Sanguozhi Officer Biography
Pei Songzhi in Blue, Translator Notes in Green
Translated by Stephen So
Li Dian, styled Mancheng, was a man of Juye, Shanyang. He and his father, Li Qian, had heroic qualities and being host to about a thousand families, lived in Cheng Shi. In the middle of [the reign of] Chuping [AD 190–193], Li Dian along with many went to follow the Grand Ancestor (Cao Cao), breaking the Yellow Turbans at Shouzhang. And again, he was involved in the attack against Yuan Shu and the conquering of Xuzhou. During the troubles caused by Lu Bu, the Grand Ancestor sent Li Qian back to Cheng Shi and help reassure the various counties. The Aide-de-camp (Bie Jia) of Lu Bu, Xue Lan, and Secretary (Zhi Zhong) Li Feng, summoned Li Qian, hoping to rebel together. Li Qian did not listen to them and so he was killed. The Grand Ancestor sent Qian’s son, Li Zheng, to lead their troops together with various generals to strike at Xue Lan and Li Feng. Xue Lan and Li Feng were defeated, and because of his achievements in pacifying the various counties of Yuzhou, he was moved to become Inspector (Ci Shi) of Qingzhou. Li Zheng died and Li Dian moved his residence to Yinling and became Gentleman of the Household (Zhong Lang Jiang) as well as taking over Zheng’s army (1) and dispatched to become the Governor (Taishou) of Lihu.
1: Wei Shu says: When Dian was young, he was very studious but did not like military matters. He studied the Zhuo’s Commentary of the Annals of the Spring and Autumn Period (Zhuo Shi Zhuan) and read a broad range of other books. The Grand Ancestor thought this was very good and so he tested him on the politics involved in ruling the people.
At the time when the Grand Ancestor was facing Yuan Shao at Guan Du, Li Dian commanded his clan along with subordinates to transport grain and silk to support the army. Yuan Shao was defeated and Li Dian was made Bi Jiang Jun, stationed in Anmin. The Grand Ancestor attacked Yuan Tan while Yuan Shang was at Liyang. He dispatched Li Dian along with Cheng Yu and others to transport provisions via boat. Yuan Shang sent the Governor of Wei prefecture, Gao Fan, to station his troops on the Yellow River, blocking the water path. The Grand Ancestor ordered Li Dian and Cheng Yu, “If the boats are unable to pass, then dismount from the boats and take the land route.” Li Dian along with his various generals discussed this, saying, “Gao Fan’s troops have little armour but rely on the water. They are in a lax and delayed state. We will be certain to overcome them if we strike. Troops not being able to defend internally is detrimental to the State; we should strike at them immediately.” Cheng Yu also agreed with this so together they attacked Gao Fan and defeated him. Thus the water route was cleared. Liao Biao ordered Liu Bei to invade the north where he arrived at Ye. The Grand Ancestor sent Li Dian together with Xiahou Dun to repel him. Liu Bei suddenly set fire to his camp and retreated. Xiahou Dun led his troops to pursue him but Li Dian said, “The rebel had no reason to retreat so I suspect an ambush. The southern road is narrow with dense grass and wood. You must not pursue.” Xiahou Dun did not listen to him but gave chase along with Yu Jin while Li Dian was left behind to guard. Indeed they fell into a rebel ambush and the battle was not favourable, so Li Dian went in to save them. Liu Bei saw the rescue, so he decided to retreat. After Ye (different Ye to above) was pacified after being surrounded, Li Dian and Yue Jin were sent to surround Gao Gan at Hu pass, and attack Guan Cheng at Chang Guang. In both cases, they defeated the enemy. He was promoted as General Who Captures Caitiffs (bu lu jiang jun) and made Marquis of a Chief Village (Dou Ting Hou). Li Dian’s clan and subordinates consisted of about three thousand families, resident in Cheng Shi, so he request to be moved to the Wei prefecture. The Grand Ancestor laughed and said, “Sir, do you want to be like Geng Shun?” Li Dian thanked him by saying, “Dian believes my achievement is small, yet my rank and nobility is too high. I have raised my clan as a show of strength to handle the endless need for suppression. It is proper that we are solid internally in order to govern the Four Seas. Hence it is not that I admire [Geng] Shun.” Forthwith, together with his clan and subordinates which numbered thirteen thousand people, they moved to Ye. The Grand Ancestor thought this was excellent and made him General Who Breaks the Caitiffs (po lu jiang jun). Together with Zhang Liao and Yue Jin, they stationed in Hefei. Sun Quan led his enormous army to surround them. Zhang Liao wanted to go out and attack them but he, Yue Jin, and Li Dian were not very friendly with each other. Zhang Liao was worried with their disagreement, but Li Dian kindly said, “This is an important affair of the State. After listening to your plan, how can my personal hatred make me neglect the common good?” Thus he and Zhang Liao led their troops to defeat Sun Quan who later retreated. His fief was increased by a hundred households where before he had three hundred.
Li Dian was very knowledgeable and was an elegant and noble scholar. He did not struggle with other generals to gain merit. He respected worthy scholars since he sincerely believed he was not as good as them. Within the army, everyone looked up to him as a leader. At the age of thirty-six, he died. His son, Li Zhen, succeeded him. The Scholarly Emperor (Cao Pi) recalled his merits at Hefei and increased the fief to Li Zhen by a hundred households. He also conferred one of Li Dian’s sons as Marquis Within the Imperial Domain (Guan Nei Hou) with a hundred households. Li Dian was posthumously titled Marquis of Sympathy (Min Hou).
Chen Shou comments: Li Dian was a noble, esteemed, and elegant scholar who put righteousness first while forgetting any personal dislike. This is an admirable characteristic.
Copyright © ~2000 Stephen So. All Rights Reserved.
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi with Pei Songzhi’s Commentary