Li Te (Cheng Han)

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Cheng (Han) Jing Huang Di (成(漢)景帝)
Family name: Li (李; lǐ)
Given name: Te (特, Tè)
Temple name: Shizu (始祖, shǐ zǔ)
Posthumous name: Jing (景, Jǐng),
literary meaning: "Splendid"

Li Te, courtesy name Xuanxiu, was the spiritual founder of Cheng Han during the Sixteen Kingdoms period. He was a Ba-Di from present-day Gansu, who after a local rebellion in 296, decided to move back to his ancestral home in Yizhou[disambiguation needed]. He then joined a rebellion in 300 headed by Zhao Xin but soon killed him and submitted back to the Jin dynasty (266–420) the next year after Zhao had executed his brother Li Xiáng. Li Te was a popular figure among the refugees of Yizhou, who all sought his protection when the Jin court issued an order demanding they return north. After months of evading the order, Jin forces led by Luo Shang took action in 301 and attacked Li Te. Li Te fought for two year before he was killed in an ambush in 303. Even then, his brother Li Liu and his son Li Xiong would continue his fight with the latter finally driving out Jin forces out from Yizhou in 304. Li Xiong established the state of Cheng (later named Han in 338) and posthumously honoured his father as emperor.

Background and Early Life[edit]

Li Te's ancestors were originally from Baxi commandery (巴西郡; around present-day Langzhong, Sichuan) but during the rule of Cao Cao after he captured Hanzhong during the end of the Han dynasty, his grandfather Li Hu (李虎) led his people north to submit to him and lived among the Di people of Qinzhou (秦州, modern eastern Gansu), hence the name Ba-Di. Li Te's father was Li Mu (李慕), who had five sons with Te being the second. Li Te was described as 8 chi tall and displayed martial talents such as in horseback archery.[1]

In 296, a Di chieftain named Qiwannian led a major revolt around Li Te's area. The land was struck by famines and military occupation, so many of its inhabitants decided to migrate including Li Te, who led his followers back to his ancestral homeland in Yizhou. While passing through Jian'ge Pass (劍閣關, in modern Guangyuan, Sichuan), he was marvelled by the sturdy defenses that the region possessed, saying, "Liu Shan had such defenses as this, and yet he still gave himself over in surrender to others. How could he not have been a man of inferior talents?"[2]

Zhao Xin's rebellion[edit]

At the start of the 4th century in 300, the Inspector of Yizhou, Zhao Xin rebelled against the Jin dynasty, hoping to start his own state much like the Liu of Shu Han before him by declaring himself Grand General and Governor of Yizhou. Among the first to support him happened to be Li Te's brother Li Xiáng who Zhao made General Who Vanquishes Invaders and had him defend the north. Li Xiáng was very popular among the people for his kind administration, much to the dismay of Zhao Xin. In the end, Zhao had Li Xiáng killed without his brother's knowledge in 301.[3]

Yet, Zhao Xin was faced with a dilemma as despite his killing of Li Xiáng, he wanted to ensure Li Te and Li Liu's loyalty to him. He sent messengers to console and reason them for their loss but this only made the two brothers angry, so they led their forces to attack Zhao Xin's base in Mianzhu. They first raided Zhao Xin's forces at Shiting during the night, setting fire to it and killing many of the soldiers before setting out to Chengdu. Li Te's arrival at caused the city to panic and many of Zhao Xin's officials abandoned him. Zhao Xin fled to Guangdu (廣都; in modern Shuangliu District, Sichuan) by boat with his family but was killed by his subordinates along the way. Li Te entered Chengdu, sacking the city before sending a list of crimes that Zhao Xin had committed to the Jin capital in Luoyang.[4]

Opposing orders to return north[edit]

Despite Li Te's attempt to establish friendly relationship with the Jin court, the latter was still contempt in sending an army led by Luo Shang to crush Li Te and his forces. Li Te sent his brother Li Xiāng (note the different pinyin) to welcome Luo Shang on the road and gift him with presents. Luo Shang was pleased and accepted his token of friendship in spite of objections from his subordinates Wang Dun (王敦, not to be confused with the more famous Wang Dun) and Xin Ran (辛冉). Luo Shang even made Li Xiang his own officer but suspicion between the two sides persisted.[5]

Meanwhile, in the north, the court had decided they call back home the refugees that had fled from the north during Qiwannian's rebellion. However, Li Te's brother, Li Fu (李輔) had just arrived in Shu when he notified his brother that the north was still in chaos. Li Te thus sent Yan Shi (閻式) along with bribes to Luo Shang to negotiate their stay all the way to autumn, which Luo Shang permitted. Li Te was later named General Who Displays Might and made a marquis but an unpopular decision made by the court among the refugees was not rewarding those who had helped Li Te in overthrowing Zhao Xin. This was proposed by Luo Shang's subordinate Xin Ran, who the refugees now resent.[6]

Luo Shang made preparations to send back the refugees by autumn but the refugees were starting to feel anxious. Li Te sent Yan Shi again to negotiate their stay till winter but this time Luo Shang rejected. Even his subordinate Du Tao remonstrated him but it could not change his mind. Li Te was becoming increasingly popular and received many refugees as autumn approached so he continued to ask Luo Shang for his extension. This angered Xin Ran, who finally took action by setting up notices demanding for the Li family's head. Li Te acquired these notices and edited them by saying that Xin Ran not only wanted the Li dead, but also the other major families among refugee. This quickly gained traction as more refugees banded together with Li Te for protection.[7]

War with Luo Shang[edit]

At the advice of Yan Shi, Li Te readied himself for war. Xin Ran and Li Bi (李苾) also decided to take matters into their own hands. Without the knowledge of Luo Shang, they sent Ceng Yuan (曾元) and others to carry out a surprise attack on Li Te's camp. When Luo Shang found out, he immediately supported Xin Ran and sent Tian Zuo (田佐) to reinforce Ceng Yuan. Li Te remained calm in the face of the attack. He allowed half of the enemies to enter his camp before ambushing them with no way out. Li Te killed Ceng Yuan and the other generals, sending their heads to Luo Shang and Xin Ran as a warning.[8]

The refugees acclaimed Li Te as General Who Guards The North after the war broke out. Li Te appointed his brothers with offices before assaulting Xin Ran at Guanghan County. Luo Shang had sent reinforcements to help Xin Ran but they were too afraid to engage Li Te in battle. Xin Ran was defeated multiple of times before retreating to Deyang County, allowing Li Te to occupy his city. Li Te proceeded to carry out even more appointments to his family members and members of the powerful refugee families. Luo Shang was also at a disadvantage as the people of Yizhou all favored Li Te over him, so to compensate he strengthen his defenses and fought Li Te to a stalemate while calling for reinforcements.[9]

In 302, the Prince of Hejian, Sima Yong sent Ya Bo (衙博) to Zitong to assist Luo Shang in putting down Li Te. Luo Shang ordered his Protector, Zhang Gui (張龜) to march to Fancheng so Li Te went to face Zhang while his son Li Dang fought with Ya Bo. Li Te routed Zhang Gui and received the surrender of Zitong and Baxi. Li Dang drove out Ya Bo and received his soldiers surrender. With his latest victory, Li Te proclaimed himself Grand General, Governor of Yizhou, and Commander of military affairs in Liangzhou and Yizhou.[10]

In autumn, Li Te attacked Zhang Wei (張微) but was repelled and had his camp besieged instead. Li Dang came to his rescue to turned away Zhang Wei. Li Te wanted to retreat but through his son's advice, decided to attack again and this time, he managed to kill Zhang Wei. He also fought with Xu Xiong (許雄) a couple of times, winning in every bout between the two. Li Te's territories and influence only grew, which worried Luo Shang and the Jin court.[11]

Li Te finally reached Chengdu in 303, catching Luo Shang's troops by surprise through the rivers. He occupied the lesser city of Chengdu but did not carry out any plunder. Instead, he granted an amnesty and declared a new reign era. With the situation somewhat mellowed, Luo Shang, who was in the Greater City of Chengdu, decided to negotiate peace with Li Te. Li Te's major, Shangguan Dun (上官惇), doubted the peace talks, as he believed that it would only served to create more enemies. Another thing that Li Te's generals pointed out was that he had dispersed the refugees into separate fortified places, making him susceptible to attacks and betrayal. Li Te simply ignored and scolded them.[12]


Despite Li Te's consistent success, his life would come to an abrupt and brutal end. The Jin court had ordered reinforcements from Jingzhou to help Luo Shang, so Li Te sent his son Li Dang and a few others to defend Deyang. A subordinate of Luo Shang, Ren Rui (任叡) planned with him to ambush Li Te. The two men slipped out from Chengdu and Ren Rui went around fortified areas telling them Luo Shang's plans and the determined date. Ren Rui then feigned surrender to Li Te and lied to him about Luo Shang's weaknesses. Ren Rui then asked him permission to allow him to return to Chengdu to visit his family, and Li Te permitted. Ren Rui revealed everything about Li Te's plans when he came back to Chengdu. At the beginning of 303, Luo Shang with the help of those from the fortified areas made a surprise attack on Li Te's camp. With so little troops, Li Te fought for two days before dying alongside Li Fu and Li Yuan (李遠). Their bodies were burnt and their heads were sent back to the capital.[13]

Li Te's sudden death shook his army, which elected his brother Li Liu to succeed him. The Li family nearly fell after his death but through the works of Li Liu and Te's son Li Xiong, the refugees drove out the Jin forces from Yizhou. Li Xiong would establish his state of Cheng in 304, being the only barbarian state of the 4th century to establish itself in the south and the first of the Sixteen Kingdoms. Li Xiong originally called himself a king, so he posthumously honoured his father King Jing of Chengdu (成都景王). After Li Xiong declared himself emperor in 306, Li Te's title was thus changed to Emperor Jing (景皇帝).[14]

Era names[edit]

  • Jianchu (建初, jiàn chū) 303

Personal information[edit]

  • Father
    • Li Mu (second son of)
  • Wife
  • Children
    • Li Shi (李始), eldest son by concubine
    • Li Dang (李蕩), died during Li Liu's reign in 303
    • Li Xiong (李雄), first emperor of Cheng Han


  1. ^ (李特,字玄休,巴西宕渠人。其先廩君之苗裔,秦併天下,以為黔中郡,薄賦斂之,口歲出錢四十。巴人謂賦為賨,因謂之賨人焉。及高祖為漢王,始募賨人,平定三秦,既而不願出關,求還鄉里。高祖以其功,復同豐沛,更名其地為巴郡。土有鹽鐵丹漆之利,民用敦阜,俗性剽勇,善歌舞。高祖愛其舞,詔樂府習之,今巴渝舞是也。其後繁昌,分為數十姓。及魏武剋漢中,特祖父虎將五百家歸魏,魏武嘉之,遷略陽(一云洛陽),拜虎等為將軍。徙內者亦萬餘家,散居隴右諸郡及三輔、弘農,所在號巴氐。虎子慕為東羌獵將,慕生有五子,輔、特、庠、流、驤。特身長八尺,雄武善騎射,沉毅有大度。) Book of Jin, Volume 120
  2. ^ (元康中,氐齊萬年反,關西擾亂,天水、略陽、扶風、始平諸郡皆被兵,頻歲大饑,流移就穀,相與入漢川者數萬家。特至劍閣,顧盼嶮阻,曰:「劉禪有如此之地而面縛於人,豈非庸才耶!」同移者閻武等咸歎異之。初、流民既至漢中,上書求寄食巴蜀,朝廷從之。由是散在梁、益,不可禁止。) Book of Jin, Volume 120
  3. ^ (庠素東羌良將,曉軍陳,不用麾志,舉矛為行伍。庠勸稱大號漢。庠部下放攪,廞等忌之,張佳遂於會所斬庠,及其兄子弘等十餘人。慮特等為變,又命為督將,安慰其軍。還特庠喪。其夜,特、流徹眾散歸綿竹。廞遣故陰平令張衡、升遷費恕就綏納,皆為特所殺。) Huayang Guozhi, Volume 7.4
  4. ^ (廞恐朝廷討己,遣長史費遠、犍為太守李苾、督護常俊督萬餘人斷北道,次綿竹之石亭。特密收合得七千餘人,夜襲遠軍,遠大潰,因放火燒之,死者十八九。進攻成都。廞聞兵至,驚懼不知所為。李苾、張征等夜斬關走出,文武盡散。廞獨與妻子乘小船走至廣都,為下人硃竺所殺。特至成都,縱兵大掠,害西夷護軍薑發,殺廞長史袁治及廞所置守長,遣其牙門王角、李基詣洛陽陳廞之罪狀。) Book of Jin, Volume 120
  5. ^ (初,梁州刺史羅尚聞廞反,表:「廞非雄才,又蜀人不願為亂,必無同者,事終無成,敗亡可計日而俟。」惠帝因拜尚平西將軍,假節,領護西夷校尉,益州刺史,給衛節兵一千,梁州兵二千,又配上庸都尉義部千五百人,合四千五百人。遷梓潼太守樂陵徐儉為蜀郡,揚烈將軍隴西辛冉為廣漢太守。尚又表請牙門將王敦兵七千餘人入蜀。特等聞尚來,甚懼,使弟驤奉迎。厚進寶物。尚以驤為騎督。特、流奉牛酒勞尚於綿竹。王敦說尚曰:「特等隴上塞盜劫賊,會所殺之。〔軍無後患也。〕」辛冉本趙王倫所用,非資次,召當還,欲〔以〕討廞「以自新」〔自為功〕,亦言之。尚不納。又冉謂特曰:「故人相逢,不吉當凶。」特自猜懼。) Huyang Guozhi, Volume 7.5
  6. ^ (尋有符下秦、雍州,凡流人入漢川者,皆下所在召還。特兄輔素留鄉里,托言迎家,既至蜀,謂特曰:「中國方亂,不足復還,」特以為然,乃有雄據巴、蜀之意。朝廷以討趙廞功,拜特宣威將軍,封長樂鄉侯,流為奮威將軍、武陽侯。璽書下益州,條列六郡流人與特協同討廞者,將加封賞。會辛冉以非次見征,不顧應召,又欲以滅廞為己功,乃寢朝命,不以實上。眾咸怨之。) Book of Jin, Volume 120
  7. ^ (羅尚遣從事催遣流人,限七月上道,辛冉性貪暴,欲殺流人首領,取其資貨,乃移檄發遣。又令梓潼太守張演于諸要施關,搜索寶貨。特等固請,求至秋收。流人布在梁、益,為人傭力,及聞州郡逼遣,人人愁怨,不知所為。羅尚遣從事催遣流人,限七月上道,辛冉性貪暴,欲殺流人首領,取其資貨,乃移檄發遣。又令梓潼太守張演于諸要施關,搜索寶貨。特等固請,求至秋收。流人布在梁、益,為人傭力,及聞州郡逼遣,人人愁怨,不知所為。又知特兄弟頻請求停,皆感而恃之。且水雨將降,年穀未登,流人無以為行資,遂相與詣特。) Book of Jin, Volume 120
  8. ^ (冉、苾相與謀曰:「羅侯貪而無斷,日復一日,令流民得展姦計。李特兄弟並有雄才,吾屬將爲所虜矣!宜爲決計,羅侯不足復問也。」乃遣廣漢都尉曾元、牙門張顯、劉並等潛帥步騎三萬襲特營;羅尚聞之,亦遣督護田佐助元。元等至,特安臥不動,待其衆半入,發伏擊之,死者甚衆。殺田佐、曾元、張顯,傳首以示尚、冉。尚謂將佐曰:「此虜成去矣,而廣漢不用吾言以張賊勢,今若之何!」) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 84
  9. ^ (於是六郡流民共推特行鎭北大將軍,承制封拜;以其弟流行鎭東大將軍,號東督護,以相鎭統;又以兄輔爲驃騎將軍,弟驤爲驍騎將軍,進兵攻冉於廣漢。尚遣李苾、費遠帥衆救冉,畏特,不敢進。冉出戰屢敗,潰圍奔德陽。特入據廣漢,以李超爲太守,進兵攻尚於成都。) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 84
  10. ^ (河間王顒遣督護衙博、廣漢太守張征討特,南夷校尉李毅又遣兵五千助尚,尚遣督護張龜軍繁城,三道攻特。特命蕩、雄襲博。特躬擊張龜,龜眾大敗。蕩又與博接戰連日,博亦敗績,死者太半。蕩追博至漢德,博走葭萌。蕩進寇巴西,巴西郡丞毛植、五官襄珍以郡降蕩。蕩撫恤初附,百姓安之。蕩進攻葭萌,博又遠遁,其眾盡降於蕩。太安元年,特自稱益州牧、都督梁、益二州諸軍事、大將軍、大都督,改年建初,赦其境內。) Book of Jin, Volume 120
  11. ^ (於是進攻張征。征依高據險,與特相持連日。時特與蕩分為二營,徵候特營空虛,遣步兵循山攻之,特逆戰不利,山險窘逼,眾不知所為。羅准、任道皆勸引退,特量蕩必來,故不許。征眾至稍多,山道至狹,唯可一二人行,蕩軍不得前,謂其司馬王辛曰:「父在深寇之中,是我死日也。」乃衣重鎧,持長矛,大呼直前,推鋒必死,殺十餘人。征眾來相救,蕩軍皆殊死戰,征軍遂潰。特議欲釋征還涪,蕩與王辛進曰:「征軍連戰,士卒傷殘,智勇俱竭,宜因其弊遂擒之。若舍而寬之,征養病收亡,餘眾更合,圖之未易也。」特從之,復進攻征,征潰圍走。蕩水陸追之,遂害征,生擒征子存,以征喪還之。) Book of Jin, Volume 120
  12. ^ (春,正月,李特潛渡江擊羅尚,水上軍皆散走。蜀郡太守徐儉以少城降,特入據之,惟取馬以供軍,餘無侵掠;赦其境內,改元建初。羅尚保太城,遣使求和於特。蜀民相聚爲塢者,皆送款於特,特遣使就撫之;以軍中糧少,乃分六郡流民於諸塢就食。李流言於特曰:「諸塢新附,人心未固,宜質其大姓子弟,聚兵自守,以備不虞。」又與特司馬上官惇書曰:「納降如受敵,不可易也。」前將軍雄亦以爲言。特怒曰:「大事已定,但當安民,何爲更逆加疑忌,使之離叛乎!」) Zizhi Tongjian, Volume 85
  13. ^ (益州從事任明說尚曰:「特既凶逆,侵暴百姓,又分人散眾,在諸村堡,驕怠無備,是天亡之也。可告諸村,密克期日,內外擊之,破之必矣。」尚從之。明先偽降特,特問城中虛實,明曰:「米穀已欲盡,但有貨帛耳。」因求省家,特許之。明潛說諸村,諸村悉聽命。還報尚,尚許如期出軍,諸村亦許一時赴會。二年,惠帝遣荊州刺史宋岱、建平太守孫阜救尚。阜已次德陽,特遣蕩督李璜助任臧距阜。尚遣大眾奄襲特營,連戰二日,眾少不敵,特軍大敗,收合餘卒,引趣新繁。尚軍引還,特復追之,轉戰三十餘里,尚出大軍逆戰,特軍敗績,斬特及李輔、李遠,皆焚屍,傳首洛陽。在位二年。其子雄僭稱王,追諡特景王,及僭號,追尊曰景皇帝,廟號始祖。) Book of Jin, Volume 120
  14. ^ (夏六月,僭即帝位,大赦改元,國號大成。追尊父特為景帝,母羅氏為太皇后。十月,加丞相范長生為天地大師之號,封西山侯。) Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Volume 6