Huang Gai's 黃蓋 attitude was stern and resolute, and he excelled at supporting the people. In every engagement, the soldiers under his command would be the first to rush the enemy. Huang Gai came from nothing but became known for scoring victory against Cao Cao when he was at the peak of his power.


Huang Gai's home of record was Quanling 泉陵 in Lingling 零陵 commandery, Jing province. Huang Gai's youth was very difficult. He was orphaned when he was very young and had to cut firewood to earn money. But he was ambitious, he would learn to read or discuss military matters in his spare time. As he grew older, Huang Gai took a position as a commandery official. He was nominated for Incorrupt and Filially Pious.

Service to the Sun ClanEdit

In 187 A.D., Sun Jian was made Grand Administrator of Changsha, he would often exceed his authority and hunt bandits in the neighbouring commanderies of Guangling and Lingling. It would be around this time that Huang Gai enlisted in his service to help defeat the bandits of the southern commanderies. Huang Gai then followed Sun Jian north when the latter was called up to destroy the rebel minister Dong Zhuo. Huang Gai was made a Senior Major (Major With a Separate Command).

After Sun Jian passed away, It's likely between the time of Sun Jian's death and Sun Ce's start of service, Huang Gai had continued to serve Yuan Shu, but he was given no important posting during that time.[n 1] But once Sun Jian's sons rose to prominence, like many of Sun Jian's loyal officers, Huang Gai decided to follow them: first, Sun Ce; then, Sun Quan. Under Sun Ce he rose to Acting Colonel of the Firm Attack.[2]

Service to Sun QuanEdit

The Shanyue were rebellious and there was bandit activity with the county, so Huang Gai was sent to pacify them. The Shicheng (石城) county officials were particularly troublesome, so Huang Gai made arrangements for two Senior Clerks to oversee the other departments. He instructed them:

"Though I am the county's magistrate, I am neither talented nor virtuous. I obtained this post based on military merits not my administrative abilities. Now, bandits are active and I have military duties to perform. Thus, I delegate the two of you to be in charge of all the documents, to supervise the various departments, and to point out as well as correct any mistake that they make. Within the jurisdictions of your two offices, you should discharge your responsibility for your administrative duties properly. Though I will neither punish you with whip nor cane, I hope that you will perform your duties to the best of your abilities, and not set a bad example for the rest."

Initially, the two Clerks were in awe of Huang Gai's prestige, so all day and night they dutifully performed their tasks. But as time went on, the Clerks realised Huang Gai did not bother to inspect their work, so they became lax in their duties. Huang Gai began to suspect they were shirking their duties so he made surprise inspections of the various offices and found several unlawful acts. Huang Gai invited the two Clerks to a feast and when they came, he showed them his evidence and interrogated them. They could not deny the facts and kowtowed before him, begging for mercy. Huang Gai said to them: "When you were appointed I had said to you, 'I will neither punish you with whip nor cane.' And I wasn't lying." Huang Gai immediately had them executed. The whole county trembled.

Huang Gai was then appointed as Chief of Chungu (春穀) and County Magistrate of Xunyang (尋陽). He was responsible for nine counties, and where he went, there was peace. He was then appointed Commandant of Danyang (丹楊). He suppressed those who abused power and aided those who were powerless; the Shanyue loved him.

In the winter of 208 A.D., Cao Cao invaded the southlands in his ambition to unite China. The forces of Wu, led by Zhou Yu and Cheng Pu, met Cao Cao at Chibi. The combined forces of Wu and Shu-Han had managed to repel Cao Cao's first wave, but that was mainly due to a sickness plaguing Cao Cao's forces. Cao Cao's numerically superior forces had yet to withdraw and still posed a significant threat. Huang Gai noticed the Wei ships had been linked together and went to Zhou Yu and said: "The enemy are many and we are few. It will be difficult to hold them for long. Just at this moment, in Cao Cao's array the ships of the fleet are joined stem to stern. We can burn them and put them to flight."[3]

Zhou Yu agreed and Huang Gai hurriedly prepared 10 fire-boats, loaded them full of dry wood and rush, and doused them in oil. Huang Gai then sent a letter to Cao Cao pretending he wished to defect. The ruse worked and as soon as there was a strong southeasterly wind, Huang Gai launched his fire-boats. The strong tailwinds impelled the boats forward into Cao Cao's forces and the inferno created spread itself to much of the Wei fleet as well as the naval camps. It was a resounding success.

During the fire attack, Huang Gai took a stray arrow and fell into the cold water of the Yangzi river. Fortunately, Huang Gai was fished out by Wu soldiers, however, they didn't realise who it was they rescued. Huang Gai woke up aboard one of the ships and started yelling for his fellow officer, Han Dang. It so happened that Han Dang heard him calling and rushed to his side. Han Dang made sure Huang Gai was brought some dry clothes and treated well. For his efforts, he was promoted to (武鋒) General of the Household.

When the Wuling barbarians began revolting, they started seizing towns and cities. Huang Gai assumed the responsibility of Grand Administrator. Unfortunately, at the time, there were only 500 county soldiers. Huang Gai knew he was outnumbered and could not win a conventional battle so he opened the city gates to the barbarians in submission. But once half the barbarians had entered the city, he struck back. He beheaded hundreds of the barbarians before the rest fled his wrath. He then led a punitive campaign against the barbarian leaders, executing those responsible and pardoning those who surrendered.

Over the spring and summer, the bandits had been completely subjugated; the various bandit leaders all surrendered and the entire area was at ease.

Later, Yiyang county in Changsha was attacked by mountain bandits, and Huang Gai also quashed their lawlessness. Huang Gai was provided the additional title of Lieutenant-General. He died of illness while still in office. The people of Wu admired Huang Gai and even made a likeness of him, which sacrifices were offered too after his death.


  • Ancestor
    • Huang Zilian (黃子廉) - Former Grand Administrator of Nanyang (南陽) commandery
  • Son
    • Huang Bing (黃柄) - Made Marquis of the Interior by Sun Quan.


  1. Huang Gai probably didn't have the good fortune to be born to a noble family to earn rank under Yuan Shu.

Fact vs. FictionEdit


  • ...Did not employ the "battered body" ruse at Chibi to convince Cao Cao of his defection.


  1. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms, biography of Huang Gai.
  2. SGZ Biography of Zhou Yu. Translation: Kongming's Archives
  3. SGZ Biography of Zhou Yu. Translation: Kongming's Archives