Cai Mo (281–356), courtesy name Daoming, was a Chinese politician during the Jin dynasty (266–420). When northern China fell into chaos, Cai Mo migrated to the south, where he became a prominent minister during the early Eastern Jin period. He was most notable for his work as the Minister of Ceremonies and for being a vocal opponent of his state's attempts at reclaiming the north from their rival, Later Zhao.

Cai Mo
Minister of Ceremonies
In office
? (?)–? (?)
Personal details
Kaifeng, Henan
  • Cai Shao
  • Cai Xian
Parent(s)Cai Ke
Courtesy nameDaoming
PeerageBaron of Jinyang
Posthumous nameWenmu (文穆)

Early careerEdit

Cai Mo came from a line of officials in Kaocheng County (考城縣), Chenliu Commandery (陳留郡), in present-day Kaifeng, Henan. After reaching adulthood, Cai Mo received the title "filial and incorrupt". He also worked as an Assistant Officer in his local government and became nominated as Xiucai. The Prince of Donghai, Sima Yue, offered Cai Mo a position in his administration, but Cai Mo rejected it.[1]

At the turn of the 4th-century, northern China became increasingly chaotic due to civil wars and rebellions. Cai Mo's father, Cai Ke (蔡克), was killed in 307 when the rebel Ji Sang took and sacked Yecheng.[2] Cai Mo eventually decided to move south of the Yangtze to avoid the turmoil and serve the Prince of Langya and Inspector of Yangzhou, Sima Rui.[3] Under Sima Rui, Cai Mo served as the Army Advisor to Sima Rui's son, Sima Shao and later to Rui himself after Rui became Prime Minister in 315. Cai Mo then worked in a succession of offices and continued to do so after Eastern Jin's establishment in 318. Cai Mo enjoyed a good reputation in the south. He shared the same courtesy name, "Daoming" (道明), as two of his peers, Zhuge Hui and Xun Kai. The people at the time nicknamed them the "Three Mings of the Restoration" (中興三明).[4]

In 328, the rebel Su Jun seized the Eastern Jin capital of Jiankang. He appointed Cai Mo as the Interior Minister of Wu after Su Jun drove the old one, Yu Bing, into hiding. However, Cai Mo later joined Wen Jiao's loyalist coalition against Su Jun and gave Yu Bing his position back. After the rebellion in 329, the Jin court appointed Cai Mo as Palace Attendant and Minister of the Five Categories of Troops. Cai Mo attempted to resign and suggested that Kong Yu and Zhuge Hui receive his rewards, but the court refused. The court later made him Secretary of Personnel and awarded him the title 'Baron of Jinyang' for his contributions against Su Jun. Similarly, Cai Mo requested his resignation, but the court rejected it.[5]

Service as Minister of CeremoniesEdit

Despite his attempts to resign, Cai Mo continued working in the government. Cai Mo was demoted to a commoner when, while supervising the ancestral temple, the person in charge forgot to set up the memorial tablet for Emperor Ming of Jin. However, Cai Mo would return to the government shortly after, becoming Minister of Ceremonies and acting Directorate of the Palace Library. Although, at this time, he was too ill to handle his work in person.[6]

In 338, Emperor Cheng of Jin was in the ancestral temple when he sent envoys to honour the Grand Tutor, Grand Commandant and Minister of Works. While waiting for the envoys, Emperor Cheng made an unprecedented request for music to be performed in the temple. Officials pointed out to Emperor Cheng that music-making can only happen during state banquets and sacrificial ceremonies in the temple. The Ministry of Ceremonies extensively discussed the matter. Cai Mo asserted that the emperor should be allowed to order music performed in the ancestral temple when sending envoys, and the court should obey this decision. Since then, it became a custom for the emperors to order music performed at the temple for any occasion.[7]

In another incident, the Prince of Pengcheng, Sima Hong (司馬紘), informed the court of the portraits of Buddha in Lexian Hall (樂賢堂). Emperor Ming of Jin drew the paintings, and despite the disturbances in Jiankang, Lexian Hall remained intact. Sima Hong believed that the portraits were the reason for the hall's survival, so he asked the court to issue a eulogy for them. Emperor Cheng brought the matter to his ministers to discuss. According to Cai Mo, Buddhism was a teaching of the barbarians and not a part of the traditional system. He also asserted that there was no evidence that Emperor Ming was a Buddhist, and he likely painted the pictures as simply part of his hobby. While Cai Mo acknowledged that the paintings might have been blessed and protected the hall, he pointed out that the rebellion destroyed the rest of Jiankang, so it would be inappropriate for the court to extol them. As a result, the court turned down Sima Hong's suggestion.[8]

Yearly, the empress would usually pay a visit to the imperial tombs. These visits were very costly, so Cai Mo suggested doing away with the practice, to which it was agreed.[9]

Opposing the northern expeditionsEdit

In 339, the regent, Yu Liang, proposed to hold an expedition north to reclaim Jin's former territories from Later Zhao. Yu Liang's equal, Chi Jian, was against this, and Cai Mo sided with Chi Jian. Cai Mo presented lengthy reasoning for his stance. He pointed out that Zhao's ruler, Shi Hu, was a superior administrator and general compared to Yu Liang. He also brought up the past failings of Zu Ti's northern expeditions and the difficulties of crossing the rivers dividing Jin and Zhao. Cai Mo convinced the court, so Yu Liang postponed his plans. When Yu Liang attempted his expedition later that year following Prime Minister Wang Dao's death, he was soundly defeated by Zhao, just as Cai Mo expected.[10]

Later in 339, Chi Jian died. Before he died, Chi Jian requested the court to promote Cai Mo and, after his death, allow Cai Mo to inherit his position. The Jin court elevated Cai Mo to Military-Director of The Grand Commandant and Palace Attendant, and after Chi Jian died, Cai Mo inherited the position of General Who Conquers the North and Inspector of Xuzhou.[11]

Shortly after Chi Jian's death, another commander, Chen Guang (陳光), wanted to campaign against Later Zhao, so the court sent him to attack Shouyang. Once again, Cai Mo weighed in to voice his opposition. He said that Shouyang's defences were too strong, that the Zhao army would be quick enough to respond to any intrusion, and that it would be wasteful to use the state's elite soldiers to take an area that would bring little benefit.[12] The court once again sided with Cai Mo, so the court recalled Chen Guang.

Shi Hu built many ships in Qingzhou that he used to raid Jin's borders, killing many people of Jin. The issue troubled the court, which prompted Cai Mo to have the general, Xu Xuan (徐玄) and others guard the Central Plains. Cai Mo also established a reward system which awarded each person for every enemy boat they captured.[13] At the time, Cai Mo commanded 7,000 troops, and he stationed them in Tushan (土山; northeast of present-day Suizhou, Hubei) in the east and Jiangcheng (江乘; in present-day Xianlin University City, Jiangsu) in the west. Altogether, they had eight frontier towns, eleven fortress cities and thirty beacon towers.[14] Before his death, Chi Jian had compiled a list of around 180 subordinates whom he wanted to reward for their services. The rewards stopped because of his death, and many did not receive them. These subordinates had served meritoriously and fought in many battles, so Cai Mo requested the court to complete the list, to which the court agreed.

The stalemate between the north and the south ended in 349, as Zhao was experiencing political unrest between its princes. After Shi Hu died, a civil war between his family members followed. By mid 349, demands for an expedition became prevalent among Jin officials. Cai Mo remained sceptical at the thought, even as he quickly became a minority in the court. When asked, Cai Mo explained that Jin did not have a capable figure to lead the state to overcome Zhao. He also added that expeditions would only deplete Jin's resources and demoralise the people. The court sent their first general, Chu Pou, north in 349 and would continue to do so for the next decade with minimal success.[15]

Downfall and final yearsEdit

Previously, in 346, Cai Mo became acting Minister of the Masses, and in 348, the Jin court wanted him to take up the post officially. However, Cai Mo sent petitions declining it. He said to his peers, "If I were to become Minister Over The Masses, posterity would despise me, so I dare not accept the post."[16] He continuously declined the office for three years, even after Empress Dowager Chu sent her messengers to order him. In 350, Emperor Mu sent his officials to call him to court again, but this time he feigned illness and refused to meet the emperor. Emperor Mu sent another ten messengers to call him between morning to late in the afternoon, but Cai Mo persisted. The empress dowager was about to dismiss the court when Sima Yu, angered by Cai Mo's attitude, petitioned to have him punished.[17]

Many ministers signed the petition, which sent Cai Mo into a panic. Cai Mo brought his sons and brothers in plain clothing to present themselves to the emperor. He admitted to his faults and turned himself into the Minister of Justice. The general, Yin Hao, whom the court had appointed to command the military expeditions, initially pushed for Cai Mo's execution. However, Yin Hao's friend, Xun Xian, successfully changed his mind, fearing Cai Mo's potential to rebel. In the end, the emperor only reduced Cai Mo to a commoner.[17]

Cai Mo spent the rest of his days at home teaching his children.[18] Years after his removal, the Empress Dowager offered him to return to the government as Household Counsellor with the privilege of a Separate Office with equal ceremonial to the Three Excellencies. Cai Mo expressed gratitude but refused, as he was now genuinely ill. This time, the court tolerated him. Cai Mo died in 356 at the age of 76. He was posthumously appointed Palace Attendant and Minister of Works and posthumously named 'Wenmu'.[19]


  1. ^ (謨弱冠察孝廉,州辟從事,舉秀才,東海王越召為掾,皆不就。) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  2. ^ (是日,虞及矯、紹並钜鹿太守崔曼、車騎長史羊恆、從事中郎蔡克等又為豐餘黨所害,及諸名家流移依鄴者,死亡並盡。) Jin Shu, vol. 37
  3. ^ (避亂渡江。時明帝為東中郎將,引為參軍。) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  4. ^ (于時潁川荀闓字道明、陳留蔡謨字道明,與恢俱有名譽,號曰「中興三明」...) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  5. ^ (謨以庾冰當還舊任,卽去郡以讓冰。) Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 94
  6. ^ (冬蒸,謨領祠部,主者忘設明帝位,與太常張泉俱免,白衣領職。頃之,遷太常,領秘書監,以疾不堪親職,上疏自解,不聽。) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  7. ^ (成帝臨軒,遣使拜太傅、太尉、司空。會將作樂,宿縣於殿庭,門下奏,非祭祀燕饗則無設樂之制。事下太常。謨議臨軒遣使宜有金石之樂,遂從之。臨軒作樂,自此始也。) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  8. ^ (彭城王紱上言,樂賢堂有先帝手畫佛象,經歷寇難,而此堂猶存,宜敕作頌。帝下其議。謨曰:「佛者,夷狄之俗,非經典之制。先帝量同天地,多才多藝,聊因臨時而畫此象,至於雅好佛道,所未承聞也。盜賊奔突,王都隳敗,而此堂塊然獨存,斯誠神靈保祚之征,然未是大晉盛德之形容,歌頌之所先也。人臣睹物興義,私作賦頌可也。今欲發王命,敕史官,上稱先帝好佛之志,下為夷狄作一象之頌,於義有疑焉。」於是遂寢。) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  9. ^ (初,皇后每年拜陵,勞費甚多,謨建議曰:「古者皇后廟見而已,不拜陵也。」由是遂止。) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  10. ^ (太常蔡謨議,以為:「時有否泰,道有屈伸,苟不計強弱而輕動,則亡不終日,何功之有!為今之計,莫若養威以俟時。時之可否系胡之強弱,胡之強弱系石虎之能否。自石勒舉事,虎常為爪牙,百戰百勝,遂定中原,所據之地,同於魏世。勒死之後,虎挾嗣君,誅將相;內難既平,剪削外寇,一舉而拔金墉,再戰而擒石生,誅石聰如拾遺,取郭權如振槁,四境之內,不失尺土。以是觀之,虎為能乎,將不能也?論者以胡前攻襄陽不能拔,謂之無能為。夫百戰百勝之強而以不拔一城為劣,譬諸射擊百發百中而一失,可以謂之拙乎?且石遇,偏師也,桓平北,邊將也,所爭者疆場之土,利則進,否則退,非所急也。今征西以重鎮名賢,自將大軍欲席捲河南,虎必自帥一國之眾來決勝負,豈得以襄陽為比哉!今征西欲與之戰,何如石生?若欲城守,何如金墉?欲阻沔水,何如大江?欲拒石虎,何如蘇峻?凡此數者,宜詳校之。石生猛將,關中精兵,征西之戰殆不能勝也。金墉險固,劉曜十萬眾不能拔,征西之守殆不能勝也。又當是時,洛陽、關中皆舉兵擊虎,今此三鎮反為其用;方之於前,倍半之勢也。石生不能敵其半,而征西欲當其倍,愚所疑也。蘇峻之強不及石虎,沔水之險不及大江;大江不能御蘇峻,而欲以沔水御石虎,又所疑也。昔祖士稚在譙,佃於城北界,胡來攻,豫置軍屯以御其外。谷將熟,胡果至,丁夫戰於外,老弱獲於內,多持炬火,急則燒谷而走。如此數年,竟不得其利。當是時,胡唯據河北,方之於今,四分之一耳;士稚不能捍其一,而征西欲以御其四,又所疑也。然此但論征西既至之後耳,尚未論道路之慮也。自沔以西,水急岸高,魚貫溯流,首尾百里。若胡無宋襄之義,及我未陣而擊之,將若之何?今王土與胡,水陸異勢,便習不同;胡若送死,則敵之有餘,若棄江遠進,以我所短擊彼所長,懼非廟勝之算也。」朝議多與謨同。乃詔亮不聽移鎮。) Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 96
  11. ^ (詔以蔡謨為太尉軍司,加侍中、辛酉,鑒薨,即以謨為征北將軍、都督徐、兗、青三州諸軍事、徐州刺史,假節。) Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 96
  12. ^ (時左衛將軍陳光上疏請伐胡,詔令攻壽陽,謨上疏曰: 今壽陽城小而固。自幫陽至琅邪,城壁相望,其間遠者裁百餘里,一城見攻,眾城必救。且王師在路五十餘日,劉仕一軍早已入淮,又遣數部北取堅壁,大軍未至,聲息久聞。而賊之郵驛,一日千里,河北之騎足以來赴,非惟鄰城相救而已。夫以白起、韓信、項籍之勇,猶發梁焚舟,背水而陣。今欲停船水渚,引兵造城,前對堅敵,顧臨歸路,此兵法之所誡也。若進攻未拔,胡騎卒至,懼桓子不知所為,而舟中之指可掬。今征軍五千,皆王都精銳之眾,又光為左衛,遠近聞之,名為殿中之軍,宜令所向有征無戰。而頓之堅城之下,勝之不武,不勝為笑。今以國之上駟擊寇之下邑,得之則利薄而不足損敵,失之則害重而足以益寇,懼非策之長者。臣愚以為聞寇而致討,賊退而振旅,於事無失。不勝管見,謹冒陳聞。) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  13. ^ (謨遣龍驤將軍徐玄等守中洲,並設募,若得賊大白船者,賞布千匹,小船百匹。) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  14. ^ (是時謨所統七千餘人,所戍東至土山,西至江乘,鎮守八所,城壘凡十一處,烽火樓望三十餘處...) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  15. ^ (朝野皆以爲中原指期可複,光祿大夫蔡謨獨謂所親曰:「胡滅誠爲大慶,然恐更貽朝廷之憂。」其人曰:「何謂也?」謨曰:「夫能順天乘時,濟群生于艱難者,非上聖與英雄不能爲也,自餘則莫若度德量力。觀今日之事,殆非時賢所及,必將經營分表,疲民以逞;既而材略疏短,不能副心,財殫力竭,智勇俱困,安得不憂及朝 廷乎!」) Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 98
  16. ^ (十二月,以左光祿大夫、領司徒、錄尚書事蔡謨爲侍中、司徒。謨上疏固讓,謂所親曰:「我若爲司徒,將爲後代所曬,義不敢拜也。」) Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 98
  17. ^ a b (會徐州刺史荀羨入朝,浩以問羨,羨曰:「蔡公今日事危,明日必有桓、文之舉。」浩乃止。 下詔免謨爲庶人。) Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 98
  18. ^ (謨既被廢,杜門不出,終日講誦,教授子弟。) Jin Shu, vol. 77
  19. ^ (詔贈侍中、司空,諡曰文穆。) Jin Shu, Volume 77