Biography (SGYY): Tian Kai

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Tian Kai
Lifespan Unknown

Sanguo Yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Sam Wrest

Tian Kai

Tian Kai was a commander serving Gongsun Zan.

In AD 191, Gongsun Zan received a letter from Yuan Shao proposing a joint attack on the province of Jizhou, governed by Han Fu. Zan agreed to the coalition and organised his army for the campaign immediately. Tian Kai was selected to join in the attack, but before the army mobilised, word arrived that Yuan Shao had already taken Jizhou. Gongsun Zan subsequently sent his younger brother, Yue, to Yuan Shao to discuss how the province would be divided between the two lords. However, only Gongsun Yue’s attendants returned, informing Zan that his younger brother had been attacked and killed by bowmen claiming to be the bodyguards of Dong Zhuo. “Yuan Shao tricked me into raising an army,” Zan railed as he was told what had happened, “and plucked the prize from behind. Then he killed my brother and tried to put the blame on Dong Zhuo. This injustice must be avenged!”

Gongsun Zan then ordered the mobilisation of his entire army once again, and Tian Kai set off with the army towards Jizhou immediately.

Tian Kai and the rest of Gongsun Zan’s army met up with Yuan Shao’s army at the River Pan. The two lords, Zan and Yuan Shao, exchanged words as their armies arranged their lines, after which Yuan Shao became infuriated and shouted to his line, “Who will take him?”

Tian Kai recognised Shao’s famous General Wen Chou speed forward. Chou quickly came to grips with Gongsun Zan, who, after ten bouts, turned around and fled into his ranks. Wen Chou pursued, and Tian Kai raced forward in an effort to defend his leader, but after several bouts Kai too was forced to flee. (1) Four others attempted to challenge Chou – one was killed and two suffered the same fate as Gongsun Zan and Tian Kai – but the fourth, a young commander previously under the employ of Yuan Shao named Zhao Yun, was able to turn Wen Chou back and rescue Zan. After this, Gongsun Zan reorganised his forces in preparation of the next day’s combat.

1: While there is no mention of Tian Kai being involved in the battle at the River Pan in SGYY, historical records mention that Kai was present during the fight with Yuan Shao. Furthermore, SGYY does mention that Wen Chou fought with four of Gongsun Zan’s ablest commanders, and so it seems fitting that Tian Kai, who is one of Zan’s few commanders who fits both the description and the date of these events, was one of the three commanders who fought and lived fighting Wen Chou.

For a month following the initial clash at the River Pan, the armies of Gongsun Zan and Yuan Shao remained in a deadlock, with neither being able to gain an advantage over the other. Shortly after, however, a representative of the Han court arrived in Zan’s command tent and ordered hostilities to cease between Zan and Yuan Shao. Gongsun Zan agreed, and ordered Tian Kai and the rest of his army to withdraw to their home province of Beiping. For his accomplishments in the campaign, as well as previous services to Gongsun Zan, Tian Kai was made Lieutenant Governor of Qingzhou.

In AD 194, Tian Kai received Chen Deng, an officer of Tao Qian, in his province of Qingzhou. Chen Deng told Kai that Tao Qian’s province, Xuzhou, was currently under attack from Cao Cao (2) and was in urgent need of reinforcements. Tian Kai agreed to aid in Xu’s defence and immediately mobilised a mass of troops to help. Tian Kai personally set off with the rescue force soon after but, knowing the size and ferocity of Cao Cao’s army, refrained from attacking it directly and instead had his army camp in the hills surrounding Xuzhou city. Governor of Beihai Kong Rong had also come to the aid of Tao Qian and, in the same fashion as Tian Kai, had his men set camp in the hills surrounding Xu. In this way, Tian Kai and Kong Rong were able to shift Cao Cao’s attention from Xuzhou and onto themselves, thus temporarily lifting Cao’s siege of Xu.

2: Cao Cao had arranged for his father, Cao Song, and the rest of his clan to travel to his province of Yanzhou. En route to Yan, the Cao clan passed through Tao Qian’s province of Xuzhou, who invited the Cao’s to rest in Xu city. Once they left, Qian assigned five hundred men under Commander Zhang Kai to ensure the Cao’s safe passage to Yan, but Kai, a former Yellow Scarf, had instead killed Cao Song and his entire clan for the goods they were carrying. Cao Cao, blaming Tao Qian for the loss of his family, launched a full scale invasion against Xuzhou upon learning what had happened.

While stationed in the hills surrounding Xu, Tian Kai formulated a plan with Kong Rong to launch a two-pronged attack against Cao Cao’s massive army. Before the plan came to effect, however, Liu Bei, who had also come to the defence of Xuzhou, asked to write a letter to Cao Cao in order to try and avoid further hostilities. Tian Kai and the rest of Xu’s defenders agreed and Cao Cao soon wrote back to Liu Bei agreeing to lift the siege. (3) Tao Qian rejoiced at Cao’s concession, and invited Tian Kai to attend a banquet with Kong Rong and Liu Bei in appreciation of his aid in the defence of Xu. After the banquet had finished, Tian Kai organised his troops and returned back to Qingzhou to resume his post as Lieutenant Governor.

3: Initially, Cao Cao was outraged with Liu Bei’s letter and wanted to execute the courier who carried it, but word reached Cao shortly after that his own province, Yanzhou, had fallen to an attack made by Lü Bu. Because of this, Cao used Liu Bei’s letter as a pretext for lifting the siege of Xuzhou, and returned to Yanzhou to battle Lü Bu instead.

In AD 199, Yuan Shao launched another offensive against Gongsun Zan at Beiping. Tian Kai joined in the province’s defence, but Shao was able to defeat Zan and successfully penetrated the walls of Beiping city. Gongsun Zan, as well as the majority of his commanders, was killed in the ensuing chaos, but there is no mention of Tian Kai’s fate. It may be that, like his fellow commander Zhao Yun, he was able to escape the battle with his life, but he may also have died in the wild combat between the two forces.

Copyright © 2006 Sam Wrest. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms