Biography (SGYY): Zhang Ni (Boqi)

Home | Forum | SimRTK | History | Games | Graphics | Writing | Products | Links | Site Map

Zhang Ni (Boqi)
張嶷 (伯岐)
(AD 175–254)

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

Zhang Ni (Boqi)

Titles: Chief Inspector of the Forward Army, General Who Soothes the Barbarians, Honorary Lord of the Capital, Sweeper of Invaders.

Zhang Ni (1), styled Boqi, hailed from Nanchong, Ba Xi Prefecture, and was a general serving the kingdom of Shu during the reign of Liu Shan. Ni served the Riverlands for the better part of his life, and through his many years of service earned a reputation for both bravery and loyalty. Militarily, Zhang Ni was known as a commander with great foresight and decisiveness, who was able to plan and predict the flow of battles with uncanny precision.

1: Zhang Ni’s given name is often translated to Yi rather than Ni, but given that SGYY translates the name to the latter, I’ve chosen to refer to him as Ni. Editor’s note: Ni is the correct translation (as used in both the Brewitt-Taylor and Moss Roberts translations). The incorrect translation, Yi, is frequently found in use on the internet, and in Koei’s games.

In the third year of Jian Xing, AD 225, Meng Huo and the southern Man tribes rebelled. Zhuge Liang led a force of five hundred thousand Riverlands soldiers to subdue the rebellion, with Zhang Ni serving as a commander in the army. After the westerners subdued three of the rebels—Yong Kai, Zhu Bao, and Gao Ding—Meng Huo sent a force of one hundred and fifty thousand troops, split into three, against the Riverlands forces. Zhang Ni was summoned to Zhuge Liang’s tent with Zhang Yi shortly after hearing of their advance, who said, “I want both of you to command a single army in the centre. Organise the force today and start out tomorrow after you have worked out the timing with Wang Ping and Ma Zhong. I have decided not to use Zhao Zilong (2) and Wei Yan because the terrain is unfamiliar to them.”

2: Zilong was the style name of Zhao Yun and is often used in place of Yun’s given name in SGYY.

Zhang Ni left Zhuge Liang’s command tent and immediately began making preparations for the battle with the rebels, but before he set out, he was again summoned to Zhuge Liang’s command tent. Liang explained to Ni that both Zhao Yun and Wei Yan would attack the three Man encampments in an effort to distinguish themselves, but would not succeed in capturing all three of the enemy’s commanders. Understanding his orders, Zhang Ni gathered his forces and headed for the mountains surrounding the Man encampments in preparation of an ambush. After waiting for some time, Ni spotted Man commander Dongtuna marching along the mountain’s slopes and attacked his retinue immediately, defeating them and capturing Dongtuna alive. He then took his prisoner back to the Shu encampments and presented him to an impressed score of commanders.

Following the defeat of his three armies (3), Meng Huo advanced on the Riverlanders position immediately. Zhang Ni placed his troops on a side road in preparation of their advance and waited there for some time before Meng Huo arrived. Manyacheng rode out of the enemy lines first and engaged Wang Ping, who fled after a brief clash. Guan Suo then moved forward to oppose the Man army, but too retreated after a small encounter. Seeing this unfold, Zhang Ni urged his army on from his position and, in coordination with Zhang Yi, Wang Ping and Guan Suo, delivered a crushing defeat to Meng Huo’s army. Huo fled only to encounter Zhao Yun and Wei Yan in swift succession and was successfully taken alive, but Zhuge Liang later released the Man King. (4)

3: Meng Huo’s two other armies were defeated by Zhang Yi, Wei Yan and Zhao Yun.
4: Meng Huo refused to surrender to Zhuge Liang and so in order to break the spirit of the rebel and force his submission, Liang released him in hope of capturing him another time.

Zhang Ni aided in capturing Meng Huo a second time, while other Riverlands commanders contributed to his third and fourth capture. On his fifth capture, Huo was delivered to the Riverlands encampments by one of his own commanders, Yang Feng, but was again set free when he refused to submit. Shortly after this, Zhu Rong, the wife of Meng Huo, marched straight for the Riverlanders position, but Zhang Ni blocked her route of advance. Riding onto the field, Ni quietly marvelled at the female warrior’s prowess, and as one the two combatants urged their mounts forward and closed in physical combat. After many clashes were exchanged, Zhu Rong turned her mount around and fled; Zhang Ni pursued hotly. Whilst riding hard after Rong, Ni spotted a knife flying directly at him through the air and attempted to deflect the weapon, but it struck him in his left arm and forced him from his horse. A horde of screaming Man troops then rushed onto the field and bound Zhang Ni’s hands and feet—Shu commander Ma Zhong attempted to come to Ni’s aid, but he suffered a similar fate and the two were delivered to Meng Huo’s command tent. Zhang Ni heard Zhu Rong order their execution, but Meng Huo stopped the guards from grasping them, saying, “Zhuge Liang spared me five times. It would not be honourable to kill his commanders. Hold them in our tribe for now; we can deal with them after Zhuge Liang is taken.”

Thus, Zhang Ni and Ma Zhong remained as prisoners to the Man tribe. However, several days later, Zhu Rong was captured by the Riverlands army and was exchanged for the two Shu generals. Returning to his own camp, Zhang Ni resumed his duties as commander.

Zhang Ni played a vital role in Meng Huo’s sixth capture, but again the Man King refused to submit. It was soon reported that Meng Huo had employed Wu Tugu to attack the Shu army and following the report, Zhang Ni was summoned to Zhuge Liang’s command tent. Liang instructed Ni to take his forces to Winding Serpent Valley in anticipation of Meng Huo’s advance, while other commanders were given orders to defeat Wu Tugu. Zhang Ni set off with Ma Zhong to the valley and deployed his soldiers in concealed positions upon arriving. Some time into the day, Wu Tugu was seen being directly led into the valley by Wei Yan, where he was raked with incendiary arrows and killed. Meng Huo, unaware of the slaughter, arrived with his own force some time later, where Zhang Ni and his fellow commander, Ma Zhong, attacked the Man leader and sent him into full flight. While retreating, Huo was captured his seventh time by commander Ma Dai and, along with the various other Man tribes, submitted. The campaign over, Zhang Ni joined the Shu army in its march back to the Riverlands.

When the Riverlands army returned to Chengdu, Zhuge Liang petitioned Shu’s Emperor, Liu Shan, for a campaign against the northern kingdom of Wei, which was granted. Upon its approval, Zhang Ni was called to a conference and assigned the ranks of Chief Inspector of the Forward Army, General Who Soothes the Barbarians and Honorary Lord of the Capital.

In AD 228 , Zhang Ni was selected to join Zhuge Liang in his first northern campaign. Following the taking of Tianshui, Shanggui and Jicheng, the army advanced onto the Qishan Hills and established a string of camps in preparation of Wei’s defence force. The Wei army, commanded by Cao Zhen, arrived some time later in an attempt to repel the Riverlanders. Zhang Ni was called to Zhuge Liang’s command tent and ordered to take up position on one side of the camp to counterattack the Wei army, but to not let his presence be known until fires were started. Ni set off with his retinue immediately and took up position to await the northerners advance. Zhang Ni spotted enemy commanders Cao Zun and Zhu Zan advancing onto the encampment some time during the second watch, but stopped his men from initiating their own attack. The signal fires went up some time later and, in coordination with Wang Ping, Zhang Yi and Liao Hua, Zhang Ni attacked the two enemy commanders and sent them into full flight, dealing heavy losses to the Wei army. However, Zhuge Liang had the Shu army retreat when Jieting was lost to Wei’s Sima Yi.

Later in AD 228, Zhang Ni was selected to join Zhuge Liang’s army in a second attack on Wei, this time beginning with an attack on the city of Chencang. The siege of the city persisted for some twenty days when a relief force commanded by Wang Shuang arrived to join in its defence. When commanders Xie Xiong and Gong Qi were both killed by the general, Zhang Ni was ordered to attack Shuang along with Wang Ping and Liao Hua. Ni took to the field immediately while his two companions took to guarding either side of their wings, and Wang Shuang rode out in response. Zhang Ni fought many bouts with the fierce commander but neither were able to gain an upper hand. Further into the combat, Shuang wheeled his mount around and fled; seeing his opportunity, Zhang Ni rode after the general. As he was, he heard Wang Ping shout from the Shu line, “Stop the chase!”

Realising the danger he was in, Zhang Ni gave up his pursuit and wheeled his mount around, but just as he turned his back, a hammer swung by Shuang hit him from behind. Slumping into his saddle, Ni still managed to urge his mount on to his own line and was escorted back to camp by Wang Ping and Liao Hua.

In camp, Zhang Ni’s condition was dire and he began spitting mouthfuls of blood. Concerned for his condition, Zhuge Liang himself came to visit the wounded general. “Wang Shuang is a mighty warrior; none can match him,” Ni told Liang. “Wei’s defence is formidable: they have twenty thousand camped outside Chencang, palisades on four sides, strong walls, and a deep moat.”

Seeing the logic in Zhang Ni’s words, Zhuge Liang summoned commander Jiang Wei for further council. “With its fortifications, Hao Zhao’s tight defence, and Wang Shuang’s help,” Jiang Wei said, “Chencang indeed cannot be taken. Another way might be to send a commander to set up a solid base in the hills hard by a stream and to have a second commander hold the main road to guard against another attack from Jieting. You, then, would take the main army to Qishan while I took certain steps—Cao Zhen could be captured.”

Zhuge Liang agreed to this plan and had the Shu army divide and separate into several different locations. Because of Zhang Ni’s condition, he was chosen to join Liang to the hills of Qishan and, through the course of the journey, began to regain his health.

While in Qishan, Zhang Ni’s health fully recovered and he was soon taking on the responsibilities of his rank again. Zhuge Liang later ordered him to take five thousand men with Ma Zhong and post them in a ring removed from camp in preparation of an attack made by the Wei army. Zhang Ni left to carry out his orders, posted his soldiers in the appropriate position, and waited silently for the Wei army’s advance. Sun Li arrived with the northern force later that night and, as drumbeats and horn blasts filled the air, Zhang Ni charged the northerners and sent Sun Li in full retreat.

In the hills of Qishan, the Shu army scored several other victories over the northerners, but there was no engagement with Wei’s forces for a full fortnight after. Scouts reported that the Wei army was advancing on the Riverlanders position some time later, but that they had stopped to rest after the first days march. Following this report, Zhuge Liang summoned Zhang Ni along with commanders Wu Yi, Ma Zhong and Wu Ban, and instructed them: “If the northerners come tomorrow, they will be on their mettle. Do not engage directly. Flee, fight, and flee again, alternating until you see Guan Xing take the field. Then turn and face the enemy. I will reinforce you with my own men.” Zhang Ni and the other three commanders left to carry out their orders immediately.

Zhang Ni rode out of the Riverlands camp and engaged the Wei army, commanded by generals Zhang He and Dai Ling. After a brief clash, Ni had his men withdraw, the Wei army pursuing them more than twenty li. Because it was the sixth month, the midsummer heat had the men and horses exhausted, and after a further fifty li of pursuing the Riverlanders, the Wei troops were spent. Zhuge Liang then waved a red flag, signalling Zhang Ni and the other three commanders to coordinate with Guan Xing in an attack on Zhang He and Dai Ling, dealing the Wei army a severe defeat. Shortly after the victory over the northerners, news came that General Zhang Bao had died of illness in Chengdu. Because of this, Zhuge Liang ordered a retreat back to Shu territory.

In AD 230, a northern army of four hundred thousand commanded by Cao Zhen was reported to be marching directly on Hanzhong. Zhang Ni was called to Zhuge Liang’s tent with Wang Ping when he heard of the invasion, who said to the two commanders, “Take a thousand men and hold the old road to Chencang against the enemy. I will back you up with a large force.”

“The reports say that the Wei army numbers four hundred thousand and claims eight hundred thousand—a powerful show of force,” Zhang Ni said. “How can a mere thousand troops hold that strongpoint or repel them if they arrive in any number?”

“I would give you more,” Liang replied, “but it would be too hard on the men.”

Zhang Ni eyed Wang Ping and saw the same reluctance and scepticism that plagued his own mind. “If something goes wrong,” Liang said, “no one will blame you. Say no more, but hurry.”

“Your Excellency, do away with us here and now, if you will,” Wang Ping said, “but we fear to go.”

“How ignorant you are!” Zhuge Liang answered light-heartedly. “I am sending you with a specific purpose in mind. Yesterday I inspected the patterns in the sky and saw the star mansion Net circling towards the moon. During the month there is sure to be a major rainstorm, and that will keep the Wei army from coming through these rough mountains, their four hundred thousand none withstanding. That’s why with only a few troops you’re still in no danger. I intend to keep our massive armed force in Hanzhong for a month’s rest and then use them to surprise the Wei army in retreat. One hundred thousand of my troops will suffice to defeat their weary legions.”

Both Zhang Ni and Wang Ping were satisfied with Liang’s explanation, and so left together to carry out their orders.

Ten days after Zhuge Liang’s briefing, the rainstorm began in full; after a further thirty days, the Wei army was retreating back to northern territory. Zhang Ni soon received new orders to march towards Winnow Basket Gorge with commanders Wei Yan, Chen Shi and Du Qiong and set off towards the gorge immediately.

Consulting Adviser Deng Zhi was announced as Zhang Ni was marching and, together with the other three commanders, Ni questioned the man concerning his purpose for coming. “The prime minister sends an order,” Zhi said. “If you leave Winnow Basket Gorge, be on the lookout for an ambush.”

“The prime minister is too cautious in his tactics,” Chen Shi said.

“These rains have ruined the clothing and armour of the northern troops—they must have hurried home without leaving an ambush behind. If our men advance double-time, we can win a great victory. Why hold us back?”

Deng Zhi responded, “His Excellency’s schemes always work; his plans always succeed. Dare you disobey him?”

“If the prime minister were such a fine planner,” Shi replied, “he would not have come to grief at Jieting!” (5)

5: Zhuge Liang’s armies at Jieting, commanded by Ma Su, were heavily defeated by Sima Yi in 228 and forced into retreat.

Zhang Ni noticed a smile curving Wei Yan’s lips as he said, “Had the prime minister listened to me and come straight through Zi-Wu Gorge, Luoyang would have been in our hands by now, not to mention Chang’an. (6) What will we gain by coming out from the Qishan hills? First he tells us to advance, now to stop. His commands make no sense!”

6: Wei Yan proposed an attack on Changan in 227, but Zhuge Liang rejected the proposal. In later times, many scholars believed that Yan’s plan had both merit and a possibility of success.

To this Chen Shi added, “I am going to take my five thousand men straight through Winnow Basket Gorge and pitch camp in the hills. We can put the prime minister to shame.”

Chen Shi set off with his troops shortly after. Through this episode, both Zhang Ni and his fellow commander, Du Qiong, would have nothing to do with the defiance shown by Chen Shi and Wei Yan, but both were compelled to follow the two because they were assigned to the same unit. To show he didn’t agree with Chen Shi and Wei Yan’s alternate orders, Zhang Ni kept his distance along with Du Qiong from Chen Shi and his force. When they caught up to Shi, they arrived to a scene of massacre—of Chen Shi’s five thousand troops, only a battered five hundred remained, all of which were in full flight. Angered and dismayed at the scene, Zhang Ni charged the northern line and successfully drove the army off, securing Chen Shi’s retreating troops from further injury. Zhang Ni then combined the remaining western forces—his own, Du Qiong’s, Chen Shi’s and Wei Yan’s—and marched to Zhuge Liang’s position to receive whatever punishment awaited them. Liang had Chen Shi executed for ignoring his orders; Wei Yan was spared of punishment only because of his ability as a general. Because Zhang Ni followed orders and showed great courage in saving Chen Shi, he received no punishment. The Shu army later went on to score several victories over both Cao Zhen and Sima Yi in northern territory, but after which the Riverlands army was recalled by its Emperor, Liu Shan. (7)

7: Li Yan of Yong’an had sent District Commander Gou An to deliver a grain shipment to the western army but An, addicted to wine, dallied on the journey and arrived ten days late. Zhuge Liang had him whipped eighty times and Gou An fled to the Wei camp. Sima Yi ordered him back to Chengdu to spread the false rumour that Zhuge Liang wished to declare himself Emperor and Liu Shan, upon hearing the rumour, recalled the Riverlands army.

Zhuge Liang launched his next punitive expedition against Wei in the ninth year of Jian Xing, AD 231. Zhang Ni was selected to go in the army’s vanguard for the campaign. Upon arriving at Qishan, Zhuge Liang left Zhang Ni along with Wang Ping, Wu Yi and Wu Ban in charge of Shu’s encampments while he himself marched to Lucheng. Liang was thus able to take Lucheng and score several victories over Wei’s forces without having to worry about the army at Qishan. Some time later, however, Zhang Ni and the other three commanders received orders to withdraw the Qishan army back to Chengdu along with Zhuge Liang’s own army, the reason being that word had come of a supposed attack being made by the Southland. (8)

8: Li Yan had sent Zhuge Liang a letter, which read:

“Recent word is that the Southland had someone in Luoyang negotiate a truce with Wei. Wei urged Wu to conquer Shu, but luckily Wu has not mobilized. Presently making further inquiries. Humbly hope Your Excellency acts quickly.”

Consequently, Zhuge Liang had the Riverlands army retreat back to Chengdu. This report, however, was false—Li Yan had failed to arrange for the supplies and, anticipating Zhuge Liang’s accusation, had submitted this false letter to cover up his fault. He was later demoted to commoner status and held in Zitong district.

In AD 234, Zhuge Liang again launched a campaign against the northern kingdom of Wei, and Zhang Ni was again selected to join him. Once the Riverlanders got beyond the Qishan Hills, Liang established five positions: left, right, centre, forward, and rear, with Zhang Ni in command of the forward squad along with Wang Ping. When reports came that northern commanders Guo Huai and Sun Li had led Longxi troops to Beiyuan and encamped there, Zhuge Liang ordered Zhang Ni to take the forward squad and attack Wei’s shore encampments, while other commanders were ordered to attack Beiyuan itself. Zhang Ni set off with Wang Ping immediately. During the second watch of their march, warlike shouts erupted on all sides; Wang Ping turned to Ni and said, “We do not know how the attack on Beiyuan went, and there isn’t a single enemy soldier in the camps ahead. Why? Can Sima Yi be waiting for us? We’d better wait until we see the bridges in flames before we advance.”

Zhang Ni agreed to Ping’s proposal and the two halted their march. During their watch, a lone ride approached their position and announced: “The prime minister wants you to withdraw at once. Both the Beiyuan force and the bridge-burning force have suffered defeat.”

Astonished at the report, Zhang Ni had his men withdraw, but Wei troops surprised their rear before they had chance to make progress. A well-coordinated attack by the northerners ensued, but Zhang Ni fought strenuously to keep his army from suffering defeat. In their withdrawal back to Zhuge Liang’s position, Zhang Ni and his co-commander, Wang Ping, were able to rescue a score of their army and fared better than most of Liang’s other forces.

Shortly after the defeat at Beiyuan, Zhuge Liang received the defection of northern commander Zhang Wen, but upon learning of its falsity, ordered Wen to pen a letter to Sima Yi advising him to attack Shu’s encampments. After Zhang Wen consented, Zhang Ni was ordered by Liang to attack the northern army once they were within the Riverlands camp. Ni left and deployed his men in preparation for the Wei army’s advance. During the first watch, the northern force was spotted. Once they were firmly within the camp, Zhang Ni attacked in coordination with several other commanders and dealt Wei’s armies a stunning defeat.

Following the victory over the Wei army at Shu’s encampment, all offers for battle by the westerners was refused. Zhuge Liang soon ordered the creation of “wooden bulls” and “gliding horses” to transport grain, and following their creation had them purposely captured by Wei’s troops. (9) Zhang Ni was ordered to Zhuge Liang’s tent shortly after, who instructed him: “Take five hundred men and costume them as the Six Jia goddesses and the Six Ding gods and as supernatural troops with demon heads and animal bodies. Daub their faces with the five colours and deck them out as fantastical forms with embroidered flags in one hand and swords in the other. Hide the soldiers beside the hill, each carrying a gourd stuffed with flammable material. As soon as the bulls and horses arrive, ignite the gourds and rush out, take control of the wooden beasts, and go. The northerners will hesitate to pursue what they imagine to be ghosts and demons.”

9: Zhuge Liang intended for the wooden bulls to be stolen by the northerners for the purpose of them duplicating the machines. After they did so, Liang planned to steal the bulls back to attain the grain stored within them.

Zhang Ni left to carry out his orders. Ni first assembled the five hundred soldiers he was to command, and then had each clothed and armed in the same fashion that Zhuge Liang specified. After doing the same to himself, Zhang Ni then set off to the hill mentioned by Liang and stayed there to await the northern army. After some time, Ni spotted commander Guo Huai leading a northern force in pursuit of some allied soldiers, and so urged his demonic soldiers on to their position. The Wei soldiers and Huai himself stood terrified at the sight. “Some kind of supernatural force must be helping them!” Guo Huai exclaimed, and with that, the Wei army gave up pursuit and fled. Zhang Ni then directed his men to capture the abandoned transport bulls and hauled them over to the Shu camp with their cargo of more than ten thousands piculs of grain. Zhang Ni received praise from Zhuge Liang for his success in the mission.

Later in AD 234, Zhuge Liang passed away at Wuzhangyuan. Before his death, he said to one of his advisors, Yang Yi, “Wang Ping, Liao Hua, Zhang Ni, Zhang Yi, Wu Yi, and the others are loyal and honourable men. Having survived arduous trials through long years of war, they will prove worthy of whatever you require of them.”

Thus, Zhang Ni was firmly believed to be one of Shu’s greatest commanders both inside and outside of Shu during the later years of the kingdom’s existence. Zhang Ni and the rest of the Riverlands army retreated back to Shu territory shortly after Zhuge Liang’s death. During this time, Sun Quan of the Southland had sent tens of thousands of troops under Quan Zong to the Baiqu area, suggesting that an invasion by the south was forthcoming. To resolve the matter, Jiang Wan advised Liu Shan in court that Zhang Ni, along with Wang Ping, should be stationed at Yang’an pass with an equal amount of troops. The Emperor agreed, and Zhang Ni soon received orders to set out for Yang’an. His presence there so intimidated the southerners that no move against the Riverlands was made by Quan Zong, and the southern army later left Baiqu. (10)

10: Zong Yu was sent to the Southland to notify them of the passing of Zhuge Liang and also to enquire their motives for sending troops to Baiqu. After his visit was concluded, Sun Quan had Quan Zong withdraw the troops.

In AD 253, Jiang Wei launched an expedition against Wei in which Zhang Ni participated, but the campaign ended in failure and the army later returned to western territory. In AD 254, Jiang Wei again led an expedition against Wei. Zhang Ni was promoted to Sweeper of Invaders before the campaign began and was selected to join in the attack when it did. The Shu army headed for the Qishan hills, where Jiang Wei left half of the army while taking Zhang Ni and the other half with him to attack Nan’an. When the westerners reached Wuchang hill, Jiang Wei left Zhang Ni with Xiahou Ba to defend the position while he himself went on to attack the store at Shanggui. Word soon came that Jiang Wei had suffered defeat at the depot, and so Xiahou Ba left Zhang Ni to relieve him. Shortly after, scouts reported to Zhang Ni that Jiang Wei had been attacked on several fronts and was utterly trapped by the northerners. Dismayed at the news, Zhang Ni mustered up the forces remaining with him at Wuchang—a mere few hundred riders—and raced to Shangui to save Jiang Wei. Upon arriving, Ni saw a great ring of soldiers gradually closing in for the kill of Jiang Wei and his troops. Uttering fierce war cries, Zhang Ni charged the northern line, opening up a path of escape for Jiang Wei. Ni stayed behind to ensure that Jiang Wei would make good his escape, but while fighting, a stray arrow hit and killed him. Jiang Wei was deeply moved by Zhang Ni’s loyal and courageous sacrifice to the cause of Shu, and upon returning to Chengdu recommended to Liu Shan that his sons and grandsons be rewarded for his great service to the throne.

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