Taishi Ci, familiar name Ziyi, was born in AD 166 and from Huang County, DongLai province (now Huang county in ShanDong province).
The governor of Beihai, Kong Rong was under heavy siege by 10,000 yellow scarves led by a former yellow turban general Guan Hai. Kong Rong was very worried and had broken spirits because he could not find a way to defeat the rebels. One day, Kong Rong was standing on the city wall when he saw a man with a spear riding hard against the scarves and scattering them before him like chaff before the wind. In a short time the man approached the foot of the wall, “Open the gate!” he cried. No one dared open the gate to the stranger. The yellow scarves then surrounded the man and he slew twelve of them and the rest ran away to their camp. Once he saw this, Kong Rong opened the gates and greeted the stranger.
The stranger made humble obeisance to the Governor. “My name is Taishi Ci, and I am from the county of Laihuang. I only returned home yesterday from the north to see my mother, and then I heard that your city was in danger from a rebel attack. My mother said you had been very kind to her and told me I should try to help. So I set out all alone, and here I am.” Kong Rong was delighted, for he knew Taishi Ci from reputation even though they never met. Kong Rong had taken his mother, who dwelt a few miles from the city, under his protection and saw that she did not suffer from want. This had won the old lady’s heart and she had sent her son to show her gratitude. Kong Rong showed his appreciation by treating his guest with the greatest respect, making him presents of clothing and armor, saddles and horses.
Presently said Taishi Ci, “Give me a thousand soldiers, and I will go out and drive these men to their doom.” “You are a bold warrior, but they are very numerous. It is a serious matter to go out among them,” said Kong Rong. “My mother sent me because of your goodness to her. How shall I be able to look her in the face if I do not raise the siege? I would prefer to conquer or perish.” “I have heard Liu Bei is one of the heroes in the world. If we could get his help, there would be no doubt that we would be able to subdue the rebels. But there is no one to send.” “I will go as soon as I have received your letter.” So Kong Rong wrote the letter and gave it to Taishi Ci. Taishi Ci then left alone.
Guan Hai, hearing that a rider had left the city, guessed what his errand would be and followed Taishi Ci with a party of horsemen. Guan Hai spread them out so that the messenger rider was entirely surrounded. Then Taishi Ci laid aside his spear, took his bow, adjusted his arrows one by one and shot all round him. And as a rider fell from his steed with every twang of Taishi Ci’s bowstring, the pursuers dared not close in and fled for their lives.
He then hastily rode off to Liu Bei in Pingyuan. Then he presented the letter, which Liu Bei read. “And who are you?” asked Liu Bei. “I am Taishi Ci, a fellow from Laihuang. Family ties do not relate me with Kong Rong, or even by ties of neighborhood, but I am by the bonds of sentiment and I share his sorrows and misfortunes. The Yellow Scarves have besieged his city, and he is distressed with no one to turn to, and his destruction is very near. You are known as humane, righteous, and eager to help the distressed. Therefore at his command I have braved all dangers and fought my way through his enemies to pray you save him.” Liu Bei smiled, saying, “And does he know there is a Liu Bei in this world?”
So Liu Bei, together with Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, told off three thousand troops and set out to help raise the siege. When the rebel leader Guan Hai saw these new forces arriving, he led out his army to fight them, thinking he could easily dispose of so small a force. The brothers and Taishi Ci with them sat on their horses in the forefront of their array. Guan Hai hastened forward. Taishi Ci was ready to fight, but Guan Yu had opened the combat. He rode forth and the two steeds met. The soldiers set up a great noise. After a few bouts Guan Yu's green-dragon saber rose and fell, and the rebel leader was chopped in two. This was the signal for Zhang Fei and Taishi Ci to attack, and they advanced side by side. With their spears ready they dashed in, and Liu Bei urged forward his force. The besieged Governor saw his doughty rescuers laying low the rebels as tigers among a flock of sheep. None could withstand them, and he then sent out his own troops to join in the battle so that the rebels were between two armies. The rebels' force was completely destroyed and many troops surrendered, while the remainder scattered in all directions. Taishi Ci took his leave, saying, “My mother bade me come to your aid, and now happily you are safe. Letters have come from my fellow townsman, Liu Yao, Imperial Protector of Yangzhou, calling me thither and I must go. I will see you again.” Kong Rong pressed rewards upon Taishi Ci, but he would accept nothing and departed. When his mother saw him, she was pleased at his success saying she rejoiced that he had been able to prove his gratitude, and after this he left for Yangzhou.
The Imperial Protector, Liu Yao, was of Donglai, a scion of the imperial family and brother of the Imperial Protector of Yanzhou, Liu Dai. Liu Yao had long ruled in Yangzhou and had his main base in Shouchun. But Yuan Shu had forced him to flee to the southeast of the Great River. He retired to Que and now was battling with Wu Jing in Linyang. Hearing that Sun Ce was planning an attack on him he summoned his generals to take counsel. Said General Zhang Ying, “I will take an army and entrench at Niuzhu. No army can get past that, whatever its strength.” Another who shouted, “And let me lead the van” interrupted Zhang Ying! All eyes turned to this man. It was Taishi Ci who had joined Liu Yao when he summoned him. Hearing him offer to undertake the hazardous post of van leader, Liu Yao said, “But you are still young and not yet equal to such a charge. Rather stay by my side and await my orders.” Taishi Ci withdrew in disappointment. Most of Zhang Ying’s men surrendered after a ruse by Sun Ce’s generals. So Liu Yao himself went out with an army to stop the invaders.
Sun Ce had a dream that provoked him to go pray at a shrine in the enemy territory. He left and prayed, once he remounted his horse he said, “I am going to ride along the ridge and reconnoiter the enemy's position.” His commanders begged him to refrain, but he would not listen, and they rode there together, noting the villages below.
A soldier of the other side going along a bye road quickly reported the presence of horsemen on the ridge, and Liu Yao said, “It is certainly Sun Ce trying to inveigle us to battle. But do not go out.” Taishi Ci jumped up, saying, “What better chance to capture him?” So, without orders he armed himself and rode through the camp, crying, “If there be any valiant men among you, follow me!” No one moved save a subaltern who said, “He is a brave man, and I will go with him.” So he also went. The others only laughed at the pair.
Now having seen all he wished, Sun Ce thought it time to return and wheeled round his horse. But when he was going over the summit, someone shouted, “Stay, Sun Ce!” Sun Ce turned. Two horsemen were coming at full speed down the next hill. Sun Ce stopped and drew up his little escort right and left, he himself with his spear ready. Which is Sun Ce?” shouted Taishi Ci. Who are you?” was the reply. “I, Taishi Ci of Laihuang, come to take him prisoner.” “Then I am he,” said Sun Ce, laughing. “Come both of you together. I am not afraid of you. If I were, I should not be Sun Ce!” “You and all your crowd come on, and I will not be defeated!” cried Taishi Ci putting his horse at a gallop and setting his spear. Sun Ce braced himself for the shock, and the battle began. Fifty bouts were fought and still neither combatant had the advantage. Sun Ce's commanders whispered to each other their admiration and amazement. Taishi Ci saw that the spearman ship of his opponent showed no weak point whereby he could gain the advantage, so he decided to resort to guile. Feigning defeat he would lead Sun Ce to pursue. Taishi Ci however did not retire along the road by which he had come, but took a path leading around the hill instead of over it. Sun Ce followed, shouting, “He who retreats is no worthy soldier!” But Taishi Ci thought within himself, “He has twelve others at his back and I only one. If I capture him, the others will surely retake him. I will inveigle him into some secret spot and then try.” So flying and fighting by turns he led Sun Ce, an eager pursuer, down to the plain. Here Taishi Ci suddenly wheeled around and attacked. Again they exchanged half a hundred bouts, without result. Then Sun Ce made a fierce thrust, which his opponent evaded by gripping the spear under his arm, while he himself did the same with his opponent’s spear. Neither was wounded but each exerting his utmost strength to pull the other out of the saddle they both came to the ground.
Their steeds galloped off they knew not whither, while the two men, each dropping his spear, began a hand-to-hand struggle. Soon their fighting robes were in tatters. Sun Ce gripped the short lance that Taishi Ci carried at his back, while Taishi Ci tore off Sun Ce’s helmet. Sun Ce tried to stab with the short lance but Taishi Ci fended off the blow with the helmet as a shield.
Then began a great shouting. Liu Yao had come up with a thousand soldiers. Sun Ce seemed now in a difficult position. His twelve followers came up, and each combatant let go his hold. Taishi Ci quickly found another steed, seized a spear, and mounted. Sun Ce, whose horse had been caught by Cheng Pu, also mounted, and a confused battle began between the handful of men on one side and a whole thousand troops on the other. It swayed and drifted down the hillside. However, soon Zhou Yu leading his troops came to the rescue, and as evening drew on a tempest put an end to the fight. Both sides drew off and returned to their camps.
Next day Sun Ce led his army to the front of Liu Yao’s camp, and the challenge was accepted. The armies were drawn up. Sun Ce hung the short lance he had seized from Taishi Ci at the end of his spear, waved it in front of the line of battle, and ordered his soldiers to shout, “If the owner of this had not fled, he would have been stabbed to death!” On the other side they hung out Sun Ce’s helmet, and the soldiers shouted back, “Sun Ce’s head is here already!” Both sides thus yelled defiance at each other, one side boasting, and the other bragging. Then Taishi Ci rode out challenging Sun Ce to a duel to the death, and Sun Ce would have accepted. But Cheng Pu said, “My lord should not trouble himself. I will take him.” And Cheng Pu rode forth.
“You are no antagonist for me,” said Taishi Ci. “Tell your master to come out.” This enraged Cheng Pu, who rode at his opponent, and they two fought thirty bouts. The gongs of Liu Yao stopped the duel. “Why did you sound the retreat?” said Taishi Ci. “I was just going to capture the wretch.” “Because I have just heard that Que has been captured. Zhou Yu led a surprise force thither, and Chen Wu was in league with him to betray the city. We have no home now. I will quickly go to Mo ling to get the help of Xue Li and Ze Rong to retake the city.” The army retired, Taishi Ci with it, without being pursued.
On the other side Zhang Zhao said to Sun Ce, “Zhou Yu’s attack is the cause of this move; they are in no mood to fight. A night raid on their camp would finish them.” The army was divided into five divisions for the night surprise and hastened toward the camp where they scored a victory. Their opponents scattered in all directions. Taishi Ci alone made a determined stand, and as he could not withstand a whole army, he fled with ten horsemen to Jingxian. After losing many of his generals and men, Liu Yao fled to Liu Biao. After many victories Sun Ce sent his men to Jingxian, where Taishi Ci was in command.
Taishi Ci had assembled two thousand veterans in addition to his own troops for the purpose of avenging his master. Sun Ce and Zhou Yu on the other hand consulted how to capture him alive. Zhou Yu planned, “Attack the city on three sides, leaving the east gate free for flight. Some distance off an ambush should be placed, when Taishi Ci, his men fatigued and horses spent, shall fall an easy victim.” The latest recruits under Taishi Ci’s banner were mostly hill men and unaccustomed to discipline. Beside, the walls of the city are pitiably low. One night Sun Ce ordered Chen Wu to strip off his long dress, leave his arms save a dagger, clamber up the ramparts, and set fire to the city. Seeing the flames spreading, Taishi Ci made for the east gate and, as soon as he got outside, Sun Ce followed in pursuit. The pursuit was maintained for some fifteen miles when the pursuers stopped.
Taishi Ci went on as long as possible, finally halting to rest in a spot surrounded by reeds. Suddenly a tremendous shouting arose. Taishi Ci was just starting when tripping ropes arose all round, his horse was thrown and he found himself a prisoner.
Taishi Ci was taken back to camp. As soon as Sun Ce heard the news, he rode out to order the guards to leave the prisoner, whose bonds he loosened with his own hands. Then he took off his own embroidered robe and put it on the captive. They entered the camp together. “I knew you were a real hero,” said Sun Ce. “That worm Liu Yao had no use for such as you, and so he was defeated.” Taishi Ci, overcome by this kindness and good treatment, then formally surrendered. Sun Ce seized his hand and said, laughing, “If you had taken me at that fight we had near the shrine, would you have killed me?” “Who can say?” said Taishi Ci smiling. Sun Ce laughed also and they entered his tent, where Taishi Ci was placed in the seat of honor at a banquet.
Taishi Ci said, “Can you trust me so far as to let me go to muster as many as I can of the soldiers of my late master? Under the smart of this defeat they will turn against him, and they would be a great help to you.” “Exactly what I most desire. I will make an agreement with you that at midday tomorrow you will return.” Taishi Ci agreed and went off. Taishi then helped Sun Ce in conquering the southland.
Taishi Ci served Sun Ce and then Sun Quan as an officer. During Chi Bi he led a force of 2,000 to block off Cao Cao’s communications with He Fei.
After the win at Chi Bi, Sun Quan was attacking HeFei. Zhang Liao was at a disadvantage and sent a letter asking for a duel. Taishi Ci went out and fought a near one hundred bouts without a decisive blow. Then said Li Dian to Yue Jing, “He there opposite us with the golden helm is Sun Quan. Could we but capture him, the loss of our eight hundred thirty thousand soldiers at the Red Cliffs would be avenged.”
So speaking Yue Jing rode out, alone, just one man and one sword, and went sidelong toward the two combatants. Then suddenly, swift as a flash of lightning, he ran forward and slashed at Sun Quan. But Sun Quan’s two guards were too quick for him. Up went the two halberds of Song Qian and Jia Hua guarding their lord’s head. The blow fell, but on the crossed halberds which were shorn through near the head, and in another moment they were hammering away on the head of Yue Jing’s steed with the shafts of their broken weapons and forcing it back. Song Qian snatched a spear from a soldier near and went in pursuit of Yue Jing, but Li Dian, on the other side, fitted an arrow to his bow and aimed at Song Qian’s head from behind. And Song Qian was hit in the forehead as the bowstring twanged.
Then Taishi Ci, seeing Song Qian fall, left the fight with Zhang Liao and returned to his own line. At this Zhang Liao fell on in a swift attack, and the army of Sun Quan, thrown into confusion, scattered and fled.
Zhang Liao, having distinguished Sun Quan in the distance, galloped in pursuit and had nearly come up with him, when Cheng Pu happily rushed in from one side of the line of fight, stayed the pursuit, and saved his master. Zhang Liao fled to Hefei. Sun Quan was escorted back to his main camp, where his beaten soldiers gradually rejoined him and their ranks were reformed. When Sun Quan knew of the death of Song Qian, he was greatly pained and wept aloud.
Soon after, Taishi Ci entered Sun Ce’s tent and said, “In my command there is a certain Ge Ding, brother of a groom in the army of Zhang Liao. This servant is deeply resentful on account of a punishment inflicted upon him and is anxious to be revenged. He has sent over to say that he will show a signal tonight when he has assassinated Zhang Liao in revenge for the death of your late leader Song Qian. I wish to take some troops over to await this signal to attack.” “Where is Ge Ding?” asked Sun Quan.
Ge Ding has mingled with the enemy and gone into the city. Let me have five thousand soldiers.” Zhuge Jin said, “Zhang Liao is full of guile. I think you will find him prepared for your coming. Be careful.” As Taishi Ci urged his chief to let him go, and Sun Quan was deeply hurt by the death of his leader, the permission was given and the force started.
Now here it must be said that Taishi Ci and this Ge Ding were natives of the same place. Ge Ding had made his way into the city without detection, found his brother, and the two had arranged their plot. Ge Ding also told him, saying, “Taishi Ci will come over tonight to help us. What need to be done now?” His brother, the groom, said, “As the troops of Sun Quan are far away, I fear they cannot be here tonight, so we will make a huge bonfire of straw and then you can rush out and cry treachery. That will throw all into confusion and will give a chance to kill Zhang Liao.” “This is an excellent plan,” said Ge Ding.
Now after the victory, Zhang Liao returned to the city and rewarded his soldiers, but he issued orders that no one was to doff his armor or sleep. His attendants said, “You have gained a great victory today, and the enemy are far away. You might doff your armor and get some repose.” But Zhang Liao replied, “That is not the way of a leader. A victory is no reason for rejoicing, nor should a defeat cause sadness. If those of the South Land suspect that I am unprepared, they will attack. And we must be ready to repel them. Be ready tonight and be doubly careful.” Scarcely had he said this when a fire started and cries of “Treachery!” arose. Many rushed to tell the leader, who went out and called together his guard of about half a score. They took up a commanding position in the way. Those about him said, “The shouts are insistent. You ought to go and see what it means.” “A whole city cannot be traitors,” said Zhang Liao. “Some discontented person has frightened the soldiers. If I see anyone doing so, I will slay him.”
Soon after this Li Dian dragged up Ge Ding and his fellow traitor. After a few brief questions, they were beheaded.
Then arose a great noise, shouting and the rolling of drums was heard outside the gate. “That means the troops of South Land are there to help,” said Zhang Liao. “But we will destroy them by a simple ruse.” He bade them light torches and yell “Treachery! Rebellion!” and throw open the city gates and let down the drawbridge.
When Taishi Ci saw the gates swing open, he thought his scheme was going well and in full confidence rode in at the gate. But just at the entrance a signal bomb suddenly exploded, and the enemy arrows came down on him like pelting rain. Then he knew he had fallen into a trap and turned to ride out. But he was wounded in many places. And in the pursuit that followed, more than half the troops under Taishi Ci were killed. As he drew near his own lines, a rescue force led by Lu Xun and Dong Xi came to his aid, and then Cao Cao’s soldiers ceased from pursuit.
Sun Quan was exceedingly sad when he learned that his faithful general had been wounded. Then Zhang Zhao prayed him to cease from war, and Sun Quan was content. They gathered in their soldiers to their ships and sailed to Nanxu and Runzhou where they camped.
Meanwhile Taishi Ci was dying. When his lord went to ask if he was going to live, he cried, “When a worthy person is born into a turbulent world, he has to be a soldier and gird on a three-span sword to step on the mountains to mend the sky. I have not rendered great service. Why must I die before I have attained my desire?”
These were his last words. He was forty-one years of age.
Copyright © 2002 - 2003 Dan Liao
Based on Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms