chieftain, succeeded Cai Yong. Cao Cao had been friends with Cai Yong at one time and later paid a thousand ounces of gold to ransom Cai Yong’s daughter Yan and allow her to return to her rightful homeland. A poet of the time wrote the following verse comparing Cai Yong to Zhuge Liang, a later strategist and civil advisor:

Dong Zhuo, the dictator,
Tyrannized the state,
Fell and his sole mourner
Shared his direful fate.
Zhuge Liang in seclusion
Was content to dream,
Felt his worth and never
Helped a traitor’s scheme.

Copyright © 2005 SlickSlicer
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong