Biography (SGYY): Yang Feng

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Yang Feng
楊奉
Lived: ?–197

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

Yang Feng

Yang Feng was the leader of a bandit faction based in Xihe, known as the Bobo bandit group. In AD 195, Feng submitted to the Han in Chang'an and was appointed Cavalry Commander by Li Jue, who was then controlling the courts. (1)

1: In AD 192, Prime Minister Dong Zhuo was killed by one of his own commanders, Lü Bu, and both the court and the Emperor came to be in the protection of Bu and Minister of the Interior Wang Yun, who had facilitated in the murder. Li Jue, who served under Zhuo, along with three other commanders – Guo Si, Fan Chou and Zhang Ji – attempted seeking amnesty and offered to surrender with the remainder of Dong Zhuo’s forces. The offer, however, was refused, and the four subsequently attacked and defeated Wang Yun and Lü Bu at Chang’an, executing the former while being unable to capture the latter. Thus, Li Jue came to hold the majority of power inside of the Han.

Later in AD 195, tensions escalated in Chang’an between Li Jue and Guo Si, the highest ranked of the Generals inside the capital. The discord between the two manifested into open hostility (2), and each separated their forces into two opposing armies. Yang Feng came to be on the side of Jue, who had seized control of the Emperor, while Si kidnapped the entire Han court. After several battles between the two forces, Courtier Huangfu Li arrived in Li Jue’s camp to attempt forging a truce, during which Yang Feng was present. “His majesty has directed me to settle your quarrel with Guo Si because I am from Xiliang and also your townsman,” Li said. “Guo Si has already complied. What do you say?”

2: Li Jue and Guo Si had actually been close friends. Their conflict grew from a ploy by Grand Commandant Yang Biao, who had Guo Si’s wife informed that Si was having an affair with Li Jue’s wife. Lady Guo in turn sowed dissention between the two by making out that Li Jue was trying to kill her husband.

“I was responsible for defeating Lü Bu,” Li Jue said. “And I have upheld the court for four years, a signal service which the world recognises. Guo Si is no more than a horse thief who takes it upon himself to defy me by holding the court captive. For this I am sworn to execute him. Observe our ample forces, my lord, and tell me if I can’t defeat him.”

“I cannot agree,” Huangfu Li replied. “Let me remind you of the legend of Hou Yi of the Youqiong. He relied only on his marksmanship to govern and ignored all else. As a result he was wiped out. More recently we have had the example of Imperial Preceptor Dong Zhuo, whose power you yourself witnessed. Lü Bu was well loved by Dong Zhuo, yet he turned against him, and in no time Dong Zhuo’s head was on display at the capital gate. Thus power alone counts for little. Now you hold the highest military office as well as the seals of authority. Your kinsmen and descendents occupy illustrious positions. The dynasty has not been stingy with its favour. Guo Si has detained the court, but you have detained the Most Honoured. Whose offence is graver?”

Li Jue angrily drew his sword and said, “Has the Son of Heaven sent you here to slander me? I’ll have your head to begin with!”

At this point, Yang Feng intervened and said, “If you kill the Emperor’s messenger, Guo Si will have good cause to mobilise against us, and the lords of the realm will support him.” Jia Xu, one of Li Jue’s advisers, agreed with Feng, and Jue relented.

Shortly after the incident with Huangfu Li, the Emperor promoted Li Jue to regent-general (3). For this reason Jue reward a group of sorcerers, who he employed to cast prayers, but not his army. Upon learning of it, Yang Feng conferred with fellow commander Song Guo. “We face death every day from arrow and missile,” Feng said. “Are those witches’ services greater than our own?”

“Why not kill the traitor and save the sovereign?” Guo replied.

Yang Feng concurred. “Set a fire in the main army base as a signal”, he said. “I will be ready outside.”

Song Guo agreed, and the two set out to act at the Second Watch.

3: The Emperor promoted Li Jue upon the advice of Jia Xu, who was working with the Sovereign to oust Li Jue and Guo Si.

As the second watched approached, Yang Feng reached Li Jue’s camp with his forces, ready for the attack. The fire signal Song Guo was to initiate, however, didn’t occur, and Feng was instead met by Li Jue himself. (4) Yang Feng nevertheless led his small army against Li Jue and battled with the Commander until the fourth watch. With inferior troops, however, Feng was unable to overcome his adversary, and consequently led them to recuperate at Xi’an.

4: One of Song Guo’s soldiers informed Li Jue of their planned attack, and Guo was consequently executed.

After some time at Xi’an, Yang Feng re-positioned his forces at the foothills of the Zhongnan Mountains, so as to gain a better position from which to strike at Li Jue and Guo Si. Word soon reached Feng that Li Jue was transporting Emperor Xian to Hongnong. Surmising it to be an opportunity to rescue the Sovereign, Yang Feng readied his army, numbering one thousand, and set off to intercept Li Jue. Approaching the road the procession was travelling, Feng had his men beat drums to announce his arrival, and then unfurled a giant banner reading, “Yang Feng of the Great Han”. Li Jue himself wasn’t present. Rather, a few hundred of his men were escorting the Emperor, but Guo Si had caught up with the retinue in hopes of seizing the Sovereign for himself, and so it was Si that Yang Feng drew his line against. One of Guo Si’s commanders, Cui Yong, came forth and denounced Yang Feng, to which Feng replied by calling for his most able lieutenant, Xu Huang. Huang charged out, a battle-axe in hand, and swiftly cut Yong down in a quick exchange. Yang Feng then led the charge against Guo Si’s forces and utterly overpowered the army, driving them back some 20 li, and secured the Emperor.

Emperor Xian received Yang Feng shortly after, and said gratefully, “You performed no small service in saving us.”

Yang Feng knocked his head to the ground and expressed his gratitude. The Emperor then said, “Which of your commanders has distinguished himself?”

Feng immediately introduced the commander who had cut down Cui Yong. “This is Xu Huang, styled Gongming,” he said, “from Yangjun in Hedong.”

The Emperor indicated his recognition of Huang’s achievements in the battle.

Yang Feng and his forces then escorted the Emperor and his forces safely to Huayi, where General Duan Wei provided food and clothing. The Emperor remained in Yang Feng’s camp for the night.

The next day, Guo Si’s army was spotted approaching. Xu Huang went out to offer battle, but Si’s men, far greater in number than Yang Feng’s, were able to encircle the camp. As the enemy’s forces drew in, another commander emerged from the southeast and assaulted Guo Si’s army. Joining up with the relief force, Yang Feng and Xu Huang were able to drive off Guo Si again. The relief commander turned out to be Dong Cheng, an imperial-in-law. Yang Feng and Cheng then entered the Sovereign’s presence, and the Emperor related to Dong Cheng the recent events. “Your majesty need worry no more,” Cheng said. “General Yang Feng and I have sworn to execute both Guo Si and Li Jue to restore calm in the realm.”

The Emperor then ordered that the procession carry on to Hongnong, the eastern capital, and Yang Feng set off guarding the retinue with Dong Cheng.

Word soon arrived that Li Jue and Guo Si had put aside their differences and rejoined their forces, and were now heading to once again seize the Emperor. Yang Feng urged Emperor Xian to continue onto Hongnong, while he and Dong Cheng turned around to face the two rebel commanders. Li Jue and Guo Si’s force far outnumbered that of Feng and Cheng, however, and the two were unable to completely defeat the enemy. In a desperate struggle, Yang Feng was forced back to Hongnong, where he was able to safely evacuate Emperor Xian. The palace women and courtiers, as well as the archives, records of appointment, and household goods had to be left behind. The Emperor still in his protection, Yang Feng now set a new course for Shanbei, with Li Jue and Guo Si close in pursuit.

To help protect the sovereign, Yang Feng and Dong Cheng adopted a twofold strategy: first, they would seek a false truce with Li Jue and Guo Si, while second, they would enlist the aid of the White Wave rebels (5) to help their cause. From the prospect of amnesty and riches, the White Wave leaders – Han Xian, Li Yue, and Hu Cai – agreed to fight for the Han. The first White Wave army, led by Li Yue, confronted Li Jue and Guo Si at Weiyang, but were soundly defeated when the two had valuables strewn on the ground, causing Yue’s forces to break rank to collect them. Yang Feng and Dong Cheng then fled north with the Emperor, the rebel commanders still close behind. The procession managed to reach the south bank of the Yellow River, but one of the White Wave leaders, Hu Cai, was killed during the retreat. Li Yue found a small boat to transport the Emperor across, but the bank was too high for him to board it. “Tie the reins together and with them lower the Emperor down by the waist,” Yang Feng said.

The Emperor was soon lowered down to the boat with silk given by the Empress’s brother, Fu De, and taken across the river with the Empress, Yang Feng himself, Dong Cheng and some others. The boat returned to collect the remaining couriers and military personnel left, numbering only in the dozens. At the other side of the river, Yang Feng found an ox cart and transported the Emperor to Dayang, but food was scarce. Court Steward Han Rong was sent to Li Jue and Guo Si’s camp in an attempt to have them desist, while Yang Feng led the procession on to Anyi.

5: The White Wave rebels were an offshoot of the Yellow Scarves.

While in Anyi, Zhang Yang, Governor of Henei, presented the Emperor and his forces with grain and meat, while Wang Yi, Governor of Hedong, sent silk and cloth. However, one of the White Wave leaders, Li Yue, began to abuse his newly found authority; often beating and denouncing courtiers, while nominating men of no merit to the Emperor for appointment. Yang Feng and Dong Cheng decided to return to Luoyong to have the palace grounds restored for the Emperor, but Yue opposed the move. (6) “Luoyang is the original capital,” Dong Cheng argued. “Anyi is too small for his needs. The Emperor must be delivered to Luoyang.”

“Then you do it,” Li Yue replied. “I’m staying here.”

Undaunted by his refusal, Yang Feng and Dong Cheng, with the last remaining White Wave leader Han Xian, set out for Luoyang with the Emperor. One of Li Yue’s soldiers warned them, however, that Yue had decided to join with Li Jue and Guo Si to seize the Sovereign. Yang Feng had his forces deploy at Winnow Basket Hills in preparation for the rebel’s attack. Just before the fourth watch, a commander at the head of an army appeared. “Go no further!” he shouted. “This is Li Jue and Guo Si!”

Recognising the commander, Yang Feng shouted to his troops, “It’s only Li Yue!” and sent out Xu Huang, who cut down Yue in one pass. Yang Feng then escorted the Emperor through Winnow Basket Hills and onto Luoyang.

6: The Han capital had been Luoyang, but Dong Zhuo had the city burned down in AD 190 and transferred the Emperor and the court to Chang’an, which he established as the new capital.

Upon reaching Luoyang, the scene Yang Feng was met with was that of utter ruin. The city was desolate, with the palace buildings burned out and everything overgrown with weeds. Yang Feng was ordered by the Emperor to build a small provisional palace, while court was held in the open woods. Upon the advice of Yang Biao, the Emperor sent an envoy to enlist the help of Cao Cao, Governor of Dongjun, in their cause. After some time, however, reinforcements were not forthcoming from Cao, and the Emperor said to Yang Feng, “Our messenger has not returned. Our enemies could come at any time. What can we do?”

“I will fight to the death to protect Your Majesty,” Feng replied, and Han Xian voiced his agreement. But Dong Cheng said, “Look at our walls and how few soldiers we have! What if we fail? I recommend that Your Majesty proceed to Cao Cao’s camp.”

The Emperor approved Dong Cheng’s course, and Yang Feng set off with the procession to meet with Cao.

After travelling only a few li, Yang Feng and the Emperor’s retinue heard the clamour of a mass of troops on the horizon. A single rider approached, who was in fact the envoy sent to enlist Cao Cao’s aid. “General Cao Cao,” he reported, “has called up every soldier in the northeast and is coming in response to your decree. He has sent Xiahou Dun on ahead with ten top generals and fifty thousand picked men to deal with the threat to Luoyang from Li Jue and Guo Si.”

Cao Cao’s forces were subsequently able to defeat Li Jue and Guo Si, who fled west to the mountains for a life of banditry. Yang Feng, realising that Cao Cao had no place for him, requested that the Emperor authorise him to leave and pursue Li Jue and Guo Si. The Emperor agreed and, along with Han Xian, who had decided to join him, and his original force, Yang Feng moved his army to Daliang in preparation of capturing the two rebels.

While in Daliang, Yang Feng received an envoy bearing a letter from Cao Cao. (7) The letter detailed Cao’s intention to move the Emperor to Xuchang, and reassured Feng that he needn’t worry about the decision. Suspecting something amiss, however, Yang Feng organised his army and set out to intercept Cao’s forces. (8) Coming upon them, he sent Xu Huang forward, who shouted, “Where are you taking the Emperor?”

Cao Cao sent out Commander Xu Chu in response, but after fifty exchanges, no victor emerged between the two. Cao sounded the gong to recall his forces, and Yang Feng did the same.

7: Along with Dong Zhao, Cao Cao discussed the prospect of moving the capital to Xuchang. “I really want to move the court,” he had said to Zhao, “but with Yang Feng loose in Daliang and the high ministers opposed, things could turn against me.”

“That’s easy,” Zhao responded. “Write Yang Feng and put his mind at rest.”

Thus Yang Feng came to receive the letter from Cao Cao.

8: In fact, Cao Cao’s moving the Emperor to Xuchang would spell disaster for the Han Dynasty. Cao abused his position to such a point that, in AD 199, the Emperor wrote a secret edict to Yang Feng’s former comrade, Dong Cheng, ordering him to assassinate the traitor. The plan, however, was found out, and Cheng, along with his entire household, was executed. In AD 220, Cao Cao’s son, Pi, abdicated the Han throne and established the Wei Dynasty.

The next morning, Yang Feng discovered that Xu Huang had left the camp during the night to join Cao Cao’s forces. (9) With one thousand men, Yang Feng pursued Huang and, coming upon him, shouted, “Xu Huang, you turncoat. Go no further!”

But as Yang Feng spoke, a bombard sounded and Cao Cao’s forces appeared from all sides. “Finally he’s come!” Cao cried out. “Don’t let him escape.”

Cao Cao’s forces walled Yang Feng in, but Feng continued to fight strenuously against the much greater numbers. As all hope seemed to diminish, Han Xian arrived with a relief force and cut a bloody path through Cao’s encircling army. The two then regrouped and managed to affect a retreat, but half of their men had been either killed or taken prisoner by Cao Cao.

9: Cao Cao’s commander Man Chong had entered Yang Feng’s camp during the night and persuaded Xu Huang to defect.

Yang Feng now found himself in a dilemma – he wanted to serve the Han, but Cao Cao was in control of both the Emperor and the courts, leaving him with no liege lord. Feng and Han Xian then surmised they should seek refuge with one of the several ruling lords in the region, and found amnesty forthcoming from Yuan Shu, Governor of Nanyang. Shu made both Yang Feng and Han Xian commanders.

In AD 197, Yuan Shu launched an expedition against Lü Bu, who was then serving as acting Governor of Xuzhou. Shu mustered a force two hundred thousand strong split into seven field armies. Yang Feng was placed in charge of the seventh, while his old comrade Han Xian was placed in charge of the sixth. Yang Feng took command of his forces and set off to capture Junshan, making some fifty li per day.

While making way to Junshan, Yang Feng received Han Xian in his tent one night, who relayed an encounter he had had with Lü Bu’s counsellor Chen Deng. Deng had proposed that the two rebel against Yuan Shu for the Han, and Yang Feng, knowing Shu to be a traitor to the Dynasty (10) and unhappy in his employ, agreed with Han Xian to do so. The two combined their forces and set off signal fires to guide Lü Bu’s men into Yuan Shu’s main camp, under the command of General Zhang Xun. Xun was soundly defeated, but was able to rejoin his forces with those of Ji Ling, another commander of Yuan Shu’s. Yang Feng and Han Xian then led their men in an assault on Zhang Xun and Ji Ling’s army and drove the two off, taking a heavy toll on the two’s forces. Yuan Shu’s entire army was consequently defeated.

10: In AD 197, Yuan Shu had declared himself Emperor of a new Dynasty.

To celebrate the victory, Lü Bu invited Yang Feng to a feast in Xuzhou, along with Han Xian, Guan Yu—a commander under the employ of Liu Bei—and a score of other leaders. Lü Bu then recommended Yang Feng as protector of Langye to the court, and Feng took his leave to carry out his new post.

While governing in Langye, Yang Feng was invited to a banquet by Liu Bei, who was then serving as Governor of Yuzhou, along with Han Xian. While the wine was circulating during the feast, Liu Bei suddenly dropped his cup, and two of his commanders, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, entered the room. The two attacked Yang Feng and Han Xian who, with no weapons at hand, were cut down and killed. (11) The year was AD 197.

11: Liu Bei had Yang Feng and Han Xian killed upon the orders of Lü Bu, who claimed the two had let their soldiers run riot at their new posts. Whether the allegations were true or simply a pretext for Bu wanting the two killed is unknown, but it seems quite strange that Liu Bei, an imperial-in-law and loyal to the throne, was the one who had Yang Feng killed, for Feng had firmly established himself as a Han loyalist.

Copyright © 2007 Sam Wrest. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms