Sanguo Yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by SlickSlicer
Zhou Tai was a powerful general and warrior who served Wu. After years of fighting, he was famed for acquiring numerous scars and injuries, and in a banquet on one occasion he was able to recount how he received each wound. Though initially starting off his career as a bandit of Jiujiang commandery, Zhou Tai later joined with another pirate and bandit named Jiang Qin and gathered a band of followers with the goal of joining Sun Ce (1). Sun Ce at the time was warring with a retainer of Liu Yao’s named Zhang Ying, and when Zhou Tai and Jiang Qin heard about this they promptly marched to Niuzhu, where Liu Yao’s granaries were located. While Huang Gai, a general of Sun Ce’s, was about to ride forth to duel Zhang Ying, Jiang Qin and Zhou Tai came with their forces and set Zhang Ying’s headquarters ablaze, and because of this Zhang Ying was utterly defeated.
1: The novel states that Zhou Tai and Jiang Qin went to join Sun Ce because of the latter’s reputation for ‘treating able people very liberally.’ This quote can be interpreted in various ways, but it’s likely that the novel means that the two former criminals hoped to join Sun Ce because they thought Sun Ce would pardon them for their past offenses and because of hope for reward by serving under him.
For this deed, both miscreants were allowed to enter into Sun Ce’s army with their band of warriors, and Zhou Tai was given the particular honor of protecting Sun Ce’s brother, Sun Quan, in the city of Xuancheng (2). When a group of thieves attacked and surrounded the city while Sun Ce was away one day, Zhou Tai bravely took Sun Quan in his arms and, armed with nothing but a simple lance, dismounted his horse and slew every rebel that came to fight him, including a mounted warrior. He then stole a horse from the robbers, helped Sun Quan onto the steed and rode to safety, hacking his way through numerous brigands that came at him from all directions. In this skirmish alone, Zhou Tai received over a dozen wounds, which swelled up and pained the warrior tremendously. Zhou Tai’s life hung on the line for many moons, but to Zhou Tai’s great fortune, a famed doctor named Hua Tuo was enlisted by Sun Ce and successfully treated Zhou Tai’s infections. Within a month, Zhou Tai went back to active service.
2: Historically, Zhou Tai and Jiang Qin were originally made to be bodyguards of Sun Ce. Later Sun Quan wanted Zhou Tai to be his bodyguard, and Sun Ce granted this request. Zhou Tai did actually defend Sun Quan boldly at Xuancheng, though the attackers of the city were mutinous Shanyue rather than robbers, and Sun Quan also had troops that helped defend Sun Quan. Nevertheless, Sun Quan, and probably the Wu Empire, would not have existed if not for Zhou Tai.
When Sun Ce died, his brother, Sun Quan, succeeded him. Near the beginning of his reign, Sun Quan made an alliance with Liu Bei in order to try to thwart Cao Cao. Cao Cao decided to test the mettle of the Southland sailors on one occasion by sending out two minor officers, Jiao Chu and Zhang Neng, to fight with Sun Quan’s forces. When Sun Quan’s general Zhou Yu heard of the approach of these ships, he asked for volunteers to intercept and defeat them. Zhou Tai and another commander named Han Dang eagerly accepted the mission. Zhou Tai thus sailed out with Han Dang carrying a sword and a shield. He fended off arrows from the enemy ships with his shield and moved his ship toward Zhang Neng’s vessel as quickly as possible. Once Zhou Tai’s ship was a short distance away from Zhang Neng’s, Zhou Tai leapt off his boat with his sword, caught Zhang Neng by surprise and killed him. Reinforcements later came for Zhang Neng and Jiao Chu from the general Wen Ping, but Wen Ping arrived too late to do anything to help his unlucky allies. Before Zhou Tai and Han Dang could defeat Wen Ping’s fleet, Zhou Yu called the two officers back to camp however. Soon afterwards, Cao Cao would clash with the joint armies of Sun Quan and Liu Bei in the famous battle of Red Cliffs. Zhou Tai, along with his friend Jiang Qin, Han Dang and Chen Wu would lead a squadron of three hundred ships to the fight, and the joint Sun Quan/Liu Bei force would decisively defeat Cao Cao.
Following Wu’s victory at Red Cliffs, Zhou Yu, the Grand Commander of the Wu forces, wished to take Nanjun from the Wei officer Cao Ren. Cao Ren’s forces were set up in an ‘ox-horn formation’ whereby the city of Yiling, which was defended by Cao Hong, would protect against any possible advance into Nanjun. Gan Ning, a general of Wu and former-pirate, therefore suggested that he go seize Yiling first, and thus Nanjun would have to capitulate soon after. Though Gan Ning did take Yiling, once he did so he was immediately surrounded by reinforcements from Nanjun. Zhou Yu was alarmed by this and decided to send reinforcements, but he needed someone to break through the besiegers and deliver the message that help was coming to the defenders of Yiling. Zhou Tai at once offered to go, girded his sword and set out to speak with his comrade. Bursting through the soldiers of Cao Hong’s regiment, Zhou Tai got right up to Yiling’s walls and yelled, “The commander-in-chief is coming. Keep holding out for reinforcements!” After the Southlands generals finally came to support the Wu troops holed up in Yiling, Zhou Tai and Gan Ning surrounded Cao Hong’s unit from both sides and confused it, causing the battle for Yiling to end in a great victory for Wu.
Next when Wu went to take Nanjun, Zhou Tai charged forward and dueled with the Wei commander Cao Ren. Eventually Cao Ren tired and retreated and his soldiers became demoralized by the actions and swiftness of the Wu army. In one day of fighting during the siege of Nanjun, Zhou Yu was wounded in battle though. Cleverly, he thought to use this as a ruse and sometime later he sent two false deserters to pass on fake news that he had died to Cao Ren. Cao Ren, seeking to gain advantage of this, charged forward to raid Zhou Yu’s encampment but when he got there he found no soldiers. As soon as Cao Ren turned around to flee from the area though, Zhou Tai and Pan Zhang came to assault his forces from the West, while numerous other Wu generals attacked him from other sides. The result of this battle was that Cao Ren was forced to flee to Xiangyang, and troops under Liu Bei, Zhou Yu’s ally, seized Nanjun.
Zhou Tai served and distinguished himself in many battles after Nanjun. Near Ruxu, when Cao Cao was traveling on a reconnaissance mission to check the strength of Sun Quan’s army, Zhou Tai and Han Dang attacked Cao Cao’s scouting force and then again assaulted Cao Cao with volleys of arrows, forcing Cao Cao to abandon an attempt to invade the Southlands, presently under the command of Wu. Zhou Tai also aided Sun Quan in his attacks on Huancheng and Hefei. In the latter battle, the Wu army was caught in a trap and Sun Quan was himself surrounded and imperiled. “Where is our lord?” inquired Zhou Tai of his soldiers. Zhou Tai’s troops responded by pointing to a large cluster of Wei soldiers that had surrounded a Wu force. Worried for Sun Quan’s safety, Zhou Tai mustered up his courage and galloped through his enemy’s ranks. He then found Sun Quan and declared, “My lord, follow me, and I will fight my way through your enemies!” Zhou Tai then cut his way through a swathe of men, but when he turned around to see where Sun Quan was, he once again could not locate his lord, and so he charged back into the fray to save his master. Sun Quan, with Zhou Tai at his side again, then rode out of the battlefield as fast as he could, whilst Zhou Tai covered his rear and prevented any attempt to pursue. Zhou Tai received many more wounds that day as a testament to his bravery, and his helmet was damaged from the numerous missiles that the Wei army shot. Nevertheless, Sun Quan made it back to safety.
“I owe my continued existence to Zhou Tai, who thrice came to my aid,” said Sun Quan to his officer Lü Meng once he was back in his camp. “But Xu Sheng is still in the thick of the fight, and how can we save him?” he continued. In spite of his wounds, Zhou Tai was eager to prove himself and answered, “I will plunge back in and rescue him.” With his spear, Zhou Tai then rushed into the great masses of Wei soldiers that were still closing in on Xu Sheng and brought back his comrade, though both Xu Sheng and Zhou Tai were severely injured from the battle.
Sun Quan was so pleased with Zhou Tai’s meritorious deeds that he honored him with a great banquet. With tears running down his cheeks, Sun Quan embraced Zhou Tai and said, “Twice you saved my life, risking your own in the process, and you have received numerous wounds. It is as if your skin has been engraved and painted with scars and injuries. What sort of a man would I be if I did not treat you as one of my own flesh and blood? Can I regard you, Noble Sir, merely as a unit in my army? You are one of my grandest generals and thus I share the glory you have won, and so too do I share in your joys and sorrows.” Sun Quan then bade Zhou Tai to display his wounds before the ministers and officers of Wu. Sun Quan asked how each injury was etched upon Zhou Tai’s body, and after Zhou Tai explained how he received each one, Sun Quan allowed him to drink fine wine from a goblet. By the end of the celebration, Zhou Tai was thoroughly intoxicated! As a final reward for Zhou Tai’s excellent service, Sun Quan bestowed upon Zhou Tai a green silk parasol and told him to carry the gift on all occassions so that Zhou Tai’s enemies and allies might clearly see the general’s magnificence. Sun Quan and Cao Cao both sought to pull back their armies after they had fought at Hefei and Ruxu respectively, so Sun Quan went away but honored Zhou Tai by leaving him and his friend Jiang Qin to command the garrison that would guard Ruxu.
Zhou Tai, aged though he was, afterwards participated in Lü Meng’s campaign against Guan Yu. During this military expedition, Zhou Tai’s friend Jiang Qin offered to duel Guan Yu at one point. After a few bouts though, Jiang Qin fled and Guan Yu pursued, but this was a scheme and soon Zhou Tai and several other commanders ambushed and pushed back Guan Yu. Eventually, Lü Meng defeated Guan Yu and various commanderies of Jing, which were formerly under the leadership of Liu Bei, were thus acquired. Liu Bei heard the news of Guan Yu’s defeat and was angry, so he led troops against Wu to avenge Guan Yu and seize Jing. Zhou Tai and Han Dang, among others, were mobilized to stop Shu’s attack. Zhou Tai first led soldiers, along with several other officers, to ambush the famed Shu officer Huang Zhong. The old veteran of Shu was hit by an arrow and died of the wound later, but this only incensed Liu Bei further. At Xiaoting, Liu Bei re-organized his army and continued his march against Wu. In one battle, Zhou Tai’s brother, Zhou Ping, went out to challenge the Shu officer Guan Xing to a duel, but unfortunately became frightened and was slain. Seeing it unwise to do battle, Zhou Tai retreated into his battle array.
The news of Liu Bei’s first successes against Wu armies worried Sun Quan, so Sun Quan sent the relatively young commander and scholar, Lu Xun, to be the new commander-in-chief of Wu. Several Wu officers under Lu Xun’s command had been veterans of Wu who had proven themselves on countless occassions. Among them were Zhou Tai and Han Dang, each of which greatly disliked the fact that they were made subordinate to Lu Xun. Lu Xun wasted no time in expressing his opinions and giving orders to those he was supposed to command and nearly all of the Wu officers dejectedly acquiesced to Lu Xun’s orders. Zhou Tai broke the silence by saying, “Sun Huan, the nephew of our prince, is surrounded at Yiling and is running low on rations. I venture to petition that relief be sent to him immediately so that Sun Quan’s heart may be comforted.” “I know all about him. His soldiers are faithful, and he can easily maintain Yiling in a siege. There is no need to reinforce him. When Shu is broken, he will be free to come out,” uttered Lu Xun in response.
As the Wu generals filed out of the meeting they had spoken to Lu Xun in, several of them, including Han Dang, expressed contempt at being bossed about by their new leader. “This will be the end of Wu, did you hear what that fool said?” said Han Dang to Zhou Tai as the two colleagues retired to their camps. “I tried him just to see what he would do and noted that he had no plan ready. He may be the death of Wu!” Zhou Tai replied in agreement. The next day, Han Dang spoke up against Lu Xun’s orders and expressed his opinions, but Lu Xun threatened to put anybody who disobeyed commands to death. Enmity that Han Dang and Zhou Tai had for Lu Xun only increased after the young commander-in-chief refused to respond to attacks that Liu Bei had launched on various defensive strongholds and after Lu Xun ignored many veteran commanders of Wu when they volunteered to attack Shu. Adding insult to injury, Lu Xun eventually appointed a young junior lieutenant to lead an attack on one of Liu Bei’s camps instead of Han Dang, Zhou Tai or Ling Tong. Just as it seemed that several Wu commanders might mutiny, Lu Xun finally sent out orders to prepare for a decisive battle. Zhou Tai was ordered to assault Shu encampments on the South bank of the river near Yiling, while Wu’s other officers launched simultaneous strategical attacks. The Wu army set fire to all of Shu’s encampments and dealt Liu Bei a decisive defeat. Many Shu officers were killed in Wu’s onslaught, and as a last great feat, Zhou Tai managed to cut down the King of the Mang tribesmen Shamo Ke, who had allied with Liu Bei and successfully killed the Wu general Gan Ning earlier in battle (3).
3: The slaying of Shamo Ke is the last feat that Zhou Tai is mentioned as doing in the novel. After this, Zhou Tai does not appear in the novel again. Zhou Tai’s death is apparently not touched upon in the novel, or at least in the Brewitt-Taylor translation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Historically he is recorded as dieing about (4) years after the battle of Yiling in AD 225.
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Source: Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms