Qing Dynasty illustration of Meng Huo
|Rebel leader of Nanzhong|
Meng Huo was popularly regarded as a local leader representing the gentries of the Nanzhong region during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. When the emperor of Shu Han, Liu Bei, died, the local people of Nanzhong severed their ties with Shu Han, stating that there were three lords claiming to be the legitimate ruler of China and they "no longer knew whom should they pledge allegiance to". In retaliation, Shu Han's chancellor, Zhuge Liang, launched a full invasion on the Nanzhong region, and successfully quelled the uprising. It was recorded in the Spring and Autumn Annal of Han and Jin Dynasty (漢晉春秋) and the Chronicles of Huayang that Zhuge had captured and let go of the local leader seven times, so the leader finally swore his allegiance to Shu Han.
The popular image of Meng Huo follows Luo Guanzhong's semi-fictitious novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, where he is portrayed as a southern barbarian tribal leader. In the novel Meng Huo was married to a fictional Lady Zhurong, who claimed descent from the Chinese god of fire, Zhu Rong.
Contentions on historicity
The absurdity of Meng Huo being captured and released seven times led many to doubt the story, and even of Meng Huo's existence. The Republican-era Yunnan historian Zhang Hualan (張華爛) wrote in his article "Discussion on Meng Huo" (孟獲辯) that Meng was a fictional character invented by later historians, noting that the name "Huo" (獲), which means "captured" in Chinese, is too coincidental considering Meng's fate on being captured, a view shared by many academics. Meng Huo and the record of his captures first appeared in the Spring and Autumn Annal of Han and Jin Dynasty, written by Xi Zaochi (習鑿齒) of the Eastern Jin Dynasty, and were also detailed in the near-contemporary Chronicles of Huayang. The Liu Song Dynasty historian Pei Songzhi, when compiling his annotated version of the Records of the Three Kingdoms, found Xi Zaochi's work unreliable at times. Pei does not specifically comment on Meng Huo's historicity, but points out elsewhere that Xi writes history not found in earlier records, hence the Yunnan historian Fang Guoyu (方国瑜) uses Pei's doubts on Xi's unreliability to challenge the story of Meng Huo's seven captures (though Fang does not go as far as to doubt Meng Huo's existence). Modern researcher Huang Chengzhong (黄承宗) of the Liangshan Yi Slave Society Museum (凉山彝族奴隶社会博物馆) believes Meng to be a real historical figure, though he is certain that the "seven times freed" story is fiction. The Sichuan University professor Miao Yue (缪钺) contended Zhuge would not be able to release the leader if the latter was indeed captured. Tan Liangxiao (谭良啸), director of the Museum of Temple of the Marquis of Wu in Chengdu, also stated the "seven times freed" story to be "strange and unbelievable", but like Fang and Huang, he believes Meng Huo did exist in history.
- Extracts from Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms pertaining to Meng Huo:
- In the third year of Jianxing a bulletin came to Yi Province announcing, "Meng Huo has led 100,000 Nanman tribesmen across our borders to plunder the villages." (Chapter 87 - Paragraph 2)
- Despite protest from Court Conselor Wang Lian, Zhuge Liang leaves to lead five hundred thousand soldiers against the southern forces.
- The Shu forces were led by Zhuge Liang. Zhao Yun and Wei Yan were his generals, their lieutenants being Wang Ping and Zhang Ni.
- Meng Huo speaks to Zhuge Liang: "The whole of the riverlands once belonged to another. Your lord seized it by force and proclaimed himself emperor. My ancestors held these lands, which you have encroached upon so barbarically." (87-36)
- Zhuge Liang captures and frees Meng Huo: "I can catch him again with ease whenever I choose to. But pacification of the south requires that we subdue the hearts of the Nanman people." (88-1)
- During the conquest, Meng Huo was captured on seven different occasions, by Zhuge Liang. In addition, many Nanman generals and lieutenants were captured and treated with kindess. This caused many withdrawals and eventually the pacification of the south.
- Zhuge Liang: "I guessed the enemy would be looking for an ambush in the woods, so I set up decoy banners there to confuse them. There were never any troops. Next, I had Wei Yan lose a series of battles to strengthen their confidence... I ordered Ma Dai to deploy the black wagons in the valley - they had been loaded earlier with fire launchers called 'earth thunder', each containing nine missiles... We cut off the road and burned out the enemy..." (90-41)
- Finally, Meng Huo admits defeat: "Seven times captured, seven times freed! Such a thing has never happened! Though I stand beyond the range of imperial grace, I am not utterly ignorant of ritual, of what propriety and honor require. No, I am not so shameless!" He then stripped off one of his sleeves (a sign of swearing oath) and pledged: "By Chancellor's celestial might, the Southerners will never rebel again." (90-44)
- Zhang Hualan (張華爛), "Discussion on Meng Huo" (孟獲辯). Nanqian Magazine (南强杂志). Original quote: "陳壽志于南中叛黨雍闿高定之徒，大書特書，果有漢夷共服之孟獲，安得略而不載？其人身被七擒，而其名即為‘獲’，天下安有如此湊巧之事？"
- Zhang Xinghai (张星海). "Zhuge Liang 'Qi Qin Meng Huo' zhen ye jia ye" (诸葛亮“七擒孟获”真耶假耶？). Beijing Sci-Tech Report (北京科技报). Original quote: "张华烂的观点其实代表了许多学者的观点。"
- Pei Songzhi, Annotated Records of the Three Kingdoms. 28. Original quote: "如此言之类，皆前史所不载，而犹出习氏。且制言法体不似于昔，疑悉凿齿所自造者也？" Pei Songzhi accuses Xi Zaochi of anachronistically inserting quotations in the biography of Wang Ling, unrelated to Meng Huo's passage.
- Fang Guoyu. Yizu Shigao (彝族史稿). Sichuan Nationalities Publishing House. March 1984. p. 118
- Huang Chengzhong (黄承宗). "Shu Han Meng Huo shishi suotan" (蜀漢孟獲史實瑣談). Sichuan Yixue Yanjiu (四川彝学研究). 1. September 2000. ISBN 7-5409-2672-4
- Tan Liangxiao (谭良啸), "Zhuge Liang 'qi qin Meng Huo' zhiyi" (諸葛亮“七擒孟獲”質疑). Journal of Yunnan Normal University. Original quote: "七擒一事，實近乎離奇，諸葛亮俘孟獲不殺當是有的，但“七擒七縱”則令人難以置信。"
- Luo Guanzhong, translated by Moss Roberts (2004). Romance of the Three Kingdoms, University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22503-1.