Liu Tao 劉陶 was a Senior Clerk under the Minister over the Masses Yang Ci 禓賜. He warned the Emperor Ling about the Yellow Turbans and the Eunuchs. Liu Tao was ignored by the Emperor and later sent to prison.


When Zhang Jue 張角 of the Way of Great Peace was gathering followers from the eight provinces the officials in the commanderies and counties did not understand what was really going on, and they reported that Zhang Jue reformed men by his fine teaching and that this was why the people turned to him. Yang Ci, however, was suspicious of Zhang Jue and wrote a memorial to the Emperor, warning him about the Great Teacher. Yang Ci's memorial was ignored.

Liu Tao was Senior Clerk under Yang Ci. When Yang Ci told Liu Tao what he thought about Zhang Jue, Liu Tao believed and when Yang Ci's memorial was ignored, he wrote a memorial himself, which said:[2]

"Zhang Jue's secret plans become increasingly dangerous. The empire is full of whispers and rumours, and it is claimed that Zhang Jue and his followers have gained entry into the capital and have spies within the court. They twitter like birds, they have the hearts of wild beasts, and they make plots together. The provinces and commanderies have put the whole question under a taboo: they compare notes with one another privately, but they are reluctant to say anything in the open. Your majesty should issue a clear edict, calling for the arrest of Zhang Jue and his supporters, and promising rewards of land from the state for those who capture them. If any should dare to evade your call, they can share the same punishment."

Emperor Ling did not take the matter seriously.

Later, in the summer of 184 A.D., Emperor Ling enfeoffed Yang Ci as Marquis of Linjin and Liu Tao as Marquis of Zhongling District after he found the memorials they wrote to warn against Zhang Jiao.

After Yang Ci's death in the November of 185 A.D., Liu Tao, who was Grandee Remonstrant and Consultant at that time, sent in a memorial to say:

"A little while ago the empire suffered the disorders of Zhang Jue, and more recently we have the rebellion of Bian Zhang on our hands. The rebel Qiang on our west have already invaded Hedong, and I am afraid they may grow so strong they can even attack the capital itself. Our own people are always prepared to flee before them, and they have no plan to stand and fight. The rebels in the west are advancing steadily, and the Chariots and Cavalry General [Zhang Wen] is isolated and in considerable danger. If he should be defeated, there would be no way to rescue him. I realise that I may be speaking too much on this, and so cause you displeasure, but I feel I must give you my opinion. When the state is at peace, a minister may enjoy the good fortune, but when the state is coming into danger he should also be prepared to sacrifice himself. I respectfully resubmit these eight immediate and urgent points."

In the rest of the document, he set out the general argument that the troubles of the empire all came from the eunuchs.

The eunuchs spoke against Liu Tao:

"When the Zhang Jiao business arose, imperial edicts displayed your majesty and grace, and since that time all the rebels have repented. Now the world is at peace, and yet Liu Tao casts a slur upon your sage-like government and he takes it upon himself to speak heresy and evil. There have been no reports from the provinces or commanderies, so where does Liu Tao get his information from? He is probably in league with the rebels."


Liu Tao was arrested and sent to the Northern Prison of the Yellow Gates, and was questioned every day with steadily increasing tortures. He said to the messengers:

I regret that I cannot match the performances of Yi Yin of Shang nor Lü Shang of Zhou; it seems my lot resembles the three virtuous men of Yin. Now above the emperor kills those ministers who give honest advice, and below he causes suffering and distress to the people. If this goes on much longer, it will be too late to repent.

Liu Tao choked and died.[3]



  1. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms, biography of Liu Tao, pp 548-549
  2. HHS 57/47, 1849 (7b-8a), the Biography of Liu Tao.
  3. HHS 57/47, 1849-51 (8a-9b), the Biography of Liu Tao.