Biography (SGZ): Sun Jian (Wentai)

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Sun Jian (Wentai)
孫堅 (文台)
(AD 155-192)

San Guo Zhi Officer Biography
Translator Notes in Green
Translated by Jack Yuan

Sanguozhi Scroll 46 Wu 1
Sun Jian | Sun Ce —>

Sun Jian had the style Wentai and was a man from Fuchun in Wujun. It was very likely that he was a descendant of Sun Wu.

In his youth, he was a civil officer at prefecture level. At the age of seventeen, he travelled with his father by boat to Qiantang. At the time the pirate Hu Yu and his band had robbed merchants of their goods from their base near Baoli, and were dividing up the spoils on the bank. All travellers halted in fear and boats dared not approach. Sun Jian said to his father: “These bandits can be attacked, I request to subdue them.” His father said: “This is not something you can undertake.” Sun Jian went ahead with his blade in hand onto the bank and waved his hands east and west as if he was signalling to detachments of soldiers that were moving to surround the bandits. The pirates sighted this and thinking government troops had come to arrest them, abandoned their loot, scattered and fled. Sun Jian pursued, and only after taking the head of a pirate did he return. His father was greatly startled. From this he became known and the local government office summoned him, appointing him to a temporary military post. The heretic rebel Xu Chang rose at Juzhang and named himself Emperor Yangming. With his son Xu Shao he stirred up various prefectures, and his followers numbered in the tens of thousands. Sun Jian, as the Major of the commandery, recruited the elite and the brave, totalling more than a thousand men and defeated Xu Chang by coalition with the various prefectures of the province. That year was the first year of Xiping [172]. The Inspector Zang Min commended him and an Imperial Edict appointed Sun Jian Assistant Prefect of Yandu. Some years later, he was promoted to be Assistant Prefect of Xuyi and he was reassigned again to be Assistant Prefect of Xiapi.

In the first year of Zhongping [184], Zhang Jiao, the leader of the Yellow Turban bandits, rose at Weijun. He professed to have divine powers and sent eight messengers throughout the empire to propagate his way of goodness. He was in secret contact with his confederates, calling his association the ‘Great Peace of the Yellow Heaven’. On the day of jiazi in the third month, three hundred and sixty thousand men rose together in sudden rebellion. The Empire responded with arms; commanderies and prefectures were razed, and magistrates and officials killed. The Han sent the General of Chariots and Cavalry Huangfu Song and the General of the Gentlemen of the Household Zhu Jun to lead troops to attack and subdue the rebels. Zhu Jun recommended to the court that Sun Jian be appointed as his Associate Major. The youths of his home prefecture who had flocked to him at Xiapi were willing to follow him on. Beside these he called on the travelling merchants and the trained soldiers about the Huai and Si rivers, and in this way he brought together more than a thousand men. He joined with Zhu Jun in the fighting and was matchless throughout. The rebels of Runan and Yingchuan were hard pressed and fled to hold Wancheng. Sun Jian was responsible for one side of the siege. He climbed the walls and was the first over and his followers trailed as ants, completely defeating the enemy. Zhu Jun rendered the details to the Imperial Court and Sun Jian was made a Major with a Separate Command.

Bian Zhang and Han Sui caused chaos in Liangzhou; the General of the Gentlemen of the Household Dong Zhuo confronted and attacked them but without success. In the third year of Zhongping [186], the Minister of Works Zhang Wen was made acting General of Chariots and Cavalry and was sent west to subdue Bian Zhang and the others. Zhang Wen requested Sun Jian to become an Advisor to the Army in a recommendation memorial, and they were garrisoned at Chang’an. Zhang Wen called on Dong Zhuo by Imperial decree but he tallied for a long time before answering the summons. Zhang Wen reprimanded Dong Zhuo for this but he countered and would not obey. At the time Sun Jian was seated in attendance, and whispered in Zhang Wen’s ear: “Dong Zhuo acts and speaks arrogantly because he has no fear of being punished. He should be beheaded for not answering your summons in due time, according to military law.” Zhang Wen said: “Dong Zhuo is famed throughout the lands of Long and Shu. To kill him on this day would impede the advance westwards.” Sun Jian said: “My enlightened lord leads Imperial troops and your authority makes all under heaven tremble, what need do you have of Dong Zhuo? Examining Dong Zhuo’s words, he does not even pretend courtesy toward you and observes no respect to his superiors. This is his first crime. Bian Zhang and Han Sui have defied the law for more than a year and now is the time to advance and subdue them. Yet Dong Zhuo says that we should not do so yet. He is holding up the army and making the people uncertain. This is his second crime. Dong Zhuo has accepted his assignment but is without results. He answered your summons slowly and yet he acts proudly and holds himself highly. This is his third crime. The famed generals of antiquity, commanded their host with the symbolic Battle-axe and whilst on campaign, there were none who would not behead a man to show their authority. This is how Sima Rangju beheaded Zhuang Jia and Wei Jiang killed Yang Gan. Today my enlightened lord has extended his consideration to Dong Zhuo, but refrains from punishing him, thus rendering great harm to the authority of military law. This much is clear.” Zhang Wen could not bear to issue the command and so he said: “You should return or Dong Zhuo may become suspicious.” Sun Jian got up and went out. Bian Zhang and Han Sui heard of the great army that was approaching; their confederates and followers scattered and begged to surrender. The Imperial army returned after this but the court advisors held that they had not actually fought the enemy and so no honours were granted. When it was told, however, how Sun Jian had tallied Dong Zhuo’s three crimes and urged Zhang Wen to behead him, none did not sigh in admiration. Sun Jian was appointed to Gentleman-consultant. At the time the bandit of Changsha Ou Xing called himself general and besieged the cities and townships with his host in excess of ten thousand. So Sun Jian was made Grand Administrator of Changsha. He reached the commandery and took personal command of his officers and soldiers; he devised a strategy and within the month had defeated Ou Xing and the rest. Zhou Chao, Guo Shi also led their host to revolt at Ling and Gui in coordination with Ou Xing. Sun Jian subsequently left his own administrative borders to find and subdue them and the three commanderies returned to usual once more. The Han court took account of his successes, early and late, and he was enfeoffed as Marquis of Wucheng.

Emperor Ling died; Dong Zhuo took over the government of the court and acted as a tyrant in the capital. The various commanderies of the provinces raised righteous troops to subdue Dong Zhuo. Sun Jian also raised troops. Wang Rui, the Inspector of Jingzhou, never showed courtesy to him in their meetings. So Sun Jian killed him as he passed his territory. By the time that he came to Nanyang, his forces numbered in the tens of thousands. The Grand Administrator of Nanyang Zhang Zi heard that his army had arrived and he appeared to be at ease. Sun Jian gave Zhang Zi oxen and wine as gifts; Zhang Zi received them and came to give thanks. As the two drank, the Master of Records of Changsha came to report to Sun Jian: “We gave notice to Nanyang, but I have found the roads without maintenance and no supplies forthcoming. I ask that the Master of Records be detained and questioned about the reasons.” Zhang Zi was terrified and sought to leave but could not for the soldiers drawn up on four sides. After a short time, the Master of Records returned and reported to Sun Jian: “The Grand Administrator of Nanyang has obstructed the righteous troops, with the result that our army cannot punish the bandits in due time. I ask that he be arrested and punished according to military law.” Subsequently Zhang Zi was beheaded at the camp gate. The commandery trembled with fear and there was nothing that Sun Jian’s forces requested which they were not given.

Advancing to Luyang, Sun Jian met with Yuan Shu. Sun Jian was recommended by Yuan Shu as acting General who Routs the Caitiffs and Inspector of Yu province. Then he set up his army headquarters at Luyang city. When he was about to advance against Dong Zhuo, he sent his Chief Clerk Gongchou Cheng as Attendant Official in Command of Troops to return to the province to maintain supplies for the army. Sun Jian set up tents outside the eastern gates of the city and held a banquet to see Gongchou Cheng off, in which his subordinates took part. Dong Zhuo sent tens of thousands of footsoldiers and horsemen against Sun Jian and several tens of light cavalry came up first. Just at that time Sun Jian was drinking wine, talking and laughing. He sighted the enemy coming from afar and commanded his troops to be drawn up, with orders not to manoevre without further instructions. Only when the enemy cavalry were steadily increasing did Sun Jian leave his seat at the banquet and lead his men into the city. Then he said to his aides: “The reason I did not order an immediate withdrawal into the city was for fear that the soldiers would panic, trample each other and block the city gates. Then each of your would be unable to get in.” Dong Zhuo’s saw the discipline of Sun Jian’s forces, did not dare to besiege the city and so withdrew. Sun Jian moved his garrison to the east of Liang, and received the full attack of Dong Zhuo’s forces. With a few tens of cavalry, Sun Jian broke through the encirclement. He usually wore a red wollen headdress; he took off the headdress and gave it to his companion general Zu Mao to wear. Dong Zhuo’s cavalry contended in chasing Zu Mao and so Sun Jian escaped by the sideroads. Zu Mao was hard pressed by the pursuit and so got off his horse and placed the headdress on a burnt stick in a gravemound, and then he hid in some bushes. Dong Zhuo’s horsemen sighted it and closed in on it in rings. When they came close to it they realised that it was a just stick and so they withdrew. Sun Jian regrouped his men again and he joined battle at Yangren. He greatly defeated Dong Zhuo’s army, taking the heads of the Chief Controller Hua Xiong and others. At the time, there were those who spoke ill of Sun Jian to Yuan Shu. The latter began to have suspicions and cut off the grain supply. Yangren is more than a hundred miles to Luyang and Sun Jian rode through the night to see Yuan Shu. He drew on the ground to show his plans and said: “Above I am attacking a rebel in the name of the Emperor, below I am aiding the private vengeance of your clan, my general. This is the reason that I fight without consideration to my own safety, for the clans of Sun Jian and Dong Zhuo have no enmity. But you attend to the words of liars, and turn around with your unfounded suspicions.” Yuan Shu was discomfited and immediately continued the supply of grain. Sun Jian returned to his garrison. Dong Zhuo feared Sun Jian’s strength and courage so he sent his general Li Jue and others to try to arrange a marriage alliance with him. He told Sun Jian to recommend his sons and brothers for appointment as Inspector or as Grand Administrator and promised that they’d be given office. Sun Jian said: “Dong Zhuo opposes Heaven and is without morality; he has destroyed and overturned the Imperial clan. Now, unless I destroy you and your three generations as a sign to all within the four seas, I will not be able to close my eyes when I die. How can there be marriage relations between our clans?” Again his army advanced, to Dagu, ninety miles distant from Luo. Dong Zhuo transferred the capital and moved west into the passes; he razed Luo and its townships. So Sun Jian advanced to Luo, repaired the various mausoleums, levelled the tombs that Dong Zhuo had dug up and desecrated. After completing work, he led his troops in withdrawal and encamped at Luyang.

In the third year of Chuping [192] Yuan Shu sent Sun Jian to campaign in Jingzhou, to attack Liu Biao. Liu Biao sent Huang Zu to confront him between Fan and Deng. Sun Jian attacked and defeated the enemy. He pursued across the Han River and subsequently besieged Xiangyang. He rode alone to Mount Xian and was shot and killed by a soldier of Huang Zu. His elder brother’s son Sun Ben took command of the generals, soldiers and followers and went to Yuan Shu. Yuan Shu made a recommendation that Sun Ben become Inspector of Yuzhou.

Sun Jian had four sons: Sun Ce, Sun Quan, Sun Yi and Sun Kuang. When Sun Quan took imperial title he gave Sun Jian the posthumous appellation: Emperor Wulie.

Appraisal: Sun Jian was courageous and resolute, rising from humble origins to make his fortune. In advising Zhang Wen to execute Dong Zhuo and repairing the desecrated tombs, he provided loyal and heroic service. Sun Ce possessed peerless heroic spirit, unparalleled courage, could defeat his opponents by a surprise move, and had ambition to pacify the Empire. Nevertheless, they were frivolous, stubborn and impetuous; consequently they would lose their lives in defeat. In any case, they occupied Jiangdong and Sun Ce secured the foundations of the future state of Wu. Yet Sun Quan did not show suitable respect to his inheritance, enfeoffing Sun Ce’s son only as a marquis; surely not a righteous end.

Copyright © 2002 Jack Yuan
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi
All Rights Reserved