Gu Tan (c. 205–246), courtesy name Zimo, was an official of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China.

Gu Tan
Minister of Ceremonies (太常)
In office
244 (244)–245 (245)
MonarchSun Quan
ChancellorLu Xun
Master of Writing in the Selection Bureau (選曹尚書)
In office
242 (242)–244 (244)
MonarchSun Quan
ChancellorGu Yong
Preceded byXue Zong
Commandant of Equipage (奉車都尉)
In office
? (?)–? (?)
MonarchSun Quan
ChancellorGu Yong
Personal details
Bornc. 205
Suzhou, Jiangsu
Diedc. 246 (aged 41)
Hanoi, Vietnam
Courtesy nameZimo (子默)

Family backgroundEdit

Gu Tan's ancestral home was in Wu County, Wu Commandery, which is present-day Suzhou, Jiangsu.[1] The Gu clan, which he was from, was one of the four most influential clans in Wu Commandery and also in the Jiangdong region at the time.[a]

Gu Tan's father, Gu Shao, served as the Administrator (太守) of Yuzhang Commandery (豫章郡; around present-day Nanchang, Jiangxi) under the warlord Sun Quan in the late Eastern Han dynasty. Gu Tan's grandfather, Gu Yong, was the second Imperial Chancellor of the state of Eastern Wu, founded by Sun Quan in the Three Kingdoms period after the fall of the Eastern Han dynasty. Gu Tan's mother was a daughter of Sun Ce, Sun Quan's elder brother and predecessor as the warlord ruling over the Jiangdong territories in the late Eastern Han dynasty.[2]

Early careerEdit

Gu Tan started his career when he reached adulthood around the age of 19 as one of four close attendants of Sun Deng, the eldest son and heir apparent of Sun Quan, the ruler of the Eastern Wu state. The other three were Zhuge Ke, Zhang Xiu and Chen Biao.[3]

After Sun Quan declared himself emperor in 229 and designated Sun Deng as his crown prince, the four attendants were promoted to commandants under various titles. Gu Tan became Commandant Who Upholds Righteousness (輔正都尉) and continued playing a supporting role to Sun Deng.[4] Among his four attendants, Sun Deng favoured and trusted Zhuge Ke and Gu Tan the most, and he regarded them more highly than others such as Fan Shen (范慎), Xie Jing (謝景) and Yang Hui (羊徽).[5]

Mid careerEdit

During the Chiwu era (238–251) of Sun Quan's reign, Gu Tan replaced Zhuge Ke as Left Regional Governor (左節度).[6] When Gu Tan first started writing memorials and reports to Sun Quan upon entering office, Sun Quan was so impressed with his writings that he even delayed meals to read what Gu Tan wrote, and pointed out that Gu Tan wrote better than Xu Xiang (徐詳), one of his palace attendants. Sun Quan favoured Gu Tan for his talents so much that he awarded him several gifts and had special meetings with him.[7]

Whenever Gu Tan read documents, he could easily spot mistakes simply by browsing through quickly; his subordinates were very impressed with him. He was subsequently given an additional appointment as a Commandant of Equipage (奉車都尉).[8]

At the time, Xue Zong, who was serving as Master of Writing in the Selection Bureau (選曹尚書; the equivalent of present-day human resources director) in the Wu government, decided to give up his position to Gu Tan. He wrote to Sun Quan: "(Gu) Tan is focused, meticulous, knowledgeable and detail-oriented. He is also a talented individual and a highly regarded figure among his colleagues. I am afraid that I cannot perform better than him." Sun Quan approved Xue Zong's recommendation and replaced him with Gu Tan.[9]

Late careerEdit

Around 244, some months after his grandfather's death, Gu Tan was appointed Minister of Ceremonies (太常) in the Wu imperial court. Sun Quan also put him in charge of supervising the imperial secretariat – a task that his grandfather used to do as Imperial Chancellor.[10]

Around the 240s, there was a power struggle between two of Sun Quan's sons over the succession to their father's throne. On one hand, Sun Quan had already designated his third son Sun He as the crown prince in 242 to replace Sun Deng, who died the year before. On the other hand, he also favoured his fourth son Sun Ba, the Prince of Lu, and treated him exceptionally well. Sun Ba, knowing that their father favoured him, started fighting with his brother over the position of crown prince.[11] Sun Quan's subjects also split into two factions – each supporting either of the two princes.[b]

Gu Tan believed that Sun He was the rightful heir apparent so he wrote a memorial to Sun Quan to urge him to follow Confucian rules of propriety in the way he treated his sons. He argued that Sun He, as the crown prince, was of a higher status and should therefore receive greater honours and privileges as compared to Sun Ba. He also quoted historical examples to make his case that rulers should make a clear distinction between their heir apparent and other sons.[12]

Sun Ba bore a grudge against Gu Tan after learning that he wrote this memorial.[13]

Conflict with the QuansEdit

Around the time, Quan Ji (全寄), the second son of the general Quan Cong, was a close aide of Sun Ba. Gu Tan did not get along well with Quan Ji because of the latter's behaviour, which he deemed immoral.[14]

Earlier in the summer of 241, Quan Cong had led Wu forces into battle at Quebei (芍陂; south of present-day Shou County, Anhui) against Wei forces led by Wang Ling. The battle did not go well for the Wu side initially, and they lost five units to the Wei forces. Gu Tan's friend Zhang Xiu and brother Gu Cheng, who were serving in the Wu army at the time, led their units to resist the Wei forces and managed to halt their advance. Quan Cong's eldest son Quan Xu (全緒) and relative Quan Duan (全端), who were also serving in the Wu army, led their troops to attack the Wei forces after they stopped advancing, and succeeded in driving them back.[15]

After the battle, when Sun Quan was giving rewards to his officers, he deemed Zhang Xiu and Gu Cheng's contributions greater than those of Quan Xu and Quan Duan because he believed that it was more difficult to halt the enemy advance than to drive back the enemy. As a result, he promoted Zhang Xiu and Gu Cheng to the rank of General, while Quan Xu and Quan Duan were respectively promoted to Lieutenant-General and Major-General only. Due to this incident, the Quans bore a grudge against Gu Cheng and Zhang Xiu and, by extension, against Gu Tan as well.[16]

Exile and deathEdit

The Quans later found an opportunity to report Zhang Xiu, Gu Cheng and Gu Tan for committing serious offences.[17] They claimed that Zhang Xiu and Gu Cheng had secretly collaborated with Chen Xun (陳恂), a staff officer in the Wu army during the Battle of Quebei, to make false submissions about their contributions during the battle.[18] As a result, Zhang Xiu and Gu Cheng were arrested and thrown into prison, while Gu Tan was implicated in the case because of his relationship with them. Sun Quan was reluctant to find them guilty so he thought of a plan to appease the Quans without convicting Gu Tan, Gu Cheng and Zhang Xiu.[19]

During an imperial court session, Sun Quan ordered Gu Tan to publicly apologise for the mistake. He expected Gu Tan to do so, after which he could then pardon and release the three of them. However, Gu Tan refused to apologise and he told Sun Quan: "Your Majesty, how can you let baseless accusations have their way?"[20] Later on, an official accused Gu Tan of showing great disrespect towards the emperor when he protested his innocence, and argued that Gu Tan should be punished by execution. Sun Quan took into consideration that Gu Tan's grandfather Gu Yong had rendered meritorious service in the past, and decided to reduce Gu Tan's punishment from execution to exile.[21]

Gu Tan, along with his brother Gu Cheng and Zhang Xiu, were exiled to the remote Jiao Province in the south. When he was in exile, Gu Tan wrote a 20-chapter book, Xin Yan (新言; New Arguments), to express his frustration and lament at his own plight. After spending two years in exile, he died at the age of 41 in Jiaozhi (around present-day Hanoi, Vietnam).[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The four great clans of Wu Commandery were the Gu (顧), Lu (陸), Zhu (朱) and Zhang (張) clans. The four great clans of the Jiangdong region were the Gu (顧), Lu (陸), Yu (虞) and Wei (魏) clans. Some notable members from each clan were: Gu Yong, Gu Shao and Gu Tan of the Gu clan; Lu Xun, Lu Ji and Lu Kai of the Lu clan; Zhu Huan and Zhu Ju of the Zhu clan; Zhang Wen of the Zhang clan; Yu Fan of the Yu clan; and Wei Teng (魏騰) of the Wei clan.
  2. ^ See Sun He (Zixiao)#Succession struggle against Sun Ba and deposal for details.


  1. ^ (... 吳郡吳人也。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  2. ^ ([顧]邵字孝則, ... [孫]權妻以策女。年二十七,起家為豫章太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  3. ^ (譚字子默,弱冠與諸葛恪等為太子四友,從中庶子轉輔正都尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  4. ^ (黃龍元年,權稱尊號,登為皇太子,以[諸葛恪]恪為左輔,[張]休右弼,[顧]譚為輔正,[陳]表為翼正都尉,是為四友, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 59.
  5. ^ (陸機為譚傳曰:宣太子正位東宮,天子方隆訓導之義,妙簡俊彥,講學左右。時四方之傑畢集,太傅諸葛恪以雄奇蓋衆,而譚以清識絕倫,獨見推重。自太尉范慎、謝景、羊徽之徒,皆以秀稱其名,而悉在譚下。) Gu Tan Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  6. ^ (赤烏中,代恪為左節度。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  7. ^ (吳書曰:譚初踐官府,上疏陳事,權輟食稱善,以為過於徐詳。雅性高亮,不脩意氣,或以此望之。然權鑒其能,見待甚隆,數蒙賞賜,特見召請。) Wu Shu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  8. ^ (每省簿書,未嘗下籌,徒屈指心計,盡發疑謬,下吏以此服之。加奉車都尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  9. ^ (薛綜為選曹尚書,固讓譚曰:「譚心精體密,貫道達微,才照人物,德允衆望,誠非愚臣所可越先。」後遂代綜。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  10. ^ (祖父雍卒數月,拜太常,代雍平尚書事。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  11. ^ (是時魯王霸有盛寵,與太子和齊衡, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  12. ^ (... 譚上疏曰:「臣聞有國有家者,必明嫡庶之端,異尊卑之禮,使高下有差,階級踰邈,如此則骨肉之恩生,覬覦之望絕。昔賈誼陳治安之計,論諸侯之勢,以為勢重,雖親必有逆節之累,勢輕,雖踈必有保全之祚。故淮南親弟,不終饗國,失之於勢重也;吳芮踈臣,傳祚長沙,得之於勢輕也。昔漢文帝使慎夫人與皇后同席,袁盎退夫人之座,帝有怒色,及盎辨上下之儀,陳人彘之戒,帝旣恱懌,夫人亦悟。今臣所陳,非有所偏,誠欲以安太子而便魯王也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  13. ^ (由是霸與譚有隙。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  14. ^ (時長公主壻衞將軍全琮子寄為霸賔客,寄素傾邪,譚所不納。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  15. ^ (先是,譚弟承與張休俱北征壽春,全琮時為大都督,與魏將王淩戰於芍陂,軍不利,魏兵乘勝陷沒五營將秦晃軍,休、承奮擊之。遂駐魏師。時琮羣子緒、端亦並為將,因敵旣住,乃進擊之,淩軍用退。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  16. ^ (時論功行賞,以為駐敵之功大,退敵之功小,休、承並為雜號將軍,緒、端偏裨而已。寄父子益恨, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  17. ^ (... 共構會譚。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  18. ^ (吳錄曰:全琮父子屢言芍陂之役為典軍陳恂詐增張休、顧承之功,而休、承與恂通情。) Wu Lu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  19. ^ (休坐繫獄,權為譚故,沈吟不決,欲令譚謝而釋之。) Wu Lu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  20. ^ (及大會,以問譚,譚不謝,而曰:「陛下,讒言其興乎!」) Wu Lu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  21. ^ (江表傳曰:有司奏譚誣罔大不敬,罪應大辟。權以雍故,不致法,皆徙之。) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 52.
  22. ^ (譚坐徙交州,幽而發憤,著新言二十篇。其知難篇蓋以自悼傷也。見流二年,年四十二,卒於交阯。) Sanguozhi vol. 52.