Statue of Zhu Ran in Ma'anshan
|General of Eastern Wu|
|Died||249 (aged 67)|
|Courtesy name||Yifeng (traditional Chinese: 義封; simplified Chinese: 义封; pinyin: Yìfēng; Wade–Giles: I-feng)|
Zhu Ran (182–249), courtesy name Yifeng, birth name Shi Ran, was a military general of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period. Despite being a childhood friend of Wu's founding emperor, Sun Quan, he was never tasked with important position nor assignment before Lü Meng's invasion of southern Jing Province in 219, wherein he assisted in capturing the enemy commander Guan Yu. Following the Battle of Xiaoting, Wu's rival state, Cao Wei, launched a three-pronged strike on Wu's northwestern, middle, and eastern borders. Zhu Ran was sent to the northwestern border, where he defended the city of Jiangling with only 5,000 troops against an enemy force about ten times greater. He rose to fame and became feared throughout Wei. He then participated in a series of military operations against Wei, during which he defeated several enemy units, but the overall objectives had never been met. Before his death, Zhu Ran was granted authority to oversee matters within the army.
Originally from Guzhang (故鄣), Danyang (present-dau Anji County, Huzhou), Zhu Ran was a nephew of Sun Ce's veteran general, Zhu Zhi, who had a liking to the 13-year-old Zhu Ran and asked Sun to grant him permission to adopt the child. Since Zhu Zhi had contributed considerably to Sun Ce's pacification of Jiangdong and had not bore a son, Sun specifically ordered the Governor of Danyang to bring presents to Zhu Ran's family for the ceremony and celebration. Thus, Zhu Ran became an adopted son of Zhu Zhi and had his family name changed from "Shi" to "Zhu". In addition, he studied together with Sun Ce's younger brother, Sun Quan, as a young boy, and the two became very intimate. Because of this, after Sun Ce died and was succeeded by Sun Quan, Zhu Ran was made a Prefect of Yuyao (余姚) at the age of 19. Zhu Ran was later appointed as chief of Shanyin (山陰), acting on authority of a captain, to oversee five local counties around the area. Pleased with his abilities, Sun Quan further promoted him to be the Administrator of Linchuan (臨川), and gave him command over 2,000 soldiers.
Capture of Guan Yu
During his tenure as an administrator, Zhu Ran had the merit of subjugating the Shanyue ethnic group within his jurisdiction, and was able to do so in less than a month. However, when the hegemonic warlord, Cao Cao led his massive army to invade the Wu area, Zhu Ran stayed in the back just as most other officials at the time did; and was not assigned significant tasks for some time until the Battle of Ruxukou, where he proved his loyalty in personally going to the frontline to help resist Cao's 400,000 strong army. Although Zhu Ran did not engage the enemy in this battle, he was promoted by Sun Quan to be a Major General, as a way to reaffirm his trust in Zhu. In 219, Zhu Ran participated in Lü Meng's Jing Province campaign as Lü's aide. When the enemy commander, Guan Yu, was abandoned by his troops and trapped in Maicheng, Zhu Ran was ordered by Lü Meng to lay the first line of blockades to Guan's escape. However, for reason unknown, Zhu Ran let Guan Yu slip by, and Pan Zhang, who was responsible for the second layer, succeeded in capturing Guan alive. Regardless, Sun Quan credited both Pan Zhang and Zhu Ran for Guan Yu's capture. When Lü Meng laid on his death bed shortly after the Jing Province campaign, Sun Quan asked his input on who could succeed him as the new commander for the army, wherein Lü Meng highly praised the abilities of Zhu Ran and recommended the latter be the replacement. Heeding Lü Meng's dying words, Sun Quan gave the staff of authority to Zhu Ran, and tasked him with the defense of Jiangling, capital of Nan Commandery and a vital strategic stronghold on the frontline.
Two years later, the emperor of Shu Han, Liu Bei, led a grand force of more than 100,000 troops to invade Wu, and Zhu Ran led his 5,000 troops to join the Wu commander, Lu Xun, for the tactical defence of Xiaoting. When the next summer came, Zhu Ran led a separate force against Shu. After breaking Liu Bei's vanguard, Zhu Ran's forces took up a position at the rear of the Shu army, blocking their escape as they attempted to flee from a fire attack executed by Lu Xun. Together, Lu Xun and Zhu Ran chased Liu Bei into the deep hills, pushing him back to Baidicheng, where he would admit defeat and die shortly afterwards.
Defence of Jiangling
Throughout the whole course of the Wu-Shu conflict, the Wei military had assembled troops but never mobilised. However, immediately following the success of Lu Xun's battles against Shu, the Wei emperor Cao Pi suddenly launched a three-pronged campaign against Wu after Sun Quan refused to send his eldest son, Sun Deng, as a hostage. Even though Cao Pi's plan was detected by Lu Xun, who ordered Xu Sheng to perform a double-back to return to Wuchang and informed Sun Quan to prepare for war, the Wu forces still faced a dire situation. Their troops were stretched thinly across at least four fronts; on the western front facing Baidicheng, where Liu Bei's declaration of war was still in effect; the Nan Commandery, which was pressed by the Wei generals Zhang He, Xu Huang, Cao Zhen, and Xiahou Shang; at Ruxu, where the Wei general Cao Ren was leading his team to land on the Middle Island; and at the eastern battlefield on the Yangtze River, Dongkou, where Zhang Liao and Zang Ba under the command of Cao Xiu defeated Lü Fan's navy. At the time, there was an extreme shortage of military personnel. Furthermore, an outbreak of disease greatly reduced the morale and number of soldiers in Zhu Ran's army, leaving him with only 5,000 men capable to do battles, who were intimidated by the news that the Wu reinforcements led by Sun Sheng (孫盛) were eliminated by Zhang He. At Jiangling, Xiahou Shang had also built numerous pontoon bridges for his soldiers to cross the shallow waters and attack the castle. With each passing day, the number of Wei troops besieging the castle increased by the thousands. Not knowing how and where the Wei forces were crossing the shallows of the river, the Wu reinforcements under Pan Zhang and Zhuge Jin had no effective way to lift the siege.
Surrounded in his castle, Zhu Ran was heavily outnumbered by Cao Zhen, who encircled the fortress with several layers and deployed a variety of siege weapons. Yet Zhu Ran showed no signs of fear, and encouraged his comrades and subordinates to counter the enemy. When Cao Zhen relaxed his guard, Zhu Ran's forces were able to destroy two of the Wei encampments. Six months had passed; however, the Wei army still continued the siege, and Cao Pi had arrived at Wan city to bolster their morale. One of Zhu Ran's officers, seeing that the Wei troops were numerous and that the food supply within Jiangling castle was running out, planned to defect to Wei. He secretly contacted the Wei troops outside of the castle walls and promised to open the gate to permit their forces entry. When the betrayer was about to open the castle gate, he was noticed by Zhu Ran and executed. At the time, Pan Zhang had gone upstream and collected one million bundles of reeds. He fitted these to rafts and set them on fire, sending them downstream so that they would burn the pontoon bridges being used by Wei. Knowing what Pan Zhang had done, the Wei forces returned north before the retreat route could be destroyed. Because of his extraordinary performance in this battle, Zhu Ran's name became known throughout Wei as a powerful enemy general.
In 241, Zhu Ran participated in a campaign against Wei and led an assault on Fancheng and surrounded it. However, the Wei army led by Sima Yi defeated him, and he retreated. In 246, he again invaded Wei and attacked Zuzhong (柤中), and when his escape route was cut off by Li Xing (李興) of Wei, he defeated Li Xing's forces and withdrew.
In 245, Lu Xun died and Zhu Ran was given command over the armies of Wu by Sun Quan. He died four years later in 249, and received the third largest funeral after Lü Meng and Ling Tong. At his funeral service, Sun Quan was said to have wept greatly for him. His son, Zhu Ji, succeeded him and continued to serve Eastern Wu.
Zhu Ran's tomb
In June 1984, during the construction of a factory, Zhu Ran's burial site was discovered in Ma'anshan, Anhui. Many historically important decorative items of clothing and some of the world's oldest discovered lacquer were unearthed after being discovered within. The tomb had been underground for nearly 1,700 years. Though the tomb was raided, it was still home to 140+ of many valuable items. Most of the remaining buried items included mainly lacquered items made of wood, such as wooden plates, wooden clogs, and some wooden tables with educational stories and images drawn on them. The road on which the site was discovered was renamed to "Zhuran Road" in his honour.
In Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Zhu Ran appears as a character in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, which romanticises the historical events before and during the Three Kingdoms period. In the novel, he was killed by Zhao Yun at the Battle of Xiaoting. (See Battle of Xiaoting#Zhao Yun killing Zhu Ran for details.)
In popular culture
- de Crespigny, Rafe (2007). A biographical dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Brill. p. 1165. ISBN 978-90-04-15605-0.
- (Name: Lacquer Plate with Noble Life Painting from Zhu Ran Tomb 中文名: 朱然墓彩绘贵族生活图漆盘 Dated to: Three Kingdoms Period, 220 – 280 A.D. | Culture: Eastern Wu Unearthed: 06/1986, at Tomb of Zhu Ran, Ma’Anshan, Anhui | Current location: Ma’Anshan Museum Dimensions: Diameter: 24.8cm; Height: 3.5cm)http://chinablog.cc/2010/07/lacquer-plate-from-zhu-ran-tomb-a-painting-of-noble-life/
- (Tomb of Zhu Ran was discovered in June, 1984. It has been hidden underground for more than 1,700 years) http://chinablog.cc/2010/07/lacquer-plate-from-zhu-ran-tomb-a-painting-of-noble-life/
- (Although this tomb has been raided before, there are still 140+ pieces of burial objects left, most of which are lacquered wood objects. Lots of them are rare lacquer treasures, such as a lacquer table with a painting of palace life, lacquer plates with traditional educational stories, etc.) http://chinablog.cc/2010/07/lacquer-plate-from-zhu-ran-tomb-a-painting-of-noble-life/
- Chen, Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi).
- Pei, Songzhi. Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguozhi zhu).