Zhuge Liang's Southern Campaign

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Zhuge Liang's Southern Campaign
Part of the wars of the Three Kingdoms period
Date Spring – Autumn 225 CE
Location Nanzhong (covering present-day Yunnan, Guizhou and southern Sichuan), China
Result Shu Han victory
Shu Han Shu rebels,
Commanders and leaders
Zhuge Liang Yong Kai,
Zhu Bao,
Gao Ding ,
Meng Huo Surrendered
Zhuge Liang's Southern Campaign
Traditional Chinese 諸葛亮南征
Simplified Chinese 诸葛亮南征
War of Pacification in Nanzhong
Traditional Chinese 南中平定戰
Simplified Chinese 南中平定战

Zhuge Liang's Southern Campaign, also known as the War of Pacification in Nanzhong, was a military campaign led by Shu Han chancellor Zhuge Liang to suppress opposing forces in the south in 225 during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The campaign was a response to rebellions started by local governors in the southern region of Nanzhong and intrusions by the Nanman (literally: "southern barbarians").


In 222, the Shu Han emperor Liu Bei was defeated in the Battle of Xiaoting against the state of Eastern Wu. He died in Baidicheng the following year. When Yong Kai of southern Yi Province (covering the Sichuan Basin) received news of Liu Bei's death in the summer of 223, he planned to revolt. Although Li Yan tried to dissuade him from it, Yong Kai only sent an arrogant reply, "I heard that the sky does not have two suns, and the land does not have two rulers. Now the lands are split into three with each claiming to be the absolute, the distant [Yong Kai] rests uneasy, not knowing who to follow."

Soon, Yong Kai killed Zheng Ang (正昂), the Administrator of Jianning (建寧), and kidnapped Zhang Yi to Eastern Wu. Yong Kai was given the post of Administrator of Yongchang (永昌) by Eastern Wu, but Yongchang belonged to Shu Han. Lü Kai and Wang Kang defended Yongchang from Yong Kai, who sought his position. Although Yong Kai spread many rumours outside the city walls, Lü Kai refused to open the gates to let Yong Kai in.

Gao Ding (高定), a leader of the local Sou people (叟族), also revolted in coordination with Yong Kai, killing general Jiao Huang (焦璜) and declaring himself king. He marched his army north to attack Xindao (新道), but he was repelled by reinforcements led by Li Yan from Jianwei (犍為).

Shu Han's chancellor Zhuge Liang decided not to launch an offensive so soon because Shu had just recently lost their leader, and instead only sent Qi Xing (頎行) to investigate the problems in the south while he busied himself with domestic affairs. However, as soon as Qi Xing arrived in Zangke (牂柯), he was killed by the Administrator Zhu Bao, who had also rebelled.

Yong Kai then called upon Meng Huo, a local aristocrat, to lure the southern tribes into revolting because the tribes did not trust Yong Kai. Meng Huo made up stories about Shu Han giving the tribes impossible demands, thus the tribes became angry at Shu and joined the rebellion as well.

Suppressing the rebellion[edit]

In the spring of 225, after reaffirming Shu Han's alliance with Eastern Wu, Zhuge Liang personally led the Shu generals south from Chengdu to suppress the rebellion with full preparations. Wang Lian (王連) advised Zhuge Liang against personally participating in the campaign, but Zhuge was worried that his generals were not competent enough to deal with the rebels by themselves. Ma Su suggested to Zhuge Liang that the campaign should focus on psychological warfare rather than conventional warfare in order to ensure that the defeated rebels would not rebel again, a suggestion which Zhuge readily accepted.

Zhuge Liang's army entered Nanzhong via Yuesui (越巂). Along the way, Zhuge Liang advanced from Anshang, taking the water route and entering Yuexi. In order to meet him, Gaoding[yuan] and Yong Kai constructed several fortresses, at Maotou, Dingzuo, and Peishui. Zhuge Liang advanced to Peishui, where he hoped that the rebel forces would gather together and meet him in one battle. Things went better than Zhuge Liang planned. Faced with the Shu army, they murdered Yong Kai and many of his men, then defected to Shu. Zhuge Liang promptly executed him. Meng Huo took command of the rebel forces.[1]

Meanwhile, Ma Zhong was sent to attack Zangke by marching southeast from Bodao (僰道), and Li Hui to attack Jianning from Pingyi (平夷) by marching southwest. Li Hui's army, however, became surrounded in Kunming by rebel forces twice his numbers, and he did not know of Zhuge Liang's whereabouts to ask for reinforcements. Hence, Li Hui pretended to join the rebels, saying his supplies had run out and could not return north, and therefore had no choice but to rebel. The Nanman believed him and lowered their guard, whereupon Li Hui struck and defeated the encirclement. He then led his men south to Panjiang (槃江) and joined Ma Zhong to the east, who had defeated Zhu Bao in Qielan (且蘭). Finally, the two divergent forces rejoined Zhuge Liang's main army.

Meng Huo incorporated the remnants of Yong Kai's forces and continued to resist the Shu attackers. Zhuge Liang, knowing Meng Huo was respected by the populace, wanted to capture and subdue him according to Ma Su's strategy. When Meng Huo was captured, Zhuge Liang showed him around the Shu camp, asking how he felt about the army. Meng Huo replied: "Before, we did not know the conditions of your army, so we were defeated. Now you have so graciously shown me your pavilions, I know your army is only as thus, we can win easily." Zhuge Liang smiled, and released him to fight again. After seven captures and releases, Meng Huo finally said, "You must be the valour of the heavens, the south will not rebel again." Zhuge Liang then marched towards Dian Lake in triumph.


Once Nanzhong had settled, Zhuge Liang split the four existing commanderies (Yi Province, Yongchang, Zangke, Yuesui) into six commanderies, adding Yunnan and Xinggu (興古) to better administer the region. He left the commanderies to be governed by the locals instead of Han Chinese officials, citing three difficulties if Han Chinese officials were installed:

  • If Han officials were installed, then soldiers must be stationed and food must be provided to them. (The Nanzhong terrain is difficult for transporting goods.)
  • The locals were recently defeated with their fathers and brothers killed, if foreigners were installed and no soldiers are stationed with them, chaos would follow. (The locals would seek revenge.)
  • The locals were guilty of their recent crimes and would not trust the Han Chinese to forgive them so easily. (There would be misunderstandings.)

Zhuge Liang then returned north, not stationing any soldiers, only requiring the locals to pay tribute. Wang Kang, Lü Kai and Li Hui were among those appointed as the administrators of the new governing regions. However, these new administrators were considerably different than other governors at the time in that they only acted as representatives of Shu Han, and the local populace were generally ruled by their chieftains who paid tribute to Shu Han. The tributes from Nanzhong included, but were not limited to, gold, silver, oxen, and warhorses, which helped Shu Han prosper, preparing it for Zhuge Liang's upcoming Northern Expeditions.

Although rebellions in the south still broke out after the Southern Campaign, they were comparatively minor, and Ma Zhong and Li Hui were quick to suppress them again and again. The Nanzhong region enjoyed relative stability under the reign of Shu Han afterwards, in contrast to during the Eastern Han Dynasty[citation needed].

In fiction[edit]

Although historical records seem to show that Zhuge Liang actually did capture and release Meng Huo a total of seven times, the details of each capture were not recorded. Luo Guanzhong, the author of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, fleshed out the stories for each capture, inventing many fictional people such as Meng You, Lady Zhurong, and King Mulu. Besides, Zhao Yun, Wei Yan, and Ma Dai were described to have made great contributions to this campaign in the novel, but historically they were not involved with the campaign at all.

In the first encounter between Zhuge Liang and Meng Huo, Zhao Yun led a charge and tore through his forces like a gale, after which Meng Huo himself was captured by Wei Yan. Meng Huo refused to yield to Zhuge Liang, whereupon the strategist released him, giving him another chance to attack.

Meng Huo warily created fortifications along a river for the second battle, daring the Shu forces to cross. Ma Dai cut off the supply routes and killed Jinhuan Sanjie, a Nanman general protecting the river fortifications. Seeing that Shu Han was much stronger than the Meng Huo's forces, Nanman generals Ahuinan and Dongtuna betrayed Meng Huo and handed him over to the Shu army. But still, he did not yield. As part of a ploy, Zhuge Liang gave Meng Huo a tour of his encampment before releasing him a second time.

Meng Huo, now overconfident in his newfound knowledge of the enemy camp, sent his brother, Meng You, on a false defection ploy, but it was easily discovered and both brothers were captured.

Released yet again and eager for revenge, Meng Huo gathered a force of 100,000 and attacked the Shu camp, whereupon Zhuge Liang evacuated his entire force. Of course, this was all part of Zhuge Liang's plan, and Meng Huo's army fell into numerous pit traps that had been dug within the camp. Meng Huo was captured once again.

With caution, and learning from his previous failures, Meng Huo now opted to wait for an attack by the enemy. The plan was to lure the Shu forces into poisonous marshes around the caves of King Duosi, but Zhuge Liang was forewarned of the dangers by Meng Huo's older brother, Meng Jie, and managed to avoid the marshes altogether. Once again, Meng Huo was defeated and captured, and King Duosi was killed. In folklore, Zhuge Liang became ill from the marshes but then recovered.

After Meng Huo's fifth defeat, his wife, Lady Zhurong, now took to the battlefield, complaining that her husband was incompetent. She captured Ma Zhong and Zhang Ni, and Zhuge Liang sent Zhao Yun, Wei Yan, and Ma Dai after her. Eventually Ma Dai dismounted her and captured her. Zhuge Liang returned her to Meng Huo in exchange for the captured Shu generals. Meng Huo now attempted to gather wild animals such as elephants and tigers from King Mulu to combat the enemy, but they were chased away by Zhuge Liang's fire-breathing contraptions, also known as juggernauts. King Mulu was killed, and Meng Huo was captured again. In all contemporary sources, no woman was said to have fought during the Three Kingdoms period.

Finally, Meng Huo enlisted the aid of Wutugu, whose troops wore armor made of rattan that was said to deflect swords and arrows alike. However, Zhuge Liang conjured a trap in which Wei Yan lured Wutugu into a valley with mines set beneath the ground. Wutugu's troops took the bait and chased Wei Yan into the valley. When inside the valley, Zhao Yun blocked the escape routes off and the mines were detonated, lightning the inflammable armour and destroying Wutugu and his troops. Although a great victory, Zhuge Liang is said to have wept at the destruction when he viewed the valley. Meng Huo was now captured for the seventh and final time.

Meng Huo had to admit defeat at this point and he vowed to surrender and serve Shu Han from the bottom of his heart. The southern threat was neutralized and the Shu army returned home victorious.


A popular story in China tells of the invention of the mantou, a kind of steamed bun, by Zhuge Liang during this campaign. It probably rose from the fact that the name mantou (simplified Chinese: 馒头; traditional Chinese: 饅頭; pinyin: mántóu) is homonymous to mantou (simplified Chinese: 蛮头; traditional Chinese: 蠻頭; pinyin: mántóu; literally: "barbarian's head").

The story tells that, after subduing Meng Huo, Zhuge Liang led the army back to Shu, but met a swift-flowing river which defied all attempts to cross it. Locals informed him that the barbarians would sacrifice 50 men and throw their heads into the river to appease the river spirit and allow them to cross; Zhuge Liang, however, did not want to cause any more bloodshed, and instead ordered buns shaped roughly like human heads — round with a flat base — to be made and then thrown into the river. After a successful crossing he named the bun "barbarian's head", which evolved into the present day mantou.

Modern references[edit]

The southern campaign has been reenacted in a number of video games, including Koei's Dynasty Warriors series and Sangokushi Koumeiden. Both follow the events described in Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and the player can defeat Meng Huo up to seven times. A whole chapter (out of 5) is dedicated to this campaign in Sangokushi Koumeiden.