Biography (SGYY): Diao Chan [Sable Cicada]

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Diao Chan (Sable Cicada)
(AD 161/9–???)

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Morgan Evans

Diao Chan (Sable Cicada)

Diao Chan was born around AD 169 (1) and raised in the capital city Luoyang where she served as a handmaiden, singer and dancer in the palace of the Interior Minister Wang Yun. She was very close to Wang Yun and their relationship was more like that of a daughter with a father than servant and master. In AD 190 Dong Zhuo deposed the ruling Emperor and empowered a new Emperor who he controlled. Dong Zhuo freely used and abused his power, unopposed by the ministers of the capital as they all feared him and his adopted son Lü Bu. Due to an alliance against him, Dong Zhuo would even relocate the capital from Luoyang to Chang’an forcing all the residents to move with it. When the alliance failed, there was no one left to stand against Dong Zhuo and his abuses of power became even worse than before. However, Wang Yun could not stand the situation anymore and he came up with a plan to kill Dong Zhuo: he would use Diao Chan to turn Lü Bu against Dong Zhuo.

1: Sources vary, some say AD 161 while others say AD 169.

Wang Yun immediately put his plan into motion by inviting Lü Bu to his palace where he introduced Diao Chan and offered her hand in marriage to Lü Bu. Lü Bu was enthralled by Diao Chan’s beauty and could not take his eyes off her, so he accepted Wang Yun’s offer without a second thought. However a few days later, Wang Yun invited Dong Zhuo to his home for a banquet, during which Diao Chan danced and sung for him. Dong Zhuo was enchanted with her just as Lü Bu had been and he too accepted when Wang Yun offered her to him as a concubine. Dong Zhuo took Diao Chan with him and it was not long before word got to Lü Bu who confronted Wang Yun. Wang Yun lied to Lü Bu, telling him that Dong Zhuo was fully aware of the previous arrangement but he had taken Diao Chan anyway. The next morning Lü Bu went to the palace, asking the servants about Diao Chan and he was not happy to find that she had slept with Dong Zhuo in his bedroom. Diao Chan had just risen when she saw the shadow of Lü Bu who was sneaking around outside the window. She pretended to cry to give Lü Bu the impression that she was deeply saddened by her circumstances. Lü Bu went back into the palace where he met with Dong Zhuo. Diao Chan stood behind a curtain watching them and every so often she would peek around the curtain to look lovingly at Lü Bu. Dong Zhuo eventually noticed Lü Bu staring at Diao Chan, became suspicious and dismissed him.

Diao Chan satisfied all of Dong Zhuo’s needs so that he became completely devoted to her and soon began to ignore the affairs of state in order to spend time with her. When Dong Zhuo fell ill, Diao Chan sat vigilantly by his side soothing him. Hearing of Dong Zhuo’s illness, Lü Bu came to visit him but Dong Zhuo was asleep when he arrived so Diao Chan took advantage of the situation. She pointed to her heart with one hand and with the other pointed to Dong Zhuo and began to weep, breaking Lü Bu’s heart. Dong Zhuo awoke to see Lü Bu again staring at Diao Chan and became angry, he had Lü Bu ejected from the palace and banned him from returning. Dong Zhuo’s advisor Li Ru would convince him to make amends with Lü Bu for the sake of peace but Lü Bu still thought of the woman who he considered to be rightfully his.

One day while Dong Zhuo met with the Emperor, Lü Bu left his side and went to find Diao Chan. He tied Red Hare outside the palace and carrying his halberd, went inside. Diao Chan met him in the garden and burst into tears crying “Though I am not the Minister’s real daughter, he has treated me as his own child. The desire of my life was fulfilled when he promised me to you. But to think of the wickedness of the Prime Minister, stealing my poor self as he did. I suffered so much. I longed to die, but I had not told you the real truth so I lived on, bearing my shame as best as I could. Now that I have seen you, I can end it all. My poor sullied body is no longer fit to serve a hero. I can die before your eyes and so prove how true I am!” She then motioned that she would throw herself into the pond below but Lü Bu grabbed her and held her close. Lü Bu began to cry as he finally knew that Diao Chan shared his feelings, so she wrapped her arms around him and begged him to rescue her. He told her that he would need time to think as he knew that he could not simply take her away from his adopted father, but she pressed him by expressing her confusion that a formidable warrior such as Lü Bu would be ruled by someone else. This outburst shamed Lü Bu, he held her close, soothed her and could not bear to let her go. However, Dong Zhuo had noticed Lü Bu’s absence and soon became suspicious so he made his way quickly to the palace where he found Red Hare tied outside. Storming into the grounds, he found the two lovers locked in an embrace but Lü Bu saw him and ran away, abandoning his halberd in the process. Dong Zhuo grabbed the halberd and gave chase but when he could not catch up to Lü Bu he threw the halberd but missed his target. Li Ru stopped Dong Zhuo, calmed him down and begged him to give Diao Chan to Lü Bu in order to end the strife between the two of them. Dong Zhuo summoned Diao Chan and asked for her account of what had happened in the garden, but she told a very different story. She told him that Lü Bu had come armed to the palace and that she had been afraid that he would force her to do his will so she had tried to leap into the pond but Lü Bu had caught her. She thanked Dong Zhuo for saving her, but he suggested sending her to Lü Bu as a peace offering. Diao Chan protested, wept and threatened to kill herself rather than serve an underling such as Lü Bu. Satisfied with her response, Dong Zhuo placated her and assured her that he cared too much to give her away. Diao Chan confided in him that she was scared of Lü Bu and wanted the two of them to move to Dong Zhuo's city of Meiwo so that they could be far away from Lü Bu. When Dong Zhuo informed Li Ru that he had decided to keep Diao Chan and that they would be leaving for Meiwo the next day, Li Ru exclaimed as he left the palace, “We are dead men, slain by the hand of this girl.”

As they set out to Meiwo, Diao Chan saw Lü Bu in the crowd so she looked to the ground and looked sad. Lü Bu confided his sadness in Wang Yun who became angry, shouting that people would laugh at them as Dong Zhuo had stolen Diao Chan away from both of them while they stood idly by. Lü Bu became angry and swore to kill Dong Zhuo if it were not for the punishment he would no doubt receive. Wang Yun stirred matters further by assuring Lü Bu that killing Dong Zhuo would lead to the restoring of the Han empire and that there would be no repercussions for the killing of a rebel. Wang Yun with two colleagues worked out the details and the next day a messenger arrived at Meiwo to inform Dong Zhuo that the Emperor would be abdicating all power to him. Dong Zhuo was greatly pleased, so he arranged for four generals, Guo Si, Li Jue, Fan Chou and Zhang Ji to guard the city and then prepared to return to the capital. Before he set out, Dong Zhuo promised Diao Chan that she would be named ‘Lady of the Palace’ and while she thanked him, she secretly was overjoyed as she knew that this was the culmination of Wang Yun’s plan and that Dong Zhuo was walking into a trap. As he arrived at the capital for the ceremony, Dong Zhuo was ambushed and slain by Lü Bu who then gathered an army of 50,000 soldiers ready to assault Meiwo. When news reached Meiwo of Dong Zhuo’s demise and of the oncoming army, the four generals protecting the city fled to Liangzhou. Lü Bu’s first act when his army reached Meiwo was to find Diao Chan and with that done, his troops killed every member of Dong Zhuo’s family.

However, the four exiled generals were determined to avenge Dong Zhuo so they amassed an army and marched towards Chang’an. On their way there they fell in with Dong Zhuo's son-in-law Niu Fu and his army. Lü Bu went out to oppose the rebels but they were well prepared for him, forcing him to retreat to the capital. When he got back to Chang’an, the city was already under siege by the rebels. Lü Bu shouted over the wall begging Wang Yun to escape with him, but Wang Yun was determined to fight to the end. Lü Bu had no choice but to escape to Yuan Shao leaving his family, Diao Chan and Wang Yun behind. When the rebels entered the city they sought out Wang Yun and for his role in killing Dong Zhuo, they executed him. Eventually Diao Chan would be reunited with Lü Bu and the two would move from province to province together until they reached Xia Pi where Lü Bu would meet his end at the hands of Cao Cao. (2)

2: There is a folktale that Diao Chan was captured by Cao Cao after Xia Pi. When Cao Cao was trying to keep Guan Yu in his service, he sent Diao Chan to seduce Guan Yu. Guan Yu suspected that he was being tricked as he knew how she had betrayed Lü Bu and Dong Zhuo so he killed her to prevent her from hurting anyone else (source: Mengdez New Book). A second version of this story is that years after Xia Pi, Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu all wanted to marry Diao Chan and the three argued bitterly over her. To end the strife between them Guan Yu cut her in half.

Copyright © 2004 Morgan Evans
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong