Titles/Positions mentioned in SGYY: General Who Wages Successful War,
Governor of Hanzhong, General Who Defends the North, Front Army Commander,
General Who Conquers the West, and Lord of Nanzheng.
Wei Yan, styled Wenchang, was raised in the Yiyang province. His height was eight spans, and his face was dark brown, like a ripe date. He originally registered under Liu Biao’s force. During his time in Xiang Yang, he saw Liu Bei and allowed him to come into the city. However, Wen Ping decided against it. Liu Bei went to Jiangling, and Wei Yan and Wen Ping fought. Afterwards, Wei Yan, not being able to find Liu Bei, joined Han Xuan in Changsha.
Wei Yan was treated poorly by Han Xuan, and he had remained in Changsha without office. Han Xuan was about to kill Huang Zhong after his poor fight against Guan Yu, when suddenly Wei Yan dashed in and rescued Huang Zhong. Afterwards, he said, “Huang Zhong is our bulwark! To destroy him is to destroy the people of Changsha. This Governor is too fierce and cruel, too lightly values good people, and is too arrogant toward his officers. We ought rather to kill him, and those who will, let them follow me.” Wei Yan took several hundred men against Huang Zhong’s wishes to the castle, and beheaded Han Xuan. Taking Han Xuan’s head, Wei Yan rode off out of the city to lay the bloodstained trophy at the feet of Guan Yu, who forthwith went into the city to restore confidence. Afterwards, Wei Yan and Huang Zhong were both made Van Leaders under Liu Bei.
Wei Yan was mainly used in conjunction with Huang Zhong and Guan Yu. From AD 212-213, he was a bodyguard for Pang Tong, along with Huang Zhong, during Pang Tong’s campaigns. This started a rivalry between Wei Yan and Huang Zhong.
During the Battle for Chengdu (AD 213), Liu Bei asked Huang Zhong to attack the fort. Abruptly Wei Yan stood up and spoke, saying, “The General is too old to go on such an expedition. I am of poor ability, but I wish to take his place.” Huang Zhong replied, “I already have my commission. Why should you wish to supplant me?”
“Because the task is beyond an old man’s strength,” said Wei Yan. “The two generals in those camps we know are the best and boldest in the country. They are strong, and, veteran as you are, I fear you will be unable to overcome them. If you fail, our lord’s great design will be hindered. Therefore I ask that I may replace you, and my intent is kindly.”
This reminder of his age angered the old man. “Old, am I? Dare you compete with me in the use of warlike weapons?” said Huang Zhong. “Yes, I dare. And our lord shall be the judge. The winner shall undertake this expedition. Do you agree?” Huang Zhong ran down the steps and called to his soldiers to bring his sword. Liu Bei stopped the fight, and Pang Tong reached an agreement that would satisfy both parties. Pang Tong told them, “But as there are two camps to be taken and two generals to fight, take one each and let each lead his own troops. The first to capture his camp shall be held to have rendered the greater service and to have acquired the greater merit.”
Huang Zhong would attack Ling Bao, and Wei Yan would attack Deng Xiang. Liu Bei left Fucheng in Pang Tong’s care and followed the two of them, along with Guan Ping and Liu Feng. After having received the command to take one of the camps, Huang Zhong went to his own camp and issued orders for the morning meal to be ready very early, and for everyone to be in marching order by daybreak. But early as Huang Zhong started, his rival had stolen a march on him. Wei Yan had sent over the night before to find out the hour fixed for Huang Zhong’s start and had arranged his own departure a watch earlier, by which he would be able to reach his objective at dawn. After Wei Yan’s troops had taken their early meal, they removed the bells from the horses end put gags in their own mouths to prevent talking, and all-silently the army stole out of the camp just as the other party were eating their breakfast. The ensigns were furled and weapons covered lest the glint of steel should betray their movement. Successful in getting the start over his rival, Wei Yan thought as he rode along what a fine score he would make if he were to capture Ling Bao’s camp before Huang Zhong.
Wei Yan diverged from his own line and marched toward the camp defended by Ling Bao. Just before arrival, Wei Yan halted his troops and bade them prepare the drums and ensigns and their weapons. Early as it was, the camp commander was on the alert, for the advancing force had been observed by his scouts. At the first sign of attack, the defenders poured out in full force. Wei Yan galloped up and made straight for Ling Bao. These two fought twenty or so of bouts, and then the troops of West River Land came up and joined in the battle. The troops of Jingzhou under Wei Yan, having marched a long distance, were fatigued and could not withstand this onslaught, so they fell back. Wei Yan heard the confused sound of hoofs behind him and, giving up all thought of finishing his encounter with Ling Bao, turned his horse and fled. The troops of West River Land kept up the pursuit, and the attackers were defeated and retired.
After marching about two miles, another Yizhou army, led by Deng Xiang appeared from behind a few hills. Deng Xiang told Wei Yan to surrender, but Wei Yan continued to retreat until the horse tripped and fell on its knees, throwing him to the ground. Deng Xiang was about to kill Wei Yan when a bowstring was heard, and Deng Xiang fell dead. Ling Bao came to his rescue when a horse came charging down. Its rider said, “General Huang Zhong is here!” Huang Zhong charged after Ling Bao, who in turn retreated. Huang Zhong pursued, and the army of Yizhou was thrown into confusion. So Huang Zhong was able to rescue his colleague Wei Yan. Huang Zhong had thus slain Deng Xiang and forced his way up to the gate of the camp. Once again Ling Bao came and engaged Huang Zhong.
The two had fought some ten bouts when appeared another body of soldiers. Thereupon Ling Bao fled again, and this time he made for the other camp, abandoning his own to the troops of Jingzhou. When Ling Bao got back to his camp, he saw completely different flags, as well as an officer. It was Liu Bei, who took the opportunity to take the camps while Ling Bao and Deng Xiang were away. Liu Feng and Guan Xing were beside him. Ling Bao started going to Luocheng. After traveling about ten li, he was ambushed and was taken prisoner. This ambush was done by Wei Yan. Liu Bei raised the flag of amnesty for Leng Bao and his troops. Afterwards, having made his camp, Huang Zhong came to Liu Bei and said, “Wei Yan should be put to death for disobedience!”
Ling Bao was summoned and came, bringing with him his prisoner. Liu Bei decided that the merit of capturing an enemy should be set against his fault and bade him thank his rescuer, enjoining upon them both to quarrel no more. Wei Yan bowed his head and confessed his fault, and Huang Zhong was handsomely rewarded. Ling Bao asked Liu Bei if he could bring his companions, Liu Gui and Zhang Ren, to him. As a result, Liu Bei would get possession of Luocheng. Liu Bei accepted. Wei Yan opposed it, however, saying, “Do not let him go. If you do, you will never see him again.” Liu Bei replied, “If I treat humans with kindness and justice, they will not betray my trust.” So the prisoner was set free.
One very stormy night, Ling Bao ventured out with a strong party of five thousand and went along the river bank to seek a suitable place for the breach. But a sudden shouting in his rear told him that the army of Jingzhou were on the alert, and he at once retired. Wei Yan came in pursuit and, as he pressed nearer, Ling Bao’s troops hurried forward, trampling each other down in their haste. Suddenly Ling Bao and Wei Yan ran against each other, and they engaged in battle. Wei Yan took him prisoner, and fended off Wu Lan and Lei Tong. When Wei Yan reached the Pass, Liu Bei saw Ling Bao and had him executed. Wei Yan was given a reward. Afterwards, Wei Yan would help Pang Tong and Huang Zhong with the capture of Zhang Ren.
In the year of AD 219, Shu was in the midst of a battle against Wei for Hanzhong. Zhang Fei was busy getting drunk and insulting Wei soldiers. Zhuge said to send more wine, but Liu Bei refused at first. Eventually, they sent Wei Yan with the wine to Zhang Fei. Zhang Fei accepted it, and told Wei Yan and Lei Tong each to take a thousand troops and move out on the two wings, ready to act when they saw a red flag displayed. And then he had the wine laid out and called up some soldiers to drink with a great display of flags and a rolling of drums. The spies reported all these doings on the hill-top, and Zhang He came out to look for himself. There he saw his opponent drinking, and two of the soldiers were boxing before Zhang Fei for his amusement. “He despises me too much,” said Zhang He.” Zhang He arranged a night attack, which failed. after Zhang Fei beat Zhang He, Zhang Fei said to Wei Yan, “Zhang He has compassed the death of Lei Tong by leading him into an ambush, and he wants to inveigle me into another. What say you to meeting trick with trick?” “But how?” said Wei Yan.
“Tomorrow I will lead the army forward, you following me with some reliable soldiers. When his army comes out from their ambush, you can smite them, sending half your men against each party. We will secretly fill the by-roads with loads of combustibles, entice the enemy among them and start a fire. In the confusion, I shall try to capture Zhang He so we will avenge our comrade’s death.” (1) Zhang He was forced to retreat to Wakou pass, thanks partly to Wei Yan destroying Zhang He’s ambush party. Zhang Fei and Wei Yan tried taking the pass day after day, failing each time. Zhang Fei sent Wei Yan to explore the country. While doing this, they passed a few civilians. “Whence come you?” asked Zhang Fei. “We belong to Hanzhong and are going home. We heard that you were out fighting and the high road to Langzhong was blockaded, and so we have come across the Mist Torrent and Zitong Mountains and down River Guijin. We are going to our homes in Hanzhong.” “Can one reach Wakou Pass by this road? And how far is it?” The country people replied, “A small road leads past to the rear of the Pass from Zitong Mountains.” For this piece of information Zhang Fei rewarded them by taking them into his camp and giving them a good meal. Then he sent off Wei Yan to make a frontal attack on the Pass, while he attacked it with five hundred light horses from the rear by way of Mount Zitong. Zhang Fei and Wei Yan would take this pass.
(1): This refers to Zhang He’s slaying of Lei Tong shortly before this conversation.
While Cao Cao was retreating from Hanzhong, Zhang Fei and Wei Yan were sent to cut off Cao Cao’s supplies. Xu Chu found out and told Wei Yan to surrender, but he received abuse in return. A short while later, Cao Cao told his troops to march out of the valley, but they were blocked by Wei Yan’s troops. Pang De went to fight him. During this, fires broke out in Cao Cao’s camp, caused by Ma Chao. Wei Yan began to retreat, but instead took out his bow and shot Cao Cao in the lip (2) Wei Yan charged toward him, but Pang De blocked him from killing his lord. Wei Yan would be rewarded with the position of ‘Governor of Hanzhong’ for his efforts.
(2): The Moss Roberts version of SGYY says Wei Yan shot Cao Cao in his two front teeth, while the Brewitt-Taylor version says the lip.
In the year of AD 225, Zhuge Liang proposed an attack on the Nanman tribe. Wei Yan and Zhao Yun were the commanders. The two sides drew up for battle. The arrays being complete, Wei Yan rode out and belittled the rebels, shouting, “O malcontent! Be quick to surrender!” Instead, E Huan galloped out and fought with Wei Yan. After a few bouts Wei Yan seemed to be bested and fled. But this was only a ruse. As E Huan followed, the gongs clanged and from left and right poured out Zhang Yi and Wang Ping. Wei Yan and the other two generals captured E Huan. Kongming released him as a ruse to get Gao Ding to surrender. Yong Kai heard that Shu was asking for battle, so he took the challenge, and fled at the third encounter. Wei Yan pursued him for about seven miles.
The next day Yong Kai challenged the Shu troops, but they refused to fight. Yong Kai and Gao Ding tried a double pincer attack, but both were ambushed. Zhuge took those troops into his own hands after that. A few nights later, Zhao Yun and Wei Yan, ashamed at being passed up for battle because they didn’t know the territory, decided to survey the country. They captured a few natives, and got them to say where the camps of Jinhua Sanjie, Dongtu Na, and Ahui Nan. Zhao Yun and Wei Yan took 5,000 troops to Jinhua Sanjie’s camp, where he would be killed in battle by Zhao Yun. Wei Yan charged toward Dongtu Na’s camp. The Mangs were defeated, but Dongtu Na escaped. Both he and Ahui Nan were captured, and Wei Yan found out that Zhuge Liang told them not to go because of their lack of terrain knowledge on purpose. Wei Yan and Zhao Yun’s next orders were to take 5,000 troops to Meng Huo’s base. Meng Huo was retreated from Zhao Yun when he fell upon Wei Yan, who captured him for the first time.
Wei Yan assisted in capturing Meng Huo a second and third time. After being released a third time, Wei Yan told Meng Huo, “See to it: We have got into the inmost recesses of your country and have taken all your defensive positions. Yet you are foolish enough to hold on. Next time you are caught, you will be quite destroyed. There will be no more pardons.” For the fourth capture, Wei Yan was to wait for the Mangs to fall into the pits. When they did, Wei Yan captured Meng Huo for a fourth time. During the sixth capture, (Wei Yan did not play a role in the fifth capture.) Wei Yan and Zhao Yun fought Lady Zhurong. They would attack and retreat, but she wouldn’t pursue them. On the second day, Wei Yan rode up and abused her with some volley attacks. Lady Zhurong pursued him as Wei Yan continued to run. Eventually, Wei Yan looked back to see Lady Zhurong tumble out of her saddle, which was a ploy done by Ma Dai.
Zhuge Liang’s next plan was to go after Meng Huo for the seventh time. Wei Yan would stay behind to hold the bank of the River of Peach Flowers. The next day, Wutu Gu attacked with his Wuguo troops, who wore rattan armor. The Su army had to retreat, for their weapons could not pierce the armor. Wei Yan was sent to camp at the Peach Flowers Ford. . Zhuge Liang told Wei Yan, “If the Mangs come over the river, you are to abandon the camp and march toward a certain white flag you will see. Further, in half a month you would have to acknowledge defeat some fifteen times and abandon seven camps. On no account are you to come to interview me even after fourteen defeats.” Wei Yan was not exactly happy with this idea, but he obeyed. Wutu Gu sent his two generals, Xi Ni and Tu An, to engage the Shu army. Wei Yan fought for a short while and retreated to a white flag he saw. Wei Yan repeated this fourteen more times, losing seven camps in the process. On the sixteenth day, Wei Yan fought Wutu Gu once again. Wutu Gu, who had on a cap with symbols of the sun and moon and streamers of wolf’s beard, a fringed garment studded with gems, which allowed the plates or scales of his cuirass to appear, pointed at Wei Yan and reviled him. Wei Yan began to flee. Wutu Gu and his white elephant charged after him, since Wei Yan was going to the Valley of the Coiled Serpent. The valley was an open area, so Wutu Gu did not fear an ambush. Wutu Gu walked right into a fire attack that Wei Yan had led him to, which led to Meng Huo’s surrender to the Shu army.
In the year of AD 227, Shu’s main objective was conquering Wei. After learning the Western forces were placed under Xiahou Mao, Wei Yan went in to offer a plan, saying, “Xiahou Mao is a child of a wealthy family, soft and stupid. Give me five thousand troops, and I will go out by Baozhong, follow the line of the Qinling Mountains east to the Ziwu Valley and then turn north. In ten days I can be at Changan. Hearing of my rush, Xiahou Mao will hasten to vacate the city. Then he must flee by way of Royal Gate. I will come in by the east, and you, Sir, can advance by the Xie Valley with the main army. In this way all west of Changan will be ours in just one move.” Zhuge Liang thought the plan was good, but he decided not to go with it. Wei Yan and others managed to besiege Xiahou Mao, and take the cities of Nanan and Anding.
Wei Yan was then told to move toward Tianshui, where he was given orders by Zhuge Liang to take Jicheng, where Jiang Wei’s mother lived. When Wei Yan saw Jiang Wei attack him, he defended the city for a short time and then retreated, allowing Jiang Wei to enter the city. After Jiang Wei left Jicheng, he saw supplies coming into Jicheng. He tried to secure them, but was attacked. He tried to reenter Jicheng, but Wei Yan captured the city in his absence. After Jiang Wei’s surrender, the Shu army’s next plan was to make a night attack on Cao Zhen’s force. Wei Yan’s job was to pass by the Wei army. The Wei army would attack the camp, and Wei Yan would see a signal. When the signal occurred, Wei Yan, along with Guan Xing and Zhang Bao, ran back to camp and chased the Wei army for three miles. Shu continued their aggressiveness into AD 228. The Wei army got the Qiang tribe to attack Shu. Wei Yan helped Zhao Yun, Guan Xing and Zhang Bao in attacking them. Wei Yan’s killing on Cao Zun in battle, as well as Zhao Yun’s of Zhu Zan, caused the Wei army to fall back.
Wei Yan’s next taste of battle was at Jieting, also in AD 228. Gao Xiang was sent to camp at Liliu. Zhuge Liang thought he would be a match for Zhang He, so he asked Wei Yan to camp at the rear of Jieting. Wei Yan thought he was being slighted saying he should be going first against the Wei army. Zhuge Liang told Wei Yan the importance of the road, explaining that it was the most dangerous road to Yangping pass. Wei Yan was convinced that Kongming meant well, so he went on his way. Ma Su had retreated ten miles with Zhang He pursuing him, but he was stopped by Wei Yan. Wei Yan pushed Zhang He back fifteen miles until he got caught in an ambush. Sima Yi was on one side and Sima Zhao on the other. Zhang He turned around and attacked Wei Yan with Sima Yi and Zhao. Wei Yan managed to hold on until Wang Ping came. “This is life for me,” said Wei Yan as he saw Wang Ping coming up, and the two forces joined in a new attack on the force of Wei. The Wei troops drew off, and went back to Jieting, only to find themselves in the hands of the enemy. Shen Yi and Shen Dan drove Wei Yan and Wang Ping back to Liliu. Gao Xiang tried to save them, but fell in halfway with Wei Yan and Wang Ping.
Gao Xiang proposed a night attack on Jieting. They waited until nightfall, and marched. Wei Yan was the first to get there. Gao Xiang eventually showed up, and they waited for Wang Ping. Suddenly a bomb exploded, lighting up the sky. The Wei army appeared, and Wei Yan and Gao Xiang found themselves hemmed in. Wang Ping came to their rescue and they ran to Liliu. When they got there, they were met by a body of troops led by Guo Huai. Guo Huai slew many of the Shu troops, and the three retreated to Yangping pass so that the Wei army would not try to take Hanzhong.
In AD 229, Zhuge Liang’s next plan was to take Jieting back. To do that, they would have to take Chencang, which was South of Jieting. Wei Yan led the troops to take it. It ended up being very heavily guarded, and he was unable to take it, day after day. Not only could they not take Chencang after several stratagems, but a relief force was coming in, led by Wang Shuang. Zhuge asked who would oppose him, and Wei Yan offered himself. Zhuge Liang refused, saying he was too valuable as a Van Leader. He sent others to fight him, but they all failed. Zhuge Liang asked Jiang Wei if there was another road. When one was found, Wei Yan was sent to guard the road to Chencang.
After a victory against Cao Zhen and Sun Li, Zhuge Liang decided to have the troops retreat because of a lack of food. He then gave orders to Wei Yan that he was to slay Wang Shuang so that the Wei army would not pursue them. Wei Yan received the orders and hastened toward Hanzhong. Wang Shuang chased Wei Yan, and after about seven miles, caught up with him. As soon as Wang Shuang got within hailing distance, he shouted, “Do not flee, Wei Yan!” But no one looked back, so he again pressed forward. Then he heard one of his guards behind him shouting, “There is a blaze in the camp outside the city wall. I think it is some wile of the enemy!” Wang Shuang pulled up, turned, and saw the fire. Just as Wang Shuang then passed a hill, a horseman came out of the woods. “Here is Wei Yan!” shouted the horseman. Wang Shuang was too startled to defend himself and fell at the first stroke of Wei Yan’s blade. Wang Shuang’s troops thought this was only the beginning of an ambush and serious attack, so they scattered. But really Wei Yan only had thirty men with him, and they moved off leisurely toward Hanzhong.
Zhuge Liang called Wei Yan and Jiang Wei in, and told them to attack Chencang with five thousand troops. If they see a blaze, then attack. It turned out that Zhuge Liang learned that Hao Zhao, the officer holding Chencang, was very ill. When they reached the city, they saw no signs of life. There were no flags flying and no watchmen on the towers. Then they heard a bomb, and the walls were full of flags. They also saw the figure of Zhuge Liang. After explaining his strategy of how he got here, he told Wei Yan and Jiang Wei to attack San Pass while the Wei army was still in a state of surprise. They took the pass with little effort, and when they did, they saw a stream of reinforcements coming. They remarked to each other, “The Prime Minister’s foresight was superhuman.” They saw that the leader of the army was Zhang He. Wei Yan defeated Zhang He, holding San Pass.
In the year of AD 230, Kongming’s next goal was to take Qishan, so that he could attack Chang’an. He sent Wei Yan, Zhang Ni, Chen Shi, and Du Qiong to Gu valley. Others would go to the Xie valley, while he went directly into the mountains. All were to meet in the Qishan mountains. While they were marching with twenty thousand troops toward the Gu valley, Shu advisor Deng Zhi appeared, telling Wei Yan to be careful. Wei Yan replied, “If he had listened to me and gone out through Ziwu Valley, not only Changan but Luoyang too would be ours. Now he is bent on taking Qishan. What is the good of it? He gave us the order to advance and now he stops us. Truly the orders are confusing.”
Chen Shi then charged into the Qishan Mountains. Deng Zhi tried to change their minds, but to no avail as we went back to Zhuge Liang. After a few miles, Chen Shi heard a bomb, and fell into an ambush. Chen Shi was not able to get out. Then there was a shout, and Wei Yan came to the rescue. Wei Yan saved his comrade, but Chen Shi’s five thousand troops were reduced to about five hundred, and these wounded. Chen Shi and Wei Yan regretted their shortsightedness. At this point, Deng Zhi was telling Zhuge Liang about the two officers’ behavior. Zhuge Liang only laughed. Said he, “Wei Yan has been disposed to disobey and resent. However, I value his valor, and so I have employed him. But he will do real harm some day.” Zhuge Liang was able to take Qishan using other officers, and while they were celebrating, the four officers involved – Wei Yan, Chen Shi, Du Qiong, and Zhang Ni – came to the tent to apologize. “Who caused the loss?” said Zhuge Liang. Wei Yan said, “Chen Shi disobeyed orders and rushed into the valley.” “Wei Yan told me to,” said Chen Shi. “Would you still try to drag him down after he rescued you?” said Zhuge Liang. “However, when orders have been disobeyed, it is useless to try and gloze it over.” Zhuge Liang sentenced Chen Shi to death, but spared Wei Yan, because there was work for him to accomplish.
In the year of AD 231, Wei Yan would accomplish some work, possibly referring to Zhuge Liang’s aforementioned statement. Zhuge Liang needed to take over a place to get food, so he, Ma Dai, Wei Yan, and others went to Lucheng. Since Zhuge Liang knew the governor, he was allowed in. Zhuge asked where the wheat was, and the governor told him that the wheat was stationed in Longshang, so that is where Zhuge, Wei Yan, and others went. It turned out that Sima Yi had already gotten to Longshang. Zhuge Liang thought of a ploy. He brought in four chariots, each one propelled by a team of twenty-four men, all dressed in black, barefooted and with loosened hair. Each one of the team also had in hand a sword and a black seven-starred flag. After a Wei defeat, Zhuge had the troops of Lucheng desert the city because they thought Wu was going to attack. Zhuge Liang said, “If the soldiers of Wei pursue, wait till you hear a bomb. When you hear the bomb, at once barricade the road with timber and stones so as to impede them. When they halt, shoot at them with the bows and the crossbows.” Wei Yan and Guan Xing were told to attack the rear of the enemy.
Zhang He advanced after the Shu troops quickly. Ten miles out he heard a roll of drums, and suddenly appeared from a wood a cohort led by Wei Yan, who galloped to the front, crying, “Whither would you go, O rebel leader?” Zhang he turned and engaged Wei Yan, who fled after ten passes. Guan Xing did the same thing. Zhang He continued to pursue when Wei Yan appeared again. The two fought a half score of bouts before Wei Yan fled again. Wei Yan and Guan Xing continued this all day. In the evening, both sides were close to the wooden path. Then suddenly Wei Yan made a real stand, and he rode to the front, yelling, “Rebel! I have despised fighting you, but you have kept pursuing me. Now we will fight to the death!” Zhang He and Wei Yan met once again with Wei Yan retreating again, this time across the wooden path. Zhang He charged after Wei Yan. Suddenly lights appeared, the sky became aglow, and boulders were rolling down the slopes. Fear gripped Zhang He, and he cried, “I have blundered into an ambush!” Showers of arrows and bolts were sent into the wooden path, and all of Zhang He’s men, himself included, were killed.
The year of AD 234 was a big year for Shu, especially for Wei Yan. Zhuge Liang was once again trying to take Qishan. He sent 340,000 troops to Qishan. They marched in 5 divisions, with Jiang Wei and Wei Yan in the van. After setting up camps in Qishan, Zhuge Liang sent Wei Yan and Ma Dai to cross the river Wei and attack Beiyuan. They reached Beiyuan at about dusk. The scouts had informed the Wei defenders, led by Sun Li, and fled. This work Wei Yan his attack was expected, so be began to retreat. At this moment a great shouting was heard, and there appeared two bodies of the enemy under Sima Yi and Guo Huai attacking both left and right. Wei Yan and Ma Dai fought desperately to free themselves, but many of their troops fell into the river and drowned. The two officers thought they were dead when Wu Yi appeared, saved the Shu forces from destruction, and moved across the river to make camp.
After losing all the battles, Zhuge Liang asked Fei Yi to deliver a letter to Sun Quan. After Fei Yi delivered the letter, Sun Quan asked Fei Yi who lead the battle. Fei Yi replied, “Wei Yan was the chief leader.” Sun Quan smiled and said, “The man has courage to spare, but he is not altogether reliable and will cause trouble when Kongming is gone, though Kongming must know that.” Fei Yi returned to Qishan, telling Zhuge Liang that Wu will send troops, and mentioned Sun Quan’s comments about Wei Yan. “Truly a comprehending ruler,” said Zhuge Liang, appreciatively. “But I could not be ignorant of this. However, I value Wei Yan because he is very bold.” Fei Yi told Zhuge to decide on what to do with Wei Yan. Zhuge Liang told Fei Yi that he had plans for Wei Yan, and Fei Yi returned to Chengdu.
After another Shu victory, Zhuge Liang had shown the Shu troops the creation of his wooden oxen. After six days, he learned that Wei had copied his design. He already had a plan ready. Wei Yan and Jiang Wei’s part was that they would take ten thousand troops, go to the border of Beiyuan to receive the wooden transport creatures and defend them against attack. Guo Huai went to attack, but Wang Ping, Jiang Wei, and Wei Yan pushed him back.
While Sima Shi and Sima Yi were talking about how to get revenge on Zhuge Liang, an officer reported that Wei Yan was insulting their army, reminding them that he had the helmet of their leader. He was challenging the soldiers, and they desired to accept the challenge, but Sima Yi would not move his troops. Wei Yan eventually gave up and went back to his camp. Zhuge Liang was going to try to provoke Sima Yi into fighting, and lure him into a trap. Wei Yan was called in, and Zhuge Liang said to him, “Go to the camp of Wei with five hundred troops and provoke them to battle. The important matter is to entice Sima Yi out of his stronghold. You will be unable to obtain a victory, so retreat that he may pursue. You are to make for the signal, the seven star flags by day or the seven lamps at night. Thus you will lead him into the Gourd Valley, where I have a plan prepared for him.
The troops of Wei went to attack Qishan, when Shu troops appeared, pretending to reinforce the defenders. The Wei army turned towards Gourd Valley. Wei Yan was expecting them, and as soon as the army appeared, Wei Yan galloped up and recognized Sima Yi as the leader. “Sima Yi, stay!” shouted Wei Yan as he came near. Wei Yan flourished his sword, and Sima Yi his spear. The two exchanged blows when Wei Yan suddenly turned his steed and bolted towards the seven star flags, as he was ordered. Sima Yi followed him, more eagerly when he saw that Wei Yan had a small force. Sima Yi’s two sons, Shi and Zhao, rode with him. Sima Yi sent some scouts into the valley that Wei Yan had entered. When they saw no signs of any Shu troops, Sima Yi assumed it was the store valley. Sima Yi then noticed kindling wood on the straw huts, and began to feel uneasy. The fire attack then occurred.
Zhuge Liang, however, had become gravely ill. He ordered 49 guards, each with a black flag and dressed in black, to be placed outside his tent. If his master-lamp remained alight for seven days, then Zhuge’s life would be prolonged for twelve years. If the lamp goes out, then he is to die. Suddenly shouting was heard outside. Jiang Wei was going to send someone to inquire about it when Wei Yan dashed in, crying, “The Wei soldiers are upon us!” In his haste Wei Yan had knocked over and extinguished the Lamp of Fate. Zhuge Liang threw down the sword and sighed, saying, “Life and death are foreordained. No prayers can alter them.” Stunned, Wei Yan fell to the earth and craved forgiveness. Jiang Wei got angry and drew his sword to slay Wei Yan. Zhuge Liang stopped the sword, saying, “It is my fate – -not his fault.” Wei Yan left the tent and led out a small party to drive away the troops of Wei, who had come to see if Kongming was dead. After summoning Jiang Wei and Ma Dai for his final wishes for them, he called for Yang Yi. When he arrived, he received a silken bag containing secret orders. As Zhuge Liang gave it to him, he said, “After my death, Wei Yan will turn traitor. When that happens and the army is in danger, you will find herein what to do.”
One night, after Zhuge Liang’s passing, Wei Yan dreamed a dream while asleep in his tent. In his vision two horns grew out of his head. When he awoke, he was much perplexed to explain his dream. Marching General Zhao Zhi came to see him, and Wei Yan said, “You are versed in the Book of Changes. I have dreamed that two horns grew upon my head, and would trouble you to expound the dream and tell me its portent.” Zhao Zhi thought about it and replied, “It is an auspicious dream. Dragon and Jilin both have horns on the head. It augurs transformation into an ascending creature.” Wei Yan, much pleased, said, “If the dream proves true as you said, I will thank you with very generous gifts.” Zhao Zhi left Wei Yan’s tent and went to Fei Yi.
Fei Yi asked where he came from. Zhao Zhi said, “From the camp of our friend Wei Yan. He dreamed that he grew horns upon his head, and I have given him an auspicious interpretation. But really it is inauspicious. However, I did not wish to annoy him.” Fei Yi asked how he knew it was inauspicious, to which Zhao Zhi replied, “The word for horn is composed of two parts, ‘knife’ above and ‘use’ below, and so means that there is a knife upon his head. It is a terrible omen.” Fei Yi told him to keep it secret. Fei Yi then went to the camp of Wei Yan. When they were alone, he said, “The Prime Minister died last night in the third watch. He left certain final orders, and among them, that you are to command the rearguard to keep Sima Yi at bay while the army retreats. No mourning is to be worn. Here is your authority, so you can march forthwith.” Wei Yan asked who took the place of the Prime Minister, to which Fei Yi replied, “The chief command has been delegated to Yang Yi, but the secret plans of campaign have been entrusted to Jiang Wei. This authority was issued from Yang Yi.” Wei Yan replied, “Though the Prime Minister is dead, I am yet alive. Counselor Yang Yi is only a civil officer and unequal to this post. He ought to conduct the coffin home while I lead the army against Sima Yi. I shall achieve success, and it is wrong to abandon a whole plan of campaign because of the death of one man, even if that be the Prime Minister.”
Fei Yi explained that the Prime Minister’s orders were to be obeyed. “If the Prime Minister had listened to me, we should now have been at Changan. I am the Van Leader, General Who Conquers the West, and Lord of Nanzheng. I am not going to act as rearguard for any civil official,” said Wei Yan, angry. “It may be as you say, General, but you must not do anything to make us ridiculous. Let me go back to Yang Yi and explain, and I may be able to persuade him to pass on to you the supreme military authority he holds,” replied Fei Yi. Wei Yan agreed, and Fei Yi went to Yang Yi’s camp and told Yang Yi about the conversation. Yang Yi replied, “When near death the Prime Minister confided to me that Wei Yan would turn traitor. I sent him the authority to test him, and now he has discovered himself as the Prime Minister foretold. So I will direct Jiang Wei to command the rearguard.” When Wei Yan found out about this from Ma Dai, he was furious. “How dare he play with me, the pedantic blockhead?” cried he. “But he shall die for this!” He asked Ma Dai to help him, to which he replied, “I have long hated Yang Yi; certainly I am ready to attack him.” So Wei Yan began to march southward.
Yang Yi and Jiang Wei slowly retired until they reached the Plank Trail. They then donned mourning garb and began to wail for their dead. As they were walking, they saw a great blaze in front, and a cohort came out barring the way. Yang Yi sent someone to find out who the force belonged to. The scout told him that they were Shu soldiers led by Wei Yan. Wei Yan had burned the Plank Trail and now blocked the way. Yang Yi said that this confirmed that Wei Yan turned traitor. Fei Yi planned to explain the truth about him to the Throne and plan his destruction.
Meanwhile in Chengdu, a mourning Liu Shan received Wei Yan’s petition announcing the revolt of Yang Yi. The memorial was read aloud, sounding like this:
“I, thy Minister and General, Wei Yan, General Who Conquers the West and Lord of Nanzheng, humbly and with bowed head write that Yang Yi has assumed command of the army and is in rebellion. He has made off with the coffin of the late Prime Minister and wishes to lead enemies within our borders. As a precaution, and to hinder his progress, I have burned the Plank Trail and now report these matters.”
After reading this, Liu Shan said, “Why would Wei Yan, a commander bold enough to fight Yang Yi’s troops, have to burn the plank roads?” Empress Wu replied, “Liu Bei used to say that Zhuge Liang knew that treachery lurked in the heart of Wei Yan, and he wished to put Wei Yan to death; he only spared Wei Yan because of his valor. We should not believe too readily this tale of his that Yang Yi has rebelled. Yang Yi is a scholar and a civil officer, and Kongming placed him in a position of great responsibility, thereby proving that he trusted and valued Yang Yi. If we believe this statement, then Yang Yi will go over to Wei. This matter requires careful study.” While they were discussing this, an urgent message came from Yang Yi, which read, “I, Yang Yi, leader of the retreating army, humbly and with trepidation, present this memorial. In his last moments the late Prime Minister made over to me the charge of the great enterprise, and bade me carry out his plan without change. I have respected his charge. I ordered Wei Yan to command the rearguard with Jiang Wei as his second. But Wei Yan refused obedience and led away his own army into Hanzhong. Then he burned the Plank Trail, tried to steal away the body of the late Commander-in-Chief, and behaved altogether unseemly. His rebellion came upon me suddenly and unexpectedly. I send this memorial in haste.”
The Empress listened to the end. Turning to the officers, she said, “What is your opinion now?” Jiang Wan replied, “Yang Yi is hasty and intolerant, but he has rendered great services in supplying the army. He has long been a trusted colleague of the late Prime Minister, who, being near his end, entrusted to him the conduct of affairs. Certainly he is no rebel. On the other hand, Wei Yan is bold and ambitious and thinks himself everybody’s superior. Yang Yi is the only one who has openly been of different opinion, and hence Wei Yan hates him. When he saw Yang Yi placed over his head in command of the army, Wei Yan refused his support. Then Wei Yan burned the Plank Trail in order to cut off Yang Yi’s retreat, and maligned him, hoping to bring about his fall. I am ready to guarantee Yang Yi’s fealty to the extent of my whole house, but I would not answer for Wei Yan.” Dong Yun replied, “Wei Yan has always been conceited and discontented. His mouth was full of hate and resentment, and only fear of the late Prime Minister held him in check. The Prime Minister’s death gave him his opportunity, and he turned traitor. This is certainly the true state of the case. Yang Yi is able, and his employment by the late Prime Minister is proof of his loyalty.” Liu Shan asked what could be done. Jiang Wan said to wait.
While they waited, they continued to get memorials from Wei Yan and Yang Yi, each accusing the other of rebellion. The court was not sure what to do about it. Just then Fei Yi arrived and told he story of Wei Yan’s revolt. Liu Shan, after hearing the story, sent Dong Yun to try to persuade Wei Yan not to rebel. At this time, Wei Yan was camped at Nangu Valley, which was a commanding position. He thought his plan was succeeding well. It had not occurred to him that Yang Yi and Jiang Wei could get past him by any by-way. Yang Yi, thinking that Hanzhong was lost, sent He Ping with 3,000 troops into Nangu valley, and announced their arrival with rolling drums. The scouts told Wei Yan, who rode out to confront He Ping. When both sides arrayed, He Ping began to revile Wei Yan. “Where is that rebel Wei Yan?” cried He Ping. “You aided that traitor Yang Yi!” cried Wei Yan. “How dare you abuse me?” He Ping cried more indignant, “You rebelled immediately after the late chief’s death, before even his body was cold. How could you?” He Ping then said to Wei Yan’s soldiers, “And you soldiers are Shu people. Your fathers and mothers, wives and children, and your friends are still in the land. Were you treated unkindly that you have joined a traitor and aid his wicked schemes? You ought to have returned home and waited quietly the rewards that would have been yours.” The soldiers were touched by his words, and more than half ran away.
Wei Yan was now raging. He whirled up his sword and galloped forward straight for He Ping, who went to meet him with his spear ready. They fought several bouts, and then He Ping rode away as if defeated. Wei Yan followed, but He Ping’s troops began to shoot and Wei Yan was driven backward. As he got near his own ranks, he saw many of his troops leaving. He rode to them and cut some of them down, but they continued to go. The army portion of his army left was commanded by Ma Dai. “Will you really help me?” said Wei Yan. “I will surely remember you in the day of success.” The two went in pursuit of He Ping, who fled before them. They realized that He Ping was not to be overtaken, so they stopped pursuing. Wei Yan mustered his now small force. “What if we go over to Wei?” said Wei Yan. “I think your words unwise,” said Ma Dai. “Why should we join anyone? A really strong person would try to carve out his own fortune and not be ready to crook the knee to another. You are far more able and brave than any leader in the River Lands. No one would dare to stand up to you. I pledge myself to go with you to the seizure of Hanzhong, and thence we will attack the West River Land.”
They went towards Nanzheng, where Jiang Wei was stationed. Jiang Wei saw them approach, and went to tell Yang Yi. As they drew near, Wei Yan and Ma Dai shouted out, “Surrender!” In spite of the smallness of their following, Jiang Wei felt that Ma Dai acting with Wei Yan was a dangerous combination, so he asked for Yang Yi’s advice. Jiang Wei asked Yang Yi how they should be repelled. Yang Yi replied, “Just before his death, the Prime Minister gave me a silken bag, which he said I was to open when Wei Yan’s mutiny reached a critical point. It contains a plan to rid ourselves of this traitor, and it seems that now is the moment to see what should be done.” Yang Yi opened the bag and read the letter. On the cover it read, “To be opened when Wei Yan is actually arrayed opposite you.” Jiang Wei said, “As this has all been arranged for, I had better go out, and when his line is formed then you can come forth.” Jiang Wei rode out of the castle towards Wei Yan, and started a volley of abuse. “Rebel Wei Yan, the late Prime Minister never harmed you. Why have you turned traitor?” Wei Yan lowered his sword and replied, “Friend Jiang Wei, this is no concern of yours. Tell Yang Yi to come.”
Yang Yi was busy reading the letter, and the words seemed to please him. He rode forward pointed to Wei Yan and said, “The Prime Minister foresaw your mutiny and bade me be on my guard. Now if you are able thrice to shout, “Who dares kill me?”, then you will be a real hero, and I will yield to you the whole of Hanzhong.” Wei Yan laughed. “Listen, you old fool! While Zhuge Liang lived I feared him somewhat. But he is dead and no one dares stand before me. I will not only shout the words thrice, but myriad times. Why not?” Wei Yan raised his sword, shook his bridle, and shouted, “Who dares kill me?” He never finished. Behind him someone shouted savagely, “I dare!” and at the same moment Wei Yan fell dead, cut down by Ma Dai. This was all part of the secret plan. Wei Yan was to shout those words and slain when he least expected it. A poem reads:
Zhuge Liang foresaw when freed from his restraint
Wei Yan would traitor prove. The silken bag
Contained the plan for his undoing. We see
How it succeeded when the moment came.
Afterwards, Liu Shan issued an edict: “Wei Yan had paid the penalty of his crime. He should be honorably buried in consideration of his former services.” Ma Dai was given Wei Yan’s rank, and Wei Yan was buried at the age of fifty-nine.
Copyright © 2004 Wizardman
Based on Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms