Kebineng was the name given by Wei historians to a certain chieftain of the Xianbei. As the subject of this biography is not Chinese, it is important to first clarify something of the history of the Xianbei.
In the year 156, a leader called Tanshihuai rose to power among the Xianbei. Under Tanshihuai, the Xianbei people became united for the first time. Tanshihuai controlled a great deal of territory north of China and segmented his federation into three divisions. The Eastern Division stretched from the north of Youbeiping in You province and beyond Liaodong, into parts of present-day Korea. The Central Division occupied the territory north of You province, between Shanggu and Youbeiping. Tanshihuai’s Western Division controlled the territory between Shanggu and Dunhuang in Liang province.
By 166, the Han court grew very concerned about Tanshihuai and sought peace with him, but Tanshihuai violently rejected their offers. Instead, he launched devastating raids against the northern provinces. In 177, the Han sent 30,000 soldiers to destroy Tanshihuai but the Han soldiers were no longer a match for the Xianbei. Tanshihuai obliterated the Chinese army, which suffered nearly 80% casualties.
Tanshihuai passed around 180 and was succeeded by his son Helian. However, Helian proved to be a greedy, licentious man as well as a poor commander. He was killed during a raid on Liang province. Because Helian’s son, Qianman, was very young, Helian’s nephew Kuitou was given his authority. When Qianman grew older, he and Kuitou fought for control and their subjects were scattered. After Kuitou’s death, his brother Budugen took what remained of Tanshihuai’s authority. Once Budugen came to power, his tribe began to fracture. His older brother, Fuluohan, gathered many families under his command and became an independent daren (chieftain), weakening Budugen’s rule.
For his part, Kebineng was from a minor Xianbei family. In spite of his humble birth, he won the loyalty of his tribe through his bravery and strength. He is noted as being a fair and just ruler who did not abuse the law. He was neither covetous nor avaricious. Because of these fine qualities, the people of his tribe chose him as their daren. In the late 190s, Yuan Shao took control of northern China. There were those who did not wish to live under Yuan Shao’s rule and they fled across the borders to seek shelter under Kebineng.
Among the northern tribes, the Wuhuan were among the most powerful at that time. Yuan Shao made allies of the Wuhuan and used them to supplement his cavalry. After Yuan Shao’s death in 202, his rival Cao Cao attacked the north , killing Yuan Shao’s oldest son, Yuan Tan. His remaining sons, Yuan Xi and Yuan Shang, fled north, to the Wuhuan. In 207, Cao Cao met the Wuhuan at the Battle of White Wolf Mountain and utterly crushed them.
Witnessing Cao Cao’s destruction of the Wuhuan, Kebineng, Budugen, and the other leaders decided to secure Cao Cao’s friendship, so they sent tribute to the Han court through an intermediary. Some confusion does exist regarding who served as the emissary between the Xianbei and Han. The sanguozhi's general account of the Xianebi refers to the daren sending tribute through Tian Yu when Cao Cao conquered Yu province (that would be 199), and it mentions Kebineng as one of these daren. In that year, Tian Yu is listed as a subordinate to the Grand Administrator of Yuyang, in You. Province. The specific biography of Kebineng, on the other hand, speaks of the daren sending tribute through Yan Rou. Yan Rou, in turn, was given the rank Protector of the Wuhuan [wuhuan xiaowei] in 200.
Because Tian Yu held a low, unstated rank in 199 and 200, when Cao Cao conquered Yu and when the Xianbei are said to have sent tribute, it seems most likely that the mention of Tian Yu here is in error and that the Xianbei sent their tribute through Yan Rou, who – as Protector of the Wuhuan – would have been in a position to act as an intermediary for them. Likewise, the triggering incident – Cao Cao’s conquest of Yu province – is likely an error. It seems more likely that the trigger was the conquest of You province, which shared a border with the Xianbei.
In 216, three shanyu (leaders) of the Wuhuan – who had surrendered to Cao Cao in 207 – revolted in Dai commandery, You province. Cao Cao sent a talented official named Pei Qian to soothe them, which he did successfully, bringing their revolt to a bloodless end. Not long after this, though, Cao Cao recalled Pei Qian. Pei Qian worried that his replacement would think he had been too strict with the Wuhuan and given them too much leeway – then they would get out of hand and he would be even harsher in order to restore order. This would lead to resentment and another revolt. Pei Qian's fears were realized in 218 when the Wuhuan revolted again. Because Cao Cao's most experienced generals were all engaged on various fronts, he sent his son, Cao Zhang, to suppress the revolt.
Cao Zhang led his army to Dai, where he initially took up a defensive stance against the Wuhuan. After their attacks were repelled, the Wuhuan began to disperse. Cao Zhang then attacked them, taking part in the fighting himself. The Wuhuan fled and Cao Zhang pursued them. Ultimately, he dealt them a crushing defeat from which they never quite recovered. Kebineng had come to witness how the Chinese would respond to this second Wuhuan rebellion. After witnessing Cao Zhang's prowess in battle, Kebineng submitted to Cao Zhang.
One of the shanyu who revolted in Dai was called Wuchendi. Following his defeat at Cao Zhang’s hands, he fled to Fuluohan for protection. When Wuchendi arrived, he discovered that Fuluohan was a weak ruler who did not discipline his soldiers. Wuchendi feared that Fuluohan would be of no use to him, so he instead summoned Kebineng, hoping to ally with him instead. Kebineng arrived, but he brought his army with him. Kebineng attacked and killed Fuluohan. The exact reasons for this are unclear, though several reasonable possibilities exist. Kebineng may simply have been using the opportunity to expand his power by absorbing Fuluohan’s tribe. Alternatively, given the friendship he swore with Cao Zhang, Kebineng may have felt some obligation to destroy Wuchend, who had rebelled against the Cao family. Certainly doing so would encourage the Cao rulers to think well of him. While the second possibility seems more in keeping with Kebineng’s reputation as a just and courageous leader, the truth of the situation can never be verified. Kebineng was successful in absorbing Fuluohan’s tribe and treated Fuluohan’s son, Xieguini, very well. While the exact date of this incident cannot be determined, it likely happened between 218 and 221.
In 221, the Di tribes of the north were gaining power and often harassed the borders, raiding Chinese settlements. Cao Pi – who had assumed the title of emperor – sent Tian Yu north to be Protector of the Wuhuan [wuhuan xiaowei]. He also sent Qian Zhao to be Protector of the Xianebi [huxianbei xiaowei]. At that time, Kebineng held a large section of territory in the north and the loyalty of many weaker daren. Following the arrival of Tian Yu and Qian Zhao, Kebineng led his soldiers against the various Di tribes and completely overcame them. His new territory stretched from north of Yunzhong and Wuyuan (in Bing) all the way to the Liao River in Liaodong, east of You province. This gave him control of territory that had once been occupied by the Wuhuan, Di, Xiongnu, and other Xianbei.
Around this time, while Kebineng was campaigning against the Di, Budugen was playing politics and sending tribute to Cao Pi in order to secure his friendship. Having secured alliance with Cao Pi, Budugen sent a messenger to his nephew, Xieguini, who was still under Kebineng’s care. Budugen urged Xieguini to flee from Kebineng and join him, expressing concern that Kebineng would one day kill Xieguini. Budugen’s arguments convinced Xieguini, so the young man fled from Kebineng. Kebineng attempted to pursue him but could not catch up. By this time, Budugen was firmly under Cao Pi’s thumb and guarded the northern borders, preventing other tribes from attacking the Chinese.
Budugen and Kebineng were now declared enemies and fought with each other continuously. Budugen fared worse in these confrontations and many defected from his tribe to Kebineng’s. Kebineng eventually turned his powerful army against other Xianbei in a bid to consolidate power. While Kebineng was attacking the eastern daren Suli, in 224, Tian Yu attacked Kebineng from the rear, confirming that Kebineng was now an enemy of Wei, rather than the ally he had previously been. From that point on, Kebineng led frequent raids into You and Bing provinces. The northern armies seemed powerless to stop him.
According to some sources, Kebineng suffered a heavy defeat in 225 at the hands of Liang Xi, the Inspector of Bing province. However, Achilles Fang notes that this battle is not mentioned in the official biography of Kebineng and, perhaps more importantly, it is not mentioned in the biography of Liang Xi, which casts doubt on the veracity of this statement.
Tian Yu and Kebineng found themselves in battle again in 228. Tian Yu sent a man named Xia She as an ambassador to a certain Xianbei tribe. This tribe was ruled by a daren called Yuzhujian, who was married to Kebineng’s daughter. For reasons unknown, Yuzhujian killed Xia She. In response, Tian Yu led his own force of Xianbei against Yuzhujian. Leading these warriors was Xieguini, the son of Fuluohan who had been taken in by Kebineng before he fled to his uncle Budugen. Xieguini’s rank during this time is listed as “Putou” of the Western Division (the divison of Tanshihuai’s empire that stretched from north of Shanggu in You to Dunhuang in Liang. By this point, it appears that Kebineng controlled the Central Section and most if not all of the Eastern Section, giving him control over the majority of Tanshihuai’s empire). Tian Yu and Xieguini defeated Yuzhujian but on their way home, they were intercepted by Kebineng himself, who besieged them at Macheng. Fortunately for Tian Yu, the Grand Administrator [taishou] of Shanggu was Yan Zhi, the younger brother of Yan Rou. Both were very highly respected among the Wuhuan and Xianbei. Yan Zhi managed to convince Kebineng to raise the siege, so Tian Yu escaped.
The next story about Kebineng should be viewed with some suspicion. In 231, Zhuge Liang attacked Wei for the fourth time. Allegedly, he invited Kebineng to join him during this attack, so Kebineng brought his army to camp at Shicheng of Beidi in Liang province. There is no specific information regarding Kebineng’s activities during this campaign and the source of this information, the Chronicles of Han and Jin [Han Jin Chunqiu] is prone to embellishment. The author, Xi Zuochi, may simply have wanted to include the famous figure of Kebineng in his account of this campaign. Given that Kebineng’s base of power was north of Bing province and that Xieguini held power north of Liang, it seems odd that Kebineng would make camp in enemy territory, so isolated from his base of power.
In 233, Kebineng and Budugen reconciled with each other. Budugen and Xieguini went north to join Kebineng. In response to this growing threat, the Inspector of Bing province, Bi Gui, sent his generals Su Shang and Dong Bi to attack Kebineng. Kebineng sent his son to lead an army against Su Shang and Dong Bi. Kebineng’s son achieving a great victory, killing both generals. After this, Kebineng, Budugen, and Xieguini led a devastating counterattack on Bing province, scoring devastating victories over the local military. In response to this very serious threat, Emperor Cao Rui sent his trusted general, Qin Lang, to oppose Kebineng. Xieguini returned to alliance with Wei. Kebineng withdrew to his own territory and the two avoided battle. Around this time, Kebineng killed Budugen; this may have been the reason for Xieguini’s return to Wei.
After receiving the surrender of Budugen and absorbing his tribe, Kebineng controlled most of the territory north of Liang province, meaning that his domain stretched from north of Liang to Liaodong. The exact size of Kebineng’s empire is impossible to determine due to the fact that it is unclear how far north Kebineng’s territory extended. However, it is possible that Kebineng controlled more territory than the Shu dynasty.
In 235, the Inspector of You Province, Wang Xiong, sent a man named Han Long to the Xianbei. Han Long assassinated Kebineng. With Kebineng’s leadership removed, the tribes he had gathered began to fracture and fight with one another. The smaller tribes submitted to Wei while the larger tribes moved farther away from China.
Kebineng came from humble origins and, though his courage, strength, and just leadership, became the most powerful leader north of China. He led numerous campaigns and found victory most of the time, even when battling against the forces of the Wei dynasty. Kebineng reigned as daren for over thirty years and built a state that rivaled one of the Three Kingdoms in territory and population. Ultimately, Kebineng is often forgotten, as he was not Chinese and the Xianbei records of the time are nonexistent. This should not stop us from remembering him as one of the great leaders of the time.
I have sometimes seen the name of this ethnic group written as Xianbi. This seems to be an outdated Romanization of the name. Xianbei is the generally accepted term.
 de Crespigny’s note 76 of Yanxi 9
 Yanxi 9, JJ
 Yanxi 9, JJ
 Xiping 6, E
 Guanghe 4, D
 Fang’s note 51.2
 Fang’s note 51.3 of Huangchu 2
 Jian’an 11, J
 Jian’an 12, E
From which Fang draws note 51.2 of Huangchu 2
Jian'an 4, B
Jian'an 5, M
de Crespigny, in note 14 of Jian'an 21, notes that the names of two of the three Wuhuan leaders are Pulu and Wuchendi, which are likely variations of the names Pufulu and Nenngchendi, who were chieftains who surrendered to Cao Cao previously.
Jian'an 21, H
Jian'an 23, D
This account is drawn primarily from Cao Zang's sanguozhi biography. It is repeated, in a condensed form, in Jian'an 23, I
Jian'an 23, I
 This shanyu’s name is sometimes given as Nengchendi.
 Fuluohan appeared before; he was the older brother of Budugen, the titular heir to Tanshihuai’s authority.
 Fang’s note 18.1 of Huangchu 5
It is likely Tian Yu's later appointment as Protector of the Wuhuan (Yan Rou's early position) that led to the confusion between the two discussed earlier.
Fang's note 51.5 of Huangchu 2
Fang's note 51.4 of Huangchu 2
 Fang’s note 18.2 of Huangchu 5
 Fang’s note 18.6 of Huangchu 5
 Huangchu 5, 18
 Huangchu 6, 4; Fang’s analysis and doubts of this passage are found in note 4 of Huangchu 6.
 Fang’s note 33.1 of Taihe 2
 Taihe 2, 33
 Fang’s note 5 of Taihe 5
 Fang’s note 8.1, part A of Qinglong 1
 Fang’s note 8.1, part C of Qinglong 1; drawing from the sanguozhi biography of Kebineng
 Fang’s note 8.1, part B of Qinglong 1
 Qinglong 3, 29
Last edited by capnnerefir
on Tue May 07, 2013 8:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.