Biography (SGZ): Chen Tai (Xuanbo)

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Chen Tai (Xuanbo)

Sanguozhi Officer Biography
translated by Battleroyale

Chen Tai, styled Xuanbo, was the son of Chen Qun. Being raised in an aristocratic family, Chen Tai received an excellent education and was well versed in scholarly and military matters. While his father was alive, Chen Tai was already holding the appointment of Shan Qi Shi Lang. In the 4th year of Qing Long (AD 236), Chen Qun passed away and Chen Tai inherited his father’s nobility title to become a Duke. Soon after, he left the position he held at the central government and took up a military appointment at the borders.

From AD 240-241, Chen Tai was appointed as You Ji Jiang Jun (something like the general of the guerilla troops). Subsequently in AD 244, he was promoted to be the Inspector of the Bing province and Zhen Wei Jiang Jun (General who inspires awe). In addition, Chen Tai held the Wei’s court order (otherwise known as Jie in Chinese which gives the holder great authority to carry out the central government’s plan), controlled the military, political and judiciary functions of the Bing province and had the appointment as the Great Official of the Border (Jiang Da Li). Chen Tai adopted a pacification policy toward the minorities under his jurisdiction and command a high level of respect from them. During Chen Tai’s appointment at the border, some nobles from Luo Yang entrusted him to purchase some slaves for them from the border and sent him some gifts. Chen Tai did not open the gifts that he received. Subsequently, Chen Tai was transferred back to the capital to hold the appointment of the Imperial secretariat and he returned all the gifts that he received previously back to the nobles. Such act was considered as a rarity during those days.

In Jia Ping 1st year (AD 249), the power struggle between the Cao and Sima family began to show. Although Sima Zhao and Sima Shi were Chen Tai’s childhood friends, Chen Tai did not join them nor participate in the struggle. However, given that Chen Tai was holding a position in the central government, it would be inevitable for him to be embroiled into the chaotic events. Not long after, Sima Yi initiated a military coup and had the upper hand over Cao Shuang. Sima Yi sent a letter to Cao Shuang asking him to hand over his authority. Chen Tai, together with the Palace Attendant Xu Yun, persuaded Cao Shuang to accept Sima Yi’s terms. As such, their proposal was accepted and both Xu Yun and Chen Tai were sent as envoys to the Sima’s camp for negotiations. After this event, the Sima family was in control of the Wei’s court affairs and the Simas treated Chen Tai as one of the generals who contributed to their administration. In order to avoid the skirmishes that frequent the center stage, Chen Tai decided to play a lesser role by requesting for an appointment out of the central government. As a result, he was transferred to be the Inspector of the Yong province and given the title of General who displays firmness (Fen Wu Jiang jun). Now, Chen Tai was at the frontline in the war against the kingdom of Shu.

During then, the Shu’s General-in-Chief (Da Jiang Jun), Jiang Wei constructed 2 forts at the Qu mountains and dispatched some troops to defend them. In addition, Jiang Wei took the native people (from the Di and Qiang tribes) as hostages and forced them to obey his orders. Seeing this, Chen Tai advised his superior, Guo Huai (Wei’s Zheng Xi Jiang Jun or General who subdues the West) that it would be a good opportunity for them to launch an attack on the forts given that the distance between the forts and Shu’s track was far (implying the potential problem of food shortages) and the natives were detestful of the forced labor under the Shu (implying the potential problem of mutiny). Guo Huai agreed to Chen Tai’s proposal and dispatched him to attack the Shu’s defending army under Xu Zhi. At the same time, the governor of Nan An, Deng Ai, was dispatched to lay siege on the forts. Chen Tai managed to cut the food supply chain as well as water supply to the forts but was surrounded by the Shu soldiers who came out for a counter-offensive. Subsequently, Jiang Wei led his main forces to break the siege and met up with Chen Tai at the rear of Bull Head Mountain (Niu Tou Shan). Instead of engaging Jiang Wei’s troops, Chen Tai advised Guo Huai to cut off Jiang Wei’s possible retreat route. Guo Huai agreed and dispatched Chen Tai to proceed as planned. Jiang Wei found out the maneuvers of the Wei’s armies and realized that there was a competent commander among her ranks. Due to the unfavorable situation, Jiang Wei had to retreat and on seeing that, the soldiers at the 2 forts surrendered to Wei.

In the 4th year of Jia Ping (AD 252), the Shu’s tacticians instigated a rebellion staged by the minorities in the western region. Seeing that, Chen Tai proposed to the court to dispatch troops from the provinces of Bing and Yong to suppress the rebellion. In the mobilization of the troops from Bing province, there were cases of mutinies due to the long matches. Leading the remaining troops, Chen Tai managed to score a big victory over the rebels.

In the 5th year of Jia Ping (AD 253), Jiang Wei led several tens of thousands soldiers on another northern offensive against Wei. He passed Shi Ying, Dong Ting and laid siege on Nan An. Chen Tai was dispatched as a rescue force and the 2 armies met. After a series of encounters, a stalemate ensued but Jiang Wei was forced to retreat due to food shortages.

In the 2nd year of Zhen Yuan (AD 255), Sima Zhao dominated the court affairs of Wei. Guo Huai passed away and Chen Tai was appointed by the Wei court to take over his appointment and put in-charge of the military affairs for the provinces of Yong and Liang. In effect, Chen Tai was holding the highest military position for the western region of Wei kingdom. During the same year, Jiang Wei led another northern offensive against Wei. Chen Tai received a report from the Inspector of Yong province, Wang Jing, that the Shu armies led by Xiahou Ba and Jiang Wei were arriving in 3 different directions aiming for the Qi mountains, City of Jin (Jin Cheng) and Shi Ying. As such, Wang Jing requested Chen Tai to dispatch troops to defend in all 3 directions. However, Chen Tai did not believe that the Shu armies would split their forces into 3 directions and he ordered Wang Jing to defend Di path (Di Dao) and only launched an attack when the Shu armies arrived and the opportunity arised. In addition, Chen Tai himself led some troops to defend Chen Cang. However, Wang Jing did not obey Chen Tai’s order and proceed to attack Shu’s armies on his own. On hearing that, Chen Tai knew that something disastrous might happen and proceed to lead his armies to reinforce Wang Jing.

As foreseen by Chen Tai, Wang Jing was badly defeated and most of his soldiers scattered leaving only around ten thousand troops to defend Di path. Chen Tai reported this event to the court that night and reorganized the defeated troops in preparation for a counteroffensive. Not long after, Deng Ai arrived with reinforcement. However, Deng Ai had the opinion that it might be difficult to defend against the newly victorious Shu’s armies and suggested to give up Di path and defend strategic points in the north. Chen Tai countered that although the Shu armies was victorious, they did not seize the opportunity to attack eastward in order to capture the Wei’s food supplies at Li Yang. Instead, the Shu armies were locked in the siege at Di path and their morale were affected. Coupled with the ongoing food supply problem of the Shu army, Chen Tai felt that the Wei’s forces should capitalize on these weaknesses and launched a swift attack against the enemies. As such, Chen Tai led his troops to a mountain south of Di path. There, he instructed his troops to raised torches and struck the drums. The Wei’s troops defending at Di path saw that and their morale was boosted tremendously. On the other hand, the Shu’s troops besieging Di path were badly affected by the display put up by Chen Tai and a portion of the Shu’s armies was dispatched to attack Chen Tai’s army. However, they were badly defeated by Chen Tai due to his capitalization of strategic points for defense. As a result, the Shu’s armies were forced to retreat and the Di path was saved. News of Chen Tai’s meritorious deeds at the western borders spread quickly to the capital and Chen Tai was praised by Sima Zhao.

In the 1st year of Gan Lu (AD 256), Chen Tai was once again transferred back to the capital and given the appointment of Shang Shu You Pu She (in the Imperial Secretariat office). He was tasked to recruit new government officials for the court. Not long after, the Wu kingdom dispatched an army led by Sun Jun threatening Wei. Chen Tai was appointed as Zhen Jun Jiang Jun (something like General who subdues the army) by the Simas and given the authority over the Huai region, which the Wu armies threatened. When the Wu armies retreated, Chen Tai was transferred back to the capital and given the appointment of Zuo Pu She (in the Imperial Secretariat office). In the 2nd year of Gan Lu (AD 257), the Wei general, Zhuge Dan, led a rebellion at Shou Chun against the Sima family. Sima Zhao personally led his armies to engage Zhuge Dan and Chen Tai was appointed as the chief commanding officer in the central HQ. After securing the victory over Zhuge Dan, Chen Tai was promoted to be Si Kong (Minister of Works) which was one of the three Dukes (San Gong).

In the 5th year of Gan Lu (AD 260), the Emperor of Wei, Cao Mao, led a group of palace guards and attendants in a bid to attack Sima Zhao as he could not tolerate the tyranny of Sima’s family. Sima Zhao immediately ordered his trusted general Jia Chong to kill the Wei Emperor together with his followers. On knowing that, Chen Tai rushed to the scene and cried on seeing the corpse of the Wei Emperor. Soon Sima Zhao arrived and asked Chen Tai for advice regarding the settlement for this issue. Chen Tai replied that the issue could only be resolved by executing Jia Chong. However, Sima Zhao was unwilling to do that and asked for an alternative. Chen Tai was so enraged that he collapsed suddenly and died.

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Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi