|Ambush general of Cao Wei|
|Died||222 (aged 53)|
|Courtesy name||Wenyuan (simplified Chinese: 文远; traditional Chinese: 文遠; pinyin: Wényuǎn; Wade–Giles: Wen-yüan)|
|Posthumous name||Marquis Gang (simplified Chinese: 刚侯; traditional Chinese: 剛侯; pinyin: Gāng Hóu)|
Zhang Liao (169–222), courtesy name Wenyuan, was a military ambush general serving under the warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He served briefly in the state of Cao Wei, founded by Cao Cao's successor Cao Pi, in the early Three Kingdoms period before his death. He participated in many campaigns, including those against Yuan Shao's clan and the Wuhuan tribes. Zhang Liao was most noted for his pivotal role in the Battle of Xiaoyao Ford in 214–215, where he successfully defended Hefei fortress from the forces of the rival warlord Sun Quan.
Zhang Liao was a native of Mayi (馬邑; present-day Shuocheng District, Shuozhou, Shanxi) near Yanmenguan. He was a descendant of Nie Yi (聶壹; also known as Nie Wengyi (聶翁壹)), but he changed his surname from "Nie" to "Zhang" to avoid any association with his ancestor's disgrace. He served as a minor official in the local commandery office in his younger days. Towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Zhang Liao was recruited by Ding Yuan, the Inspector (刺史) of Bing Province, because Ding favoured Zhang's martial skills. Zhang Liao became an Assistant Officer (從事) under Ding Yuan.
In 189, Ding Yuan and his trusted aide Lü Bu led their troops to the capital Luoyang to assist General-in-Chief He Jin in eliminating the Ten Attendants, a group of influential eunuchs in the imperial court. However, He Jin was soon assassinated by the eunuchs and the capital fell into chaos. Dong Zhuo, a warlord from Liang Province (凉州), in the ensuing tussle for power, intended to install a puppet emperor on the throne. This move deteriorated the relationship between Ding Yuan and Dong Zhuo and induced the latter to plot against the former. After Lü Bu was persuaded to defect to Dong Zhuo's side and kill Ding Yuan, Zhang Liao followed him to serve under Dong, who had become the de facto head of government. Soon, several regional warlords formed a coalition and launched campaign against Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo's forces suffered some defeats in battles against the coalition, and Dong decided to move the capital west to Chang'an.
Service under Lü Bu and surrender to Cao Cao
Lü Bu had a secret affair with one of Dong Zhuo's concubines, so he became more apprehensive toward his adopted father. He eventually betrayed and killed Dong Zhuo. Zhang Liao assisted Lü Bu and Wang Yun in an attempt to stabilise the capital and rebuild imperial authority. However, the new government was destroyed by Dong Zhuo's former subjects Li Jue and Guo Si when they breached the gates of Chang'an. Zhang Liao fled with Lü Bu, and joined Yuan Shao temporarily. During their short stay in Yuan Shao's camp, they helped perform raids on the Heishan Bandits' camp, and dealt major damage to the latter.
Zhang Liao and other warriors formerly from Bing Province followed Lü Bu as he wandered around until he was finally given a chance to gain a foothold. In 194, Lü Bu was welcomed in Yan Province by Chen Gong, who had betrayed his lord Cao Cao when the latter was away on a campaign against Tao Qian in Xu Province. Cao Cao later turned back to retake Yan Province, leading to a series of battles between him and Lü Bu for over a year. Lü Bu was able to defeat Cao Cao initially but the latter managed to gradually regain control over the province. After a famine outbreak, Lü Bu was finally ousted from the area to Xiaopei. There, Lü Bu joined Liu Bei, who had succeeded Tao Qian as Governor of Xu Province, but Lü Bu later betrayed Liu Bei and seized the province for himself. Zhang Liao was appointed Chancellor (相) of the Lu state (魯國), a commandery in Xu Province.
In 198, the allied forces of Cao Cao and Liu Bei defeated Lü Bu at the Battle of Xiapi. After Lü Bu's execution, Zhang Liao led his men to surrender to Cao Cao and was appointed as a "General of the Household" (中郎將) and granted the title of a "Secondary Marquis" (關內侯). Since then, Zhang Liao had participated in many of Cao Cao's military exploits, including the decisive Battle of Guandu and the subsequent northern expeditions against Yuan Tan, Yuan Shang, and the Wuhuan tribes.
Battle of Xiaoyao Ford
After Cao Cao lost the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208, he placed Zhang Liao, Yue Jin and Li Dian at Hefei fortress with 7,000 men to guard against advances of the southern warlord Sun Quan. Around 214, Sun Quan led a much larger force upon Hefei. Under instructions from Cao Cao, Zhang Liao and Li Dian recruited 800 vanguard troops to deter the enemy outside the city.
As dawn broke, the force moved out with Zhang Liao in the forefront. Zhang Liao galloped into the enemy ranks and single-handedly killed tens of enemy soldiers. Proclaiming his own name, Zhang Liao then went straight for Sun Quan, who sought refuge on top of a knoll. At least three of Sun Quan's generals tried to intercept him, but all failed. After seeing Zhang Liao had much fewer men on a slope, Sun Quan calmed down and ordered his troops to surround the enemy.
However, Zhang Liao fought fiercely and succeeded in breaking out of the encirclement. When his remaining men who were still trapped inside shouted, "Has our general abandoned us?" Zhang Liao turned back and punched through layers of enemy soldiers to save his men, eventually succeeding in bringing them out. Sun Quan's men were stunned by Zhang Liao's valour and did not dare to stand in his way.
After returning to Hefei, Zhang Liao supervised the reinforcement of the fortress's fortifications. After two weeks of siege, Sun Quan could not take Hefei and had to turn back because a plague had broken out within his army. At Xiaoyao Ford (逍遙津), Sun Quan's main army retreated first while Sun Quan and only about 1,000 men stayed behind. Knowing that Sun Quan had made such an arrangement, Zhang Liao immediately led several thousands of elite cavalry to capitalise on his foe's fatal blunder. On a number of occasions, they almost captured Sun Quan if not resisted desperately by Sun's general Ling Tong. Upon hearing Zhang Liao had accomplished this nearly impossible deed, Cao Cao was stunned and he visited Hefei, where he observed the battlefield for a long time. Zhang Liao was promoted to the rank of General Who Conquers the East (征東將軍) for his achievement in the Battle of Xiaoyao Ford.
Cao Cao died in 220 and was succeeded by his son Cao Pi, who ended the Eastern Han Dynasty and established the state of Cao Wei, marking the start of the Three Kingdoms period. Cao Pi promoted Zhang Liao to General of the Vanguard (前將軍) and deployed him to Hefei to defend the area from advances by Sun Quan's forces. In 221, Zhang Liao traveled to Luoyang for an audience with Cao Pi, who compared him to Shao Hu (召虎).
Zhang Liao fell sick during the Battle of Dongkou in 222 against Sun Quan's forces. Sun Quan reminded his men, "Even though Zhang Liao is ill, we should not underestimate him. Be careful!" Zhang Liao and other Wei generals defeated the Wu general Lü Fan in that battle. However, Zhang Liao's condition worsened and he died later that year in Jiangdu (江都; present-day Jiangdu District, Yangzhou, Jiangsu).
Cao Pi deeply mourned Zhang Liao's death, and he granted Zhang the posthumous title of "Marquis Gang" (剛侯), which literally means "resolute marquis". In 225, Cao Pi issued an imperial edict to commemorate Zhang Liao and Li Dian for their contributions at the Battle of Xiaoyao Ford in 214-215.
Zhang Liao's titles were inherited by his son Zhang Hu, who served as a Lieutenant General (偏將軍) in the state of Cao Wei. After Zhang Hu died, his titles were inherited by his son Zhang Tong (張統).
Zhang Liao is featured as a character in Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which dramatises the events leading to, and during the Three Kingdoms period. In the novel, Zhang Liao was depicted as a loyal and upright general. While this might be true, such portrayal was likely the result of artistic simplification.
Serving Lü Bu and surrender to Cao Cao
In chapter 18, when Zhang Liao was still serving under Lü Bu, his lord tasked him with attacking Liu Bei at Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei County, Jiangsu). Zhang Liao led his men to attack the west gate, where he encountered Guan Yu, who called out to him from the top of the wall, "You don't seem like an ordinary person. Why do you serve a villain?" Zhang Liao lowered his head and did not respond. Guan Yu knew that Zhang Liao was a loyal and righteous man, so he refrained from hurling insults and did not go out to fight Zhang.
In the following chapters (18-19), Lü Bu was defeated at the Battle of Xiapi by Cao Cao and Liu Bei, and he was tied up and brought before the victors. Lü Bu attempted to persuade Cao Cao to spare him but Cao refused after Liu Bei hinted that Lü was untrustworthy. As Lü Bu was being taken away to be executed, he hurled abuse at Liu Bei. At the same time, Zhang Liao was being brought before Cao Cao, and he scorned Lü Bu for the latter's cowardly behaviour. Zhang Liao showed no fear and even remarked that Cao Cao was lucky to have survived the blaze at Puyang (referring to an earlier battle). The furious Cao Cao drew his sword and wanted to kill Zhang Liao, but the latter stuck out his neck and waited for his fate. Just then, Guan Yu and Liu Bei stopped Cao Cao and pleaded with him to spare Zhang Liao, and Guan even knelt down. Cao Cao then laughed, sheathed his sword, and said, "I also know that Wenyuan (Zhang Liao's style name) is a loyal and righteous man. I was just testing him." He then personally untied Zhang Liao, offered him a change of clothes and a seat. Zhang Liao was moved by Cao Cao's sincerity so he agreed to surrender and serve Cao.
See the following for other fictitious stories in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms which involve Zhang Liao:
- List of fictitious stories in Romance of the Three Kingdoms#Guan Yu's three conditions
- List of fictitious stories in Romance of the Three Kingdoms#Guan Yu releases Cao Cao at Huarong Trail
- List of fictitious stories in Romance of the Three Kingdoms#Zhang Liao's death
Zhang Liao 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 Gosei Sentai Dairanger, Iron Face Zhang Liao (鉄面臂張遼) was the previous Ryu Ranger who joined the Gorma and became an immortal as a result. Around the late 1960s, he fell in love with a mortal woman, and they married and had two children, Ryou and Yoko. Zhang Liao returned to the Gorma shortly after Yoko was born, and was reunited eighteen years later with his son, who had taken up the role of Ryu Ranger. Zhang Liao battled against him at first, but then had a change of heart and died protecting Ryo.
- ^ Nie Yi (聶壹) was a trader/smuggler from Mayi who played a significant role in the Battle of Mayi in 133 BC during the reign of Emperor Wu in the Western Han Dynasty. He attempted to lure Xiongnu forces into an ambush set up by Han forces under the command of the minister Wang Hui (王恢), but the plan failed and both sides retreated without suffering losses. Wang Hui was imprisoned for his failure and he committed suicide in prison. Nie Yi was also disgraced for his role in the incident and that shame was passed on to his descendants, even until some 300 years later in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. Zhang Liao changed his surname to avoid any association with his ancestor.
- ^ Duke Mu of Shao (召穆公), personal name Shao Hu (召虎), was a noble who lived in the Western Zhou Dynasty during the reigns of King Li and King Xuan. He was known for assisting King Xuan in governing the state, and once led troops to defeat barbarian forces in the Huai River area.
- Zhang Liao's biography in volume 17 of Records of the Three Kingdoms states that Zhang was 28 years old (by East Asian age reckoning) when he was appointed chancellor of the Lu state (魯國相) after following Lü Bu to Xu Province. Since the Lu state was a commandery in Xu Province, Lü Bu must be in charge of the province before he could appoint anyone as an official in any of the province's territories. Lü Bu seized control of Xu Province from Liu Bei in 196, so Zhang Liao most likely received the appointment in that year. By calculation, if Zhang Liao was 28 years old (by East Asian age reckoning) in 196, his birth year would be around 169.
- Zhang Liao's biography stated that Zhang died in the same year after he and other Wei generals defeated the Wu general Lü Fan at the Battle of Dongkou in 222.
- de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 1063. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0.
- (太祖破呂布於下邳，遼將其眾降，拜中郎將，賜爵關內侯。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao.
- Records of the Three Kingdoms stated that Sun Quan's subordinates Song Qian, Xu Sheng and Chen Wu made futile attempts to intercept Zhang Liao during the battle.
- (將軍棄我乎！) Chen Shou. Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao.
- (會疫疾，軍旅皆已引出，唯車下虎士千餘人。). Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 55, Biography of Gan Ning.
- (太祖复征孙权，到合肥，循行辽战处，叹息者良久。) Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao.
- (次日，張遼引兵攻打西門。雲長從城上謂之曰：「公儀表非俗，何故失身於賊？」張遼低頭不語。雲長知此人有忠義之氣，更不以惡言相加，亦不出戰。) Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Chapter 18.
- (忽一人大叫曰：「呂布匹夫！死則死耳，何懼之有！」眾視之，乃刀斧手擁張遼至。 ... 卻說武士擁張遼至。操指遼曰：「這人好生面善。」遼曰：「濮陽城中曾相遇，如何忘卻？」操笑曰：「你原來也記得！」遼曰：「只是可惜！」操曰：「可惜甚的？」遼曰：「可惜當日火不大，不曾燒死你這國賊！」操大怒曰：「敗將安敢辱吾！」拔劍在手，親自來殺張遼。遼全無懼色，引頸待殺。曹操背後一人攀住臂膊，一人詭於面前，說道：「丞相且莫動手！」) Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Chapter 19.
- (話說曹操舉劍欲殺張遼，玄德攀住臂膊，雲長跪於面前。玄德曰：「此等赤心之人，正當留用。」雲長曰：「關某素知文遠忠義之士，願以性命保之。」操擲劍笑曰：「我亦知文遠忠義，故戲之耳。」乃親釋其縛，解衣衣之，延之上坐。遼感其意，遂降。) Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Chapter 20.
- Chen Shou (2002). Records of Three Kingdoms, Volume 17, Biography of Zhang Liao. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 978-7-80665-198-8.
- Luo Guanzhong (1986). Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 978-7-80520-013-2.
- Lo Kuan-chung; tr. C.H. Brewitt-Taylor (2002). Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8048-3467-4.