A Qing dynasty illustration of Wei Yan
|Senior General Who Attacks the West|
231 – 234
|Vanguard Military Adviser (前軍師)|
231 – 234
|Inspector of Liang Province|
227 – ?
|General Who Guards the North|
221 – ?
|Monarch||Liu Bei / Liu Shan|
|General Who Guards Distant Lands|
219 – 221
|Administrator of Hanzhong|
219 – ?
|Monarch||Liu Bei / Liu Shan|
|Children||at least one son|
|Courtesy name||Wenchang (文長)|
|Peerage||Marquis of Nanzheng|
Wei Yan (pronunciation (help·info)) (died 234), courtesy name Wenchang, was a military general of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period of China. Originally a subordinate of the warlord Liu Bei in the late Eastern Han dynasty, Wei Yan rose through the ranks and became a general when Liu Bei seized control of Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) in 214. His performance in battle helped him to become a prominent figure in the Shu military in a short period of time. He was later appointed as the Administrator of Hanzhong Commandery and as an Area Commander in 219. Between 228 and 234, he participated actively in the Northern Expeditions led by the Shu regent Zhuge Liang against Shu's rival state, Cao Wei. After Zhuge Liang's death in 234, Wei Yan was killed by another Shu general, Ma Dai, for alleged treason.
Career under Liu Bei
Wei Yan was from Yiyang Commandery (義陽郡), which covered parts of present-day Nanyang in southern Henan and parts of northern Hubei. He started his career as a foot soldier under the warlord Liu Bei, probably sometime between 209 and 211 when Liu Bei was in southern Jing Province (covering present-day Hubei and Hunan). Around 212, he followed Liu Bei into Yi Province (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing) and fought on Liu Bei's side in a war against Liu Zhang, the Governor of Yi Province. He made several contributions in battle and was promoted to the rank of a General of the Standard (牙門將軍) probably in 214 after Liu Bei seized control of Yi Province from Liu Zhang.
In 219, after Liu Bei defeated his rival Cao Cao in the Hanzhong Campaign and seized control of Hanzhong Commandery, he declared himself "King of Hanzhong" (漢中王) and designated Chengdu as the capital of his kingdom. Before leaving Hanzhong, he asked his subjects to nominate one of his generals to remain behind and guard Hanzhong. His subjects nominated Zhang Fei, who also strongly believed that he would most likely be chosen. However, much to everyone's surprise, Liu Bei chose Wei Yan instead and appointed him as General Who Guards Distant Lands (鎮遠將軍) and acting Administrator of Hanzhong (漢中太守).
When Liu Bei asked Wei Yan in front of everyone how would he perform his duty, the latter confidently replied: "If Cao Cao leads all the forces of the Empire to attack Hanzhong, let me assist Your Highness in resisting them. If an enemy general comes with an army of 100,000, let me engulf them for Your Highness." Liu Bei was pleased and impressed with Wei Yan's reply.
During his tenure, Wei Yan borrowed the concept of "double gates" from the ancient text I Ching and laid numerous camps along the outskirt and trail exits linking to Hanzhong. His defence mechanism was very effective in driving the enemy out, and his arrangement was adopted by those succeeded him as the defender of Hanzhong.
Following the end of the Eastern Han dynasty and the start of the Three Kingdoms period in 220, Liu Bei declared himself emperor in 221 and established the state of Shu Han (or Shu) to challenge the legitimacy of the Cao Wei (or Wei) state established by Cao Cao's successor, Cao Pi, to replace the Eastern Han dynasty. Liu Bei promoted Wei Yan to General Who Guards the North (鎮北將軍) after his coronation.
In 227, Zhuge Liang, the Imperial Chancellor of Shu, mobilised the Shu military and gathered troops in Hanzhong Commandery in preparation for a large-scale invasion of Shu's rival state, Cao Wei (or Wei). He put Wei Yan in charge of the vanguard division and appointed him as acting Major under the Imperial Chancellor (丞相司馬) and acting Inspector of Liang Province (涼州刺史).
Wei Yan probably participated in most, if not all, of the five Shu invasions of Wei between 228 and 234. In 230, Wei Yan attacked and defeated the Wei generals Fei Yao and Guo Huai at Yangxi (陽谿; southwest of present-day Wushan County, Gansu). During the fourth campaign in 231, he also joined the Shu generals Gao Xiang and Wu Ban in resisting the main Wei army led by Sima Yi and scored a major victory over the enemy: they killed 3,000 Wei soldiers and seized 5,000 sets of armour and 3,100 crossbows. Sima Yi retreated back to his camp. As a reward for his contributions, the Shu government promoted Wei Yan to Vanguard Military Adviser (前軍師) and Senior General Who Attacks the West (征西大將軍), and elevated him from a village marquis to a county marquis under the title "Marquis of Nanzheng" (南鄭侯).
Ziwu Valley Plan
Every time Wei Yan followed Zhuge Liang to battle, he requested to lead a separate detachment of 10,000 troops, take a different route and rendezvous with the Shu main army at Tong Pass (潼關; in present-day Tongguan County, Shaanxi). This was based on an earlier strategy used by the general Han Xin in the 200s BCE. Zhuge Liang rejected the plan because he thought that it was too risky. Wei Yan saw Zhuge Liang as a coward and complained that his talent was not put to good use.
When Chen Shou compiled the unofficial works on the history of Shu to write the Sanguozhi, he only mentioned that Wei Yan suggested to Zhuge Liang to split the Shu army into two, and the two forces would take two different routes and rendezvous at Tong Pass.[a]
Wei Yan's reasoning for his Ziwu Valley Plan was recorded in the Weilüe, which was then added as an annotation to his biography in the Sanguozhi. It stated: "Wei Yan received intelligence that the defender of the strategic city Chang'an, Xiahou Mao, was cowardly and incompetent. Thus, he reasoned, it would be easy for him to take 5,000 troops (and another 5,000 to carry supplies) across the Qin Mountains via the Ziwu Valley (子午谷) and into Chang'an. Wei Yan estimated that he would reach Chang'an in ten days and scare Xiahou Mao into flight, leaving the grain in Chang'an's storehouses for Shu's taking. There, Wei Yan's force can wait for Zhuge Liang's main army to take the safer road out of Xie Valley (斜谷) and rendezvous in Chang'an. In this way, the region west of Xianyang could be conquered in one movement."
When the Wei government received intelligence about Wei Yan's Ziwu Valley Plan, the Wei emperor Cao Rui immediately removed Xiahou Mao from his military command in Chang'an and reassigned him to be a Master of Writing (尚書) in Luoyang.
Conflict with Yang Yi
Wei Yan treated his soldiers well and was known for his bravery. However, he was also boastful of his talents and his peers tended to avoid him. Yang Yi, Zhuge Liang's chief clerk, made no concession to Wei Yan. Wei Yan was extremely resentful of Yang Yi. Whenever they got into heated quarrels, Wei Yan often drew his sword and brandished it in front of Yang Yi; Yang Yi sobbed as tears rolled down his cheeks. Fei Yi then stepped in to stop them from fighting and managed to keep them under control until Zhuge Liang's death. Zhuge Liang was upset by the lack of harmony between Wei Yan and Yang Yi, but was unwilling to side with either of them because he appreciated the talents of both men.
Battle of Wuzhang Plains
In 234, Zhuge Liang launched the fifth Shu invasion of Wei, with Wei Yan leading the Shu vanguard force. When he became critically ill during the stalemate, he gave secret orders to Yang Yi, Fei Yi and Jiang Wei to lead the army back to Shu after his death, with Wei Yan in charge of the rearguard and Jiang Wei to follow behind. If Wei Yan refused to follow the order, they were to retreat without him. When Zhuge Liang died, news of his death were kept secret. Yang Yi sent Fei Yi to meet Wei Yan and assess his intentions.
Wei Yan told Fei Yi: "Although the Imperial Chancellor is dead, I am still alive. The officials serving in the Imperial Chancellor's Office may bring his body back (to Chengdu) for burial, but I should remain behind to lead the army to attack the enemy. Must we abandon our mission just because of the death of one man? Besides, who am I, Wei Yan, to submit to Yang Yi's command and lead the rearguard?"
Wei Yan then asked Fei Yi to assist him in making arrangements for part of the Shu army to remain behind and continue with the campaign, while the rest would retreat back to Shu. Fei Yi pretended to write a letter, signed by both of them, and told Wei Yan that he would read out the letter to all the officers about the new arrangements. He also told Wei Yan: "I will go back and explain your point of view to Chief Clerk Yang. The Chief Clerk is a civil official who knows little about military affairs. He will definitely not oppose the new arrangements."
Wei Yan then let Fei Yi leave, but he immediately regretted his decision and went after Fei Yi, but could not catch up with him in time. He then sent his subordinate to meet Yang Yi and the others, but was shocked to discover that all units were preparing to retreat in accordance with Zhuge Liang's final orders. Wei Yan wanted to continue the battle even though Zhuge Liang had died, so he became furious when he heard of the retreat. He intended to block the Shu forces from retreating, so he led his force towards the south – ahead of the main army under Yang Yi's command – and sealed the return route by destroying the gallery roads leading back to Shu.
Wei Yan and Yang Yi separately wrote memorials to the Shu imperial court to accuse each other of treason. Their memorials arrived in Chengdu on the same day. The Shu emperor Liu Shan asked the ministers Dong Yun and Jiang Wan for their opinions. Both of them sided with Yang Yi and felt that Wei Yan's actions were suspicious. In the meantime, Yang Yi ordered his men to cut down trees to rebuild the gallery roads, and his troops marched day and night to catch up with Wei Yan. Wei Yan arrived at the southern valley first and ordered his soldiers to attack Yang Yi. Yang Yi sent Wang Ping to resist Wei Yan. Wang Ping shouted at Wei Yan: "His Excellency (Zhuge Liang) had just died and his body had yet to turn cold, and now you dare to do something like this!" Wei Yan's men knew that their commander was in the wrong so they deserted.
Wei Yan was left with only his son(s) and a few followers. They fled towards Hanzhong Commandery. Yang Yi ordered Ma Dai to give chase. Ma Dai caught up with Wei Yan, decapitated him, brought his head back, and threw it in front of Yang Yi. Yang Yi trampled on Wei Yan's head and said, "You inferior slave! Now, can you still commit evil?" Wei Yan's family members and close relatives were also executed. Before Wei Yan's death, Jiang Wan had led the imperial guards from Chengdu to deal with what appeared to be a mutiny by Wei Yan. They had travelled for about 10 li (about three miles) when they received news of Wei Yan's death; they then turned back and returned to Chengdu.
Chen Shou, who wrote Wei Yan's biography in the Sanguozhi, analysed Wei Yan's death as such:
"Wei Yan's initial intention was not to head north to surrender to Cao Wei. Instead, he wanted to retreat back to the south. He desired to kill Yang Yi and the others who disagreed with him. Although the officers held differing opinions, he strongly believed that they would generally agree to him becoming Zhuge Liang's successor. That was his true intention; he was not thinking of rebelling."
A similar, but somewhat different and more detailed account exists in the historical text Weilüe, which states:
"When Zhuge Liang was ill, he told Wei Yan and the others, "After I die, all of you should be cautious in setting up defences, but do not return here." Wei Yan was then ordered to take Zhuge Liang's command and to not reveal news about Zhuge Liang's death. He did as he was instructed after Zhuge Liang died. When the Shu forces reached Baokou (襃口), Zhuge Liang's death was announced and a funeral was held. Zhuge Liang's chief clerk, Yang Yi, was on bad terms with Wei Yan all this while, and he feared that he would be harmed when he heard that Wei Yan had taken charge of the armies. He spread rumours that Wei Yan was planning to defect to Cao Wei, and then led the soldiers to attack Wei Yan. Wei Yan had no intention of defecting to Cao Wei, so he did not put up resistance and retreated instead, but Yang Yi and his men caught up with him and killed him."
Wei Yan's death was explained in political terms in Injustice to Wei Yan (魏延的千古奇冤), a neoteric article by Zhu Ziyan, a history professor from Shanghai University. In the article, Zhu wrote that Zhuge Liang personally appointed Jiang Wan, Fei Yi and Jiang Wei to be his successors, but Wei Yan's appointments and contributions were greater than those of any of them at the time. Zhuge Liang ostracised Wei Yan and cracked down on him because he wanted to eliminate Wei Yan as a possible obstacle to his appointed successors.
Wei Yan Shrine
A Wei Yan Shrine (魏延祠) is located in Baique Village, Sanquan Township, Zitong County, Sichuan. In front of the shrine flows a Wei Family River (魏家河). On the plains east of the river, there once stood a Wei Family River Temple (魏家河廟), which had three stone tablets in front of it. One of the stone tablets bore the words "Wei Yan once led soldiers and was stationed here." According to legend, in 231, during the fourth Shu invasion of Wei, Zhuge Liang ordered Wei Yan to lead a separate force to station south of the Wei Family River. In memory of the incident, the locals built the Wei Family River Temple beside the river and a small bridge called "General Bridge" (將軍橋). The stone tablet was lost when the temple was destroyed in 1968; only the bridge remained, but it is usually submerged until the low tide in June or July. The Wei Yan Shrine was initially demolished by the government but was rebuilt in 1995. A statue of Wei Yan stands in the main hall of the shrine.
In Romance of the Three Kingdoms
See the following for some fictitious stories in Romance of the Three Kingdoms involving Wei Yan:
In popular culture
- Not much details were recorded due to the fact that when Zhuge Liang headed the Shu government, he abolished the position of historian – an official whose task was to maintain records of historical events. When Chen Shou attempted to compile the histories of Shu, he lamented on Zhuge Liang's policy of banning official historical records. It is noteworthy that Shu had 40,000 officials when it was conquered by Wei in 263, but out of these 40,000, none of them held the appointment of historian.
- de Crespigny (2007), p. 857.
- (魏延字文長，義陽人也。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (以部曲隨先主入蜀，數有戰功，遷牙門將軍。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- Sima (1084), vols. 66–67.
- Sima (1084), vol. 68.
- (先主為漢中王，遷治成都，當得重將以鎮漢川，衆論以為必在張飛，飛亦以心自許。先主乃拔延為督漢中鎮遠將軍，領漢中太守，一軍盡驚。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (先主大會羣臣，問延曰：「今委卿以重任，卿居之欲云何？」延對曰：「若曹操舉天下而來，請為大王拒之；偏將十萬之衆至，請為大王吞之。」先主稱善，衆咸壯其言。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- Sima (1084), vol. 69.
- (先主踐尊號，進拜鎮北將軍。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- Sima (1084), vol. 70.
- (建興元年，封都亭侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (五年，諸葛亮駐漢中，更以延為督前部，領丞相司馬、涼州刺史， ...) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (八年，使延西入羌中，魏後將軍費瑤、雍州刺史郭淮與延戰于陽谿，延大破淮等， ...) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (漢晉春秋曰： ... 五月辛巳，乃使張郃攻无當監何平於南圍，自案中道向亮。亮使魏延、高翔、吳班赴拒，大破之，獲甲首三千級、玄鎧五千領、角弩三千一百張，宣王還保營。) Hanjin Chunqiu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 35.
- (... 遷為前軍師征西大將軍，假節，進封南鄭侯。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (延每隨亮出，輙欲請兵萬人，與亮異道會于潼關，如韓信故事，亮制而不許。延常謂亮為怯，歎恨己才用之不盡。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- Sima (1084), vol. 71.
- (又國不置史，注記無官，是以行事多遺，灾異靡書。諸葛亮雖達於為政，凡此之類，猶有未周焉。) Sanguozhi vol. 32.
- (魏略曰：夏侯楙為安西將軍，鎮長安，亮於南鄭與羣下計議，延曰：「聞夏侯楙少，主壻也，怯而無謀。今假延精兵五千，負糧五千，直從褒中出，循秦嶺而東，當子午而北，不過十日可到長安。楙聞延奄至，必乘船逃走。長安中惟有御史、京兆太守耳，黃門邸閣與散民之穀足周食也。比東方相合聚，尚二十許日，而公從斜谷來，必足以達。如此，則一舉而咸陽以西可定矣。」亮以為此縣危，不如安從坦道，可以平取隴右，十全必克而無虞，故不用延計。) Weilüe annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (魏略曰： ... 楙性無武略，而好治生。至太和二年，明帝西征，人有白楙者，遂召還為尚書。) Weilüe annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 9.
- (延旣善養士卒，勇猛過人，又性矜高，當時皆避下之。唯楊儀不假借延，延以為至忿，有如水火。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (值軍師魏延與長史楊儀相憎惡，每至並坐爭論，延或舉刃擬儀，儀泣涕橫集。禕常入其坐間，諫喻分別，終亮之世，各盡延、儀之用者，禕匡救之力也。) Sanguozhi vol. 44.
- (亮深惜儀之才幹，憑魏延之驍勇，常恨二人之不平，不忍有所偏廢也。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (秋，亮病困，密與長史楊儀、司馬費禕、護軍姜維等作身歿之後退軍節度，令延斷後，姜維次之；若延或不從命，軍便自發。亮適卒，祕不發喪，儀令禕往揣延意指。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (延曰：「丞相雖亡，吾自見在。府親官屬便可將喪還葬，吾自當率諸軍擊賊，云何以一人死廢天下之事邪？且魏延何人，當為楊儀所部勒，作斷後將乎！」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (因與禕共作行留部分，令禕手書與己連名，告下諸將。禕紿延曰：「當為君還解楊長史，長史文吏，稀更軍事，必不違命也。」) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (禕出門馳馬而去，延尋悔，追之已不及矣。延遣人覘儀等，遂使欲案亮成規，諸營相次引軍還。延大怒，纔儀未發，率所領徑先南歸，所過燒絕閣道。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (延、儀各相表叛逆，一日之中，羽檄交至。後主以問侍中董允、留府長史蔣琬，琬、允咸保儀疑延。儀等槎山通道，晝夜兼行，亦繼延後。 ... 延先至，據南谷口，遣兵逆擊儀等，儀等令何平在前禦延。平叱延先登曰：「公亡，身尚未寒，汝輩何敢乃爾！」延士衆知曲在延，莫為用命，軍皆散。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (延獨與其子數人逃亡，奔漢中。儀遣馬岱追斬之，致首於儀，儀起自踏之，曰：「庸奴！復能作惡不？」遂夷延三族。 ... 初，蔣琬率宿衞諸營赴難北行，行數十里，延死問至，乃旋。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (原延意不北降魏而南還者，但欲除殺儀等。平日諸將素不同，兾時論必當以代亮。本指如此。不便背叛。) Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (魏略曰：諸葛亮病，謂延等云：「我之死後，但謹自守，慎勿復來也。」令延攝行己事，密持喪去。延遂匿之，行至襃口，乃發喪。亮長史楊儀宿與延不和，見延攝行軍事，懼為所害，乃張言延欲舉衆北附，遂率其衆攻延。延本無此心，不戰軍走，追而殺之。) Weilüe annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (臣松之以為此蓋敵國傳聞之言，不得與本傳爭審。) Pei Songzhi's annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 40.
- (诸葛亮亲自指定了接班人，蒋琬、费袆、姜维。但是魏延的官职、功劳要比他们个人大得多，诸葛亮打击魏延，排挤魏延是为他的接班人扫除障碍，去掉绊脚石。) Zhu Ziyan. Injustice to Wei Yan (魏延的千古奇冤).
- "镇远将军魏延祠 [Shrine of General Wei Yan]". 中华魏氏网 [Chinese Wei Family Website] (in Chinese). 5 January 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
- Chen, Shou (3rd century). Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
- de Crespigny, Rafe (1990). Generals of the South: The Foundation and Early History of the Three Kingdoms State of Wu (internet (2004) ed.). Canberra: Australian National University.
- de Crespigny, Rafe (2003). The Three Kingdoms and Western Jin: A History of China in the Third Century AD (internet ed.).
- de Crespigny, Rafe (2004). To Establish Peace: Being the Chronicle of the Later Han Dynasty for the Years 189 to 220 AD as Recorded in Chapters 59 to 69 of the Zizhi Tongjian of Sima Guang. Volume 1 (internet ed.). Canberra: Australian National University.
- de Crespigny, Rafe (2004). To Establish Peace: Being the Chronicle of the Later Han Dynasty for the Years 189 to 220 AD as Recorded in Chapters 59 to 69 of the Zizhi Tongjian of Sima Guang. Volume 2 (internet ed.). Canberra: Australian National University.
- de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23-220 AD). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0.
- Pei, Songzhi (5th century). Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).
- Sima, Guang (1084). Zizhi Tongjian.
- Zhu, Ziyan (2010), 魏延的千古奇冤 [Injustice to Wei Yan] (in Chinese), Shanghai: 文汇读书周报 [Weekly Academic Readings]