Cai Wenji

Cai Wenji was the daughter of Cai Yong (蔡邕). Cai Yong was a famous scholar, musician and calligraphist in the later days of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Cai Yong was a highly principled person, and offended many powerful officials. He had been in exile for many years and escaped from many assassinations. In AD 189, Dong Zhuo (董卓), an atrocious general, controlled the imperial government. The man knew Cai Yong was a man with high reputation, so he decided to give an official position to him for pacifying his opponents. But Cai Yong refused him. Dong Zhuo was very angry, and forced Cai Yong to follow his appointment. Cai Yong had to accept an official position for protecting his family. Dong Zhuo respected Cai Yong very much, and raised his position several times during three days. In AD 190, a military rank “Left Zhonglang-General” (左中郎将) was conferred on Cai Yong. “Zhonglang-General” (中郎将) was a military position which commanded imperial guard troops. In the following days, Dong Zhuo held Cai Yong in high esteem. Cai Yong tried to persuade Dong Zhuo to do some things which were beneficial to the common people, and Dong Zhuo accepted his advice sometimes.

In AD 192, Dong Zhuo was killed by his favorite Lyu Bu (呂布) who was instigated by Wang Yun (王允). Then Wang Yun controlled the imperial government. In the celebrative banquet, when people talked about Dong Zhuo, Cai Yong didn’t refrain from commiserative sigh, because he couldn’t forget that Dong Zhuo respectfully treated him in the past. Wang Yun was enraged and threw Cai Yong into prison. Many ministers interceded with Wang Yun for Cai Yong, but Wang Yun refused to forgive Cai Yong. At last, Cai Yong was killed. In the later years of unrest, Cai Wenji, the only child of Cai Yong, was captured by the Huns. A chief of the Huns forced her to be his wife. As other Han women who were captured by the Huns, Cai Wenji yearned for her motherland day and night.

Twelve years later, Cao Cao heard that the daughter of Cai Yong was in the Huns, so he decided to rescue her. He sent an envoy to the Huns for redeeming Cai Wenji. At that time, Weiji had given birth to two children for the chief. The chief didn’t permit the children to follow Cai Wenji. So Wenji had to leave her two children and returned to her beloved motherland. Cao Cao let an officer named Dong Si (董祀) marry Cai Wenji. One day, Cao Cao asked Wenji whether she still kept the works of her father. Wenji said, “The books had been lost, but I still remember more than four hundred articles written by my father. I can write them down.” Then she did so, and people all admired her remarkable memory. In the following years, Wenji looked back on her tragic past, and missed her two children and the other Han women who were still suffering from the Huns. Then she wrote a long poem named “the Poem with Grief and Indignation” (悲愤诗) to tell later people about her tragic life. The poem was the only remaining one of her works. Later people adapted the poem to a longer poem named “Eighteen Stanzas Played by A Reed Pipe” (胡笳十八拍). The latter is even more famous than the original poem.

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