Biography (SGYY): Deng Zhong

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Deng Zhong
鄧忠
(AD ?–264)

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Sam Wrest

Deng Zhong

Deng Zhong hailed from Yanzhou and was the son of Deng Ai, a commander serving the kingdom of Wei. At an early age, Zhong displayed an ability as a skilled martial combatant, and as he reached adulthood, he grew to the appearance of a man with a face so fair, it seemed powdered; with lips so red, they appeared as daubs of red. His father, noticing Deng Zhong’s military talent, recruited him into his army at a young age, and Deng Zhong thus became a commander serving Wei during the reign of Emperor Cao Mao.

In AD 255, Deng Zhong’s father received an order requesting him to aid Wang Jing from an attack being made by Shu’s Jiang Wei. Ai accepted, and Deng Zhong was selected to join the relief force sent to the town under siege, Didao. When Zhong and his father reached the town, they attacked and defeated Jiang Wei’s forces, forcing them to retreat to the nearby Zhongtui. Deng Zhong and Ai then occupied the area surrounding Didao in preparation for another attack on the western army.

After securing Didao, Deng Ai marched his army onto Nanan to attack Jiang Wei’s main army. Upon reaching Wucheng Mountain, Deng Zhong was ordered by his father to take five thousand troops to Block Valley and attack the western army’s forces upon seeing them. Zhong set off immediately and, after waiting at the valley for some time, spotted Jiang Wei leading a mass of troops toward Shanggui. Jiang Wei, suspecting an ambush, attempted to turn his men around and retreat, but Deng Zhong led his troops forward and attacked Wei’s rear line, killing many. Jiang Wei was further assailed on three other sides by Deng Ai, Shi Zuan and Chen Tai, and boxed in with no route of escape. However, reinforcements under enemy commander Zhang Ni arrived and broke through the encircling rings, enabling Jiang Wei to fight his way free, but the western commander himself was killed whilst doing so. The Riverlands army retreated to Hanzhong some time later, and Deng Zhong returned with his father to Yanzhou. For his achievements in repelling the western attack, Zhong was honoured by the Wei court as a precinct lord.

In AD 257, Zhuge Dan of Huainan and Sun Chen of the Southland raised an army against Wei’s Prime Minister, Sima Zhao, who in turn mobilized both capitals to repel the invasion. These events prompted Jiang Wei to launch another invasion against Wei, this time against the city of Longwall, and because the northern kingdom’s forces were over-extended, the western army was only met by the defenders of Longwall itself. Upon hearing of the attack, Deng Zhong’s father mobilized his army to meet Jiang Wei, and selected Zhong to go in the vanguard for the march to Longwall. The army set off soon afterwards.

When Deng Zhong reached Longwall, he found the city close to falling from an heavy siege led by Jiang Wei. Mustering his men around him, Zhong charged the western line, drums beating and flags waving, and headed straight for Jiang Wei himself. Zhong soon came upon the famous commander and, raising his spear in challenge, called out loudly, “Know me for General Deng!”

Jiang Wei charged forward in response, and the two met in a grand display of martial spirit, both working their spears flawlessly. After thirty bouts, however, Jiang Wei wheeled his mount around and fled towards the mountains on his left. Deng Zhong immediately gave chase. As he was, Zhong heard a bowstring thrum and reflexively leaned forward on his mount, causing an arrow secretly shot by Jiang Wei to sail harmlessly over his head. Deng Zhong then continued riding after Wei and thrust his spear straight for his chest upon reaching him, but Jiang Wei was able to dodge the blow and gripped the shaft as it slid along his ribs. His weapon lost, Deng Zhong turned his mount around and made for his own line, Jiang Wei close behind him. As Zhong reached the line, his father raced out from behind the ranks, sword waving, and shouted, “Jiang Wei, you low-down rogue! Don’t chase my boy! Deng Ai is here for you!”

Having lost heart for combat, Jiang Wei pointed at the two Deng’s and said, “Today I have met both father and son. Let us withdraw for now and fight to the finish tomorrow.”

Deng Zhong’s father reined in and said, “In that case, let us recall our men. Let no man of honour take unfair advantage.”

Deng Zhong and his father then made camp against the River Wei and rested in preparation for the next day’s battle.

The following day, Deng Zhong was ordered by his father to enter Longwall and help defend the city with Sima Wang, the commander in charge of it defence. However, no further attempt was made to take Longwall by Jiang Wei, and the western army retreated to Hanzhong soon after. For his achievements in the battle, Deng Zhong was again rewarded and, along with his father, travelled to the Qishan Hills in preparation for another attack from the west. The two had fortifications built, as well as having a tunnel dug from one end of the hills to where their own camp was.

In AD 258, Jiang Wei launched another expedition against the north and, true enough to prediction, made for the hills of Qishan. Wei established three positions in the hills, the left of which the tunnel that had been dug reached to. Deng Zhong was soon summoned by his father and ordered to attack through the tunnel with a strike force. Zhong agreed and set out for the tunnel after mustering his men.

Deng Zhong arrived in the Shu encampment dead into the night and attacked immediately, forcing the camp’s defending commanders, Jiang Bin and Wang Han, to retreat. Zhong then joined forces with the rest of the northern army for an attack on the Riverlander’s main encampment, but Jiang Wei’s strict defence didn’t allow them any hope of victory, and Deng Ai said to his son and those present, “Jiang Wei has a deep knowledge of Kongming’s art. (1) His men got through the night without succumbing to fear; his commanders listened to the upheaval without losing discipline. This shows he is a superb general.”

Deng Ai then ordered a withdrawal, and Zhong returned with his father to their own camp. Ai’s armies later suffered a series of defeats against Jiang Wei, and so in order to repel the western attack, Deng Zhong’s father sent an envoy to Shu’s capital of Chengdu, spreading false rumours of Jiang Wei’s intention to defect to Wei. Consequently, Shu’s ruler, Liu Shan, called back the western army, and Jiang Wei’s offensive was repelled.

1: Kongming was Zhuge Liang’s style name. Before his death in AD 234, Liang selected Jiang Wei as his pupil and thoroughly versed the commander in his strategies.

In AD 263, Jiang Wei again launched an expedition against the north, this time beginning with an attack on Taoyang. Deng Zhong’s father soon received word of the invasion at the Qishan encampments and mustered his army to meet the Riverlanders, while he left commander Shi Zuan to defend the camps at Qishan. Deng Zhong was selected to join the army and, together with his father, scored several victories over the western forces, as well as securing both Taoyang and Marchriver. Deng Zhong then joined his father in defending Marchriver from the Riverlanders, and successfully repelled an attack made by the westerners. After the battle, Deng Zhong was summoned by his father and instructed, “Hold this place well and ignore their challenges. Tonight I will leave to rescue the Qishan camps.” (2) Deng Zhong agreed and remained in Marchriver while his father and the majority of the army marched back to Qishan. Zhong successfully defended the city from every attack made, and the Riverlands army was defeated at Qishan. Following which, Jiang Wei retreated back to Hanzhong, and his eighth northern offensive was thus repelled.

2: Surmising Deng Ai had left the Qishan Hills lightly defended, Jiang Wei left the attack on Taoyang to commander Fu Qian and took his main army to attack Qishan’s fortifications. Deng Ai arrived to find Qishan’s defender, Shi Zuan, completely over-extended, but Ai was too defeated by Jiang Wei. Wei’s attack only stopped when Liu Shan, on the advice of the Eunuch Huang Hao, recalled the western army.

Later in AD 263, Deng Zhong’s father was ordered by Sima Zhao to lead an expedition against the Riverlands. Deng Ai accepted the assignment and selected Deng Zhong to join the campaign, which began in coordination with an attack being made on Hanzhong by commander Zhong Hui. Deng Zhong and his father advanced onto Tazhong and fought a series of battles with Jiang Wei, but no clear victor was recognised and the two forces were left at a standoff. Meanwhile, Zhong Hui defeated Hanzhong’s defending commander, Fu Qian, and arrived in the Riverlands to join in its attack.

On one occasion, Zhong Hui seriously accosted one of Deng Ai’s officers, Zhuge Xu, for losing a battle to Jiang Wei, and almost sentenced the commander to death. Ai was outraged upon learning of the incident, saying, “I hold a rank as high as Zhong Hui’s and have long rendered service to policing these borders. How dare he take it upon himself to act so high and mighty?”

Fearing what his father planned, Deng Zhong urged him to forbear, saying,” ‘Intolerance for trifles ruins great plans’. Father, if you fall out with him, you will fail the dynasty. I hope you can restrain yourself for the time being.”

On Deng Zhong’s advice, Ai desisted and calmed himself, but Zhong’s father still wished to discuss the matter with Zhong Hui and led a few dozen riders to his camp, while Deng Zhong waited at their own camp for his return.

Deng Zhong’s father arrived back at camp some time later that night, and Zhong greeted the commander with a score of other ranking officers. “What decision have you and General Zhong Hui come to?” Deng Zhong asked.

“I told him what was really on my mind,” Ai answered, “but he still rates me as a commander of ordinary ability. He conquered Hanzhong—a huge accomplishment in his eyes—only because I tied down Jiang Wei’s forces at Tazhong. But I’ll show him now by taking Chengdu itself!”

Deng Ai then gave the order to break camp, and Deng Zhong and the other commanders quickly mustered their army and set off for Yinping by side roads. As they neared the harsh terrain, Ai asked Deng Zhong and the officers, “We have a chance to take Chengdu and establish undying fame. Are you willing to follow me?”

“We will honour your command, undaunted by death,” was the reply of Zhong and the other commanders.

Deng Zhong was then ordered by his father to take the lead with five thousand men, cutting a path ahead for the other troops to follow. Zhong accepted the assignment and had his men unbuckle their armour and carry only tools for hewing and boring, so as to make their task both quicker and easier. Deng Zhong and his soldiers marched through the uninhabited land for nineteen days, clearing up a path for Deng Ai’s main army to progress through, but on the twentieth day, Zhong and his men came to place called Heaven Scraping Mountains. The size of the mountain’s walls and cliffs made it impossible for Zhong and his men to proceed and so, despairing at their failure, he and his soldiers sank to the ground and wept. Zhong’s father arrived some time later and asked the cause for their sorrow, to which Deng Zhong replied, “West of these mountains rise sheer walls of rock and giant cliffs we cannot cut through. We have toiled for nothing, it seems, and therefore we weep.”

“We have already come seven hundred li,” Deng Ai replied. “On the other side of these rocks is Jiangyou. To return is unthinkable. ‘To get the tiger’s cubs, go inside her lair.’ We have come this far together, and if we succeed, the wealth and honours will be shared by all.”

As one, the troops of Deng Zhong and Ai replied, “We will follow your command.”

The army was then ordered by Deng Ai to first slide their weapons down the far side of the slope, and then to wrap themselves in felt padding and roll down. Those that didn’t have the necessary padding wrapped rope around their waists and descended in a single line, grabbing at various trees and shrubs to even their fall. In this way, Deng Zhong, his father, and their soldiers safely made their way down Heaven Scraping Mountain and continued their march through the Riverlands.

Deng Zhong and his father proceeded onto Jiangyou and Fucheng and received the surrender of both cities, choosing to march onto Chengdu itself after doing so. Zhong, along with commander Shi Zuan, was later summoned by his father and instructed, “Lead a company straight to Mianzhu to check the western troops. I will be coming right behind. Make all haste. If they take the strongpoints before you, I’ll have your heads.”

Deng Zhong then made immediately for Mianzhu, but upon arriving at the city, he found that the western army had already reached it. As Zhong drew up his horse to observe the westerners, he noted that they had assumed the Eight Ramparts formation. When the drums had quietened, the Riverlands entrance opened and a score of commanders escorting a four-wheeled carriage rode forth. In the carriage was seated a single figure, his hair bound by a silk band, a feather fan gripped in his hand, and wearing a crane-plumed robe that immortals often wear. Alongside the carriage hung a yellow banner inscribed “Prime Minister of the Han, the Martial Lord Zhuge.”

Thinking the man to be Zhuge Liang himself, Deng Zhong turned to his commanders and, breaking into a burst of sweat, said, “So Kongming still lives! We are done for.”

Deng Zhong and his army then tried to withdraw from the field, but the western force attacked his rear and inflicted many casualties. After travelling 20 li, Deng Zhong was met by a reinforcement unit led by his father, and both the Wei and Shu armies had their troops recalled.

Back in camp, Deng Zhong was called to his father’s tent along with his fellow commander, Shi Zuan. “Why did you retire without putting up a fight?” he asked.

“We ran when we saw Zhuge Kongming in the Shu battle lines guiding their army,” Deng Zhong replied.

In great anger, Deng Ai said, “Even if Kongming has come back to life, I fear him not. For retreating without good reason and losing the day you shall be executed at once.”

However, Deng Zhong’s fellow commanders pleased strenuously for Ai to desist, and Ai eventually relented. Scouts later reported that Zhuge Liang’s son, Zhan, had been commanding the western army, and that his own son, Shang, was leading the van. The figure that had been seated in the carriage was in fact a wooden statue of Zhuge Liang. After receiving the report, Deng Zhong’s father said to him and Shi Zuan, “Today’s actions will decide all. You must prevail or be executed.”

Deng Zhong was put in command of ten thousand men and went forth to challenge Zhuge Zhan and Shang a second time. However, when Deng Zhong attacked, he was met and defeated by Zhuge Shang and forced to flee the field. Zhong was further beset by Zhuge Zhan and his army, and was heavily injured in the ensuing battle. Leading what was left of his army, Deng Zhong returned to his father’s encampment who, in consideration of the strenuous effort Zhong had displayed, refrained from imposing punishment. (3) Deng Zhong’s father said to him and the rest of the commanders, “The Riverlands have a true heir in Zhuge Liang’s cause in Zhuge Zhan. Twice he has defeated us, killing over ten thousand. If we do not crush the westerners quickly, the end will be near for us.”

3: Historically, Deng Zhong dealt Zhuge Zhan and Shang a crushing defeat in this battle, and managed to capture and then execute the two. However, other historical sources state that Zhan and Shang died fighting in the battle, and so it is uncertain which of the two fates is correct.

Deng Zhong’s father took command of the northern army for the next battle with Zhuge Zhan and successfully defeated the western commander, driving him and his forces into Mianzhu. Deng Zhong, with his father, laid siege to the city immediately and sealed it tightly. Zhuge Zhan later left Mianzhu in an attempt to break free, but he was killed in combat along with various other western commanders, including Zhuge Shang, Zhang Zun, Huang Chong, and Li Qiu. Deng Zhong and Ai then took possession of Mianzhu and immediately march onto Chengdu, but the ruler of Shu, Liu Shan, promptly submitted the Riverlands before any confrontation was made. Deng Zhong made residence in the city with his father and, for his accomplishments in the campaign, was promoted to Duke of Ting with a revenue of a thousand households.

One night at home, Deng Zhong heard a commotion in his father’s quarters and hastened to the room to inspect. As he arrived, Zhong was seized, tied up, and caged by commander Wei Guan, who had received an edict from Wei’s Prime Minister, Sima Zhao, ordering their arrest. (4) Zhong Hui and Jiang Wei, who had submitted to Wei along with his kingdom (5), later arrived at the Deng’s residence and denounced both, to which father and son returned their own curses. Zhong Hui then had Deng Zhong and Ai transported to Mianzhu.

4: Deng Zhong’s father had submitted a plan to Sima Zhao proposing a campaign against the Southland, but Wei’s Prime Minister rejected the plan and told Deng Ai to seek permission from higher authorities. Ai, however, submitted another letter to Sima Zhao, this one saying that, as an officer abroad, he could defy Zhao’s orders and continue his plans for an expedition against the south. Sima Zhao thereupon assigned Wei Guan to undertake the arrest of both Deng Ai and Zhong.
5: Jiang Wei had submitted to Wei only as a pretext, his real intentions to use Zhong Hui as a means to save his fallen kingdom of Shu.

Later in AD 264, Zhong Hui and Jiang Wei attempted rebellion, but their own troops wouldn’t support their cause and later killed the two commanders. Deng Zhong and Ai’s former lieutenants, understanding that Zhong Hui was the real traitor and not the two Deng’s, travelled to Mianzhu to free the two. Father and son were quickly released and began making plans for their return to Chengdu. As they were preparing for the journey, Tian Xu, a former comrade of Deng Zhong’s, arrived at the city with five hundred troops. Zhong’s father went to speak with the commander, but as he was, Tian Xu drew his sword and struck Deng Ai before he could defend himself, killing him. (6) Seeing his father fall, Deng Zhong rushed to his aid, but was attacked by the soldiers in Xu’s command and died fighting, meeting his death at the same time and place as his father.

6: After Deng Ai and Zhong’s armies had taken Jiangyou in their campaign against Shu, Ai ordered his forces to prepare marching onto Fucheng immediately, to which Tian Xu had advised, “Our troops have come through rough terrain. They’re numb with fatigue and could do with a few days’ rest before pressing on.”

Deng Zhong’s father was outraged at this objection and ordered Tian Xu’s execution, but upon the protests of Deng Ai’s other commanders, he relented. Ever since the incident, Tian Xu bore a grudge against Deng Ai. Xu was present when Wei Guan received a report of Deng Zhong and Ai’s release at Mianzhu, following which Guan said, “I am the one who arrested Deng Ai. If they spare him, I will die, and no man will bury me.”

To this, Tian Xu replied, “When Deng Ai captured Jiangyou, he wanted to kill me; only the officers’ pleas got me off. Today I would like my revenge on Deng Ai.”

Thus, Tian Xu was dispatched to Mianzhu with his five hundred troops to kill both Deng Zhong and Deng Ai.

Copyright © 2005 Sam Wrest
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong