Ze Rong (died 195) was originally a general and active occultist serving under the warlord Tao Qian in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. When the Yan Province warlord, Cao Cao, attacked Tao, Ze left his post and traveled south, killing local officers and plundered the cities along the way, and finally established himself a minor warlord of Yuzhang.
Service under Tao Qian
Ze Rong was a native of Danyang, and became a leader of a Buddhist sect in his early life. He began his career under the Xu Province warlord, Tao Qian, when he led his cult to join forces with the latter, for whom he served as a logistic officer, and was tasked to oversee the transportation of materials for Guangling (廣陵), Xiapi (下邳), and Pengcheng (彭城). However, he and his followers attacked Tao's troops, and seized the supplies for personal usage. Since then, he entered into a semi-independence and monopolized the logistics affiliated with the 3 commandaries. He then constructed a large Buddhist temple in Xiapi, which had a capacity of 3000 people, and recruited followers around the area. Furthermore, he had bronze and gold melted to build luxurious Buddha statues, food and wine prepared for fellow occultists, and several tens li of cotton to cover the road. The budget for the commandaries totaling thousands of million was all consumed by Ze. Nevertheless, more than 5,000 households and numerous monks and nuns moved into the city, and pledged allegiance to Ze. Therefore, Tao never severed ties with Ze, because he valued Ze's influence and his powerful cult.
Tao thought his tolerance would earn Ze's loyalty; however, when Cao Cao attacked Xu Province, Ze immediately led his followers numbering tens of thousand on an exodus away from the city. When he arrived the city of Guangling, the Grand Administrator, Zhao Yu (趙昱), welcomed him and treated him with respect. When Ze noticed the city had stored up abundant materials under good governance of Zhao, he invited the latter to a banquet, and had the drunk Zhao Yu murdered. Then, he ordered his troops to plunder the city, leaving nothing for the citizens. After he seized all valuables from Gangling, he went to Moling (present day Nanjing), the local official there, Xue Li, also welcomed Ze warmly like Zhao did. Ze wanted to take advantage of Xue, but was worried that Xue's powerful ally, Liu Yao of the east, would interfere.
Service under Liu Yao
When Liu Yao was engaged in conflict with the rising Sun Ce, Ze Rong served as one of the former's allies, camping near Moling with Xue Li. They were routed by Sun Ce and forced to retreat, though Ze Rong managed to avoid complete annihilation due to Fan Neng and Yu Mi's hinder on Sun Ce's forces. During one battle, Sun Ce suffered an arrow wound and returned to his base at Niuzhu. Ze Rong sought to take advantage of this with a quick attack, but Sun personally came out despite the wound, and Ze suffered a heavy casualty. Henceforth, Ze entrenched himself and avoided battles with Sun, leading to Sun Ce abandoning the attack on him.
As a warlord and death
Following the loss of most of the major cities, Liu Yao decided to flee for Yuzhang. Knowing Liu had begun to depart, Ze murdered his old ally, Xue Li, and seized his troops, and arrived Yuzhang before Liu did. The Grand Administrator of Yuzhang, Zhu Hao, was an innocent and kind-hearted person, so he did not suspect Ze, who was known to be the greatest Buddhist of China at the time, and welcomed him in just like Zhao and Xue previously did. Xu Zizhang once reminded Liu to send a letter informing Zhu of what kind of person Ze really was, but before the messenger arrived, Zhu had already been killed by Ze. Ze then succeeded Zhu to be the Grand Administrator, and severed tie with Liu Yao. Liu was enraged by Ze and attacked him, but was soundly defeated. Believing he had annexed Liu's army, Ze perceived secure and did not give chase. However, Liu had the support of his people, and was able to recruit them to fight again. During their second encounter, Ze was defeated by Liu, and he fled into the deep hills controlled by the Shanyue tribes. Not knowing what Buddha was, the Shanyue people paid no heed to Ze's evil speeches, and had him killed.
- (遂放縱擅殺，坐斷三郡委輸以自入。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
- (由此遠近前後至者五千餘人戶) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
- (融將男女數萬口，馬三千匹，走廣陵，廣陵太守趙昱待以賓禮。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
- (因酒酣殺昱，放兵大略，因載而去。) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
- (许子将谓繇曰：“笮融出军，不顾（命）名义者也。朱文明善推诚以信人，宜使密防之。”) Sanguozhi vol. 49.
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- de Crespigny, Rafe (1990). Generals of the South. National Library of Australia. ISBN 0-7315-0901-3.
- Pei, Songzhi. Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).