A Qing Dynasty illustration of Jiang Wei
|Regent of Shu Han|
|Died||264 (aged 62)|
|Courtesy name||Boyue (simplified Chinese: 伯约; traditional Chinese: 伯約; pinyin: Bóyuē; Wade–Giles: Po-yüeh)|
Jiang Wei (202–264), courtesy name Boyue, was a military general and regent of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period. He originally served Shu's rival state, Cao Wei, as a middle-level military officer, but defected to the Shu chancellor Zhuge Liang, leaving his mother in Wei. After that, Jiang Wei took part in military campaigns against his native state. He joined Zhuge Liang's first Northern Expedition against Wei in 228, and was made an army commander. Zhuge Liang had always considered Jiang Wei a resourceful and capable general, and Jiang received light-speed promotions during the regency of Zhuge Liang and of Zhuge Liang's successors Jiang Wan and Fei Yi to eventually become Fei Yi's chief assistant. He succeeded Fei Yi after the latter's death in 253, but did not wield full power as his predecessor did, as he was only in charge of military affairs — and was therefore arguably a regent.
Jiang Wei revived Zhuge Liang's campaigns against Wei (which Jiang Wan and Fei Yi had largely abandoned) and made a number of incursions against Wei — one in coordination with Eastern Wu's regent Zhuge Ke — but each had to be abandoned due to inadequate food supplies or due to battlefield losses, and these campaigns greatly drained Shu's resources. In 263, a Wei army, led by Deng Ai and Zhong Hui, conquered Shu. Jiang Wei tried to restore Shu by persuading Zhong Hui to rebel against the Wei regent Sima Zhao, and Zhong agreed. However, the revolt failed because Zhong Hui's own soldiers turned against him and both Zhong and Jiang Wei were killed in action.
Early life in Wei
Jiang Wei was born in the late Eastern Han Dynasty and was from Tianshui commandery around present-day Gansu. In his early life, his father Jiang Jiong (姜冏), who was a military officer, was killed in battle during a rebellion by the Qiang people in northwestern China. Because of what happened to his father, Jiang Wei decided to serve in the military as well, and he became a subject of the state of Cao Wei after the fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty.
As a general of Shu
When the Shu Han regent Zhuge Liang launched his first Northern Expedition in 228, Jiang Wei's commanding officer suspected him of secretly wishing to join Zhuge Liang, and once, when Jiang Wei was outside the city walls with his troops, they closed the city gates and would not allow Jiang Wei to re-enter. Jiang Wei was forced to defect to Shu, leaving behind his mother in Wei territory. Even though Jiang Wei had not shown his military skills on the battlefield, he had already been praised by Zhuge Liang as a capable person, and was quickly made Zhuge's leading officer at the age of 27, probably out of political consideration.
Jiang Wan, who succeeded Zhuge Liang as regent after the latter's death in 234, continued to value Jiang Wei's understanding of, and connections in Liang Province (涼州; covering roughly present-day Gansu), and he commissioned Jiang Wei with the title of the governor of Liang Province, which Shu did not control, but effectively giving Jiang Wei the authority over the northwestern border. When Jiang Wan died in 245, he was succeeded by Fei Yi, who made Jiang Wei his chief assistant.
Jiang Wei had constantly desired to revive Zhuge Liang's aggressive foreign policy towards Wei, but Fei Yi disagreed, because the resources put into large-scale wars had already been too much. Instead, Fei Yi kept Jiang Wei on a short leash, and authorised the latter to lead a detachment of 10,000 troops to harass Wei's border. Jiang Wei appeared to be fairly effective under Fei Yi's command, and was successful in persuading a number of non-Han Chinese tribes to resist Wei.
Paramountcy over the Shu military
Jiang Wei took over Fei Yi's position in 253 after the latter was assassinated, and became the de facto commander-in-chief of the Shu military — but unlike his deceased supervisor, his influence on civil affairs was limited, as those matters appeared to be dominated by the eunuch Huang Hao and Zhuge Liang's son Zhuge Zhan. Jiang Wei, however, was the supreme authority in military affairs. Jiang Wei attempted to weaken Wei, however, there was dissension within the highest-ranked officials, because both Zhuge Zhan and Huang Hao feared Jiang Wei would use the military campaigns as a mean to increase his personal influence. Besides the political hinder, several generals also pointed out the strategic shortcomings of waging wars against a stronger state. Jiang Wei's decision to revive the aggressive foreign policy against Wei faced much opposition in the Shu imperial court.
Campaigns against Wei
Jiang Wei ignored the dissenting voices and proceeded to restore Shu's aggressive foreign policy against Wei after he gained full control of the military. In 253, he set up a coordinated effort with the Eastern Wu regent Zhuge Ke to attack Wei on two fronts — Shu on the west and Wu on the east. Jiang Wei attacked the border city of Didao (狄道; in present-day Dingxi, Gansu) as Zhuge Ke launched a massive attack on Hefei. Wei's regent Sima Shi correctly judged the Wu force to be the more serious threat and personally led the main Wei force to the eastern front while sending a smaller detachment to relieve Didao. While besieging Didao, Jiang Wei's army ran out of food supplies and was forced to withdraw. On the eastern front, the Wu army suffered a great loss due to an unsuccessful long-term siege and plagues, leading to Zhuge Ke's downfall later that year.
In 254, after Li Jian (李簡), the county magistrate of Didao, secretly declared that he would defect, Jiang Wei again advanced on Didao and took the city, but was hindered from a local resistance force led by Xu Zhi. Jiang Wei kidnapped some local residents and returned to a stronghold in Longxi before the Wei general Guo Huai arrived the battlefield.
In the summer of 255, despite opposition from Zhang Yi (under the rationale that Shu could not sustain continuous campaigns against Wei), Jiang Wei attacked Didao again, and was highly successful in his initial battles against Wang Jing, the Wei governor of Yong Province (雍州; roughly present-day Shaanxi), nearly annihilating Wang's troops. Zhang Yi again tried to persuade Jiang Wei to stop his campaign at this point, but Jiang refused. Instead, he besieged Didao again and eventually was forced to lift the siege when Wei reinforcements commanded by Chen Tai arrived. Jiang Wei and Chen Tai's forces remained in a stalemate throughout the entire winter. In the summer of 256, as Jiang Wei shifted his strategy to advance instead on Shanggui (上邽; in present-day Tianshui, Gansu), his move was anticipated by the Wei general Deng Ai, who intercepted him and dealt him a major loss — a loss that would cause the people of Shu to begin to resent Jiang Wei.
In 257, when Wei was dealing with a rebellion by Zhuge Dan, Jiang Wei launched another attack on Wei, this time advancing all the way to Mangshui (芒水; in present-day Xi'an, Shaanxi), but could not induce Wei's forces, commanded by Deng Ai and Sima Wang, to engage him in battle. Jiang Wei withdrew his forces after Zhuge Dan's revolt was suppressed in 258.
In 262, despite opposition from Liao Hua, Jiang Wei attacked Wei again, targeting Taoyang (洮陽; in present-day Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Hezuo), Gansu), but was defeated by Deng Ai. He withdrew to Tazhong (沓中; also in present-day Gannan) and did not return to the Shu capital Chengdu because he feared that Huang Hao might use his defeat at Taoyang to make a political attack on him in the Shu court. He remained at Tazhong, perhaps to carry out one strategy that Zhuge Liang considered late in his campaigns — have soldiers grow wheat to use as the following year's food supply. Jiang Wei was apprehensive of Huang Hao at that point because he had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the Shu emperor Liu Shan to execute Huang earlier that year, and Huang was trying to find an opportunity to replace Jiang with his friend Yan Yu (閻宇).
Fall of Shu
In 258, Jiang Wei suggested the following plan be drawn up in the case of a major Wei attack — that the border cities do not try to resist, but instead have the main forces to withdraw to the mountain passes to wait for Wei forces to be worn out, and then close up their path of withdrawal. Liu Shan approved the strategy and made it the official plan to follow if Wei attacked.
Late in 262, the Wei regent Sima Zhao had grown tired of Jiang Wei's continuous attacks on Wei so he contemplated hiring assassins to kill Jiang. However, on the advice of his strategists, Sima Zhao decided to attempt to eliminate Shu once and for all, so he commissioned the generals Deng Ai and Zhong Hui to lead Wei forces to invade Shu. Jiang Wei quickly realised that Wei was about to attack and he petitioned Liu Shan to send troops to defend the key passes, but Huang Hao disagreed and persuaded Liu Shan to ignore Jiang Wei's petition.
In 263, while Jiang Wei was still at Tazhong, the Wei attack was launched. Liu Shan ordered that Jiang Wei's plan from 258 be carried out — but much to Liu Shan's surprise, the Wei forces took no heed of Shu border cities at all and headed directly for the key passes. Jiang Wei quickly withdrew his forces to try to defend against the attack, and after some initial failures, was finally able to block off Zhong Hui's forces at Jiange (劍閣; in present-day Guangyuan, Sichuan). Zhong Hui considered retreating, but Deng Ai led a smaller detachment through a treacherous mountain pass descending on Jiangyou (江油; in present-day Mianyang, Sichuan), defeating Zhuge Liang's son Zhuge Zhan and heading directly for the Shu capital Chengdu. Surprised and believing that Chengdu was defenceless, Liu Shan surrendered and ordered Jiang Wei to surrender to Zhong Hui. Zhong Hui treated Jiang Wei with respect and quickly made him a key advisor.
Efforts to reestablish Shu and death
Jiang Wei quickly saw that Zhong Hui had other ideas — Zhong considered his abilities superior to all Wei generals, even Sima Zhao, and wanted to overthrow Sima. Jiang Wei encouraged Zhong Hui to rebel against Sima Zhao, and Zhong agreed. Zhong Hui first falsely reported to Sima Zhao that Deng Ai was plotting a rebellion, and forged letters to and from Deng to increase the tension between Sima Zhao and Deng Ai. In early 264, Sima Zhao ordered Zhong Hui to arrest Deng Ai and take over command of Deng's troops — but at the same time led a force personally, heading toward Chengdu from the Wei capital Luoyang. Zhong Hui later realised that Sima Zhao had seen through his intentions so he staged a rebellion.
Jiang Wei had other plans, however. He tried to persuade Zhong Hui to kill all the high level Wei officers, with his own plan that after Zhong did so, he would kill Zhong and then restore Shu. He wrote letters to Liu Shan explaining his actions. Zhong Hui tentatively agreed with Jiang Wei's suggestion to kill all the key officers, but hesitated in executing the plan. The plot was leaked out and Zhong Hui's soldiers turned against him. Jiang Wei led Zhong Hui's personal guards to fight the mutinying soldiers, but he and Zhong were eventually killed in action.
Jiang Wei is one of the most controversial figures in Chinese history. In Bo Yang's Modern Chinese Edition of Sima Guang's Zizhi Tongjian, for example, Bo cited seven different and discordant views of Jiang's career — ranging from ringing endorsements of his recklessness and loyalty for the sake of Shu (Pei Songzhi, who annotated Records of the Three Kingdoms) to criticism of his constant draining campaigns (Chen Shou, the author of Records of the Three Kingdoms) to outright condemnation (Sun Sheng, author of the Spring and Autumn Annals of Jin), each of which could be considered a potentially valid view of his complicated character. (Bo himself declined comment, but later in an open letter to a reader suggested that all of the views were, indeed, correct — that Jiang Wei's fatal errors were to drain the energy of his people, but that he was indeed a loyal man, willing to lay down his life in a futile attempt to reestablish Shu.) Xi Zheng, who served Shu along with Jiang Wei, confirms that Jiang Wei was a humble, and a capable man, who did not seek personal glory.
Jiang Wei appears as a playable character in the video game series Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi produced by Koei, in which he is portrayed as a handsome young man who is fiercely devoted to his mentor Zhuge Liang. He also appears in Koei's Romance of the Three Kingdoms series.
- Herbert Allen Giles (1898). Gu jin xing shi zu pu. B. Quaritch. p. 136. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
- Herbert Allen Giles (1898). A Chinese biographical dictionary, Volume 2. B. Quaritch. p. 136. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
- Herbert Allen Giles (1962). Zhongguo ren ming da zi dian, Volume 1 中國人名大字典. Literature House. p. 136. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 44, Biographies of Jiang Wan, Fei Yi, and Jiang Wei.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 26, Biographies of Man, Tian, Qian, and Guo.
- Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 28, Biographies of Wang, Guanqiu, Zhuge, Deng and Zhong.