Zhang Yan (Han dynasty)

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Zhang Yan
General Who Pacifies the North (平北將軍)
In office
204 (204) – ? (?)
Monarch Emperor Xian of Han
Personal details
Born Chu Yan (褚燕)
Zhengding County, Hebei
Died Unknown
Occupation Bandit leader, general
Other name Zhang Feiyan (張飛燕)
Peerage Marquis of Anguo Village

Zhang Yan (birth and death dates unknown), born Chu Yan, also known as Zhang Feiyan, was the leader of the Heishan bandits in the late Eastern Han dynasty.


Chu Yan was from Zhending County, Changshan Commandery, which is around present-day Zhengding County, Hebei. Because he was fast, and agile, and brave, his men called him "Feiyan", meaning "Flying Swallow". There is little mentioned about his life before 185 CE in historical records. In 185, he and Zhang Niujue (張牛角), another bandit leader, raided the town of Yingtao (癭陶). Zhang Niujue was killed, but before he died, he ordered his men to obey Chu Yan as their new leader. Chu Yan thus changed his family name from "Chu" to "Zhang" to honour Zhang Niujue.

Zhang Yan's force steadily grew in strength, until they were said to be one million strong. They became known as the Heishan bandits. All the commanderies north of the Yellow River were exposed to their attacks and the Han imperial court could do nothing to stop them.

In 193, Zhang Yan fought to a stalemate against the warlord Lü Bu, who at the time was serving nominally under another warlord Yuan Shao, and undertook his quest to pacify various regions neighbouring the Taihang Mountains. In 199, Zhang Yan responded to the warlord Gongsun Zan's request for help in the Battle of Yijing against Yuan Shao, but Gongsun Zan was defeated before Zhang Yan arrived.

In 204, Zhang Yan made contact with the warlord Cao Cao, who at the time was warring against Yuan Shao's sons, Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang. Cao Cao appointed him General Who Pacifies the North (平北將軍). In the summer of 205, after Cao Cao defeated the Yuans, Zhang Yan officially surrendered to the Han imperial court and was enfeoffed as the Marquis of Anguo Village (安國亭侯). What happened to him after that is not recorded in history.

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