Biography (SGZ): Xiahou Dun

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Xiahou Dun (Yuanrang)
夏侯惇 (元讓)
(AD ?-220)

Sanguozhi Officer Biography
translated by HolyMan
edited by Sean Williams

Xiahou Dun [AD ?-220], styled Yuanrang, was born in Qiao county in Pei prefecture. He was a descendant of Xiahou Ying [?-172 BC]. At the age of 14 he pursued his studies under the guidance of a local teacher. There was an incident where someone had insulted his teacher, and Dun killed him. For this he was known as a righteous but violent person.

When Cao Cao first rise to power, Dun had always been under his command and followed him into battle. After Cao Cao was promoted to the title of General who Displays Firmness, he appointed Dun as his military advisor, and stationed him at Baima. Dun was later promoted to the rank of Zhechong Xiaowei and taken up the position as the governor of Dong prefecture.

When Cao Cao attacked Tao Qian, Dun was ordered to station himself at Puyang. One of Cao Cao’s commanders, Zhang Miao, took this chance to rebel and switched to Lü Bu’s side. Zhang Miao’s troops were stationed near Juancheng, and Cao Cao’s family lived in Juancheng. Therefore Dun gathered a small army and went to the rescue. On his way there he encountered Lü Bu and his troops, and they fought. Lü Bu retreated, took Puyang and seized Dun’s supplies as a result of Dun’s absence.

Lü Bu then ordered some local commanders to Dun’s camp and staged a surrender. Dun fell for the trick and was taken as hostage. The rebelling commanders asked for a large amount for a ransom and this incident startled the rest of Dun’s troops. Han Hao, one of Dun’s commanders, ordered his troops to station themselves in front of Dun’s camp and called the other commanders for a meeting. He ordered other commanders to restrict their troops in their own camps. After the other camps came under control, Han Hao went into Dun’s camp and told the rebels loudly, “You man-eating traitors, how dare you take hostage of a general. Do you still hope to walk out of this alive? Besides, we are ordered to suppress the rebels, how can we let you off lightly just because of a general?” He then turned to Dun in teary eyes and said, “There is nothing I can do to help because the law forbids it.” After saying this he ordered his men to attack the rebels. Upon seeing this, the rebelling commanders released Dun immediately and begged for pardon. “We only wanted to ask for some cash to spend,” they said. Han Hao reprimanded them on their wrong doings and executed them after that. After Dun was rescued, Cao Cao learnt about it and praised Han Hao, “Your method can be a good example for ten thousand years.” For this, Cao Cao made a new ruling: “From now on, in situations when the enemies take hostages, kill both the enemies and the hostages. Do not take the safety of the hostages into consideration.” There were no more incidents of hostages being held from then on. (1)

After Cao Cao returned from Xuzhou, Dun followed him to attack Lü Bu. He was hit by an arrow and lost his left eye. (2) He was later promoted to the governor of Chenliu and governor of Jiyin, and given the title of Jianwu Jiangjun, and was knighted as the duke of Gao An Xiang. During his term of office there were sometimes drought and locust attacks. Dun blockaded the river and used the fertile riverbed for agricultural purposes. He led his men to join in the labor and he carried soil on his back like the peasants. The people benefited because of his leadership, and later Dun became the governor of He’nan.

After Cao Cao conquered He’bei and was appointed Jiande General, he was met with resistance from the rear from the Da Jiangjun [General-in-Chief, i.e., Yuan Shao]. After the city of Ye was conquered [from Yuan Shao], Dun was promoted to Fubo Jiangjun and still governed He’nan. He was given the power to impose or introduce whatever ruling he saw necessary, and was not restricted by law. In the 12th year of Jian’an [AD 207], Dun’s contributions were officially recorded, and he was given another 1800 households under his command besides the 2500 household he had already. In the 21st year of Jian’an [AD 216], after he returned with Cao Cao from war against Sun Quan, he was given the command of 26 army units and was ordered to station himself at Juchao. Cao Cao rewarded him with famous musicians and dancers, saying “Wei Jiang had united the barbaric tribes and had his legends inscribed in metal and stones, but you deserve more than that.”

In the 24th year of Jian’an [AD 219], Cao Cao’s army defeated [the army of] Liu Bei [i.e. Guan Yu] at Mo’pi. Cao Cao often had Dun ride in the same carriage with him, and Dun was allowed to visit Cao Cao in his living quarters. Cao Cao showed special intimacy, trust and high regards toward Dun, with which the rest of his generals could not compare. Dun was appointed General of the Van. (3) Dun supervised the units returning to Shouchun. After that he was being stationed as Zhaoling. After Wei Wen Di [Cao Pi] inherited the title of Prince of Wei, Xiahou Dun was appointed as “Great General.” He passed away a few months after his new appointment. Although Xiahou Dun was a military man, he personally invited his teacher to his camp for guidance so that he can carry on his studies. He was a prudent man to himself and generous to others. He did not enjoy keeping a wealthy estate so whenever he had extra income he gave them to the masses, and whenever there was a shortage he took from the treasury. He was given the honorable title of “loyal duke” after his death.

His son Xiahou Chong inherited his titles and positions. Wei Wen Di remembered Dun’s contributions and wanted to offer knighthood to his sons and grandsons. He gave Dun’s family another 1000 households, and gave all seven of Dun’s sons and two of Dun’s grandsons the title of “Marquis of the Imperial Domain.” Dun’s younger brother Xiahou Lian and Dun’s son Xiahou Mao were already dukes when he died. Initially, Cao Cao had married his daughter, Princess Qinghe, to Xiahou Mao. Mao had held the positions of palace attendant, Imperial Secretariat, and Anxi Zhendong Jiangjun. He was also given the prestigious royal mace. (4) After Xiahou Chong’s death, his son Xiahou Yi inherited Xiahou Dun’s title as the 3rd generation duke of Gao An Xiang. After Xiahou Yi’s death, his son Xiahou Shao inherited the title. (5)

(1) Pei Songzhi’s notes: According to Sun Sheng, during the time of Emperor Guangwu, 9th year of Jianwu [AD 33], robbers captured Lady Yin’s mother and younger brother. The authorities tried to make the robbers release the hostages by force, and the robbers killed the hostages. But attacking the hijackers and the hostage was an ancient ruling. Since the time of Emperor An [AD 107-125] and Emperor Shun [AD 126-144], the situation had worsened to the extent that even nobles were sometimes kidnapped, and the authorities did not follow this ruling and kidnappers escaped when they had hostages. Han Hao revived this rule so that Emperor Wei Wu [Cao Cao] praised him for this. <return>

(2) Pei Songzhi’s notes: According to the book “Wei Lue,” both Xiahou Yuan and Xiahou Dun were generals. The soldiers called Xiahou Dun “the Blind Xiahou,” and Xiahou Dun loathed this nickname. He looked at himself in the mirror and was outraged, and threw the mirror to the ground. <return>

(3) Pei Songzhi’s notes: According to the ‘Book of Wei’, the commanders under Cao Cao all received title from Wei, except for Xiahou Dun [instead, he received his titles from the Han emperor]. Dun therefore requested for a Wei title to show his loyalty. Cao Cao said, “I heard that the best rulers learn from his officials like a student. The next best rulers become friends with his officials. Officials are men with great abilities. A small state like Wei is not worthy for a good official like you.” Dun insisted, and Cao Cao finally agreed and appointed him the position of General of the Van. <return>

(4) Pei Songzhi’s notes: According to ‘Wei Lue’, Xiahou Mao, styled Zilin, is the middle son of Xiahou Dun. Wen Di and Mao were good friends since their younger days. After Wen Di ascended the throne as Emperor of Wei, he appointed Mao as Anxi General and gave him the royal mace, and took over Xiahou Yuan’s position as the Governor of Guanzhong. Mao was not exceptionally good in strategy and military tactics, and preferred enjoying an easy life. In the 2nd year of Taihe [AD 228], Ming Di [Cao Rui] wanted to attack Shu. Mao was appointed the position of Imperial Secretariat. When Mao was on the western front, he had kept quite a number of beautiful dancers and singers. Princess Qinghe was displeased and their relationship turned sour because of this. Later on Xiahou Mao’s brothers had behaved impolitely, and Mao reprimanded them harshly. Fearing that Mao would punish them they conspired with the princess and accused Mao of slandering the court and the Emperor. The princess sent this accusation to the Emperor and a imperial edict was issued to arrest Mao. Ming Di wanted to kill Mao and asked court official Duan Mo for his opinions. Duan Mo said, “It is obvious that this is a false accusation because the princess is not in good terms with Mao. Besides, Fubo Jiangjun [Xiahou Dun] and the late Emperor had jointly laid the foundations of this empire, please think thrice should your highness decide to convict Mao.” Ming Di calmed down and said, “This is what I had in mind, too.” He issued an imperial edict to find out who wrote the complaint for the princess, and it turned out to be a false accusation by Xiahou Mao's nephews, Xiahou Zang and Xiahou Jiang. <return>

(5) Pei Songzhi’s notes: According to ‘Jin Yang Qiu,’ in the 2nd year of Taishi [AD 266] the duke of Gao An Xiang, Xiahou Zuo, the grandson of Xiahou Dun, passed away. The family line ended here and the title was taken back by the court. Sima Yan’s edict said, ‘Xiahou Dun made great contributions to the Wei empire, and will be remembered in historical records. It’s a pity that his family line ended here. Besides, I inherited the throne from the Wei empire, how can I forget these great pioneers of Wei? It is necessary to find Xiahou Dun’s close relatives and present them with honorable titles.’ <return>

Copyright © 2002 - 2003 HolyMan
Edited by Sean Williams
Translated from Chen Shou’s Sanguozhi