Ma Liang (Three Kingdoms)

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Ma Liang
Ma Liang 2016 Temple of Guan Yu (Xuchang).jpg
Statue of Ma Liang in the Emperor Guan Temple in Xuchang, Henan
Palace Attendant (侍中)
In office
221 (221) – 222 (222)
MonarchLiu Bei
Personal details
Yicheng, Hubei
Died222 (aged 35)
Yidu County or Changyang County, Hubei
  • Ma Su (brother)
  • three other brothers
ChildrenMa Bing
Courtesy nameJichang (季常)

Ma Liang (187–222), courtesy name Jichang, was an official serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. He served in the state of Shu Han as one of the founding emperor Liu Bei’s “ten attendants” during the early Three Kingdoms period.[2]


Ma Liang was from Yicheng County (宜城縣), Xiangyang, which is present-day Yicheng, Hubei. He was the eldest of five brothers – Ma Su was one of them – and was famous for his talent. He had white strands of hair in his eyebrows. There was a saying in Ma Liang's hometown to describe him and his brothers: "Of the five changs in the Ma family, White Brows is the most liang."[b][3]

Around 209, when the warlord Liu Bei took charge of Jing Province (covering present-day Hubei and Hunan) after the death of its Inspector (刺史), Liu Qi, he recruited Ma Liang to serve as an Assistant Officer (從事) under him. Later in 211, when Liu Bei left Jing Province for an expedition in Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), Ma Liang remained behind in Jing Province. Ma Liang was a close friend of Liu Bei's strategist Zhuge Liang and they were sworn brothers.[4] He once wrote a letter to Zhuge Liang, who was in Yi Province at the time, to praise and encourage him. Ma Liang was later promoted to the position of a Senior Clerk (掾) in the office of the General of the Left (左將軍).[c][5]

Ma Liang was later appointed as an emissary to meet the warlord Sun Quan, Liu Bei's ally. Sun Quan received and treated him very respectfully.[6]

In 221, after the collapse of the Eastern Han dynasty, Liu Bei declared himself emperor and established the state of Shu Han. Ma Liang was appointed as a Palace Attendant (侍中) in Shu. Later that year, Liu Bei launched a campaign against Sun Quan,[d] leading to the Battle of Xiaoting. Ma Liang was tasked with persuading the tribal peoples in Wuling (武陵; around present-day Wuling District, Changde, Hunan) to join Liu Bei and he succeeded in his mission. Liu Bei was eventually defeated by Sun Quan's general Lu Xun at the Battle of Xiaoting in 222 and Ma Liang was killed in action. Later, after he managed to retreat to Baidicheng (in present-day Fengjie County, Chongqing) safely, Liu Bei appointed Ma Liang's son, Ma Bing (馬秉), as a Cavalry Commandant (騎都尉).[7]


Chen Shou, who wrote Ma Liang's biography in the Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi), appraised Ma as follows: "Ma Liang was loyal and honest. He was worthy to be called a lingshi (令士; a virtuous scholarly gentleman) ... he was one of the best officials in Shu."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Sanguozhi recorded that Ma Liang died at the age of 36 (by East Asian age reckoning) at the Battle of Xiaoting in 222.[1] By calculation, Ma Liang's birth year should be around 187.
  2. ^ Ma Liang and his four brothers all had the Chinese character chang (常) in their courtesy names. Ma Liang's given name, liang (良), literally means "good". Therefore, the saying can be interpreted as "White Brows is the best among the five Ma brothers."
  3. ^ Liu Bei nominally held the appointment of General of the Left (左將軍) under the Han central government.
  4. ^ The alliance between Liu Bei and Sun Quan was broken in late 219 when Sun launched a stealth invasion on Liu's territories in Jing Province, seizing all the lands and executing Guan Yu.


  1. ^ (良死時年三十六, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 39.
  2. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 645.
  3. ^ (馬良字季常,襄陽宜城人也。兄弟五人,並有才名,鄉里為之諺曰:「馬氏五常,白眉最良。」良眉中有白毛,故以稱之。) Sanguozhi vol. 39.
  4. ^ (臣松之以為良蓋與亮結為兄弟,或相與有親;亮年長,良故呼亮為尊兄耳。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 39.
  5. ^ (先主領荊州,辟為從事。及先主入蜀,諸葛亮亦從往,良留荊州,與亮書曰:「聞雒城已拔,此天祚也。尊兄應期贊世,配業光國,魄兆見矣。夫變用雅慮,審貴垂明,於以簡才,宜適其時。若乃和光恱遠,邁德天壤,使時閑於聽,世服於道,齊高妙之音,正鄭、衞之聲,並利於事,無相奪倫,此乃管絃之至,牙、曠之調也。雖非鍾期,敢不擊節!」先主辟良為左將軍掾。) Sanguozhi vol. 39.
  6. ^ (後遣使吳,良謂亮曰:「今銜國命,恊穆二家,幸為良介於孫將軍。」亮曰:「君試自為文。」良即為草曰:「寡君遣掾馬良通聘繼好,以紹昆吾、豕韋之勳。其人吉士,荊楚之令,鮮於造次之華,而有克終之美,願降心存納,以慰將命。」權敬待之。) Sanguozhi vol. 39.
  7. ^ (先主稱尊號,以良為侍中。及東征吳,遣良入武陵招納五溪蠻夷,蠻夷渠帥皆受印號,咸如意指。會先主敗績於夷陵,良亦遇害。先主拜良子秉為騎都尉。) Sanguozhi vol. 39.
  8. ^ (評曰: ... 馬良貞實,稱為令士, ... 皆蜀臣之良矣。) Sanguozhi vol. 39.
  • Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
  • de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0.
  • Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).