[last updated 2021 July 12]
Gān Níng appellation Xīngbà was a Bā prefecture Línjiāng man. (1) When young he had vitality and strength, enjoyed traveling as an adventurer, recruiting and gathering reckless youths, became their chief commander; the gathering followed him, wielding bows and crossbows, carrying feather banners and girdling bells, the people hearing the bell sounds, then at once knew it was Níng. (2) People who encountered him, even subordinates of the city’s chief clerk, if they received him with grandeur and generosity then he had good relations with them, and if not, then he would unleash those he commanded to steal their goods and money, in the chief clerk’s jurisdiction robbed and harmed, acting uncontrollably, reaching to over twenty years. When he stopped and did not attack and plunder, he inclined to reading the various masters, and so went to join Liú Biǎo, and therefore resided at Nányáng, did not meet with advancement or use, later transferred to Huáng Zǔ, and Zǔ also treated him as an ordinary person. (3)
- (1) Wúshū states: Níng originally was a Nányáng man, his ancestors were guests in Bā prefecture. Níng became an appointment and calculations official, filled vacancy as Shǔ prefecture Deputy, shortly afterward, deserted office and returned home.
- (2) Wúshū states: Níng recklessly adventured and killed people, living in hiding and fleeing in exile [alternative interpretation: “hid and gave shelter to those fleeing in exile”], and was heard throughout the prefecture. When going out and in, on marching then he lined up chariots and cavalry, on water then he linked light boats, his attendant followers wore embroidery, as if lighting up the roads, when stopping he always with silk brocade fastened boat, leaving he might cut it and abandon it, to show his extravagance.
- (3) Wúshū states: Níng commanded boys and retainers of eight hundred men to meet Liú Biǎo. Biǎo was a classicist, not practiced in military affairs. At the time various outstanding heroes each raised troops, Níng judged Biǎo’s situation, that in the end he would certainly be without achievement, feared in one morning it would all collapse, and he also would receive its calamity, and wished to go east to enter Wú. Huáng Zǔ was at Xiàkǒu, the army was not able to cross, and so he remained to join Zǔ. For three years, Zǔ was not courteous to him. [Sūn] Quán suppressed Zǔ, Zǔ’s army was defeated and fled, the pursuing troops were fast, Níng as he was skilled at shooting, commanded troops at the rear, and shot and killed Colonel Líng Cāo. Zǔ therefore was able to escape, the army withdrew back to camp, [but] he treated Níng as before. Zǔ’s Chief Controller Sū Fēi several times recommended Níng, Zǔ did not employ him, and had people go convert and entice his [Níng’s] retainers, and the retainers gradually left. Níng wished to leave, feared he would not be able to escape, and was alone and discouraged not knowing what to do. [Sū] Fēi knew his intentions, and so invited Níng, for him set liquor, and said: “I recommended you several times, [but] the master does not employ [you]. Days and moons pass by, a man’s life is how long? You should distantly go, and perhaps meet one who understands you.” Níng after a long while then said: “Though I have that ambition, I do not know how.” [Sū] Fēi said: “I wish to recommend you as Zhū Chief, then you leaving, would be [easy] like facing block and rolling ball.” Níng said: “Very good!” Fēi informed Zǔ, who agreed to have Níng go to the county. He recruited the deserted retainers and added willing followers, obtaining several hundred people.
Therefore he submitted to Wú. Zhōu Yú and Lǚ Méng both together recommended him, Sūn Quán was additionally impressed, and treated him the same as the longer serving ministers.
Níng explained strategies saying: “Now Hàn’s reign daily lessens, Cáo Cāo increases arrogance, and in the end will be a usurper bandit. Southern Jīng’s lands, the mountains and hills are favorable, the rivers and streams flow and connect, it truly is the state’s western opportunity. I Níng have already observed Liú Biǎo, his thoughts are not far-sighted, his sons are also inferior, and not ones able to continue the enterprise and pass on the foundations. The utmost honored should early plan against them, and cannot be after [Cáo] Cāo. The strategy to plan against them, should first take Huáng Zǔ. [Huáng] Zǔ now is old, his senility already extreme, wealth and grain both exhausted, his left and right attendants cheat and trifle, attending to monetary profits, encroaching on the officials and soldiers, the officials and soldiers in heart are resentful, the boats and battle equipment, are all worn and not repaired, negligent of plowing and farming, the army without law and order. If the utmost honored now goes, their defeat can be certain. Once defeating [Huáng] Zǔ’s army, drum to go on west, to the west occupy Chǔ’s passes, great power will all the more spread, and indeed can gradually reach to Bā-Shǔ.” [Sūn] Quán deeply accepted this.
Zhāng Zhāo at the time was seated in attendance, and criticized it saying: “Below Wú there are many affairs, if the army indeed goes, one fears it certainly will cause chaos.”
Níng said to Zhāo: “The country with Xiāo Hé’s responsibilities entrusts you, you reside in safety and worry of chaos, how is this admiring the ancients?”
[Sūn] Quán raised liquor to give to Níng and said: “Xīngbà, this year going to suppress, is like this liquor, the decision is entrusted to you. You only must exhort and establish strategy, and must conquer [Huáng] Zǔ, then your achievement, why suspect Chief Clerk Zhāng’s words?”
Quán therefore went west, and indeed took [Huáng] Zǔ, completely capturing his soldiers and armies. Therefore awarded Níng with troops, garrisoning Dāngkǒu. (1)
- (1) Wúshū states: Previously, [Sūn] Quán defeated [Huáng] Zǔ, first making two baskets, wishing to fill them with [Huáng] Zǔ’s and Sū Fēi’s heads. Fēi had someone urgently tell Níng, Níng said: “Even if Fēi had not spoken, how could I forget him?” Quán for the various officers set liquor, Níng descended from mat and knocked head, blood and tears flowing, and for Quán said: “Fēi in the past gave old kindness, if I Níng had been without Fēi, assuredly I would already be lost bones in a ditch, unable to devote life below your banners. Now Fēi’s punishment is execution, I specially from you General beg for his head.” Quán was moved by his words, and said: “Now I to you send him, what if he flees?” Níng said: “Fēi escapes the disaster of being split apart, receives the kindness of restored life, even if pursued he certainly will not flee, how can one plan for fleeing? If it is so, Níng’s [my] head will substitute his in the basket.” Quán thus pardoned him.
Later he accompanied Zhōu Yú in resisting and defeating Excellency Cáo at Wūlín. Attacked Cáo Rén at Nán prefecture, had not yet taken it, Níng established plan to first directly advance to take Yílíng, went and at once captured its city, and so entered and defended it. At the time at his hand were several hundred troops, all of them newly obtained, not even a thousand men. Cáo Rén thus ordered five to six thousand men to besiege Níng. Níng was attacked for accumulated days, the enemy established high towers, like rain shooting into the city, the soldiers were all afraid, only Níng talked and laughed as usual. Sent envoy to report to [Zhōu] Yú, Yú used Lǚ Méng’s plan, commanding several officers to relieve the siege.
Later accompanied Lǔ Sù in defending Yìyáng, resisting Guān Yǔ. Yǔ claimed having thirty thousand men, personally selected elite soldiers of five thousand men, upstream of the county by over ten lǐ at the rapids, saying he wished to in the night cross. Sù with the various officers discussed it. Níng at the time had three hundred troops, and so said: “Can again with five hundred men reinforce me, I will go face him, I guarantee Yǔ upon hearing me cough, will not dare cross the river, if he crosses the river he will at once be by me taken.” Sù then selected a thousand troops to reinforce Níng, Níng then in the night went. Yǔ heard this, halted and did not cross, and bound firewood into a camp, now therefore this place is called Guān Yǔ rapids. Quán commended Níng’s achievement, appointed him Xīlíng Administrator, governing Yángxīn and Xiàzhì two counties.
Later he accompanied in attacking Huán, as the scaling the city walls commander. Níng hand grabbed silk, his body along the walls, and was the first of the officials and soldiers, in the end defeating and capturing Zhū Guāng. In calculating the achievement, Lǚ Méng was the highest, Níng next after him, appointed Breaking Charge General.
Later Excellency Cáo set out against Rúxū, Níng was the front division commander, receiving orders to set out and chop down the enemy front camps. Quán specially bestowed rice and liquor and many delicacies, Níng then bestowed to his on hand men of over a hundred to eat. When finished eating, Níng first with silver bowl poured liquor, himself drank two bowls, then poured to share with the chief controller. The chief controller prostrated, not agreeing to accept. Níng drew white blade and set it atop his knee, huffing and saying to him: “You are known of by the utmost honored, why were you shared with me Gān Níng? I Gān Níng yet do not begrudge death, why do you alone begrudge death?” The chief controller saw Níng’s expression was strict, and at once rose to bow and accept the liquor, and continued pouring for the troops each one silver bowl. Reaching the time of second watch, biting gags, they set out to chop down the enemy. The enemy was alarmed, and therefore retreated. Níng was all the more valued heavily, increased his troops to two thousand men. (1)
- (1) Jiāngbiǎozhuàn states: Excellency Cáo set out against Rúxū, claiming infantry and cavalry of four hundred thousand, overlooking the Jiāng to water horses. Quán led armies of seventy thousand to answer them, sending Níng to command three thousand men as front division commander. Quán secretly ordered Níng, having him in the night enter the Wèi army. Níng then selected on hand warriors of over a hundred men, directly going below Excellency Cáo’s camp, having them pull apart the abatis, going over the ramparts to enter the camp, beheading and taking several tens. The northern army was alarmed and drummed and trumpeted, lighting fires like stars, Níng had already returned to his camp, drummed and trumpeted, declaring ten thousand years. Therefore in the night he met Quán, Quán happily said: “Was it enough to startle the old man or not? It was enough to observe your guts at least.” At once bestowed fabric of a thouand shū, sabers of a hundred. Quán said: “Mèngdé has Zhāng Liáo, I have Xīngbà, enough to match one another.” Stationed for over a moon, the northern army then retreated.
Although Níng was coarse and ferocious and enjoyed killing, however he was open and frank and had planning and strategy, thought little of wealth and respected servicemen, able to generously raise warriors, and warriors also were happy to devote their lives. Jiàn’ān Twelfth Year , followed in attacking Héféi, it happened there was epidemic, the armies all already withdrew out, only below the chariot Tiger Guard of over a thousand men, together with Lǚ Méng, Jiǎng Qīn, Líng Tǒng and Níng, accompanying Quán at ease at the ford’s north. Zhāng Liáo saw and knew of them, and at once commanded infantry and cavalry to suddenly arrive. Níng drew bow and shot the enemy, with Tǒng and the rest fighting to the death. Níng in stern voice asked the drums and trumpets why they were not sounding, his strong vitality firm resolute, Quán specially commended him. (1)
- (1) Wúshū states: Líng Tǒng blamed Níng for killing his father Cāo, Níng always guarded against Tǒng, not with him meeting. Quán also ordered Tǒng to not take revenge on him. Once at Lǚ Méng’s residence meeting, drinking and intoxicated, Tǒng then with a saber danced. Níng rose and said: “I Níng am able to dance with twin halberds.” Méng said: “Though Níng able, it is not as skillful as me Méng.” Therefore he grasped saber and held shield, with his body separating them. Afterward Quán knew Tǒng’s intentions, and therefore ordered Níng to lead troops and so transferred garrison to Bànzhōu.
Níng’s kitchen servant once had a fault, and fled to Lǚ Méng. Méng feared Níng would kill him, and therefore did not at once return him. Later Níng presented gifts to pay respects to Méng’s mother, acting as if [to his own mother] in ascending the hall, and so [Lǚ Méng] produced the kitchen servant to return to Níng. Níng promised Méng to not kill him. After returning to his boat, he bound [the servant] to a mulberry tree, and personally drew bow to shoot and kill him. When finished, he ordered the boat people to again increase the barge moors, untied his clothes and lied in the boat. Méng was greatly furious, and struck drums to gather his troops, wishing to go to the boat to attack Níng. Níng heard this, and therefore lied down and did not rise. Méng’s mother barefooted went out to remonstrate Méng and said: “The utmost honored treats you like bone and flesh [kin], entrusts you with great affairs, how can you for personal angers yet wish to attack and kill Gān Níng? On Níng’s death day, even if the utmost honored does not investigate, you would be a servant who violated law.” Méng by nature was utmostly filial, heard his mother’s words, and immediately his thinking was resolved, he personally went to Níng’s boat, laughed and called to him saying: “Xīngbà, my mother is treating you to food, quickly come up!” Níng shedding tears sobbed and said: “[I] disappointed you.” He with Méng together returned to meet the mother, feasting all day.
Níng died, [Sūn] Quán pained and grieved for him. His son Guī, due to a crime was exiled to Kuàijī, and soon after died.