Biography (SGZ): Taishi Ci (Ziyi)

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Taishi Ci (Ziyi)
太史慈 (子義)
(AD 166 - 206)

Sanguozhi Officer Biography
Pei Songzhi in Blue, Translator Notes in Green
translated by

Taishi Ci, styled Ziyi, was a man from Huang in Donglai. He was fond of learning when he was a youth, and had served as a clerk in the reporting department in his commandery (I). Once, the commandery office and the provincial office had a dispute, and as the matter could not be resolved, they were going to file complaint reports to the court [for arbitration]. Whoever could get his report read first would clearly have an advantage. Now, the provincial report had been sent, and the administrator of the commandery was worried that his version of the story would get there behind that of the province’s. And so, after considering all who could be appointed to the task of delivering the report, he chose the 21-year-old Taishi Ci.

(I) Department responsible for writing reports to send to the central government.

Day and night Taishi Ci travelled, and soon he arrived at Luoyang. He went to the public entrance of the imperial offices, and saw that the provincial officer was still waiting to be admitted. So Taishi Ci said [to the provincial officer], “Sir, are you trying to submit a report?”

The officer answered, “Yes.”

“Where is the report?” Taishi Ci asked him again.

“Inside the carriage,” was the reply.

“Are you sure that the report is addressed appropriately?” asked Taishi Ci, “Bring it out and let me have a look.”

Now, the officer had no idea that the man in front of him was from Donglai commandery, and so he brought the report out to him. Taishi Ci, a knife ready in hand, seized the report and destroyed it. The officer jumped up and yelled, “Someone is destroying my report!” Taishi Ci pulled him into the carriage and said to him, “If you, good sir, had not handed me the report, I would have no way of destroying it. This is just fate. I’m not going to be the only one found guilty here. If we both flee silently, we could probably save our lives. Otherwise we will both be punished.”

“You have already destroyed my report for your commandery,” the officer said, ”You’ve already gotten what you wanted. Why would you need to flee?”

Taishi Ci answered, “When I first received orders from the commandery office, I was only supposed to check whether your report had been sent through. However, I went overboard and destroyed your report instead. If I return now, I fear that I would be reproached for doing this, and so I also would like to run away.”

The officer, believing Taishi Ci’s words, departed from the city with him that day. Once Taishi Ci had left the city with the officer, he secretly returned to the city and submitted his report. When the province found out about this, they sent another officer to submit the report. However, the relevant authorities, taking the provincial report to be one trying to hinder the commandery’s, disregarded it, and came to a ruling that was not in the provincial office’s favor. And thus Taishi Ci’s name became known, and he was despised by those from the provincial office. Fearing that he would be harmed by them, he went in to hiding at Liaodong.

The chancellor of Beihai, Kong Rong, was impressed by what he heard about Taishi Ci, and he sent his regards to Taishi Ci’s mother, as well as supplying her with what she needed. Once, Kong Rong was garrisoned at Duchang in order to deal with a Yellow Scarves uprising, but instead he was surrounded by the bandits, led by one Guan Hai. Taishi Ci happened to have just returned home from Liaodong, and his mother said to him, “Even though you have never met with Chancellor Kong of Beihai in person, he has taken good care of me after you left, just as if he was an old friend of ours. Now he is being besieged by bandits--you should go to his aid!” So, after spending three days at home, Taishi Ci left on foot to Duchang. Since the siege was not completely laid yet, Taishi Ci was able to find an opening, and sneaked [into the city] to see Kong Rong by night. He asked Kong Rong for some troops to go out and fight. Kong Rong would not listen to him, but rather decided to wait for outside help. Help did not come, and day by day the enemy encroached. Kong Rong thought about sending an urgent message to Liu Bei, Chancellor of Pingyuan, but none within the city thought that they would be able to break out of the siege. Taishi Ci then asked for permission to go. Kong Rong said, “The enemy’s siege is tight, and everyone has said it would be an impossible task. Even though you have a courageous spirit, this would probably be too difficult to do.”

“In the past, sir,” responded Taishi Ci, “you have been very kind to my aged mother. Out of her gratefulness to you, she sent me to aid you in the times of need, knowing that I would be worthy for some task, and that my coming would be beneficial to you. If I go with everyone else’s opinion and consider this task impossible, wouldn’t I then be unworthy of your kindness, and a disappointment to my mother’s wishes? There is not much time left, sir. Do not hesitate any more!” And so Kong Rong approved of the action.

At daybreak, Taishi Ci took his quiver and bow, mounted his horse, and bade two riders to follow him. Each rider was made to carry a shooting target, and together they rode straight out of the city gates. The enemy troops encamped around the city were all surprised, and infantrymen and riders alike came out [to see what was happening]. Taishi Ci rode to the moat, planted the targets there, and walked across to shoot at them. After shooting for a while, he went right back into the city. He did the same thing the next morning, and some of the enemy rose, but others slept on. Taishi Ci shot at the targets again, and when he was done, he returned to the city. And the next morning, when he did the same thing, none of the enemy got up. Thereupon, he whipped his horse and charged through the encirclement. By the time the bandits realized what was happening, Taishi Ci had already passed through the siege, having shot several people dead in the process. None dared to pursue him.

Thus he arrived at Pingyuan, and persuaded Liu Bei to help, saying, “I, Taishi Ci, am just a commoner from Donglai. I am not related by ties of kinship to Kong Rong, nor even by neighbourly ties, but I am bound by shared hopes and aspirations, and I share his sorrows and misfortunes. Now Guan Hai has risen in revolt, and Kong Rong is besieged. Not having outside help, he is in grave danger. Knowing that you, sir, are known for your benevolence and righteousness, and that you are eager to save others in times of need, Kong Rong had dared to hold on to the defences, and to send me to break through walls of bare blades, risking my life to come to you and beg for your assistance. You, sir, are the only hope for us.”

Liu Bei assumed a serious expression and replied, “Indeed, Kong Rong of Beihai would know that there is a Liu Bei in this world!” At that, he dispatched 3,000 troops to help Taishi Ci to raise the siege.

Upon hearing of the arrival of reinforcements, the bandits lifted the siege and left. After Kong Rong was saved, he became even more impressed with Taishi Ci, and said to him, “You are indeed a good young friend of mine!” When this was all over, Taishi Ci returned to see his mother, who said, “I’m glad that you were able to requite Lord Kong of Beihai.”

The inspector of Yang Province, Liu Yao, was a fellow man from the same commandery as Taishi Ci. When Taishi Ci first returned from Liaodong, he did not have a chance to meet with Liu Yao, and so he crossed the Yangtze to Qu’e to visit him. Before he left for home again, Sun Ce’s forces were approaching. Some tried to convince Liu Yao that he should employ Taishi Ci as Commander-in-Chief, but Liu Yao was concerned, “If I employ Ziyi [in such a high position], would not Xu Zijiang make fun of me?” And so he simply asked Taishi Ci to inspect the troops. Then one day, riding alone, Taishi Ci encountered Sun Ce. Sun Ce had thirteen riders with him–Han Dang, Song Qian, Huang Gai, and men of that calibre. Taishi Ci rode forward to fight them, and began duelling with Sun Ce. Sun Ce stabbed Taishi Ci’s horse, and reaching across he grabbed the short lance that Taishi Ci carried on his back, and Taishi Ci was also able to take Sun Ce’s helmet. Right then, rescue troops from both sides arrived, and so they ceased fighting and returned.

Taishi Ci and Liu Yao both ended up having to flee to Yuzhang and to seek refuge in Wuhu. Within their hiding place in the hills, Liu Yao declared himself Grand Administrator of Danyang. At that time, Sun Ce had already conquered the lands east of Xuancheng, with the exception of the six cities west of Jing prefecture. And so Taishi Ci went to garrison at Jing, and many of the hill peoples came to his support. [Finding out about this,] Sun Ce personally came to conquer this place, and Taishi Ci was captured. Sun Ce cut his bonds off, and, holding his hand, said, “Remember that time at Shenting? If you had taken me there, what would you have done?”

“Who can say?” replied Taishi Ci.

“From this day on, I will share all I have with you,” said Sun Ce, laughing (1). Then he stationed Taishi Ci as an inspector of the troops, sent him back to Wu to be assigned troops, and gave him the title of “Rank-breaking General of the Interior”.

(1) From Annals of Wu: Taishi Ci was defeated at Shenting, and was captured by Sun Ce. Sun Ce, having known his reputation for a long time, immediately released his bonds and courteously invited him for an audience, at which he inquired into Taishi Ci’s views on how he [Sun Ce] should proceed. Taishi Ci replied, “A defeated warrior such as I is unworthy of partaking in the discussion of important affairs.”
Sun Ce said, “In the past, Han Xin laid out the strategies [for Han] at Guangwu. Now I also wish to ask an honourable man for his opinion; sir, do not withhold your views!”
“The troops of the province have recently been routed (II),” said Taishi Ci, “and the men’s hearts dwell on disbanding. If they are dispersed, it will be difficult to gather them again. My wish is to go recruit them by announcing your benevolence, but I fear this plan would not be in accordance with your plans.”
(II) Liu Yao’s men. Liu Yao held the post of inspector of Yang province, and thus his troops were referred to as ‘the province’s troops’.
Sun Ce rose to a kneeling position (III) and replied, “This is indeed what I was hoping for. I will look for your return at mid-day tomorrow.” All his men were concerned about it. So Sun Ce said to them, “Taishi Ziyi is a man of fame of Qing Province. He is known to hold honour and righteousness above all, and he will not let me down.”
(III) In that era, people sat on mats the floor, with shins on the surface and the buttocks resting on the heels. To show respect, one rises into a kneeling position by straightening the back while keeping the knees on the floor.
On the following day, Sun Ce invited his officers to a big feast, and having had the food and wine ready, he set a pole in the sun to track the shadow. Right at noon, Taishi Ci returned. Sun Ce was greatly pleased, and thereafter, he often included Taishi Ci in war councils. Your servant, Songzhi, notes: The Annals of Wu said that Taishi Ci was defeated at Shenting and captured by Sun Ce then. This is drastically different from the account of the text. I suspect that this may be an erroneous account.

Later on, Liu Yao died in Yuzhang, and there were tens of thousands of his former subordinates who did not know where to go. So Sun Ce bade Taishi Ci to enlist their service (2). Those around Sun Ce said to him, “Taishi Ci will definitely go north and never return.”

(2) From Jiangbiao Zhuan: Sun Ce asked Taishi Ci, “I’ve heard that you once raided the provincial report for the sake of your commandery administrator, and once went to help Wenju [Kong Rong] and asked to invite Xuande [Liu Bei] to help. Those are all deeds of great courage and honour, and mark you as one of the brilliant men of this world. The revered men of the past did not begrudge the shooting of the hook and the cutting of the sleeves (IV). I am one who understands you as a friend, and so do not worry about things not working to your desires.” When he sent Taishi Ci out on a mission, Sun Ce admonished him thus: “Even when a dragon wishes to soar and fly, it must first seek a span of wood (V).”
(IV) Prince Xiaobai of Qi was once shot by the strategist Guan Zhong, who was then employed by his rival. The arrow providentially hit a hook on his clothes instead, and Xiaobai was saved. When he became duke, he enlisted Guan Zhong’s help and appointed him chief advisor, not begrudging the assassination attempt. Xiaobai’s posthumous title was Duke Huan of Qi.
When Chong’er, one of the princes of Jin, tried to escape the court (and the state) by leaping over a wall, Si Ren Pi chased after him, and, in an attempt to cut him down, slashed his sleeve instead. After Chong’er returned to the state and was made duke, Si Ren Pi requested an audience. Chong’er finally forgave him and met with him, and received advice from him. Chong’er came to be known as Duke Wen of Jin.
(V) The precise implication of this saying is unclear. ‘Great Deer’ of SoSZ suggested to me that ‘Sun Ce was suggesting to Taishi Ci that just as a dragon cannot ascend to heaven without the wood element, he himself perform great things without people like Taishi Ci assisting him.’ Another possible interpretation is that Sun Ce was persuading Taishi Ci that the comparative lack of power in the Sun family should not be a concern. Though their beginnings were humble, the enterprise would eventually be great, just as a dragon ascends to heaven through something as commonplace as a piece of wood.
“Now, Liu Yao is dead. I had not the good fortune to meet him in time to discuss affairs of this world. His son is in Yuzhang now, and I wonder if Hua Ziyu [Hua Xin] is treating him well, and if his subordinates from the past are still following him? My friend, you are from the same commandery as him [Hua Xin]. Would you be able to go visit his [Liu Yao’s] son, and to let his followers know of my ambition? If those of [Liu Yao’s former] command would come, bring them here, and if they wish not to come, console them. Also, would you observe Ziyu’s ways for governing and protecting his land, and whether the people of Luling and Poyang are receptive to him? You may have your say in however many soldiers you wish to bring with you.”
Taishi Ci replied, “I have committed an unforgivable offence against you, but general, you have a heart like that of Dukes Huan and Wen (VI), and your treatment of me exceeds all that I could expect. Revered men of the old times repay life with death, wishing only to be thorough in their observation of the codes of honour, ceasing only when they expire. Since now we are not in a war anymore, I should not bring too many soldiers with me. A score or two of men would suffice to bring me there and back.”
(VI) Duke Huan of Qi state and Duke Wen of Jin state were the two most celebrated hegemons in the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 BC).

Sun Ce said, “If Ziyi leaves me, where could he go?” And so went to see him off at Changmen, after having a farewell meal together. Clasping Taishi Ci’s wrists, Sun Ce said, “When do you expect to return?”

“No later than sixty days from now,” was the reply. And indeed he returned by the promised date (3).

(3) From Jiangbiao Zhuan: When Sun Ce first sent Taishi Ci [on the recruiting mission], opposing views were all around, saying that Taishi Ci could not be trusted yet. Some said that since he came from the same province as Hua Ziyu, Hua might get him to stay behind to be his advisor. Yet some others speculated that Taishi Ci would find employment with Huang Zu in the west, and then go back north along that route. Most were of the opinion that sending him was a mistake. Sun Ce said, “All that you gentlemen have said is wrong. I have thought thoroughly on this matter. Although Taishi Ziyi is courageous and daring, he is not a man of political ambition. His true ambition is to be an honourable man, and his thoughts are guided by the codes of righteousness. He values his words, and once he decides to devote himself to another, neither death nor destruction will cause him to waver. Gentlemen, doubt no more.” However, it was only when Taishi Ci returned from Yuzhang that the suspicions were put to rest.
Taishi Ci came to see Sun Ce, and said to him, “Hua Ziyu is a man of great virtues. However, he has no grand ambitions and he neglects men of talent. Having no other plan, all he could do is protect himself. Also, there’s one Tong Zhi of Danyang who dared to take over Luling, lying that he received an imperial edict making him the grand administrator. Some commoners of Poyang set up their own clan strongholds, putting armed men on their borders, refusing to acknowledge the officers sent by Ziyu. 'We are of a separate commandery now,’ they claim, 'and we will only welcome a real grand administrator sent by the Han court.’ Not only is Ziyu unable to control Luling and Poyang – recently, there’s one Shangliao tribe near Haimin, where there’s five or six thousand families united in a military alliance, refusing to pay the tax in textiles to the commandery. He tried to summon them, but not even one man came. All Ziyu could do is to turn a blind eye to that.” Sun Ce clapped his hands and laughed, and from then on he had designs to annex that land. Later on, he managed to conquer Yuzhang.

One of Liu Biao’s nephews, Liu Pan, was a man of great prowess and had stirred up trouble repeatedly in Ai, Xi’an, and other surrounding counties. And so Sun Ce divided the district into the prefectures of Haimin, Jianchang, and four others, and had Taishi Ci appointed as the Commander of Jianchang, with the additional duties of administering Haimin and leading the various captains in the defence against Liu Pan. After that, all traces of Liu Pan were lost; he never caused trouble again.

Taishi Ci was 7 chi 7 cun tall (VII), and boasted a beautiful beard. He had great strength in his arms and never missed a target when shooting. Once, he was with Sun Ce fighting the bandits at Mabao. [One of] the bandits was cursing the attackers from the towers within the fort, and he was holding onto the pillar of the tower with his hand. Taishi Ci drew his bow and shot at him, and the arrow pierced through his hand and pinned it onto the pillar. The tens of thousands of surrounding attackers all cheered and applauded at this feat. That’s how great his archery was. When Lord Cao [Cao] heard of him, he sent him a letter sealed in a wooden case. The case was without a note, and contained only the danggui herb (VIII). When Sun Quan took over the authority from his brother, he appointed Taishi Ci to be in charge of the affairs of the south, since he had proven himself able to hold Liu Pan at bay.

(VII) One chi is approximately 23.4cm, and a chi is one-tenth of a chi. Taishi Ci was thus approximately 180cm tall.
(VIII) The name of the herb danggui in Chinese is also the phrase for ‘should come back’. The sending of danggui is a suggestion for someone to come to the sender. Cao Cao was thus inviting Taishi Ci to join him. The herb is also known as Dong Quai or Angelica sinensis.

Taishi Ci died at the age of 41, in the 11th year of Jian’an [AD 206] (4). His son Taishi Heng reached the position of Colonel of the Elite Cavalry (5).

(4) From History of Wu: On his deathbed, Taishi Ci sighed and lamented, “A man born into this world should bear a seven-span sword and ascend into the halls of the emperor. My ambition has not been fulfilled yet; why must death come?” Sun Quan mourned greatly for him.
(5) From History of Wu: Taishi Heng was styled Yuanfu. He had been employed as an imperial secretariat as well as grand administrator of Wu commandery, among other posts.

Copyright © 2002 - 2004
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi