Chen Shi (Three Kingdoms)

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Chen Shi
Traditional Chinese 陳式
Simplified Chinese 陈式
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Chen.

Chen Shi was a military general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history.


Not much was known about Chen Shi, but he at least participated in two major wars his lord, Liu Bei, waged — the Hanzhong Campaign, and the Battle of Xiaoting. Despite being treated as inconsiderable by many modern researchers, general Chen was highly valued by Liu Bei, who assigned the general important role in the wars they took part in.

Service under Liu Bei[edit]

During the Hanzhong Campaign against Cao Cao, Chen Shi was given command of ten camps to cut the connection between Nanzheng and Chang'an. On the other hand, the defender of Nanzheng, Xiahou Yuan, had placed his subordinate, Xu Huang, in Mamengge, protecting his supply line. When Chen Shi was marching through a mountainous terrain, he encountered Xu Huang, and the two forces clashed wherein many soldiers under Chen Shi fell from the cliff and died. Although being soundly defeated, there is no record that the loser received any punishment from his supervisor, and the forces under Liu Bei finally conquered Hanzhong region after Cao Cao had decided to withdraw from battle.

In 219 AD, Guan Yu lost Jing Province, as well as his life, to the southern warlord, Sun Quan; this unexpected incident had infuriated the Shu-Han emperor, Liu Bei, who launched an all-out assault on Sun Quan in the summer of 221. Chen Shi was encumbered as a Deputy Naval Commander along Wu Ban to lead the navy downstream the Yangtze River toward Yiling. Chen and Wu achieved their mission as the enemy commander, Lu Xun, had performed a strategic retreat. Then, the Shu army detached some forces to control the high rounds along their advance, and set up countless camps with wooden barricades protecting each. The navy under Chen Shi guarded the water passages, and general Huang Quan stationed on the northern bank to prevent any interruption from the state of Cao Wei. At the time, Shu-Han forces thought they would score a complete victory, challenging Lu Xun on numerous occasions. Commander Lu never make any move.

The patient defender was actually waiting the Shu emperor to relocate his parched troops into the forests when the campers could no longer bear the heat. Earlier, Lu Xun had noticed a fatal mistake committed by Liu Bei - Shu forces were garrisoned in over 50 camps along the 350 km line from Wuxia to Yiling on the banks of Yangtze River, and the emperor had his camps linked with mainly wooden fortifications, something inflammable. When autumn arrived, Lu Xun suddenly ordered a massive fire attack which burned most of Shu camps. Meantime, Chen Shi had been losing control of upstream Yangtze to Sun Quan’s generals, Song Qian and Zhu Ran, and the naval commander fled into Ma'an Hills to rendezvous with the remnants of Liu Bei's once-refulgent army. The refugees were caught up and besieged on the top of a mountain, but they were able to sneak out under the cover of night, finally arriving Baidicheng with few survivors including Chen Shi.

Service under Zhuge Liang[edit]

When Shu-Han regent, Zhuge Liang, launched his first Northern Expedition, a tragic event befell upon Chen Shi, as he was placed under the inexperienced Ma Su to guard the strategic Jieting, where Ma's force was annihilated by the enemy.[1] Even being the most favored assistant of the regent, Ma Su was blamed for the campaign's failure; thus, he was executed by Zhuge Liang in tears, and four subordinate generals including Chen Shi, whom Ma Su commanded during the Battle of Jieting, were also held responsible and punished severely. General Chen’s penalty was comparably puny to his executed comrades' as he only got all hairs shaved.

Nevertheless, being a man without hairs looked funny and shameful in the world Chen Shi lived;[2] yet, he seemed able to overcome this inglorious page of life, contributing much to Zhuge's 2nd expedition in 229. Upon the painful lesson from Jieting, Zhuge Liang finally resorted to use veteran generals like Chen Shi. Leading a separate command, Chen Shi ventured into Wudu and Yinping commanderies, while Zhuge Liang led the main force toward Jianwei County. A Wei general, Guo Huai, had planned to attack Chen Shi, but changed mind when he received intelligence that Zhuge Liang had led a sizable army to the northwest of Chen's position. An evacuation, rather than a defense, was carried out to deal with Shu's aggression, leaving the two commanderies to be conquered by Chen Shui. Even the exodus left the commanderies with nearly nothing of value, the gain of the lands translated into Zhuge Liang's political gain, reinstating him the official title of Prime Minister, a title that Zhuge deprecated and divested after the loss at Jieting.[3]

Relationship with Chen Shou[edit]

Historically, besides a trusted general of Liu Bei, Chen Shi was also one of the few Shu generals who achieved some merits during Zhuge's ill-fated northern expeditions.[citation needed] However, he was not given a separate biography by the Jin Dynasty historian Chen Shou in his Records of Three Kingdoms, making him a rather obscure figure. The Book of Jin records that Chen Shou's father was punished by Zhuge Liang. From this, scholars in later dynasties inferred that Chen Shi was the father of Chen Shou, but there is no other evidence to support this.

In fiction[edit]

In Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Chen was captured at the Battle of Mount Dingjun by Xiahou Yuan's forces, but was released in exchange for Xiahou Shang, who was captured by Liu Bei's forces. In the same novel, during the third Northern Campaign of Zhuge Liang, he tried to lay his failure to Wei Yan however Zhuge already knew the truth that Chen Shi tried to blame Yan, he was executed by Zhuge.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Liu Bei specifically told Zhuge Liang not to delegate much authority to Ma Su, who Zhuge publicly favored.
  2. ^ The dominant philosophy of China at the time, Confucianism, believes that the body, as well as the hairs and skin, were present from one's parents; thus, they should not be harmed, or abandoned lightly.
  3. ^ Sima Yi biography translation from Zizhi Tongjian years Taihe 3, 1