Biography (SGYY): Sun Jian (Wentai)

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

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Authored by Morgan Evans

Sun Jian (Wentai)

Sun Jian, styled Wentai, was born in Fuchan and was descended from the renowned strategist Sun Tzu. At the age of seventeen he was with his father when he came across a group of pirates on the Qiantang River who were unloading their booty from a ship. Sun Jian ran forth with sword in hand and shouted behind him to make the pirates believe that he was leading an army. The pirates fell for this ruse and ran away, abandoning their loot in the process. For his bravery, Sun Jian was recommended for office. Later he would raise an army of 1,000 men and help to crush a rebellion led by Xu Chang and his son Xu Hao. Sun Jian was promoted to Magistrate of Yandu then Xuyi and later, Xia Pi.

When the Yellow Turban Rebellion began in AD 184, Sun Jian gathered an army and set out to liberate the city of Wancheng which had been captured by the rebel Han Zhong. Zhu Jun and Liu Bei were attacking the city and had defeated Han Zhong when another rebel army arrived led by Zhao Hong and Sun Zhong, forcing them to retire. The allied forces had camped three miles away from the city and were drawing up plans when Sun Jian’s army arrived. Zhu Jun was glad to see this friendly force and ordered them to attack the South gate of the city while Liu Bei attacked the North and Zhu Jun’s force attacked the West, the East gate was left for the rebels to escape. Sun Jian’s force was first to enter the castle and the rebels ran before him as he killed more than twenty soldiers himself. Zhao Hong rode straight for the attacking force but Sun Jian leapt at the rebel, knocked him from his horse and then mounted it himself. The rebels fled north where they met Liu Bei who killed Sun Zhong with an arrow. Zhu Jun’s force broke into the castle and the rebels suffered heavy losses until they finally surrendered. With the rebellion crushed, Zhu Jun returned to the Capital city of Luoyang, was promoted to General of the Flying Cavalry and was made governor of Henan. He recommended promotions for his two allies and Sun Jian was made Commander of Changsha.

In AD 189 the eunuchs who advised the Emperor had gained a huge amount of power that they frequently abused. A rebellion broke out in Changsha led by Ou Xing, but the eunuchs sent a forged edict to Sun Jian promoting him to Governor of Changsha and requesting that he suppress the rebellion. Within two months the rebellion had been defeated and Sun Jian was made Lord of Wucheng. Despite this victory, a rebellion broke out in the capital which saw the eunuchs killed but this uprising saw the warlord Dong Zhuo seize power over the capital and eventually kill the Emperor in order to empower an Emperor that he could control. Aided by his advisor Li Ru and his generals that included the formidable Lü Bu, few dared to stand against Dong Zhuo; those who did failed and paid with their lives. With Dong Zhuo’s power increasing, Cao Cao issued a call to arms against the tyrant to 17 lords who all accepted and marched their armies to Luoyang. Sun Jian was one of the lords called upon so he raised an army with his generals Huang Gai, Cheng Pu, Zu Mao and Han Dang and they marched north to join with the other armies. When they had all assembled, a great banquet was held and Yuan Shao was voted to lead the army. Yuan Shao named his brother Yuan Shu to be in charge of supplies and then he looked for an officer to lead the Van. Sun Jian offered his services and his offer was accepted.

News quickly reached Dong Zhuo who sent an army to defend led by Hua Xiong who was accompanied by his officers Li Su, Hu Zen and Zhao Cen. Sun Jian’s army marched to River Si Pass where they were met by the Dong Zhuo’s forces. Hu Zhen led a force of 5,000 men out towards the attackers but he was quickly killed by Cheng Pu and seizing the moment Sun Jian ordered his army to attack. Hua Xiong’s men defended well against the attacking force and repelled them by dropping stones, forcing them to retire to their camp in Liandong. Once the army had camped, Sun Jian wrote two letters, one to Yuan Shao reporting his success against Hu Zen and the other to Yuan Shu requesting supplies. However, Yuan Shu’s adviser convinced him to not send supplies, he said "This Sun Jian is a very tiger in the east. Should he take the capital and destroy Dong Zhuo, we should have a tiger in place of a wolf. Do not send him grain. Starve his troops, and that will decide the fate of that army." Without food Sun Jian’s men's disciple dwindled which prompted Hua Xiong to surround the camp and lead a full scale attack, setting the camp on fire as they went. Sun Jian quickly donned his armor and went out to fight but his men panicked and fled, only Zu Mao had stayed with his lord. The two men desperately fought their way out but they were pursued by Hua Xiong who was slowly advancing on them. Zu Mao realized that his lord was too recognizable as he wore a silver helmet with a purple scarf wrapped around it so he traded helmets with his lord and then rode off in a different direction from Sun Jian. The pursuing army saw the rider with the purple scarf turn off and chased after Zu Mao while Sun Jian escaped. Zu Mao placed the headdress on the post of an abandoned house as he passed and hid in nearby woods. Hua Xiong’s men saw the helmet and in the dark thought it was Sun Jian but as it did not move, they feared a trap so instead of approaching, they fired arrows. Just as the soldiers realized that they had been deceived, Zu Mao rode forth and attacked their leader but he was no match for Hua Xiong who quickly cut him down. The slaughter would carry on all night but eventually Sun Jian’s force regrouped. Yuan Shao soon heard of Sun Jian’s defeat and called a meeting of the lords to discuss what should be done. However the meeting would be interrupted by the arrival of Hua Xiong who carried with him Sun Jian’s helmet to taunt his enemies. Yu She and Pan Feng went out to challenge Hua Xiong but both fell before him, terrifying the assembled leaders. Eventually Guan Yu went out to fight Hua Xiong, the battle was short and Guan Yu soon returned to the camp with his opponent’s head. With Hua Xiong dead, Dong Zhuo sent Guo Si and Li Jue with 50,000 men to hold the River Si Pass while he personally led a force of 150,000 15 miles from the capital to Tiger Trap Pass. Dong Zhuo’s force occupied the pass and Lü Bu was sent with 30,000 men to build and hold a small fort on the outside of the pass. In response, Yuan Shao sent eight of the allied armies to attack Tiger Trap Pass with Cao Cao’s army in reserve. The 8 armies did not fare well against Lü Bu's force, several officers and many soldiers were slain by Lü Bu himself but eventually the three brothers, Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu, would fight Lü Bu and force him to retreat back to the fort.

With the news of this victory, Yuan Shao ordered Sun Jian’s force to advance on River Si Pass but instead Sun Jian went to see Yuan Shu to whom he said, “Dong Zhuo and I had no personal quarrel. Yet now I have thrown myself into the battle regardless of consequences, exposed my person to the risk of wounds and fought bloody battles to their bitter end. And why? That I might be the means of ridding my country of a rebel and for the private advantage of your family. Yet you, heeding the slanderous tongue of certain counselor, formerly withheld the supplies absolutely necessary to me, and so I suffered defeat. How can you explain, General?” but Yuan Shu was scared and could not reply so he ordered the adviser to be put to death. Sun Jian returned to his own camp urgently as he had been informed that an officer had arrived and was awaiting his presence. When he got there he found the enemy officer Li Jue waiting for him. Li Jue had come at Dong Zhuo's request to offer Dong Zhuo’s daughter to be married to Sun Jian’s son. This enraged Sun Jian and he shouted at the enemy general, “What! Dong Zhuo, that rebel and renegade, that subverter of the Throne! I wish I could destroy his nine generations as an offering to the empire! Think you I would be willing to have an alliance with such a family? I will not slay you as I ought, but go, and go quickly! Yield the Pass and I may spare your lives. If you delay, I will grind your bones to powder and make mincemeat of your flesh!” Li Jue returned to Dong Zhuo and told him of Sun Jian’s reply to the proposal. With an alliance with Sun Jian out of the question and Lü Bu’s defeat on the front, Li Ru suggested that it would be wise to move the capital from Luoyang to the old capital Changan as it would be easier to defend. Dong Zhuo took this advice and despite the protests of many Ministers, the announcement was made that the capital and its inhabitants were to relocate immediately. All wealth was seized, the tombs of the Emperors and the wealthy were robbed for their riches and finally Dong Zhuo ordered Luoyang to be burnt to the ground.

With the withdrawal of the armies from the forts at River Si Pass and Tiger Trap Pass, the allied forces advanced towards Luoyang. Sun Jian’s force was first to arrive at the Capital which was still ablaze, so he ordered his troops to extinguish the fires and to set up camp. Soon the other lords arrived and once the fires were put out, Sun Jian camped inside the city near the Dynastic Temple where his men began restoring the Temple and closing the looted tombs. That night he stared at the stars where he saw that the Emperor's star was dulled by a mist, he said, “The Emperor’s star is dulled and no wonder; a rebellious minister disturbs the state, the people sit in dust and ashes, and the capital is a waste.” and he began to weep. He was interrupted by a solider that brought news of a beam of colored light shining from a well in the South. They immediately went to the well where the soldiers descended and brought up the body of a woman who had an embroidered bag hanging from her neck. Inside the bag was found a red box which contained a square jade seal with five intertwined dragons engraved on it and the words “I have received the command from Heaven: May my time be always long and prosperous.” Cheng Pu immediately recognized the item as being the Imperial Hereditary Seal of the Emperor and told of it's history and how Sun Jian would certainly become Emperor now that he possessed it. He suggested that they return home to Changsha immediately to which the Governor agreed. The soldiers were ordered to keep the discovery secret but one of them was a compatriot of Yuan Shao and he went and told of the Imperial Seal. The next morning, Sun Jian feigned illness and went to Yuan Shao to inform him that he would be returning to Changsha. Yuan Shao laughed at him saying, “I know what you are suffering from: It is called the Imperial Hereditary Seal!” Sun Jian was shocked and denied that he had the Seal but Yuan Shao continued “The armies were raised for the good of the state and to relieve it from oppression. The seal is state property; and since you have got hold of it, you should publicly hand it over to me as chief. When Dong Zhuo has been slain, it must go back to the government. What do you mean by concealing it and going away?" Sun Jian continued to deny that he had possession of the Seal and pointed to the Heavens and as an oath proclaimed “If I have this jewel and am hiding it myself, may my end be unhappy and my death violent!” The gathered lords were satisfied by the oath but Yuan Shao brought out the informant. Sun Jian rushed forward to slay his betrayer but a standoff ensued as Yuan Shao’s Generals Yan Liang and Wen Chou stepped forward with weapons drawn. Tensions were calmed by the other lords so Sun Jian with his Generals took their leave and mobilized the army to return home. Yuan Shao was not satisfied and he wrote to the Imperial Protector of Jingzhou Liu Biao telling him to stop Sun Jian and take back the seal. As Sun Jian’s army passed through Jingzhou they found the way blocked by 10,000 troops led by Liu Biao’s generals Cai Mao and Kuai Yue who demanded the return of the Imperial Seal. Sun Jian grew angry and sent out Huang Gai against Cai Mao who fought a few bouts and then retreated. With the advantage his, Sun Jian charged forward but further down the road an ambush sprung upon him. His men fought hard and they made their way through but half of the Changsha army was killed in the process.

Years later Yuan Shu wrote to his brother asking to borrow horses and to Liu Biao to borrow grain but both requests were denied so he wrote to Sun Jian claiming that Yuan Shao and Liu Biao were once again working together against him and were intending to invade Changsha. He proposed that Sun Jian should attack Liu Biao while he attacked his brother and they could keep the territory that each of them seized. When Sun Jian received this letter he was happy that he would finally have his revenge on Liu Biao. Cheng Pu advised caution as Yuan Shu could not be trusted, but the Governor was eager to go ahead so he sent Huang Gai to prepare a fleet of ships to transport the army. As he was about to leave, his family came to ask him to change his mind, but Sun Jian was determined to have his revenge and so his eldest son, Sun Ce, decided to accompany him. Liu Biao heard of Sun Jian’s force mobilizing so he assembled a large army and placed Huang Zu in charge. When Sun Jian’s fleet arrived at Fankou in Jingzhou they were met by a shower of arrows from archers on the riverbank, so for three days Sun Jian had the fleet feign landing and each time they would be fired upon. The fleet was ordered to collect the arrows that were fired at them and when the archers eventually ran out of arrows, Sun Jian’s men fired them back. With the archers in disarray, the fleet finally landed and the troops marched on Huang Zu’s camp as three armies under Cheng Pu, Han Dang and Huang Gai. Huang Zu’s camp could not withstand the three pronged attack so he withdrew his army to Dengcheng. With this initial victory, Sun Jian left Huang Gai to guard the ships and then personally led the army in pursuit of Huang Zu. The two armies drew up opposite each other, at the front on one side stood Sun Jian with Sun Ce, Han Dang and Cheng Pu and on the other was Huang Zu with Chen Sheng and Zhang Hui. Quickly Han Dang engaged Zhang Hui in battle but as he gained the advantage, Chen Sheng rode forth to join his comrade. Before Cheng Sheng could join the fight Sun Jian shot him in the face with an arrow and this distraction allowed Han Dang to cut Zhang Hui’s head in two. With his two generals dead, Huang Zu removed his helmet, dismounted from his horse, mingled in amongst his soldiers for safety and drew his army back to Xiangyang where he was relieved of command by Liu Biao’s brother-in-law Cai Mao. Sun Jian rode at the front of his army and as they reached Xian Hills on the outskirts of Xiangyang he saw Cai Mao with ten thousand troops waiting for them. Cai Mao rode forth to engage Cheng Pu but quickly found himself outmatched and fled back to Xiangyang while his troops were slaughtered by Sun Jian’s army.

Sun Jian now had the city surrounded and lay siege to the walls but after a few days his standard was felled by a high wind. Han Dang was disturbed by this, warning the Governor that it was an omen and that they should return home but Sun Jian would not listen to such superstition and so the siege continued. Inside the city Liu Biao had written a letter to Yuan Shao asking for help and this letter was entrusted to one of his finest warriors, Lu Gong. As dusk fell, Sun Jian was alerted that a group of soldiers had made their way out of the castle and into the woods, so he led out thirty horsemen to find the enemy but in his eagerness to find the Jingzhou troops, he soon found himself separated from his men. Before he had time to realize that he was alone, he saw the enemy ahead and called for them to stop. Lu Gong turned around to fight Sun Jian but quickly broke off and fled up a hill into the forest beyond. Sun Jian charged up the hill after his foe but an ambush sprung up and he was hit by several arrows before a boulder crushed both him and his horse. In the ensuing battle, Cheng Pu killed Lu Gong while Huang Gai captured Huang Zu who was later exchanged for Sun Jian’s body which was then buried in the Que plains.

In AD 229 Sun Jian was posthumously awarded the title Martially Great Emperor.

Copyright © 2003 Morgan Evans
Based on Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms