Liao Li

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Liao Li
Changshui Colonel (長水校尉)
In office
223 (223) – ? (?)
MonarchLiu Shan
ChancellorZhuge Liang
Palace Attendant (侍中)
In office
219 (219) – 223 (223)
MonarchLiu Bei
Administrator of Ba Commandery
In office
c. 215 (c. 215) – 219 (219)
Administrator of Changsha
In office
209 (209) – 215 (215)
Personal details
Changde, Hunan
Mao County, Sichuan
Courtesy nameGongyuan (公淵)

Liao Li (fl. 209–234), courtesy name Gongyuan, was an official of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period of China.[1]

Service under Liu Bei[edit]

Liao Li was from Linyuan County (臨沅縣), Wuling Commandery (武陵郡), which is located within present-day Changde, Hunan.[2] He started his career under the warlord Liu Bei around 209[3] after Liu Bei succeeded Liu Qi as the Governor of Jing Province. Liu Bei employed Liao Li, who was then below the age of 30, as an assistant officer (從事) and later appointed him as the Administrator of Changsha Commandery.[4]

In 211,[3] when Liu Bei led his troops to Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), he left his chief adviser Zhuge Liang behind to take charge of his territories in Jing Province during his absence. During this time, Liu Bei's ally Sun Quan sent a representative to meet Zhuge Liang and ask him to recommend scholar-officials who were well-versed in managing a state. Zhuge Liang replied: "Pang Tong and Liao Li are talents from Jing Province. They are capable of assisting me in governing a state."[5]

In 215, when tensions ran high between Liu Bei and Sun Quan over a territorial dispute in Jing Province, Sun Quan ordered his general Lü Meng to lead troops to seize three commanderies in southern Jing Province. During this time, Liao Li abandoned his post at Changsha Commandery and fled west to Chengdu, the capital of Yi Province, to join Liu Bei. As Liu Bei highly regarded Liao Li, he did not blame him for losing Changsha and instead reassigned him to serve as the Administrator of Ba Commandery (巴郡; covering parts of present-day Chongqing).[6]

In 219, after Liu Bei seized control of Hanzhong Commandery and declared himself King of Hanzhong, he appointed Liao Li as a Palace Attendant (侍中).[7]

Service under Liu Shan[edit]

Following Liu Bei's death in 223,[8] his son Liu Shan succeeded him as the next emperor of the state of Shu. After his coronation, Liu Shan appointed Liao Li as a Changshui Colonel (長水校尉).[9]

Liao Li had all along thought highly of himself and believed that he was on par with Zhuge Liang, the Imperial Chancellor of Shu, in terms of talent and fame. However, after he realised that his status in the Shu government was actually lower than that of the general Li Yan and others, he became very unhappy.[10]

Defamation incident[edit]

On one occasion, when Zhuge Liang's assistants Li Shao and Jiang Wan came to discuss something with him, he told them:

"The army is about to embark on a campaign in distant lands. You, gentlemen, are experts in planning and strategy. In the past, the Late Emperor chose to fight with Wu for control over three southern commanderies instead of conquering Hanzhong. In the end, he still lost the three commanderies to Wu. It was a huge waste of the time and efforts of our troops. When Hanzhong fell, he allowed Xiahou Yuan and Zhang He to intrude into Yi Province and nearly lost control of the entire province. Even after he conquered Hanzhong, he failed to retrieve Marquis Guan's remains, and lost Shangyong to the enemy. Guan Yu thought too highly of himself despite being an incompetent military leader; he was also too headstrong and reckless. That was why we lost battles and entire armies. People like Xiang Lang and Wen Gong are of a mediocre class. Wen Gong is clueless about his role as a staff officer. In the past, Xiang Lang admired Ma Liang and his brothers so much that he compared them to sages. Now that he has become Chief Clerk, all he does is try to smooth things over between people. Guo Yanchang blindly follows others. He doesn't have what it takes to do great things, yet he became a Palace Attendant. Now that Shu is in decline, I don't think it is appropriate to allow these three persons to hold such important responsibilities. Wang Lian is low-class, greedy and corrupt. If he gains power, he will bring much suffering to the people. That is how we ended up in this situation."[11]

Li Shao and Jiang Wan reported Liao Li to Zhuge Liang, who then wrote a memorial to the emperor Liu Shan as follows:

"Changshui Colonel Liao Li is egoistic and arrogant. He made negative criticisms of key officials and openly accused the State of putting mediocre persons instead of wise and talented persons in important positions. He also said that our military leaders are little brats. He has defamed the Late Emperor and slandered our officials. When someone said that our army is well-trained and its units are clearly defined, Liao Li, with a haughty expression on his face, angrily replied: 'That is not worthy of mention!' That was not the only time he said something like this. If even a single sheep can cause its flock to go astray, how can we be sure that a person like Liao Li, who occupies a high government office, will not mislead and confuse the rest of society?"[12]

Zhuge Liang also wrote:

"When Liao Li was serving the Late Emperor, he was neither loyal nor filial. When he was supposed to be guarding Changsha, he left its gates open to the enemy. When he was serving in Ba Commandery, he engaged in suspicious activities. When he was serving under the General-in-Chief, he slandered and defamed people. When he was keeping vigil at the Late Emperor's funeral, he beheaded someone near the Late Emperor's casket. After Your Majesty ascended the throne, you appointed officials to key positions in the government. When Liao Li learnt that he had been given a military appointment, he told me: 'How am I a good fit for the military? Why am I given a position among the Five Colonels instead of the Ministers?' I told him: 'You hold an important position as a deputy to a General. As to why you aren't made a Minister, look at Li Yan. He also didn't get appointed as a Minister. You are a good fit for the Five Colonels.' Liao Li became very resentful and dissatisfied from then on."[13]

Downfall and exile[edit]

The Shu emperor Liu Shan issued an edict as follows:

"When the Miao rebelled, they were punished by exile. Liao Li is delusional and confused. I cannot bear to execute him so I hereby exile him to a remote location."[14]

Liao Li was removed from office and reduced to the status of a commoner. He and his family were exiled to Wenshan Commandery (汶山郡; around present-day Mao County, Sichuan), where they lived as peasants and sustained themselves by farming. In 234,[15] when he received news of Zhuge Liang's death, he shed tears and cried: "I now have to live the rest of my life like a zuoren!"[a][17]

Some years later, when the Shu general Jiang Wei passed by Wenshan Commandery, he visited Liao Li and saw that the latter was still the proud and ambitious man he was, and that he remained calm and composed when he spoke. Liao Li died in an unknown year in Wenshan. After his death, his wife and children were pardoned and allowed to return to the Shu capital Chengdu.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zuoren (左袵) refers to a style of dressing common among non-Han Chinese minorities in ancient China. In ancient China, it could also metaphorically refer to a "barbarian" (i.e. a member of an ethnic minority).[16]


  1. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 465.
  2. ^ (廖立字公淵,武陵臨沅人。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  3. ^ a b Sima (1084), vol. 66.
  4. ^ (先主領荊州牧,辟為從事,年未三十,擢為長沙太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  5. ^ (先主入蜀,諸葛亮鎮荊土,孫權遣使通好於亮,因問士人皆誰相經緯者,亮荅曰:「龐統、廖立,楚之良才,當贊興世業者也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  6. ^ (建安二十年,權遣呂蒙奄襲南三郡,立脫身走,自歸先主。先主素識待之,不深責也,以為巴郡太守。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  7. ^ ([建安]二十四年,先主為漢中王,徵立為侍中。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  8. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 70.
  9. ^ (後主襲位,徙長水校尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  10. ^ (立本意,自謂才名宜為諸葛亮之貳,而更游散在李嚴等下,常懷怏怏。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  11. ^ (後丞相掾李邵、蔣琬至,立計曰:「軍當遠出,卿諸人好諦其事。昔先帝不取漢中,走與吳人爭南三郡,卒以三郡與吳人,徒勞役吏士,無益而還。旣亡漢中,使夏侯淵、張郃深入于巴,幾喪一州。後至漢中,使關侯身死無孑遺,上庸覆敗,徒失一方。是羽怙恃勇名,作軍無法,直以意突耳,故前後數喪師衆也。如向朗、文恭,凡俗之人耳。恭作治中無綱紀;朗昔奉馬良兄弟,謂為聖人,今作長史,素能合道。中郎郭演長,從人者耳,不足與經大事,而作侍中。今弱世也,欲任此三人,為不然也。王連流俗,苟作掊克,使百姓疲弊,以致今日。」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  12. ^ (邵、琬具白其言於諸葛亮。亮表立曰:「長水校尉廖立,坐自貴大,臧否羣士,公言國家不任賢達而任俗吏,又言萬人率者皆小子也;誹謗先帝,疵毀衆臣。人有言國家兵衆簡練,部伍分明者,立舉頭視屋,憤咤作色曰:『何足言!』凡如是者不可勝數。羊之亂羣,猶能為害,況立託在大位,中人以下識真偽邪?」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  13. ^ (亮集有亮表曰:「立奉先帝無忠孝之心,守長沙則開門就敵,領巴郡則有闇昧闟茸其事,隨大將軍則誹謗譏訶,侍梓宮則挾刃斷人頭於梓宮之側。陛下即位之後,普增職號,立隨比為將軍,面語臣曰:『我何宜在諸將軍中!不表我為卿,上當在五校!』臣荅:『將軍者,隨大比耳。至於卿者,正方亦未為卿也。且宜處五校。』自是之後,怏怏懷恨。」) Zhuge Liang Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  14. ^ (詔曰:「三苗亂政,有虞流宥,廖立狂惑,朕不忍刑,亟徙不毛之地。」) Zhuge Liang Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  15. ^ Sima (1084), vol. 72.
  16. ^ "Meaning of 左袵 (zuǒ rèn)". Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  17. ^ (於是廢立為民,徙汶山郡。立躬率妻子耕殖自守,聞諸葛亮卒,垂泣歎曰:「吾終為左袵矣!」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
  18. ^ (後監軍姜維率偏軍經汶山,往詣立,稱立意氣不衰,言論自若。立遂終於徙所。妻子還蜀。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.