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This is a Chinese name; the family name is Zhang (張).
Zhang Liao
Zhang Liao Portrait.jpg
Portrait of Zhang Liao from a Qing Dynasty edition of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Military general of Cao Wei
Born 169
Died 222
Simplified Chinese 张辽
Traditional Chinese 張遼
Pinyin Zhāng Liáo
Wade-Giles Chang Liao
Courtesy name Wenyuan (文遠)
Posthumous name Marquis Gang (剛侯)

Zhang Liao (169 – 222) was a military general under the powerful warlord Cao Cao during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era of China. He had participated in many campaigns, including those against Yuan Shao's heirs and the Wuhuan tribes. But he was most noted for his pivotal role in the Battle of Hefei in 208, where he successfully defended the city of Hefei against the advances of Sun Quan's massive army.

Chen Shou, author of the Records of Three Kingdoms, considered Zhang Liao among the five top generals of the Kingdom of Wei, along with Xu Huang, Yue Jin, Zhang He and Yu Jin.




Early life

A local of Mayi (馬邑, present day Shuo County, Shanxi), Zhang Liao was originally surnamed Nie (聶). He served as a local administrative officer during his younger days. Towards the end of the Han Dynasty, Ding Yuan, governor of Bing province (并州, present day Shanxi), favored Zhang Liao's martial skills and recruited him.

In 189, Ding Yuan and his most trusted aide Lü Bu led troops into Luoyang to assist General-in-Chief He Jin to eliminate the powerful eunuch faction. 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 place in the throne a puppet emperor.

This move did not go down well with many in the capital, Ding Yuan included. After Lü Bu was persuaded to defect and kill Ding Yuan, Zhang Liao followed him to serve under Dong Zhuo, who had become the de facto ruler of the court. Soon, regional warlords formed a coalition against Dong Zhuo, who was therefore forced to move the capital west to Chang'an. There Lü Bu again turned on his master and slayed Dong Zhuo. He was then defeated by Dong Zhuo's former subjects Li Jue and Guo Si and, followed by Zhang Liao, escaped to Xu province (徐州).

In 198, Cao Cao defeated Lü Bu at Xiapi (下邳). Zhang Liao then surrendered to Cao Cao, under whom his military talents were more fully recognized. He participated in many campaigns, including the decisive Battle of Guandu and the subsequent northern expeditions against Yuan Tan, Yuan Shang, and the Wuhuan tribes.

Battle of Xiaoyao Jin

After Cao Cao lost the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208, he placed Zhang Liao, Yue Jin and Li Dian at Hefei with 7,000 men to guard against advances of the southern warlord Sun Quan. Soon Sun Quan led a much larger force upon Hefei (approximately 200,000 men). Under instructions from Cao Cao, Zhang Liao and Li Dian picked 800 vanguard troops to deter the enemy at the Battle of Xiaoyao Jin (逍遙津).

As dawn broke, the force moved out with Zhang Liao in the forefront. The general galloped into the enemy ranks and single-handedly killed hundreds of men. Proclaiming his own name, Zhang Liao then went straight for Sun Quan, who sought refuge on top of a knoll. Seeing that Zhang Liao had much fewer men than himself, Sun Quan ordered his troops to surround the enemy.

Leading scores of men, Zhang Liao soon broke through the encirclement. Those who were still caught within then cried, "General, are you going to forsake us?" Spinning around, Zhang Liao rode into the circle again and rescued his men, by when it was already noontime. Sun Quan's demoralized soldiers then retreated for the time being.

Returning to the city, Zhang Liao supervised the reinforcement of the defense works. After two weeks of siege, Sun Quan could not take Hefei and had to turn back. Zhang Liao then led his troops on pursuit. On a number of occasions, they almost captured Sun Quan. Cao Cao was very pleased and promoted Zhang Liao to the East-Conquering General (征東將軍).

Late life

After Cao Pi succeeded Cao Cao in 220, Zhang Liao was further promoted to General of the Front (前將軍) and again deployed to Hefei to defend against Sun Quan. In 221, Zhang Liao traveled to Luoyang for an audience with Cao Pi, the Emperor of newly-founded Wei, who compared the general to Shao Hu (召虎)¹. However, Zhang Liao soon fell sick at the edge of a battle against Eastern Wu, a new state that Sun Quan founded. Sun Quan reminded his men, "Even though Zhang Liao is sick, he is still unrivalled. On guard!" After defeating Lü Fan, a Wu general, Zhang Liao died in the following year in Jiangdu (江都). He was given the posthumous title of Marquis Gang (剛侯), literally meaning the resolute marquis.

Zhang Liao's son Zhang Hu also served Wei as an Assistant General (偏前軍).

¹ Shao Hu was a famous general during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.

Zhang Liao in Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a historical novel by Luo Guanzhong, is a romanticization of the events that occurred before and during the Three Kingdoms era. 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.

Zhang Liao (played by Xu Shaohua) as portrayed in the TV series Romance of the Three Kingdoms

In Chapter 18, where he still served under Lü Bu, Zhang Liao was sent with a force to attack Liu Bei at Xiaopei (小沛, present day Pei County, Jiangsu). From the city wall Guan Yu addressed the attacker, "You seem like an extraordinary man, why ally yourself with the rebels"? Whereupon Zhang Liao hung his head and made no reply. Knowing that Zhang Liao was a righteous man, Guan Yu refrained from hurling insults at his enemy, nor did he go out to meet the attack.

In the next chapter, after Lü Bu was defeated and captured by Cao Cao, Zhang Liao was also bound and brought before the victor. While Lü Bu pleaded for mercy, Zhang Liao scorned at the cowardly behavior and cursed his captor, showing no fear for death. He stretched his neck out to make it easier for him to be beheaded, and the angry Cao Cao then came for Zhang Liao with a sword in hand.

Liu Bei quickly held on to Cao Cao's arm and Guan Yu dropped onto his knees. In unison they avouched for Zhang Liao's character and pleaded for his life. Dropping the sword, Cao Cao laughed, "I, too, know Wenyuan to be loyal and righteous. I was just testing him." The warlord then personally unbound Zhang Liao and offered him fresh clothes and a seat. Moved by Cao Cao's sincerity, Zhang Liao then surrendered.

When Guan Yu was later sieged by Cao's Army, it was Zhang Liao who persuaded him to surrender. Zhang Liao then became close friends with Guan Yu during Guan Yu's short service under Cao Cao, having fought alongside him against Yuan Shao. In the novel, when Guan Yu was chased by Xiahou Dun after leaving Cao Cao's service, Zhang Liao insisted that Xiahou Dun allow him to leave in accordance with Cao Cao's orders.

In Chapter 86 Zhang Liao was hit by an arrow fired by Ding Feng during an encounter with Wu troops led by Xu Sheng. He was rescued by Xu Huang (who ironically eventually also died under similar circumstances) and together, they escorted Cao Pi back to safety. Upon returning to Xuchang, Zhang Liao died from the injury and was rewarded for his bravery.

Modern references

Zhang Liao as he appears in Koei's Dynasty Warriors 6.

Zhang Liao is a playable character in the Koei video game series, Dynasty Warriors. He is portrayed as an honourable man with a firm sense of loyalty to his lord, Lu Bu. Not surprisingly, he has a strong relationship with Lu Bu, and later on with Guan Yu, whom he admires and shows courtesy to even after Guan's return to the opposing camp of Liu Bei. After Lu Bu's death, Zhang joins Cao Cao, and serves him unwaveringly from that point forth. In Diao Chan and Lu Bu's storyline, he remains with Lu Bu, as is reflected by his second costume, which is black and red. In Dynasty Warriors 6 he wields two Chinese halberds similar to Pang De in Dynasty Warriors 5 (who was cut from Dynasty Warriors 6). Before that, he wielded a pole blade and had blue armor, though he did have silver outfits as side outfits.

He also appears in the crossover Warriors Orochi with his Dynasty Warriors 5 model. In the first Warriors Orochi, Zhang Liao is part of Wei. In the second Warriors Orochi, he comes to the aid of Guan Yu and, swearing on their blades, joins Guan Yu and Shu to defeat Orochi. In Dream Mode, he teams up with Gan Ning and Fuma Kotaro in obtaining Ueda Castle and repelling Shu and the Nanman.


  • Chen Shou (2002). San Guo Zhi. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 7-80665-198-5.  
  • Luo Guanzhong (1986). San Guo Yan Yi. Yue Lu Shu She. ISBN 7-80520-013-0.  
  • Lo Kuan-chung; tr. C.H. Brewitt-Taylor (2002). Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3467-9.  

See also


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