Biography (SGYY): Yan Yan

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Yan Yan
嚴顔
Lived: AD c.153–220

Sanguo Yanyi Officer Biography
Author Notes in Blue
Authored by Dong Zhou

Yan Yan

Yan Yan had become one of the famous generals of Yizhou, he was old when Liu Bei attacked Liu Zhang but had lost none of his boldness or his strength. He was Governor of Bazhou when he heard that Liu Zhang was going to invite Liu Bei into Yizhou, Yan Yan sighed “This is like calling a tiger to protect a person when that person is alone on a bare hill side.” When Liu Bei seized River Fu Pass, the angry Yan Yan constantly offered to lead an army against the aggressors.

Yan Yan’s scouts reported that Zhang Fei was approaching, those that surrendered to the invading army had not suffered but Yan Yan refused to surrender. Having prepared himself for being attacked, Yan Yan mustered his army of five thousand to oppose Zhang Fei but was advised to stay in Bazhou and defend till Zhang Fei’s cruelty drove his men to mutiny (1).

1: “You must be careful how you oppose a man who by the mere sound of his voice scared the many legions of Cao Cao at Long Slope Bridge. Even Cao Cao himself was careful to keep out of his way. Your safety is in defense, lying behind your ramparts and within your deep moats till hunger shall have vanquished your enemies. This Zhang Fei has a very violent temper. If he is provoked, he vents his anger in flogging his soldiers. If you avoid battle, he will be irritated; and his cruelty to his soldiers will cause them to mutiny. Then you can attack and will succeed.”

Yan Yan received a messenger from Zhang Fei warning him to surrender or nobody in the city would be left alive. Yan Yan responded by mutilating the messenger, cutting off the man’s ears and nose. “Fool that you are! How dare you speak thus to me? Think you that I, General Yan Yan, will surrender to such as him. By your mouth indeed will I send a message.”

Zhang Fei for two days challenged the defenders to fight but received only abuse and on one occasion, Yan Yan shot an arrow that struck Zhang Fei’s helmet. Zhang Fei tried using the hills to hide his troops to make the defenders think that the attackers had left and so lure them out but that ploy failed. Eventually Zhang Fei stopped sending men to insult the defenders so Yan Yan sent spies to discover what his opponent was up to.

The spies reported that Zhang Fei was going to try and sneak past the city using a narrow road during the night. Yan Yan was delighted and planned an ambush, hiding his troops in the woods and thickets. When a man dressed as Zhang Fei and the soldiers had passed, Yan Yan sprung the ambush on the supply train. The real Zhang Fei then appeared, his Jingzhou troops rushing to attack the soldiers of Yizhou.

Yan Yan and Zhang Fei duelled, Zhang Fei quickly and purposely gave his opponent an opening, and Yan Yan rushed in to cut down his enemy with his sword. But Zhang Fei evaded the blow, made a sudden rush, seized Yan Yan by the lace of his armor, and flung him on the ground. Yan Yan was a prisoner, and in a moment was fast bound with cords. Yan Yan’s men surrendered and Bazhou quickly fell, Zhang Fei ordering the people be left unharmed.

When Yan Yan was taken before Zhang Fei, the old commander refused to kneel, when Zhang Fei demanded to know why Baozhou had not been surrendered, Yan Yan explained “Because you are a lot of unrighteous and lawless invaders! You may behead me as you will, but I will not surrender to you.” Zhang Fei angrily ordered Yan Yan to be executed causing Yan Yan to say “Strike, if you want to, fool. Why so angry?”

Zhang Fei was struck by Yan Yan’s defiance, leaving his seat and loosening Yan Yan’s bonds before dressing his prisoner in new garments. Seating Yan Yan in the high place, Zhang Fei bowed “I have always known you were a hero. Now I pray you not remember against me the roughness of my speech.” Overcome by the kindness shown, Yan Yan surrendered to his captor (2).

2: The Romance has a poem about the event:

A graybeard ruled in western Shu,
Clear fame is his the whole world through,
As radiant sun his loyalty.
Unmatched his soul’s nobility.
When captive taken rather he
Would suffer death than crook his knee.
Bazhou he ruled for many a year,
The world cannot produce his peer.

Zhang Fei asked Yan Yan for advice in taking Yizhou to which Yan Yan replied “I am but the defeated leader of a defeated force, indebted to the victor for my life. I have nothing but my humble services to offer, but I can tell you how to get possession of Chengdu without drawing a bow or shooting an arrow.” He informed Zhang Fei that all of the fortifications between Bazhou and Luocheng were under Yan Yan’s control, the commanders of the garrisons owed Yan Yan their positions so Yan Yan offered to lead the way to make them yield to Zhang Fei. Any who hesitated was asked by Yan Yan “You see I have submitted. How much more ought you to do so?”

The garrisons submitted as the Jingzhou army made its way to Luocheng where they saw the dust of conflict so Zhang Fei raced ahead to see Liu Bei pursued by Zhang Ren. Zhang Fei engaged Zhang Ren for ten bouts, when Yan Yan arrived with the army Zhang Ren fled. Liu Bei was surprised at how quickly Zhang Fei had arrived until Yide (3) explained Yan Yan’s deeds, after which Liu Bei praised Yan Yan and gave the general the golden chain mantle he had been wearing.

3: Zhang Fei’s style name

Liu Bei was soon reinforced by an army led by Zhuge Liang who came up with a plan to lure Zhang Ren out of Luocheng and ambush him. Zhang Ren fell for the trap, lured over Golden Goose Bridge where he was attacked by Liu Bei and Yan Yan. With the bridge destroyed, Zhang Ren was soon captured by Zhang Fei and his army destroyed by the multiple ambushes as they tried to flee.

Zhang Ren was executed, Liu Bei’s army marched onto Luocheng with Yan Yan and other surrendered generals leading the way, hailing the defenders “Open the gates and surrender, whereby the city should be saved from utter destruction!” Liu Gui abused Yan Yan from the walls but while fitting his arrow to the bowstring, he was killed by Zhang Yi. Yan Yan was then sent with other surrendered generals to pacify the outlying counties, going into the country along the river and Changyang, Deyang, and Baxi to reassure the people and to repress any rising that might take place. After Liu Zhang surrendered Yizhou to Liu Bei, Yan Yan was made General of the Front Army.

Cao Hong launched an attack on Baxi, sending Zhang He to take Jiameng Pass. Liu Bei sent Huang Zhong, with Yan Yan as second in command, to defend the pass despite doubts among many whether such aged generals would be up to the task. Huang Zhong duelled Zhang He on an open plain while Yan Yan led his force to attack the Wei army from the rear, routing the Wei army, Huang Zhong and Yan Yan pursuing Zhang He till nightfall.

Huang Zhong and Yan Yan rested their men, Huang Zhong sending out spies that gave them a thorough knowledge of the local country. Zhang He meanwhile was reinforced by Xiahou Shang and Han Hao who marched out to face Huang Zhong. Yan Yan noted “Hereabout there is a mountain named Tiandang Mountain wherein Cao Hong has stored his supplies. If we can gain its possession, we shall reduce the enemy to want and we shall get Hanzhong.” The two generals of Liu Bei agreed on a plan and Yan Yan departed to play his part. Huang Zhong feigned many defeats making the Wei officers overconfident then heavily defeated the Wei army, driving them to Tiandang Mountain. Meanwhile Yan Yan gathered brushwood, setting off a fire behind the mountain as Zhang He and Xiahou Shang battled Huang Zhong. Xiahou De on seeing the red glare of the fire and hearing the shouts of Yan Yan’s men raced to meet the danger but was ambushed, Yan Yan cutting him down in one sword stroke. Yan Yan then led his army to attack Zhang He’s army from the rear, forcing the Wei forces to flee toward Dingjun Mountain.

Yan Yan was well rewarded for his part in the defence of Jiameng Pass, sent to hold Langzhong and Baixi while Liu Bei went to take Hanzhong. When Zhuge Liang planned to launch his first Northern Campaign against Wei, Yan Yan was made Inspector.

Copyright © 2006 Dong Zhou. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms