Tao Kan (陶侃) was among the few people who established a good name for themselves in the court of Eastern Jin (东晋).
What was less well-known was the fact that he was not an ethnic Han (at least not a full-blooded one) but said to be of the aboriginal Xī (谿) ethnicity, also known as the Panhu savages 槃瓠蛮. Tao Kan himself had been mocked at for this aspect of his background.
Aliases : ShiXing (士行)
Born : AD 259, Died (Western Jin dynasty): AD 334 (Eastern Jin dynasty)
Hometown : originally from PoYang prefecture (present-day NE of BoYang county) / 鄱阳郡 (今江西波阳县东北), later moved to XúnYáng in LúJiāng (present-day JiuJiang in JiangXi province) / 庐江浔阳（今江西九江）
Tao Kan was introduced in many primary school textbooks as a hardworking man who physically carried 100 bricks out of his house before going to work in the morning, and carrying them back in the evening.
When he was asked about it, Tao Kan replied he was toughening himself physically in order prepare for great undertakings.
A humble background (家属寒门)
In his younger days, Tao Kan was a minor clerk in YüLiang (鱼梁吏). Like other families in the region after the reunification by Jin, they were poor and humble (寒门).
Tao Kan's father was Tao Dan (陶丹), a border commander of Wu (吴) during the Three Kingdoms. Tao Dan held the title of YangWu (扬武) general, which was not a senior rank.
Tao Dan died when Tao Kan was young, and brought up by his mother Madam Zhàn (湛). Madam Zhàn was a strong-willed woman who was determined for her son to succeed in life. Apart from ensuring he was educated, she used the money from weaving to enable him to establish a network of friends. Her effort finally first paid off when Tao Kan was recommended to be a county secretary (主簿) by Zhou Fang (县功曹周访) who also worked in the county office.
A mother's sacrifice
Tao Kan's next opportunity came when Fan Kui (范逵) who was an official in the prefect's office of Fan Yang (鄱阳郡孝廉) was passing by and came visiting during a snow-bound winter. To provide decent meal and drink for the guest, Madam Zhàn cut off some of her hair to be sold. Tao Kan had to chop parts of his own dwelling as firewood (斫诸屋柱).
They finally managed to host Fan Kui "properly", though it was clear the family was impoverished. At the end of the visit, Tao Kan escorted Fan Kui on his way for more than one hundred li (里) or 50km [personal note: it was either exaggerated or they were staying in a remote rural area].
Touched, Fan Kui asked Tao Kan if he wished to work in the prefect's office. Tao Kan replied affirmative but lacked an introduction. Fan Kui recommended him to Zhang Kui (张夔), prefect of LuJiang. Tao Kan began to rise in the civil service.
An inspector demanded a bribe
Shortly afterwards, an inspector from the provincial office was making his rounds, demanding bribes on the pretext of inspecting the work of the civil servants.
Tao Kan told his subordinates to continue working dilligently and rejected all unwarranted demands from the inspector. He told the inspector he would answer for any valid faults the inspector could find, and would resist any strong-arm tactics." The inspector had to withdraw and leave.
Repaying Zhang Kui
When Zhang Kui's wife fell ill, Tao Kan arranged for a doctor to travel over several hundred li (里), impressing his subordinates.
Tao Kan gave Wan Shi (万嗣), prefect of ChangSha (长沙太守) who was passing by LuJiang respectul and proper treatment, prompting the latter to remark Tao Kan would go far. Wan Shi told his own son to befriend Tao Kan.
Zhang Kui eventually promoted Tao Kan to Xiao Lian (孝廉), which enabled Tao Kan to travel to the capital LuoYang (洛阳) and mingle with the élite.
Futilely trying to establish a position in LuoYang
In AD 291 (元康元年), the wife of Emperor Hui of Jin (惠帝), Empress Jia NanFeng (贾南风) tried to usurp power, sparking off the misnamed Rebellion of the Eight Princes (八王之乱). Largely thanks to Jia Mo (贾模) and Zhang Hua (张华), a certain measure of control prevailled in the Imperial Court.
Tao Kan arrived in LuoYang in AD296 (元康六年). By then LuoYang had recovered from the destruction wrought by DongZhuo and other devastations, and became a bustling metropolis. There, Tao Kan found his progress impeded by the established Nine-Tiered System (九品中正制) which exclusively favoured the aristocrats and relegated those from humble background to the lower rungs, a la an old boys club.
Tao Kan tried to find a patron in Zhang Hua who was the Supreme Censor (司空), but the latter initially refused to see "distant" people. Tao Kan persisted, with humility, and finally convinced Zhang Hua after conversations that he was an exceptional talent. Zhang Hua arranged for Tao Kan to hold the rank of Lang Zhong (郎中). In theory, this qualified him for numerous senior secretarial appointments, but in practice, due to Tao Kan's background, denied him the important ones.
At one time, the general Sun Xiu (孙秀) who was the autocrat of the moment, had Tao Kan treated as a guest advisor due to his background. (亡国支庶，府望不显，中华人士耻为掾属，以侃寒宦，召为舍人).
When Yang Zhuo (杨晫), a widely respected secretary of YüZhang (预章), travelled in the same carriage as Tao Kan, other officials of contemporary ranks were puzzled, if not aghasted. But Yang Zhuo was certain Tao Kan would make his mark.
When Minister Yue Guang (尚书乐广) wanted to find candidates for various posts from the Jing (荆) and Yang (扬) regions, commander of the arsenal Huang Qing (武库令黄庆) recommended Tao Kan, only to be turned down. Huang Qing remained convinced of Tao Kan's future.
Return to the south
In AD 301, Sima Lun (司马伦) deposed the emperor and usurped the throne after getting rid of Empress Jia the previous year. The turmoils in the capital convinced Tao Kan there was no future for him there. Many of the southerners had already moved back to JiangDong (江东), and Tao Kan was similarly influenced.
By then, Huang Qing was promoted to a senior post in the Ministry of Personnel (吏部令吏), and recommended Tao Kan to be the magistrate (县令) in Wu Gang (武冈) county. Past 40 of age, Tao Kan became on bad terms with the prefect Lü Yue (吕岳). He resigned and became a minor clerk in prefectoral office.
He might be doomed to ignominy like many others had it not been for the turbulence that spread to the south.
[to be continued ...]
Edited by Yun, 21 August 2006 - 03:58 AM.