Biography (SGYY): Han Sui (Wenyue)

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Han Sui (Wenyue)
韓遂 (文約)
Circa AD 171–???

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

Han Sui (Wenyue)

Han Sui, styled Wenyue, was born around AD 171 and would become the Imperial Protector of Bingzhou.

When Li Jue and Guo Si seized the capital, Chang’an, in AD 192, Han Sui and his sworn brother, the Governor of Xiliang, Ma Teng, made plans against the rebels. Trusted scouts were sent to the capital to find others who would support them, and soon Court Counselors Chong Shao and Ma Yu along with Imperial Commander Liu Fan, agreed to help them from within. These three men obtained from the emperor two secret edicts that made Han Sui, Commander Who Guards the West and Ma Teng Commander Who Conquers the West. With their new ranks, Han Sui and Ma Teng were able to gather an army of one hundred thousand troops, which they led to Chang’an to attack the rebels.

As they approached the capital, an army led by the rebels Wang Fang and Li Meng came to oppose them. Han Sui and Ma Teng rode to the front of the army and abused the enemy leaders, shouting, “Those are traitors! Who will capture them?” Ma Teng’s seventeen-year-old son, Ma Chao, rode out and attacked Wang Fang. After a few bouts, the rebel was killed and Ma Chao quickly captured the other commander, Li Meng. With no one to lead them, the enemy troops fled and Han Sui’s army dashed after them in pursuit, scoring a complete victory. The army then set up a camp in one of the nearby passes, where they executed Li Meng.

After this success, the rebels would not give further battle and after a few months of inaction, Han Sui and Ma Teng’s army began to run low on supplies. Scouts then brought reports that Ma Yu, Chong Shao and Liu Fan had been discovered as co-conspirators and that Guo Si and Li Jue had executed them. With their helpers dead and with food running out, Han Sui and Ma Teng ordered the army to withdraw to their respective regions. An army led by the rebel Fan Chou pursued Han Sui’s force, but when the rebel leader came close Han Sui rode out and said to him, “You and I, Sir, are fellow villagers. Why then behave so unfriendly?” Fan Chou replied, “I must obey the commands of my chief.” Han Sui continued, “I am here for the service of the state. Why do you press me so hard?” Fan Chou turned his horse around and ordered his army to retreat, allowing Han Sui’s men to retreat safely to Bingzhou. The rebels would eventually be defeated by Cao Cao, who moved the capital to Xuchang. Han Sui was later made the Imperial Protector of Xizhou.

In AD 208, Han Sui received a letter from the Prime Minister, Cao Cao, informing him that Ma Teng had been executed for his part in a conspiracy against the Prime Minister. Han Sui was to march on Xiliang, capture Ma Teng’s son, Ma Chao, and as a reward he would be given Lordship of Xiliang. Han Sui assembled an army consisting of eight divisions under eight generals—Cheng Yin, Hou Xuan, Cheng Yi, Yang Qiu, Liang Xing, Zhang Han, Li Kan and Ma Wan, and traveled to Xiliang. There he found Ma Chao with an army ready for an attack on the capital to avenge his father. Han Sui produced the letter he had received and Ma Chao immediately offered his surrender. Han Sui raised him and said, “Your father and I were sworn brothers. Think you I would harm you? Rather will I help if you are going to fight.” Cao Cao’s messenger who had brought the letter to Han Sui was dragged forth and beheaded, then the combined forces of Xiliang and Xizhou, some two hundred thousand men, began their march.

They soon reached the city of Chang’an and began their siege. However, as the city had once served as the nation’s capital, it was well fortified and was safe against even the most ferocious of attacks. Ma Chao’s general, Pang De, proposed that the army retire in order to allow the enemy to come out to collect supplies and then he would sneak into the city with them. The plan was adopted, so Pang De got into the city and opened the gates from the inside, allowing Han Sui and Ma Chao’s army to charge in and successfully capture Chang’an. With the city settled, Han Sui and Ma Chao started to advance on the Tong Pass but Cao Cao sent ten thousand troops under Cao Hong, Cao Ren and Xu Huang to reinforce the pass’ defenders.

For eight days, Han Sui and Ma Chao would ride to the pass and try to goad the defenders into giving battle, but their insults had no effect. On the ninth day, the attackers set a trap, turning loose their horses and setting aside their weapons. Cao Hong and Xu Huang led out troops to attack but fell into the waiting ambush and were quickly forced to retreat. With the Wei army in flight, Han Sui and Ma Chao’s army occupied the Tong Pass. Upon hearing of the pass’ capture, Cao Cao himself led an army from the capital to oppose them. The Wei troops built a strong stockade and made three camps, then marched out to give battle. Han Sui stayed to guard the camp while Ma Chao led out his army to meet the attackers. Ma Chao scored a great victory as he, his cousin Ma Dai, and Pang De broke through the enemy ranks and forced Cao Cao to flee back to his stockade. Soon afterwards, twenty thousand Qiangs came to reinforce Han Sui and Ma Chao.

Scouts reported that Cao Cao was moving troops across to the west bank of the Yellow River. Ma Chao said to Han Sui, “I understand. The Pass is left, rafts are being prepared: That means that he is going to cross to the west side and cut off my retreat. I must coast along the river and keep him off. If I can do that, his food will run short within twenty days in the east bank, and that will cause a mutiny. Then I will travel south along the river and attack.” Han Sui did not approve of this plan, stating that it was best to strike when troops were half over the river: “Attack from the south when his army is in the act of crossing, and his army will be drowned in the river.” Ma Chao saw the wisdom in these words and led out his army to attack Cao Cao while Han Sui stayed behind to guard the camp.

When Ma Chao returned he said, “I would have captured Cao Cao, but a certain bold general had taken him on his back and leaped with him into a boat.” Han Sui replied, “I have heard that Cao Cao has bodyguards of the bravest and strongest soldiers under the command of Dian Wei and Xu Chu. They are called the Tiger Guard. As Dian Wei is dead, the man you saw must have been Xu Chu. He is both brave and powerful and goes by the name of Tiger Lust. You will do well to avoid him.” He continued, “Cao Cao now means to attack our rear. Let us attack first, before he can establish camps and stockades. If he can do that, it will be difficult to dislodge him.” Ma Chao agreed and so Han Sui, with Pang De as his van leader, took fifty thousand troops and advanced down the River Wei. However, the vanguard plunged into ditches that had been dug by the Wei troops and an ambush sprung up around them troops. Han Sui cut his way out with the help of Pang De, and the two men fled away to the southeast where they fell in with reinforcements led by Ma Chao. The army was regrouped, but Han Sui had lost a few hundred men, including two of his commanders—Zhang Han and Cheng Yin.

When they returned to camp, the two commanders discussed what to do next and decided upon an immediate night raid on Cao Cao’s camp. However, Cao Cao had anticipated being raided, so Ma Chao walked into an ambush. Han Sui’s general, Cheng Yi, was killed in the attack but Ma Chao continued the fight throughout the night, withdrawing in the morning. Han Sui and Ma Chao were determined to destroy the enemy stockade and so Han Sui attacked it while Ma Chao’s men stacked bundles of straw around it and lit fires. The blaze quickly spread, forcing the Wei troops to abandon the stockade and flee. This victory gave Han Sui and Ma Chao complete command of the River Wei.

It was now AD 211 and winter was starting to set in. A few more successes were scored against the Wei army, but soon scouts reported that Cao Cao had managed to move a body of troops across the river. Ma Chao consulted Han Sui and the other generals, saying, “What now? Cao Cao has crossed to the south of the river, and we can be attacked in the rear.” Li Kan suggested: “Then you had better come to an agreement, sacrifice some territory, and make peace. Then both can repose through the winter and await the changes and chances that may come with the spring warmth.” Han Sui supported his general, saying, “He is wise, and I advise the same.” After some convincing, Ma Chao agreed and sent messengers to propose peace to Cao Cao. Cao agreed and began to withdraw his troops to the east side of the river, while Han Sui and Ma Chao took it in turns to keep watch over the withdrawal.

A few days later, while Han Sui was on watch, a soldier came and told him that Cao Cao had come to see him. Seeing that the visitor wore no armour, Han Sui removed his and rode out in only a light robe. Cao Cao said, “Your father and I were granted filial degrees at the same time, and I used to treat him as an uncle. Moreover, you and I set out to serve the court at the same time, too, and yet we have not met for years. How old may you be now, General?” Han Sui replied, “I am forty.” Cao Cao continued, “In those old days in the capital, we were both very young and never thought about middle age. If we could only restore tranquility to the state, that would be a matter of rejoicing.” The two men reminisced for hours, but neither of them said a word about military matters.

Ma Chao soon heard of this meeting and confronted Han Sui. “What was it Cao Cao came out to discuss today?” asked Ma Chao. “He just recalled the old days when we were together in the capital.” replied Han Sui, who went on to assure Ma Chao that they had not discussed military matters. A few days later, Han Sui received a letter from Cao Cao which had many alterations in it. Very soon Ma Chao came and demanded to see the letter, which Han Sui handed to him.

“Why are all these alterations here?” asked Ma Chao.

“It came like that. I do not know.”

“Does anyone send a rough draft like this? It seems to me, Uncle, that you are afraid I shall know something or other too well, and so you have changed the wording.”

“It must be that Cao Cao has sealed up the rough draft by mistake.”

“I do not think so. He is a careful man and would not make such a mistake. You and I, Uncle, have been allies in trying to slay the rebel. Why are you turning against me now?”

“If you doubt my word, I will tell you what you can do. Tomorrow, in full view of the army, I will get Cao Cao to come out and talk. You can hide in behind the ranks ready to kill me if I am false.”

“That being so, I shall know that you are true, Uncle.” (1)

1: This was all part of a plot by Cao Cao to turn the two commanders against each other. Han Sui was not actually in league with Cao Cao.

The next day, Han Sui with his five generals went to see the Prime Minister, while Ma Chao hid behind the standard. Cao Hong rode out from the Wei camp, straight to Han Sui and said, “Last night the Prime Minister quite understood. Let there be no mistake.” Without another word, he rode back to his camp. Ma Chao rode at Han Sui to slay him, but the five generals checked him and begged him to return to camp. Han Sui pleaded his innocence saying, “Nephew, trust me, really I have no evil intentions.” Ma Chao was unconvinced and took his leave. Han Sui consulted his generals and asked them, “How can this be cleared up?” Yang Qiu said, “Ma Chao trusts too much to his strength. He is always inclined to despise you, Sir. If we overcome Cao Cao, do you think he will give way to you? I think you should rather take care of your own interests, go over to the Prime Minister’s side, and you will surely get rank one day.” Han Sui protested saying, “I was his father’s pledged brother and could not bear to desert him.” However, his generals continued their argument and Han Sui saw that he had no other choice.

Han Sui then wrote a letter to Cao Cao and entrusted it to Yang Qiu. Cao Cao promised Han Sui that he would be made Lord of Xiliang and Yang Qiu its Governor, while the other four generals would also be rewarded. Delighted that Cao Cao had agreed, Han Sui and his generals decided that they would invite Ma Chao to a banquet and would assassinate him. With that done, they would light a fire as a signal for the Wei army to attack. However, there was some delay in the preparations and while Han Sui was discussing matters with his generals, Ma Chao burst in yelling, “You herd of rebels! Would you dare to plot against me?” Ma Chao rushed at Han Sui and slashed at his face. Han Sui instinctively put up his left hand to ward off the blow, and his hand was cut off. His five generals drew their swords and attacked Ma Chao while the servants quickly ushered Han Sui to safety. Ma Chao killed Ma Wan and disabled Liang Xing, but Han Sui’s men had managed to light the signal fire. The Wei army poured into the camp from all sides and a confused battle ensued, during which Li Kan was slain. Ma Chao and his followers were outnumbered and were forced to flee to Lintao on the north-western frontier.

Of Han Sui’s generals, only Yang Qiu and Hou Xuan remained. Both were given noble ranks and offices in Weikou by Cao Cao. Despite being an invalid due to the loss of his hand, Han Sui was still given the Lordship of Xiliang. With Cao Cao’s blessing, Han Sui remained in Chang’an.

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