An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Tao Kan 陶侃

Jul 1, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

Tao Kan 陶侃 (259-334), courtesy name Shixing 士行, was a general of the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420). He hailed from Fanyang 鄱陽 (today's 波陽 Boyang, Jiangxi) and later moved to Xunyang 尋陽 (Jiujiang 九江, Jiangxi). His father Tao Dan 陶丹 held the title of General wielding authority (yangwu jiangjun 揚武將軍), but died when Tao Kan was still a young boy, and the family impoverished.

Tao Kan was neverthless, because of his familiary background, begin a career as a local administrator, district magistrate (xianling 縣令), and then (langzhong 郎中). In 303, he was appointed chief clerk in commands of troops (zhangshi 長史) over the Southern Man tribes 南蠻, participated in the suppression of the rebellion of Zhang Chang 張昌 (d. 304), and received acknowledgment of his military talents by Liu Hong 劉弘, the regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of the province of Jingzhou 荊州. The emperor decided to award Tao Kan the title of township marquis of Dongxiang 東鄉侯, and was then adjutant in the headquarters (xingjunsi 行軍司).

In 305, Tao Kan was made governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Jiangxia 江夏. During this service period, he defeated the rebel Chen Min 陳敏. In 311, Tao received the title of General of rousing dragons (longxiang jiangjun 龍驤將軍) and was transferred to the commandery of Wuchang 武昌 (Echeng 鄂城, Hubei). A year later, Tao Kan, Zhou Fang 周訪 (260-320) and Gan Zhuo 甘卓 (d. 322) took over the suppression of the rebellion of Du Tao 杜弢 (d. 315), and was rewarded with the post of regional inspector of Jingzhou.

The military glory of Tao Kan grew daily, and yielded him quite a few enemies, like Wang Dun 王敦 (266-324), who engineered Tao's appointment as General pacifying the south (pingnan jiangjun 平南將軍) and the transfer to the province of Jiaozhou 交州 (today's Wuzhou 梧州, Guangxi), where he was area commander-in-chief (dudu 都督). During his time in the remote south, Tao Kan put down the rebellions of Du Hong 杜弘 and Wen Shao 溫邵. Tao remained there until the rebellion of Wang Dun was suffocated, and was then made General-in-chief conquering the west (zhengxi da jiangjun 征西大將軍).

A large-scale rebellion broke out in 327, led by the generals Su Jun 蘇峻 (d. 328) and Zu Yue 祖約 (d. 330). Tao Kan was entrusted with its suppression, but it took him two years of heavy fighting, before he liberated the imperial capital at Jiankang 建康 (Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu). The regent for Emperor Cheng 晉成帝 (r. 325-342), Yu Liang 庾亮 (289-340), much feared the power of Tao Kan, and therefore tried to balance his power against that of other military leaders like Wen Jiao 溫嶠 (288—329). Tao was nevertheless highly rewarded with the honorific title of Palace Attendant Defender-in-chief (shizhong taiwei 侍中太尉), and the noble title of Duke of Changsha 長沙公. He was also given the supreme command over the troops of seven provinces.

In the same year, General Guo Mo 郭默 (d. 330) killed the regional inspector of Dongjiang 東江, Liu Ying 劉胤, and took over his position. Also in this case, the emperor laid the punishment of the rebel in Tao Kan's hands.

Therafter, Tao Kan was area commander-in-chief and concurrently regional inspector of the province of Jiangzhou 江州. In 322, Guo Jing 郭敬, a general of the Later Zhao empire 後趙 (319-350), marched towards the border to the Jin empire. Tao Kan ordered his son Tao Bin 陶斌 and Huan Xuan 桓宣 (d. 344) to attack the city of Fancheng 樊城. The two generals defeated the enemy, and Tao Kan was bestowed the titles of Commander-in-chief as general-in-chief (da sima da jiangjun 大司馬大將軍).

Shortly after, Tao Kan fell ill and asked for allowance to retire. He died in Fanxi 樊溪 not far from Wuchang.

The character of Tao Kan was praised as purely honest, loyal, diligent, and intelligent in decisions. Stories report of his sense of duty until short before his death. Other sources speak of his fondness for wine and gambling in his later years.

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