Zhang He

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Zhang He
Zhang He Portrait.jpg
An illustration of Zhang He's death from a Qing Dynasty edition of Romance of the Three Kingdoms
General of Cao Wei
Born (Unknown)
Died 231
Simplified Chinese 张郃
Traditional Chinese 張郃
Pinyin Zhāng Hé
Wade–Giles Chang Ho
Courtesy name Junyi (Chinese: 儁乂; pinyin: Jùnyì; Wade–Giles: Chün-i)
Posthumous name Marquis Zhuang (simplified Chinese: 壮侯; traditional Chinese: 壯侯; pinyin: Zhuàng Hóu)

Zhang He (died 231),[1] courtesy name Junyi, was a military general serving under the warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He continued serving in the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period until his death.

Zhang He began his military career when the Yellow Turban Rebellion erupted in 184 and subsequently served under the warlords Han Fu and Yuan Shao before defecting to Cao Cao during the Battle of Guandu. He participated in many major campaigns, including those against Yuan Tan, Zhang Lu, Ma Chao, and Liu Bei. After Cao Cao's death in 220, Zhang He was primarily engaged with defending the state of Cao Wei against the Northern Expeditions led by Zhuge Liang of Shu Han. He died from an arrow wound received during an encounter with Shu forces in 231.

Famed for his resourcefulness that even Zhuge Liang was said to be wary of, Zhang He was considered by Chen Shou, author of the historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms, to be one of the Five Elite Generals of Cao Cao, along with Zhang Liao, Xu Huang, Yue Jin and Yu Jin. He was also said to be full of respect for Confucian scholars, and supported the idea of allowing masters of the Five Classics to serve in the imperial court of Cao Pi, the first emperor of Wei.

Early career[edit]

Zhang He was born in Mao (present-day Maozhou, Hebei). After the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in 184, Zhang He joined the volunteer army under Han Fu, governor of Ji Province (present-day southern Hebei) to suppress the rebellion. He was appointed as a middle-ranking army commander. Although the rebellion was soon quelled, it led to the flourishing of many regional armies under the control of de facto warlords. After Emperor Ling died in 189, Dong Zhuo of Liang Province (present-day western Gansu) usurped state power and placed the puppet Emperor Xian on the throne. Warlords from eastern China formed a coalition against Dong Zhuo in 190. The attempt did not pull through but did trigger a series of massive civil wars among the warlords themselves.

In 191, when Han Fu faced military threats from rival warlord Gongsun Zan, who was based in You Province (present-day northern Hebei), he decided to turn over Ji Province to his ally, Yuan Shao. Zhang He and his troops then came under command of the new lord. Yuan Shao appointed Zhang He as a military officer and put him in charge of defending the border against Gongsun Zan. After Yuan Shao defeated Gongsun Zan, Zhang He was further promoted to the rank of a junior general.

Defection to Cao Cao[edit]

In 199, Yuan Shao defeated Gongsun Zan at the decisive Battle of Yijing and gained control of the four regions north of the Yellow River. He then turned his attention to Cao Cao, a rising warlord gaining power in Yan Province (present-day western Shandong) just south of the river. In the autumn of the next year, the two sides clashed at the Battle of Guandu. Yuan Shao had his food supply stored at Wuchao (southeast of present-day Yanjin County, Henan), guarded by Chunyu Qiong. Zhang He advised Yuan Shao to reinforce the defence at Wuchao as Cao Cao would certainly seek to seize the food supply. However, Yuan Shao eventually took the counsel of Guo Tu, who suggested concentrating forces on the base camp of Cao Cao should the latter decide to attack Wuchao.

Cao Cao indeed led a light force to attack Wuchao under the cover of the night. The food supply was lost, and Zhang He led his troops to surrender to Cao Cao. Cao Cao was very pleased and compared Zhang He's surrender to those of Wei Zi (微子) and Han Xin

Theories of defection[edit]

According to Zhang He's biography in the Records of Three Kingdoms, after Yuan Shao lost the Battle of Guandu, an embarrassed Guo Tu slandered Zhang He before Yuan Shao, accusing the general of taking pleasure in the defeat. Zhang He became afraid and decided to defect to Cao Cao along with his colleague, Gao Lan. However, in the biographies of Cao Cao and Yuan Shao, a treacherous Zhang He surrendered to the enemy once he heard Wuchao was attacked; and his action served as a catalyst for the breakdown of Yuan's massive army.

¹Wei Zi was a relative and adviser to King Zhou of Shang but later defected to King Wen of Zhou, and his action induced others to abandon the Shang Dynasty. Han Xin left Xiang Yu to join Liu Bang, who later founded the Han Dynasty.

Struggle in Hanzhong[edit]

Henceforth, Zhang He participated in many campaigns Cao Cao waged, including a northern campaign against the heirs of Yuan Shao, a defensive campaign against Ma Chao and Han Sui, and the offensive on Zhang Lu in Hanzhong.

In 215, Zhang He, under the command of Xiahou Yuan, was deployed to the defence of the greater Hanzhong region against invasions of Liu Bei. During the seesaw struggle with Liu Bei, Zhang He was once out-maneuvered by Liu's subordinate, Zhang Fei, losing many thousands of soldiers in one stroke.[2] In 219, the area commander Xiahou Yuan was killed in the Battle of Mount Dingjun and Zhang He retreated to the northeast of the mountain, taking shelter from the Han River. Xiahou Yuan's deputy, Guo Huai, threw his weight behind Zhang He, who then took over command of Xiahou's troops. According to Yu Huan's Weilüe, although Xiahou Yuan was the overall in command of the defence force of Hanzhong, Liu Bei was really more worried about Zhang He. Liu Bei was said to have expressed his disappointment that it was Xiahou Yuan instead of Zhang He who was killed in battle.

When Cao Cao received news of Xiahou Yuan's death, he personally came to Hanzhong to lead a counterattack against the enemy. Liu Bei held his position in the mountainous terrain and refused to engage in battles. Cao Cao was forced to retreat to Chang'an two months later, giving up the strategic Hanzhong. Zhang He then garrisoned his troops at Chencang to prevent further incursion by Liu Bei.

Zhang He is often associated with his humiliating loss to Zhang Fei while attempting to conquer Dangqu. However, after the defeat, he was promoted by Cao Cao to General who Agitates Bandits – possibly because he had forcefully relocated the residents of Baxi and Badong commanderies to Hanzhong, where the civilians were again moved deeper into Cao Cao's territories.

Siege on Jiangling[edit]

After Cao Cao died in 220, his successor Cao Pi promoted Zhang He to General of the Left (左將軍). Months later, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate and declared himself emperor of Cao Wei. Zhang He was then enfeoffed as the Marquis of Mao. In 221 Zhang He was sent together with Cao Zhen to subdue the Hu tribe of Lushui and eastern Qiang raiders in Anding Commandery (present-day western Gansu and southern Ningxia) on the western borders of China and was victorious. After an audience with the emperor in the capital Xuchang, Zhang He, Xu Huang, Cao Zhen and Xiahou Shang were deployed south with a huge army in 222 to seize Jiangling, which was under the control of Eastern Wu, and was defended by Zhu Ran. Zhang He led several tens of thousands to cross the river, and set up a foothold on the other side of the riverbank, so the Wei forces were able to lay a siege upon Jiangling fortress. Being cut off and heavily outnumbered by his enemies, however, Zhu Ran was able to boost the fighting spirit of his 5,000 soldiers and resist. Several months had passed, Zhang He and his comrades were still unable to gain much progress, while an epidemic outbreak spawned within the fortress. Cao Zhen then ordered an all-out attack with siege weapons, but Zhu Ran destroyed the weapons and sneaked out during a night, successfully routed some enemy camps. Soon the Wei forces were also infected with the plague and were forced to retreat. Cao Zhen was demoted as a result, but Zhang He apparently did not receive much punishment due to his effort in the battle.

Later life[edit]

When Cao Pi died in 226, he was succeeded by Cao Rui. Zhang He maintained his position in the south to defend against Eastern Wu. When Zhuge Liang of Shu Han launched his Northern Expeditions against Wei in 227, Zhang He was recalled to his old battlefield west of Chang'an to fend off the attack. In the next year, Zhang He scored a brilliant victory against Ma Su at the Battle of Jieting. Zhuge Liang was forced to retreat to Hanzhong and self-demote three grades to take responsibility for the loss of the strategic position. Zhang He also pacified the commanderies of Nan'an (present day location unclear), Tianshui and Anding, which were turned over to Zhuge Liang during initial attacks.

Zhang He was then sent to assist Sima Yi, who was training a naval force in Jing Province (present-day Hubei and Hunan) to prepare for an assault against Eastern Wu. However, the waters of the Mian River (an alternate name for the Han River in ancient times) during the winter were too shallow for large ships to sail in and the attack was called off. Meanwhile, Zhuge Liang launched the second of his expeditions and attacked Chencang. Zhang He was again sent to the rescue. He correctly predicted that the enemy would retreat before he even arrived because of shortage of food supply. He was then recalled to the capital and promoted to General of Chariots and Cavalry Who Campaigns the West (征西車騎將軍).


The death of Zhang He as depicted in a Qing Dynasty illustration.

In 231, Zhuge Liang launched the fourth of his expeditions. Zhang He was sent to assist Sima Yi in fending off the attack. After initial victories, Zhuge Liang's army again ran short of supplies and had to retreat. Sima Yi then ordered Zhang He to pursue the enemy, despite Zhang's warnings of possible ambush. Zhang He was indeed ambushed by crossbowmen as his force entered a narrow defile called Mumen Trail (木門道). An arrow struck him in his right knee,[3] and he died on the battlefield. He was posthumously titled "Marquis Zhuang" (壯侯), literally meaning "robust marquis".


Zhang He had four sons, who were all enfeoffed as marquises by the Wei emperor Cao Rui in recognition of their father's contributions in battle. The eldest son, Zhang Xiong (張雄), inherited his father's titles. The youngest son, whose name is unknown, received the title of a "Secondary Marquis" (關內侯).[4]

Modern references[edit]

Zhang He is featured as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi video game series. He also appears in all 11 instalments of Koei's Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy game series.

In the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering there is a card named "Zhang He, Wei General" in the Portal Three Kingdoms set.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 1048. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0. 
  2. ^ (郃棄馬緣山,獨與麾下十餘人從間道退,引軍還南鄭,巴土獲安。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 36, Biography of Zhang Fei.
  3. ^ (郃追至木门,与亮军交战,飞矢中郃右膝,薨...) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang He.
  4. ^ (子雄嗣。郃前後征伐有功,明帝分郃戶,封郃四子列侯。賜小子爵關內侯。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang He.
  5. ^ Zhang He, Wei General - Portal Three Kingdoms, Magic: the Gathering - Online Gaming Store for Cards, Miniatures, Singles, Packs & Booster Boxes