Huang Zu (died 208) was an administrator of late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history, and the administrator later served under the Jing Province warlord, Liu Biao, as an experienced naval commander. During his tenure, general Huang was most famous for his involvement with the death of other two skillful commanders, Sun Jian and Ling Cao.
There are plenty of historical records concerning Huang Zu, but they are scattered over different texts while Huang Zu never had a personal biography in any official record. Since Jiangxia Commandery (江夏, a Commandery of Jing Province, headquartered in modern Wuhan, Hubei) is renowned as the cradle of the Huang clan, Huang Zu, being the Administrator of Jiangxia, probably came from an influential family rooted there. After the Han nobleman, Liu Biao, had arrived at his post of Governor of Jing Province, the new governor allied himself with local clans, and the Huang clan had since been guarding the West entrance of the province against another powerful warlord, Yuan Shu, who had his base East to Jing Province. In return, governor Liu supported Huang Zu's massive navy with financial aid during peace-time, and military assistance during critical moments. Under such arrangement, Huang Zu remained largely independent from Liu Biao, and the administrator enjoyed autonomy over Jiangxia.
Battle of Xiangyang
After the alliance against Dong Zhuo disbanded, the former members of the alliance polarized greatly; Yuan Shao, the leader of the alliance, feuded against his half brother, Yuan Shu, and obtained the alliance of Liu Biao. In opposition, Yuan Shu succeed in requesting Sun Jian of Changsha to attack Liu Biao's territories.
To fight Sun Jian, Liu Biao assigned the defense to his most capable general, Huang Zu, who immediately led his army to counter Sun Jian's offensive around the city of Fan and the city of Dang, but general Huang was defeated. Observing that Sun Jian cannot be overcome on open-field, Huang Zu fled to Xiangyang, Liu's capital and fortress city, for a final defense. The battle went in Sun Jian's favor until one night, when Huang Zu led a contingent of soldiers to perform a sneak attack on Sun Jian's camp. Although the tactic was foiled, Sun Jian was shot by a stray arrow when he was pursuing Huang Zu into a forest. In the historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the author attributes Sun Jian's death to a ploy by Kuai Liang and Lü Gong, two of Liu Biao's subordinates. Huang Zu was, however, captured by Sun Jian's eldest son, Sun Ce, but the captive was soon released to exchange for the father's body. Historically, Huang Zu was never captured by Sun Ce, and the former was credited by the Records of the Three Kingdoms to be the sole person responsible for outwitting Sun Jian.
Efforts against Sun Ce's expansion
With Sun Jian now gone, Yuan Shu alone was unable to bypass Huang Zu and take over Jing Province, so Liu Biao was spared to build up power in the province. As the years passed, young Sun Ce grew up and successfully built an army in Yang Province to the east, intending to fulfill his father's legacy. Liu Biao feared Sun Ce, who earned himself the nickname "Little Conqueror" after the conquest of Jiangdong, would become a threat to him. Therefore, governor Liu fanned Huang Zu to attack Sun Ce at Shaxian, taking the opportunity the Little Conqueror was fighting Liu Xun, Administrator of Lujiang.
Through strategy, Sun Ce quickly defeated Liu Xun and turned his attention to his patricidal nemesis, Huang Zu. The Little Conqueror brought with him his cousins, Sun Ben and Sun Fu, as well as his chief lieutenant, Zhou Yu, and his trusted general, Taishi Ci. Huang Zu, on the other hand, gathered his clansmen, sent his son, Huang She, and the nephew of Liu Biao, Liu Pan, to do battle. Both sides devoted much effort into this war, especially the house of Huang, yet Sun Ce's navy overcame Huang Zu's, taking the heads of tens of thousands, including almost all of Huang Zu's family. Huang fell back to Jiangxia, and Sun Ce expanded a bit of his power into the outskirts of Jing Province during the counterattack.
In the year 200 AD, the Imperial Protector, Cao Cao, sent the famed scholar, Mi Heng, to Liu Biao in order to be rid of the literati, who was intolerably critical and rude. The patrician Liu Biao was indeed insulted by the scholar's lack of respect, so the malignant sent the scholar to the short-tempered Huang Zu, in hope that his peevish commander would kill Mi Heng. General Huang was at first eager to be in the presence of Mi Heng; however, after being derided, the general beheaded the famous Mi Heng out of pride.
Battle of Xiakou
As a result of an assassination, Sun Ce died, and his younger brother, Sun Quan, succeeded him. In 203 AD, Sun Quan launched an attack on Xiakou, along the outskirt of Jiangxia, in an attempt to avenge his father. Ling Cao, a veteran warrior who gained much fame during his service to Sun Ce, was appointed by Sun Quan as the vanguard general; however, with a light but elite force. Ling's small detachment arrived the battlefield before Sun Quan and the main army could arrive, yet he charged ahead of all men, and dashed uninterruptedly to the commanding heart of Huang Zu's army, impairing Huang's massive army to function. Totally caught unprepared, Huang Zu boarded a warship in a hurry, prompting the whole army to chase its commander in retreat. As Huang's army was collapsing, one of Huang Zu's subordinates, Gan Ning, aimed the ferocious Ling Cao from a corner, and fired an arrow that claimed Ling's life. Thus, the startled Huang Zu safely returned to the walled city of Jiangxia. Ironically, Gan Ning did not receive any reward from Huang for saving him at such a critical moment; in contrast, the embarrassed commander even blamed Gan Ning for the loss, citing his savior's past as a pirate. A dismayed Gan Ning later heeded the advice of his earnest comrade, Su Fei, to defect to Sun Quan's camp.
Sun Quan withdrew his force after losing Ling Cao. Still, over the years, he had been having incessant battles with Huang Zu from time to time, but none of those fought were conclusive or of a large scale, because Sun Quan had been focusing on pacifying rebellions within his newly acquired domain.
In the spring of 208 AD, the defected Gan Ning suggested his new lord, Sun Quan, to prepare a full assault on Jiangxia with the reasons that Huang Zu was elderly and that the old commander had not replenished his arsenal for a while. Sun Quan took Gan Ning's advice, and he ordered Ling Cao's son, Ling Tong, as the vanguard, and Lu Meng as the naval commandant. In response, Huang Zu assigned his general Zhang Shuo as the vanguard, and Chen Jiu as the admiral; unlike last time, Huang Zu had learned to avoid personal involvement in the front line, so he stayed behind the high walls of the fortress city of Jiangxia.
Before the battle started, Zhang Shuo led his troops on a large vessel to scout the riverbank, where he was located by Ling Tong, who was also checking out the area. At the time, Ling Tong only had tens of his closest warriors on a light vessel, yet he managed to slay Zhang Shuo and capture the rest of the mariners.
Upon knowing the death of his general, Huang Zu immediately ordered Chen Jiu to block the entrance of the Mian River by floating two of his largest warships (Mengchongs) at the choke point. In addition, Huang had strong men and archers ambushed on top of the cliff hemming the water route, throwing down rocks and fire on approaching enemy vessels. To bring down Huang Zu's Mengchongs, Sun Quan sent out his large vessels, but only to get them destroyed by the heavy firepower. After lengthy fighting, Sun Quan realized Huang Zu's arsenals were not that unchecked, and that his own men became exhausted or were killed by the acute arrows from enemy warships.
To change the tide of battle, Sun Quan had Ling Tong and Dong Xi, along with 100 commandos, don two suits of armour each and charged towards the enemy despite the rain of rocks from the cliff and the crossfire from the vessels. Through bloody fightings, the two generals finally succeeded in breaking the connection between the two Mengchongs, and the downfall of the warships aspired Sun forces' fighting spirit. While Lu Meng killed Chen Jiu on a ship, Ling Tong had already breached the city walls of Jiangxia. Surveying the situation, Huang Zu attempted to flee the city, but a knight named Feng Zi caught the old man up and scrapped general Huang's skull open.
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