Biography (SGYY): Zhang Rang

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Zhang Rang

Sanguo yanyi Officer Biography
Authored by Morgan Evans

Zhang Rang was a eunuch who served under Emperor Ling. Rang became a part of a group known as the Ten Regular Attendants along with Zhao Zhong, Cheng Kuang, Duan Gui, Feng Xu, Guo Sheng, Hou Lan, Jian Shuo, Cao Jie, and Xia Yun. The ten men had a huge amount of influence, particularly Zhang Rang whom the Emperor trusted most and referred to as “Foster Father”. Due to the influence that he held and his corrupt ways, Zhang Rang was universally despised.

In the wake of the Yellow Scarves Rebellion, many Imperial officers had received promotions for their parts in pacifying the rebels, but there was still animosity regarding the corruption of Ten Regular Attendants. One day at court, an official named Zhang Jun spoke out against them, “The Yellow Scarves rebelled because the eunuchs sold offices and bartered ranks. There was employment only for their friends, punishment only for their enemies. This led to rebellion. Wherefore it would be well to slay the Ten Eunuchs and expose their heads and proclaim what had been done throughout the whole empire. Then reward the worthy. Thereby the land would be wholly tranquil.” The eunuchs convinced the Emperor that Zhang Jun was insulting him, and so Zhang Jun was ejected from the court. However, Zhang Rang and the other Attendants held a counsel and decided that the complaint must have stemmed from someone who had felt overlooked for their role in destroying the rebels. A list was drawn up and many men received promotions, including Liu Bei who became Magistrate of Anxi (1).

(1) It was in fact Liu Bei who had complained to Zhang Jun about not receiving a promotion for his actions against the Yellow Scarves.

The Ten Regular Attendants now had complete control and put to death all who opposed them. Zhang Rang and Zhao Zhong began to demand gifts of gold and silk from generals who had fought the Yellow Scarves. Those who did not pay were removed from office, including Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun. (2) Zhang Rang and the other eunuchs were awarded lordships by the Emperor while Zhao Zhong received the ranks that Huangfu Song and Zhu Jun had held. A rebellion broke out in Changsha and Yuyang but the Attendants did not present the memorials regarding these outbreaks to the Emperor. However, Court Counselor Liu Tao brought the rebellions to the attention of the Emperor: “Robbers swarm on all sides and plunder the cities. And all is the fault of the Ten Eunuchs who sell offices and injure the people, oppress loyal officials and deceive their superiors. All virtuous ones have left the services and returned to their places, and are building and guarding their positions. More regional offices have been sought than imperial appointments. Central authority is being undermined by local interests. Misfortune is before our very eyes!” The eunuchs threw themselves at the Emperor’s feet and weeping, begged that they be spared. The Emperor turned to Liu Tao and said, “You also have servants, why can’t you bear mine?” The Emperor then called his guards to remove Liu Tao and execute him. Minister of the Interior, Chen Dan, pleaded for his colleague’s life saying, “All the empire would eat the flesh of the eunuchs if they could, and yet, Sire, you respect them as if they were your parents. They have no merit, but they are created nobles. Unless Your Majesty looks to it, the state will crumble!” He then beat his forehead on the steps of the throne until the Emperor had him removed. That night Liu Tao and Chen Dan were murdered. The eunuchs sent forged edicts to Sun Jian and Liu Yu, promoting them to Governor of Changsha and Imperial Protector of Youzhou respectively and ordered them to pacify the rebellions.

(2) Huangfu Song, General of the Flying Chariots and Zhu Jun, General of the Flying Cavalry held the joint second highest military ranks, the highest being Regent Marshal.

In the summer of AD 189, Emperor Ling became seriously ill and wished his son, Prince Xian, to succeed him. He knew that the Regent Marshal, He Jin, (3) would try and prevent Xian from taking the throne and so made plans for his death with Jian Shuo. However, Commander Pan Yin warned He Jin of the trap set for him and He Jin called many ministers to him. Meanwhile, Emperor Ling died but the Ten Regular Attendants kept his death a secret and forged an edict summoning He Jin to the palace. He Jin stormed the palace with thirty ministers and five thousand royal guards and placed the Emperor’s oldest son, Liu Bian, on the throne. In the confusion, Guo Sheng slew Jian Shuo. Zhang Rang knew that He Jin would kill the Attendants, so he and the other eunuchs rushed to see Empress He. Rang said to her, “The originator of the plan to injure your brother was Jian Shuo: Only he was concerned and no other. Now the Regent Marshal, on Yuan Shao’s advice, wishes to slay every one of us. We implore your pity, O Your Majesty!” Empress He pledged to protect them and said to He Jin, “You and I are of lowly origin, and we owe our good fortune to the eunuchs. The misguided Jian Shuo is now dead, need you really put all the others to death as Yuan Shao advises?” He Jin obeyed her wish and within days, he and his associates all received high offices.

(3) He Jin’s sister had become a concubine of rank and had given birth to the Emperor’s son, Liu Bian. After this she became Empress He and obtained the rank of Regent Marshal for her brother. Emperor Ling had another son, Liu Xian, who was in the care of the Emperor’s mother, Empress Dong.

Soon Zhang Rang was summoned by Empress Dong to a council. She asked of him, “It was I who first brought forward the sister of He Jin. Today her son is on the throne, and all the officials are her friends, and her influence is enormous. What can we do?” Zhang Rang replied, “Your Highness should administer the state from behind the scenes; preside over administration; create the late Emperor’s son Liu Xian a prince; give your brother, the Imperial Uncle Dong Chong, a high rank, and place him over the army; and use us in important ways. That will do it.” Empress Dong approved of this advice and the next day she held a court and issued an edict in the sense proposed. She made Liu Xian Prince of Chenliu and Dong Chong General of the Flying Cavalry. She also allowed Zhang Rang and the other eunuchs to once again participate in state affairs. In response, Empress He prepared a banquet to which she invited Empress Dong and the Attendants. The two women argued bitterly during the banquet and the eunuchs had to persuade the women to retire. The next day, Empress Dong was removed from the palace and Dong Chong was stripped of office. Knowing that the end was near, Dong Chong killed himself. Zhang Rang and Duan Gui sent gifts to He Jin’s younger brother, He Miao, and his mother, Lady Wuyang, and got them to put in a good word to Empress He. Zhang Rang once again had Empress He’s protection and soon he and the other Attendants regained the privilege of serving the Emperor.

During the sixth month of AD 189, He Jin poisoned Empress Dong. Zhang Rang and Duan Gui made this fact well known and soon their talk reached He Jin. He Jin’s servants warned Zhang Rang that Yuan Shao had once again urged action against the eunuchs, but He Jin had wished to think the matter over further. Zhang Rang sent more gifts to He Miao and he, in turn, spoke to Empress He on behalf of the eunuchs. Empress He advised He Jin to not take action against Zhang Rang and the others as it would be disrespectful to kill a former Emperor’s attendants so soon after his death. He Jin begrudgingly consented. Spies soon advised Zhang Rang that He Jin had instead summoned Dong Zhuo and his army to the capital. Zhang Rang knew this was directed at the eunuchs and said to them, “This is He Jin’s plot. If we do not strike first, our whole clans shall be exterminated.” He then had a group of fifty assassins hide at the Gate of Grand Virtue in the Palace of Lasting Happiness, where Empress He lived, and then went to see her. He said, “The Regent Marshal means to destroy us and has forged a decree summoning outside troops to the capital. We pray, Your Majesty, pity and save us!” The Empress told them to go to He Jin and confess their faults, but Zhang Rang replied, “If we did, then should we be cut to mincemeat! Instead, summon the General into your presence and command him to cease. If he will not, then we prefer to die in your presence.” Empress He ordered her brother to come to the palace. He Jin did not suspect a trap but Yuan Shao, Yuan Shu, Cao Cao and five hundred soldiers escorted him despite his objections. When they reached the palace, the escort was detained outside, while He Jin went in alone. Zhang Rang, Duan Gui and their followers confronted the Regent Marshal at the Gate of Grand Virtue. Zhang Rang began to revile He Jin: “What crime had Empress Dong committed that she should have been put to death? And when the Mother of the Country was buried, who feigned sickness and did not attend? We raised you and your paltry family to all the dignity and wealth you have, but now you conspire against us forgetting the thanks you owe. Who is so pure, tell me, if we are as corrupt as you say?” The assassins appeared, cut He Jin into halves and then tossed his head over the wall to his waiting escort. The escort immediately stormed the palace and began slaying the eunuchs. Zhang Rang, along with Cao Jie, Duan Gui and Hou Lan, carried off the Empress, Emperor Bian and Prince Xian towards the North Palace. On their way there, the Empress managed to escape from the clutches of Duan Gui by jumping out of a window. The party split up and Zhang Rang with Duan Gui continued their escape with the Emperor and Prince until they reached the Beimang Hills. It was there that the Imperial Soldiers led by Min Gong caught up with them and seeing no way of escape, Zhang Rang jumped into a river and drowned.

Copyright © 2004 Morgan Evans
Based on Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms