Mi Heng

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Mi Heng
Mi Heng Qing portait.jpg
A Qing dynasty portrait of Mi Heng
Born 173
Died 198 (aged 25)
Traditional Chinese 禰衡
Simplified Chinese 祢衡
Pinyin Mí Héng
Wade–Giles Mi Hêng
Courtesy name Zhengping (Chinese: 正平; pinyin: Zhèngpíng; Wade–Giles: Cheng-ping)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Mi.

Mi Heng (173–198), courtesy name Zhengping, was a scholar who lived in the late Eastern Han dynasty. He was a talented scholar but possessed a haughty and unbending demeanour, and was often disrespectful, which eventually led to his early death. He was from Pingyuan County, Shandong.[1]


Mi Heng was a close friend of Kong Rong, twenty years his senior, and the two compared one another to Confucius and his student Yan Yuan.[2] When Mi Heng traveled to Xuchang, Kong Rong recommended him to Cao Cao in a letter which survives.[3]

Mi Heng was disrespectful towards Cao Cao and his men, insulting in particular the general Zhao Rong (趙融) and Cao Cao's adviser Xun Yu.[4] Cao Cao was angered, but feared killing him for the reprobation it might bring, and instead sent him away to Jingzhou to serve under Liu Biao.[5][6] Liu Biao treated him well, and the scholars in his employ marveled at his talent, but eventually Mi Heng angered Liu Biao too.

Liu Biao sent Mi Heng away to serve under Huang Zu. The Book of the Later Han, followed by the Zizhi Tongjian, claimed that Liu Biao chose Huang Zu specifically because of his short temper.[7] Huang Zu and Mi Heng were initially polite, and Huang Zu's son Huang She (黃射) got along with Mi Heng extremely well, but when Mi Heng publicly embarrassed Huang Zu at a banquet on a mengchong, Huang Zu had him executed, and his son was unable to stop it.[8] The Book of the Later Han claimed he later regretted the execution, and had Mi Heng reburied with honours.

One poem attributed to Mi Heng survives, the Rhapsody on Parrots.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

A number of stories detailing Mi Heng's insulting manner survive from traditional China. Perhaps the most famous is a story carried in the Book of the Later Han, where Cao Cao attempts to shame Mi Heng by making him a drum master to play at the imperial court. The previous drum master warned Mi Heng always to turn up dressed in fresh attire; however he arrived at the next court party dressed in shabby robes and played Triple Tolling of Yuyang, a poignant sad piece that reduced to tears all the guests. Halfway through the performance, a court attendant asked why he had not changed his clothes. Mi Heng stripped naked and continued playing without ever appearing ashamed. Cao Cao remarked that his attempt to shame Mi Heng had backfired on him.[10]

Another story mentioned in both the Book of the Later Han and Taiping Yulan describes Mi Heng sitting outside Cao Cao's command tent, banging on the ground with a branch and yelling out disparaging remarks about Cao Cao and his ancestors.[11][12] A third story describes Mi Heng's demeanour at Huang Zu's banquet, sitting and eating before his elders and those of higher rank, and playing with his food as soon as he had eaten his fill.[13]

The Tang dynasty poet Li Bai wrote a poem, Looking at Parrot Island, Remembering Mi Heng.[14] Parrot Island was the reputed burial site of Mi Heng.

In fiction[edit]

Mi Heng also appears in Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which romanticises the events in the late Eastern Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period. In the novel, Cao Cao summons Mi Heng to Xuchang but does not offer him a seat. Indignant at this, Mi Heng sighs, "In all this world, I can see not a single man!", Cao Cao overhears this and names many officials under his command whom he believes to be great heroes. Mi Heng scoffs at these men:

"The men you have mentioned are all known to me, only too well. Xun Yu is good for attending funeral ceremonies or the bedridden, Xun You for guarding graveyards. Cheng Yu would show remarkable talent in service as a gatekeeper, and Guo Jia's real talent lies in reading prose and reciting verse. Zhang Liao is equal to the task of tapping chimes and drums, Xu Chu for tending cattle and horses. Yu Jin can be employed carrying blocks and constructing walls, Xu Huang slaughtering pigs and dogs. Xiahou Dun should have the title 'Unscarred General' and Cao Ren 'Well-bribed Governor'. The rest are so many clothes racks, rice sacks, wine casks, meat sacks...".

When Mi Heng is questioned about his talents, he replied:

"I have mastered the patterns of heaven and the contours of the land. I know well the Three Religions and the Nine Systems of Philosophy. With virtue equal to that of Confucius and his dear student Yan Yuan, I could make my prince rival of Emperors Yao and Shun. Think you I can discuss these things on even share a table with common people?".

The novel continues with the story of Mi Heng's drum performance, and finishes his story by claiming that Cao Cao laughs after hearing of the death of Mi Heng, implying that he sent Mi to Jing Province knowing very well that he would die there, and calls him a "rotten pedant, done in by his own sharp tongue."[15][16]

Modern references[edit]

In Koei's video game series Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Mi Heng is one of the sages wandering China. He is depicted in the game as insulting and arrogant.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Houhanshu vol. 80, p. 2652
  2. ^ Sanguozhi zhu vol. 21, p. 603. Kong Rong's friendship with Mi Heng, and this exchange in particular, were used against him in Lu Cui's (路粹) memorial enumerating Kong Rong's crimes, upon which his execution was officially based.
  3. ^ Li Shan (李善), Annotated Selected Literature ch. 37, Recommendation of Mi Heng
  4. ^ Houhanshu vol. 80, p. 2653
  5. ^ Houhanshu vol. 80, p. 2656
  6. ^ Zizhi Tongjian vol. 62, p. 1993
  7. ^ Houhanshu vol. 80, p. 2657
  8. ^ Houhanshu vol. 80, p. 2657–8
  9. ^ Li Shan ed., Annotated Selected Literature, ch. 13, p. 611–15
  10. ^ Houhanshu vol. 80, p. 2655
  11. ^ Houhanshu vol. 80, p 2656
  12. ^ Li Fang et al., ed., Taiping Yulan, ch. 466, p. 2145
  13. ^ Li Fang et al., ed., Taiping Yulan, ch. 26, p. 125
  14. ^ Cao Yin (曹寅), Peng Dingqiu (彭定求), et al., ed. Quantangshi, ch. 181, p. 1848
  15. ^ Moss Roberts, Three Kingdoms, p. 387–395
  16. ^ Luo Guanzhong. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, p. 152–54