Biography (SGYY): Ma Teng (Shoucheng)

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Ma Teng (Shoucheng)
馬騰 (壽成)
Lifespan: Unlisted

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

Ma Teng (Shoucheng)

Ma Teng, styled Shoucheng, was a descendant of Ma Yuan and was half-Qiang (1). He was a very popular man who was bold looking and of above average height, with a mild disposition. During the reign of Emperor Ling the Qiangs revolted, so Ma Teng raised an army with his sworn brother, Han Sui, and put down the rebellion. For his services he received the title of General Who Corrects the West and eventually became the Governor of Xiliang, a territory on the western frontier.

1: Ma Yuan was born in 14 BC and was a general who served Wang Mang (the rebel who overthrew the Han Dynasty) but then joined Liu Xiu in restoring the dynasty. Ma Yuan contributed much to Liu Xiu’s success and was made General Who Quells the Waves. He died in AD 49.

Ma Teng’s father was Ma Su, styled Zishuo. During the reign of Emperor Huan, Ma Su was the Magistrate of Tianshui but lost his position and drifted west into the West Valley land. There he lived among the Qiang tribe and married one of their women, who bore him Ma Teng.

When Dong Zhuo seized the capital in AD 190, a call to arms was issued against the tyrant, and Ma Teng was among the lords who marched their armies against the capital. The coalition fought against Dong Zhuo’s men at the River Si Pass and Tiger Trap Pass, successfully forcing Dong Zhuo to retreat from Luoyang. However, the tyrant burnt the capital and took the emperor away to Chang’an, which was declared the new capital. The allied warlords extinguished the fires at Luoyang and soon afterwards returned to their own territories.

After Dong Zhuo was assassinated, his former generals, Li Jue and Guo Si, stormed Chang’an and seized control in AD 192. When Ma Teng heard of this, he and his sworn brother, Han Sui, sent trusted friends to the capital to find allies who would support them in liberating the emperor. Court Counselors Ma Yu and Cong Shao along with the Imperial Commander Liu Fan agreed to help and obtained from the emperor two secret edicts appointing the ranks of Commander Who Conquers the West on Ma Teng and Commander Who Guards the West on Han Sui. With their new ranks, the two men assembled an army of one hundred thousand troops and marched them to the capital.

Their movements did not go undetected and as the army were ninety miles from Chang’an they encountered an army led by Li Meng and Wang Fang. Ma Teng rode to the front of his army, pointed at the rebel leaders and shouted, “Those are traitors! Who will capture them?” Ma Teng’s seventeen-year-old son, Ma Chao, rode out and killed Wang Fang after a short duel. As Ma Chao returned to the ranks, Li Meng rode up behind him to avenge his fallen colleague. Ma Teng shouted to his son, “You are followed!” Ma Chao quickly wheeled about, pulled Li Meng from his saddle and made him prisoner. With no commanders, the enemy troops fled and Ma Teng ordered his men to pursue them. A complete victory was scored and after the army had camped, Li Meng was executed.

After this battle, the rebels stayed on the defensive and would not give battle. After a few months, the Xiliang army’s supplies ran out and Ma Teng was forced to consider retreating. News reached him that the rebels had uncovered the conspiracy against them and had executed Ma Yu, Chong Shao and Liu Fan. Ma Teng now had no option but to order the retreat, but as his troops withdrew, an army led by Zhang Ji attacked them. The Xiliang army was defeated but Ma Chao valiantly guarded the rear and fought off the pursuers. The rebels were eventually defeated by Cao Cao, who moved the capital to Xuchang and took the position of Prime Minister.

While on a visit to the capital in AD 199, Ma Teng attended an imperial hunt along with other lords of high rank. When the emperor shot at and missed a deer, Cao Cao borrowed the emperor’s bow and arrows and took a shot himself. When the assembled men saw the deer fall and the emperor’s arrow sticking out of it, they assumed that the emperor had fired the fatal shot and began shouting “Long life oh emperor!” However, Cao Cao rode forth and accepted the accolades himself, shocking many of those present. Cao Cao’s hold over the capital had been tightening and he controlled many of the affairs of state, but this blatant lack of respect for the emperor shocked and disgusted Ma Teng.

On the day that he was to return to Xiliang, Ma Teng went to see his old friend, the Imperial Uncle, Dong Cheng. However, the doorkeeper refused him entry, claiming his master was ill. Ma Teng replied angrily, “Last night at the Donghua Gate, I saw him come out in robe and girdle. How can he pretend illness today? I am not come from mere idleness, why does he refuse to see me?” The doorkeeper went to in to see his master and soon Dong Cheng himself came to receive his visitor. Once both men were inside and were seated, Ma Teng said, “I have just come from a farewell audience and wished to bid you goodbye. Why did you want to put me off?” Dong Cheng claimed that he had fallen ill suddenly but Ma Teng said bluntly, “You do not look as if you were ill. Your face wears the very bloom of health,” The host fell silent and so Ma Teng shook out his sleeves and got up to leave. As he walked down the steps, he sighed deeply and said to himself, “Not one of them is any good. There is no one to save the country.” Dong Cheng stopped him and asked, “Who is no good to save the country? Whom do you mean?” Ma Teng explained, “That incident at the hunt the other day, the shooting of the stag, filled my breast with anger. But if you, a near relative of the Emperor, can pass your time in wine and idle dalliance without a thought of doing away with rebellion, where can anyone be found who will save the dynasty?” Dong Cheng was surprised and asked why he would consider rebelling against a man of such high rank who held the confidence of the court. Ma Teng asked, “So you find that wretch Cao Cao a good man, eh?” Dong Cheng said, “Pray speak lower: There are eyes and ears very near us.” Ma Teng rose to leave, saying, “The sort of people who covet life and fear death are not those to discuss any great undertaking.” Dong Cheng stopped him and said, “Do not be angry any more. I will show you something.”

Ma Teng was taken into another room where Wang Zifu, Wu Zilan, Chong Ji, Wu Shi and Wu Zilan were sitting and was shown a scroll of silk. The scroll was written in blood and was an edict hand written by the emperor, which had been given to Dong Cheng. It read:

“Of human relationships, that between parents and children stands first. Of the various social ties that between prince and minister stands highest. Today Cao Cao, the wicked, is a real tyrant, treating even his Prince with indignity. With the support of his faction and his army, he has destroyed the principles of government. By conferring rewards and inflicting punishments, he has reduced the Emperor to a nonentity. I have grieved over this day and night. I have feared the empire would be ruined.

“You are a high minister of state and my own relative. You must recall the difficulties of the Great Founder’s early days and draw together the loyal and right-minded to destroy this evil faction and restore the prerogatives of the Throne. Such a deed would be indeed an extreme joy to the spirits of my ancestors.

“This decree, written in blood drawn from my own veins, is confided to a noble who is to be most careful not to fail in executing his Emperor’s design.

“Given in the era of Rebuilt Tranquility, fourth year and the third month of spring.”

As Ma Teng read it, his hair stood on end; he ground his teeth and bit his lips till they bled. He turned to the assembled men and said, “When you move, remember the whole force of my army is ready to help,” Dong Cheng introduced him to the other conspirators and then produced a pledge that they had all signed. Ma Teng signed his name to it and smeared his blood on it saying, “I swear to die rather than betray this pledge!” Pointing to the five he said, “We require ten for this business, and we can accomplish our design.” He then told them to bring him in the list of officials, which he read through until he said, “Why not consult him?” The conspirators asked whom he was referring to, and he replied, “The Imperial Protector of Yuzhou, Liu Bei. He is here and we will ask him to help.” Dong Cheng disagreed with the choice but Ma Teng said, “I saw something at the hunt. When Cao Cao advanced to acknowledge the congratulations due to the Emperor, Liu Bei’s sworn brother Guan Yu was behind him, and grasped his sword as if to cut down Cao Cao. However, Liu Bei signed to him to hold his hand and Guan Yu did. Liu Bei would willingly destroy Cao Cao, only he thinks Cao Cao’s teeth and claws are too many. You must ask Liu Bei, and he will surely consent.” Wu Shi urged caution and suggested that they plan their actions very carefully. The men all retired and the next day Dong Cheng went to see Liu Bei, who also signed his name to the pledge. Soon afterwards though, Liu Bei was forced to leave the capital but he promised that he will not forget his pledge (2). As soon as he heard that Liu Bei had left, Ma Teng reported that pressing business called him and he returned to Xiliang. Shortly afterwards, Cao Cao uncovered the plot against him and executed Dong Cheng, Wu Zilan, Chong Ji, Wang Zifu, Wu Shi and Wu Zilan.

2: Liu Bei realized that Cao Cao saw him as a threat and so offered to lead an expedition against Yuan Shu. This gave Liu Bei the opportunity to escape Cao Cao and amass his own army.

Following Cao Cao’s disastrous campaign against Wu at Chibi in AD 208, Ma Teng was summoned to the capital in preparation for a new expedition against the Southlands and was given the title General Who Subdues the South. When he received the summons, Ma Teng confided in Ma Chao, telling him of the emperor’s secret decree and of the pledge he had signed: “When Dong Cheng got the secret edict from the Emperor, we formed a society, of which Liu Bei was one, pledged to put down rebellion. However, we accomplished nothing, for Dong Cheng was put to death and Liu Bei was unfortunate, while I escaped to the west. However, I hear that Liu Bei now holds Jingzhou, and I am inclined to carry out the plan we made so long ago. But here I am summoned by Cao Cao and what is to be done?” Ma Chao replied, “Cao Cao has the command of the Emperor to call you. If you do not go, that will mean disobeying an imperial command and you will be punished. Obey the summons in so far as to go to the capital, where you may be able to arrange to carry out your original intention.” Ma Teng’s nephew, Ma Dai, disagreed and suggested not going. Ma Teng decided that he would heed his son’s advice and he said to Ma Chao, “You must take command of the Qiang troops for the defence of our territory here. I will take with me your two brothers and your cousin. When Cao Cao knows that you have the Qiangs at your call and that Han Sui is prepared to assist, he will hardly dare to work any harm to me.” Ma Chao urged caution on the expedition and Ma Teng reassured him that the utmost care would be taken. Ma Teng gathered five thousand troops, appointing his sons Ma Xiu and Ma Tie as leaders of the van while Ma Dai was given command of the rear.

When they reached Xuchang, they set up a camp seven miles outside the city. Soon Huang Kui came to see Ma Teng with a message from Cao Cao stating that Ma Teng was not to take a large force of his own on the expedition south, as Cao Cao would be providing troops for him. In addition, Huang Kui would be accompanying the army as an advisor. Ma Teng was also ordered to come in for an audience with the emperor soon. The new advisor was entertained well soon becoming intoxicated and accusing Cao Cao of being a rebel. Ma Teng suspected a trap so he pretended to be greatly shocked and asked his guest to be careful in case they were overheard. Huang Kui shouted, “Then you have quite forgotten the girdle edict, eh?” Ma Teng began to see that the advisor was sincere and so told his guest all of his schemes. Huang Kui said, “Cao Cao wants you to go in for an audience. There is no good intention there. Do not go! You lead your army up close to the city and get Cao Cao to come and review them. When he comes, assassinate him.” The two men agreed on the plan and then Huang Kui returned home.

The next day, Ma Teng brought his troops to the city wall but suddenly a bomb exploded and the Xiliang troops were quickly surrounded by Cao Cao’s troops. Ma Teng knew he had fallen into a trap and fought desperately with his sons to escape, but Ma Tie was killed by a volley of arrows. Father and son continued their valiant struggle but they were both seriously wounded and finally arrows brought down their horses. Both were quickly captured and brought before Cao Cao, along with Huang Kui (3). Ma Teng raged against Huang Kui shouting, “Worthless scoundrel, you have ruined our cause! But my failure today is Heaven’s work!” He continued his torrent of abuse until he was executed. A poem was written about Ma Teng:

3: In his drunken state the previous night, Huang Kui told his concubine, Li Chunxiang, of his plot with Ma Teng. The concubine was secretly having an affair with Kui’s brother-in-law, Miao Ze. Miao Ze wanted her for himself, so when she told him of the conspiracy, he told Cao Cao in order to dispose of Huang Kui. Subsequently, Huang Kui was immediately arrested and the ambush was prepared for Ma Teng.
Equal glory for the father and the sons!
Loyal and pure, they dignified their house.
They gave their lives to keep the royal house safe;
Their plighted faith requites their liege lord’s love.
The sacred oath, blood-written, still remains;
The pact to punish treachery still stands.
The scion of Xiliang
Was worthy of the Wave Queller Ma Yuan.

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