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Huan Jie

Huan Jie
Minister of Ceremonies (太常)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchCao Pi
Palace Attendant (侍中)
In office
220 (220) – ? (?)
MonarchCao Pi
Prefect of the Masters of Writing
In office
220 (220) – ? (?)
MonarchCao Pi
Master of Writing (尚書)
In office
? (?) – 220 (220)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Palace Attendant (侍中)
In office
213 (213) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Huben General of the Household
In office
213 (213) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Administrator of Zhao Commandery
In office
? (?) – 213 (213)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Registrar of the Imperial Chancellor
In office
208 (208) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Gentleman of Writing (尚書郎)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Ling of Han /
Emperor Xian of Han
Personal details
Linxiang, Hunan
  • Huan Chao (grandfather)
  • Huan Zuan (brother)
  • Huan Yi (brother)
  • Huan Jia
  • at least three other sons
FatherHuan Sheng
Courtesy nameBoxu (伯緒/伯序)
Posthumous nameMarquis Zhen (貞侯)
PeerageMarquis of Anle District

Huan Jie (fl. 190s–220s), courtesy name Boxu, was a Chinese official who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty and served under the warlord Cao Cao. After the fall of the Eastern Han dynasty, he briefly served in the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period.[1]

Family background

Huan Jie was from Linxiang County (臨湘縣), Changsha Commandery (長沙郡), which is present-day Linxiang, Hunan.[2] His grandfather Huan Chao (桓超) and father Huan Sheng (桓勝) both served as commandery administrators in the Eastern Han dynasty. Huan Sheng was also a Master of Writing (尚書) in the imperial secretariat and was famous in southern China.[3]

Early career

Huan Jie started his career as an Officer of Merit (功曹) in Changsha Commandery, his home commandery. Sometime between 187 and 190, when Sun Jian was the Administrator (太守) of Changsha Commandery, he nominated Huan Jie as a xiaolian, so the Han central government summoned Huan Jie to the imperial capital, Luoyang, to serve as a Gentleman of Writing (尚書郎). When his father died, Huan Jie resigned and went home to perform filial mourning.[4]

In 191, after Sun Jian was killed in action at the Battle of Xiangyang against Liu Biao, the Governor of Jing Province, Huan Jie braved the odds and travelled to Xiangyang to plead with Liu Biao to give him Sun Jian's body so that he could hold a proper funeral for Sun Jian. Liu Biao was so impressed by Huan Jie's sense of righteousness that he agreed.[5] Huan Jie later returned Sun Jian's body to his family, who buried him in Qu'e County (曲阿縣; in present-day Danyang, Jiangsu).[6]

Service under Zhang Xian and Liu Biao

In 200, when the warlords Cao Cao and Yuan Shao clashed at the Battle of Guandu, Liu Biao wanted to rally troops from the commanderies throughout Jing Province (covering present-day Hubei and Hunan) and send them to attack Cao Cao and assist Yuan Shao.[7] When Huan Jie heard about it, he went to see Zhang Xian (張羨), the Administrator of Changsha Commandery, and told him:

"Never in history has defeat not befall anyone who starts a war without a righteous cause. This is why Duke Huan of Qi led the various lords to pledge allegiance to the Zhou dynasty, and why Duke Wen of Jin defeated the usurper and restored King Xiang of Zhou to the throne. Today, the Yuan family are doing the opposite. When Liu Biao decides to support them, he is seeking his own doom. Wise Administrator, you should exercise your judgment and wisdom, so as to bring fortune to yourself and evade disaster. You shouldn't align yourself with them."[8]

When Zhang Xian asked him what he should do, Huan Jie replied:

"Lord Cao may seem to be on the losing end at the moment. However, he has established himself as an upholder of righteousness, saved the imperial court from collapse, and used the mandate given to him by the Emperor to punish the unrighteous. Who dares to stand in his way? If you can convince the Administrators of the four commanderies in southern Jing Province to hold their positions for now, and support him when he comes to attack Liu Biao, that will be the best!"[9]

Zhang Xian heeded Huan Jie's advice and succeeded in convincing the Administrators of three neighbouring commanderies – Wuling (武陵; around present-day Changde, Hunan), Lingling (零陵; around present-day Yongzhou, Hunan) and Guiyang (桂陽; around present-day Chenzhou, Hunan) – to break ties with Liu Biao and pledge allegiance to Cao Cao. Cao Cao was very pleased when he heard about it.[10]

At the time, as Cao Cao was still at war with Yuan Shao, he could not lead his forces to Jing Province to attack Liu Biao. Liu Biao took advantage of the situation to launch an attack on Zhang Xian in Changsha Commandery. Zhang Xian died of illness during the siege; Changsha Commandery fell to Liu Biao's forces after Zhang Xian’s death. Huan Jie went into hiding after the fall of Changsha.[11]

Some time later, Liu Biao pardoned Huan Jie for inciting Zhang Xian and the other three administrators to rebel against him, and recruited him to serve as an Assistant Officer and Libationer (從事祭酒) under him. He also wanted to arrange for Huan Jie to marry a younger sister of his wife, Lady Cai (蔡氏). However, Huan Jie rejected the offer and said that he was already married. He also claimed that he was ill and refused to serve under Liu Biao.[12]

Service under Cao Cao

In late 208, after Cao Cao received the surrender of Liu Cong, Liu Biao's son and successor as the Governor of Jing Province, he heard about Huan Jie's earlier advice to Zhang Xian and thought that Huan Jie was an extraordinary talent. He then recruited Huan Jie to be his Registrar (主簿) and later promoted him to the position of Administrator (太守) of Zhao Commandery (趙郡; around present-day Handan, Hebei).[13]

Supporting Cao Pi in the succession rivalry

In 213, after Emperor Xian enfeoffed Cao Cao as the Duke of Wei (魏公) and granted him a dukedom based in Wei Commandery (魏郡; around present-day Handan, Hebei), Cao Cao appointed Huan Jie as a Palace Attendant (侍中) and General of the Household (中郎將) in the huben (虎賁) division of the imperial guards.[14]

At the time, Cao Cao wanted to designate an heir apparent to his dukedom (later vassal kingdom) but had difficulty choosing between two of his sons, Cao Pi and Cao Zhi. Although he favoured Cao Zhi, he knew that by custom Cao Pi should be the heir apparent because he was the older one. Huan Jie often praised Cao Pi in front of Cao Cao, saying that Cao Pi was virtuous and the eldest among Cao Cao's living sons, so he satisfied all the criteria for being the heir apparent. Whenever he talked about the succession issue, be it in a private or public setting, he always stood by Cao Pi and spoke sincerely.[15] Cao Cao saw Huan Jie as a faithful and loyal subject so he highly respected him.[16]

Two of Huan Jie's colleagues, Mao Jie and Xu Yi, were known for being outspoken, upright and non-partisan. Ding Yi, an official who supported Cao Zhi, disliked them and often spoke ill of them in front of Cao Cao. When Huan Jie found out, he spoke up for Mao Jie and Xu Yi and defended them from Ding Yi's accusations. Throughout his career under Cao Cao, he did the same for many colleagues who were unjustly accused of wrongdoing. Some time later, he was promoted to the position of a Master of Writing (尚書) and put in charge of examining and selecting civil service candidates.[17]

Battle of Fancheng

In 219, when Cao Ren was besieged by Guan Yu in Fancheng (樊城; present-day Fancheng District, Xiangyang, Hubei), Cao Cao ordered Xu Huang to lead reinforcements to assist Cao Ren. When Xu Huang initially failed to lift the siege on Fancheng, Cao Cao contemplated personally leading his forces to save Cao Ren, and he sought his advisers' opinions on this matter. Most of the advisers told Cao Cao: "Your Highness should make haste to Fancheng, or else (Cao Ren) will be defeated."[18]

Huan Jie asked Cao Cao: "Your Highness, do you not think that Cao Ren and the others are capable of assessing and dealing with the situation on their own?" Cao Cao replied: "(They are) capable." Huan Jie then asked again: "Is Your Highness worried that (Cao Ren and Xu Huang) won't put in their best effort?" Cao Cao replied: "No." Huan Jie asked: "Then why do you want to personally lead your forces there?" Cao Cao replied: "I am worried that the enemy has superiority in numbers and that Xu Huang will be outnumbered and overwhelmed." Huan Jie said: "The reason why Cao Ren, despite being under siege, continues to fight with his life to defend Fancheng is because he knows that Your Highness is too far away to save him. When people are thrown into a desperate situation, they will fight for their lives. Now, they are all prepared to fight to the death, and they have strong external support (from Xu Huang). If Your Highness doesn't send more reinforcements to Fancheng, you are actually sending a message to the enemy that you are confident that Cao Ren and Xu Huang are competent enough to deal with the enemy. Why then do you need to worry that they will be defeated? Why then do you need to go there to help them?"[19]

Cao Cao agreed and stationed his forces at Mobei (摩陂; southeast of present-day Jia County, Henan) while observing the situation at Fancheng. Later, as Huan Jie foresaw, Cao Ren managed to defend Fancheng while Xu Huang succeeded in breaking the siege.[20]

Service under Cao Pi

In late 220, some months after Cao Cao's death, Cao Pi usurped the throne from Emperor Xian, ended the Eastern Han dynasty, and established the state of Cao Wei with himself as the new emperor. After his coronation, Cao Pi appointed Huan Jie as Prefect of the Masters of Writing (尚書令) and Palace Attendant (侍中), and enfeoffed him as the Marquis of Gaoxiang District (高鄉亭侯).[21]

When Huan Jie fell sick, Cao Pi visited him and said, "I hope to entrust my underage son and the fate of the Empire to you. Please take care of yourself."[22] Huan Jie's marquis title was later changed to "Marquis of Anle District" (安樂鄉侯) and he received a marquisate comprising 600 taxable households. Cao Pi also enfeoffed three of Huan Jie's sons as Secondary Marquises (關內侯). Initially, he did not make Huan Jie's eldest son a marquis because Huan Jie's eldest son was expected to inherit his father's peerage as the Marquis of Anle District after Huan Jie died. However, when Huan Jie's eldest son died prematurely, Cao Pi granted him the posthumous title of a Secondary Marquis.[23]

As Huan Jie became critically ill later, Cao Pi sent an emissary to reassign him to be the Minister of Ceremonies (太常). Huan Jie died shortly after. Cao Pi shed tears when he learnt of Huan Jie's death and he honoured Huan Jie with the posthumous title "Marquis Zhen" (貞侯).[24]


Huan Jie's younger brother, Huan Zuan (桓纂), served as a Regular Mounted Attendant (散騎侍郎) in Wei and held the peerage of a Secondary Marquis (關內侯).[25]

Huan Jie had another younger brother, Huan Yi (桓彝), who served as a Master of Writing (尚書) in Wei's rival state, Eastern Wu. He was executed by the Wu regent Sun Chen in 258 when he refused to support Sun Chen in deposing the Wu emperor Sun Liang.[26] Later, during the Jin dynasty, when Emperor Wu asked Xue Ying to name some famous officials in Wu, Xue Ying named Huan Yi and said he was "a loyal and faithful subject".[27]

Huan Jie's son, Huan Jia (桓嘉), inherited his father's peerage as the Marquis of Anle District (安樂鄉侯). He also married a Wei noble lady, the Princess of Shengqian Village (升遷亭公主). During the Jiaping era (249–254) of Cao Fang's reign, Huan Jia served as the Administrator of Le'an Commandery (樂安郡; around present-day Zibo, Shandong). In 252, he led Wei forces from Le'an Commandery to participate in the Battle of Dongxing against Eastern Wu and was killed in action. The Wei government honoured him with the posthumous title "Marquis Zhuang" (壯侯).[28] Huan Jia's son, Huan Yi (桓翊), succeeded his father as the next Marquis of Anle District.[29]

The Shiyu recorded that Huan Jie had another grandson, Huan Ling (桓陵), whose courtesy name was Yuanhui (元徽). Huan Ling served under the Jin dynasty (265–420) and rose to the position of Administrator of Xingyang Commandery (滎陽郡; around present-day Xingyang, Henan).[30]

See also


  1. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 335.
  2. ^ (桓階字伯緒,長沙臨湘人也。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  3. ^ (魏書曰:階祖父超,父勝,皆歷典州郡。勝為尚書,著名南方。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  4. ^ (仕郡功曹。太守孫堅舉階孝廉,除尚書郎。父喪還鄉里。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  5. ^ (會堅擊劉表戰死,階冒難詣表乞堅喪,表義而與之。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  6. ^ (堅薨,還葬曲阿。) Sanguozhi vol. 46.
  7. ^ (後太祖與袁紹相拒於官渡,表舉州以應紹。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  8. ^ (階說其太守張羨曰:「夫舉事而不本於義,未有不敗者也。故齊桓率諸侯以尊周,晉文逐叔帶以納王。今袁氏反此,而劉牧應之,取禍之道也。明府必欲立功明義,全福遠禍,不宜與之同也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  9. ^ (羨曰:「然則何向而可?」階曰:「曹公雖弱,杖義而起,救朝廷之危,奉王命而討有罪,孰敢不服?今若舉四郡保三江以待其來,而為之內應,不亦可乎!」) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  10. ^ (羨曰:「善。」乃舉長沙及旁三郡以拒表,遣使詣太祖。太祖大恱。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  11. ^ (會紹與太祖連戰,軍未得南。而表急攻羨,羨病死。城陷,階遂自匿。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  12. ^ (乆之,劉表辟為從事祭酒,欲妻以妻妹蔡氏。階自陳已結婚,拒而不受,因辭疾告退。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  13. ^ (太祖定荊州,聞其為張羨謀也,異之,辟為丞相掾主簿,遷趙郡太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  14. ^ (魏國初建,為虎賁中郎將侍中。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  15. ^ (時太子未定,而臨菑侯植有寵。階數陳文帝德優齒長,宜為儲副,公規密諫,前後懇至。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  16. ^ (魏書稱階諫曰:「今太子位冠羣子,名昭海內,仁聖達節,天下莫不聞;而大王甫以植而問臣,臣誠惑之。」於是太祖知階篤於守正,深益重焉。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  17. ^ (又毛玠、徐弈以剛蹇少黨,而為西曹掾丁儀所不善,儀屢言其短,賴階左右以自全保。其將順匡救,多此類也。遷尚書,典選舉。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  18. ^ (曹仁為關羽所圍,太祖遣徐晃救之,不解。太祖欲自南征,以問羣下。羣下皆謂:「王不亟行,今敗矣。」) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  19. ^ (階獨曰:「大王以仁等為足以料事勢不也?」曰:「能。」「大王恐二人遺力邪?」曰:「不。」「然則何為自往?」曰:「吾恐虜衆多,而晃等勢不便耳。」階曰:「今仁等處重圍之中而守死無貳者,誠以大王遠為之勢也。夫居萬死之地,必有死爭之心;內懷死爭,外有彊救,大王案六軍以示餘力,何憂於敗而欲自往?」) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  20. ^ (太祖善其言,駐軍於摩陂。賊遂退。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  21. ^ (文帝踐阼,遷尚書令,封高鄉亭侯,加侍中。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  22. ^ (階疾病,帝自臨省,謂曰:「吾方託六尺之孤,寄天下之命於卿。勉之!」) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  23. ^ (徙封安樂鄉侯,邑六百戶,又賜階三子爵關內侯,祐以嗣子不封,病卒,又追贈關內侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  24. ^ (後階疾篤,遣使者即拜太常,薨,帝為之流涕,謚曰貞侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  25. ^ (以階弟纂為散騎侍郎,賜爵關內侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  26. ^ (尚書桓彝不肯署名,綝怒殺之。) Sanguozhi vol. 64.
  27. ^ (漢晉春秋曰:彝,魏尚書令階之弟。吳錄曰:晉武帝問薛瑩吳之名臣,瑩對稱彝有忠貞之節。) Han Jin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 64.
  28. ^ (子嘉嗣。 ... 嘉尚升遷亭公主,會嘉平中,以樂安太守與吳戰於東關,軍敗,沒,謚曰壯侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  29. ^ (子翊嗣。) Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  30. ^ (世說曰:階孫陵,字元徽,有名於晉武帝世,至熒陽太守,卒。) Shiyu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 22.
  • Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
  • de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms 23-220 AD. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004156050.
  • Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).