As Tang Military Governor of Wu'an
When Ma Yin took over command of Wu'an, he was apprehensive of the strengths of both Yang Xingmi (who was firmly in control of Huainan by that point) and Cheng Rui the military governor of Jingnan Circuit (荊南, headquartered in modern Jingzhou, Hubei), and he considered giving them gold and silk to appease them. His strategist Gao Yu pointed out that Cheng was not as strong as he looked, while Yang was a sworn enemy who could never be appeased through gifts. At Gao's suggestion, Ma concentrated on comforting the people and training his army, to strengthen his own army without external aid.
In 897, Zhang Ji captured Jiang Xun, allowing Shao Prefecture to come under Ma's control. However, it was said that at that point, while Wu'an Circuit legally consisted of seven prefectures, Ma was in actual control of only Tan and Shao; the other five prefectures were all actually controlled by agrarian rebels — Heng (modern Hengyang in Hunan) by Yang Shiyuan (楊師遠), Yong (永州, in modern Yongzhou, Hunan) by Tang Shimin (唐世旻); Dao (道州, in modern Yongzhou) by Cai Jie (蔡結); Chēn (郴州, in modern Chenzhou, Hunan) by Chen Yanqian (陳彥謙); and Lian (連州, in modern Qingyuan, Guangdong) by Lu Jingren (魯景仁). Under the suggestion of Yao Yanzhang (姚彥章), Ma sent an army commanded by Li Qiong and Qin Zongquan's cousin Qin Yanhui (秦彥暉) to attack Heng and Yong, quickly capturing them; Yang died in flight, while Tang was killed by Ma's army. When Ma sent Li Tang (李唐) in 899 to attack Dao, Cai initially repelled Li Tang's attack, but Li Tang subsequently succeeded in capturing Dao and killing Cai, taking Dao under Ma's control as well. By the end of 899, Li Qiong had captured and executed Chen Yanqian, and when he attacked Lian, Lu committed suicide, allowing Ma to control all seven of Wu'an's prefectures. Emperor Zhaozong formally bestowed on Ma the title of military governor.
When Liu Shizheng (劉士政) the military governor of Jingjiang Circuit (靜江, headquartered in modern Guilin, Guangxi) heard that Ma had pacified all of Wu'an, he became apprehensive, and he sent his deputy Chen Kefan (陳可璠) to defend Quanyi Heights (全義嶺, in modern Guilin) against a possible Ma attack. When Ma sent emissaries to Liu to try to establish peaceful relations, Chen refused. Ma, in 900, sent Qin and Li Qiong to attack Jingjiang. They quickly defeated Liu's army, killing Wang Jianwu (王建武) and capturing Chen. They put Jingjiang's capital Gui Prefecture (桂州) under siege, and after a few days of siege, Liu surrendered, allowing Ma to take Jingjiang's five prefectures under control. Ma commissioned Li Qiong as the military governor of Jingjiang.
In 902, Emperor Zhaozong, who was then under the controls of the eunuch Han Quanhui and the warlord Li Maozhen at Li Maozhen's Fengxiang Circuit (鳳翔, headquartered in modern Baoji, Shaanxi), which was then under siege by Zhu Quanzhong, sent the imperial emissary Li Yan to the southeastern circuits to encourage the warlords there to join under Yang's command and attack Zhu. As part of the edicts that Li Yan promulgated, Ma was given the honorary chancellor title of Tong Zhongshu Menxia Pingzhangshi (同中書門下平章事).
By 903, Zhu had prevailed over Li Maozhen, forcing Li Maozhen to seek peace by killing Han and giving control of the emperor to Zhu. Thereafter, Yang sent emissaries to Ma, accusing Zhu of inappropriate actions, and offering an alliance to Ma if Ma would cut off his relationship with Zhu. Ma's general Xu Dexun pointed out that Zhu controlled the emperor and that it would not be advantageous to Ma to end that relationship. Ma agreed and did not accept Yang's proposal.
Meanwhile, an ally of Zhu's, Du Hong the military governor of Wuchang Circuit (武昌, headquartered in modern Wuhan, Hubei), had been under attack by Yang for several years and was in a desperate situation. Zhu sent his general Han Qing (韓勍) south to try to save Du, while also requesting Cheng, Ma, and Lei Yanwei the military governor of Wuzhen Circuit (武貞, headquartered in modern Changde, Hunan) to launch troops to save Du. Cheng agreed and launched a fleet, which he himself commanded, toward Wuchang. However, after Cheng left his capital Jiangling, Ma sent Xu to join forces with Lei's officer Ouyang Si (歐陽思) to attack Jiangling. They captured it, pillaged it for its population and wealth, and then withdrew. Cheng's army, hearing that their families and wealth had been captured, lost its morale, and was subsequently defeated by Yang's general Li Shenfu; Cheng committed suicide by drowning. On the way back to Tan, Xu met with Deng Jinzhong (鄧進忠) the prefect of Yue Prefecture (岳州, in modern Yueyang, Hunan) and persuaded Deng that he should submit to Ma. Deng agreed, surrendered the prefecture, and moved his entire family to Tan to show submission to Ma. Ma made Xu the prefect of Yue and Deng the prefect of Heng.
In 904, Yang realized that Ma Cong, who remained at Huainan and served in his army for a number of years after Yang defeated Sun Ru, was Ma Yin's brother. He offered to send Ma Cong to Ma Yin. Ma Cong initially declined, indicating that he was grateful for Yang's not killing him at the time of Sun's death and making him a Huainan officer, but Yang insisted. After Ma Cong arrived at Tan, Ma Yin made him the deputy military governor. Ma Cong subsequently advocated an alliance between Ma Yin and Yang, but Ma Yin rejected Ma Cong's proposal.
In 906, Yang's son and successor Yang Wo sent his officer Chen Zhixin (陳知新) to attack Yue Prefecture. Chen was successful, forcing Xu to flee, and Yue fell to Huainan control. During the same year, Peng Gan (彭玕) the prefect of Ji Prefecture (吉州, in modern Ji'an, Jiangxi) surrendered Ji to Ma, after Yang Wo had conquered most of Zhennan Circuit (which Ji Prefecture belonged to) and captured its military governor Zhong Kuangshi.
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