Zhang Liao
Zhang Liao (SSDO)
General of Cao Wei
Born 169
Died 222 (aged 53)
Simplified Chinese 张辽
Traditional Chinese 張遼
Pinyin Zhāng Liáo
Wade–Giles Chang Liao
Style name Wenyuan (simplified Chinese: 文远; traditional Chinese: 文遠;pinyin: Wényuǎn; Wade–Giles: Wen-yüan)
Posthumous name Marquis Gang (simplified Chinese: 刚侯; traditional Chinese: 剛侯; pinyin: Gāng Hóu)

Zhang Liao (169–222), style name Wenyuan, was a military general serving under the warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He served briefly in the state of Cao Wei, founded by Cao Cao's successor Cao Pi, in the early Three Kingdoms period before his death. He participated in many campaigns, including those against Yuan Shao's clan and the Wuhuan tribes. Zhang Liao was most noted for his pivotal role in the Battle of Xiaoyao Ford in 214–215, where he successfully defended Hefei fortress from the forces of the rival warlord Sun Quan.

Chen Shou, the author of the historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms, considered Zhang Liao among the Five Elite Generals under Cao Cao, along with Xu HuangYue Jin,Zhang He and Yu Jin.


 [hide*1 Early life

Early lifeEdit

Zhang Liao was a native of Mayi (馬邑; present-day Shuocheng DistrictShuozhouShanxi) near Yanmenguan. He was a descendant of Nie Yi (聶壹; also known as Nie Wengyi (聶翁壹)), but he changed his surname from "Nie" to "Zhang" to avoid any association with his ancestor's disgrace.[1] He served as a minor official in the local commandery office in his younger days. Towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Zhang Liao was recruited byDing Yuan, the Inspector (刺史) of Bing Province, because Ding favoured Zhang's martial skills. Zhang Liao became an Assistant Officer (從事) under Ding Yuan.

In 189, Ding Yuan and his trusted aide Lü Bu  led their troops to the capital Luoyang to assist General-in-Chief He Jin in eliminating the Ten Attendants, a group of influential eunuchs in the imperial court. However, He Jin was soon assassinated by the eunuchs and the capital fell into chaos. Dong Zhuo, a warlord from Liang Province (凉州), in the ensuing tussle for power, intended to install a puppet emperor on the throne. This move deteriorated the relationship between Ding Yuan and Dong Zhuo and induced the latter to plot against the former. After Lü Bu was persuaded to defect to Dong Zhuo's side and kill Ding Yuan, Zhang Liao followed him to serve under Dong, who had become the de facto head of government. Soon, several regional warlords formed a coalition and launched campaign against Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo's forces suffered some defeats in battles against the coalition, and Dong decided to move the capital west to Chang'an.

Service under Lü Bu and surrender to Cao CaoEdit

Lü Bu had a secret affair with one of Dong Zhuo's concubines, so he became more apprehensive toward his adopted father. He eventually betrayed and killed Dong Zhuo. Zhang Liao assisted Lü Bu and Wang Yun in an attempt to stabilise the capital and rebuild imperial authority. However, the new government was destroyed by Dong Zhuo's former subjects Li Jue and Guo Si when they breached the gates of Chang'an. Zhang Liao fled with Lü Bu, and joined Yuan Shao temporarily. During their short stay in Yuan Shao's camp, they helped perform raids on the Heishan Bandits' camp, and dealt major damage to the latter.

Zhang Liao and other warriors formerly from Bing Province followed Lü Bu as he wandered around until he was finally given a chance to gain a foothold. In 194, Lü Bu was welcomed in Yan Province by Chen Gong, who had betrayed his lord Cao Cao when the latter was away on a campaign against Tao Qian in Xu Province. Cao Cao later turned back to retake Yan Province, leading to a series of battlesbetween him and Lü Bu for over a year. Lü Bu was able to defeat Cao Cao initially but the latter managed to gradually regain control over the province. After a famine outbreak, Lü Bu was finally ousted from the area to Xiaopei. There, Lü Bu joined Liu Bei, who had succeeded Tao Qian as Governor of Xu Province, but Lü Bu later betrayed Liu Bei and seized the province for himself. Zhang Liao was appointed Chancellor (相) of the Lu state (魯國), a commandery in Xu Province.

In 198, the allied forces of Cao Cao and Liu Bei defeated Lü Bu at the Battle of Xiapi. After Lü Bu's execution, Zhang Liao led his men to surrender to Cao Cao and was appointed as a "General of the Household" (中郎將) and granted the title of a "Secondary Marquis" (關內侯).[4] Since then, Zhang Liao had participated in many of Cao Cao's military exploits, including the decisive Battle of Guandu and the subsequent northern expeditions against Yuan TanYuan Shang, and the Wuhuan tribes.

Battle of Xiaoyao FordEdit

Main article: Battle of Xiaoyao Ford

After Cao Cao lost the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208, he placed Zhang Liao, Yue Jin and Li Dian at Hefei fortress with 7,000 men to guard against advances of the southern warlord Sun Quan. Around 214, Sun Quan led a much larger force upon Hefei. Under instructions from Cao Cao, Zhang Liao and Li Dian recruited 800 vanguard troops to deter the enemy outside the city.

As dawn broke, the force moved out with Zhang Liao in the forefront. Zhang Liao galloped into the enemy ranks and single-handedly killed tens of enemy soldiers. Proclaiming his own name, Zhang Liao then went straight for Sun Quan, who sought refuge on top of a knoll. At least three of Sun Quan's generals tried to intercept him, but all failed.[5] After seeing Zhang Liao had much fewer men on a slope, Sun Quan calmed down and ordered his troops to surround the enemy.

However, Zhang Liao fought fiercely and succeeded in breaking out of the encirclement. When his remaining men who were still trapped inside shouted, "Has our general abandoned us?"[6] Zhang Liao turned back and punched through layers of enemy soldiers to save his men, eventually succeeding in bringing them out. Sun Quan's men were stunned by Zhang Liao's valour and did not dare to stand in his way.

After returning to Hefei, Zhang Liao supervised the reinforcement of the fortress's fortifications. After two weeks of siege, Sun Quan could not take Hefei and had to turn back because a plague had broken out within his army. At Xiaoyao Ford (逍遙津), Sun Quan's main army retreated first while Sun Quan and only about 1,000 men stayed behind.[7] Knowing that Sun Quan had made such an arrangement, Zhang Liao immediately led several thousands of elite cavalry to capitalise on his foe's fatal blunder. On a number of occasions, they almost captured Sun Quan if not resisted desperately by Sun's general Ling Tong. Upon hearing Zhang Liao had accomplished this nearly impossible deed, Cao Cao was stunned and he visited Hefei, where he observed the battlefield for a long time.[8] Zhang Liao was promoted to the rank of General Who Conquers the East (征東將軍) for his achievement in the Battle of Xiaoyao Ford.

Later lifeEdit

Cao Cao died in 220 and was succeeded by his son Cao Pi, who ended the Eastern Han Dynasty and established the state of Cao Wei, marking the start of the Three Kingdoms period. Cao Pi promoted Zhang Liao to General of the Vanguard (前將軍) and deployed him to Hefei to defend the area from advances by Sun Quan's forces. In 221, Zhang Liao traveled to Luoyang for an audience with Cao Pi, who compared him to Shao Hu (召虎)[2].

Zhang Liao fell sick during the Battle of Dongkou in 222 against Sun Quan's forces. Sun Quan reminded his men, "Even though Zhang Liao is ill, we should not underestimate him. Be careful!" Zhang Liao and other Wei generals defeated the Wu general Lü Fan in that battle. However, Zhang Liao's condition worsened and he died later that year in Jiangdu (江都; present-day Jiangdu DistrictYangzhou,Jiangsu).

Cao Pi deeply mourned Zhang Liao's death, and he granted Zhang the posthumous title of "Marquis Gang" (剛侯), which literally means "resolute marquis". In 225, Cao Pi issued an imperial edict to commemorate Zhang Liao and Li Dian for their contributions at the Battle of Xiaoyao Ford in 214-215.


Zhang Liao's titles were inherited by his son Zhang Hu, who served as a Lieutenant General (偏將軍) in the state of Cao Wei. After Zhang Hu died, his titles were inherited by his son Zhang Tong (張統).

In fictionEdit

Zhang Liao is featured as a character in Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which dramatises the events leading to, and during the Three Kingdoms period. In the novel, Zhang Liao was depicted as a loyal and upright general. While this might be true, such portrayal was likely the result of artistic simplification.

Serving Lü Bu and surrender to Cao Cao[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In chapter 18, when Zhang Liao was still serving under Lü Bu, his lord tasked him with attacking Liu Bei at Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei CountyJiangsu). Zhang Liao led his men to attack the west gate, where he encountered Guan Yu, who called out to him from the top of the wall, "You don't seem like an ordinary person. Why do you serve a villain?" Zhang Liao lowered his head and did not respond. Guan Yu knew that Zhang Liao was a loyal and righteous man, so he refrained from hurling insults and did not go out to fight Zhang.[9]

In the following chapters (18-19), Lü Bu was defeated at the Battle of Xiapi by Cao Cao and Liu Bei, and he was tied up and brought before the victors. Lü Bu attempted to persuade Cao Cao to spare him but Cao refused after Liu Bei hinted that Lü was untrustworthy. As Lü Bu was being taken away to be executed, he hurled abuse at Liu Bei. At the same time, Zhang Liao was being brought before Cao Cao, and he scorned Lü Bu for the latter's cowardly behaviour. Zhang Liao showed no fear and even remarked that Cao Cao was lucky to have survived the blaze at Puyang (referring to an earlier battle). The furious Cao Cao drew his sword and wanted to kill Zhang Liao, but the latter stuck out his neck and waited for his fate. Just then, Guan Yu and Liu Bei stopped Cao Cao and pleaded with him to spare Zhang Liao, and Guan even knelt down. Cao Cao then laughed, sheathed his sword, and said, "I also know that Wenyuan (Zhang Liao's style name) is a loyal and righteous man. I was just testing him." He then personally untied Zhang Liao, offered him a change of clothes and a seat. Zhang Liao was moved by Cao Cao's sincerity so he agreed to surrender and serve Cao.

Modern referencesEdit

Zhang Liao is featured as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi video game series. He also appears in all 11 instalments of Koei's Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy game series.

In Gosei Sentai Dairanger, Iron Face Zhang Liao (鉄面臂張遼) was the previous Ryu Ranger who joined the Gorma and became an immortal as a result. Around the late 1960s, he fell in love with a mortal woman, and they married and had two children, Ryou and Yoko. Zhang Liao returned to the Gorma shortly after Yoko was born, and was reunited eighteen years later with his son, who had taken up the role of Ryu Ranger. Zhang Liao battled against him at first, but then had a change of heart and died protecting Ryo.

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