Biography (SGYY): He Jin (Suigao)

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He Jin (Suigao)
何進 (遂高)
(AD 135–189)

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Dan Liao

He Jin (Suigao)

He Jin, styled Suigao, was a Regent Marshal during the yellow turban rebellion. He Jin had come from a humble family of butchers, but his sister had become a concubine of rank and borne a son to the Emperor, named Liu Bian. After this she became Empress He, and He Jin became the powerful Regent Marshal. The emperor had another wife, Empress Wang, which bore him a son as well. Empress He became very jealous of her and had her poisoned. The Emperor became very fond of Empress Wang’s son and wanted to make him Emperor.

When Emperor Ling was dying, the eunuchs were discussing that if Lady Wang’s son was to become Emperor He Jin would have to be killed. The Emperor knew this too and summoned He Jin. But at the very gate of the Forbidden City, He Jin was warned of his danger by Commander Pan Yin who said, “This must be a trap of Jian Shuo to destroy you!” He Jin rushed back to his quarters and called many of the ministers to his side, and they met to consider how to put the eunuchs to death.

At this assembly a man spoke against the plot, “The influence of the eunuchs dates back a century and a half, during the reigns of Emperors Chong and Zhi. It has spread like a noxious weed in all directions. How can we hope to destroy it? Above all keep this plot secret, or our whole clans will be exterminated.” He Jin eyed down and saw General of Military Standards Cao Cao. He Jin was very angry at this speech and cried, “What do inferiors like you know of the ways of government?”

And in the midst of the confusion Pan Yin came to say: “The Emperor is no more. The eunuchs have decided to keep the death a secret and forge a command to the Regent Marshal to come into the Palace to settle the succession. Meanwhile to prevent trouble they have inscribed the name of Prince Xian on the roll.” And as Pan Yin finished speaking, the edict arrived summoning He Jin. “The matter for the moment is to set up the rightful heir,” said Cao Cao. “We can deal with the traitors later. Who dares to join me in supporting the rightful heir—Prince Bian?” asked He Jin.

At once one stood forward, crying, “Give me five thousand veterans, and we will break into the Palace, set up the true heir, slay the eunuchs, and sweep clean the government! Then peace will come to the empire.” The energetic speaker was Yuan Shao, son of the former Minister of the Interior Yuan Feng and nephew of Imperial Guardian Yuan Wei. Yuan Shao then held the rank of Imperial Commander.

He Jin mustered five thousand royal guards. Yuan Shao put on complete armor and took command. He Jin, supported by He Yong, Xun You, Zheng Tai, and more than thirty other ministers and high-rank officials, went into the Palace. In the hall where lay the coffin of the late Emperor, they placed Liu Bian on the throne. After the ceremony was over and all had bowed before the new Emperor, Yuan Shao went in to arrest Eunuch Jian Shuo. Jian Shuo in terror fled into the Palace garden and hid among the shrubs, where he was discovered and murdered by Guo Sheng, one of the Ten Eunuchs. The guards under Jian Shuo’s command all surrendered.

Yuan Shao said, “Their gangs have broken. The most opportune moment is now to slay all the eunuchs!” However the Eunuchs raced in to see Empress He and begged for mercy. She decided to help them and sent for her brother and said, “You and I are of lowly origin, and we owe our good fortune to the eunuchs. The misguided Jian Shuo is now dead, and need you really put all the others to death as Yuan Shao advises?”

And He Jin obeyed her wish. He explained to his party, saying, “The real offender, Jian Shuo, has met his fate, and his clan will be punished. But we need not exterminate the whole party nor injure his colleagues.” “Slay them, root and branch,” cried Yuan Shao, “or they will ruin you!” “I have decided,” said He Jin, coldly. “Say no more.” Within a few days He Jin became Chair of the Secretariat, and his associates received high offices.

Now Empress Dong (Liu Xian’s foster mother, Liu Xian is Lady Wang’s son) and Empress He fought at a banquet. The eunuchs persuaded the ladies to retire. But in the night Empress He summoned her brother into the Palace and told him what had occurred. He went out and took counsel with the principal officers of state. Next morning a court was held and a memorial was presented, saying: “Empress Dong, being the foster mother of Liu Xian, Prince of Chenliu, a regional prince—only a collateral—cannot properly occupy any part of the Palace. She is to be removed into her original fief of Hejian and is to depart immediately.”

The eunuchs Zhang Rang and Duan Gui, having lost their patroness, sent large gifts to He Jin’s younger brother, He Miao, and his mother, Lady Wuyang, and thus got them to put in a good word to Empress He so as to gain her protection. And so they gained favor once more at court.

In the sixth month of that year, the secret emissaries of He Jin poisoned Empress Dong in her residence in the country. Her remains were brought to the capital and buried in Wen Tombs. He Jin feigned illness and did not attend the funeral.

Commander Yuan Shao went one day to see He Jin, saying, “The two eunuchs, Zhang Rang and Duan Gui, are spreading the report outside that you has caused the death of the late empress and is aiming at the throne. This is an excuse for you to destroy them. Do not spare them this time, or you will pay like Dou Wu and Chen Fan, who in the previous reign missed their chance because the secret had not been kept, and they paid by their own deaths. Now you and your brother have many commanders and officers behind, so that the destruction of the eunuchs can be but an ease. It is a heaven-sent opportunity. Delay no further!” But He Jin replied, “Let me think it over.”

He Jin’s servants overheard the discussion and secretly informed the intended victims, who sent further gifts to the younger brother He Miao. Corrupted by these, He Miao went in to speak with his sister Empress He and said, “The General is the chief support of the new Emperor, yet he is not gracious and merciful but thinks wholly of slaughter. If he slays the eunuchs without cause, it may bring about revolution.”

Soon after He Jin entered and told her of his design to put the eunuchs to death. She argued with him, “Those officials look after palace affairs and are old servants. To kill the old servants just after the death of their master would appear disrespectful to the dynasty’s ancestral temple.” And as He Jin was of a vacillating mind, he murmured assent and left her. “What about it?” said Yuan Shao on meeting him. “She will not consent. What can be done?” “Call up an army and slay them. It is imperative. Never mind her consent!” “That is an excellent plan,” said He Jin. And he sent orders all round to march soldiers to the capital. But Secretary Chen Lin objected, “Nay! Do not act without due consideration. The proverb says ‘To cover the eyes and snatch at swallows is to fool oneself.’ If in so small a matter you cannot attain your wish, what of great affairs? Now by virtue of the emperor and with the army under your hand, you are like prancing tiger and soaring dragon: You may do as you please. To use such enormous powers against the eunuchs would bring victory as easily as lighting up a furnace to burn a hair. Only act promptly: Use your powers and smite at once, and all the empire will be with you. But to summon forces to the capital, to gather many bold warlords into one spot, each with different schemes is to turn our weapons against our own person, to place ourselves in the power of another. Nothing but failure can come of it, and havoc will ensue.” “The view of a mere book-worm,” said He Jin with a smile.

Then one of those about He Jin suddenly clapped his hands, laughing, “Solving this issue is as easy as turning over one’s hand! Why so much talk?” Cao Cao then said, “The eunuch evil is of very old standing, but the real cause of the present trouble is in the improper influence allowed them by the emperors and the misplaced favoritism they have enjoyed. But a squad would be ample force to employ against this kind of evil, and getting rid of the main culprits is quite enough. Why increase confusion by summoning troops from the regions? Any desire to slay all of them will speedily become known, and the plan will fail.”

“Then, Cao Cao, you have some scheme of your own to further,” said He Jin with a sneer. Cao Cao left the meeting, proclaiming, “The one who throws the world into chaos is He Jin!” Then He Jin sent swift, secret letters far and wide to several bases. He Jin gathered men to come for the attack.

Zhang Rang and the eunuchs knew this move was directed against them and said, “This is He Jin’s plot. If we do not strike first, our whole clans shall be exterminated.” So they hid a band of fifty armed ruffians at the Gate of Grand Virtue in the Palace of Happiness, where the Empress lived, then they went in to see her. They said, “The General, feigning to act under command, has called up armies to the capital to destroy us. We pray you, Your Majesty, pity and save us!” “Go to the General and confess your faults,” said the Empress. “If we did, then should we be cut to mincemeat? Rather summon the General into your presence and command him to cease. If he will not, then we pray but die in your presence.” Empress He issued the requisite command.

He Jin was just going to her when Secretary Chen Lin advised him not to enter, saying, “The eunuchs are certainly behind the order and mean your harm.” But He Jin could only see the command of the Empress and was oblivious to all else. Said he, “Clearly, this is an edict from the Empress. What harm?” “Our plot is no longer a secret,” said Yuan Shao. “Still you may go if you are ready to fight your way in.”

“Get the eunuchs out first!” said Cao Cao. “Silly children!” said He Jin. “What can they do against the man who holds the forces of the empire in his palm?” Yuan Shao said, “If you will go, then we will come as a guard, just as a precaution.”

Yuan Shao and Cao Cao prepared men as a guard for He Jin. When He Jin neared the Palace of Happiness, the officers from the Inner Bureau said, “The orders are to admit the Regent Marshal and none other.”

So the escort was detained outside. He Jin went in proudly. At the Gate of Grand Virtue, Zhang Rang and Duan Gui met him, and their followers quickly closed in around him. He Jin began to feel alarmed. Then Zhang Rang in a harsh voice began to revile him: “What crime had Empress Dong committed that she should have been put to death? And when the Mother of the Country was buried, who feigned sickness and did not attend? We raised you and your paltry, huckstering family to all the dignity and wealth you have, and this is your gratitude! You would slay us. You call us sordid and dirty: Who is the cleaner?”

He Jin was panic stricken and looked about for a way to escape, but all gates had been shut. The eunuchs closed him in, and then the assassins appeared and cut He Jin into many pieces.

Copyright © 2002–2003 Dan Liao
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong