Biography (SGYY): Wen Chou

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Wen Chou
Lifespan: Unlisted

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Morgan Evans

Wen Chou

Wen Chou was a feared general who served under Yuan Shao. He was eight spans tall and had a face like a jilin (1).

(1) A jilin is a Chinese unicorn. It is a mythical beast that was said to be composed of different animals. It had the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, the hooves of a horse, a yellow belly, a multicoloured back and a single horn on its head.

When Yuan Shao led the alliance against Dong Zhuo in AD 190, he mobilised his forces immediately and recalled Wen Chou from his post. Yuan Shao’s army marched out and was to meet Wen Chou and Yuan Shao’s other famous general, Yan Liang, at the River Si Pass. However, the alliance met fierce resistance at the Pass from Dong Zhuo’s general Hua Xiong. Many generals fell victim, prompting Yuan Shao to say, “What a pity my two able generals, Yan Liang and Wen Chou, are not here! Then should we have someone who would not fear this Hua Xiong!” Eventually Hua Xiong was slain by Guan Yu before Wen Chou’s army arrived.

The alliance was successful in recapturing the capital Luoyang, but soon afterwards the alliance started to fall apart. When Sun Jian withdrew his forces, an argument ensued between Jian and Yuan Shao. The argument grew heated and Wen Chou came to his lord’s defence when Sun Jian and his generals drew their weapons. The others present calmed the situation and so Sun Jian left. Soon afterwards, the alliance disbanded and the warlords returned to their home territories.

In AD 191 Yuan Shao decided to invade Jizhou and wrote to the Governor of Beiping, Gongsun Zan, proposing a joint attack on the region. Yuan Shao then wrote to the Imperial Protector of Jizhou, Han Fu, warning that Gongsun Zan intended to attack and so Han Fu handed over control to Yuan Shao. Wen Chou was called on to journey to Jizhou, and as they entered the city, Han Fu’s generals, Geng Wu and Guan Chun attempted to assassinate Yuan Shao. Wen Chou, along with Yan Liang, prevented the assassination and killed the two men.

Gongsun Zan sent his brother, Gongsun Yue, to Yuan Shao to demand his share of Jizhou, but Yuan Shao had him killed. Gongsun Zan immediately mobilised his troops and so Yuan Shao marched an army to the River Pan to meet the enemy. Wen Chou and Yan Liang were given joint command of the vanguard. When the two armies had arrayed, Yuan Shao asked for a volunteer to capture the enemy commander. At once, Wen Chou rode forward and engaged Gongsun Zan, and after ten bouts, Zan was forced to flee back into his formation. Wen Chou rode into the middle of the enemy’s lines slaying all who were between him and his target, killing one of Gongsun Zan’s best generals and forcing three others to flee. Wen Chou carved his way through to the rearguard of the enemy army and chased the enemy commander into the mountains. He continued his pursuit shouting, “Dismount and surrender!” Gongsun Zan was terrified and fled for his life until his horse stumbled and threw him to the ground. As Wen Chou was about to strike, Zhao Yun came to Gongsun Zan’s defence. Wen Chou fought fifty bouts with him but was forced to retreat when more Beiping soldiers arrived.

The next day, Wen Chou and Yan Liang set out one thousand archers on each wing, while Qu Yi commanded the centre of the army. Around noon Gongsun Zan’s general, Yan Guang, attacked but was cut down by Qu Yi. The bowmen under Wen Chou and Yan Liang kept the enemy reinforcements at bay, allowing Qu Yi to advance and pursue the enemy commander. However, as he closed in, he was engaged by Zhao Yun and slain. Yuan Shao’s army began to advance but were ambushed by a force led by Liu Bei and were forced to retire to their camp. Neither side was willing to risk another confrontation, so both camps strengthened their defenses and lay inactive for over a month. Soon an imperial command arrived ordering both armies to retire, so the armies drew off to their respective regions.

Yuan Shao still wished to destroy Gongsun Zan and in AD 198, led another expedition against him. Wen Chou was once again called on to aid in the campaign. Yuan Shao’s army took the advantage early in the campaign and began a ferocious siege on the Yijing Tower. With no way to escape, Gongsun Zan killed himself. The expedition lasted one year, gave Yuan Shao control over a vast amount of land and also gave him the largest army in China.

In AD 199 Liu Bei requested aid from Yuan Shao in an attack on Cao Cao. Yuan Shao had been waiting for such an opportunity and readily pledged his support. An army of three hundred thousand men was assembled and Wen Chou was called upon along with Yan Liang, Tian Feng, Xun Shen, Xu You, Shen Pei and Peng Ji. The army marched to Liyang and was met by Cao Cao’s army of two hundred thousand soldiers. Both sides made huge fortified camps and observed each other for over two months until the leaders drew off, leaving small defence forces behind.

In AD 200, Yuan Shao decided that he would attack Cao Cao at the capital Xuchang and so sent an army of one hundred thousand veterans led by Yan Liang to attack Baima. However, Yan Liang was killed by Guan Yu and the army was routed. When he heard of Yan Liang’s defeat, Yuan Shao called together his generals for advice on how to avenge their comrade. Wen Chou said, “Yan Liang and I were as brothers, and can I allow any other to avenge his death?” Yuan Shao was pleased and gave Wen Chou command of one hundred thousand soldiers. Liu Bei asked to accompany Wen Chou and was made joint commander, but Wen Chou objected saying, “Liu Bei has been so often defeated that it will augur ill for success this time. Since you wish, I will give Liu Bei command of the rear guard of thirty thousand soldiers.” Yuan Shao approved and so the army marched out to avenge Yan Liang.

The army marched to Yenjin, set up camp and then advanced towards Cao Cao’s army. As Wen Chou’s force approached the enemy, they came across Cao Cao’s abandoned supply train and took possession of all the supply carts. From there, the army advanced towards two mounds where they saw the enemy’s horses all turned loose. The opportunity to capture so many horses could not be missed and so Wen Chou ordered his men to round up the steeds. As his troops broke rank, Cao Cao’s army came out from behind the mounds and surrounded them. Wen Chou made a valiant stand, but his men were trampling each other as they tried to escape and so Wen Chou was forced to flee.

As he tried to escape, Xu Huang and Zhang Liao gave chase shouting, “Wen Chou, do not run away!” Wen Chou set aside his spear, grasped his bow and fired an arrow at Zhang Liao which took the plume off his helmet. The next arrow struck the pursuer’s horse in the head and Zhang Liao was thrown to the ground. Wen Chou turned around and charged at the fallen general, but Xu Huang rode in between them to save his ally. Just then, several of Wen Chou’s horsemen arrived and Xu Huang was forced to retreat. Wen Chou and his men gave chase but they soon came across a small party of horsemen led by Guan Yu. Guan Yu attacked at once and after only three bouts, Wen Chou turned and dashed away along the river banks. However, Guan Yu quickly caught up and with one blow, Wen Chou was killed (2).

(2) Historically, Wen Chou was killed in the ambush, not by Guan Yu. Wen Chou and Liu Bei approached with five or six thousand cavalry and were scattered by Cao Cao’s ambush party which consisted of less than six hundred horsemen.

Copyright © 2004 Morgan Evans
Based on the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, attributed to Luo Guanzhong