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The Regional State of Cai 蔡

The state of Cai 蔡 was a regional state of the Zhou period 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE). As a small state of the Central Plain, it had always to cope with the ambitions of the larger states of the south.

Map 1. The regional state of Cai 蔡 (11th cent. - 447 BCE)
Map according to Tan Qixiang 谭其骧 (1987), Zhongguo lishi ditu ji 中国历史地图集. Cai was located in the upper Huai River and was conquered by the southern state of Chu which expanded north- and eastwards in the fifth century BCE. Click to enlarge.

The first nobleman entrusted as regional ruler of Cai was Cai Shu Du 蔡叔度, a brother of King Wu of Zhou 周武王 (11th cent.), the founder of the Zhou dynasty. When the Duke of Zhou 周公旦 took over regency for young king Cheng 周成王, Cai Shu Du doubted the Duke's sincerity and called him a usurper. The Duke defeated Cai Shu Du in battle sent him into exile. Cai Shu Du's son Hu 胡, posthumously known as Cai Zhong 蔡仲, from the beginning declared his loyalty to the Duke of Zhou and was appointed minister of Lu 魯, the Duke's state, and later made regional ruler of the territory originally bestowed to his father, the state of Cai. In the history book Shiji 史記, the dukes of Cai are called "marquesses" (hou 侯).

During the reign of Duke Ai 蔡哀公 (r. 694-675), a princess of the small state of Xi 息 passed the court of Cai on her way to merry the duke of Chen 陳. Marquis Ai did not treat her with the required etiquette, and the Marquis of Xi therefore asked the king of Chu 楚 to attack Cai. Duke Ai was captured and kept in custody until his death nine years later.

His son, Duke Mu 蔡穆公 (also called Duke Miu 蔡繆公, r. 674-645), had a sister married to Duke Huan of Qi 齊桓公 (r. 685-643). When he was unpleased with her (there is the story of her rocking a boat against the Duke's will), he sent her back. Duke Mu thereupon gave his sister to somebody else, a step which enraged Duke Huan of Qi, so that he sent out an army, conquered Cai and arrested Duke Mu. Only when the other regional rulers (zhuhou 諸侯) apologized for the misdoings of Cai, Duke Mu was set free.

Duke Jing 蔡景公 (r. 591-543) arranged a marriage of his heir apparent with a princess from Chu. The father-in-law had an affair with the girl, so that Prince Ban 般 killed his own father and mounted the throne, as Duke Ling 蔡靈公 (r. 542-531). For his patricide, Marquis Ling was, many years later, lured into a trap by King Ling of Chu 楚靈王 (r. 540-529). The king of Chu entertained him and made his guest drunk, only to massacre him and his whole retinue. Prince Qiji 棄疾 of Chu then conquered the territory of Cai, and his father made him Duke of Cai. Three years later, Prince Qiji killed the king of Chu and made himself king of Chu, known as King Ping of Chu 楚平王 (r. 528-516). He gave back the state of Cai to a younger son of the house of Cai, Prince Lu 廬, known as Duke Ping of Cai 蔡平公 (r. 530-522). Duke Ping was killed by Prince Dongguo 東國, a grandson of Duke Ling, who would reign as Duke Dao 蔡悼公 (r. 521-519).

During the reign of Duke Zhao 蔡昭公 (r. 518-491), a visit to the king of Chu brought new disaster. The counsellor-in-chief of Chu, Zichang 子常, desired the same precious fur coat as Duke Zhao had presented to the king of Chu, and as he wore himself. When Duke Zhao refused, Zichang infamized the Duke with the king of Chu, so that the latter detained Duke Zhao. Only when the Duke gave away the fur coat to the counsellor, he was set free.

Back home, he asked the duke of Jin 晉 for assistance in a revenge campaign against Chu. Chu, on its side, attacked Cai after Jin had occupied the territory of Shen 沈. Duke Zhao sent his son as a host to the state of Wu 吳, which, on its side, was to attack Chu. King Helü 闔閭 (r. 514-496 BCE) of Wu was indeed able to destroy the armies of Chu and to occupy Chu for a while. The revenge campaigns continued, and Duke Zhao again called for help with King Helü. King Helü, in order to have an easier game, ordered Duke Zhao to shift his residence more to the southeast, to Zhoulai 州來 (also called Xiacai 下蔡). The nobles of Cai were angry about the Duke's self-contained management of the state affairs and had him murdered.

Duke Zhao was succeeded by his son, Duke Cheng 蔡成公 (r. 490-472). At that time Cai was not more than a vassal state of Wu. In 447 Chu finally destroyed Cai.

Shiji 史記, 35, Guan Cai shijia 管蔡世家.
Table 1. Rulers of the regional state of Cai 蔡
Capitals: Shangcai 上蔡 (modern Shangcai, Henan), Xincai 新蔡 (modern Xincai, Henan; Zhoulai 州來), Xiacai 下蔡 (modern Fengtai 鳳台, Anhui), Gaocai 高蔡 (?; modern Changde 常德, Hunan)
dynastic title personal name time
Cai Shu Du, Ruler of Cai 蔡叔度 Ji Du 姬度, brother of King Wu 周武王
Hu, Elder of Cai 蔡仲胡 Ji Hu 姬胡
Huang, Baron of Cai 蔡伯荒 Ji Huang 姬荒
Cai Gonghou 蔡宮侯
Cai Lihou 蔡厲侯
Cai Wuhou 蔡武侯 864-838
Cai Yihou 蔡夷侯 838-808
Cai Xihou 蔡釐侯 (or 僖侯) Ji Zhao 姬肇 808-762
Cai Gonghou 蔡共侯 Ji Xing 姬興 762-760
Cai Daihou 蔡戴侯 760-750
Cai Xuangong 蔡宣公 Ji Kaofu 姬考父 750-715
Cai Huangong 蔡桓公 Ji Fengren 姬封人 715-695
Cai Aigong 蔡哀公 Ji Xianwu 姬獻舞 695-675
Cai Mugong 蔡穆公 Ji Xi 姬肸 675-645
Cai Zhuanggong 蔡莊公 Ji Jiawu 姬甲午 645-612
Cai Wengong 蔡文公 Ji Shen 姬申 1 612-592
Cai Jinggong 蔡景公 Ji Gu 姬固 592-543
Cai Linggong 蔡靈公 Ji Ban 姬般 543-531
Cai Pinggong 蔡平公 Ji Lu 姬廬 531-522
Cai Daogong 蔡悼公 Ji Dongguo 姬東國 522-519
Cai Zhaogong 蔡昭公 Ji Shen 姬申 2 519-491
Cai Chenggong 蔡成公 Ji Shuo 姬朔 491-472
Cai Shenggong 蔡聲公 Ji Chan 姬產 472-457
Cai Yuangong 蔡元公 457-451
Qi, Marquis of Cai 蔡侯齊 Ji Qi 姬齊 451-447
447 Cai destroyed by Chu 楚.