Sanguozhi Officer Biography
Pei Songzhi in Blue, Translator Notes in Green
Ling Tong, styled Gongji, hailed from Yuhang in Wu Prefecture. His father, Ling Cao, was a daring man given to errantry. When Sun Ce first came to power, Ling Cao followed his banner in his conquests, and would always fight in the van, charging ahead of all the men. He was then garrisoned as Chief of Yongping to subdue the Shanyue. During his tenure, evildoers dared not to violate the law, and for that Ling Cao was promoted as Colonel who Routs the Caitiffs. When Sun Quan took command, Ling Cao participated in the expedition against Jiangxia. Upon reaching Xiakou [by boat], Ling Cao landed first, and routed the enemy’s vanguard. He then sailed ahead in a light vessel but was killed by a stray arrow.
Ling Tong was 15 years old at that time and was spoken of favorably by many around. Considering that Ling Cao had given his life to the state, Sun Quan appointed Ling Tong Major of a Separate Command and acting Colonel who Routs the Caitiffs, and had him take over his father’s command. Once, he fought under Sun Quan against the hill bandits. Sun Quan left after defeating the garrison at Bao, leaving ten thousand men led by Ling Tong , Controller Zhang Yi, and others to lay siege to the Ma garrison. Prior to the date set for the attack, Ling Tong and Controller Chen Qin attended a banquet together. Chen Qin was of a fiery temper; and because he was in charge of keeping order at the banquet, he abused his powers and bullied everyone there, punishing people not according to the rules. Ling Tong, upset at his insolence, confronted him. Chen Qin angrily affronted Ling Tong and insulted even his father Ling Cao. Ling Tong, though in tears, did not respond to the insult. Everyone then left the gathering. Emboldened in his inebriation, Chen Qin insulted Ling Tong again on the road. Ling Tong, not being able to bear it any more, pulled out his sabre and struck Chen Qin. Chen Qin died in a few days. When the designated day of the attack came, Ling Tong said, “Only by death can I wipe out my transgression!” Thereupon, he rallied his men, and charged ahead of them braving arrows and rocks. The side of the garrison which he attacked was overcome immediately, and the other generals, roused by his success, dealt the enemy a complete defeat. Upon the army’s return, Ling Tong had himself bound and submitted to the discipline officer. Sun Quan, impressed with his determination, pardoned him on the account of his achievement.
In later times, Sun Quan went again to campaign against Jiangxia, and Ling Tong served as the leader of the van. He rode in the same boat with tens of his closest fighters, and would often sail ahead of the main force by tens of li. They sailed into the western part of the river, and beheaded Huang Zu’s general Zhang Shuo , and captured all his mariners. He returned to report to Sun Quan, and at that they regrouped their men and marched forth, marines and infantrymen together. In time, Lü Meng defeated [Huang Zu’s] navy, and Ling Tong was first to take the city. Therefore they won a great victory. Sun Quan made Ling Tong Chief Commandant who Brings Forth Prowess, and had him repel Lord Cao at Wulin along with Zhou Yu and others. Following that, Ling Tong defeated Cao Ren, and was promoted to be a colonel. Although Ling Tong was engaged in military affairs, he befriended virtuous men and received men of talent. In viewing his wealth lightly and upholding the ways of friendship and correct conduct, he showed himself to be a core minister of the state.知
He also fought under Sun Quan in the conquest of Wan, and was made General of the Interior who Terrifies Criminals and designated Chancellor of Pei. After conquering the three commanderies in the west along with Lü Meng, he returned to Yiyang and from there went on to Hefei in the position of Controller of the Right Division. After Sun Quan decided the retreat and the van had already left, Zhang Liao and other Wei generals stormed to the north of the ford. Sun Quan sent someone to recall the van, but the troops had gone too far and were unable to come to the rescue. Ling Tong leading three hundred of his personal troops, charged into the encirclement and protected Sun Quan until he was out of the melee. By that time, the enemy had already broken the bridge, and only a plank was left on either side. Sun Quan spurred his horse on and leapt over it. Ling Tong turned back to do battle, until all his men were dead, and he himself was wounded all over. Having killed a few score of enemy troops, he figured that Sun Quan had got away to safety, and so he returned. The bridge was gone and the roads were blocked, so Ling Tong took off his armour and waded out into the river. Sun Quan, having boarded a boat by then, was overjoyed when he caught sight of him. Ling Tong, saddened by the loss of every one of his closest men, was overtaken by a fit of grief and wept uncontrollably. Sun Quan wiped his face with a corner of his sleeve, and said to him, “Gongji, let those who have died go. As long as you are alive, should you worry about not having men under you?” Thus he appointed him Lieutenant-General, and granted him a command that was double the number of his previous one. (1)
1: History of Wu: Ling Tong was heavily wounded, so Sun Quan kept him in his boat and changed all his clothes. It was only due to good medicine of the Zhuos that Ling Tong did not die of his wounds.
Around that time, there was someone who recommended Chen Xian to Sun Quan, saying that he was more upright and virtuous than Ling Tong. Sun Quan said, “It is sufficient for him to be as Ling Tong.” Afterwards, he summoned Cheng Xian to see him at night. Ling Tong was in bed already when Cheng Xian arrived, but on hearing his arrival, he put on his clothes, went out, and led Cheng Xian in holding his hand. This was how kind he was towards [others], not bearing ill thoughts toward them.
Ling Tong proposed that the people of the hills (I), being strong and brave of nature, could be lured into their service by impressing them with military might and potential rewards. Sun Quan thus ordered him to go east and carry out the plan to take over the hill people. He sent ahead a decree to the city that all of Ling Tong’s requests should be fulfilled first and reported to him later. Since Ling Tong had been known to treat men well, men wished to join him. He obtained some ten thousand elite troops. When he passed by his home prefect, he walked into the local office there, and seeing the chief clerks carrying registry records (见长吏怀三版), he treated them with utmost humility and respect. He also showed much love for all his relatives and old friends. After he concluded his affairs there, he left, but on the way he died of illness. He was 49. When Sun Quan found out about it, he sat up from his couch clenching at it, and wept uncontrollably. He fasted in mourning for several days, and tears would cover his face whenever Ling Tong was mentioned. Sun Quan then had Zhang Cheng write a eulogy for Ling Tong.
I: That is, the Shanyue, a mixture of native peoples of the region and exiled Han families who formed clan-like organizations in order to resist Han governance.
His two sons, Ling Lie and Ling Feng were both only a few years of age. Sun Quan took them in into the inner palace, and took care of them as if they were his own sons. When visitors came to pay respect to him, he would call them out and show them off [to the guests], saying, “These are my tiger cubs!” When they got to the age of eight or nine, he had Ge Guang teach them to read, and every ten days he would have them practice horsemanship. Considering Ling Tong’s former merits, Sun Quan gave him the posthumous title of Marquis of Lieting, and assigned Ling Tong’s former troops back to the sons. In later times, Ling Lie was dismissed due to some fault, and Ling Feng in turn inherited Ling Tong’s noble title and military command. (2)
2: Sun Sheng said, “I’ve observed that Sun Quan put his whole heart and mind in his employing of men,, in order to have them dedicate their lives to him. He wept for Zhou Tai’s scars, had Chen Wu’s concubine die for him, prayed for Lü Meng’s life, and raised Ling Tong’s orphans.This is the extent to which he humbled himself and burdened his mind for that end. This is why, even though Sun Quan was not known for virtuous government, nor for benevolence towards his people, he was able to stand firm in the lands of Jing and Wu for many years. It is not accidental. However, the way to hegemony rests in grand and far-seeing designs, that is why the kings of the past would first build the foundations of virtuous and righteous behaviour, renew the world’s trust and obedience to them, decree proper laws for right conduct, and make clear the relationships between the superior and the subordinate. By simplifying their methods, they enjoyed long-lasting good relations; by paying attention to the big picture, they achieved great things. Would they have troubled themselves with personal affairs in order to attract praise from contemporaries? The Analects say, “There is something to be learnt even from the ways of petty things. However, carry it too far, and one risks being quagmired in (II).” Is that not a most apt remark for this case!”
II: From Analects 19:4
Copyright © 2004
Translated from Chen Shou’s Records of the Three Kingdoms annoted by Pei Songzhi