Biography (SGYY): Zhang Ren

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Zhang Ren
張任
Lived: ?–213

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

Zhang Ren

Zhang Ren was a general of Liu Zhang, he escorted his lord to a banquet to meet with Liu Bei, during which Pang Tong tried to have Liu Zhang assassinated against Liu Bei’s wishes. When Wei Yan offered a sword dance, Zhang Ren drew his sword, saying “An opponent is needed to make fencing a success, so he and I will display our skill at the same time.”

The two began the sword dance, soon Liu Feng joined in on Wei Yan’s side so three commanders of Liu Zhang joined in on Zhang Ren’s side till Liu Bei, realising what was happening, called a halt: “We brothers have perhaps honored our meeting with a little too much wine. There is nothing to say against that, but this is no Hongmen Banquet, where murder was done. Put up your swords, or I will slay you!”

Liu Zhang ordered his servants to surround and disarm the officers involved, the officers withdrew rather sulkily. Liu Bei reassured them all “You need have no doubts. We two brothers, of the same bone and blood, have talked over the great design, and we are one in purpose.” Zhang Ren and the others bowing then retired.

Liu Bei later turned against Liu Zhang, seizing River Fu Pass. Upon hearing the news, Liu Zhang dispatched his four ablest generals- Deng Xiang, Ling Bao, Liu Gui, and Zhang Ren- with fifty thousand troops to hold Luocheng. On the way, Liu Gui proposed that they visit a man known as The Super Human of the Dark Void, despite Zhang Ren’s protests. “What should one seek of a hermit when one is out to repulse an enemy?” The four generals went to visit the hermit.

The Sage wrote his prophecy (1) and refused to give them their individual fortunes, Liu Gui advised that they should have faith in what the sage had told them but Zhang Ren dismissed the idea “What is to be gained by listening to the sayings of a daft old man?”

1: Here is what he wrote:

“Supported by dragon and phoenix,
So flies he westward.
But the phoenix shall fall to the earth.
And the dragon shall soar to the sky;
There shall be successes and failures,
For such is the eternal law.
See that ye act when occasion offers,
Lest ye descend to the Nine Golden Springs.”

Luocheng was impossible to surround as outside the south gate of Luocheng the country was rough and hilly, while the swift River Fu ran past the north. Upon arriving Deng Xian and Ling Bao built stockades outside the city but when Liu Bei attacked Deng Xian was killed by Huang Zhong and Ling Bao was captured but he was able to convince Liu Bei to let him go with the promise that he would get the others to surrender. On hearing this news, Liu Zhang dispatched his son Liu Xun with twenty thousand men and three officers, Wu Yi, Wu Lan and Lei Tong to reinforce Luocheng.

Ling Bao went scouting for a place to begin a flood attack but was captured and executed, prompting the defenders of Luocheng to take council where Zhang Ren said “I know a by-road on the southeast which is of great importance, and I pray you let me guard it while you two hold the city.” When news reached the defenders that Liu Bei’s army had begun to march, Zhang Ren went with three thousand troops to lay an ambush at the by-road.

The by-road was a mountain road that narrowed to a defile with dense thickets on either hand, and as the season was when summer changes into autumn, the foliage was thick and impenetrable; it was called The Fallen Phoenix Slope

Wei Yan led Liu Bei’s vanguard but Zhang Ren let him pass, soon Pang Tong came with the main body. When the Shu troops saw the white horse that Pang Tong was riding, they thought it was Liu Bei (2). The ambush was unleashed; all the archers armed at Shiyuan (3) and killed him. Half of the attacking force was killed in the ambush, some soldiers escaped to tell Wei Yan but with Zhang Ren holding the vantage points, Liu Bei’s general was forced to go by the high road to reach Luocheng.

2: Liu Bei had taken another road but before they had departed, Pang Tong’s horse had stumbled, throwing Pang Tong off, so the two swapped. Pang Tong now had a well trained warhorse.
3: Pang Tong’s style name

Zhang Ren then marched along the by-road to Luocheng where he found Liu Bei’s army fleeing for the stockades, Zhang Ren and the defenders of the cities attacked, forcing Liu Bei to abandon the stockades. Zhang Ren pursued as Liu Bei tried to reach River Fu Pass until Liu Feng and Guan Ping arrived to reinforce Liu Bei. The two stopped Zhang Ren’s pursuit and then drove him back seven miles, capturing many horses as they did so but it was still a victory for the defenders of Shu.

While Liu Bei mourned the death of Pang Tong, Zhang Ren came to the ramparts and offered a challenge but was refused as Liu Bei summoned reinforcements from Jingzhou. Suddenly Liu Bei launched a night raid, catching Zhang Ren’s troops by surprise, setting the camp on fire and pursuing for some distance as Zhang Ren fled to Luocheng.

Liu Bei besieged the city the next day but Zhang Ren made no attempt to beat off the besiegers. On the fourth day, Liu Bei launched an attack on the west gate while Wei Yan and Huang Zhong attacked the east gate, the north and south gates were left free for the defenders to flee. Zhang Ren watched from the walls and noticed that the attackers got weary as the day went on so he ordered Wu Lan and Lei Tong to go out the north gate to attack Huang Zhong and Wei Yan while Zhang Ren led a force out of the south gate to attack Liu Bei. To prevent Liu Bei from realising the defenders had left the city, Zhang Ren had the populace go up the walls and make a show.

At sundown, Liu Bei ordered his army to withdraw but with a great shout, Zhang Ren attacked, going straight for Liu Bei, who was in the middle of his army. The Jingzhou army was thrown into confusion and with his generals occupied at the east gate, Liu Bei had to flee to the hills with a whole company of troops, led by Zhang Ren, in pursuit. At that moment Zhang Fei arrived with reinforcements from Jingzhou, Zhang Ren and Yide duelling for ten rounds before Yan Yan arrived with the main body of Zhang Fei’s troops so Zhang Ren fled back into the city.

News soon reached Zhang Ren that Wu Lan and Lei Tong had surrendered after being surrounded so Wu Yi and Liu Gui proposed fighting one last desperate battle while sending for reinforcements from Cheng Du. Zhang Ren proposed “Tomorrow I will go and challenge them. If they accept and come out to fight, I will feign retreat and inveigle them round to the north side of the city. As they follow me, a sortie must be made when they pass the gate so as to cut their army in two. We ought to overcome them in this way.”

With Wu Yi offering to lead the sortie, the plan was set. The next morning Zhang Ren issued a challenge, Zhang Fei accepting, the two generals fought for ten bouts till Zhang Ren pretended to have been worsted so fled, Zhang Fei following in pursuit. When they passed the gate, Wu Yi attacked and Zhang Ren turned back to attack.

With Zhang Fei trapped, the second lot of Jingzhou reinforcements arrived, Zhao Yun leading the vanguard and capturing Wu Yi, Zhang Ren managing to escape into the city. Zhuge Liang had arrived with the second lot of reinforcements, on the information given by the now surrendered Wu Yi, he decided they had to capture Zhang Ren first if they where to take the city.

Zhang Ren was reinforced by Zhang Yi and Zhuo Ying, Zhang Yi sent to guard the city with Liu Gui while Zhuo Ying went with Zhang Ren to deal with Zhuge Liang’s challenge. Zhuge Liang crossed the Golden Goose Bridge with “a mob of disorderly looking soldiers, all in disarray, whom he drew up as if they were a fighting force. He himself, dressed in a simple robe and toying with a fan, took his seat in a small four-wheeled carriage. A few horsemen caracoling gaily to and fro formed his escort.”

On seeing this disorderly army, Zhang Ren, with a cynical smile declared “People talk of Zhuge Liang’s superhuman military genius. I say his reputation is false!” Zhang Ren charged out, pursuing Zhuge Liang who had mounted his horse and fled over the bridge.

When he reached the other side, Zhang Ren upon seeing two bodies of soldiers under Liu Bei and Yan Yan coming to attack, realised he had been lured into a trap. Turning to go back across the bridge, he discovered it was in ruins, destroyed by Zhao Yun who now blocked the way north. Forced to flee southwards, he followed the river but upon arriving at a place where reeds and sedges grew, there appeared Wei Yan and his company of spearmen, who stabbed at the horsemen fiercely while Huang Zhong with his swordsmen cut down the horses.

Zhang Ren now only had a few horsemen as he fled to the hills but there they met Zhang Fei who captured Zhang Ren, Zhuo Ying surrendered to Zhao Yun upon seeing this. When Zhang Ren was led into Liu Bei’s camp as Zhang Fei’s prisoner, Liu Bei asked “Why have you held out so long after all the other generals of Yizhou have yielded?”

“Can a loyal servant take a second master?” cried Zhang Ren fiercely, his eyes glaring with hate. Liu Bei replied “You do not know the times. Submission means life.” Zhang Ren still refused “I might submit today, but it would not endure. I should repent it. You had better slay me.” Liu Bei was inclined to show mercy but Zhang Ren was irreconcilable and kept up a stream of furious abuse so finally he was executed (4).

4: The ZZTJ records that Zhang Ren made a stand at Yan Bridge, his army was defeated and Zhang Ren was killed.
A poem about Zhang Ren’s death was written:
No second lord the heroic servant knows,
The way of death Zhang Ren contented goes.
Clear shines his fame as doth the heavenly moon
That nightly lights the ramparts of Luocheng Town.

Liu Bei grieved for Zhang Ren and in respect of his bravery, gave him an honourable burial beside the Golden Goose Bridge, where all the passers-by would be reminded of his loyalty.

Copyright © 2006–2007 Dong Zhou. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms