Tao Qian was born in 132 AD, born in the Danyang region of the Later Han dynasty of China. In 184 AD, Tao Qian was appointed as the Prefect of Xu Province in eastern China, and during Bian Zhang's Rebellion in 185 AD, Tao Qian was sent to fight the rebels while under the command of Zhang Wen. Tao Qian conquered Yang Province in 192 AD during the time of the Campaign against Dong Zhuo, in which he did not take part.
In 193 AD, Tao Qian's subordinate Zhang Kai ambushed the wagon train of Cao Song and killed him before stealing all of his money. Cao Song's son, Governor of Yan Province Cao Cao, decided to take revenge on his father's killers, and he led an invasion of Xuzhou. Cao Cao and his army faced not only Tao Qian, but also his general Liu Bei, whose army included the warriors Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. Tao Qian resisted Cao Cao, and he was later reinforced by the powerful army of Lu Bu, who was also without a home province. Tao Qian's army was defeated at Xuzhou Castle due to the efforts of Cao Cao's general Xu Chu, and 100,000 civilians died in the attack. Tao Qian died of illness soon after, and Liu Bei succeeded him as the Prefect of Xuzhou. Liu Bei also gained control of Tao Qian's army, including his strategist Mi Zhu and general Mi Fang, both of whom would play major roles later in Liu Bei's life, when he reigned as the King of Hanzhong and Emperor of Shu Han.