Xin Xianying

Xin Xianying (191–269)[2] was a Chinese noblewoman, aristocrat and advisor who lived during the Three Kingdoms period. She was the daughter of Xin Pi, an official of the state of Cao Wei. The only extant historical source about her life is her biography written by her maternal grandson, Xiahou Zhan (夏侯湛), who was a notable scholar and official of the Jin dynasty.[3] She is best known for giving advice to her family members and relatives during significant events in the history of Cao Wei such as the Incident at Gaoping Tombs and Zhong Hui's Rebellion.

Xin Xianying
Died269 (aged 78)[a][2]
SpouseYang Dan

Family backgroundEdit

Xin Xianying's ancestral home was in Yangzhai County (陽翟縣), Yingchuan Commandery (潁川郡), which is around present-day Yuzhou, Henan.[4] Her ancestors were actually from Longxi Commandery (隴西郡; around present-day Dingxi, Gansu), but they migrated to Yingchuan Commandery during the Jianwu era (25–56 CE) of the reign of Emperor Guangwu in the early Eastern Han dynasty.[5]

Xin Xianying's father, Xin Pi, served as an official under the warlord Cao Cao, who controlled the central government and the figurehead Emperor Xian in the final decades of the Eastern Han dynasty. After the fall of the Eastern Han, Xin Pi continued serving in the Cao Wei state during the Three Kingdoms period and his highest appointment was Minister of the Guards (衛尉). Xin Xianying had a younger brother, Xin Chang (辛敞), who also served as an official in Wei.

Xin Xianying married Yang Dan (羊耽), the youngest son of the Eastern Han dynasty official Yang Xu (羊續). Yang Dan, who was from Taishan Commandery (泰山郡; around present-day Tai'an, Shandong), served as the Minister of Ceremonies (太常) in the Wei central government.[6]

Reaction towards Cao Pi's joy at becoming crown princeEdit

In 217,[7] after Cao Cao's son Cao Pi won the succession struggle against his younger brother Cao Zhi and became the heir apparent to their father's vassal kingdom, he was so elated that he hugged Xin Pi and said: "Sir, don't you know how happy I am?"[8]

When Xin Pi told his daughter about it, she sighed and said: "A crown prince will succeed a ruler and inherit his kingdom one day. How can he succeed his father without feeling sad? How can he rule a kingdom without feeling intimidated? If he expresses joy instead of sadness and fear, how can his kingdom last long? How can Wei prosper?"[9][2]

Xin Xianying was essentially implying that Cao Pi should express sadness because his father must die before he can become the next ruler, and that he should feel intimidated by the fact that he would have to shoulder the heavy responsibility of ruling a kingdom. If Cao Pi accepted his role more solemnly, then it was more likely that he would turn out to be a serious and wise ruler.

Advising Xin Chang during the Incident at Gaoping TombsEdit

Xin Xianying's younger brother Xin Chang served as an adviser to the Wei general Cao Shuang, who served as regent to the third Wei emperor Cao Fang. On 5 February 249,[10] when Cao Shuang accompanied Cao Fang on a visit to the Gaoping Tombs, his co-regent Sima Yi took advantage of his absence to stage a coup d'état and seize control of all the armed forces in the imperial capital Luoyang. Lu Zhi (魯芝), a major under Cao Shuang, prepared to lead his men to fight their way out of Luoyang and regroup with Cao Shuang. When Lu Zhi asked Xin Chang to follow him,[11] a fearful Xin Chang turned to his sister for advice: "The Emperor is away. The Grand Tutor (Sima Yi) has ordered the city gates to be shut. People say that this won't be of any good to the State. What do you think will happen?"[12]

Xin Xianying replied: "We won't know what will happen. However, from what I observe, the Grand Tutor has no choice but to do this. Before Emperor Ming died, he held the Grand Tutor close and entrusted him with state affairs. Many officials in the imperial court still remember this. Although Cao Shuang too was entrusted with this responsibility along with the Grand Tutor, he has been monopolising power and acting autocratically. He is disloyal towards the Emperor and therefore doesn't have the moral high ground. The Grand Tutor simply wants to get rid of him."[13]

When Xin Chang asked her if he should follow Lu Zhi, she replied: "How can you not go? It is righteous for one to perform his duty. When others are in trouble, we ought to help them. If you work for someone and you don't do what you need to do, then that isn't a good sign. If you are a close aide (of Cao Shuang), then you should fulfil your loyalty towards him and sacrifice your life for him if you have to. However, in this incident, (you aren’t a close side of Cao Shuang and so) you just need to follow the crowd." Xin Chang heeded her advice and followed Lu Zhi out of Luoyang to join Cao Shuang.[14]

Cao Shuang eventually surrendered to Sima Yi and relinquished his powers as regent. He was subsequently charged with treason and executed along with his extended family, his close aides and their families. After Cao Shuang had suffered death, Jiang Ji said to Sima Yi, “Xin Chang and Luu Zhi and others who had been of his party had forced the gate and joined the rebels. Yang Zong had opposed the surrender of the seal of the late minister. They deserve punishment.” However, no action was taken against them. “They are righteous people who serves their master faithfully,” said Sima Yi, and he even confirmed these men in their offices. Xin Chang sighed, “Had I not listened to the advice of my sister, I would have walked in the way of unrighteousness.” [15]

A poet has praised Xin Xianying saying:

“You call him lord and take his pay,

Then stand by him when danger nears

Thus to her brother spoke Xin Xianying

And won fair fame though endless years.”

Due to Xin Xianying's virtuous attitudes, Sima Yi was impressed by her loyalty, so the Xin clan was spared from extermination and later became one of the most loyal maintainers of the Jin dynasty (266-420).

Foreseeing Zhong Hui's downfallEdit

When the Wei general Zhong Hui was appointed as General Who Guards the West (鎮西將軍) in 263,[16] Xin Xianying asked her nephew Yang Hu: "Why is Zhong Shiji going to the west?" Yang Hu replied: "He is leading a campaign to conquer Shu."[17] Xin Xianying then cautioned Yang Hu: "Zhong Hui is wilful and unbridled in his ways. This is a sign that he won't remain subordinate to others for long. I believe that he may rebel in the future."[18]

When Zhong Hui was about to leave for the campaign against Shu, he wrote to the Wei imperial court to seek permission to bring along Yang Xiu (羊琇), Xin Xianying's son, as a military adviser. Xin Xianying lamented: "In the past, I was worried for the State. Today, trouble has come to my family." Yang Xiu appealed to the Wei regent Sima Zhao to not accompany Zhong Hui on the campaign, but Sima Zhao denied his request.[19] Before Yang Xiu left, Xin Xianying advised him: "Always be mindful of your actions. The junzis of ancient times were filial towards their parents at home, and loyal to their states outside home. When you do your job, always think about what your duty is. When you face a question of morality, always think about where you stand. Don't make your parents worry about you. When you are in the army, being benevolent towards others will go a long way to help you."[20]

In March 264,[16] after successfully conquering Shu for Wei, Zhong Hui started a rebellion against Wei. However, the rebellion failed when some of Zhong Hui's men mutinied against him and killed him. Yang Xiu remained unharmed throughout the rebellion.[21]


Xin Xianying died in 269 during the reign of Emperor Wu in the Western Jin dynasty. She was 79 (by East Asian age reckoning) at the time of her death.[a][2]


Since her childhood, Xin Xianying had been studying and reading,[22] which girls in her time did not normally do. She was also known for her intelligence, talent and wisdom.[23]

Xin Xianying was also known for leading a simple and frugal life. When her nephew Yang Hu once sent her a silk blanket as a gift, she found the gift too expensive so she returned it to him.[24]

Relatives and descendantsEdit

Xin Xianying and Yang Dan had at least two sons and a daughter. Their first son, Yang Jin (羊瑾), served as the Right Supervisor of the Masters of Writing (尚書右僕射) in the Cao Wei government.[25] Yang Jin's son, Yang Xuanzhi (羊玄之), served as Right Supervisor of the Masters of Writing (尚書右僕射) and a Palace Attendant (侍中) in the government of the Jin dynasty. Yang Xuanzhi was the father of Yang Xianrong, who married Emperor Hui of the Jin dynasty.[26]

Xin Xianying and Yang Dan's second son, Yang Xiu (羊琇), continued serving in the government of the Jin dynasty after the end of the Cao Wei state, and became a Regular Mounted Attendant (散騎常侍) under Emperor Wu, the first Jin emperor.[27]

Xin Xianying and Yang Dan's daughter married Xiahou Zhuang (夏侯莊), a son of Xiahou Wei and grandson of Xiahou Yuan. Xiahou Zhuang and Xin Xianying's daughter had a son, Xiahou Zhan (夏侯湛), who became a notable scholar and official in the Jin dynasty. Xiahou Zhuang also had another son, Xiahou Chun (夏侯淳), who served as a commandery administrator in the Jin dynasty.[28] Xiahou Zhuang's daughter, Xiahou Guangji (夏侯光姬), was the mother of Emperor Yuan of the Jin dynasty.[29]

Other notable relatives of Xin Xianying include Yang Hu and Yang Huiyu, her nephew and niece respectively through her marriage to Yang Dan.

In popular cultureEdit

Xin Xianying is first introduced as a playable character aligned with the Jin dynasty faction in the ninth instalment of Koei Tecmo's video game series Dynasty Warriors.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Xin Xianying's biography in the Jin Shu recorded that she died in the 5th year of the Taishi era (265–274) of the reign of Emperor Wu of Jin at the age of 79 (by East Asian age reckoning).[1] By calculation, her year of birth was 191.


  1. ^ (泰始五年卒,年七十九。) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  2. ^ a b c d e de Crespigny (2007), p. 897.
  3. ^ (... 外孫夏侯湛為其傳曰: ...) Shiyu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 25.
  4. ^ (羊耽妻辛氏,字憲英,隴西人,魏侍中毗之女也。) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  5. ^ (其先建武中,自隴西東遷。) Sanguozhi vol. 25.
  6. ^ (世語曰: ... 毗女憲英,適太常泰山羊耽, ...) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  7. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 68.
  8. ^ (初,魏文帝得立為太子,抱毗項謂之曰:「辛君知我喜不?」) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  9. ^ (毗以告憲英,憲英歎曰:「太子,代君主宗廟社稷者也。代君不可以不戚,主國不可以不懼,宜戚而喜,何以能久!魏其不昌乎?」) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  10. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 75.
  11. ^ (弟敞為大將軍曹爽參軍,宣帝將誅爽,因其從魏帝出而閉城門,爽司馬魯芝率府兵斬關赴爽,呼敞同去。) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  12. ^ (敞懼,問憲英曰:「天子在外,太傅閉城門,人云將不利國家,於事可得爾乎?」) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  13. ^ (憲英曰:「事有不可知,然以吾度之,太傅殆不得不爾。明皇帝臨崩,把太傅臂,屬以後事,此言猶在朝士之耳。且曹爽與太傅俱受寄託之任,而獨專權勢,於王室不忠,於人道不直,此舉不過以誅爽耳。」) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  14. ^ (敞曰:「然則敞無出乎?」憲英曰:「安可以不出!職守,人之大義也。凡人在難,猶或恤之;為人執鞭而棄其事,不祥也。且為人任,為人死,親昵之職也,汝從眾而已。」敞遂出。) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  15. ^ (宣帝果誅爽。事定後,敞歎曰:「吾不謀於姊,幾不獲於義!」) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  16. ^ a b Sima (1084), vol. 78.
  17. ^ (其後鐘會為鎮西將軍,憲英謂耽從子祜曰:「鐘士季何故西出?」祐曰:「將為滅蜀也。」) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  18. ^ (憲英曰:「會在事縱恣,非持久處下之道,吾畏其有他志也。」) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  19. ^ (及會將行,請其子琇為參軍,憲英憂曰:「他日吾為國憂,今日難至吾家矣。」琇固請於文帝,帝不聽。) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  20. ^ (憲英謂琇曰:「行矣,戒之!古之君子入則致孝於親,出則致節於國;在職思其所司,在義思其所立,不遺父母憂患而已。軍旅之間可以濟者,其惟仁恕乎!」) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  21. ^ (會至蜀果反,琇竟以全歸。) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  22. ^ Peterson (2000), p. 134.
  23. ^ (聰朗有才鑒。) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  24. ^ (祜嘗送錦被,憲英嫌其華,反而覆之,其明鑒儉約如此。) Jin Shu vol. 96.
  25. ^ (兄瑾,尚書右僕射。) Jin Shu vol. 93.
  26. ^ (羊玄之,惠皇后父,尚書右僕射瑾之子也。 ... 遷尚書右僕射,加侍中,進爵為公。) Jin Shu vol. 93.
  27. ^ (羊琇,字稚舒,景獻皇后之從父弟也。父耽,官至太常。) Jin Shu vol. 93.
  28. ^ (夏侯湛,字孝若,譙國譙人也。祖威,魏兗州刺史。父莊,淮南太守。 ... 淳,字孝沖。亦有文藻,與湛俱知名。官至弋陽太守。) Jin Shu vol. 55.
  29. ^ (元夏侯太妃名光姬,沛國譙人也。祖威,兗州刺史。父莊,字仲容,淮南太守、清明亭侯。) Jin Shu vol. 31.
  • Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
  • de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms 23-220 AD. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004156050.
  • Fang, Xuanling (648). Book of Jin (Jin Shu).
  • Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).
  • Peterson, Barbara Bennet (2000). Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
  • Sima, Guang (1084). Zizhi Tongjian.