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Su Ze

Su Ze
Chancellor of Dongping (東平相)
In office
223 (223) – 223 (223)
MonarchCao Pi
Palace Attendant (侍中)
In office
220 (220) – 223 (223)
MonarchCao Pi
Colonel Who Protects the Qiang
In office
220 (220) – 220 (220)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Pi
Administrator of Jincheng (金城太守)
In office
c. 215 (c. 215) – 220 (220)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao / Cao Pi
Administrator of Wudu (武都太守)
In office
? (?) – c. 215 (c. 215)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
ChancellorCao Cao
Administrator of Anding (安定太守)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Administrator of Jiuquan (酒泉太守)
In office
? (?) – ? (?)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Personal details
Mei County, Shaanxi
  • Su Yi
  • Su Yu
Courtesy nameWenshi (文師)
Posthumous nameMarquis Gang (剛侯)
PeerageMarquis of a Chief Village (都亭侯)

Su Ze (died 223), courtesy name Wenshi, was an official of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China. Born in the late Eastern Han dynasty, he started his career as the Administrator of various commanderies in northwest China and is best known for governing Jincheng Commandery (covering parts of present-day Gansu and Qinghai) between 215 and 220. During his tenure, he rebuilt the war-torn commandery, gained the support of local non-Han Chinese tribes, opened up trade along the Hexi Corridor, and suppressed rebellions in the neighbouring Xiping, Wuwei, Jiuquan and Zhangye commanderies. After the end of the Eastern Han dynasty, Su Ze served in the Cao Wei state under its first ruler, Cao Pi, as a Palace Attendant. An upright and outspoken man, he did not hesitate to speak up when he disagreed with Cao Pi, who became wary of him. In 223, Su Ze died of illness while travelling to present-day Shandong to assume a new appointment.[1]

Early life

Su Ze was from Wugong County (武功縣), Fufeng Commandery (扶風郡), which is located east of present-day Mei County, Shaanxi.[2] He was a descendant of Su Chun (蘇純) and Su Zhang (蘇章).[1] In his younger days, he was known for being studious and had been nominated as a xiaolian (孝廉) and maocai (茂才) by the officials in Fufeng Commandery. However, he turned down offers to join the civil service.[3] An upright and outspoken man, he was also known for his abhorrence of villainy and for being a strong admirer of Ji An (汲黯; died 112 BCE), a Western Han dynasty official who was famous for his upright character.[4]

Around 195,[1] when a famine broke out in the Guanzhong region, Su Ze fled from Fufeng Commandery to the neighbouring Anding Commandery (安定郡; around present-day Zhenyuan County, Gansu) and took refuge under a wealthy man, Shi Liang (師亮). When Shi Liang treated him with contempt, Su Ze sighed and swore that he would return one day as the Administrator (太守) of Anding Commandery and take revenge against Shi Liang.[5] Around 200,[1] he first returned to Fufeng Commandery but later decided to travel with his friend, Ji Mao (吉茂),[6] to Mount Taibai, where they settled down temporarily and spent their time reading.[7]

Service under the Eastern Han dynasty

When Su Ze finally decided to enter government service later, he was immediately propelled into office as the Administrator of Jiuquan Commandery. He was subsequently reassigned to Anding Commandery and then Wudu Commandery (武都郡; around present-day Longnan, Gansu). He gained quite a reputation while during his tenures.[8] When Shi Liang, the wealthy man in Anding Commandery who scorned Su Ze years ago, heard that Su Ze had become the commandery's Administrator, he immediately packed up and prepared to flee. However, Su Ze sent a messenger to stop Shi Liang and reassure him that everything was fine. Su Ze even asked the messenger to thank Shi Liang for offering him shelter during the Guanzhong famine.[9][5]

In 215,[10] Cao Cao, the warlord who controlled the Han central government and the figurehead Emperor Xian, led his forces on a campaign against a rival warlord, Zhang Lu, in Hanzhong Commandery. Along the way, he passed by Wudu Commandery and was so impressed with Su Ze that he asked Su Ze to be his guide on the campaign against Zhang Lu.[11]

As the Administrator of Jincheng

After the Battle of Yangping in 215,[10] Su Ze went to Xiabian County (下辨縣; northwest of present-day Cheng County, Gansu) to pacify the local Di tribes and to open up trade along the Hexi Corridor. He was subsequently reassigned to be the Administrator of Jincheng Commandery (金城郡; around present-day Yuzhong County, Gansu).[12]

At the time, Jincheng Commandery and its surrounding areas had been ravaged by war in the previous years, so its population had drastically fallen as people were displaced from their homes and forced to seek shelter elsewhere. Many of them also suffered from poverty and hunger. After assuming office, Su Ze took careful steps to rebuild Jincheng Commandery.[13] He first negotiated the terms for peaceful co-existence with the local non-Han Chinese tribes, such as the Di and Qiang, and made arrangements to purchase livestock from them. He then distributed the livestock among the refugees to help them regain their means of livelihood. He also opened up the official granaries and shared half of the food supplies with the people. Within a month, a few thousand refugee families returned to Jincheng Commandery.[14] Su Ze also established a legal system to maintain law and order in Jincheng Commandery. Those who broke the laws were punished while those who followed the laws were rewarded. He also went to the fields and taught the people how to farm and grow crops. After Jincheng Commandery had a bountiful harvest that year, more people came and settled down there.[15]

When Li Yue (李越) started a rebellion in the neighbouring Longxi Commandery (隴西郡; around present-day Longxi County, Gansu), the Di and Qiang tribes supported Su Ze and assisted him in suppressing the revolt. Li Yue surrendered after he was surrounded.[16]

After Cao Cao died in March 220,[17] Qu Yan (麴演) started a rebellion in Xiping Commandery (西平郡; around present-day Xining, Qinghai). When Su Ze heard about it, he led troops from Jincheng Commandery to quell the revolt. A fearful Qu Yan surrendered to Su Ze.[18] Cao Cao's son and successor Cao Pi, who became the new de facto head of the Han central government, granted Su Ze the additional appointment of Colonel Who Protects the Qiang (護羌校尉) and enfeoffed him as a Secondary Marquis (關內侯) as a reward for his success in putting down the rebellion.[19]

Cao Pi, however, was initially reluctant to make Su Ze a marquis even though he acknowledged that Su Ze did an excellent job in governing Jincheng Commandery. He secretly sought the opinion of Su Ze's superior Zhang Ji, the Inspector of Yong Province, on this issue.[20] In his reply to Cao Pi, Zhang Ji listed out Su Ze's various achievements – rebuilding a war-torn Jincheng Commandery, gaining the support of the Di and Qiang tribes, quelling Qu Yan's revolt, etc. – and advised Cao Pi to award Su Ze a marquis title to honour him for his loyalty and contributions.[21]

Suppressing rebellions in western China

Around June 220,[17] Qu Yan (麴演) rebelled again in Xiping Commandery and managed to garner support in two neighbouring commanderies, Zhangye and Jiuquan. His allies, Zhang Jin (張進) and Huang Hua (黃華), rebelled against Du Tong (杜通) and Xin Ji (辛機), the Administrators of Zhangye and Jiuquan respectively,[22] and declared themselves the new Administrators. Zhang Jin even took Du Tong hostage. To make things worse, the non-Han Chinese tribes in Wuwei Commandery seized the opportunity to start raiding and pillaging counties, while other local elites (both Han Chinese and non-Han Chinese) throughout Yong and Liang provinces wanted to jump on the bandwagon and join the rebels. The rebellions caused a major disruption in trade flows along the Hexi Corridor. Guanqiu Xing (毌丘興), the Administrator of Wuwei Commandery,[23] sent an urgent report to Su Ze in Jincheng Commandery and sought his aid in dealing with the rebels.[24] At the time, Su Ze had with him two military officers, Hao Zhao and Wei Ping (魏平),[25] who were in command of Jincheng Commandery's armed forces. However, they were not allowed to lead the troops into battle without authorisation from the Han central government.[26]

Su Ze called for a meeting with Hao Zhao, Wei Ping, his subordinates and his Qiang allies to discuss how to deal with the rebellions. He told them: "Although the rebels have superiority in numbers, they are nothing more than a motley crowd. As some of them have been forced to join the rebellion, they aren't necessarily as united as they seem. We should exploit their differences and make them split into 'good' and 'bad' camps. We shall then induce those in the 'good' camp to join us. This will boost our numbers and reduce theirs. Once we have increased our numbers, our morale will increase as well. By then, we should be able to defeat the rebels easily. If we do nothing now and wait for reinforcements to arrive, by then it'll be much more difficult to separate the rebels into 'good' and 'bad' camps and turn those in the 'good' camp to our side. Although we have no authorisation from the imperial court, given the current circumstances, I don't think it's unreasonable for us to exercise our own judgment and act accordingly."[27]

Everyone agreed with Su Ze. With support from Zhang Ji, the Inspector of Yong Province, and Zhang Gong (張恭), the Chief Clerk of Dunhuang, Su Ze started launching military operations to suppress the rebellions.[1] He first led his troops to Wuwei Commandery to assist Guanqiu Xing in putting down the unrest caused by the local tribes. After pacifying Wuwei Commandery, he joined forces with Guanqiu Xing to attack Zhang Jin in Zhangye Commandery. When Qu Yan heard about it, he led 3,000 men to meet Su Ze and lied that he wanted to surrender while secretly plotting to incite a mutiny. Su Ze saw through Qu Yan's lies, lured him into a trap and executed him. The rebels fled when they saw that Qu Yan was dead.[28] Su Ze then gathered his allies, attacked Zhangye Commandery together, and defeated and killed Zhang Jin. The other rebels surrendered. When Huang Hua learnt that Qu Yan and Zhang Jin had been defeated and killed, he became fearful and surrendered to Su Ze. The rebellions thus came to an end. Su Ze returned to Jincheng Commandery in triumph.[29] As a reward for his contributions, Su Ze was elevated from the status of a Secondary Marquis to a Marquis of a Chief Village (都亭侯) and given a marquisate of 300 taxable households.[30]

Service in the Cao Wei state

In late 220, Cao Cao's son and successor, Cao Pi, usurped the throne from Emperor Xian, ended the Eastern Han dynasty, and established the Cao Wei state with himself as the new emperor.[17] After becoming emperor, Cao Pi summoned Su Ze to the imperial capital, Luoyang, to serve as a Palace Attendant (侍中). He also assigned Su Ze to the same office as Dong Zhao. On one occasion, while taking a break, Dong Zhao laid down on the floor and rested his head on Su Ze's lap. Su Ze pushed him away and said, "My lap is not a pillow for sycophants."[31]

At the time, as Palace Attendants' duties included seeing to the emperor's daily living conditions, they were often teasingly referred to as zhihuzi (執虎子; "chamber pot holder"). Su Ze's old friend, Ji Mao (吉茂),[6] had become a county prefect at the time. When they met up, Ji Mao poked fun at Su Ze by saying, "Can your career bring you to anything more than a zhihuzi?" Su Ze laughed and said, "I can't be like you, riding freely on your chariot."[32]

Mourning the fall of the Eastern Han dynasty

Su Ze was still the Administrator of Jincheng Commandery when he first heard that the Cao Wei state had replaced the Eastern Han dynasty, and he thought that Emperor Xian was dead so he held a memorial service for the emperor. Later, he became awkwardly silent when he found out that Emperor Xian was alive and had been made the Duke of Shanyang (山陽公) after his abdication.[17] Cao Zhi, a younger brother of Cao Pi, also shed tears when he heard of the fall of the Han dynasty. Cao Zhi's grief, however, was also partly because of the frustration he felt at losing to Cao Pi when they were fighting for the succession to their father's place. After Cao Pi became emperor, he was surprised to learn that there were people who cried when they heard that Emperor Xian had abdicated the throne to him, so he asked his subjects why. At the point in time, Cao Pi already knew about Cao Zhi, but not about Su Ze, so his question was directed at Cao Zhi. Su Ze thought that Cao Pi was referring to him, so he prepared to step up and respond. However, Fu Xun, another Palace Attendant, stopped him and said, "(His Majesty) is not talking about you." Su Ze then backed down.[33][34]

Giving advice to Cao Pi

On one occasion, Cao Pi asked Su Ze, "Previously, when you pacified Jiuquan and Zhangye and opened up trade with the Western Regions, I remember that Dunhuang offered large pearls as tribute. Can we find such pearls in the market now?"[35] Su Ze replied, "If Your Majesty can rule the Empire well, bring everything into harmony, spread our culture to the deserts (in the Western Regions), then such pearls will automatically come to us. If you ask for them and get them, they won't be as valuable (as when they are willingly offered as tribute)." Cao Pi fell silent.[36]

On another occasion, when Cao Pi was out on a hunting excursion, the fences built to trap the deer in an enclosed area were not properly secured so the deer broke through the fences and escaped. Cao Pi was so furious that he drew his sword and wanted to execute his servants.[37] Su Ze knelt down and pleaded with him to spare the servants, saying, "Your Majesty, I heard that the sage-rulers of ancient times would not harm people for the sake of animals. Now, Your Majesty wishes to promote the culture of Yao's time, yet Your Majesty wants to execute so many people just because a hunting excursion went wrong. I don't think this is something Your Majesty should do. With my life, I beg Your Majesty to spare these people."[38] Cao Pi replied, "You're a subject who speaks his mind." He then spared all his servants. Since then, Cao Pi became more wary of Su Ze[39] because he knew that Su Ze would not hesitate to speak up and criticise him if he did something wrong.


In 223, Cao Pi reassigned Su Ze to be the Chancellor () of Dongping State (東平國; south of present-day Dongping County, Shandong). While en route to Dongping State to assume his new appointment, Su Ze fell sick and died. Cao Pi honoured him with the posthumous title "Marquis Gang" (剛侯).[40]


Su Ze's elder son, Su Yi (蘇怡), inherited his father's peerage and marquisate as a Marquis of a Chief Village (都亭侯). He had no son to succeed him when he died.[41]

Su Ze's younger son, Su Yu (蘇愉), succeeded his elder brother Su Yi. Su Yu, whose courtesy name was Xiuyu (休豫), served in the Cao Wei state and rose to the position of a Master of Writing (尚書) sometime between 264 and 265.[42] After the Jin dynasty replaced the Cao Wei state in 265, Su Yu continued serving in the Jin government as Minister of Ceremonies (太常) and Household Counsellor (光祿大夫). Shan Tao, one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, once praised Su Yu for his loyalty and intelligence.[43]

Su Yu had three sons: an unnamed son, Su Shao (蘇紹) and Su Shen (蘇慎). Su Yu's unnamed son had a daughter who married Shi Chong (石崇; 249–300). Su Shao, whose courtesy name was Shisi (世嗣), was a notable poet whose works were included in the Jin Gu Collection (金谷集). He was also a tutor to Sima Yan (司馬晏; 281–311), a son of Emperor Wu of the Jin dynasty. Su Shen served as Left General of the Guards (左衞將軍) under the Jin dynasty.[44]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f de Crespigny (2007), p. 761.
  2. ^ (蘇則字文師,扶風武功人也。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  3. ^ (少以學行聞,舉孝廉茂才,辟公府,皆不就。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  4. ^ (魏書曰:則剛直疾惡,常慕汲黯之為人。) Wei Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  5. ^ a b de Crespigny (2007), p. 737.
  6. ^ a b de Crespigny (2007), p. 361.
  7. ^ (魏略曰:則世為著姓,興平中,三輔亂,饑窮,避難北地。客安定,依富室師亮。亮待遇不足,則慨然歎曰:「天下會安,當不乆爾,必還為此郡守,折庸輩士也。」後與馮翊吉茂等隱於郡南太白山中,以書籍自娛。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  8. ^ (起家為酒泉太守,轉安定、武都,所在有威名。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  9. ^ (及為安定太守,而師亮等皆欲逃走。則聞之,豫使人解語,以禮報之。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  10. ^ a b Zizhi Tongjian vol. 67.
  11. ^ (太祖征張魯,過其郡,見則恱之,使為軍導。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  12. ^ (魯破,則綏安下辯諸氐,通河西道,徙為金城太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  13. ^ (是時喪亂之後,吏民流散饑窮,戶口損耗,則撫循之甚謹。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  14. ^ (外招懷羌胡,得其牛羊,以養貧老。與民分糧而食,旬月之閒,流民皆歸,得數千家。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  15. ^ (乃明為禁令,有干犯者輒戮,其從教者必賞。親自教民耕種,其歲大豐收,由是歸附者日多。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  16. ^ (李越以隴西反,則率羌胡圍越,越即請服。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  17. ^ a b c d Zizhi Tongjian vol. 69.
  18. ^ (太祖崩,西平麴演叛,稱護羌校尉。則勒兵討之。演恐,乞降。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  19. ^ (文帝以其功,加則護羌校尉,賜爵關內侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  20. ^ (魏名臣奏載文帝令問雍州刺史張旣曰:「試守金城太守蘇則,旣有綏民平夷之功,聞又出軍西定湟中,為河西作聲勢,吾甚嘉之。則之功効,為可加爵邑未邪?封爵重事,故以問卿。密白意,且勿宣露也。」) Wei Mingchen Zou annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  21. ^ (旣荅曰:「金城郡,昔為韓遂所見屠剥,死喪流亡,或竄戎狄,或陷寇亂,戶不滿五百。則到官,內撫彫殘,外鳩離散,今見戶千餘。又梁燒雜種羌,昔與遂同惡,遂斃之後,越出障塞。則前後招懷,歸就郡者三千餘落,皆卹以威恩,為官效用。西平麴演等唱造邪謀,則尋出軍,臨其項領,演則歸命送質,破絕賊糧。則旣有卹民之效,又能和戎狄,盡忠效節。遭遇聖明,有功必錄。若則加爵邑,誠足以勸忠臣,勵風俗也。」) Wei Mingchen Zou annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  22. ^ de Crespigny (2007), pp. 184, 345, 711, 896, 1057.
  23. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 278.
  24. ^ (後演復結旁郡為亂,張掖張進執太守杜通,酒泉黃華不受太守辛機,進、華皆自稱太守以應之。又武威三種胡並寇鈔,道路斷絕。武威太守毌丘興告急於則。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  25. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 855.
  26. ^ (時雍、涼諸豪皆驅略羌胡以從進等,郡人咸以為進不可當。又將軍郝昭、魏平先是各屯守金城,亦受詔不得西度。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  27. ^ (則乃見郡中大吏及昭等與羌豪帥謀曰:「今賊雖盛,然皆新合,或有脅從,未必同心;因釁擊之,善惡必離,離而歸我,我增而彼損矣。旣獲益衆之實,且有倍氣之勢,率以進討,破之必矣。若待大軍,曠日持乆,善人無歸,必合於惡,善惡旣合,勢難卒離。雖有詔命,違而合權,專之可也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  28. ^ (於是昭等從之,乃發兵救武威,降其三種胡,與興擊進於張掖。演聞之,將步騎三千迎則,辭來助軍,而實欲為變。則誘與相見,因斬之,出以徇軍,其黨皆散走。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  29. ^ (則遂與諸軍圍張掖,破之,斬進及其支黨,衆皆降。演軍敗,華懼,出所執乞降,河西平。乃還金城。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  30. ^ (進封都亭侯,邑三百戶。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  31. ^ (徵拜侍中,與董昭同寮。昭嘗枕則膝卧,則推下之,曰:「蘇則之膝,非佞人之枕也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  32. ^ (魏略曰:舊儀,侍中親省起居,故俗謂之執虎子。始則同郡吉茂者,是時仕甫歷縣令,遷為宂散。茂見則,嘲之曰:「仕進不止執虎子。」則笑曰:「我誠不能效汝蹇蹇驅鹿車馳也。」) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  33. ^ (初,則及臨菑侯植聞魏氏代漢,皆發服悲哭,文帝聞植如此,而不聞則也。帝在洛陽,嘗從容言曰:「吾應天而禪,而聞有哭者,何也?」則謂為見問,鬚髯悉張,欲正論以對。侍中傅巽掐苦洽反。則曰:「不謂卿也。」於是乃止。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  34. ^ (初,則在金城,聞漢帝禪位,以為崩也,乃發喪;後聞其在,自以不審,意頗默然。臨菑侯植自傷失先帝意,亦怨激而哭。其後文帝出游,追恨臨菑,顧謂左右曰:「人心不同,當我登大位之時,天下有哭者。」時從臣知帝此言,有為而發也,而則以為為己,欲下馬謝。侍中傅巽目之,乃悟。) Weilue annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  35. ^ (文帝問則曰:「前破酒泉、張掖,西域通使,燉煌獻徑寸大珠,可復求市益得不?」) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  36. ^ (則對曰:「若陛下化洽中國,德流沙漠,即不求自至;求而得之,不足貴也。」帝嘿然。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  37. ^ (後則從行獵,槎桎拔,失鹿,帝大怒,踞胡牀拔刀,悉收督吏,將斬之。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  38. ^ (則稽首曰:「臣聞古之聖王不以禽獸害人,今陛下方隆唐堯之化,而以獵戲多殺羣吏,愚臣以為不可。敢以死請!」) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  39. ^ (帝曰:「卿,直臣也。」遂皆赦之。然以此見憚。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  40. ^ (黃初四年,左遷東平相。未至,道病薨,謚曰剛侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  41. ^ (子怡嗣。怡薨,無子, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  42. ^ (... 弟愉襲封。愉,咸熈中為尚書。) Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  43. ^ (愉字休豫,歷位太常光祿大夫,見晉百官名。山濤啟事稱愉忠篤有智意。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 16.
  44. ^ (臣松之案愉子紹,字世嗣,為吳王師。石崇妻,紹之兄女也。紹有詩在金谷集。紹弟慎,左衞將軍。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 16.
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  • 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).
  • Sima, Guang (1084). Zizhi Tongjian.