Encyclopedia: Cai Yan

Cai Yan (Wenji); Ts‘ai Yen (Wên-chi); 蔡琰 (文姬)

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You are viewing the profile of Cai Yan (蔡琰), styled Wenji (文姬), born in Chenliu, Xi Province (Presently Qixian in Henan Province). “Captured by the Xiongnu, but bought back by Cao Cao. Some of her poems survive.” Cai Yan was affiliated with the Han Dynasty and the Wei Kingdom. Return to the Three Kingdoms Encyclopedia to learn more or explore our Encyclopedia Directory to browse by kingdom or category.


Cai Yan (Wenji) 蔡琰 (文姬)

Game Name:
Cai Wenji

Lived: AD 177–250


Served: Han, Wei

Captured by the Xiongnu, but bought back by Cao Cao. Some of her poems survive.

Officer Details

Wade-Giles: Ts‘ai Yen (Wên-chi)
Simplified Chinese: 蔡琰 (文姬)
Pronunciation: Cai4 Yan3 (Wen2ji1Pronunciation
Cantonese (Yale): Choi Yim (Man-gei)
Cantonese (Jyutpin): Coi Jim (Man-gei)

Birthplace: Chenliu, Xi Province
(Presently Qixian in Henan Province)

Other Names: Cai Wenji, Cai Zhaoji

Name Notes: Better known as the poetess Cai Wenji. An alternate style, Zhaoji (昭姬), is used in Lie Nu Hou Zhuan, while Wenji (文姬) is most commonly used (including in the Hou Han shu).

Family and Relationships

Cai Leng (Grandfather); Cai Yong (Father); Lady Cai (Sister); Wei Zhongdao, Cexian, Dong Si (Husbands); Yong Dao (Brother-in-law)

Literary Appearances

Romance of the Three Kingdoms: 71

Hou Han shu: 84

Search Results

Cai Wenji
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Historic (Confirmed)

Cai Yan, styled Wenji (1), was the wife of Dong Si (who hailed from Chen Liu) and the daughter of Cai Yong (also from Chen Liu). Cai Yan was knowledgable, skilled in debates and had musical flair. When she was young, she was married to a guy named Wei Zhong Dao. However, her husband passed away and Cai Yan did not have any children from her first marriage. As such, Cai Yan returned back to her home.

(1): Cai Yan’s style is listed as Zhaoji in the Lie Nu Hou Zhuan. (Source: footnote in Hou Han shu).

In the middle of Xin Ping (either AD 194 or AD 195), China was stricken with widespread chaos and Cai Yan was abducted by some horsemen from the Hu tribe. She ended up with Zuo Xian Wang (Left Virtuous King) of the southern Hun Tribe and as a result, she spent the next twelve years of her life with the tribes. There, she gave birth to two children. Cao Cao used to be on friendly terms with Cai Yong (Cai Yan’s father) and it pained him to see that the Cai’s family had no descendant. As such, Cao Cao dispatched messengers to the tribes and offered gold in exchange for Cai Yan’s return. When Cai Yan came back from the tribes, she remarried to Dong Si. (2)

(2) Biography source: Hou Han shu. Thanks to Battleroyale for translation.



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February 17, 2023