Chao Gai

Chao Gai
Chao Gai
Water Margin character
Nickname "Pagoda-Wielding Heavenly King"
Also known as "Heavenly King Chao"
Leader of Liangshan
Origin Headman of Eastern Creek Village
Hometown Yuncheng County, Shandong
First appearance Chapter 14
Simplified Chinese 晁盖
Traditional Chinese 晁蓋
Pinyin Cháo Gài
Wade-Giles Ch'ao Kai

Chao Gai is a fictional character in the Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. He is widely considered as the founding father of the Liangshan outlaws' cause to serve the nation and deliver justice on behalf of Heaven. However, he is not one of the 108 Stars of Destiny due to his premature fatal encounter during a battle with the Zeng Family Fortress before the Grand Assembly in chapter 71.



Chao Gai is nicknamed "Pagoda Wielding Heavenly King", and popularly referred to as "Heavenly King Chao" by his fellows. He is the headman of Eastern Creek Village (東溪村) in Yuncheng County, Shandong. He is a close friend of Wu Yong, Gongsun Sheng, Liu Tang and the Ruan brothers. He maintains close relations with the constables Zhu Tong and Lei Heng as well.

Robbing the convoy of birthday gifts

Once, Liu Tang overhears news that a convoy escorting some birthday gifts for the Imperial Tutor Cai Jing is to pass by Eastern Creek Village. He falls asleep in a rundown temple after getting drunk and is mistaken by Lei Heng's patrol as a wanted criminal and arrested. Lei Heng and his men stop by Eastern Creek Village to have a short break. Chao Gai recognises Liu Tang and lies to Lei Heng that Liu is his nephew and not a wanted criminal. Lei Heng releases Liu Tang but the latter is still unhappy with Lei for arresting him earlier without reason. He tracks down Lei Heng and fights with him but Chao Gai arrives and stops them.

Liu Tang tells Chao Gai and the others about the convoy and they decide to rob it. The seven men take an oath of fraternity and disguise themselves as date traders. They succeed in robbing the convoy by following Wu Yong's plan and with some help from Bai Sheng. The authorities send the constable He Tao to investigate the incident and arrest the robbers. Bai Sheng is caught after he unknowingly reveals himself as one of the robbers. Despite being subjected to torture, Bai Sheng refuses to name his accomplices even though the authorities have already confirmed that Chao Gai is one of the robbers.

Joining Liangshan

Song Jiang alerts Chao Gai and the others that they are wanted by the government for the robbery and they prepare to flee the village. Zhu Tong and Lei Heng are assigned to arrest Chao Gai and his companions but they help Chao and company escape instead, on account of their friendship. Chao Gai and his companions defeat soldiers led by He Tao and flee to Liangshan for refuge. Wang Lun, chief of Liangshan, allows them to stay at his stronghold temporarily as he is worried that Chao Gai and his friends will pose a threat to his position as chief. Wang Lun tries to send them away with valuable gifts but Chao Gai protests that they have nowhere else to seek refuge and begs Wang to allow them to stay. Wu Yong instigates Lin Chong to kill Wang Lun and Chao Gai is then nominated to be the new chief. Chao Gai recruits Wang Lun's former deputies Song Wan, Du Qian and Zhu Gui.

Death and legacy

Chao Gai participates in some battles against the enemies of Liangshan but most of the time he lets Song Jiang lead the outlaws into war while he stays behind to defend their base at Liangshan and provide reinforcements. Once, he decides to personally lead a campaign against the Zeng Family Fortress after the Zengs provoked Liangshan. The Zengs had robbed a precious steed known as the "Jade Lion" (玉獅子) from Duan Jingzhu, which was originally intended to be presented as a gift to Chao Gai. The Zengs had also injured Liu Tang in a skirmish and provoked Liangshan through insulting slogans. Chao Gai is infuriated and leads his forces to attack the fortress. In the midst of battle, he is struck in the forehead by an arrow whose arrowhead is coated with poison. The arrow was fired by Shi Wengong, a martial arts instructor of the fortress. Chao Gai dies from poisoning shortly after. His dying words are: "Whoever captures Shi Wengong shall succeed me as chief." Song Jiang succeeds Chao Gai as chief of Liangshan eventually although Lu Junyi is the one who captured Shi Wengong.

Chao Gai's character is entirely consistent with the ideas presented in the Liangshan outlaws' eventual manifesto, "delivering justice on Heaven's behalf". His personal history as an official-turned-outlaw portended the way of life and recruitment policy of Liangshan.

See also

  • List of Water Margin minor characters#Chao Gai's story for a list of supporting minor characters from Chao Gai's story.


  • (Chinese) Li, Mengxia. 108 Heroes from the Water Margin. EPB Publishers Pte Ltd, 1992. ISBN 9971-0-0252-3.

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